The State of The Submissions Grinder (Week 3)

written by David Steffen

TheGrinderLogo

Almost three weeks have passed since Anthony Sullivan and I launched The Submissions Grinder, a web-based tool for writers to find markets, track submissions, and look at market response statistics. At the time of launch the site was very simple, with a limited set of features, and admittedly some stability issues.

Just because we are the only free option does not mean that we have been resting on our laurels. We have been working hard on the site. The site stability issues of those early days have been resolved. New features, enhancements of existing features, and bug fixes have been added steadily. We now have more than 900 approved market listings, and counting. We have hundreds of registered users who have logged almost 8000 submissions into the system.

We would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has registered, logged submissions, spread the word about our site, reported bugs, suggested market listings, suggested features, volunteered to keep market listings up to date, donated money to us, or shared feedback. We are glad to know that our effort has not been in vain, and that our tool is serving as a resource for writers like us.

Now that the Grinder has been around for a while we just wanted to share some of our favorite features that are now in place, and some features that are in the works. The Submissions Grinder is worlds better than it was at its launch on January 7, but we’re not done yet. These are just a few of our current and future features in the works.

Please feel free to leave comments here or elsewhere about what features are important to you, what you think of our current and planned features, or anything else that you’d like to say.

The Present

The Core Functionality

These are the core functionalities that make the site a worthwhile tool.

 

Submissions Tracker

The Grinder keeps a list of your fiction pieces, and you can make entries for each submission of each story, keep track of which ones are pending. You can quickly filter your results down to show just the set you are interested in, such as all the submissions made to a particular market, or all the submissions of a particular story.

Market Search

Search

You can search for new markets for your work, based on various parameters, including length, genre, pay rates, and many other factors that are important to us writers. If you’re a new writer, this kind of tool is essential to finding places to send your work. If you’re a veteran writer, you might still find something new from time to time.

Market Response Statistics

MarketResponseData

This is really the most valuable thing that this system provides. The data from every submission is combined to make anonymous statistics for all to view, so you can see the response times for different markets to decide where you want to submit or when to query an existing submission.

Revamped Appearance

For the initial release, we focused primarily on getting the core functionality working, and then on squashing bugs and improving the feature set. But we’ve gotten a lot of feedback that said that the Courier font used for the site was hard on the eyes. We want to make the site as friendly to you users as we can, so we listened to that feedback and changed the font of most of the site to make it more readable. We also added colored boxes and shadows to offset and emphasis certain areas of the screen and to add some variety. And we now have a logo. This has been a recent change, and we’d like to know what you think of the new look, so do give us comments.

Response Time Histograms

For each market, we provide numbers that show the minimum, average, median, and maximum response times. But we’ve also added a new feature that sets us apart–response time histograms. There’s only so much you can gather from looking at those four statistical numbers, but you can get a much better feel for a market’s response times by seeing a response time histogram, which are included with each of our market listings.

IGMSHistogram

For instance, here is a snapshot of the histogram from Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. You can see that there is a very strong peak of responses that take place at about 30 days. There are some that are shorter, even down to 1 day, and a smattering of longer ones. This is very representative of my experience with the magazine. They have a very steady slush response time at about 30 days, but stories that make it out of slush are much less predictable and longer, while the shorter response times can be the editor plucking stories from the slush directly or for writers that may have more history with the magazine and bypass the slush. With just a quick glance you can get a very good feel for these details by looking at this graph.

Personal Statistics

PersonalStats

Another feature that sets us apart is that in your account you can view personal statistics that tell you what kind of responses you’ve gotten each year you’ve been submitting, with each market, and with each story. With these you can quickly answer questions like “Which of my stories has gotten the most personal rejections?” “How have my acceptances compared from year to year?”

The Future

Post-Acceptance Tracking

When your story gets rejected, that’s all there is to that submission. But when your story gets accepted, there’s more bookkeeping to do! Our system will be able to help you with that to keep track of things like:
–Dates that contract was received/returned
–Date and amount of payment
–Date of publication
–Length of exclusivity period specified in contract

With this information the system could provide powerful answers to certain questions like:
–“How much money was I paid in 2012?” (useful for taxes as well as personal goals)
–“Which stories have been accepted but not paid for?”
–“Which stories have been accepted but not published?”
–“Which stories are available to submit right now?” (would exclude stories that are accepted but unpublished, and stories which are published but within the exclusivity period)

Poetry/Nonfiction Market Listings

So far all of our listings and data fields are fiction based. We will add poetry and non-fiction listings to help writers keep track of those too.

Support for Listing Management by Editors

We intend to put a system in place to allow staff members of publications to participate in the upkeep of their page, such as opening and closing dates, changes in rates, adding in seasonal themes/guidelines, etc. This will help the markets keep their pages as accurate as possible which will help encourage a volume of quality submissions, and will help ease the load on us as we try to keep listings up to date.

Scheduled Openings/Closings

Right now, openings and closings of markets are manually entered by us. But there are many cases where markets schedule their opening and closing dates far in advance, so there will be support added to automate this process.

“Ignore Market” Setting

Writers may decide never to submit to particular markets, for editorial policy, personal feelings, or for whatever other reason. Each writer will be able to choose to ignore that market so that it will not come up in their searches anymore.

Customized RSS Feed of Responses

On the homepage of The Grinder website, you can see the 40 most recent responses across the whole site. We intend to provide something similar that shows you such recent responses but only for the markets where you have pending submissions, so that you can tell at a glance where the response activity is happening.

Newsletter

When you register for The Grinder, you check a box to indicate whether you want to receive the newsletter. We’ve been busy enough with other things that we haven’t implemented the newsletter yet. But we will! It will contain information such as:
–New markets added
–Opening/Closing of markets
–Users who have sold stories (only those that have chosen to have their names shared for their acceptances)
–Grinder features/bug fixes
–Other things that you might interested in (Leave comments if you have ideas!)

Personalized Histograms

Right now the histograms are shown for every market. But in the future, if you are a logged in user with pending submissions at that market, those pending submissions will be marked on the histogram with a line, so that you can see where you lie in the spectrum of response times so far, giving you a quick visual queue about how unusual your current wait time is.

What You Can Do

If you like what we’re doing, give us suggestions on how we can be better, suggest new market listings, report bugs, upload your data and use the submission tracker. We’ve added a Donate button as well–we appreciate anything you can give, and we maintain our commitment to not require any payment to use the site. Thanks!

Our Hugo/Nebula Eligible Work 2012

written by David Steffen

The SF award nomination season is here. The Nebulas (the writer-voted award) have been open for a while and close in February. The Hugos (the fan-voted award) opened on January first. Both sets cover works published in the 2012 calendar year. About this time of year, every writer and their dog posts a list of their eligible works.

I won’t tell you to nominate these works. I haven’t heard of anyone nominating us in the past and I don’t expect that to change. Of course it’s all of phenomenal quality, because we wrote it and stuff. 🙂

And don’t worry, I’ll write up a separate post in the near future to make recommendations of what I’d like to see win the awards. I figured it would make sense to separate them so that I wouldn’t have to try to objectively compare my own work to theirs. In THAT post I’ll also ask for nomination suggestions from people, but we’ll keep those out of this post.

 

Best Short Story (Nebula and Hugo)

Marley and Cratchit by David Steffen at Escape Pod (free)

This Is Your Problem, Right Here at Daily Science Fiction (free)

Constant Companion at Drabblecast (free)

Door in the Darkness at Stupefying Stories

Never Idle at Specutopia

Mysterious Ways at Uncle John’s Flush Fiction Anthology

 

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Marley and Cratchit at Escape Pod, read by Emma Newman

Constant Companion at Drabblecast

The Quest Unusual at Cast of Wonders

Turning Back the Clock at Beam Me Up

 

Best Fanzine Hugo

Diabolical Plots by David Steffen, Anthony W. Sullivan, Frank Dutkiewicz

 

Best Fan Writer Hugo (follow links for examples)

David Steffen

Especially notable are the “Best of” podcast lists.

Frank Dutkiewicz

Especially notable are the “Daily Science Fiction” reviews; we’re the only ones who regularly review them.

Carl Slaughter

Quite a few notable interviews.

 

Best Fan Artist Hugo

Anthony W. Sullivan, for Canny Valley comics

 

Best Related Work Hugo

The Priceless Value of that Story You Hate by David Steffen

 

Go! Nominate!

Daily Science Fiction: November 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Did you have a Merry Christmas? Have your holidays been happy? You have some down time you need to fill? Well curl up to whatever Internet access you use and click on Daily SF’s home page. It’s a perfect time to catch up on those stories you may have missed. For starters, try digging into these November jewelsâ€

 

Tsunami waves can’t wash away a man’s ties to his home in “The Tides” by Ken Liu (debut 11/1 and reviewed by Frank D). The moon’s orbit has altered, swinging it dangerously close to Earth. Its decaying orbit will eventually spell doom for the world. Ansa is the daughter of a grieving father. Enormous tides swept her mother away. Her father cannot evacuate the doomed Earth. He builds a tower out of the debris that is left on the shore. Ansa will not leave her ol’ man even when her prince has offered to whisk her away,

“The Tides” is a story about loyalty. Ansa’s father can’t bear to leave her mother behind but is aware that he is condemning his only child by staying behind. You usually can’t go wrong with a Ken Liu story but I felt this tale wasn’t his best effort. The premise, although sweet, I thought was flimsy (tower made of scraps holding up against a wall of water?) and the ending unsatisfying.

 

Papa has lost himself in “Ansa and the Lost Things” by Sophie Wereley (debut 11/2 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist and her sister, Ansa, become worried when their forgetful father leaves the house and hadn’t returned. The stress is too much on her mother. Migraines from coffee and worry have consumed her. The two sisters hatch an elaborate plan of trapping a unicorn in hopes of it solving their family’s problem.

“Ansa” is a story too odd for me to accurately describe. Without the magical element, this story would be about two children raised in one seriously dysfunctional family. In short, it was too weird for me to fully appreciate it.

 

“Early Draft of Talking Points for the Sixth Emergency Broadcast with Editorial Suggestions by the Office’s Interns Bob and Isabelle” by Helena Bell (debut 11/5 and reviewed by Frank D). This humorous look at an emergency broadcast has two interns inserting their own commentary between lines.

“Early Draft” is just plain silly. The two intern’s comments reminded me of the old Sci-Fi channel show “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. Although amusing, I thought the tale would have been funnier without the pair’s annoying banter.

 

The future is not what you expected in “Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance” by Alexander Jablokov (debut 11/6 and reviewed by Frank D). This short tale is a message from the future. The messenger tells the reader that the future is better but dull. Not much to fear but they apparently don’t seek out adventure. The future in “You Seem” sounds like a nice place to retire but no place to have fun.

 

 

“Old Flames” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 11/7 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). The war is over. Gunthar sat in his chair and watched the fire; Ada was sewing, making a dress for their daughter. They recalled when they met, after another defeat for some, a victory for others. There will be a new ball, one for a new prince and a young woman hoping for a fairy tale ending.

This was a nice blend of fantasy and real world. The author gives the reader a new perspective in a well written story. I doubt I will ever watch a Disney movie the same way again. Definitely one to check out.

 

A crow carries on with his bioengineered life in “Nevermore” by Renee Carter Hall (debut 11/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a crow who once had a purpose that served man, but now man is no more, done in by their own means. The crow stays true to its ingrained habits and watches a dead city.

I found this tale to be curious but lacking sufficient content to make it satisfying.

