Stories That Stick: The 11:59

You know the stories you read as a kid that stick in your brain forever? You might go years without thinking about them, then some little trigger pops up and suddenly you not only remember the story, but where you were sitting when you read it, or what shirt you were wearing. Since I began writing, these stories slip to the surface of my consciousness more and more easily. One of the strongest recurring story memories for me is The 11:59.

The 11:59 is from a short story collection called The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia C. McKissack (1992). It’s the story of a retired train porter, Lester, who’s telling the young porters the tale of the Death Train that will take them all one day.

“Any porter who hears the whistle of the 11:59 has got exactly twenty-four hours to clear up earthly matters.  He better be ready when the train comes the next night…”

I don’t remember how I got my hands on the book, whether it was from the bookshelf at home or the school library, but I distinctly remember sitting on my bed reading it. I’m not sure what shirt I was wearing, but there was probably a Blue Jays ball cap on my head or somewhere nearby. I also remember that for quite some time afterward (years maybe) I couldn’t help but check my watch if I heard a train whistle after dark, just to make sure it wasn’t 11:59—on at least one occasion, it was. I told myself my watch must be off by a few minutes to stave off a panic attack (and obviously lived to tell about it).

I’m not sure if it was this story that left me with the indelible impression that trains are magic, or if this belief was already there to enhance the chill it gave me (my reading of The Polar Express might have come first), but I still think of The 11:59 when I hear a train after dark. Though, I no longer check my watch. I swear.

Recently, I was compelled to track down The 11:59 (gotta love Google). It was tugging at my memory to the point that I just had to confirm the story was how I remembered it, and not some jumble of other stories mixed together by my all-too-human memory over two decades. Sure enough, the plot was almost exactly how I remembered it.

Reading it again as an adult, I was more aware of the simplicity of the storyline (intended for a young audience) and a typo jumped out at me that I’m sure I would neither have noticed nor cared about when I was ten or eleven. Even reading it in elementary school, I remember finding the story predictable. When Lester hears the 11:59’s whistle, he’s taken over by panic and a mission to accident-proof himself for the next twenty-four hours in hopes he will survive. All the while ignoring the pain in his chest and tingling in his left arm—duh.

But knowing where the roller coaster was going didn’t lessen the thrill of the drops and turns. And years later, the final scenes haven’t lost their magic.

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Bring on the Lovecraftian Tales

Mad Scientist Journal, which I’ve posted about before (like here, and here…and here) and which is home to one of my quirkier stories Mabel’s Mission, has a cool project on the go that might be of interest to all you speculative readers and writers out there. Check out That Ain’t Right – A Lovecraft Themed Anthology on KickStarter.

I’ll let the project video and summary give you the finer details, but as always with MSJ this looks like it’s shaping up to be all manner of fun and weird. You may notice the counter says they’ve reached their basic goal. With 11 days to go, they are hoping to reach a stretch goal that will bring greater reward options to pledgers (I am one) and better pay for contributing authors (no I’m not one, but maybe you can be) and illustrators.

Take a look and pledge away.

Thoughts on: The Problem of Susan – Neil Gaiman

Where many may have become Neil Gaiman fans through Sandman or Coraline, I first took note of his story telling as a result of an episode he wrote for Doctor Who. Later, I saw his now-famous commencement speech, Make Good Art. This was around the time I was really getting interested in writing, and I thought I could learn a lot from the way this guy approaches work, writing—where they meet—and life.

Recently, I picked up an anthology of short stories, People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction. Aside from my amusement at seeing religion and science fiction side by side, I noticed Neil Gaiman listed as one of the authors. I skipped ahead and read his story, The Problem of Susan, first. I loved it. To get to why I loved it, I have to back up a bit. Continue reading

Review of a Classic: The Highway – Ray Bradbury

Some time ago, I received feedback on a story I had posted on a writing forum. The story I posted, Conditioning Phase, is among the first I ever wrote, and though I’ve since gone back to the story and can see the mechanics of it leave a lot to be desired, one of the reviewers on the forum seemed to really like it and compared it to Ray Bradbury’s work.

Of course, I had heard of Ray Bradbury, a famous, 50s era, sci-fi author, and was thrilled to be compared to him. It was a good confidence boost early on in my writing attempts. But, confession: I’d never actually read any of his work. Not even the so-well-known Farenheit 451.

