Half-Year Check In

So here’s what I planned to accomplish for 2020 back in January:

  • Decide what to do with Graveyard Mind and Graveyard Mind 2 and implement those plans.
  • Revise An Excuse for Whiskey.
  • Finish short stories I’ve started but not completed. As before, I would like to get at least six new stories out the door this year, but this year I’d also like to write one of those stories for submission to the online pro markets rather than for open call themed anthologies, as is my usual way.
  • Finish revising my WIP novel and get it out on submission.
  • Restart the agent hunt.
  • Read more.

Stretch goal!

  • If I get my WIP out on submission, and Sandra and I finish An Excuse for Whiskey by November, I’ll take a run at NaNoWriMo again.

Holy shit. That list seems ridiculously optimistic looking back with hindsight. I’m still hopeful that I’ll find Graveyard Mind a home with a new publisher, but there’s nothing to report yet. I have received my final royalty statement from CZP, with (hopefully) my final royalty payment arriving imminently. It’ll be nice for that chapter of the novel’s story to be finally closed. Unfortunately, until I find Graveyard Mind a new home, or choose to self publish a new edition, its sequel will remain lying fallow.

Sandra Wickham and I have agreed to put An Excuse for Whiskey on hold for the time being. She’s launching her new fitness website and doing the pandemic single-mom thing, so she’s got her hands full. (You should totally check out Sandra’s fitness programs, she really knows what she’s doing, and has offered me plenty of advice in the last year and a half as I became more serious about losing some weight and getting into better shape.) Lately, revisions haven’t been my bag, so…someday I hope we’ll get back to it. We’re both still really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far with our first attempt at co-writing. Sandra’s one hell of a writing and critique partner, so I’m looking forward to when we’re both able to get this project done and on submission.

Short stories have been going a bit better. I’ve finished one novelette of my six new story challenge and am closing in on another short story. Both stories are for general submission not a specific anthology, which I haven’t done in ages. The novelette is roughly 13000 words, and the short story is currently around 7000, so I’m tempted to count them as three (or four) of my six stories, as the novelette felt like four times the work to edit. I’ll wait and see on that. It’s not really in the spirit of the challenge, is it? In other short story news, my story “Cheating the Devil at Solitaire” was longlisted for the Sunburst Award, my story “All Cats Go to Valhalla” released in Swashbuckling Cats: Nine Lives on the Seven Seas, and my story “Golden Goose” sold to Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens, due to be released in August! Golden Goose is my fifth sale to Rhonda Parrish, which is awesome, and also makes me three for three (so far) on her Elemental anthology series. If I sell a story to the eventual Water anthology it’ll be like getting a rare Enlightenment Victory in my old Legend of the Five Rings card playing days.

As I said in an interview with Derek Newman-Stille, I gave up on the revisions I’d been working on in favour of trying to draft a new book in this strange pandemic moment. This is the book that I’ve kept promising myself I would start “when I’d crossed a few more items off the old list” but I never got there. This was the book that was going to be my NaNoWriMo stretch goal for the year. I’ve been working on the worldbuilding and history of this secondary world for ages now, but wouldn’t allow myself to actually do any drafting or prose. Now seemed like the perfect time to dive in. Currently, I’m at 41000 words, which means probably about halfway to a finished discovery draft; 30000 words is when a draft usually starts to feel like a book to me, but this one isn’t quite to that feeling yet. I think I’ve figured out what I want the finale to be, but I’m uncertain of the best steps to get through the soggy middle to get there. Nevertheless, I’m hoping to have a draft done by the end of the summer. We’ll see.

I can’t really start the agent hunt until I have a finished book, so that item is on hold for now, but I am updating my wish list of agents to submit to a bit at a time, so that when I’m ready, I am ready. I’ve also been working on a grant proposal project for Manitoba Arts Council and possibly the Canada Arts Council. My sample materials are done, and I have an idea of what I’m going to say, I just have to finish the actual application parts. MAC’s applications changed in recent years, so I’m building a new template from scratch.