 

A farming family holds tight to their way of life in “This Place From Which All Roads Go” by Jennifer Mason-Black (debut 11/9 and reviewed by Frank D). Mari is a young woman. She is one of the few who have elected to remain on the land to weave her magic. Many children leave the rustic lifestyle for the allure of the city, and the government has taken notice and is about to evict them out of their historical romanticized life.

“This Place” follows Mari through a summer of hardship, tragedy, and desire. Her family plays host for students who study their ‘primitive’ ways. Mari has little patience for them. She has a brother to worry about and a grandmother to mourn. Worse, the government aims to remove them from their land and drain whatever essence they have left. Mari dreams of the girl who she once loved and is intimidated by a student who has taken a shine to her.

As a former farmboy, I can appreciate the tale the author wove in “This Place.” I can see the parallels between this magical world and our own. Most of the students in this story treat the family as if they are an anthropological curiosity. The farm life is a hard one and the magic they weave takes their toll on them. It makes Mari a hard woman, so hard that getting through her exterior proves to be a task too great for many of the visiting students.

“This Place” is a long tale. The story is unraveled like a novel that was compressed in a compactor. Much happens in this one summer of Mari’s life. It is a difficult summer, even for a farmer. Calling the events in Mari’s life interesting would be an understatement but the laundry list of things that go wrong Mari are so much that they begin to feel like the author was piling on by the end. The author does her best to give this story a happy ending but the load of depressing material almost makes any attempt to end on a high note a lost cause.

 

Ancient stone circles have what Maggie has been missing her entire life in “Speed of Love” by Deborah Walker (debut 11/12 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this brief tale is a woman who hasn’t had much luck in men. The ancient stone circles have opened a gateway to another world. Men are coming, but you’ll need patience.

“Speed” is the story of a lonely woman finding love in a man half her speed. The men in this tale move at a snail’s pace. Maggie’s sister becomes upset with her when she discovers Maggie has taken up with a slow man. I must say I failed to see the appeal Maggie would have with a person stuck at a glacial pace. Equally, the tale itself failed to appeal to me as well.

 

Trolls, once mighty, and noble, and superior, have been relegated to employment as pool filters. The cast off sweat, grease, skin, and hair are enough to sustain trolls without breaking the long-standing pact of not eating humans. Oh yes, all this and more can be found in “This Is Your Problem, Right Here” by David Steffen (debut 11/13 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

The new owner of a public water park is surprised to learn she’s inherited the troll/filter who, having had nothing to eat for quite some time, has already digested the other members of his family. This is a particularly fun story that is easy and enjoyable to read. If you missed it when it came up as the daily story, go back, and have a look. Oh, and bring your copy of Wiccan Soup for the Troll.

 

Greg is “The Most Important Man in the Universe” by Joseph Zieja (debut 11/14 and reviewed by Frank D), and his mother couldn’t be prouder. He has returned to his homeworld, in orbit, where he speaks to mother via a viewable link. The plague has ravaged the planet, and only he can make the decision on what must be done.

This tale is about one cold man. He contacts his mom, for reasons I’m not quite clear about. “The Most” is an unemotional tale of an emotional moment. It has an obvious twist. Seeing it coming from a mile away dulled the climatic ending line. I don’t know if the protagonist was supposed to have feelings but his lack of them affected my feelings toward this story.

 

Poachers know the right bait is key to setting a good trap in “The Trap” by Steven Kahn (debut 11/15 and reviewed by Frank D). Bakti takes his young lover for the first time to his poaching traps. He is weary, the jungle is a dangerous place, but she is undaunted and eager. Besides, what is there to fear? They are, after all, the masters of the wild.

“The Trap” is a tale of two people guilty of crimes against nature. The author, however, does a good job of having them appear as something less than evil. Bakti is well aware that there is more to fear than a four-legged predator in the thick jungle of Borneo, but has completely underestimated on where he lies on the hierarchy of the food chain.

“The Trap” is named well. Like the protagonist, I knew there was more than a simple trap afoot but was still snared in the twist. I enjoyed the back and forth between the two characters and the delightful poetic justice finale. I am tempted to call the unexpected turn in events a cheat, but the grin on my face of getting blindsided tells me the twist in plot was well executed.

Recommended.

 

A colony is in danger of failure in “The Dying Season” by Gwendolyn Clare (debut 11/16 and reviewed by Frank D). Bennu’s Hollowheart trees are dying. They have been the colonists saving grace from Bennu’s harsh winters, but their death as the moon approaches its decades long winter will mean the colony will need to be abandoned when the mining ships arrive. Nicolai will not leave the only home she has come to know. She knows there must be a solution but can she find it in time?

“The Dying Season” is a science fiction mystery. Nicolai is sure her fellow humans are a factor on why the trees are sick. Sorting out all the variables makes it difficult for her to find the solution. Nicolai is not just combating a native life epidemic but an apathetic colony that has already given up. The harsh weather of the world will soon get worse as the moon will be locked in a synchronistic orbit behind its parent world. The scoop of the problem gets larger the further Nicolai digs. For as complicated as the circle of life for this world is, she can’t help but to feel an answer is within sight.

The author brings an ecological dilemma to life with intricate details of the problem Nicolai faces. It is both convincing and intriguing. The nice developing mystery, however, comes to a quick halt, deflating my growing excitement of the story. An ending that I found to be too pat and convenient left me disappointed. I thought the tale was shaping up nicely and felt it should have continued on. Perhaps a longer novella would have suited this storyline better? I don’t know, but “The Dying Season” ended up frosty and incomplete for me.

 

“‘You’re Heads,’ She Says. ‘You’re Tails'” by M. Bennardo (debut 11/19 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this tale is the boy toy of a scientist. Once, she decides between two men, different models of the same clone make. He always wins, the Head of an imaginary coin flip. “You’re perfect” she says, every time, but perfection has an expiration date, and another month goes by. Time for another coin flip.

“You’re Heads” is a story told from the perspective of man who is the property of a very fickle girl. You can suspect what the story, and its conclusion, will be early on but the author’s superior story telling leaves just enough mystery to carry the tale through. Good writing and intriguing premise makes this one of the best offerings of the month for me.

Recommended.

 

The protagonist makes a living as an irritant in “The Key to the Everything” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (debut 11/20 and reviewed by Frank D). When different galactic species intermingle in close quarters, it becomes crucial for the servant help to keep their cool. The protagonist is a man who specializes on testing the limits of other people’s patience. His latest assignment is a bar with a large Rikrik clientele coming in. He is very good at his job, as is the bartender. Interrupting a Rikrik ritual is not always wise, especially when the bartender is so skilled with a ritual slicer.

“The Key” has a premise that was very difficult for me to buy. I found it hard to believe a client would want a man specializing in getting under the help’s skin to test their employees when they are busy with sensitive customers. Nice writing but story crosses the line of what I’m willing to believe.

 

A woman follows her mother down a dangerous road in “The Safe Road” by Caroline M. Yoachim (debut 11/21 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is on a path through eternity. She follows her mother while generations of her offspring follow behind her. The road is wrought with danger. Her mother tells her how to combat them and the protagonist passes the information down. Poisonous and surreal creatures attack them at every turn. Her daughter asks why they must destroy them, and for the first time, the protagonist wonders if there is a better way.

“The Safe Road” is a metaphorical tale. The generation before protects the one behind it, dealing with each threat harshly. The generation coming after seeks another answer. The message to this surreal story is a reflection of how we react to our own environment. An intriguing but odd tale.

 

A woman falls for a merman in “Homo Homarus” by Ellen Denham (debut 11/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a diver who finds a half-man, half-fish creature. She is taken in with him, convincing him to join her on land. The strange creature loses his fins and grows legs, but he is too much like a fish out of water. Before long, the protagonist realizes her mistake.

I am unsure if this was the author’s intention but “Homo Homarus” proved to be an excellent metaphor on fickle and hasty relationships. The protagonist is instantly attracted to the merman and must have him. The feelings are mutual but the poor creature has no idea what he is in for when he leaves the depths for dry land. With no ability to speak, and forced to live with legs he never had to use before, the merman soon becomes a burden. She commands him to return to the sea but doesn’t realize it may be too late for him to do so.

I couldn’t help but to feel the merman gave his all to this woman. He did all he could to make her happy but discovered he was a different creature in the end and incapable of giving her what she needed. Although the ending didn’t specify this, I believe the poor creature was just a victim of a broken heart.

 

Children of the apocalypse avoid the unseen danger in “A Wizard of the Roads” by Therese Arkenberg (debut 11/23 and reviewed by Frank D). One lonely boy and a wandering group of teenagers cross paths. Will believes he is a wizard. He can feel it in his bones. Jenna encourages her group to take in the isolated boy, as odd as the staff-carrying boy appears to be. The children avoid the empty homes and stick to the road, always on the move and on the run from what they do not know. Jenna can feel that Will can protect them, but her group’s leader, Royce, doesn’t want to take any chances.

“A Wizard” is a story suited for a young adult crowd. All the adults are gone. The homes are filled with empty dangers. No explanation of where everyone went or what the dangers are, are given to the reader. The children have become wanders, on their way to a roaming ‘Lord of the Flies’ existence. If this group of kids had any remorse for all the missing people, it apparently left them long ago. Jenna feels like an anchor attached to the troop, still feeling bad for not erecting a tent correctly the night before. She is immediately drawn to Will when they find him. Will is written as an oddball. He doesn’t miss his parents, even enjoying the alone time.

I felt there was much left to be desired reading “A Wizard.” The pacing was slow and the prose simple. Too many holes and unanswered questions were left on the table for me. 90% of the tale was nothing more than a bunch of kids on hike. I had no idea what the danger was, or if it was really a danger after all. Some sort of idea of what happened to everyone would have helped as well. I’m still not sure if the story was one about a future Merlin in the making, or about a group of superstitious kids putting their faith in a weird kid carrying a stick.

 

“Shattered Amber” by Mari Ness (debut and 11/26 reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this light fantasy falls hard for a new love. His new girl gives him a gift, a necklace with a fly encased in amber. The amber is warm, a reflection of her love for life. He wishes he could have given her a gift as meaningful.

“Shattered Amber” is a fickle tale about a fickle couple. Young love can be fleeting but can burn hot from first spark. The fly in the amber comes to life when his girl begins to drift, and becomes agitated with jealousy when the protagonist eye begins to wander.

There was much to like about this tale. I found the amber idea intriguing and the ending fitting, but the story – a boy meets girl , was a bit light in content.

 

Nothing will stop the show from going on, even the end of the world in “The Show Must” by Matt London (debut 11/27 and reviewed by Frank D). Broadway carries on even when chaos is reigning in the streets. The world’s end is at hand, and like orchestra on Titanic’s deck, the actors and support staff perform for one last show.

“The Show” is a tale of a few who choose to face pandemonium with normalcy. The play is filled with capacity as an audience prefers to live their last minutes by viewing what made mankind great. The nature of Earth’s end is a mystery to the reader, but this is a tale where the ‘how’ matters little. A warm story. I rather liked it.

 

A doctors miracle cure proves to be a disastrous failure for an unfortunate soldier in “MiracleMech” by Tim Dean (debut 11/28 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is the creator of a medical nanotech technology created to save a soldiers life. The system proved to work well, saving the life of Private Hicks, the only member in an ambushed squad implanted with the advanced technology. The only problem is, the man retrieved is not Hicks.

I am just going to say it. This story was cool; a first class science fiction with a unique twist. The unlikely event told in this tale serves as a possible dilemma in our distant future. Nice idea, good sci-fi.

Recommended.

