Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Clarion Write-A-Thon Week 4

I’m still working on my Clarion Write-A-Thon, with a goal of 50,000 words. We’ve just passed the halfway point and I’m 3/4 done with my goal, so I think I’m in good shape even with the coming ten days away from home for Comic-Con.

(By the way: I’ll be at Comic-con! If you’re going, stop by the Sofawolf Press booth at #1236 in the Webcomics section and say hi!)

So far I have not done a great job getting donations or pledges. I have $100, which isn’t bad, but I’d like to get more. So here’s the deal. I’ll post an excerpt of what I’ve been working on today. Every additional $50 in pledges, I’ll post another one.

Head on over and check out the excerpt, and if you like it, please pledge a bit!

Six: Nobody Does It Better

6. Nobody Does It Better, Carly Simon (from The Spy Who Loved Me). The first and best of the “Bond is an amazing lover” themes. Not is it a great ballad that absolutely works with the movie, lyricist Carole Bayer Sager also included the awkward title of the movie in the song lyrics: “That was one of the things they said, ‘where’s the title [of the film]?’ So I kinda just poked it in part of the verse: like heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight. When I was writing the song, I was thinking I was writing a love song to James Bond.” She was, and nobody has done it better.

Fiction: Nobody Does It Better

(Note: I am borrowing here from Kyell Gold’s furry superhero universe chronicled in “In the Doghouse of Justice,” which features mature stories about a league of canid superheroes. Kyell is cool with this.)

So you’re an African Wild Dog who at the age of fifteen discovered that when he wanted someone to do something really badly, that person would do what he wanted.
You were an unremarkable pup up to that point: smart enough to keep advancing in school, athletic enough to play football. Your mom might have been a tour guide through the nearby jungle for rich first-worlders on safari, or she might have been a clerk for one of your town’s legal companies; you never really told anyone because it wasn’t important. Your father had been a big game hunter or maybe a soldier, but had given it up the day he’d sighted down his rifle and realized he was no longer willing to end a life. They raised you and your brothers and sister to be kind, to be generous, to stand up for yourselves without knocking down anyone else, as your mother said often.
As you explored this new ability, you found that there were limits. You couldn’t make someone a different person. You couldn’t, for example, tell the bully who beat up your younger brother to befriend him. That maneless lion did put his arm around your brother, true, but five minutes after you walked away your brother wailed for you and the lion was punching him again.
You couldn’t sustain this coercion longer than you could concentrate on it.
You could affect what people thought they saw and heard. This came in handy when your best friend Ogano saw you make your classmate put back the Fanta he’d stolen and forget he’d taken it; Ogano shook all over and said, “Demon!” and you had to tell him that he’d only seen the buffalo kid reach for the Fanta and then think better of it and then you’d both gone outside.
It became complicated and so you used your power almost not at all by the time you were eighteen, but you always wondered what good you might do with it. So you applied to the superhero league you read about in the paper. They sent an escort to bring you to their headquarters, which looked nothing like the comic books (much more starkly steel and brick), and they gave you a series of tests, some on paper, some using your ability.
In the end, you were accepted, and though you were nervous the first time you went on a mission, you told the criminal to drop her weapon, and she did, and WonderWolf said afterwards that he’d never seen a mission go so smoothly, and you were hanging out with WonderWolf and Psycho Coyote and you even met Crypto and it all seemed like a dream.
The first profiles of you began appearing in the newsfeeds. You were interviewed, every reporter bringing along a portable camera, every reporter making the joke, “You can’t make the camera write something nice about you.” You smiled and chuckled politely every time even though the joke hurt. You wouldn’t ever make someone write anything about you. They could write what they wanted.
And all of them said similar things. “Nicest superhero we’ve ever met.” “If you were going to pick anyone you know to be entrusted with this power, it would be Coercion Dog.”
(You don’t like that name, but the League’s PR person came up with it. You wanted to be called Hilali because that’s your name.)
Not all the missions went well; when you couldn’t get close to the target, your power didn’t work. But Crypto was good at assigning you to the right spot, and your first evaluation came back glowing. You bought your parents a new house, your eldest brother a car.
In your second year, new articles started appearing. “What Drives Coercion Dog?” one journal wrote. WonderWolf was motivated to save this planet as he couldn’t save his home world. Glace’s mother had served twenty years on the police and had instilled in her daughter a devotion to law and order. Sim felt the suffering of others and had to remedy it; Scope would be driven crazy by her overloaded senses without the League’s gadgetry. And so on, and so on. But Coercion Dog was just a nice guy from the third world. The journal wondered openly what secrets you were hiding.
Your League’s PR person told you not to worry, that it would all go away. But then one of the religious groups you hadn’t paid attention to, one that had lauded your inclusion into the league, found that your religion didn’t match theirs. Overnight, your “enactment of God’s will” became “a dangerous power.” They asked people whether they wanted a hero who could reach into their mind and make them do anything—anything at all.
Your record, you hoped, would speak for itself. But you were the subject of a parody website article jokingly Photoshopping you into the background of the President’s office during a foreign policy fiasco. More than one site picked up the photo—but not the “parody” designation. The articles grew angrier, the shouts louder.
“A lie can travel round the world before the truth gets out the door,” the league PR person said, as though that was meant to comfort you.
Your ordinary background became a target, as though no superhero could be so unrelentingly nice without a trauma behind him. None of the league’s application forms had a spot for “terrible childhood event that shaped you into a hero,” but that was the narrative, and because you didn’t fit, you were assumed to be hiding something. Your teammates told you not to read the articles, but they bombarded your life: in e-mail, in social media, anywhere you tried to read the Internet, and you couldn’t stop looking at what people said. You wanted them to like you, and every time someone didn’t, it seized your heart with a grip like a crocodile’s teeth.
It wasn’t the wild accusations that bothered you. It was that people wanted to believe that you weren’t as good as you claimed.
And then you slipped. You were doing an interview after a successful mission. The reporter was hostile, asking whether you controlled your teammates, asking whether you humiliated the criminal when you controlled him, asking another question about your background and your parents and the town where you grew up and you couldn’t help it, you wanted so badly for him to believe you that you felt the snap of your power. The reporter stopped asking questions and said, “Of course I believe you. You’re just a good guy, that’s all.”
It looked terrible on camera. The PR person bared her teeth and said she could spin it, but you knew in your heart it was too late. “Let me resign,” you told her, and she couldn’t stop you from signing the contracts and leaving.
People leave you alone now, because you tell them to. You don’t read anything on the Internet anymore. You live on the upper floor of your parents’ new house and you look out over the town.
Sometimes, when you can, you set things in the town right. You don’t know why you still want to do it, but you can’t make yourself stop.

