A snowstorm of publications happened this month, in both official languages. I share this good news which, unfortunately, coincides with some not-so-good news in the vast world outside books and writing. (my good news coincides with the invasion of Ukraine, a country that has done nothing wrong, except being prosperous. By the way, yesterday I sent a short story for a collection in support of the Ukrainians.)
Publication of my story Moby Dick’s Doors in the 2022 Space Opera Digest anthology HAVE SHIP, WILL TRAVEL, edited by Tracy Cooper-Posey
Le secret de Paloma (Paloma’s Secret) is a finalist for the Alain Thomas Award at the Toronto Book Fair. The show is held in person on March 19-20, 2022. (The award is the former Christine Dumetriu Van-Saanen Award, but we lost Alain, that dedicated worker, in 2020).
Publication of Cousin Entropy in the Rosetta Prize Archives (a prize that rewards translations of a text published in another language). Thanks to N.M. Roshak for this beautiful work on La Cousine Entropie. See the Future SF site for more details. A Mandarine translation of Cousin Entropy should also be published.
My illustration for the Salon du livre de Toronto (Toronto Book Fair) illustrating this year’s theme: our legacies. Our legacies, theme of the 29th Toronto Book Fair
A warning to my faithful fans: this is NOT SF! But an ‘eco-fiction’ with an ecological and human problem at its core, set in a coastal village. A tale of a beautiful friendship between two women who have each lost a loved one. Dedicated to my mother, Thérèse Laframboise née Lorrain, who grew up along the river and loves fishing harbors.
Publication of my short story Essential Maintenance in Neo-Opsis 33, a Canadian speculative fiction magazine edited by Karl and Stephanie Johanson.
And, to add to the flurry, an email last Thursday announcing a second SF short-story accepted at Analog! It’s a great start to the month, and to Women’s Rights Day, which is really encouraging for a female SF author
TL;DR : Michèle’s new books and SF short-stories publications are out in several venues, in both French and English
Michèle Laframboise is a Canadian SF writer, with more than 60 stories published. Her most recent story, October’s Feast, is available in the Asimov’s SF Magazine. She is a fair low-level athlete runner, a lousy gardener, and avid birder. More on her official website here.
Those who enjoy scuba diving (or who, like me as a kid, had watched Commander Cousteau’s documentaries) know that before going back to the surface, you have to make mandatory decompression stops to allow the molecules of nitrogen/ helium who had taken refuge in your tissus under high pressure to leave your body, via your exhaled air.
Otherwise, the nitrogen can decide to turn back into gas while it is still lodged in your veins and your cells, and it would not be a pretty sight. Decompression sickness is as dangerous as its opposite, the deep nitrogen narcosis which develops sneakily if you spend a too long time at 100 feet deep.
Diving in deep water
For me, writing feels like diving into deep water.
Except that my decompression breaks are in the opposite direction! It takes me a long time to reach the level of concentration deep enought to penetrate a story. Levels of ‘compression’ or concentration…
My first level takes about 45 minutes to an hour. I go over what I wrote the day before to get the story and its atmosphere back inside my head; I check notions, places, etc. If I write 100 words in that period, that’s normal.
At the second level, which takes me about an hour to reach, I am entering the story at 300-400 words per hour.
At the third level, everything becomes magical: my fingers hug the keyboard and the ideas are transmuted into words without my having to stop. I feel like the story is writing itself, and I’m approaching 600-800 words an hour.
If I keep this on without interruption, I reach my fourth level of concentration: the story tumbles like an avalanche in my head, fingers and words roll like marbles on a flat table. It is paradise. I smash through the 1000 words per hour wall. Often, this happens in the evening, when I have a deadline approaching.
BUT… I do not descend to this 4th level often.
On the other hand, to go up to the surface, there is no need for decompression stops. Any distraction can yank me up in a jiffy. The phone, someone calling me, or the family member.
As soon as my enthusiastic husband comes to tell me about a techno gadget he saw on the Internet or heard about on the radio, poof! immediate surfacing.
If the conversation is less than a minute or two, and if I don’t have to think to answer any complex questions, I can dive back in and get through my ‘focus’ levels pretty quickly.
Alas, this is rarely the case.
Another condition favors my rapid return to the depths: the certainty that I will NOT be disturbed again in the next few minutes!
So, after 5 or 10 minutes that ate my concentration. And, when the interruption ends, I have to dive back in and redo my stops. And, often, barely submerged, of course, it’s already supper time…
Confession of an unfocused writer
I created this article from a recent writing mishap.
Here I was, happily tapping on a wonderful science fiction story set in Antarctica, pom-pom-pom… when all of a sudden, a flawed scientific detail jumps out at me. Have I correctly calculated the position of the sun below the horizon during the southern polar night? Have I checked the right calendar for the current polar night?
Rising to the surface, opening the Internet, checking the info, then letting yourself drift on the Wikipedia sites, drift farther on the Scott-Amundsen station site, watching the web cam (it’s cold here, but not as cold as in the South Pole)… And, I came to my senses with the crucial realization of having wasted my time. It internally annoys me.
On the heels of that realization came another torment: should I change an explanatory paragraph to place it closer to the opening of the short-story? My words are so tightly knit together that moving one paragraph or one word requires rewriting several others, before and after. And so, I paddled on the surface to juggle these paragraphs.