As for my reading goals, I must say I’m enjoying tracking this a little bit more. So far I’ve read twenty-seven books, a combination of novels, non-fiction, graphic novels, and roleplaying games (check out my reading list so far here). When I started writing these mini reviews, I first just grabbed whatever was handy and seemed shiny. Since then, I’ve decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. Now I’m pulling out an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand. I’m limiting the stack to five books, which seems doable for the month, even though odds are I won’t get through them all each month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games might jump the queue, but I’m trying to get through the pile in order I stack them. The first time I did this, I basically grabbed the first five shinys to catch my eye, but for my next stack, I plan on adding some criteria to diversify my reading a bit. My intention is for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally (I’ve accumulated a lot of these over the years, and I’ve been a bit slower to get to many of them than I’d like. Sorry, friends!). For now, especially due to COVID-19, and having hoarded some of these books for so long, I’m still trying to pull most of these titles from my existing shelves, rather than going out an buying more. I’ve been trying to stick to a finish two books I’ve already purchased before buying any new books plan since I moved last summer anyway.

Regardless of how my other 2020 goals shake down, I’m going to pass on NaNoWriMo this year, and I think, every year going forward. Starting a new book and just writing at my own pace has been really enjoyable, and since my last few NaNo attempts have led to one book that took me forever to revise to my satisfaction, another that I still haven’t revised to my satisfaction, and a third that’s on hold until I find a home for Graveyard Mind, it’s just creatively not for me. Also, the last couple times I’ve participated it’s been more of a “holy shit, I haven’t written as many words as I’d hoped for this year, quick, lets get some points on the board before the year’s over” and those words haven’t proven to be terribly productive, let alone any fun.

A few things have changed since I spoke to Derek, but I’m still trying to write, and take care of myself, and stay in touch with my friends as I can. I was also recently a guest on the Seangeek Podcast, where we talked about writing, tabletop gaming, and comics. Sean was also kind enough to review Graveyard Mind previously on the podcast.

That’s it for the first half of my 2020. I hope you’re all staying as well as can be.

 

Feline Friday

So here’s a fine looking feline from my story “Cats Go to Valhalla.”

I really dig how this turned out! The artist, Katie Glauber, totally captured the essence of the kitty named Fairweather. I won’t say more about why I love this smirking cat for spoiler-rific reasons, but I’m so glad Swashbuckling Cats editor Rhonda Parrish commissioned illustrations for the anthology launch.

Check out Swashbuckling Cats: Nine Lives on the Seven Seas available now from Tyche Books!

Write on!

Swashbuckling Cats Launches Today!

Are you ready for Nine Lives on the Seven Seas?

I hope so, because Swashbuckling Cats launches today! To celebrate, I thought I’d write a bit about my story “All Cats Go to Valhalla” and give you some of the tale’s secret origin.

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Confession the first: I am not a cat person. I used to be. Before I had to live with one. I loved cats until I had a roommate with one. Then things changed. Now I guess you could say I admire the little jerks as impressive murder machines I’m glad I don’t have to share my home with.

Why the hell would I write a cat story then? Well, I happened to be on Twitter when Rhonda and her publisher at Tyche Books started joking about this anthology (this is neither a huge surprise or coincidence, I am…often on Twitter), and so I joined in the fun, tweeting silly cat GIFs, not really thinking an actual open call would happen. But when it did, since I’d been egging it on, I offered up my metaphorical axe.

Viking Cat

(Also, I also happened to have made a whiskey bet with a writing friend about which of us would sell five stories to Rhonda first. (This became story number four for me.))

The first thing that came to me for “All Cats Go to Valhalla” was my protagonist’s name. I’d had a note about a character called Kills-the-Sky in my miscellaneous writing folder for ages, but hadn’t found the right personality to attach it to, or the right story to use it in. (Fun side note: Kills-the-Sky is also the name of my Tabaxi Ranger in an online game of Curse of Strahd with some writing pals.) I couldn’t shake the image of that axe-wielding viking kitty though, so I knew I’d make the story Norse mythology based, and if I was writing a Norse myths story, why not make it a part of my Thunder Road universe?