Clarion Write-A-Thon, week 2

I’ve gotten through the first week of the Clarion Write-A-Thon and I think it was pretty successful. I wrote about 20,000 words of my 50,000 word goal, which might make you say, “Hey, your goal is way too low,” and yeah, if I were going to be at home this entire six weeks, I would’ve made it higher. But I leave Wednesday for AnthroCon in Pittsburgh, and a week or so after I get back from that I go off for a week at ComicCon in San Diego, so I’ve built in a lot of prep and travel time.

Anyway, if you can spare $10 or even $5, I’d really appreciate it. I’m at $100 pledged and donated now, and when I get to $150 I will post an excerpt of what I’ve been working on. I’m excited at how this book is going and if you saw and liked “Red Devil” when I posted excerpts from it a couple years ago, you’ll enjoy this sequel to it.

Meanwhile, I will post one more Bond entry before I go, and I will keep posting them, dammit.

Clarion Write-A-Thon

It’s that time of year again, and I’m signing up to write fifty thousand words over the next six weeks. If you want to encourage me, or just help out some deserving aspiring writers, please check out my page and pledge or donate. I’ll be working on “Black Angel,” the novel I just workshopped at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s novel workshop earlier this month.

One of my good friends, the very talented Ryan Campbell, is attending Clarion this year and it makes me glad to think that money I raised in previous years has helped him and his classmates have a great experience this summer.

Challenges this year: somewhat less than last year, when I attended three conventions and was away from home for about half of the six weeks and still hit my word count goal. I’ll be attending AnthroCon again over July 4 weekend in Pittsburgh, then home for a bit, then down to Comic-Con. I don’t leave home again until after the Write-A-Thon is over, when I’ll be flying to England for LonCon (I’m on two panels there; more about that as it approaches). I should be able to knock out fifty thousand words over the rest of the time, with some help from plane flights and so on.

And I know I have slacked off on the James Bond shorts. I will get to them, I promise!

