Hello! This is one of those posts where we look back at the year and all of the things we did to consider for award eligibility and hey just to look back at the year and what happened. This last year was the first year that anything from Diabolical Plots was nominated, so it doesn’t feel as far-fetched as it has in the past.
Diabolical Plots itself is eligible for the Hugo Award For Best Semiprozine.
David Steffen is eligible for Hugo Award For Best Editor (Short Form) for editing Diabolical Plots.
Locus Awards have a category for Publisher, which would be Diabolical Plots, L.L.C. for Diabolical Plots, as well as being the entity responsible for The Submission Grinder.
Related Work and Fan Writer
We’ve dialed back on nonfiction articles, but published one nonfiction piece: “UTH #2: The Story of Valkyrie and Zen” finding connections between the roles of Tessa Thompson in several films, for related work, and David Steffen as fan writer.
Websites are eligible for related work, so The Submission Grinder is also eligible.
Of course, most of the award eligible work that we are involved in is the original short stories we publish on the site! All of the following stories are eligible for Short Story categories in various awards (they are all under 7500 words, so the Short Story category is the one to go with. If you would like short excerpts of each of the stories check out the Recent Stories page.
The moment the semi-transparent eggshell of bright crimson rippled to life around a tall man down the sidewalk, Abigail knew she was in trouble. Given the hustle and bustle at the end of the workday, personal force fields brushing together was perfectly understandable. The resulting brief shimmers of violet or blue were common and easily overlooked, especially given the prevalence of such colors in the fashionable attire of the skirt-and-suit crowd pouring out of the skyscrapers on either side of the street. Greens and yellows from glancing impacts were much easier to spot, the flashes larger and more prolonged. While boorish to cause, they weren’t that big of a deal. Oranges and reds from a direct collision, however, were akin to someone setting off a firecracker.
Heads whipped around.
Pedestrians grumbled and gasped.
All eyes moved to the two globes of shimmering red. In one, the tall man bristled and blustered. In the other, a short man scanned the crowd, his eyes moving, not from face to face, but from bicep to bicep.
Abigail’s stomach clenched as she recognized the behavior. The short man was a skinner. He was working the crowd for marks.
Abigail glanced at the fake field emitter strapped to her arm. Her real unit had died weeks ago, only two days after the warranty expired. She’d done her best to use its casing to craft a passable replica of one of the newer models she couldn’t hope to afford. She’d thought the facsimile turned out pretty well.
But then she looked up and her heart stopped. The skinner’s eyes were on her. The replica wasn’t good enough.
Later, she’d wonder if she would’ve been alright if she’d kept walking, her expression as shocked as those around her as she pressed deeper into the crowd. Perhaps the skinner wouldn’t have noticed. She could have hidden in plain sight, rather than singling herself out like a wounded animal straying from the herd.
But in that moment, she didn’t think. She just ran.
Directly towards a second skinner coming from the opposite direction.
Abigail cursed. She knew better. One skinner bounced around a busy sidewalk going one direction, checking those he passed by pinging his fields off theirs until he found someone flouting the FDC’s mandated field laws, leaving that person both liable and vulnerable. The other skinner worked the same sidewalk from the other end, moving carefully, watching and waiting to snatch up the refuse dislodged by their partner.
If Abigail hadn’t made eye contact, hadn’t recognized the predatory hunger in the partner’s gaze, she would have run right into his arms.
Instead, she dodged, weaving just out of the man’s reach to step around a trash can.
Heart pounding in her ears, she ducked around a woman pushing a stroller while scanning the area for an escape. Her eyes found blue, not a force field, but a uniform. She dismissed the hope before it could materialize. There was no help to be found there. She had a better chance of being arrested for operating without a functioning field than finding protection.
She glanced over her shoulder. Both skinners were in pursuit, only steps behind. They would have her in moments.
She nearly shrieked when she spotted the opening. Just ahead, if she could duck into the alley and skirt past the guy in the nice suit and his ostentatiously dressed wife, she could duck back out of the alley in front of the wealthy couple, effectively using them as a shield. Her pursuer would be trapped in the alley, at least for a moment, and she’d have time to fade into the hustle and bustle.
It was all a question of timing.