The next part of the story to arrive was the title, which was unusual for two reasons. First, I don’t typically care for pun titles. Second, the final title is usually the last thing I type in a story, watching the end of submission window growing closer while I mutter, “fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.” It was kind of refreshing to have it locked from the near the start of writing.

The plot came from a line in one of the Thunder Road books about vikings coming to North America to bury their nightmares, which had been my attempt to tie stories of Newfoundland Old Hag sleep paralysis to the myths of maras. Having the first spur of the plot, I took some historical elements, such as an article I’d read about vikings travelling with cats on their ships, and I went for it, figuring if I tried to plan too much that the cats would just have their way, anyway.

I decided not to make my viking cats anthropomorphic because I figured real cats, stuck at sea, would have its own tension even before I started throwing monsters and gods at them, and, as an added bonus, I’d be able to fit the story more neatly into my Thunder Road ‘verse. Years and years ago, I’d really enjoyed Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams, so that probably influenced me too. Finally, I pulled up lots of images of Norwegian forest cats to cast my characters, and started following Black Metal Cats on Twitter for inspiration. This story ended up a bit darker than I thought Rhonda might want, but it was the story in my head, and anyway, there’s some humour in there. And, obviously, things worked out. Rhonda liked “All Cats Go to Valhalla” enough to buy it for the anthology.

I hope you’ll enjoy it too!

Viking Cat 2

Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens TOC and Cover Reveal

Today is the cover reveal and table of contents announcement for Air: Sylphs, Spirits, & Swan Maidens! I’m super excited about this one! This marks my fifth sale to one of Rhonda Parrish’s anthologies!

There’s a lot of new-to-me names in this one, so I’m excited to check out all the stories.

Whimsical, Inquisitive, Quick-Witted

Air is essential for life. The need for air is so important that breathing is instinctual. Yet Air is unstable and capricious, blowing gently as a summer breeze in one moment and blasting with the fury of a tornado in the next. No wonder that tricksters, fairies, and spirits belong to Air just as much as winged creatures. Elusive and ethereal, Air’s denizens are difficult to find and harder to capture.

Brave the ever-changing world of Air with these twenty-one stories and poems, featuring: Rose Strickman; Davian Aw; Mark Bruce; Alexandra Seidel; Damascus Mincemeyer; Cherry Potts; Ellen Huang; Giselle Leeb; Bronwynn Erskine; Kevin Cockle; Elizabeth R. McClellan; Chadwick Ginther; Christa Hogan; Rowena McGowan; Laura VanArendonk Baugh; Alyson Faye; Mara Malins; Sara C. Walker; Elise Forier Edie; Oliver Smith; and Sarah Van Goethem.

Table of Contents:

  • The Snow Wife by Rose Strickman
  • Into Thick Air by Davian Aw
  • Faery Dust by Mark Bruce
  • Of White Cranes and Blue Stars by Alexandra Seidel
  • Dead Man’s Hustle by Damascus Mincemeyer
  • Final Flight by Cherry Potts
  • The Ravens, Before Returning by Ellen Huang
  • Their Disappearing Edges by Giselle Leeb
  • Swanmaid by Bronwynn Erskine
  • The Whippoorwill by Kevin Cockle
  • Nephele, On Friday by Elizabeth R. McClellan
  • Golden Goose by Chadwick Ginther
  • The House with a Pond with a Girl In It by Christa Hogan
  • Research Log ~~33 by Rowena McGowan
  • Eiyri by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
  • Raven Girl by Alyson Faye
  • Time to Fold by Mara Malins
  • We All Fall Down by Sara C. Walker
  • The Sky Thief by Elise Forier Edie
  • Late Tuesday by Oliver Smith
  • Wind Song by Sarah Van Goethem