Finally, after trying to dive back, I decided to go for a walk outside to clear my mind, and come back at another time. I told myself that it’s still warmer here (in Canada, Ontario) than at the South Pole…
TL;DR: Writing is like diving, but with the “concentration” stops going down instead of up.
Michèle Laframboise is a Canadian SF writer, with more than 60 stories published. Her most recent story, October’s Feast, is available in the Asimov’s SF Magazine. She is a fair low-level athlete runner, a lousy gardener, and avid birder. More on her official website here.
I was picking at the stubborn ice in the garage entrance. Again.
My shovel made such a racket that I was certain the whole neighborhood had heard. At least, those neighbors who didn’t go out for work, which was, a lot of ’em this peculiar, cursed year. The current temperature danced around a balmy zero Celsius, but the wind had frozen everything hard.
If, at least, the Sun had spared some if its heat for the fissured blacktop of the entrance, the ice would have melted by itself. Alas, a bunch of gray clouds had been squatting the whole sky all day.
I hated it when winter couldn’t decide, once and for all, between staying over or under the freezing temperatures. One day, snow to our knees, the following day, it all melted into slush puddles; then the following night created uneven ice patches everywhere. Add the sidewalks to that equation, their broken slabs a danger for any walkers, hidden under the layer of pristine snow, and that’s southern Lake Ontario for you.
As my nice neighbors’ car entrance was a slippery incline, the risk of a bad concussion was multiplied tenfold. Hence me, hacking the ice like a mad woman, the metal reverberations grating my ears, the vibration stunning my wrists even if I wore padded mittens.
For now, the wind factor was chilling the sweat channel pouring over my spinal column. Swerving around the buildings, the wind surged from every direction, surprising me. I should have covered myself better than a sweater and padded vest, but too many layers only made me sweat more.
If only the darn winter could make up its mind! That dance around the zero was driving me nuts, besides wearing down the asphalt. And my patience…
At this hour, I should be cooking the no meat turkey, mashing the potatoes, finishing the chocolate cake that would only be a pale reflection of the one my grandmother made. And I had to set the table to greet the husband and son coming back from their own errands. And choose the best plates, those perched on the high-altitude cupboard shelf.
But the thought of my neighbor, not much older than I was but with her hip broken in a bad fall, prodded me on. Her husband’s sore back and weak heart prohibited him from any undue exertion, like shoveling dense snow. I was in good shape, relatively speaking, of course, so I toiled for them.
Of course, it was stupid of me to risk a heart attack to de-ice a car entrance.
Evening fell too fast, giving birth to a colored rivalry of Christmas lights, enhanced by technical prowess. I felt a pinch of envy regarding this prodigality, but those lights offered a gift of beauty to any passerby.
The world was so dark, so hard. Those constellations of blue, green and white lamps warmed up my soul. I paused, the echo of my last shovel hack sounding for long seconds. A fragile bubble of silence expended over the deserted street.
My breath created soft clouds of condensation that dissipated too fast.
The silence, in a city, was something to cherish. I listened for the chatter of chickadees, the angry twip of a house sparrow, the tiny crack of the hardened snow under the paws of a cat, or the light bounces of a scurrying rabbit.
But the only sound I heard was the dry crinkle of an envelope under my boot. Untouched, unopened, escaped from the recycling van with the complicity of the wind. On its face, printed Christmas ornaments and holly leaves, framing a too familiar message: give generously!
In my humble opinion, printing Give generously! or urgent!!! We need you! with an excess of exclamation points, constituted a strategical error. Most of those envelopes landed directly in the recycling basket.
I didn’t want to cast the first rock at my neighbors. But since charity organizations had taken to systematically share our address lists, it was twenty, thirty Give generously envelopes that fell in my mailbox, just because I, once, forgot to tick the microscopic square hidden in a small fonts paragraph.
This accrued pressure had caused a mild case of giving fatigue.
My thoughts turned darker. Yes, give generously, while tycoons and bankers fired men and women or conspired to shrink their worker’s rents, inflating their own wealth!
And those same ultra-rich would put one hand over their heart at charity galas, while the other slipped gifts in politicians’ pockets, garnered further tax breaks with legal tricks, accruing the burden for all others. (And then the politicians opened their hands and told the populace, “See, we do not have money…”)
Strangled by all those speculators, what would be left of this famous middle class that shrank and shrank? Donations dropped year after year, even with the added promise of an anonymous donator doubling or tripling the given amount. So many of us toiled at two or three jobs to make ends meet, conscious to be at one illness, one accident, one job loss from homelessness…
Clanggg! I hit the blue-brown ice with a vindictive zeal.
The shovel broke a layer of ice that would have felled my fragile neighbors. Smashing the ice was as difficult as weeding the garden. In summer, I struggled to unearth the deep roots of invading plants instead of just pulling the heads off. Battling the roots of corruption was as difficult; many politicians pulling off some scapegoat from their hat and going on as before.
Under the thin ice, another envelope winked at me. All red, with the same holly leaves and Christmas tree ornaments, but bearing a different message. Flash sale, Find your gifts here, 50% on everything…
The other face of the holidays, where stores and banks and insurance agents offered pre-approved credit cards with incredible rates… Those two injunctions fought for my mind space.
Buy, buy, buy!
Give, give, give!
Buy or give, but never disturb the generous speculators who congratulated themselves with champagne at Davos while pouring crocodile tears over the climatic crisis brought by their own profitable actions.
So be it.
This year, I had decided to forego the shopping and give all that I could: clothes, food, kitchen items, books to nourish the dreams…
A low drone rose.