She took a deep breath, increased her pace, and at the last possible moment, sidestepped into the relative dark of the alley. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. She could feel the skinners closing. But the opening was there. This was going to work.
An electric sucker punch launched her sideways into the air.
She’d barely registered the pain of landing ten feet down the alley before she was cursing herself for being so stupid. The FDC regulated how far force fields could extend from a person’s body, but enforcement was a joke. The rich SOB in the nice suit must have paid some tech to juice up his emitter. She’d clipped it, and now she was paying for it.
Ignoring the smell of singed hair and the ache in her side, Abigail scurried to her feet, the head start granted by her short flight decreasing rapidly as the men closed. She stumbled and scurried. Cold fear gripped her spine. Why hadn’t she stayed out in the crowd? Now she was alone. And she knew what people would say. They’d say she deserved it, that anyone with sense and decency would prioritize a personal force field over other conveniences of modern life. That she was sharing a two room flat with five other people and hadn’t eaten a fresh vegetable in two weeks was irrelevant. Or more likely, that was her fault too.
Footsteps pounded behind her. She sprinted as fast as her worn dress flats would allow, pulling a trash can over as she passed.
Curses joined the footfalls behind her.
She could make it. A few more steps and she’d be out.
Fingers brushed her back.
Abigail burst from the alley into the hustle and bustle of another crowded sidewalk.
Right into the arms of a woman.
“Jeez, are you okay?” The tall woman’s arms encircled Abigail, the only thing keeping her upright.
Abigail twisted to look back to the alley.
The men had stopped several paces before the junction, hands on hips, breathing heavy. They exchanged troubled looks, apparently uncertain how to proceed.
Abigail looked up to see the woman’s dark eyes on the men, her jaw clenched.
It was only then Abigail realized how they were standing. They were touching. Abigail couldn’t remember the last time she touched somebody in public. Such things weren’t done. And here she was not only touching this woman, but literally standing in her arms. Which meant that this woman also lacked a functioning field emitter.
The woman seemed to come to the same realization at the same moment. Her eyes widened and she gently but firmly extended her arms, standing Abigail up before releasing her grip and stepping back.
Abigail’s eyes dropped, her breathing heavy, stomach doing somersaults. “I’m sorry.” She tapped her fake emitter. “Darn thing must be on the fritz again.”
The woman smirked, tapping her own device. “Well, what-da-ya know? Mine seems to be on the fritz too.” She smiled. Her short hair was in twists and she had dimples. “My name’s Darla.” Darla’s eyes drifted back to the alley where the two men still lingered. “Since both our emitters are on the fritz, why don’t we go somewhere we can sit and trash-talk the manufacturer, maybe with a drink?”
Abigail smiled shyly as heat blossomed across her cheeks. “I’d like that.”
Darla stepped beside her, extending a bent elbow in offering.
Abigail stared at the arm. She didn’t look up, but she could feel the eyes of the other pedestrians boring holes into her. Did this woman really expect her to take her arm? Just like that? To flaunt their lack of fields?
She glanced back at the alley, but the men were gone, apparently flustered by the sudden appearance of reinforcements.
She looked back at the woman, still holding out her arm, still smiling, apparently unoffended by Abigail’s hesitation.
Abigail chewed on her lip for a moment, then stepped forward to take Darla’s arm with a smile. “I’m Abi. And I know a place with live jazz that makes a mean Manhattan.”
Darla’s smile widened, her dimples deepening. “That sounds perfect.”
They walked down the street arm-in-arm, oblivious to the scandalized looks following in their wake.
Author’s Note: While inspired by musing over the logical extremes of pandemic measures, this story absolutely should not be construed as commentary against masks, social distancing, or any of the other important actions the public should take to keep themselves and everyone else safe.
Adam Gaylord (he/him) lives in Colorado with his brilliant wife, two monster children, and a cranky old mutt dog. When not at work as an ecologist, he’s usually writing, baking, reading, or some combination thereof. Look him up on GoodReads or find him on Twitter @AuthorGaylord.