Air-500x775ish

The cover artist, as with all of the covers in Rhonda’s Elemental series, is Ashley Walters, who knocked it out of the park again.
My story, “Golden Goose,” is a Thunder Road ‘verse story featuring Ted and Loki. It’s not the first Thunder Road story I’ve sold, or the first one to feature Loki, but it is the first story featuring the trilogy’s protagonist, Ted Callan, that wasn’t self-published (nothing wrong with self-publishing, and I’m proud of those stories, but I’ve just always found Ted a tough nut to crack in short story length). This one was a lot of fun to write, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.
In addition to being my fifth story sale to Rhonda Parrish, “Golden Goose” is my third entry her Elemental anthology series! “Midnight Man versus Frankie Flame” appeared in Fire: Demons, Dragons, & Djinns, and “The Enforcer” appeared in Earth: Giants, Golems, & Gargoyles. And damn right, I’ve already started thinking about my story for when Water’s open call drops!

Swashbuckling Cats!

The cover and Table of Contents for Swashbuckling Cats: Nine Lives on the Seven Seas just dropped. Thrilled to have my story “All Cats go to Valhalla” in this anthology from Tyche Books and Rhonda Parrish. This ToC contains some folks I know, some I don’t, but it sure looks like fun. I hope you’ll check it out!

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Table of Contents:

Krista D. Ball — “The Perfect Kibble”
Rebecca Brae — “The Motley Crew”
Beth Cato — “A Royal Saber’s Work Is Never Done”
Lizz Donnelly — “The Growing of the Green”
Megan Fennell — “The Pride”
Chadwick Ginther — “All Cats go to Valhalla”
Joseph Halden — “The Furgeldt Collector”
Blake Liddell — “The Cat and the Cook”
Frances Pauli — “Pirates Only Love Treasure”
JB Riley — “Buccaneer’s Revenge”
Rose Strickman — “Cat at the Helm”
Leslie Van Zwol — “Cat Out of Hell”
SG Wong — “The Comeback Kitty”

 

Half-Year Check-in

So, here’s what I had up for 2019.

  • Finish drafting and revising Graveyard Mind 2
  • Revise An Excuse for Whiskey
  • Systematic finishing of the short stories I’ve started writing but not finished. I would like to get at least six new stories out the door this year
  • Separating my IP from a work-for-hire project that didn’t pan out.
  • Be ready to write that new book by November for NaNoWriMo
  • Read more

And how are we doing? Not especially great, nothing is crossed off the list, but early days yet, and I’m hoping now that my move is done, things will start turning the corner, creatively speaking.

State of Writing: I’ve only added about 15K to the Graveyard Mind 2 manuscript, but I know the shape of what the book will be, and how I want it to influence what will come later in the series. Between a few real life things, it’s been tricky for Sandra and I to sit down and hammer out the revision task list for An Excuse for Whiskey, but I am confident that we’ll get there. I’ve got two new stories out the door so far, and both sold! One will be appearing in Earth: Giants, Golems, & Garygoles, and another I can’t talk about yet. I have one more story that is almost drafted and is due by month’s end. It’s not an old piece of unfinished writing, but I’m still going to count it as getting me half way to my six story goal for the year.

Earth-Lg

I haven’t done any work separating out that IP. I’m largely considering just writing off that work entirely. I wasted a creative year on that book, but for now, it doesn’t seem worth the bother to revisit, just a waste of further time. I have, however, been happily worldbuilding and outlining (sort of) the next thing I want to write. If I’ve crossed GM2 off the list, or at least finished the draft by then, I think I’ll be ready to start writing the mystery project in November.