I thought it was the car of a neighbor returning from a job that might evaporate next year, in another reorganization. Then I heard distant bells tingling under the loud clangs of my shovel. Under the tingling bells, a chorus of voices sang, soft like the abating wind. Were there still people singing carols?
For a moment, magic bathed my soul.
Then a familiar rumble of a diesel engine cut through the magical moment.
The beams of two spotlights swept the sidewalk that I was furiously hacking. I turned around, sweating and out of breath, my palms aching from the shocks, intent on spilling out my consumer/donator frustrations.
The chorus I had heard a moment before was flowing from the driver window of a huge eighteen-wheeler, pulling a semi-trailer. The trailer’s side was marked with an unfamiliar logo with holly leaves and one round tree ornament. Such a mastodon should never have been able to engage in our narrow, curved residential street! Neither should have it been able to ground to a halt without a loud hiss of brakes.
A ginger cookies scent titillated my nose, along with a waft of warm air from the open window. The left elbow of the driver jutted out, wrapped in candy-red, shiny coat.
A bearded face leaned out of the window, the lower edge encrusted with ice crystals that fell as his arm brushed over them. The soft singing was still pouring out, probably from a high-quality radio system, because the voices were so clean it sounded like an entire choir had been squeezed inside the truck’s cabin.
“Excuse me,” the driver said, “I’m kind of lost.”
His gravelly voice betrayed an age in the advanced seventies, confirmed by the beard, whitened by worries.
Another elder who had lost his pension and had been forced to work as long as he had some strength remaining.
No, it was his way that he had lost. And, as like most truckers, he was ‘on the clock’. I put my bad mood in my pocket, with the envelopes, and planted the shovel like a flag into a precarious snowbank.
“Where are you going?” I asked, my voice raspy with the cold.
The driver turned to cut his engines, gaining my silent approval. The rumble of diesel died out like an organ endnote. He scratched his head under the rim of his knitted cap. Red like the anorak.
“Well,” he said, “it’s a bit complicated, since my GPS has retired…”
“Retired? He’s luckier than I am!”
Oops! I had talked without thinking. The paper tip of my bad mood’s viper tongue peeked from my pocket.
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m a little like you, a freelance artist living day-to-day, so there’s no retirement package for me.”
“Oh,” he said.
He smiled, and that changed his physiognomy.
I mean, the guy didn’t have that perfect Colgate smile, whiter than white, over gums redder than his anorak. His teeth showed some wear and tear, toned to a soft ivory taint like an elephant’s defense. However, there was a light in his smile that rose to his eyes, their irises the pale blue of the ice, when free of impurities.
And this warmth, this light, evaporated the worries in my head, the magnates of this world receding into nothingness. I didn’t feel the cold sweat channel in my back, either.
It was at this moment that I noticed he had addressed me in my native French, despite my living in an overly English neighborhood in the Toronto area. How could he have guessed my proud Franco Ontarian culture?
“What brand is your GPS?” I asked. “A Garmin, a Tom-Tom?”
“It’s a Rudolph-2.”
“I’m not familiar with that brand.”
“Well, the first was the best, but since he retired…”
He had spoken on such a good-natured way that I almost didn’t notice the incongruity of a GPS going into retirement. I thought that poor trucker must have been so lonely on the long roads, that he spoke to his equipment. So, I asked him a good-natured question.
“And what are you transporting?”
His arm wove toward the back of the truck.
“Gifts,” he said.
As the single syllable left his fleshy lips, a warm scent of chocolate cake tickled my nose. I felt myself shrinking into a smaller me, transported in a familiar kitchen, as my grandmother was pulling from the oven a magnificent cake. Her mittened hands deposited the dessert on a pad on the countertop. Then she would spread her special cacao icing, a glory as each bite melted in the mouth, and place a little maraschino cherry at the center.
How I missed my grandmother!
I came back to the present with a start. If the bearded trucker carried food…
“Nothing perishable, I hope?”
“Oh, don’t worry, it will keep. I’m delivering everything this night.”
In certain stories or movies, there are moments when snotty critics qualified a character as genre blind.
For instance, you watch a movie with a bunch of teens in a haunted house, and the leader brilliantly decides, “let’s split up to cover more ground.” Of course, that was a staple of countless horror movies, like the young woman stuck in a mansion as Victorian as empty, who hears a noise coming from the cellar and goes down there to investigate the source, alone with her skimpy night robe…
That kind of genre-blind, of cognitive dissonance, was on me now. My brain had not connected all the dots yet, still rattled by the solicitation envelopes in my pocket.
So, I addressed the bearded man, hedging my bets.
“So, you’re a kind of Santa Claus,” I said.
I added my best ivory-toothed smile, the fruit of my privileged access to dental care.
At that moment, a concert of tweets and chirps rose in my back. Turning, I discovered a whole gallery of birds, the dream of any ornithologist doing the Christmas bird count.
Cardinals redder than red, with their more discrete dames, their plumage a beige and soft red. Cheerful black-headed chickadees, Black-eyed Juncos, with their best gray and white tuxedos, blue jays harping, and others that my eye couldn’t identify. Among them, a lone peregrine falcon perched on a branch, surprisingly indifferent to all those little meals chirping under its claws.
I was afraid that the truck would dematerialize like in the tales when I turned back.
But no, the driver was still there, one hand on the wheel, his kind eyes contemplating the bird assembly. Maybe I was mistaken, and it was St-Francis of Assisi hiding under this beard.