Farenheit 451 might have been on the reading list of my one university English class. I can’t recall for sure, but I remember the entire reading list was dystopian themed: A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, etc. It’s very possible Farenheit 451 was there too. The thing is, I didn’t read any of those books. I was a first-year engineering student in a class of first-year engineering students, 90% of whom were only in the class because it was mandatory (I’m assuming about 10% of the class had some genuine interest in English Literature. I could be wrong). Continue reading

Mad Scientist Journal Spring Anthology

Announcement time! The latest anthology of Mad Scientist Journal is now available for download at Smashwords and Amazon. This edition is particularly exciting for me as it includes my story Mabel’s Mission–along with number of other great stories including some exclusive fiction not previously published on the MSJ website.

If you like a fun read from the slightly-weird side of the sci fi world (or if you just want to support me as a writer 😉 ) check it out.

Mad Scientish Journal Anthology: Spring 2013

Find Mad Scientist Journal on Amazon!!

As I have previously posted, Mad Scientist Journal is an ezine that publishes new fiction weekly on its website–that you can read for free. They also amalgamate their stories into quarterly anthologies and add some exclusive content to give more bang for your 99-cent download.

Initially published through smashwords in a number of formats, these anthologies are now available in kindle editions on Amazon. Links to all four, currently available, anthologies are on the MSJ website. My own contribution in the form of a classified ad, Experienced Osteo-transplant Specialist Seeks Work, from Dr. Coccymandible, can be found in the Autumn 2012 Anthology.

Feel free to write a review of one (or all) of these anthologies on Amazon, your own blog, or elsewhere. Help MSJ expand its audience.

An upcoming anthology (Spring 2013, I expect) will also include my short story, Mabel’s Mission, which was published by MSJ on Apr 1st.

More Ezine Reviews – A Lesson in Patience Part Two

As promised, here are some pros and cons for three more ezines where I have submitted work. Hope some of this info is helpful to other aspiring writers out there (first three reviews here):

Every Day Fiction:

This was the first site I submitted a short story to. And yes I just ended a sentence in a preposition. It’s allow these days. EDF publishes a new flash fiction piece every day with a 1000 word limit, which can be good or bad depending on your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I personally found keeping my story under 1000 words to be a challenge, which was actually part of my motivation for submitting to this site. Any genre goes as long as it is fiction — non-sci-fi writers take note. See their submission guidelines for more detail.

The biggest draw back I found with these guys was the turnaround time. They were averaging an 80 day response time when I submitted about a month before Christmas. I managed to get around this by responding to their special submission request for holiday-themed stories, but it certainly came down to the wire when they requested some last-minute edits. On the up side, they have an author admin page (that they actually keep updated) so authors can see that their submission is moving through the selection process.

This brings me to the biggest pro of this site. They actually give fairly detailed feedback (perhaps why the turnaround is so slow??) which I think is awesome and very helpful to new writers. I did however find myself drawing a line in the sand when they wanted be to water down my ending from the implication of sex (not even an actual sex scene) to ‘perhaps a simple kiss’.

I wasn’t trying to be stubborn or ‘protect the integrity of my art’, but looking at it as a business transaction, I felt that less remuneration equaled less input. They only pay a token $3; this is a get-your-work-out-there option. So, I agreed to some grammatical and minor stylistic changes — and appreciated/learn from some of the points they made — but refused to change the ending. I figured if they then decided not to publish my story I could live with that. They accepted the story anyway.

Conclusion: a great option for newbies and I’m glad I gave them a go, but I doubt I’ll be back.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

These guys recently rejected one of my stories, but I recommend giving them a try. The pay is higher than token, 1.25 cents per word up to $20, and their response time is good, a couple of weeks. They have excellent — and humourous — submission guidelines, including an awesome article on common writer’s mistakes, A Comprehensive and Totally Universal Listing of Every Problem a Story Has Ever Had, which I strongly recommend it to any writer of any genre.

These guys are on the to-try-again-list.

365 tomorrows:

My most recent acceptance, A Swirl of Chocolate, will be published on this site. They don’t pay, but since they are only looking for flash of 600 words or less I decided they were worth a try, and could at least offer some visibility. The submission guidelines don’t tell much, but from reading some of the stories published on the site, they are fairly flexible aside from the word limit.

Their response time is slow, and communication is lacking. Unlike every other acceptance I’ve had, which included a back and forth regarding publishing dates, copyrights etc, these guys sent me my acceptance notice via a no-reply email — weird. I’ve resorted to communicating with them through twitter.

Since this one is still in the works, I can’t say whether I’ll submit to them again. The communication thing is annoying, but on the other hand they are a good option for extra-short flash fiction that may not find a home elsewhere.

That’s all for now. As I test the publishing waters in other places I’ll share my thoughts.