State of Reading: So this was a non-writing related goal, but still a very important part of the writing. You know, such as remembering why I got into writing in the first place, and that’s because I love to read. Mostly have been rereading as I prepped for the move, but I finished a couple more Seanan McGuire books in the series I’ve been following, and finished off Sam Sykes’ Bring Down Heaven trilogy. I also reread my way through the Moonshae trilogy by Douglas Niles, and R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf trilogy and Icewind Dale trilogy. Sam Sykes definitely got the old D&D nostalgia vibes going, but comfort reads were what was going to happen, so it was fun to revisit some of the books I read so long ago. I’ve also been doing a bunch of gaming reading as I try to digest some new game systems I’ve recently purchased and want to get to the table, such as Invisible Sun, Mecha Hack, RuneQuest, and Tiny Supers.

State of Gaming: I’ve tried a few new games. Gaming is another big reason why I became a writer, and so while it’s usually the first thing that gets cut when the deadlines roll in, I’ve been missing it. I participated in Dungeon Musings’ game marathon, where we played Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. I started playing in a Forbidden Lands campaign one of my buddies is running. The 5e D&D game I’m in with my high school group resumed after a moving hiatus and I hosted the first game in my new place. A new game just started up with the gang I played all the way through 3rd/3.5 D&D with, this time using 5th edition, and set in Greyhawk. I should be returning to the GM side of the table with a Marvel Superheroes game set in the MCU set post-Civil War and running a couple of Pacific Rim inspired one-shots and short games using Tiny Fontiers: Mecha and Monsters and Mecha Hack.

State of the Writer Himself: I’ve dropped thirty pounds since Christmas, largely due to a bunch of small changes accumulating to bigger results than I’d expected. Derek Künsken started #7300 Club on Twitter on New Year’s Day, a challenge to do 20 push ups a day for the year. When I saw the challenge, I snarked that I couldn’t promise to try, but I’d try to try, and when I did, I got mad at how much more difficult the exercise was than I remembered, so I kept going. My pal and co-writer Sandra Wickham who knows a shit-ton about this kind of stuff, suggested I vary my exercises and take a rest day, so I’ve been doing that and gradually ramping up my sets and repetitions of all the exercises. It’s all just body resistance stuff at the moment. Most of the weight loss likely came from my decision to quit eating so much garbage at work. So long, Tim Hortons sausage biscuit breakfast, hello banana. Cutting the junk food at work however meant I didn’t need to do much about my other meals to see results. It feels good. The last time I’d been under 200 pounds was after a bout of food poisoning that coincided with having to build a fence in thirty degree heat (I do not recomment this method for a variety of reasons). I’m back to the weight I was in my mid-twenties, and good thing I’m a pack rat, because some of the concert t-shirts I bought back then fit me again. The other exciting part of getting into better shape (you know, other than just plain feeling better) is that the words have been coming more regularly than they did all of last year.

The other big thing: I moved.

This has been a long time coming, we’ve been talking about it for a while now, and it’s finally happened. Sold our house and bought a condo. I’m hoping the lower maintenance will free up more time for writing, and maybe allow my sweetie to travel with me a bit more.

Most of the late winter and early spring was spent getting the house ready to sell, and the rest of spring until now was dealing with the move and unpacking. But I have a functional office again (mostly), so this, combined with just feeling better in general, leads me to believe the backend of 2019 will be better creatively. Any way, that’s me for now.

Write on!

Cover Reveal for Earth: Giants, Golems, & Gargoyles!

Glad I can finally show this off!

The cover of Earth, Giants, Golems, & Gargoyles, illustrated by Ashley Walters.

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This looks fucking amazing!

My contribution to the anthology is “The Enforcer” a Graveyard Mind story featuring Frank and Woj.

The release date for the anthology is August 13th. I’ll post a preorder link as soon as I have one.