Really, I would be fine with that.
“Yes,” he admitted. “And I must deliver at a series of addresses.”
He foraged on the passenger seat and grabbed a pack of old matrix print paper. There must have been a hundred pages, all perforated on the sides. I glanced at the top address.
I felt a weird let down feeling. Then, I shook it off like snow from my boots. What was I griping for? Living in a fair neighborhood, in a country at peace?
A light bulb flickered in my mind: the first line was the address of a distribution center of food and clothes in my city. Because of the elite’s neglect or indifference, more families struggled to make ends meet, and donations were dropping. No wonder Santa Claus had changed his routes tonight.
Under the first address, I recognized others: a refuge for the street kids, a safe house for women and children in danger, a halfway house for ex-prisoners. I did not know the other places, but, flipping the accordion-linked pages, I could see area codes in Cyrillic characters, Chinese ideograms…
A gulf of gratitude filled me, warm as hot fudge poured from the pan. I clapped my hands in delight.
“Oh, I see what you’re doing, it’s, it’s fantastic! Thank you, thank you!”
He seemed happy from my reaction, and the birds tweeted louder.
“Yes,” he said, “and Mother Claus had even given me the locations of hidden political prisoners camps.”
That last bit saddened me. Long ago, I had sent a box of children’s shoes to an organism in Afghanistan. The box never got there. Lost in transit…
“The jailors will keep the gifts for themselves,” I said, my voice heavy.
That didn’t seem to bother him, no more than the time zones and Earth’s circumference.
“It will be a delicate affair, young girl, but for a guy who had slipped into millions of houses by chimneys or windows in a single night, no problemo!”
His young girl passed on me like a balm, because it was sincere. The good grandfather perceived me as the child I had been, as I was still inside.
However, there was just one little detail at odds with my ecological conscience. The gas-gurgling truck.
“Wouldn’t it be less polluting to drop your gifts from your sleigh, with the flying reindeers?”
There, he burst into a hearty laugh. Not the fabled ho-ho-ho, but a joyous wah-ha-ha-ha!
“A truck is less conspicuous. Especially with all those drones firing on everything, even the birds! As for the gas, the elves have produced a biofuel.”
He restarted the engine. I could smell a sharp scent of ginger coming out. He winked.
So, stepping on the foothold, I gave him the directions to get out of the street, and to reinitialize his GPS. His eyes perked up when the little red sleigh icon blinked on his screen. A powerful Ha! escaped in the night.
“I thank you, young girl. Do you want something in exchange?”
I considered the flock of birds happily hopping by, and breathed in the odor of grandma’s chocolate cake and ginger breads, all coming from the exhaust tubes.
One writer, on the verge of dying, had said that his most marvelous discovery had been to know that he already possessed everything he needed to be happy.
A roof over my head, a family to cherish, a work I loved.
“You just gave me my gift,” I said, tears in my eyes. “I don’t need anything else.”
“Well, it has been a pleasure to talk with you. Embrace your loved ones for me.”
And, just like that, the gift truck rumbled on, leaving its good smell of ginger and chocolate behind. I followed it with my eyes until the taillights were gone.
I stood, unmoving, savoring the moment under the stars that shone without concurrence from the Moon. Then, the to-do list raised its ugly head in my mind.
Ice to break; meal to prepare; table to set.
My hand reached for the shovel’s handle.
And froze there.
Under my feet, the concrete slab was as dry as in July. The ice had evaporated on the sidewalk, so nobody would slip and get a hip fracture. On the street, and on the driveways near me, the black top had been regenerated, all cracks gone from its smooth finish. Nice of Santa, to think of the municipalities crushed under debts, putting back repairs.
Thank you, I thought.
You’re welcome, a voice answered in my head, just as a snowflake tickled my nose.
Snow was falling, big fluffy tufts, magical, as they only covered the lawns and gardens by now empty of birds. I put back the shovel inside our empty garage and headed for the front door.
As soon as I pushed it open, a flurry of good smells greeted me. Mashed potatoes, vegetables, tofu turkey with cranberries…
To my surprise, the table had been set.
With the best plates, those that usually waited on the high-altitude shelf, disposed on the clean fabric with their attending cutlery. It was as if a fairy—or Mother Claus?—had prepared this feast.
I was tempted to cry out You shouldn’t have done this!
But I didn’t.
Because, at that moment, I saw—and it drew tears from my eyes—what occupied the center of the table: a wide, generous china plate, the edge ornate with holly leaves (real, fresh ones) and small golden marbles.
And, on this round throne, a cake, worthy of my grandmother’s best art, covered with a thick layer of chocolate fudge icing, sending up a warm scent of cacao. On its top, a small round cherry sat, like a tiny Christmas ornament.
May you all live and give in this Holiday Season !
(c) Michèle Laframboise 2021
Enjoyed this tale? At the time I actually wrote it, Serge Bouchard, a dear friend of all poets, who had been a trucker, had just left us. So the generous character in the truck would look a bit like him.
When days get shorter, we seek the comfort of a good book, with hot chocolate. These five stories are about trials and new beginnings, and how friendship or even love can bloom in any situation, as long as you don’t give up hope for the future.
Immerse yourself in five Holiday tales of compassion and courage, of wonders and sweetness by multi-award winner Michèle Laframboise, to enjoy with your favorite mug of warm chocolate !
Why those Holiday stories?
