Guest Post, Links, Taos Toolbox, Writing

New Release Radar: Assistant to a Judge of Hell and Other Stories

Shannon Rampe is joining us today to talk about his new story collection, Assistant to a Judge of Hell and Other Stories. Here’s the description of the book:

  • In Assistant to a Judge of Hell, San Guan finally has a crack at reincarnation after a thousand years as a bureaucrat in hell, but only if he can convince a slanderous, insubordinate, and recently-deceased Pan Xiaojian to take the job.
  • In BabiesBradley notices that his wife Anne is acting strangely after he finds a litter of babies in the street.
  • In WarniksNimit Okeke, the Speaker of the Solar System, is facing the worst crisis of his administration, and it isn’t the teddy bear-shaped aliens who just gravity-bombed Jupiter.
  • In Bad SoulJade Blossom laments how nothing ever changes, but when he enlists a crude and charismatic poet to push his radical ideas, he unwittingly unleashes a force of nature along with some questionable poetry!

These four stories from the warped brain of Shannon Rampe are darkly twisted, using unexpected violence, vicious snarkiness, and wanton chaos to wildly comedic effect. Terrible, nasty people get their comeuppance and good people—okay, slightly superficial and moderately selfish people—come out on top.

But what does Shannon love most about the book? Let’s find out:

This collection contains some of my favorite stories that I have written, and certainly the most fun. The jokes always crack me up. (I know, what’s worse than laughing at your own jokes? But these stories are populated with exactly the sort of people who laugh at their own jokes… and worse!)

Really, these stories are about bad people getting their just desserts and slightly less bad people putting those bad people in their place, and those are the most satisfying moments in the stories. But I really love the stories behind the stories.

For example, the title story was written while I was living in London, working 80+ hour weeks as a contractor for a global banking megacorp while my soul was slowly ground to dust. One day, I took an actual lunch break and walked to the British Museum, where I encountered a Ming Dynasty-era sculpture of a green-faced porcelain bureaucrat, the Assistant to the Judge of Hell, and this story sprang to life in my head. At the time, being trapped in the gears of a nightmarish bureaucracy that felt like it was stretching out before me for a thousand years gave me a very personal insight into the sense of desperate insanity in the story.

Babies was written at Viable Paradise in a single, frenzied five-hour rush. This story gets laughs and cringes in equal parts whenever people read it. I love the fact that everyone who reads this story has a strong reaction to it—usually laughter and disgust! I’ve written four full-length novels but this story remains one of the pieces of writing that I am most proud of because the imagery and descriptions are so shocking and visceral.

Finally, one of the things that happens when you put together a project like this are the happy accidents. You only discover them later when reading through the text. For example, in Warniks, Nimit Okeke accuses his political opponent of eating babies. In the next story, we encounter babies who eat people. 

I think anyone who has a twisted sense of humor will really enjoy these stories!

LINKS:

Assistant to a Judge of Hell and Other Stories on Amazon.com

Shannon’s Website

Shannon’s Twitter

BIO:

Shannon Rampe is a writer and project manager living in southern California. He has attended the Viable Paradise Writing Workshop, the Taos Toolbox Writing Workshop, and Paradise Lost, amongst other programs. 

His works have appeared in Speculative City, Abyss & Apex, and The Gallery of Curiosities podcast, amongst others. His first book, When Stars Move and Other Stories is also available on Amazon. His hobbies include yoga and craft cocktail-making, though not usually at the same time.

Shannon is represented by Susan Velazquez Colmant at JABberwocky Literary Agency.

publication, Writing

“Terraforming a Heart” is Published!

Yes, that’s right! My story is up now at Nature: Futures, and you can read it here. And as usual, the artwork paired with the story is perfect. ❤

I promised you a wee bit more info on the story, even though there’s the “story behind the story” bit at the end. So, what have I got?

This story, like so much of my flash fiction, is the result of a flash fiction writing contest over on Codex. And it wasn’t the first niggling story idea, or even the second one, that developed into this story, but the third one! Which just goes toward proving that one’s first idea isn’t necessarily the best. It can be hard to press on after story ideas, especially with a fast deadline for a contest, but it pays off. My first ideas are usually not right, either too expected and unoriginal, or just not interesting. But around idea 3, or 5, I start getting the hang of it, and my creativity shows up, having been woken at long last.

After the contest, the story went through a couple more rounds of editing to prune out words and fit Nature’s tight wordcount requirements, and to hone in on the point of the story and clear up confusion. And then, sucking in a great breath, I formatted it, exported it, and submitted it–it’s still a hard thing to do, hitting that “send” button. Even after all this time.