Here’s the Table of Contents (no big deal, I’m just following Jane fucking Yolen):

Grin of Stone: A Political Rant – Jane Yolen
The Enforcer – Chadwick Ginther
Wings of Stone – Kevin Cockle
Soil, Native and Otherwise – Damascus Mincemeyer
Land Girl – Laura VanArendonk Baugh
The Stone Alphabet – Catherine MacLeod
Winner Takes All – Mara Malins
Kiln Fired – Steve Toase
Goblin Harvest – Suzanne J. Willis
The Poacher and the Priestess – Blake Jessop
Mike’s Massive Penis – Buzz Dixon
Where Green Things Grew – David L. Craddock
Troll Seal – Rose Strickman
The Giants – Gregory L. Norris
A Golem’s Progress – Tamsin Showbrook
Maggie of the Moss – Sarah Van Goethem
Children of the Colossus – Tim Ford
Earthbound – V.F. LeSann

My story “Midnight Man versus Frankie Flame” was previously featured in Rhonda’s Fire: Demons, Dragons & Djinns anthology, which means I’m half way to achieving my goal of elemental domination!

Onwards to Air and Water!

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Awards Eligible Works from 2018

Here’s what I did in 2018. It was a pretty good year for publications, a new novel kicking off a brand new series, and four short stories (a personal best!). If you’re planning on voting in any of the major SF&F awards, such as the Hugos, Nebulas, or Auroras, and you’d like to read anything I’ve written, let me know (@chadwickginther on Twitter, or justonewick [at] gmail.com), and I’ll make sure you have a copy of any of my stories you want to read, or an excerpt of Graveyard Mind.

Novels:

  • Graveyard Mind (ChiZine Publications). I hope you’ve had a chance to read it, I think this book is my best work to date. Please also think of Erik Mohr who did my kick ass cover, and Samantha Beiko, my editor, who honed this book into the best shape it could have.

Short Stories:

  • All and Nothing,” Abyss and Apex, April 2018
  • “Midnight Man versus Frankie Flame,” Fire: Elemental Anthologies #1, Tyche Books, Rhonda Parrish, editor, August 2018
  • “Eating of the Tree,” Parallel Prairies, Adam Petrash and Darren Ridgley, editors, October 2018
  • “None of Your Flesh and Blood,” Over the Rainbow: Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins, Exile Editions, Derek Newman-Stille, editor,  December 2018

I’m proud of all of these stories, but I think “All and Nothing” is my strongest work among them, and hey, you can read it online, so please check it out.

If you’re a comic reader, I also self-published Midnight Man Magazine #1 which includes the following short comics I wrote:

  • Midnight Man versus The Ghoul Gourmet (Art by Justin Shauf)
  • Midnight Man versus Corpse King (Art by GMB Chomichuk)

Cover art by Justin Shauf; colours by Donovan Yaciuk.

Thanks, and happy reading!

 

 

 

 

Catching Up On New Year’s Eve

Howdy!

It’s been a while since I’ve been active on ye olde blogge. Sorry about that. Lots of fun stuff has been happening though, I swear!

I attended the Parallel Prairies launch, which was a blast! I wasn’t one of the readers this time around, but I did participate in the mass signing afterward. It was great to see a full house for a book of Manitoba speculative fiction, this is something I’ve wanted to see for a long time.

I attended Can-Con in Ottawa in October, this was my third time there, and second year in a row, and I’m sure I’ll be attending for the foreseeable future. Derek Künsken and Marie Bilodeau and their team of volunteers put on an amazing convention, and it’s become my favourite event of the year. I moderated a panel on attending your first convention and did a reading from my Parallel Prairies story “Eating of the Tree”.

Shortly after Can-Con, I was off to St. Albert, Alberta to participate in STARFest. I had a great time swapping spooky stories with E.C. Bell, Rhonda Parrish, and S.G. Wong.

Most of us did a signing at the Chapters at Whyte Ave on Sunday, and were joined by Jayne Barnard. Sold some books, bought some books, and talked to some readers. All and all, a fine way to spend a weekend.

New Stories! I sold two new short stories this year.

One that just released: Over the Rainbow Folk and Fairy Tales from the Margins edited by Derek Newman-Stille. This anthology contains my story “None of Your Flesh and Blood” which I’m stoked to have out in the world.

The other story I sold in 2018, “Cheating the Devil at Solitaire,” will be appearing in On Spec. I just signed the contract, so I’ll have to let you know when you can read it later, but this marks my third appearance in On Spec! On Spec will always be dear to me because they were both my first short story sale, and my first rejection.