 

The bitter, remorseful, reflective, and smart alecs among us tweet their final thoughts in “Live-Tweeting the Apocalypse” by Ian Creasey (debut 11/29 and reviewed by Frank D). Six obsessive tweeters communicate as the world ends.

I am not much of a fan of Twitter, but of what I have observed, the characters are a fairly accurate reflection of the shallowness the communication fad attracts. I must say, if the end of the world were to come, I would sure hope no one would waste their time like these people had.

 

Infidelity and guilt consume two sisters in “Under a Sky of Knives” by Michele Muenzler (debut 11/30 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a woman who has betrayed her sister, Helene. A moment of passion overwhelmed her as she had fallen for Willem’s charm, her sister’s husband. She is forced to watch the replay of her indiscretion with her bitter sister. A scar on her hand, a knife wound from Helene, is just the down payment for her penance. The Anafeal’s mountain, the last stop for the ones consumed with grief, calls to her sister, and the protagonist will do anything to stop her and earn her forgiveness.

The protagonist in “Under a Sky” is an exhausted woman running on passion and guilt. Her affair with her brother-in-law weighs on her soul. Her sister’s scorn is more painful to her than the throbbing knife wound in her hand. Despite the regret from her betrayal, the passion she feels for Willem still leaves her weak in his presence. Fearful that her sister’s bitterness has driven her to Anafeal’s mountain, she runs to its slopes, only to discover the burnt remains of the gatekeeper’s homes. A wronged woman intends to climb the mountain to fulfill her destiny, and the protagonist will give anything to stop her.

In the author’s bio, Ms Muenzler states that her fiction†leans toward dark fantasy with a twist of new weird, and if nobody dies in a story, then it probably wasn’t written by her†“Under a Sky” fulfills that mission statement to a tee. The protagonist is a woman caught between an acrimonious sibling and her alluring husband. Willem is a cad, devoted more to his own selfish needs than his commitment to his own wife. The story runs on the grieved emotions of the protagonist. She has wronged her sister and only desires to earn her forgiveness, but Helene is in no forgiving mood. Blood from unforgiving family is the hottest, and the protagonist will need it to keep her warm as she pursues a bitter woman up the slopes of a snowy peak.

If uplifting is what you are after, steer clear of this tale. The story does indeed take an unexpected turn. The woman in this tale appears to leap after people fueled by passion, without looking to see where she will land. I found the writing first class. It was easy to identify with this woman’s dilemma , impressive considering I have never been a woman and don’t intend to be one in the future. For a tale of dark and depressing, I found it to be an enjoyable read.

 

 

Appreciating the appreciationsâ€

I was posed with the questionâ€

Why do writers review?

The question was framed as what good could it do for a writer to stick his opinions out there for all to see? After all, wouldn’t the negative (hurt feelings, repercussions, black listing) far outweigh any benefit for a reviewer? There is a simple answer to that question: writers deserve to know that their stories have been read.

An editor friend of mine boasted to me when his ezine reached its 2000th subscriber to his newsletter. His magazine is a free one, and writers are not required to subscribe to the newsletter to be able to submit to his magazine, but to participate in his mini-contest (and collect his little jewels of wisdom), you need to subscribe. So 2000 was a bit of a milestone for him, but he added at the end of his boastâ€

I wish I knew how many of them actually read the magazineâ€

As a writer, nothing tops making a sale. Seeing it appear in print , be it on paper or electronically , is a thrill like no other. But the elation you feel is quickly followed with doubt. Just because it is appearing for all to see and read, will any bother?

We at Diabolical Plots want all the writers (and its editors) to know Daily SF is not ignored. Sure, thousands of emails are sent out every day, but how many of them are deleted unread? And does anyone ever browse through the archives? To answer the second question, yes, someone does. As far as the first question goes, I don’t.

One of the reasons why we do such a thorough job , even for tales that are few hundred words in length , is so writers will know their story was read, not just looked at, but read.

Some writers have voiced their appreciation for the reviews, I would like to say thank you for acknowledging them. Seeing your comments on our comments (in your blogs, chat rooms, etc†), means a lot to us.

Keep up the good work.

Have a Happy New Year!

This is Anthony Sullivan, Diabolical Plots’s other editor. I have never met him, talked to him, seen him at the Christmas party, company meetings, at the coffee machine during break, outside the backdoor where the employees sneak a smoke, the cafeteria, mail room, parking lot, or in the lobby hitting on the cute receptionist like the rest of us do. I don’t know if he writes, reads Daily SF, reads at all, is aware of Diabolical Plots, or understands English for that matter. Truthfully, I’m not sure this is him or even if he exists at all (Dave has told me his salary eats up the company’s profits which is the reason why I haven’t received a Christmas bonus for the third straight year. Hmmmmm….).
Anthony is a person who we hold in the very high regard, one we usually reserve for icons like Bigfoot and Santa Claus. His is a very integral and valuable part of Diabolical Plots.

In Loving Memory of Aria Steffen

written by David Steffen

In Loving Memory of Aria Steffen
Born February 14, 2007
Adopted February 21, 2008
Died December 10, 2012

This is the story of my first dog. This is the story of the first dog that Heather was really responsible for. This is the story of Aria the papillon. Here head smelled like strawberries and her feet smelled like Fritoes. She had the name Aria when we got her–we thought of renaming her Oreo but it didn’t stick. Over the years we had many nicknames for her–Ariana, Missy Lu, Missy Moo, Lu Lu Bell, many others.

Aria’s Life

Bringing Her Home

In February of 2008, Heather and I were living in an apartment in Eden Prairie. Heather was nearing the end of her year of rotations for school before she became a full pharmacist, we were just starting to think about buying our first house together, and we’d started to think about getting a dog once we lived in a home that allowed it. Heather had always had dogs around her home when she was growing up and she knew that she wanted to have dogs again at some point when she was out of school and we lived in a place that allowed dogs.

I’d told our friend (and my co-worker) Becky D about dogs because she is a dog lover, and had two lovey dovey Staffordshires of her own. So she forwarded on an email from a friend of hers who was looking for a home for a 1-year old papillon dog named Aria who they’d decided they couldn’t keep. After her first home she’d been to 3 or 4 other foster homes in quick succession and if no one claimed her by the next day she would be dropped off at the pound the next day.

Heather was used to poodles, who don’t shed, though she’d always liked papillons. I had never had a dog long term (not counting a time when I had one for 2 weeks when I was a kid), and with that combined with our living situation and her school, we were apprehensive. We didn’t think it was the right time, but we decided to go for a meet-and-greet and just see how the dog reacted to us.

We went to her current foster home that night, and the moment that the foster mom carried her around the corner Aria was wiggling like crazy to meet us. She jumped into our arms and licked our faces as if we were long lost friends and she’d already decided that we were taking her home. She was a beautiful dog, with those big ears that looked like fringed butterfly wings (“papillon” means “butterfly” in French, the reason for the breed’s name). We looked at each other and we’d both already decided that we wanted to take this little girl home. We took her home to our apartment and within minutes she’d plopped down on the armrest of the couch with a bone, already queen of the castle. She was already called “Aria” when we got her; we’d hoped to pick a name for her ourselves, but she already knew this one so well we stuck with it.

The first few months were stressful for all three of us. Aria went with us happily, but you could tell that she was always worried that we would just be another temporary family. She went into her kennel every morning when we had to leave with a treat to reward her. She would not touch the treat all day as she sat in the kennel. When we let her out of her kennel in the afternoon she would charge out and greet us and go running around the house in joy, then would come back to the kennel and eat the treat, and then run around some more. She was always so happy when we came back.

She came with a little teeny-tiny pet carrier that was really too small for her size. But she must’ve had good associations with it because if you opened up the door she’d crawl right in and somehow get turned around in the tight quarters. Even though we didn’t use that to travel with her, she would still do that years later.

We were nervous about keeping her in the apartment where we couldn’t have dogs. We tried to keep her quiet, but she always has been very reactive to noises and a toddler lived in the apartment above us who never seemed to sleep. We tried to sneak her in and out as quietly as we could with a towel over her head so that she wouldn’t see people and react to them. We hunted for houses with even more enthusiasm so that we could settle in somewhere where we wouldn’t have to keep her a secret. We were not without a backup plan, for Aria to stay at Heather’s parent’s house in South Dakota until we could get settled in, but we didn’t want to do that if we didn’t have to, since she’d had so many homes in so short a time already.

We put Aria in doggy daycare while we were at work so that her barking wouldn’t be a problem during the day when we weren’t there. Every day when we dropped her off she was excited to see the other dogs there again but anxious that we were leaving her, and when we picked her up again she was so incredibly excited.

Because of Heather’s school schedule, she was usually home before I was. Heather could get Aria back in the apartment without too much chance of noise (going up the less-traveled back stairwell to cut down on barking at people), but getting me back into the apartment an hour or two later was a challenge that took some creative thinking, and which ended up showing us how good Aria was at making associations. If she heard the key in the door, Aria barked like crazy. If she heard the doorknob turn from outside or a knock at the door. Even if Heather took Aria into the other room and I tried to slip in very quietly she barked like crazy as soon as she saw that someone had gotten into the apartment when she wasn’t looking. But we discovered, after many days of frustrating experimentation with this procedure, that if Heather left the apartment and came back in escorting me, Aria wouldn’t bark at all, just give me kisses and greetings. So, every day when I got back from work, I would call Heather’s cell phone on my cell phone, and Heather would step out into the hallway with me, shut the door, and then come back in with me a moment later. Heather had her phone set up with different ringtones for different callers, and mine sounded different than everyone else’s. Aria picked up this pattern so that if anyone else called Heather with their different ringtones Aria would ignore the ringtone as unimportant, but if the phone rang with my ringtone she would dash over to the door to wait for Heather to escort me in.

We loved taking her for walks. Once were out of the apartment building we didn’t have to worry about who saw her and she could just be the silly active puppy that she was. She loved playing in the snow, bouncing around like a madwoman when there was some accumulation to run through.

In the end we were caught by the maintenance men of our apartment building who didn’t seem concerned by the half-dozen other dogs that we had seen coming in and out of the other apartment buildings in the complex that also didn’t allow dogs. By that time we were in the process of buying our house and we stretched things out long enough so that we could just move ourselves over to the house and let our apartment lease expire.

We were worried that Aria would be anxious at the new change in scenery after only a few months with us, so to try to help her along we bought a 79 cent toy from a Petsmart clearance bin that we would give to her at the house when we visited for the first time. It was the simplest of toys, a pink poof with a squeaker in it. When we gave her the toy she ran around the house playing with it, exploring all the rooms. “This is so much better than that noisy apartment,” she said with her reaction.

With the Other Animals

Over the five years that she was with us, she had lots of other animals to play with.

With Cooper

Cooper is the toy poodle that is owned by Heather’s parents. Before we got Aria, he hadn’t really had anything to do with other animals. Let’s just say that Aria and Cooper did not hit it off. Well, she was friendly and polite and always trying to initiate playtime, but he didn’t want anything to do with her. One of the funniest pictures we found while we were going through our memory cards to compile an Aria album was Aria and Cooper’s first meeting, where both dogs are being held next to each other and Aria is stretching to sniff him and he is stretching to get as far away from her as possible. They learned to get along well enough over the following years, and even learned to play with each other. Both of them were big fans of playing fetch though Aria was much more competitive and would not hesitate to knock him out of the way to get at that ball.