So many times, a story comes back rejected. But once in awhile, like this time, you get that wonderful acceptance, and the day turns golden and rosy-hued, and you know once again why it is you’re writing. Because somewhere out there, someone actually likes what you’re saying. Maybe they need to read it, the way I used to “need” the books and stories I read as a kid, and the ones that sometimes even today punch into a topic or trope that I’ve been grinding my teeth over. And having read those words, I feel lighter. Seen, and understood. The world begins to make sense as my outlook changes, hopefully for the better.

Thanks for reading, and looking at the world from my point of view.

publication, Writing

Publication Day! “Jancy8146 and the RealHouse” is live today at DSF!

What a great thing to wake up to on a stiflingly humid Monday morning! My story, “Jancy8146 and the RealHouse” went up as today’s story at Daily Science Fiction. Oddly enough, this sold before “What You Do for a Friend,” but that’s kind of typical–there is no known rhyme nor reason to when stories get published after a sale, and you can only make yourself crazy trying to figure one out.

This story started out, as so many do, as a Codex contest story. One of the prompts was, quite literally, the first line: who figured it out first? And then, all I had to do was figure out what they figured out, and who they were. And why it mattered. You know, the little stuff 😉

Oh, and one more tiny little secret about it? The name Jancy? It came from a vet’s office nearby. I’d always liked that name, wondered about it–and for this story, it simply popped into my head. It’s one thing that never changed, through all the edits.

Anyway, I’m really pleased with this one. It’s one of my favorite stories that I’ve written, so I hope you enjoy reading it. And if you can, go ahead and tip DSF a little bit, okay? The reason the story is there is because they paid me for the right to publish it. Thanks, and happy Monday to you, too!

 

publication

“What You Do for a Friend” Live at Nature’s Futures

Today is publication day over at Nature! My flash story What You Do for a Friend is now up in their “Futures” series, and free to read online. If you subscribe, it comes in a truly fancy PDF publication with the most awesome illustration gracing the top of the story!

At the bottom of the story’s concluding page, there’s a spot explaining the inspiration behind the story, which covers what I’d normally do here on the olde blogge on publication day. So, what to do, what to do? Well, I can expand a wee bit on that inspiration, and give you more!

Like this:  What You Do for a Friend was also written during a Codex flash fiction writing contest. We’re given prompts, and 52 hours to write a story of 750 words or less. I picked two of the 6 prompts given, and got to writing. The published story was my third attempt at “finding” the story I wanted to write, before I truly began. The first two ideas fizzled out completely, (sometimes I’ve gotten “extra stories” from these contests, but not this time) but I latched onto this one and immediately loved the vibe, and the ideas I could explore with it. I’m pretty sure this is the first time that one of my story’s first drafts and its final version looked so similar!

Oh, a final bit of fun: one of the prompts I used was to utilize x number of words from a list of unrelated words. Not all those words made it into the final story, but Seeker’s name certainly did!

Magic of the Everyday, Personal Life, Travel

Home Again, Home Again

I’m back from my trip to London, where I stayed with friend and Taos Toolbox roommate, Mel Melcer. We had a great time, and ended up nearly walking our feet off. And hey, I discovered some things about the UK.

For starters, all that “rain and dreary gray” nonsense was just that–nonsense–during my trip. It was hot. I mean, I packed the wrong clothes! I ended up buying a sleeveless top, and wished I’d brought a pair of shorts, or a skirt. Whew! We sought out the shade, and changed plans one day to avoid London due to the heat (well, that and our tired feet…).

Also, Big Ben isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Photo proof here:

Big Ben covered in scaffolding.

OK, in reality, the trip was awesome. I saw so many amazing things, ate and drank great things, and on top of all that, 3 of my Taos Toolbox classmates and I got together one evening, and had a great time.

Instead of blathering on, let me share a few photos with you. But first, other amazing things not pictured: visiting Forbidden Planet; attending a reading/meeting of the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club; touring Westminster Abbey, walking St. James Park; my first British tea house tea, including my choice of really superb gluten-free cakes; riding the Tube; meeting Mel’s cats, and tonnes more!

Tower Bridge. Got to see the drawbridge raise to let a paddlewheel river boat through. Riverboat’s name? Considering where I’d come from it was, ironically enough, the Dixie Queen.

Panoramic view of the Thames riverside walkway, with a strange aberration from the “pano” process that tickles my fantasy-laden fancy!

Beefeater Tour Guide at the London Tower. He’s also the Raven Master!

One of the seven ravens held at the Tower. Meet Merlin.