The first days of December are always difficult, for not only is the light dimming, but the news that bombards us discourages us with its darkness. Women’s rights, the rights of poor people to a life of dignity, access to the vote, respect for others, all the progress that I witnessed growing up are now under threat. The magic of the holidays seems very fragile like a crystal Christmas ball …
So these stories are about friendship and hope. On a human scale.
The 5 Chocolate Holiday Stories range from realism to fantasy and romance, and locations range from New York City to Toronto to the beautiful Appalachian countryside. However, the questions asked are as old as humanity. Is there any magic left at Christmas? Will I find a good man? A loyal friend? Can I protect my forest? We meet people struggling forward despite difficulties, mental illness, prejudices and the loss of their youthful ideal.
And the marvelous can spring from a wounded bird found in the cold, or from a stray delivery truck on a suburban street.
People who are caught in difficult health situations, forced to undergo expensive surgeries and suffering from illnesses, and their overwhelmed caregivers, also experience great stress. They yearn for a respite, a door ajar leading to a sweeter world.
So, a book, like hot chocolate, makes the reader forget their difficulties for a little moment of happiness.
We need an escape so badly!
Romances are often snobbed and called escape literature. But what’s wrong with wanting a respite, a break from this relentless pressure of negative information?
I have penned some heavy and dystopian science fiction (Ice Monarch, La ruche) that explored the excesses of capitalism running amok. But I also feel the need to write stories that caress, that appease.
And stories which can be put in all hands. English speakers often talk of “clean” romance (as if sexuality between consenting adults was immoral or dirty!) but I prefer the adjective sweet romance, which gives an idea of sweetness, while promising the reader a certain restreint in graphic descriptions and/or swearing.
Hot chocolate for the soul !
I hope no one is left lonely or left out in the cold. And may the grieving souls find comfort in reading and music.
Do you remember the Chicken soup for the Soul collection? Well, a cup of chocolate for the soul is good too!
And, why not, read a good book while smelling the aroma of hot chocolate!
Practical info about those 5 chocolate-Rich holiday tales
The book contains three short and sweet romances, one magical Santa tale, and one friendship tale with birds.
Those chocolate-friendly Holiday tales are:
upbeat, hope-filled stories
all-ages friendly tales (what the English call “clean & wholesome” but I prefer to say sweet)
featuring colorful women who overcome difficulties and prejudices
Covering from the Winter solstice to Christmas Eve.
Any story can be read on a bus ride to work (3000 to 7400 words)
Useful links to offer those 5 holiday talesas a present
After 16 years of besieging the English-language sci-fi magazines, a breach has been opened in Asimov’s wall. My sarcastic new “Shooting at Warner’s Bay” is out this month.
A promise kept
It is a special moment for me, because it was a promise I made to my father on his hospital bed, in November 2014. I had already started my cycles of submissions, but I had a lot less stories written at this time. Now with 120+ written texts, including 80 in the current submission cycle, I’m not short of ammo!
My dad Jacques E. Laframboise had a large library of science fiction and fantasy books (the Black Marabout collection). I read a lot of classic horror authors (Jean Ray, Claude Seignolle …), but science fiction was really more my thing. I had loved the Fin d’Ylla, a very, very old thing re-edited by Marabout. The Robots, by Isaac Asimov. A collection of translated short stories from Harlan Ellison.
Science fiction nourished my imagination, even if it had not made me popular with my French teachers, for whom there was one Literature with a capital L (generally written by long-dead, white Europeans guys) and the ‘paraliteratures’ like the detective, SF, fantastic novels that I read voraciously.
Of course, I would have preferred to get at this happy point earlier, so that my dad, and my grandma Edmée Laframboise (who loved to read detective stories) could rejoice with me. But, that’s life. And, at least, those stories will live on and find new readers.
Laying siege with perseverance
Looking at that table, you can guess some mags answered faster than others.
The American pro SF mags pay very well, and they sit at the top of my mailing list for submitting a manuscript. Then, if the text is refused, I go to less prestigious magazines, then to semi-pro (which pay, but a little less) and finally to the “token” markets. To understand all these categories, I recommand the page of Ralan, who has devoted himself for 25 years to disentangling the “markets” (as named from the point of view of the author who is paid by the magazine).
SF pro magazines like Asimov’s receive several thousand texts per year. The acceptance ratio of pro mags being very low, that publication means more pressurized air inflating my pride balloon !
Climbing quality raises the acceptance bar
And as editor Scot Noel of DreamForge magazine pointed out, the average quality of the submitted stories is climbing, which makes it more difficult for the first readers to sort through the slush pile. The same phenomenon occurs for all other magazines as the level of writing increases. It is rather good news for the readers, but a challenge for a would-be writer. It is no longer enough for a story to be good, it has to shine, to stand out.
And, for me, I had to stop telling myself “I must write like X or Y” and to dive into my favorite flavor without feeling guilty for not writing in the genres in demand, especially with lots of deaths like horror or thrillers.
And I have to write with my heart, too, otherwise it would sound like a niah-niah-look-at-me exercise. That story in Asimov’s sprouted from my sympathy for ignored Hollywood actresses, and was fun to write. It flowed smoothly and didn’t require too many revisions or line edits.
By the way, why do I specify “my first story”? Because I am currently revising another short story, which will be released in 2022 in this same magazine. And I don’t miss any “ammunition” for other SF magazines!
Asimov’s, September-October 2021, double issue. For electronic subscription. Otherwise, run and buy it at the newsstand!