With Mikko

We settled in to the house, Heather graduated from pharmacy school, and we started thinking about getting a dog to be Aria’s playmate. We’d gotten used to Aria’s level of shedding, but we were still used to non-shedding poodles, so Heather found a local poodle rescue, Picket Fence Poodles, and started watching their listings as poodles came in and out. And there we met Perry, a little white 7-month old poodle. He was born with a genetic condition where his kneecaps lacked the groove that normal kneecaps have to hold them in place. After he was born he wasn’t able to walk and his breeders decided to put him to sleep. But he was so cute that they put it off and put it off, carrying him around all the while. In the meantime, he developed enough muscle to lock the kneecaps in place and he just started walking on his own–so they gave him over to Gail at Picket Fence Poodles. He was a cutie, and was immediately friendly and playful with us, and we ended up taking Perry home after a meet-and-greet, with the warning that he would probably never jump or run or take the stairs because of his condition.

Now, Perry didn’t know his name at all, so Perry became Mikko. Aria and Mikko hit it off right away, playing like they’d known each other forever. Aria, our mischievous little girl, figured out quickly what he couldn’t do and she pushed him every day to expand his boundaries. She’d jump up on the couch with a toy so that he couldn’t get up there to get it. He would try to imitate her jumping and throw himself against the couch in his excitement. She’d inch over to the edge so that just a little bit of the toy was in his reach if he stood on his hind legs and then she’d let him tug her off the edge with it and they’d roughhouse on the floor for a bit until she jumped back up. Gradually she taught him to jump up on the back of the couch too, and to run super fast. She also helped coax him to learn to climb stairs because she’d use the stairs as a barrier between them while she was playing and would entice him to learn how to do it.

They spent some of those early days establishing who would be the leader between those two, but once Aria established herself as the boss they almost never fought, just the occasional squabble over a bone. Those two have been best friends and playmates ever since, filling many idle moments with roughhousing and chasing. One of her favorite ways to roughhouse was to flip over onto her back and wait for Mikko to come at her and then she would kick in the air with all four of her muscular little legs. They both also loved it when she would chase him around the couch downstairs which was positioned in the middle of the room. She was more muscular and faster than Mikko, but he could make a 90 degree turn on a dime while her momentum would carry her in a much wider arc. This would go on for minutes until finally she caught him and then they’d roughhouse some more. She’d make the strangest vocalizations while she was playing, too, not just barks but weird inquisitive sounds and frustrated sounds from grunts to howls to sounds there are no words for.

With Timmy

We had really liked working with Picket Fence Poodles for adopting Mikko, and so Heather checked their website daily for new arrivals. In 2009, they rescued several dogs from a puppy mill, two little red poodles and a one-eyed Pekingese. We drove up to Elk River for a visit, and played with the three of them. The girl poodle, Jasmine, was very skittish, you could tell that she was sweet but very afraid. Rosie the Pekingese seemed to have some bb’s under skin, signs of a hard life, but she was very friendly. Timmy
the boy poodle was very enthusiastic and acted like a puppy as if he weren’t a 7 year old retired puppy mill breeder. When Heather and I visited, we were thinking Rosie might be a good choice, but when we took Mikko and Aria up for a visit, Rosie and Aria made some sparks between these two bossy girl dogs. I expect they would’ve sorted it out eventually, as dogs do, but in the meantime Mikko was bringing out even more of the puppy-like behavior in Timmy, and we ended up taking Timmy home that very day.

It took a little while for Timmy and Mikko to really roughhouse, because Timmy wasn’t used to that kind of interaction with other dogs, but they eventually did. Aria and Timmy never quite made it to roughhousing, but not from her lack of trying. She was just a little too scary and a little too much bigger than him, plopping down on her back with her legs kicking fiercely in the air.

But Aria and Timmy had plenty of other ways to interact over the years. Getting Timmy to chew bones was always difficult–he hadn’t had such luxuries in the puppy mill, and his bad teeth made it less fun for him. But when we gave bones to the dogs he would hover next to Aria while she chewed hers into a soggy pathetic state and then when she abandoned it he would snatch it up and chomp happily away.

With Lucy

Just 6 months or so ago, Heather’s parents got a cat named Lucy. Our dogs had never been around cats before so it was a learning experience for everybody, including us owners who had to try to figure out if the animals were playing or fighting at any given time. This fall Heather’s mom came up to stay with us to help out around the house when Heather was suffering through extreme nausea due to hyperemesis in the early stages of her pregnancy. Lucy and Cooper came with her, of course, and they were up here for long enough to let the animals really feel each other out and figure out their boundaries. We’d keep the stairway blocked with a baby gate to keep the dogs upstairs and Lucy could fit between the stairwell railing slats so she could come and go. She’d come upstairs and play with the dogs for a while. One of my favorite images from this time was Lucy propped upright on her haunches and boxing at Aria’s face while Aria tried to catch the paws in her mouth. So funny!

What Made Her Special

Aria was a one of a kind, as with any of our animals. So many things made her different from the others.

Brains

Aria’s high intelligence and high food motivation made her great at learning tricks. Promise her a treat and she’d try to do most anything. First we taught her to sit, then to lie down, then to shake. Out of habit we’d ask for each behavior in the order that we had taught them. Well, once she had them down, she got so impatient and once you pulled out the treats she would quickly sit, then lie down, then shake before you’d asked for anything. She knew the order, and she wanted to earn that treat! So we had to start mixing up the order so that she couldn’t just do them ahead of time. We taught her a few other tricks to, to spin right or left, but the absolute best trick was to play dead. You gave the command by pointing your finger at her like a gun and saying “Bang!” That was a challenge to teach, because it’s a little more complicated motion–teaching her to sit then to lie down then gently push her over onto her side, but she was up to the challenge. To do the trick correctly, she had to keel over and stay lying on her side until you said “Okay!” to release her. Sometimes she’d get impatient and jump back up, in which case you’d have to fake-shoot her again until she did it right. Sometimes, when she was particularly impatient, she’d do her Rambo impersonation and take bullet after bullet, staggering but staying upright before she went down. That was always a huge hit with visitors.

You could always tell when one of the other dogs had done something naughty, like having an accident in the house, because Aria would stick by your side and wouldn’t leave it. She knew that she might get in trouble if you found the accident when she hadn’t been nearby.

She picked up words quickly enough that you had to be very careful what you said in association with her favorite things. We used to ask her if she wanted to go for a “walk”, and she learned that, but then it became difficult for Heather and I to ask each other about it ahead of time, so we started to say “park” and then “stroll” to vary the sound, but still she learned it. Eventually we ended up having to spell P-A-R-K, but even then she’d get suspicious because she could tell the difference in the cadence of spelling vs. speaking.


She was good at picking up patterns. At some point she realized that when she licked your hands when you were holding her, that you would often set her down as a reaction, so she took advantage of that when you picked her up when she was being squirrelly. In the early days, I’d put her down when she started panting because I thought she was overheating, and she took advantage of that for a while too, making herself pant when she wanted to be put down! Then if you did put her down she’d go right back to running around at full pace again, breaking the illusion. She looked so funny when she was faking overheating, with her tongue hanging limply out of her mouth.

One of the biggest behaviors that we tried to get under control with training was her barking. Not that barking is bad, but her barks were so loud and so high pitched it wouldn’t take long to give you a splitting headache. One of the ways that we worked on that was to teach her to politely say “please” when she wanted you to throw a toy for her. Heather taught her to do that by making a lowering motion with her hand and whispering “say please” very quietly. Aria caught on to this surprisingly fast and could manage a whole range of volumes from her full volume bark all the way down to a very quiet “woof”. Mikko never really picked up on this trick the way she did. He only has two volumes–11 and 0, so when he would say “please” he would just flap his jaw and you could hear his teeth click but nothing else.

The dogs faced off against her each other with a battle of wits each time they had bones to chew. Each dog was given one bone but, of course, the best bone was always the bone that the OTHER dog had. So they’d constantly try to get the bones from the other dogs in whatever way that they could. In Mikko’s early days in the family, she realized that she could get him to abandon his bone by barking at the door. He would drop everything to investigate and then she would make a U-turn and grab it. After a while he learned from that that he should grab his bone and carry it along while he checks the door.

We bought treat balls for the dogs which were basically hollow hard plastic balls with a small opening. If you filled them with small kibble, the kibble could fall out if the ball rolled a certain way. Timmy was never interested in them, and Mikko had limited success with them, but Aria figured them out. She would push the ball in straight lines across the room zigzagging everywhere, picking it up if it got stuck in a corner, over and over again until the treat ball was empty. She was a girl on a mission.

She was the only dog of ours that has howled on command. She would do it on her own when she got excited, and so we could take advantage of that by giving her a treat and associating it with command words, usually “woo woo” or “soup” (because there is a dog on “The Soup” TV show that howls.

Three months after we adopted her, we were headed out of the house to take a road trip to visit family. We had everything packed into the car, and we were just doing one last trip through the house to check doors and windows and lights. Aria followed along, nervous about all the activity. Downstairs by the patio door in the walkout basement Aria started freaking out about nothing that we could see, play bowing and barking and circling around the patio door. We figured she was just being a weirdo puppy, as she was only one year old and very playful. But when we went to investigate we found out that she was barking at something–an invasion of ants that had begun pouring in through a crack in the patio door enclosure! The first foot of carpet by that door was just thick with little squirming black bodies, and the door was covered in winged ones behind the blinds. A colony must have just sent out a new queen to colonize and they fancied our house! If she hadn’t done that we would’ve been gone for the next 5 days and who knows what an infestation we would’ve had to deal with. As it was, we postponed our departure by a few hours and went to work with the vacuum cleaner until there was nothing left and then laid ant poison for good measure. When we got home 5 days later everything was still fine, all because of Aria. She helped us find when we had mice for the first time too, always sniffing along the walls where the mice walked.

Energy

She was the one in the house with boundless energy. Sometimes it was hard to take so much energy, barking fiercely each time a pedestrian or car passed on the street, guarding the house from dangerous squirrels and songbirds. But now everything seems too quiet.

On car trips she’d try to hop from the front to the back to the front to the back, which we didn’t want her to do as we were afraid a sudden stop would twist her leg as she was crossing between. So we’d tell her “front or back” and she’d have to pick one. But then sometimes when you weren’t paying attention she’d stand with her front feet on the center console with her feet on the backseat because she liked to stand there, a good view with direct air from the center vents.

One of the games that Heather liked to play with them was to lead them on a merry chase in a circle between the kitchen and living room, which form a circular path with each other. Aria would follow along behind as fast as she could, following Heather round and round. Mikko was always more wary of running on the hardwood floor in the kitchen so instead of making the whole circuit he’d run back and forth along the carpeted living room to watch each kitchen entrance.

I don’t know how she could do this, but she could always tell exactly when we had arrived at the park, or at the house, or at Heather’s mom house, no matter how much driving occurred before it. She could go from a dead sleep to whining at this realization–I’d be curious if she recognized the driving stop/go patterns that woke her up to check out the surroundings or what.

I haven’t seen other dogs do this, but she’d sometimes sneeze uncontrollably when she got excited. It didn’t seem to bother her, and it was cute.

She loved to bask in the sun with the other dogs, or to sit by the fireplace in the winter.

Every morning when Heather would get ready, Aria would slip into the closet quietly and lurk under the overhanging clothes. She loved to do this, and would stay in there quietly even when the door was shut behind her, until some time later when we couldn’t figure out where she was and would go to find her. Mikko joined in on the game by pointing her out to us, whining by the closet door. If we asked “Where’s Aria?” he would usually know where to go, closet or otherwise.

When Aria would have to wait in the car while we went in somewhere, she’d watch for us as many dogs would do. But she was so determined to watch and so athletic that she could perch on the seatback of the back seat, pointed to look out the hatchback, perched almost like a bird.