Shakespeare statue in the park where the Taos group met; I particularly like the quote on the scroll old Will is holding.

“Alien life forms” in a greenhouse at RHS Wisley Gardens. (These gardens were a-mazing!)

Sparkling wine with Mel (left) and me (right) in her garden.

Feeding the swan and cygnets at Hever Castle and Gardens–another great place to explore!

Inside Hever Castle, looking out into the central courtyard.

Mel and I ride the London Eye, getting a great view of practically everything!

Husband loves scotch. But he did NOT get this one, which I saw at the World of Whiskey, inside Gatwick Airport. (click to embiggen, and check out that Duty Free price! Yikes.)

 

Links, Magic of the Everyday, signal boosting

Reading, Writing, and Herbs? Oh Yes!

Because I know a lot of my readers (like me) love gardening and herbs and doing stuff with that produce in addition to reading, I just have to share a link to Frances Silversmith’s website with you. She has introduced a great section there. Called “The Herbwoman’s Arts,” she talks here about herbs in fiction, especially SFF. So far, she’s discussed things like laudanum, healing salves and what goes in them, and how St John’s wort might stop not only depression but also nasty Fae trolls! It’s a lot of fun, and pretty interesting too. Go take a look!

Links, publication, Writing

A Little Late, but Better Than Never…

Monday was Tell A Fairy Tale Day, and I meant to post this here then…but, ya know, life, yadda yadda. Anyhow, I’m here and posting now, so that’s going to have to work for this year.

Here’s a little story I wrote a few years back. I hope you like this darkly funny tale, and can find the various stories and nursery rhymes it references.

 

Jack Spratt: The Real Story

by M. E. Garber

 

Jack Spratt could eat no fat,

His wife could eat no lean.

Betwixt the two, 

They licked the platter clean.

***

Jack leaned back from the evening meal, a dark-furred hand going up to pick at his large teeth.

“Mr. Spratt, if you please! Do not pick your teeth at the table!” His wife’s deep voice so close behind him made him jump like a nervous hare. He was glad, therefore, that she had just eaten her fill of the roasted goat. He, meanwhile, had made short work of the salad and carrots. It was a stem of said salad that was stuck between his teeth just now, but he ignored it due to the racing of his heart.

“Sorry, dearest. But I do wish you’d quit sneaking up behind me. It’s not good for my nerves.”

Elsa, his wife, came beside him and cleared away the plate, smiling wolfishly. She liked displaying her large, yellowed canines prominently; he knew she liked the way it made him squirm. Normally he had little qualms over his wife’s peccadillos, but in two nights the moon would be full, and Elsa was growing restless earlier with each moon that passed. It leached away her good sense, and he grew more and more fearful of her during the fullness of the moons.

He retreated to the hearth and poked at the fire, trying to calm his breathing and flatten his gooseflesh. Letting her scent his fear would be bad. In as calm a tone as he could muster, Jack spoke over the sounds of her washing up.

“I thought I might go to the village tomorrow. Leave in the morning, do some trading. Stay a couple nights. Maybe visit my friend Hamm.” He kept his eyes on the snapping fire, but he felt her glowing eyes caressing the back of his head.

“Ohhh, why, Mr. Spratt. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. You know I can use you here during the full moon. To keep things … settled … during my time of the month.”

That’s what she called it, now. Her ‘time of the month,’ as if a werewolf’s curse was something entirely normal. She’d rampage over the countryside for a night and a half, maybe two depending on the moon-cycle, then come straggling back home, naked and bedraggled, flushed with a shameful joy. Lately she’d been staying closer to home during her change. He’d heard her snuffling outside the door, howling in the forest behind the barn.

Jack shook his head. Ever since they’d refused to help the old witch of the wood the year before, when she wanted to lure children, Jack’s ears had grown, and a fine hair grew over his arms and hands, then his whole body. His eyes got sharper, and while living with a woman cursed with lycanthropy never made a man calm, Jack had gotten more high-strung than ever. He refused to admit it for the longest time, but there was no denying it any longer: he was turning into a rabbit. He knew that his wife knew, and found him … interesting.

“Besides,” Elsa murmured, turning her gold-flecked eyes back to her dishes, “you were just to the village two weeks ago, so I can’t imagine you need to visit again so soon.”

Jack froze. His heart hammered once more, and his ears heard the low, throaty laugh his wife gave. He scented his own panic, and knew mortal fear.

#

Jack shut the door to the chicken coop behind him. He’d barricaded the henhouse doors from the inside. Now he prepared to nail boards across the doorframe to secure it — he hoped — from entry. He lifted the hammer, set the nail and swung.