Workshopping

Well, I failed to get to number one in the Bond songs, pretty spectacularly at that. I’m now in Kansas at the James Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction, with seven other workshoppers and Kij Johnson and Barbara Webb at Kij’s novel workshop. It’s been very instructive after only one day, and today we jump into actually workshopping people’s novels. I go Thursday and am already rethinking my novel outline, although I haven’t yet gotten to the point of rewriting it.

Kansas is beautiful, also hot and humid. The people here are lovely and I am having a blast talking about writing.

More Bond flash fics when I get back in a couple weeks.

Seven: A View To A Kill

7. A View To A Kill, Duran Duran. You see “Duran Duran” on the list of Bond song artists and you think, wow, WTF? You’d expect them to be down at the bottom of this list with a-ha and Madonna, but damn if they didn’t nail this one. The lyrics are typical Duran Duran, very sensory and pseudo-poetic with lots of fire references, but as a Bond theme and as a standalone song, it works (note that the difference between this and “Thunderball” is that in a Tom Jones song, the lyrics carry more weight; in a Duran Duran song, they’re mostly there to sound good with the music, like R.E.M. only less so). The story, according to bassist John Taylor of Duran Duran, is that he met the Bond producer (Albert Broccoli) at a party, and Albert was complaining that the recent movies had had sub-par music (perhaps he just disliked the “women sing about how awesome Bond is” genre), so Taylor offered to help out. And he penned the only Bond theme to hit #1 in America.

Fiction: A View to a Kill

At first, they thought it was pneumonia, some complication from the intense rains that had been drenching the world’s cities. Older people and infants had trouble breathing, and the hospitals prescribed antibiotics, but none of them got better. Then they started quarantining people, remembering the drug-resistant TB strains, but all the bacterial tests turned up negative. Still, all the patients were dying; an infectious agent was running wild through their immune systems, filling their lungs with scar tissue and fluid.

Dr. Jennifer Markley thought that the epidemiology was the most interesting part of the worldwide crisis. With TB or any other airborne pathogen, there was usually a trackable spread. In this case, the infections seemed to have bloomed in fifty places around the world simultaneously. People in Shanghai, Kolkata, Moscow, Karachi, Sao Paulo, London, New York, Tokyo, Dhaka, Seoul, and dozens of other places were falling dead at a rate that had alerted the CDC a week before the news outlets started to take notice. Now Dr. Markley saw CNN devoting 24-hour coverage to the “Killer Cough,” but she’d been sealed in her lab for ten days already, tracking deaths and working with samples, part of a hundred-person team in Atlanta that was coordinating with hundreds of others worldwide.

She had had the very strong feeling that this was a terrorist act, that somehow an organization had created a completely untraceable pathogen, deployed fifty agents to the centers of the world’s populations, and released it. There was no world power unaffected, no religious group targeted, and nobody had yet claimed responsibility; Dr. Markley had only shared her feelings with one colleague, Dr. Maria Lubova in Moscow, who agreed both with her feeling and with the certainty that it made no logical sense. And yet, the current favored explanation, that this mystery disease had been spread by a world traveler and only just been released from its incubation by the steady rains, was logically even less probable. The FBI had turned up three people who had visited forty of the fifty cities in the past two years, but nobody had been to more than that, and the three people did not even know each other. Moreover, none of them had gotten sick.

No, it had to be some strain of TB, introduced deliberately. Dr. Markley usually spent hours each day looking at blood and tissue samples that had come in from New York and L.A., but today she had to greet twenty new transfers from hospitals around the country, recruited to her division to help with the crisis. She didn’t think more eyes would help, but it would free her to do more thinking and less staring at the same patterns in blood and tissue, day after day after increasingly frustrating and stressful day.

So she helped situate everyone at their stations, the lab fully staffed for the first time since the SARS scare, and ran through the distribution of samples, and by the time she got back to her desk, she had only three samples left to look at from the day before, when her eyes had gone bleary and she had retired to the cot in her office for four hours of sleep.

The samples had come from an eighty-three year old man, a fifty year old woman, and a two-year old boy. The man’s blood and tissue showed the same thing everyone else’s had: elevated white blood cells, some pieces of scar tissue, no pathogens. The tissue, likewise.