Interviews! I did the Lucky Seven interview series for Open Book. Also interviewed on Books and Tea about Graveyard Mind. Also cool, I was interviewed for a feature in Quill and Quire!

I participated in Rhonda Parrish’s Giftmas campaign by donating my story The Gift That Keeps On Giving, and the campaign was a fantastic success! Here’s a message from Rhonda:

We did it! Our goal was to raise $750 for the Edmonton Food Bank but we blew that goal out of the water and raised $1,127! That is enough for the Edmonton Food Bank to provide 3,381 meals for people who need help.

Yay!

Thank you so much for all your support. Whether you helped directly by donating, or by signal boosting, or even by reading the stories (authors track our website stats, we see when you visit and we love it), it all added up to one heck of a successful fundraiser. You’re awesome :0)

To thank you all we gathered up all the stories and compiled them into an anthology — one you can download for free!

Click here to download it now for free!

The free anthology expires on January 1st though, so do check it out if you have a chance.

I think that’s about it for updates. If you’ve read this far, you deserve a treat. Enjoy some Tom Waits, and a story the song inspired:

New Year’s Eve

A Thunder Road vignette

Outside of the hotel that had become his home, the cold bit into Ted Callan’s lungs with every breath.

What is your resolution for the coming year? Huginn asked.

Why do you fucking care? Ted shot back as he lit a cigarette.

Call it curiosity, the raven said. Everyone else seems to be making one tonight.

Doesn’t matter, they’re all bullshit.

“Cold out tonight,” a woman’s voice slurred from behind Ted.

He turned to see a middle-aged woman, shivering in her dress as she struggled to light a cigarette, and huddled under a borrowed suit jacket for warmth. He was glad that he hadn’t addressed his living raven tattoos aloud.

Ted nodded absently and muttered a yup as he lit her smoke and then went back to his own.

You could do something about this cold. Huginn’s cawing voice echoed shrilly in Ted’s mind.

I’ve done enough, he shot back.

It had been a brutal, miserable fucking winter, and it was a long way from over. The mercury had only cracked -20 twice since he’d beat back Hel’s army of the dead, and both of those times, a blizzard had chased in, nipping the heels of the warmer weather.

“What’s your resolution?” the woman asked, and then without waiting for Ted’s answer, added, “I think I’m going to quit smoking.”

They shared a chuckle, and then took a drag, exhaling plumes of smoke that coalesced in the frigid night air.

Resolutions had to be Ted’s least favourite part of the New Year, aside from his usual—and fierce—hangover. He couldn’t think of a single resolution that he’d ever kept. But at least tomorrow he wouldn’t be passed out, body half in the bathroom and his head pounding with thunder instead of his fist.

Muninn trotted out Ted’s list of past broken promises; it made quite the litany. All had been chosen spur of the moment to fulfill a cultural need, not out of any genuine desire to change, or to better himself.

Quit smoking

Take up the guitar again.

Get back in shape.

Quit smoking.

Eat better.

Eat less.

He took a drag of his cigarette, and exhaled in a long sighing breath. Quit smoking.

That one had definitely been the most common.

“Happy New Year!” the woman yelled, voice thick with drunken cheer, as she butted out her cigarette in the hotel’s sand-filled ashtray. She rushed back inside blowing on her hands as she went through the brass-edged revolving door entrance.

Judging from his chuckles, Muninn was having a grand old time continuing down the list of Ted’s failed promises.

Be more romantic.

Quit the Patch.

Travel.

Everyone is making a resolution, Huginn pressed, staring pointedly at Muninn. Thinking ahead. Forgetting the past.

Ted didn’t get why the birds were so fucking excited about resolutions, but he supposed making one was the only sure way to shut them the hell up.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “Kill Surtur. How’s that for a fucking resolution?”

Huginn and Muninn exchanged surprised quorks.