For the past several years, Diabolical Plots has opened for submissions for an annual submission window during the month of July. This gives enough time to fully resolve the submission window before things start getting busy in August for The Long List Anthology production. In 2020, the pandemic threw us off our usual cadence and the submission window was postponed, to finally be held in January 2021. Since we are running on a bit of a tight schedule, we solicited a few to make sure that we would have some ready to fit in the schedule without gaps (we haven’t usually solicited any, so this is something new for us). For the submission window itself, 1938 stories were submitted by 1397 different writers. 120 of those stories were held for a final round, which resulted in 20 acceptances from the submission window, plus 4 solicited works that were accepted for a total of 24 for the year.
This submission window marked the first submission window since Ziv Wities became assistant editor! Thank you Ziv for helping to manage the submission queue and for your help with editing stories since the last window’s selections!
There are some familiar names, and at least some authors for whom this is their first professional short fiction publication! All of these stories will be published regularly on the Diabolical Plots site between April 2021 and March 2022, with each month being sent out to newsletter subscribers the month before.
This is the lineup order for the website.
April 2021 “The Day Fair For Guys Becoming Middle Managers” by Rachael K. Jones “For Lack of a Bed” by John Wiswell
May 2021 “The PILGRIM’s Guide to Mars” by Monique Cuillerier “Three Riddles and a Mid-Sized Sedan” by Lauren Ring
June 2021 “One More Angel” by Monica Joyce Evans ‘We Will Weather One Another Somehow” by Kristina Ten
July 2021 “Along Our Perforated Creases” by K.W. Colyard “Kudzu” by Elizabeth Kestrel Rogers
August 2021 “Fermata” by Sarah Fannon “The Art and Mystery of Thea Wells” by Alexandra Seidel
September 2021 “Rebuttal to Reviewers’ Comments on Edits for ‘Demonstration of a Novel Draconification Protocol on a Human Subject'” by Andrea Kriz “A Guide to Snack Foods After the Apocalypse” by Rachael K. Jones
October 2021 “Audio Recording Left by the CEO of the Ranvannian Colony to Her Daughter, on the Survival Imperative of Maximising Market Profits” by Cassandra Khaw and Matt Dovey “It’s Real Meat!™” by Kurt Pankau
November 2021 “Forced Fields” by Adam Gaylord “Lies I Never Told You” by Jaxton Kimble
December 2021 “There’s An Art to It” by Brian Hugenbruch “There Are Angels and They Are Utilitarians” by Jamie Wahls
January 2022 “Tides That Bind” by Cislyn Smith “Delivery for 3C at Song View” by Marie Croke
February 2022 “The Galactic Induction Handbook” by Mark Vandersluis “Coffee, Doughnuts, and Timeline Reverberations” by Cory Swanson
March 2022 “The House Diminished” by Devan Barlow “The Assembly of Graves” by Rob E. Boley
“What about ‘Copper Penny’?” Lois spread her hands out in front of her like the name was on an old Hollywood marquee.
The square-jawed applicant sitting across the desk arched an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Sure! Just think of the potential catch phrases. Your arch-nemesis monologues about how you’ve yet again foiled his or her plans and you say, ‘Of course. I’m Copper Penny. I always turn up.’”
She could tell he was tempted. She tried to sweeten the deal. “Plus, copper is very valuable right now.”
He frowned. “It’s just, it’s a little feminine, don’t you think?”
“No way! I think it’s very masculine.” She batted her eyelashes a little. Anything to get this guy to settle on a name so she could go to lunch. Copper Penny was a bit of a stretch as far as the rules went but she was pretty sure it would pass muster because of his natural red hair.
“Hmmm. No. I just don’t think it’s right for me.”
Lois sighed. They’d been at this all morning and he was no closer to making a decision. Working in the Registry was usually fun. She got to meet the new class of superheroes before they got famous and occasionally she’d even help one pick a name, which was usually a blast. A few of the more appreciative heroes even kept in touch. She was supposed to have lunch with The Valkyrie Sisters next week.
But every once in a while she got one of these fellas. No creativity, no initiative, just expected to have the work done for them. Pretty bad traits for a superhero, in her opinion.
He leaned back in his chair. “Can you go over the rules one more time?”
It was the third time he’d asked and she was tempted to shove her coffee cup down his throat, but the agency had been pushing customer service lately. “These are tomorrow’s superheroes,” the memo said. “We need to establish a strong working relationship from day one.”