Aria had a love/hate relationship with Heather’s dad’s cowboy boots. He’d pull them on to step outside from time to time and the clomping of the boots on the hardwood floors drove Aria crazy, she’d charge out there and bark and then he would clomp his boots at her and she’d run away and then back again.

Christmastime was always extra fun with her around because we taught her to help us open presents–if you started unwrapping a present and then gave her the open flap of the wrapping paper, she’d pull gently at it, eyeing you to make sure she wasn’t doing something wrong. When you didn’t scold her she’d go at it with more and more energy.

Affection

Of our dogs she was the only one who would consistently kiss you on command. If you made smooching sounds or said “Kisses” she’d lick your nose or lips, whichever were closer.

She was a very expressive dog, especially her big pointy ears. They’d come up in sharp points if she was feeling mischievous, open up wide if she was curious or excited, fold flat against her head if she was ashamed or acting polite when meeting another dog. Her eyes would open so wide they’d just about pop at any unfamiliar sound or at the mention of food. She’d wave her tail like a pompom if you said her name or one of her favorite words.

Aria would usually act like she didn’t want lovey-dovey cuddling and stuff. She’d let you pick her up but would struggle and give you looks if you tried to snuggle her. We were sure that was just an act. At night she’d sleep under the covers and would curl up against Heather’s feet or try to sneak up next to Heather’s belly to sleep. She’d also rest her head on your shoulder when you sat on the couch, her version of cuddling.

When there were noises while we were sleeping, company rustling around or people outside or anything else, Aria would make a racket when she heard. That was when she got belly time with me, which was supposedly a punishment but I actually liked it and I think she did too. I’d lay her on her side and pin her down with an arm at first because that would usually keep her quiet. After a while I’d let up on her and she’d just curl up against my belly.

When Heather would take a bath she’d always jump up on the back of the bathtub and sit with Heather. Until the day when she almost fell in–she learned her lesson! If you picked her up and held her over the bathwater, she would paddle her legs like she was swimming.

If she was curled up with you on the couch and she wanted to nap, she would often bury her head in you armpit or under your arm–any way to block out the light.

Aria loved to ride across the house in a laundry basket full of warm clothes fresh from the dryer.

Whenever we took out the suitcase to pack for a trip she’d plop herself down in it and just lie down or chew a bone to make sure you weren’t going to sneak away without her.

She was always the one of our dogs most in tune with how you were feeling. If you were in bed sick she’d check on you from time to time, give you a quick kiss to make sure you were still alive, and then she’d stand watch over you. If someone was crying, she’d comfort them and kiss away their tears, going to hunt them down to comfort them if necessary.

Sometimes Heather and I would mock fight with each other, just pretending to bop each other. Aria would not allow those kind of shenanigans! She would decide which one of us had been the instigator this time (not always correctly deciding, mind you) and would bark at the other one until we stopped.

It surprised us both that Aria seemed to bond to me more in the beginning than to Heather, since Heather has always had a dog and has always been more of a “natural”. But some time later we took Aria in for a Lyme Disease vaccination that left her basically paralyzed for a day. Whenever people would leave her she would try to follow and would shriek out in pain when she stood on the leg. Heather stayed by Aria’s dog bed that whole time, comforting her and feeding her string cheese, and that seemed to bring them much closer together.

Playtime

Just like Mikko and Timmy, she would be lazy and energetic in fits and spurts. But unlike the other two, it was always easy to get her from lazy to energetic. All you had to do was pretend like you were stalking her. Start from the other side of the room and creep along as if you’re trying to be quiet, locking your eyes on her. First she’d look at you sidelong, then her tail would wag tentatively, then all of a sudden she’d jump to her feet and would run from you and you could chase her around the room for a while.

Her favorite toys of all time were definitely rubber balls with squeakers. When she felt like initiating playtime she’d find one and squeak it over and over again until you came to play. Another way to get her riled up was just to say “squeak squeak squeak” in a high pitched voice that sounded like a squeaky ball, then she’d go and try to find the nearest squeaky toy to play with you.

She was a very good fetcher–she’d always grab any toy that you threw for her, and the more competition the better. She wasn’t afraid to body slam the other dogs out of her way to win the game. When she played she didn’t give it a half effort–she played to win. Getting her to give you the toy back to throw was never easy–if you wanted it back right away you’d have to chase her down (sometimes you could get her to bring it if you waited around long enough) and then you’d also have to play tug of war to get it back. Many a rubber ball was ripped open by those tug of war games and at some point they became hard to find and replace so you had to be really careful to try to preserve those that were left.

Another of her all-time favorite toys was a laser pointer that she knew by the name “dot”. The moment you said the word “dot”, she would stare intently at the ground, ready to chase after the little red spot. Usually we’d play it downstairs where she had a good 20 or 30 feet to run. She’d run back and forth in a track, pursuing the spot of light, reaching full speed with each run, pausing only occasionally to catch her breath, until she could run no more and took a break. Mikko never showed any interest in the dot itself, but he always got excited when it came out because he reacted to Aria when she was playing dot–he’d really want to grab her by the tail and just get pulled along behind her like a waterskier. So… we had to pick him up for her to be able to play. Our rule about playing dot was that Aria could only play it if she had pooped since her most recent meal, because otherwise she’d almost always have a poop accident on the floor in her extreme excitement. And, in a pinch, she didn’t have to have the laser pointer to play dot. She’d get just as excited about any reflected light, off laptop screens, or Heather’s watch while she used the bathroom.

Speaking of poop accidents, you’d have to be really careful about taking her to Petsmart or the groomer, because there, too, she would get so excited she’d just lose control. It was embarrassing, but also funny and endearing because it was all rooted in her zest for life.

Oddly enough, one of her favorite playthings was fingernails. From time to time, Heather would clip off a fingernail and would poke Aria a little bit with it. Aria just got crazy, trying to chew it and howling when Heather wouldn’t give it to her, hopping all over the place and then coming back for it. She also had an insatiable interest in bodily nooks and crannies, especially ears and belly buttons, which she would investigate at every opportunity. Heather’s mom has hearing aids which would squeal when Aria stuck her nose in there, so that sound has memories of her in it.

Food

Aria was a foodie, through and through. When she heard the first clink of their breakfast dishes on the counter for filling, or the light switch over their eating area, she would charge out to the kitchen to be underfoot while I carried them over. As I carried the dishes over, she would do loop-de-loops in her uncontainable excitement, and bark and bark and bark. We had all three of them trained to wait until after we said the bowls down and said “Okay” before digging in, otherwise you had two hands and three bowls and one sad puppy left out. As soon as you said the word (and she’d always try to anticipate it so if you used a similar timing every day between setting down the last bowl and saying “Okay” she’d just dig in after that timing) she would be inhaling that food so fast. In seconds she’d have eaten her whole portion and would want to hover over the other two to dive in as soon as she could–we trained her and Mikko to come out to the living room as soon as they were finished because Timmy sometimes took coaxing and was always a slow eater even then. Mikko would get to eat Timmy’s last bits that he wouldn’t dig out for breakfast and Aria would get them in the evening (Mikko Morning, Aria Afternoon). No matter if she was the first one to lick them, she would definitely still lick the bowl clean and the floor around the bowl, once, twice, three times, four times, or more on some days. When you’d take her away from the breakfast area, she’d still gaze out there for a while and you could tell she was thinking of those bowls that maybe weren’t as clean as she could make them, and the next time you went back out there you’d hear the clink-clink of her dog tags against the bowl as she licked.

Even better than dog food, she loved any kind of food that she’d see people eating. The sound of a knife on a cutting board would draw her from the other end of the house because she knew she’d get cucumber slices if those were being chopped, or carrots, or deli meat, or many other fun foods. She liked to hover in the kitchen any time someone was working on the counters, just in case, watching the food with the focus of an Olympic athlete. You had to be really careful if you were handling anything she couldn’t have, like onions or grapes or chocolate. She ran off with a whole banana peel once and had to be pried away from it to keep her from swallowing the whole thing down.

Even while she lurked, though, she was always afraid of things falling on her–I didn’t realize Heather and I were that clumsy! If you dropped something that wasn’t food, even something insignificant like a Ziploc bag or something, she’d run for it. Or she’d try to, anyway, her claws making a comical cartoon scramble on the hardwood floor. She was always afraid of any kind of machine that made noise on its own, and the hand mixer was the scariest of all. She wouldn’t lurk in the kitchen when that was running, but she would peer nervously around the corner as Heather used it, in case the hand mixer ate Heather right up.

Whenever we returned with bags of groceries, she would always go to investigate and sniff the grocery bags before she greeted us. She knew her priorities! She mostly wouldn’t take anything out of the bags. Mostly. She did tear into a bag of marshmallows once, but no harm done…

She loved Greenies too, though she didn’t eat them the way that we would rather she have. Greenies are vegetable compresses shaped like little toothbrushes that are supposed to help clean the dogs teeth if they chew on them. Unless you chomp them down in 10 seconds like Aria did. We had to say “G-Things” or “Brownies” when talking about this amongst ourselves, otherwise she’d get all excited.

We always give the dogs a treat when they go into their kennels when we have to leave the house. It makes it a happy time instead of a sad time, and makes a big difference. Aria knew that treats were associated with kennels so while you were coaxing the other two to come downstairs to get their treat, she’d already charged down the stairs by herself and was waiting in there for you.

It’s strange to think back on the first days that we had her, when she would leave her treat untouched in the kennel all day. In those days if you gave her a treat she’d often go mime burying it in the carpet in some corner of the house. She continued to do that until we got Mikko, and then he’d follow along behind her and grab the treat as soon as she left it–and then she’d frantically look for it later.

Marking the Signpost

One of Aria’s favorite pastimes was marking signs and trees and bridgeposts and especially streetlamps at the park. She wasn’t very good at budgeting her urine, though, so her first target would get a thorough covering, her second target would get a little splash, and then all the rest would get a drip or two. That didn’t stop her, not in the slightest–it was the principle of the thing! She’s the only girl dog I’ve seen who often peed liked a boy dog, lifting one leg to try to mark. Which didn’t work all that well, but if the boys could do it she surely could! Even funnier, she would occasionally do a move I like to call the “kung fu pee”, where she would keep both front feet on the ground and plant both back feet against a tree trunk as high as they would go and pee like that–she didn’t do that too often, and when she did it was over in a flash so we never managed to get a photo of it, but it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. And no matter where she would mark, Timmy would follow along behind her and mark too, and they’d always pick the same spots. We had to watch out for that on the walk–she peed on his head more than once when he was sniffing at a particularly enticing spot that she just couldn’t wait to mark. If only it were that easy to get her to pee at home. She would always save up for half a day at a time at home, maybe in the hopes that she would get to go for a walk and mark things.

The Sad Part

If you want a happy story today, leave off here. Every complete dog story has a sad part. It’s the burden that pet owners take on. Our little companions have a zest for life that humans sometimes find difficult to find on their own, but they also live so much less time. Our happy times are happier with animals around, but this comes with its own price of the pain that comes when they pass away. The price is worth what these animals bring to our lives, but that does not make it any easier.

The first sign that there was something wrong with Aria came on Wednesday December 5, 2012. Heather was home with the dogs on a day off, a day that seemed like any other day off with the dogs. The wind was blowing hard that day, and when a particularly heavy gust rattled the house Aria and Mikko went running to the door to investigate. Heather heard a thump and went to find Aria lying on the ground by the door, and not getting up right away. Finally she got up, but she’d had an accidental bladder release. Heather called me, and we both thought she needed to go the vet because that could be a seizure.