You read that in every How-to novel writing advice, the call of adventure that the hero or heroine spurns at first… I wish to share this incredible moment when I boarded and rode an experimental hovercraft.
The name of the vehicle was… Starship. Don’t laugh. It was a miniature orange two-person hovercraft, in demonstration at an event organized by my father (a hovercraft specialist) for an aerospace association that do not exist today. A jobless geographer atthe time, I had volunteered to help him with small things. We were in a hangar by the St-Lawrence River, under a gray sky.
One visiting engineer had been invited to test it, but he said he would get drenched (and he was an experienced, gray-haired guy, I suspect he knew what to expect bouncing in a small craft next to the engine, while I didn’t). So, I offered to go instead. I put on a thick and loose and dark wetsuit over my light and elegant September clothes and sat behind the pilot.
The first assault on my senses was the deafening noise of the main engine (see in the pic, right in my back) and the propeller pulling the air down to lift the hovercraft, screaming at one hundred and ten decibels that made even the red composite hull shake. It was impossible to talk, and the earmuffs might have been cotton candy for all the protecting they did.
After the flat concrete, the cold, cold September water of the St-Lawrence River rushed at us, sprayed droplets everywhere. Water seeped through the seams of the wetsuit, enclosing my legs in a moist embrace. The smell of tar and exhaust, the stench of dead fish coming from the posts of the bridge we were passing nearby gave a moldy taste on my tongue. But nothing beat the excitement of flying over the water in an experimetal hovercraft!
The hovercreaft jumped over chopping waves, propelled so fast every bone of my spine and basin was vibrating at the same pace. I grabbed the hull on my sides, not sure the orange lifejacket would be of any use if a sudden swerve shook me off. The craft reached the faraway bridge at piers in less than a minute!
At our dizzying speed bouncing over the wavelets, the air rushed at my face with countless droplets, my carefully combed hair was askew, but I still remember today how exhilarating those five minutes had been!
My grateful thanks for the gallant Starship pilot, who may have retired since the pic ws taken (I didn’t get your name, alas, so say hello if you recognize yourself!) Note how on the pics the pilot did not wear the earmuffs; he probably lent those to me for the test drive.
And kudos to the fellow engineer who took this picture and sent it to my dad, Jacques Laframboise, a few weeks later. We thought you might like this as a little memento of a happy day, he had written, noting the dsate September 23rd, 1987, and a time 2 min 45 sec, which may be the time elapsed in the hovercraft test drive. Alas, that friend didn’t write his name, and my father has flown into the great unknown in 2014.
It had been 34 years, and I still count those three minutes as the most exciting in my life!
Everything in this bird tour has gone awry: Lady Byrd wakes up too late, because the tour guide forgot to arrange the calls. In a foul mood, she has to get to the site herself. Then, her path crosses that of a pregnant birder in the throes of an abusive relationship, and cornered into a hard choice only women have to face. What can an expert birder can do to lift this fog of sadness?
A spirited and hopeful story with the energetic Lady Byrd !
(This is an extract of the story. The ebook is available on paper and ebook formats at Echofictions.com.)
Chicks and Chickadees A Fearless Lady Byrd Adventure
by Michèle Laframboise
The fluted call woke me from my heavy sleep. That chant was as familiar as my living room couch, coming from the tiny throat of a black-capped chickadee. The rest of the year, that small quick bird emitted a short chip, or a gleeful nasal, ha-han-han-haan, more reminiscent of a duck quack. They were the life of the party in any forest; hanging a lump of fat in a net is a sure way to invite them to any backyard.
But, as the snow melted, the perky chickadees’ thoughts turned away from food. They started singing that soft whistle.
The bird was enjoying the morning; I wasn’t. At all.
A budding headache reminded me how foolish I had been to accept that glass of wine yesterday evening, even the light white brand that complemented the meal served at the hotel hosting our birding group. One blond lady was endlessly raving about her 150 mm cam, but I lost most of her words.
I pushed off the big fluffy down hotel coverlet from the bed, striking with my feet like I would a nighttime aggressor.
(I am lucky to never have experienced the event, but my niece had.)
(She did OK and sent the stupid horny student to the hospital. Nevertheless, I take extra precautions.)
I balanced myself to sit on the edge of the bed, my feet hanging inches from the floor. Extra-high hotel bed. A tingling feeling of something wrong nagged at me. Not the headache.
Then my eyes fell on the digital clock on the lacquered nightstand.
Ten past six. AM.
I was supposed to get up at five-thirty, eat a small collation and board the minibus that would take me and a dozen others to a secluded spot where a famed warbler had been last observed.
That warbler was that kind of elusive brownish bird, easier to hear than see. Its off-key colors made them the opposite of the chickadees: not only difficult to see, but a challenge at identifying.
Birders woke very early to get to the field at dawn. I winced. By now, the tour bus would have left with the rest of the group.
On my precedent birding tours, the organizers usually managed the morning calls so everyone was woken around the same hour, generally 5h00 or 5h30 AM.
I hadn’t met the Sully Bird Tours manager yet, only the athletic brown-haired girl, a Lucy Something (I should have remembered her name but the flight had left me slightly zombified) who greeted me at the airport and lifted my bags without breaking stride. She had driven me to this three-star hotel, where I later met the birding party, but the Sully of Sully’s tour had been apparently busy elsewhere.