“Not good enough? What about: go to my buddy’s wedding without getting everyone killed? Oh, and maybe repair all the goddamned damage that Loki’s done to my godsdamned life.”

Ted took a last drag and mashed his cigarette into the ashtray.

The ravens waited in silence for a moment, and then together said, You would have a better chance quitting smoking.

Art by S.M. Beiko.

Happy New Year!

Giftmas 2018: December 3rd

Edmonton has been good to me. In addition to being full of friends, and one of my favourite cities to visit, the hero of my first novel is from there, and most of my third is set there. And so I was thrilled to donate a story to Rhonda Parrish’s fundraiser in support of the Edmonton Food Bank. This year we’re trying to raise $750, which could translate into 2250 meals.

If you missed S.G. Wong’s story on December 1st, or Alexandra Seidel’s story yesterday, you can read S.G. Wong’s story here, and Alexandra Seidel’s here. You’ll find information about the other Giftmas contributors at the end of this blog.

Please read, and enjoy, and if you can, please donate to our cause. There is also a Rafflecopter giveaway full of prizes. Check them out at Rhonda’s website!

My story, The Gift that Keeps on Giving, started its life as a holiday challenge to my writing group for our December meeting many moons ago. It has since appeared on this website as a gift to my readers, but it’s been a while since I’ve shared it, so here we go again, and happy reading!

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Nicholas stepped nimbly over the coals still smoldering within the fireplace. He had years of practice, and nary an ash clung to his polished, gleaming black boot. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? He smiled at the old joke. Practice.

But in all those years, this was something new. It was new, and that bothered him. He pulled the long parchment list from within his heavy coat. Checking it once, he didn’t like what he saw.

He checked it twice.

But there was no disputing it. This house wasn’t on his list. Nicholas shouldn’t have stopped here. There was no longer a reason for him to have stopped here. That poor little girl. He shook his head. There had been nothing he could have done. Not all wishes can be granted. He sighed ruefully. And not all pains can be soothed with toys. It had broken his heart, what she had wished for, but it just wasn’t within his power to grant.

There were no decorations in this house. No tree. No garland. No mistletoe. Framed photographs lined the mantle of the fireplace, but no stockings dangled beneath the images of a once happy family.

Nicholas turned his back on the unhappy dwelling and started back towards the chimney. A creak on the stairs stopped him in his boots. It was a soft noise, followed by the shuffle of fabric over hardwood.

A child’s slippers.

He couldn’t be seen, unless he chose to be. That was the one rule that governed, and protected him. Him, and the magic of Christmas both.

“Santa,” a weak voice rasped from the stairs.

It was a rule he often broke.

“Yes, my child,” Nicholas answered as he turned; ready to flash the hundred watt smile that would bring a rosy cheeked, dimpled grin to the girl’s face. Perhaps the list was mistaken?

The smile died as he saw her, now practically on top of him. She’d crossed the intervening distance between them in a flash. Her breath, coppery and rank, wafted over him, and her grip upon his mittened hand was too firm to shake.

“You didn’t bring me what I asked for last year,” she said petulantly as she pressed her tongue to an oversized canine. A bead of black blood welled up slowly from the small wound. “But someone did.”

Nicholas screamed as she jerked his head down by his snowy white beard. Blood sprayed across the girl’s little face.

His blood.

She lapped at the arterial spray, like an animal. Her face was a vision of ecstasy. His eyes stopped focusing as she whispered in his ear.

“Now every child in the whole world will get my wish.”

*

Later, in every house that still believed in such things—and there were many—children left out plates of homemade cookies, and tumblers of milk, beading with condensation. Wherever they had succumbed to slumber a voice whispered through teeth that glinted like knives, and a stained rusty beard.

“I never drink…milk.”

Art by S.M. Beiko.

The next post can be found on Michael Tager’s site, here.

Check out the rest of the participants, and when to expect them below. If you enjoyed my story and want to support #Giftmas2018 please share this story, and those of my fellow authors.