So she smiled, brushed her curly blond hair aside, and explained again. “Your name has to have something to do with your super power and/or your look. But, you can only base your name off the latter if you already have a look established, not the other way around.”
“But why? Why can’t I pick a name and then build a look around it?”
She shrugged. “Honestly, it doesn’t come up that often. Most heroes base their costume off something pretty significant like a traumatic childhood memory or the blanket their foster parents found them in. And of course, many heroes are actually green or blue or made out of rock or whatever, so that’s easy.
“But I just look like I always have.”
“Right. So we have to pick a name based on your powers. Now, your fists turn into metal, right?”
“And my forearms.”
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “Right. And your forearms. Is that it?”
“What do you mean, ‘Is that it’?” He stood, rolling up his sleeves to show off his shiny metallic appendages. “I can crush cinder blocks with these things.”
“Of course,” she said with a smile. “They’re very impressive.”
He sat down, apparently placated.
“Let’s use that. What else smashes cinder blocks?”
His eyes lit up. “’The Sledge Hammer’!”
She checked the database. “Sorry, that’s taken.”
“What about just, ‘The Hammer’?”
“Hmmm… ‘Iron Hammer’?”
“Are your fists actually iron?”
“I’m not sure. Still waiting on lab results. They said it might take two weeks, but I want to get started now!”
“Well, we don’t want to register you as iron if they turn out to be tin or aluminum, do we? I only suggested copper because of your hair color.”
He looked at his hands. “I don’t think they’re aluminum.”
She clicked away at her keyboard. “What about ‘Hard Hand’?”
“Or just ‘The Hand’?”
“Excellent!” She quickly entered the appropriate information into the database before he could change his mind.
“Talk about catch phrases!” He stood and pantomimed shaking someone’s hand. “No worries officer, I’m always happy to lend a hand.” He punched an invisible assailant. “Sorry, I guess I was a little heavy handed.” He thrust his chest out, hands on his hips. “No criminal can outrun the long hand of the law.”
“Arm”, she muttered.
“Nothing.” She hit the enter button and the successful registration confirmation message flashed on the screen. “Congratulations Hand, you are now a registered superhero. I will forward your information to one of our case managers and he or she will contact you within seventy-two hours to discuss training opportunities and duty assignments.”
“Wait, aren’t you gonna help me with my look?”
She handed him a fistful of colorful pamphlets she had at the ready. “There are dozens of costume consultants that can craft you the perfect super-ensemble.”
“Oh, okay. So, a case manager will call me?”
“Within seventy-two hours.”
“Okay.” He sat looking at her for a long moment. “Okay, well thanks for your help. If you ever need a superhero, look me up.”
Lois waited a full five count after he left, then scurried for the break room. They had a running over/under board for what superheroes would make it past their first year and she wanted to be the first to lay money on “under” for The Hand.
Author’s Note: I love epic action and harrowing plot twists as much as anyone, but often it’s the everyday interactions of the worlds we create that really fascinate me.
AdamGaylordlives with his beautiful wife, daughter, and less beautiful dog in Loveland, CO. When not at work as a biologist he’s usually hiking, drinking craft beer, drawing comics, writing short stories, or some combination thereof. Check out his stuff at http://adamsapple2day.blogspot.com/ and www.hopstories.com.
I have twelve short story contracts in hand, signed by the authors of twelve stories. That means that I can announce the lineup of stories for Diabolical Plots first year of publishing fiction. All of these were chosen with the author names hidden so all of them made it on the merit of the story, regardless of how well the author is known or their publishing histroies.
March: “Taste the Whip” by Andy Dudak
April: “Virtual Blues” by Lee Budar-Danoff
May: “In Memoriam” by Rachel Reddick
June: “The Princess in the Basement” by Hope Erica Schultz
July: “Not a Bird” by H.E. Roulo
August: “The Superhero Registry” by Adam Gaylord
September: “A Room for Lost Things” by Chloe N. Clark
October: “The Grave Can Wait” by Thomas Berubeg
November: “Giraffe Cyborg Cleans House!” by Matthew Sanborn Smith
December: “St. Roomba’s Gospel” by Rachael K. Jones
January: “The Osteomancer’s Husband” by Henry Szabranski
February: “May Dreams Shelter Us” by Kate O’Connor