Hot breath on his neck made him leap and twirl, but the hammer landed on his thumb anyway. He hopped a few steps, sucking his thumb, as he took in his wife’s narrowed, gleaming eyes and hungry smile. He noticed the way she tensed at his hopping, and he immediately froze.

“What are you doing, Mr. Spratt?”

“Just protecting the chickens, Mrs. Spratt.” His heart hammered at his throat and made his voice come out as a squeak. Her smile widened.

“Good instincts, but somehow I think the hens will be safe. There are better things on the menu tonight, I do believe.” With a last wolfish grin, she turned and loped back to the house.

#

The moon rose early that evening. His wife never left the house, but sat watching Jack, pinning him to the dark corner of the room with her intense eyes. As soon as the change rendered her immobile, he raced out the door, zigging and zagging in a panic. All too soon, he heard the howl of pursuit, and in a burst of speed, Jack zipped up to Hamm’s dilapidated, straw-mortared hovel. At his panicked knocking, his short, fat friend opened the door. Jack burst inside, slamming the door behind him.

“Why, Jack. Whatever is the matter? Onk.” Hamm always caught his breath after each utterance, sounding like a goose. Or a pig.

Before Jack could explain, Elsa was upon the house, howling for Jack’s blood. The two friends cowered in the center of the room as the wolf shouted, “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in!”

“Go away! Onk. Onk.”

Elsa rammed the door, and it gave way in a shower of wood and straw. Jack and Hamm sprinted out, to Hamm’s brother’s house nearby.

At Pudge’s wooden house, the scene repeated itself, and Jack and the two little pigs squealed in terror as they zipped to the eldest brother’s home. Porky’s home was stout brick, and when the wolf arrived hot on their heels, Porky laughed at the wolf’s foolishness. Jack cowered by Porky’s feet, panting, as his friend’s brother told off the wolf.

The door shuddered once, twice, three times, but held. Elsa snarled and snapped on the other side, cursing Jack, cursing bricks, and doubly-cursing Porky. Jack looked up, his pulse slowing as hope bloomed in his heart.

There was a long silence, then the sound of footsteps on the roof.

“The chimney!” Jack shouted. But Porky was already stoking the fire higher. He placed a large soup pot in the hearth. The wolf popped out the chimney and fell into the pot, and Porky threw the heavy lid onto it. Jack and the others raced to hold the lid in place as the wolf who’d been his wife struggled to escape.

As the bangs and knocks came to an end, Jack grinned at his friend.

“Looks like you’ll have soup tonight, my friends. Thanks!”

“No thanks needed. But you know, there’s one thing that goes perfect with soup.”

“Oh?” Jack looked back towards the kettle, sniffing appreciatively as Porky lifted the lid. “What?”

“Roast rabbit.”

As the lid hit his skull, Jack heard the pigs cheer, and he saw only dark.

###

(This story was first published in Short Sips; Coffee House Flash Fiction Collection 2)

If you liked this short tale, here are links to a few other people who played along this year–and they actually got their stories posted on time, unlike me. (Drat them! Um, I mean, good for them!)

Cecile Cristofari

Melissa Mead

Karlo Yeager Rodriguez

 

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

Solstice 2017

Today is the winter solstice here in the northern hemisphere, and the longest night/shortest day of the year. I’d been hoping to have a bonfire tonight, to light a very real blaze of bright against the encroaching darkness, but heavy rain in the wee hours have put an end to that idea; the wood, waiting patiently in the fire pit, is now soaked.

Instead, I’ll be lighting candles throughout the house. If not one big blaze, then two dozen smaller ones. Maybe more. I’ll still make my attempt to shove back the dark and the dreary depression that often comes with it. The light in my heart burns, sometimes bright, sometimes dim, but always there. And when I light my candles, my heart will rejoice.

The build-up to the holidays and the end-rush into the new year always sneak up on me with more force than expected, and this year is no exception. I’ve been “slaving away” on the novel (well, I am enjoying it, but it’s taking far longer than expected–as usual!), and trying to sneak in short stories (mostly unsuccessfully) around the corners and in free moments. In addition, it’s cool enough to do gardening, so the garden has been plumped and preened a bit, and the holidays demand cooking and baking, and the dog is full of ball-playing enthusiasm with the cooler temps, and…

…and back to that darkness. Sometimes you want to shove back the dark; other times you embrace it and simply take a nap. Yesterday, and tomorrow, I did and shall nap. It does the soul a world of good, too, being a gift to yourself.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, I wish you a happy one. And a good winter’s nap, afterwards. Today, I wish you a flame–even if it’s a candle in your heart–against the dark.