Heather took her to the vet and they ran some tests and discovered that her PCV (packed cell volume), a measure of red blood cells in the blood was low, only about 24, which should normally be above 40. The symptoms suggested that this could be Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA), a very serious condition with a very guarded outlook (maybe 50/50 chance of mortality) where the body’s immune system attacks its own red blood cells. They took some further tests, and gave us some Prednisone (to suppress the immune system) and antibiotics (in case of parasites being the cause) to try to treat the most likely causes of such a problem, and they sent her home with us. They said we were missing some of the key indicators of IMHA, lack of spherocytes, lack of agglutenation, and a negative Coombs test, but it was as yet their best estimation.

Other than that one incident, she still seemed okay, other than very pale gums which we had not noticed before. Maybe a little lower energy than usual but she didn’t seem to be feeling sick or in pain or anything. She slept that night at home, the last night that she would spend at home.

Heather and I took the next morning off of work to take her back to the vet to have them test her PCV again, and they found that she’d dropped down to 17, and they recommended an immediate blood transfusion, which then took the rest of the afternoon. After the transfusion, her cell count was down a little bit more, to 16. We decided to take her to the University of Minnesota pet hospital because they are the best in the area, especially for difficult cases. First we took her home, fed her supper which she ate all of, but without her usual spastic energy for it.

We took her to the U of MN, where they checked her into the ICU. We met Dr. Stiller, an internal medicine resident who was Aria’s primary doctor for most of the time that Aria was in the ICU. They agreed with the diagnosis of IMHA being the most likely, but also agreed that some of the indicators didn’t seem quite right for that. But her treatment plan continued,taking blood samples every 12 hours, giving transfusions as necessary.

We brought her to the ICU Thursday night, and we both had to go back to work on Friday, but I came back during morning visiting hours with Becky D (the same one who connected us to the right people to get Aria in the first place) and the doctors let us stay a couple of hours, longer than visitors are supposed to. They have very nice little cubicles there with a couch and a lamp and Aria snoozed beside us while we sat. Heather and I came back that evening and stayed as long as they let us, as well as both visiting hours on Saturday and Sunday. The snow began falling steadily on Friday and continued to fall through the rest of the weekend, enough accumulation that we normally would’ve been staying at home. Saint Paul has the worst snow clearing procedures of any Midwestern city I’ve ever been in, but there was no way we were going to let Aria think that we had abandoned her there. At every visit she was happy to see us, and would wag her tail and give kisses. Most visits she would perk up at the sound of dogs or people walking past, and some days she would even bark. You could tell her energy was a little lower, but she still seemed like the same dog and she didn’t seem to be in pain. She started to show jaundiced coloring.

On Saturday, her clotting factors in her blood started to have problems, and an ultrasound showed some preliminary oddities with her liver and heart. For the blood, the best treatment was to give her a plasma transfusion. With the clotting factors in place, there was not a great deal they could do about the ultrasound results, because it would be dangerous to do a biopsy. We’d been trying to stay hopeful, and it had been quite a roller coaster ride already, but this was another major problem stacked atop the first one. There was a possibility that the clotting was a stage of DIC, which is a disorder where the blood spontaneously forms tiny clots all over the place which can be a danger in itself, but it also uses up the clotting agents in the blood so that hemorrhaging is also a danger.

Dr. Stiller said that she took Aria out to the exercise yard to go potty, and on their way out they passed the visiting cubicle where we had usually visited her. Aria trotted right in and jumped up on the couch, waiting for Heather and me to walk in. Dr. Stiller said Aria was unusual among her patients because she was so friendly to Dr. Stiller, giving her kisses and always happy to see her–not many dogs liked Dr. Stiller because the vet’s office is always so scary. Even in the hardest times, Aria was always full of love.

Aria needed a third blood transfusion overnight, and on Monday, we went back to work again, but I was able to go and visit Aria again with Becky D. She was noticeably weaker this time, but that is not a huge surprise because of anemia. She had a feeding tube fed in through her nose because they’d been having trouble getting her to eat. Her ears still perked up at passersby, but no barking that day. We were waiting for another round of blood numbers to come back. We found those out in the early afternoon and the results were very mixed. Her PCV was 18, the highest it had been since we took her to the U of MN, but her clotting numbers were no better despite the transfusion. And they were becoming very concerned about the possibility of congestive heart failure. They had already put in a lot of fluid into such a tiny dog and the heart has to work extra hard to push all of that. We’d asked the vet, Dr. Bisignano now because Dr. Stiller had gone off rotation, to be upfront with us to let us know when the treatment was showing to be ineffective, and at this point he said it was getting there.

Heather and I took off of work early, met at home and drove up there together to take her home so that she could breathe her last breaths in a familar place with familiar smells. They’d removed her IV tube but left her feeding tube in and had a bag of liquid food and medications for a week. At this point Aria did not look like she had that morning, her breathing was very rapid and labored, and she wouldn’t give kisses or perk up anymore. It looked like it was taking all of her effort just to breathe. The doctors thought that she was just excited to see us, but it didn’t abate in a few minutes like it normally would have. We asked them if we needed all of those things because we were expecting to have a home vet come to euthanize her the following day, and they said they could remove the feeding tube in that case so that Aria wouldn’t have to be uncomfortable. Dr. Stiller had come back off of her rotation to see Aria off, which we really appreciated.

Dr. Stiller returned a few minutes later to let us know that something was wrong. Aria had taken a turn for the worse. They’d picked her up out of the dog bed to see to her feeding tube and Aria wasn’t able to stand, and she was having obvious breathing distress. She said they couldn’t send her home that way. It was time to let her go. We came back to the ICU immediately to be with her. Because they’d taken out her IV port they had to put in a new one to administer, so while they were doing that we talked to her and petted her and told she was a good girl, a pretty girl. We told her all of our favorite stories, all the funny little things she would do. She didn’t seem to be very aware of her surroundings, keeping entirely occupied by just breathing but she knew we were there and she could hear us. That went on for quite some time so we had some good time with her, though the staff was having problems finding a decent vein, no doubt having stage fright with the parents standing over. They actually had to send us out of the ICU to finish the job, sent us over to a private visiting room to wait. It was about 5 minutes before they brought her over and we were so afraid that she would pass before they brought her back. But they brought her over and she was still awake. They set Aria down in the dog bed next to us, and our little girl scrambled to her feet, apparently confused about her surroundings. I think she was trying to find us, but was having trouble understanding that we were there. Heather managed to get a good hold on her, and Aria stilled, seeming to recognize Heather. They gave us a few minutes longer with her, and we each sang her a song and petted her and talked to her, but her breathing distress was only getting worse, and we had had some time to tell her stories while they were trying to find a vein, so we called them back.

Our little girl Aria passed away in Heather’s arms, with both of us touching her and talking to her and comforting her. I wish we could’ve given her another ten years on this earth, but it’s a blessing at least that we could be with her together. We think that she was holding on in those last hours until Heather and I could both be there with her.

All of this happened in the middle of Heather’s pregnancy with our first child. She has had extreme morning sickness condition known as hyperemesis, in which she has spent months sick. She had a hard time getting through that, including a month of IV therapy, two weeks of which she took off of work and the other two weeks at half days. Heather’s mom was a great help during this time, coming up to stay with us for six weeks and helping to tend to Heather and tend to the dogs during that time.

Often during that time Heather wondered why she had to go through the hyperemesis, but looking back at the timing of everything, she realized that she got a lot of extra time in with Aria before the unexpected condition struck, and her mom got a lot of extra time with Aria too. The year before the pregnancy began, she had had a hard time losing weight even when she tried methods that would usually work, but because she was carrying a little extra weight she could afford to lose some without harming the baby. Everything happens for a reason.

The house is very quiet now. Timmy and Mikko sometimes leave food mess on the floor after eating and nobody cleans it up. The front door squeaks and no one rushes to investigate. Mikko is already getting lethargic, having lost his active playmate. On our own we probably wouldn’t want to get another dog so soon, but we have to keep Mikko active or his knee problems will act up again, so we have been looking around for active playmates. We had anticipated Mikko’s lethargy, but had not predicted that it would also have a noticeable effect on Timmy, who does not bark for meals like he used to–apparently that energy was driven by Aria as well.

Not long after Aria’s passing, we were trying to decide if we should get another dog. We knew it was soon, but Mikko was being very lethargic and with the baby on the way we were thinking we should get a new dog and have them trained before the baby arrives. We were contemplating and discussing one night and Heather said that we should watch for a sign from Aria in our dreams.

That day we took Timmy and Mikko to the vet to ease our minds, so that we didn’t have to worry about their health. In the waiting room was a woman holding a papillon who had coloring and size very similar to Aria, named Frenzy. The woman was very nice and let us hold Frenzy, who was there to have a c-section. In the 5 years we’d been going to that vet we had never seen another papillon. The fact that we saw one there with such similar look when we’d asked for a sign seemed significant.

That night I concentrated on thinking about Aria as I drifted off to sleep. And I did see Aria in a dream that night! I heard the thump of a dog jumping off the bed and I went out to the living room to investigate. There in the moonlight I saw the white part of her black-and-white stripes spinning around and around in excited greeting. I bent down and petted her and let her kiss me, and I told her gently that she should go back to bed. As if in response she ran to the other side of the room and assumed a poop squat. “Aria’s pooping in the house!” I shouted to the bedroom, as I would often do when there was an actual accident. “What?” Heather said with obvious confusion, and I realized at that time that I already knew that Aria had passed away. It took me a couple beats to process this, and then I replied “There’s ghost poop in the living room!” And then Aria came back over to me and enthusiastically greeted me some more. When I’ve told this to some others, they’ve suggested that if it was a sign that Aria was pooping on my idea. But I think the tone of the dream needs to be taken into account as well as the content. The tone of the dream was very humorous, and I think Aria was just telling me a joke to lighten the mood–being a dog her sense of humor isn’t very sophisticated, so a poop joke is not that odd of an idea. And I really did think it was pretty funny. If it was a sign, I think she was telling me to relax and live my life, and maybe that I needed to make my own decisions. If she were telling me not to think about getting another dog, I think the dream would have a disapproving tone instead of a humorous one.

AriaMemorialWe kept Aria’s remains, and got her a memorial urn with her picture, a lovely woodwork from Bay Shore Woodworks, Inc. It has a custom saying on the front “Always Loving and Watching Out For Us February 14, 2007-December 10, 2012”. It has a poem on the back:
If tears could build a stairway
And memories a lane,
I would walk right up to Heaven
And bring you back again.

She will be missed.

“Door in the Darkness” published in Stupefying Stories

written by David Steffen

My story “Door in the Darkness” just went live in Stupefying Stories issue 1.9, edited by Bruce Bethke. I’ve been very excited to find this magazine, as Bruce’s style is right up my alley of what I like to read and what I like to write. Sharing the table of contents with me is my good friend Gary Cuba, who Bruce describes as a fan favorite, so that was a nice surprise.

I wrote “Door in the Darkness” after reading “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer. My entire aim was to write a supernatural romance story where I didn’t hate the characters. I like the way that it turned out. If you get a chance to read it, do let me know!

Also, (adding this a week after the original post), just noticed that the Amazon “Look Inside” feature for the magazine lets you see the first section of my story, though it’s cut off by the digital preview.

Lucky Pig Studio Relaunch!

written by David Steffen

In late 2010, I launched a 2010 Cafepress store called Lucky Pig Studio with artist Joey Jordan who did our site art. Not a lot has happened there. I think part of the reason is that I never figured out how to make a unified storefront.