If the manager was around her age, maybe he had left a Facebook message, Twitter notification or I don’t-know-what-tech alert to the tour members, not thinking that some tour members could be old enough to be his mother. Or grand mother, if he was that young.
I felt a surge of wrath towards this Ronald Sully. A competent birding tour manager would have made sure all members were up and seated before taking off. Especially when said members had paid north of one thousand dollars for one week-end, all-inclusive package.
The love call tempered my disappointment. A chickadee’s spring mating call was a soft flute, not migraine-inducing at all. Maybe Ron Sully had called my room number, and I had been sleeping too soundly to be roused?
I checked the hotel phone.
No blinking red light. So no calls. I thought fast.
If I skipped breakfast and toothbrushing, I had a thin chance to catch the 6h30 AM hotel shuttle and get to the Park entrance in time. Normally, I would have called a taxi, but the town abutting the gigantic park didn’t have a lot of those, and no way at my age would I adopt the Uber application my tech-savvy nephew was raving about.
My hands went to my night gown, holding my full bladder.
To the bath-cave, my numb brain ordered.
While scurrying to the bathroom to get my three essentials “U” (Urine drain, Uplifting cream, UV screen), I thought about the surprises that this coming day held in reserve.
Birding expeditions were a fascinating adventure I had shared with Paul, my husband for thirty-two wonderful years. Then Paul’s strong body had been grabbed by the Crab, and nothing had been the same ever since.
Only our common love of birds had saved me from spiraling into depression and alcohol after Paul’s death. Each bird tour was a way of reconnecting with the man who had meant so much to me.
I got dressed, bundled my dog-eared Sibley Guide to Birds, my 8×25 Bushnell field binoculars in their case, and filled my water bottle at the sink.
Next, I put on my “fearless lady explorer hat”.
Strapping it under my chin, I looked like a Victorian-era explorer matron. The vintage pith jungle helmet had been a joking gift from Paul. I wore it without qualms: besides being well-padded, the off-white pith hat was a fine conversation starter.
I even got to learn what the word steampunk meant.
Minutes later, I walked up to the front desk among enticing smells of breakfast prepared at the restaurant, my soft-soled walking shoes plopping softly on the waxed oak floorboards. The morning clerk looked up at me from his screen, all fresh face and pimples.
“Can I do something for you?” he asked, his eyes squinting at my Victorian pith hat.
The first words coming to me were: Wasn’t someone supposed to wake me up? But I chose a more diplomatic approach.
“Yesterday, did I leave instructions for a wake-up call?”
The boy (I write boy because he couldn’t have been more than 16) bent on the screen raising like a flat obsidian monolith between us. I could only see his combed auburn hair, like waves.
“No, you didn’t.”
Oh, I thought. So I had forgotten.
No wonder. The plane trip had been exhausting.
Two hot-headed (and thoroughly inebriated) guys were spreading their politics around in loud angry voices with scant regard for their fellow passengers. As they sat on the row before me, it had been impossible to doze off.
Eventually the flight attendant got tired of the hate spiel and shushed them. As the attendant was a brown-skinned, petite Indian-looking stewardess, they scoffed and leered at her politeness, making me wish I had some knitting needles or hat pins to prod them in the ribs with, or more stamina. Only when the head steward, a burly, fortyish man with a military buzz cut, came to back up his colleague, did the two goons tone down, relenting under a male authority.
So I had accepted the complimentary wine glass on board to complement the kneaded napper meal.
Later, at the three stars, medium-sized hotel, I had been only too happy to meet fellow birders to care. The local brand offered at supper proved one sip too much, but I would discover this only in the morning.
The rumbling under my seat lulled me to a better mood. I munched on a soft ChocoPower bar, the one with nuts, while the shops and motels of the outskirts were replaced by fields and forested stretches. My multipocketed coat was rolled under my back to provide a support for my spine, and I rested my slightly pounding ball against the fabric headrest, the explorer hat on my knees.
It was past 6h 45 when the hotel shuttle grinded to a halt on the blacktop of the parking near the Conservatory entrance. (A conservatory was the same thing as a natural park, but without the noisy camping grounds.)
The parking lot was bare, except for a pine hut contained a pit toilet, and a green and blue minivan with the words Sully’s Birding Tour printed in another shade of blue across a pale grey seagull outline. Which looked strange because, this far inside the continent, the only seagulls I had seen were the ubiquitous ring-billed seagulls actively checking out the hotel’s waste containers.
I stepped off the shuttle in a deflated mood. At this hour, most morning birds would have flown off to ensure their survival. I would get the obvious customers, robins, woodpeckers and the happy-chirping chickadees.
The group’s route must have been another useful info the organizers had trusted to the Internet. Hence, I wasted another two minutes of early morning observation to consult the large wooden map, discolored by years of exposition to the elements. The paths were marked by vivid-colored plastic ribbons.
More disappointment piled as I discovered that most of those brightly-colored paths were over four kilometers long, and crossed higher slope gradients that I cared for.
I pulled out the tiny flat green cell my nephew had given me.
I didn’t care much for using a phone while birding, but I needed to know which path the group took. I punched the main number. After three rings, a primp, happy-sounding voice announced that Sully Bird Tour were unavailable and would I like to leave a message?
Of course, they would have disconnected their cells, because a sudden noise erupting from a pocket could scare the birds away. Even the more discreet vibration setting was picked up by the birds’ tine-tuned ears, resembling a low-throated alarm buzz that most species heeded as a predator presence warning.