Well I’ve put it together now, and so I’m in the midst of a relaunch of the store. I really hope that people like it. I’m talking with Anthony to see if we can figure out how to insert a Cafepress sidebar to the site to make it easy to from this site.

Last time I launched all at once. This time I’m going to try a more measured approach. I’m going to open a new design each day that comes on a wide range of products, and for now they’ll be about 10% less than the usual price.

So this is the 1st day, and here’s the first design. It’s the iconic image of Lucky Pig Studios, the “Lucky Pig!” This design is based on the studios namesake, a piglet that my wife and I rescued from the side of a South Dakota Interstate in the summer of 2010 in the heat of summer. We got it some food, and got it out of the brutal August heat, and to a hooved animal rescue society. So that was one lucky pig.

Giveaway! Uncle John’s Flush Fiction Anthology

written by David Steffen

The day has finally arrived, the publication date of Uncle John’s Flush Fiction anthology. As I mentioned a few months back, I sold a story titled “Mysterious Ways” to the anthology. I am particularly excited about this sale, because I know many more people who are familiar with Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader books than who are familiar with my favorite speculative fiction magazines.

The Bathroom Readers are a series of books with widely varying content, but what they all have in common is that each one is made up of very short segments which can be easily read during a trip to the toilet (not that you have to read them on the toilet if that’s not your thing). In case you haven’t heard of them, you can check out the Uncle John’s website to find out more, or you can find them at your favorite online retailers or brick-and-mortar stores (in the humor section). I think you’ll enjoy them.

So, to celebrate the release of Flush Fiction, and to help get the word out about the anthology, I’m hosting a giveaway of a copy of the book, which contains 88 stories of flash fiction, each one a perfect length to read in a few minutes of spare time. Â There are two ways you can enter (and you can do both to double your odds of winning!):

1. Post a comment here on Diabolical Plots in response to this announcement. It doesn’t matter what the comment is, just make it PG, and try not to sound like a spambot (or your comment might be filtered)
2. “Like” the Diabolical Plots Facebook page link I’ll post there.

Now, go ahead! Your deadline is the end of the day on Wednesday April 11, 2012 Central Time USA. After the deadline, I’ll do a random drawing of all the entrants follow the directions (and two for the people who do both). At that point I’ll announce the winner, and get in touch with them to get a mailing address to mail the book. Good luck!

Award Eligibility 2011

written by David Steffen

Hey everybody, just a quick post to talk about voting eligibility for my work for the Hugo (and John W. Campbell). Now, I am not crazy enough to think I have any real chance at either, but I figure there’s even less chance if I don’t tell people what I’m eligible for. So, here’s a quick breakdown of everything that I might be eligible for. If anyone feels inclined to nominate me, you are my personal hero!

If you don’t know what the Hugo or Campbell awards are, or if you just want to know more details about how you can vote and so on, go here to find out more.

John W. Campbell Award

This is my last year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell new writer award. This year I had four stories that make me eligible, the same four short stories eligible for the Hugo.

Best Fanzine Hugo

Diabolical Plots itself for the Best Fanzine Hugo.

 

Best Short Story Hugo

Fruitful at Digital Science Fiction

The Infinite Onion at AE

Helpers at One Buck Horror

The Quest Unusual at Daily Science Fiction

Daily Science Fiction: October 2011 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

First review of the New Year! But what about last year? We have a list of our favorites, but before we tell you which ones we liked the best, let us tell you what we thought of these.

 

A sorcerer learns the hard way the lesson of ‘ends justifying the means’ in “Wider and Deeper” by Carma Lynn Park (debut 10/3). The sorcerer seeks the energy of the dark ones deep within the earth. He intends to feed of their power but reaching them is difficult. He manipulates creatures to tunnel, but doesn’t think of the consequences of letting loose his creations.

The story is told like a parable. The creatures are tools, and tools left alone can be instruments of destruction. I confess, I was not a fan of how this story was told or how it shaped up. I’m not sure if there was a moral in it. If so, I missed it.

 

A young girl reflects on her parents in “Where Sea and Sky Kiss” by Dan Campbell (debut 10/4). The protagonist of this tale is the child of widowed parents. The two were brought together by her birth, both losing spouses in tragic accidents. The closeness the two had for each other fades, the distance between them growing wider when they move to anew home. The young lady wishes for them to be close , and with the help of items stored away , hatches a plan for them to fall in love again.

I confess, the moral and deeper meaning of this piece was lost on me. A second reading did not help. Perhaps others will find the appeal of it, but I must say, it was not a tale for me.

 

Silence is the canvas of magic in “Canvas” by M. K. Hutchins (debut 10/5). The protagonist is part of a very talented family. They are capable of wonderful magic, but a deadly plague threatens to take them and all in the land. The protagonist cannot reach the silence to save his nephew. Desperate measures may be the only way out of these desperate times.

“Canvas” is set within a difficult to grasp premise for me. It is a solemn and distant tale told without clear parameters of what is possible.

 

The author contemplates “If Wishes Were Fishes” by Amanda M Hayes (debut 10/6), and brings a quite cute story to life. A goldfish at a Chinese restaurant swallows a coin tossed into its pool and takes on the wish that accompanies it.

“If Wishes” is a novel take on this common phrase. The reader follows the fish, now transformed into the coin, and sets about making the wish a reality. Well told for such a brief tale.

Recommended.

 

A man’s hopes and dreams rest on the outcome of a concert in “A Concert of Flowers” by Kate O’Connor (debut 10/7). William Reis is a planet surveyor when he encounters a species of flower that sings when it blooms. He envisions a potential moneymaker, but the risks are high. The music the flowers make is beautiful. If only he can get others to believe in him.

“A Concert of Flowers” is written in series of flashbacks. The story starts at the beginning of the concert, the moment William has been working toward. Each flashback is set as a potential setback for William, yet he perseveres, betting on himself and his idea.

I must say I liked the idea of flowers that sing. Ms O’Connor did a nice job of making them believable to me. However, the story was really about William and fulfilling his dream. As a story about perseverance, it kind of works, but I’ve read better tales of inspiration. But, for a self-described new writer, I must admit this tale is one any writer would be proud to write.

 

An alien race plays host in “The Human Guest” by Marge Simon (debut 10/10). The alien race tells of the coming of men. At first, they tolerate the new arrivals, then a single human inserts himself into their collective just as mating season commences. The aliens are too polite to refuse. To do so is anti-social.

“The Human Guest” is a distant and dark tale. The nameless human is the worst humanity has to offer. The aliens come off as very human but with a different culture. Details in the story are vague (which was for the best). I found it well-written, just don’t expect an uplifting tale.

 

Vincent reflects on his life on his deathbed and takes pity upon his robot servant, Jonas, in “The Farthest Coast” by Jeremy Lightner (debut 10/11). Vincent has led a good life but knows his death will mean the end of Jonas. He tries to convey his feelings to his servant, wishing Jonas could have a life as fulfilling as his own. But Jonas has a different idea on what makes a life fulfilling.

“The Farthest Coast” is a moral told as a story. The touching moment of Vincent having pity upon Jonas reverses as the tale progresses. I found myself resenting Vincent’s feelings getting turned to mud. The point of the story was taken but I felt as if the author was making a commentary of what makes for a ‘good’ life.

 

Sir Hugh stops to ask peasant Matthew directions to his Lord’s Castle in “The Quest Unusual” by Dave Steffen (debut 10/12 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). He wants to hunt dragons for him. This is unusual since Sir Hugh is a dragon. Now Matthew has a problem does he put his Lord in danger, or deny Sir Hugh and endanger his own life

One of my favorite stories is Ray Bradbury’s “The Dragon”. This is a lighter look at the same subject, with a similar wry twist at the end. Very well done.

 

The main character in “California Gurls” by S. A. Rudek (debut 10/13 and reviewed by James Hanzelka) is trying to convince his partner of the value in music, specifically Katy Perry. His partner is more concerned with dwindling resources in the post apocalyptic world. The bigger question is “will the pair find what they need to survive?”

I didn’t care for the voice in this story, but that’s a personal taste thing. Aside from that, I thought the author did a pretty good job of creating the setting and developing the story in a short format.

 

Phoebe reconnects with her mother after the collapse in “Free Lunch” by Will McIntosh (debut 10/14). The story opens with Phoebe finding her husband having sex with a fourteen-old student of hers, in their bedroom, while her mother-in-law sits in the kitchen. Her decision to leave immediately seems like a no-brainer, but a collapsed civilization makes her pause. She has only one place to go, to parents who disowned her 19 years before. But the journey to her childhood home is an eighty-mile hike through a bamboo forest, and information of what life is like beyond her town is skittish.

“Free Lunch” is a prequel to McIntosh’s novel “Soft Apocalypse.” The story is set in a Georgia twenty years after an economical collapse. Rogue scientists have unleashed bio-engineered bamboo and tailored viruses to quell an upcoming nuclear war. The bamboo has choked the land. Life has gotten harder and people are living a life under siege. But the collapse isn’t complete. There is some form of commerce that still exists. Cars (rare that they are) still travel on the roads. Farmer markets survive but it is clear there are less people around and opportunities are slight.

Early in Phoebe’s trek, she comes across a man named Rumor offering a free meal. Suspicious, yet hungry, she accepts his offer. Rumor is recruiting others to join his tribe. They appear to have everything they need. The catch? Phoebe must allow herself to be infected with the Happy virus. Sensing a cult, she politely refuses, but Rumor’s offer is an open one.

The mood of “Free Lunch” starts off dim and gradually becomes darker. Phoebe finds her mother, alone and starving. Food has become scarce and money has lost its value. At first grateful to find her mother alive, it doesn’t take long for old tensions to resurface between the two. Without many valuables, Phoebe is left with the only thing she has worth trading. Life in a cult, infected with a mood-altering virus, doesn’t seem so bad now.

If you are a fan of Will McIntosh, or have bought , or plan to , a copy of “Soft Apocalypse”, this story is a must read. His writing is smooth and premise intriguing. The story is a lesson on how desperation can dismantle a person’s self-respect. If you are after an uplifting tale, steer wide of this one. Phoebe has no good choices to make in this depressing piece. If you do read it, try not to get too immersed into her character. You’ll want to take a shower if you do.

 

The children of colonists on a new world love hearing the Spidersong by Alex Shvartsman (debut 10/17). The spiders of the alien world are large, hunting and killing the people from Earth. Only the children can hear their songs. They have become the early warning system to the adults, saving them from harm’s way. Only the children can hear the spiders and know what they think. They share a telepathic ability with them, and a kinship the adults aren’t aware of.

“Spidersong” has a twist I won’t dare reveal. The tale is a deceptive tease into the perspective of children who have an ability the adults aren’t privy to. The story is a set up for the reader. Nice piece, I enjoyed it. Keep an eye on those kids.

 

The protagonist writes a letter to her sister on life in the country in My Dearest Miranda by Jamie Lee Moyer (debut 10/18). The letter describes how she and the staff endure trolls, pixies, goblins, and like. Her husband soothes the help and the widow next door in his private parlor for hours at a time (it is difficult to calm down excitable, and lonely, women, after all). Life in the country is much harder than the city.

This work of humor (written as a letter) follows the exploits of a very naÃ’ ve woman. Admittedly, I chuckled a time or two. This delightful tale was indeed funny.

 

An angel appears before Amy, just as her friend said it would in Amy’s First by Henry Szabranski (debut 10/19). A small angel greets Amy in her bedroom. The corporeal being has an important message for her, just as her friend predicted. Thanks to her friend, she knows just what to do.

“Amy’s First” is a delightful little tale. The twist caught me completely off guard. Well executed.

Recommended.

 

A man must decide which sword to choose in Selecting by John M Shade (debut 10/20). A bloodthirsty prince is waiting outside while the protagonist searches the armory, contemplating on his choice of magical sword. Based on the names of the blades, most would be useless, but the sword of Vengeance calls to him.

“Selecting” has the flavor of Fred Saberhagen’s Swords series. In fact, you could call it a parody of the late author’s work. I rather liked it, and loved how the author chose to end this great piece.

 

Sea Charm by Ann Chatman (debut 10/21 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

When a story ends, and I don’t get it, I figure there’s something I missed. Being a fairly smart guy, I believe I should get every story, so when I don’t, I feel a general washing away of the entire tale. After reading the author comments, and thinking hard about the tale, I believe I’ve pieced together what happened.

A young girl is saved by a merman who so captivates her, she seeks the aid of an old sorceress to assist her in being united with her savior. The old woman leads us to believe this is a common occurrence. Or at least, that young girls seeks her wisdom. This portion of the story trails off as the old woman visits a seal creature in order to inquire of the merman’s intentions. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through for “this latest girl”.

I won’t reveal the ending, in case I’m off with what happened. However, I did appreciate this story as I read along. I gave “Sea Charm” three rocket dragons.

 

Junk Silver by Michael Canfield (debut 10/24 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is an interesting story, worth four rocket dragons, but it suffers one major flaw, which is I’m unable to picture what is going on.

Taken purely at word for word value, it’s nifty, and intrinsically ironic, which is always a fun combo in a story. However, if you’re looking for a traditional story from which you can picture the characters and surroundings, this isn’t it.

To sum up: Two custodial engineers are on earth cleaning the seemingly physical vestiges of the internet wasteland and various other garbage. The conversation, which is the bulk of the plot, is inane but interesting with various factoids throughout.

 

A woman continues to construct paper animals for her vanishing boyfriend in Like Origami in Water by Damien Walters Grintalis (debut 10/21). Johnny is losing digits. They are disappearing and no one knows why. His girlfriend is his only comfort. He craves her origami and displays them about their apartment.

“Like Origami” is an emotional tale. The story is told from Johnny’s girlfriend point of view. She holds her feelings in, not daring to let them free. She endures, as she watches her dear Johnny waste away.

It is only the mysterious illness that makes this tale a work of speculative fiction. Any person, who had a loved one that succumbed to a long illness, could identify with this story. It is the protagonists attempt to withhold her feelings that make this tale such a strong emotional one. The origami figurines her Johnny loves so much, stand as objects of indictments to her character.

The editors of DSF announced that this tale was nominated for the prestigious (?) award. I hope it wins. It will take an outstanding story to beat it.

 

Tomorrow’s Dawn by Milo James Fowler (debut 10/26 and reviewed by Anonymous) focuses on a man traveling on a lunar tube and sitting opposite him is a member of a subjugated alien race. The man remembers an incident where an alien suicide-bombed a lunar-tube when he was a child, killing many and he picks up clues that the alien in front of him is going to repeat this act in only a few moments…

I found this story a little predictable. I guessed how it would end mostly because of the effort put in to sustain the perceived threat level. That said the message of the story is clear and important and I think that side of things was handled well.

 

In Radical Therapy by Edward Gary Kratz (debut 10/27 and reviewed by Anonymous), a young man is referred to a specialist for his problem–namely he believes himself to be a shapeshifter. More than that, he is a shapeshifter who is having difficulty controlling his shifts. It is his hope–and protected by therapist/patient confidentiality–that the man he is seeing will be able to help him. First however, he must convince the man that he is in fact a shapeshifterâ€

If the guy has this problem, and there is a shapeshifting community (suggested by the story) then surely he would seek help via them?

The story was written with a fly-on-the-wall point of view (POV) and avoids dipping into anyone’s thoughts. The whole emotional side of the story is dialogue and facial expressions and for two good reasons. If you dipped into the head of one of them specifically you’d reveal the twist that happens near the end too early, and if you dipped in the head of the other you’d have some terminal POV problems at the end. The problem with handling the POV such is that it doesn’t really draw you in–at all.

The story didn’t really work for me.

 

Robbie fights his own war against the great menace of creatures adults never see in I Kill Monsters by Nathaniel Matthews Lee (debut 10/28). Robbie is one kid exterminator. Monsters are everywhere; in the closets, under beds, hiding in the basements (always in the basement). They are menacing, scary, and in Robbie sights. With his trusty baseball bat, he bashes the creatures whenever he sees them. Adults are blind to them but aren’t about Robbie’s odd behavior. Robbie doesn’t care, but when a new kid comes to town and offers Robbie a chance to make two bucks, the monster killer discovers the world is a lot scarier than he thought.

“I Kill Monsters” is humorous horror action tale. Mr Lee plays on the childhood fear that monsters are indeed real. The story has a tone that reminded me of the classic Bill the Galactic Hero. I found myself grinning at it throughout. The story is just plain fun.

 

A teacher’s once living students drag him back into the Classroom of the Living Dead by James Van Pelt (debut 10/31). The protagonist’s former pupils have forcibly shoved their teacher into their class. They are now zombies and ask for one thing from him, “brains.”

Mr Van Pelt has taken a new spin on the zombie trend with a unique usage of a pun. Pretty clever, even for a teacher.

 

The Best of the Best Publication Out There

In one of their daily emails, DSF provided a link to one of their reader’s blog with his top ten list of his favorite stories from DSF. Mr Anonymous thought we should do the same so here is our favorites, dating all the way back to DSF’s first issue.

Frank Dutkiewicz

1)ÂÂÂÂÂ Buy You a Mockingbird by Eric James Stone
The most powerful flash fiction I ever read

Â2)ÂÂÂÂÂ Questions by Jacob A. Boyd
A wonderful tale of the afterlife

Â3)ÂÂÂÂÂ A is for Arthur by The Alphabet Quartet
Merlin meets Shakespeare. I don’t know which author wrote it, but they deserve an award for their efforts

 

And to round out my top tenâ€

Flint’s Folly by J Chant

Blivet for the Temporal Lobes by Dave Raines

Y is for Yellow by the Alphabet Quartet

Grinpa by Brian K. Lowe

Ten Speeds at the End of the World by Gunevere Robin Rowell

Her Majesty’s Guardian by Donald S. Crankshaw

Rinse or Repeat by Sylvia Hiven

Â

James Hanzelka

1) The Quest Unusual by Dave Steffen

2) Paying the Tab by Brian K. Lowe

3) Outer Rims by Toiya Kristen Finley

Deathbed by Caroline M Yoachim

Still Life by A. C. Wise

Writing on the Wall by Vaughan Stanger

Imaginary Enemies by Colum Paget

Barb the Bomb and Imaginary Boy by Julian Mortimer Smith

Vision, Values and Mission by James Van Pelt

Shark’s Teeth by T. A. Pratt

 

Anonymous

1) Shroedinger’s Outlaw by Matthew W. Baugh

2) If Wishes Were Fishes by Amanda M. Hayes

3) Starlight Cantata by Brian Lawrence Hurrel

Palindrome by Will Arthur

The Artwork of the Knid by John Parke Davis

Our Drunken Tjeng by Nicky Drayden

The Girl Who Asks Too Much by Eric James Stone

The Wish Writer’s Wife by Ian McHugh

Exit Interview by Patrick Johannsen

 

There is a reason why I gave Dave Steffen’s story The Quest Unusual to reviewer James Hanzelka. James is an avid reader of Daily Science Fiction but rarely keeps up with what’s going on here at Diabolical Plots. He wasn’t even aware the author of that piece was the same person who runs DP. But just to make sure, I asked if he was familiar with the author and wanted to know what made Dave’s story special. His explanationâ€

”â€the main reason I chose the piece is it reminded me of one of my favorite stories, “The Dragon” by Ray Bradbury.”

ÂSo Dave’s piece was chosen by preference and merit alone. For that, we deserve to see that smiling face, again.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of a Thick Skin

written by David Steffen

This post was originally written up in response to after-story discussion on Dunesteef Episode 108 on their forum, speaking about how to take rejection.

A thick skin doesn’t come naturally. You have to cultivate it. One of the biggest ways that I did this when I started writing fiction is critique forums. My particular favorite is Baen’s Bar. Post some stuff there in the Baen’s Bar Slush, get some feedback, post feedback on other people’s stories. Yeah, the negative comments can be hard to take at first, but you learn to extract the useful parts of them. If you critique enough stuff from other people you can learn to take that cold critical eye and apply it to your own writing, and then when someone comments on your stuff, even when they don’t like it you can decide objectively “Yeah, that makes sense” or “No, that advice is absolute crap”. I wrote up an article a while back suggesting some rules for critiquing and receiving critiques. Some of it has to do with this subject, especially the rule “This Is Your Story”.

I don’t follow Dean Wesley Smith a great deal, but one concept he has that I really found useful is The Race. In that, you keep a score for all the stories you have submitted. 1 point for each short. 3 points for a partial novel manuscript, 8 points for a full manuscript. I mostly submit short stories, but I do have one old dog of a novel I occasionally send out. I have one children’s book going out occasionally that I count for 3 points, on the grounds that it has more monetary potential than a short story but is not as bulky as a novel. I have about 50 stories completed by this time, and I typically keep about 30 of them in submission at any given time, rotating the other ones in as I get rejections. With that and the children’s book, my Score’s hovered around 33 for quite a while, not too bad of a score.

One thing that helps is if you can find a way to not put too much anxiety into any single submission. Submitting in bulk really helps this a lot, because if you have only ONE submission out, it’s hard not to obsess over it. You send out one submission, and then when you get one rejection you are back at square one. If you have 30 stories submitted though, a rejection for one is just a scratch on the surface, not that big of a deal. I assume any given submission is a certain rejection, but that I have some chance across the board. Pessimism in specific, optimism in general. :)

And for tracking submissions, I keep an Excel spreadsheet for now. In which I do happen to do some obsessive stats tracking. The way I have it set up the file has gotten ridiculously large and it’s hard to update with new markets. I’m trying to work my way to a database system. I’ve got the basic database tables set up along with some forms to fill them and get simple reports, but I want more complicated stats reports and haven’t figured out how to do those yet in OpenOffice. If anyone wants it you can download a free copy of it at.

And, after that, just perseverence is the only advice I have. When I get one back i just send it out to the next available market I haven’t sent it to and work my way down the line. And just because it’s been around the block a few times doesn’t mean it’s doomed. 1 of my recent stories that I sold for pro rates had been on its 20th submission. And then finally it found that editor for which it was just right.

As part of those obsessive stats, I keep a count of my submission responses, and the number at which I receive rejections. I started submitting in June of 2008. In that time I have had 675 resolved submissions:
489 negative/neutral rejections
167 positive rejections
5 rewrite requests
14 purchase at normal rate (for 8 different stories).

To show how long the stretches were between selling those eight different stories, of those 675 submissions those were numbered #s 126, 129, 210, 232, 572, 591, 599, 626, 637. That gap between 232 and 572 was soooooo long for me!! But I made it, and now have had pretty good luck for the last few months! Here’s hoping my luck continues. As it is, with the sales I’ve made this year, and if the neo-pro markets I’ve sold to get listed by SFWA as pro markets, then I could be eligible to apply for SFWA’s “Active” status around June 2012, which is one of my major milestones I’ve set for myself.