I puffed my cheeks. Looking at the tour bus, I decided to leave a low-tech message. I sacrificed a page from my small do-it-all notebook for the busy woman (a gift from my niece) and wrote my cell number and my name, plus “on Trail 4”.
Trail 4 was the shortest circuit available, which would let me amble at my own pace and make the best of this day. And, with luck, one of the guides would check on me.
After a cautious stop at the pit toilet (making sure my cell phone did not fall at the bottom), I set on the path winding between tall pines.
This story was up for one week only, for International Women’s Day, but I left it on this blog five months because: this Covid period needed hopeful stories. If you liked it and want to support my writing, please buy the ebook and offer it to someone. Available on paper and ebook formats at Echofictions.com. Bird Pic (c) Shutterstock / Bruce MacQueen
For the first time, fearless Amanda Byrd must mind her turbulent grand-niece while on a special birding excursion, on the day of the SuperBowl.
Our sharp-eyed guide pointed silently towards one of the husky, snow-powdered spruce branches. There, its mottled cream and caramel-brown plumage almost invisible against the tree background, its pale heart-shaped face marked with the dark marbles of its eyes, was a discreet nocturnal bird doing its best to avoid the sharp daylight.
You rarely got to see a Barred owl from such a close distance, in a cold February afternoon, a meager dozen feet from the trail our small gaggle of birders was following. I didn’t even need my 8×42 Bushnell binoculars to take in its 22-inch long body from head to tail. I felt I could just stretch an arm to brush the fine down on its roundish head.
Well, not that I would do such an impolite gesture in front of my small niece. But my sister’s first grandchild had no such qualms herself.
“Hooo, hooo!” Mona said, her bright red mittens cupped in front of her mask, her brown eyes full of glee.
The owl’s neck moved like a tank turret to investigate the disturbance, one abyssally-dark eye blinking under a fluffy cream eyelid.
Most owls had gaudy-colored irises, orange or gold, framing round pupils; Barred owls had obsidian eyes, like black glass, the irises indistinct. Owl’s eyes were not slitted like cats’ to minimize incoming light, so the nocturnal bird protected its sensitive retinas.
Its downy eyelids, lowered at half-mast, gave him a perpetual air of either wisdom or sleepy annoyance.
Some owls’ tufted feathers reached out in points, like the Great horned owl, but this owl’s tapered along the round head.
When the owl’s head moved, Mona hooted happily.
“He looks like caramel ice cream with nuts!”
Count on children in the dead of winter to talk about ice cream, I thought, shivering.
The bird’s colors rather reminded me of an ill-fitting wool pull one of my own “aunties” had knitted for me (forgetting that teenage years were also growing up years) with a pattern of creamy whites and spatter of light brown stitches, at odds with the gaudy colors the sixties era favored.
I wore it for a time, to please my aunt, and as a camouflage to observe birds, Eventually, the mites found it. My mother unraveled the pull and knitted a warm scarf with it. Now that scarf, decades later, I wore in my winter bird watching, those muted hues being less aggressive.
I breathed in the cold air through the scarf and my thin face mask. The low temperatures prevented me from getting the scents of pine and fresh snow, but the odor of old wool impregnated with my mom’s patience remained present. I wore a heavier daypack with a thermos and collation.
But at least, it was a rewarding activity to go birding on the ‘Superb-Owl’ Sunday, as birders called this day. The name had been coined by a passionate birder in the 90s, and since then, many bird-lovers found out, in cities and woods alike, how quiet that peculiar Sunday was. The usual troves of weekend hikers also dried out on that day.
At this moment, my nephew, along with half the United States population, was lounging on his living room couch watching football players as colored as birds disputing a spectacular waste of money. (I’m told the commercial spots alone cost several millions.)
Meaning that, on Superbowl day, our small group of dedicated birders had the huge park near Albany, NY – and all its birds– to ourselves.
Including our own elusive, superb owls.
That is, if one of us did not scare said birds away with her bubbling enthusiasm.
I just finished “Sarek” an excellent SF novel by Ann. C. Crispin, set in the Star Trek universe.
In these trying times, I need some comfort readings, which I get from some Star Trek novels.
I just finished Sarek, (a story with Spock’s dad), a tale with finesse and a touch of Pon Farr that enriches the universe of the original series. (I ignored the ST reboot at the cinema). There, we meet Amanda in depth, and learn about her love affair with Sarek. The novel shows up this Vulcans are not walking cold computers, not perfect, but people with their own emotions, tradition clashes, preferences, disagreements. But they settle their difference in a more zen manner.
As with “Vulcan Heart” by Josepha Sherman (another fine writer we lost in 2012) and Susan Shwartz (many thanks to you!), this reading leaves me with a strong impression that our humanity, sick with conspirators, hate groups, anti-vaccines and anti-science, would need Vulcans (and also the Bene Gesserit, but that’s another universe). Just the basic control of emotions and the philosophy would prevent many problems from even happening (what’s the logic in despising dark-skinned persons?) in addition to cleaning up most prejudices.
The only flaw in this book, alas, is that we can no longer thank its author … Ann Carol Crispin left to count the stars in 2013. It’s a shock when it is a contemporaneous author who disappears.
Has the same thing happened to you? What was your most shocking experience? Please, share your testimony, because I haven’t found my zen state yet. So many writers to be grateful to, so little time!
Fortunately, Ann C. Crispin and the other departed writers have left many books behind, like a trail of excellent chocolate chips leading to the stars!