In the woman’s blood sample, Dr. Markley saw elevated white blood cells, some pieces of scar tissue, and no pathogens. She was about to put the sample away when a glint caught her eye, something that looked like an imperfection in the glass cover.

She zeroed in on it. It wasn’t part of the glass; when she focused on it, its outlines sharpened just as did those of the blood cells around it. Those lines were regular, defined.

There was a higher-magnification microscope in the downstairs lab. She took the slide and hurried down, heart pounding. If she’d thought her terrorist theory was crazy, then this was beyond crazy. This was insanity, this was science fiction, this was blockbuster movie territory.

It took the microscope a moment to power up. Her palms sweated as she flicked on the light, and she bent to the eyepieces without sitting down.

There were the regular lines, a small shape made of something transparent like glass, an eight-legged star whose circular central body was intricately decorated.

Was this her pathogen? The image blurred; she lifted her head and wiped her eye, then lowered it again. She snapped a picture with the scope and then frowned. The little star wasn’t where it had been. She watched each of the eight needle-sharp legs, and then sucked in a breath as they quivered.

The thing was moving. It was alive, somehow, it was moving through the blood sample. Or it had been made of glass, designed to infiltrate the human body, a kind of artificial Mycobacterium tuberculosis that ravaged the lungs and immune system until the patient died.

It continued to struggle through the medium. Dr. Markley wanted to reach in and smash it, to rip its arms off and kill it, to ruin that deadly crystalline perfection. But that wouldn’t do any good. Nothing would do any good. These things were in people already by the hundreds, the millions perhaps. Watching it struggle through the blood, she thought, the rain. We thought the rain was unusual, but it was an attack, fifty cities seeded with glassine death and water droplets gathering around them. They filled the air and people breathed them in, and in the less healthy individuals, their attacks bore immediate results. But the world’s population centers were full of people already infected with minute, efficient machines that either killed in low numbers or were near-impossible to see. Otherwise, how could they have gone undetected for so long?

She pulled back from the microscope and sat down heavily on a lab stool. The war had been fought and was already over. All that remained was to count the fatalities. She felt a rush of relief that Atlanta had not suffered the mysterious rain, that her family might survive this first wave, but that relief crumbled when she wondered what sort of world they would survive into.

Eight: The Man With The Golden Gun

8. The Man With The Golden Gun, Lulu. Rollicking good fun, Bond might have said, and a song that is unquestionably about the movie. It takes a goofy title and makes a great song out of it, and Lulu (otherwise best known for “To Sir With Love”) delivers a smash. It’s a little campy, but perfect for the seventies and still tons of fun to listen to. John Barry, who wrote it, would disagree, calling it “bad,” and the song is the only Bond theme that did not chart in either the US or UK. But this is my list, and I like it.

Fiction: The Man With The Golden Gun

Shuttle traffic to the Ceres mine had grown along with the chatter on the ‘net as the day of the vote approached. A simple measure of unionization had exploded into fragments as jagged and dangerous as the asteroids themselves: the question of whether the union would impede the growth of free enterprise in the mostly-unregulated asteroid belt; the question of whether humans would be allowed to join the union simply by virtue of living closest to its physical location; the question of the authority of Gl’zar over the Ceres Mine and of Cerean secession. Ejectionists from Earth arrived with signs that read “Gl’zar Go Home Or Hell Whichever Closest”; Gl’zaran activists arrived with signs that read either “Rights for Workers” or “Work for Rights.” The Cetians, who had no stake in either the mine or Earth/Cerean sovereignty but liked a good fight, showed up with their plasticuffs in high good humor.

Chu Len, the token human assistant to the Gl’zaran administrator of the Cerean mine, had been following his boss around for the week leading up to the vote reading off reports as they came over his ‘net. “Fight at the Grand Stellar Binary Hotel…fight at the Slender Whistle…oh dear, a fatality at the Perennial Wandering Soldier…”

Leatham Twenty, the administrator, liked to hear the ridiculous human translations of the elegant Gl’zaran names. “Cerean, Cetian, human, or Gl’zaran?” he asked.

“Gl’zaran,” Len replied. “Aggressor and victim both. Neither Cerean.”

“Deport the aggressor. Send the victim back to Gl’zar.”

“Yes, sir. Already done. But sir…” They were walking through the mines in virtual space courtesy of a floating drone that was physically present, and the the blue-skinned hulk stopped it to examine a particular area.

“Illuminate that,” Leatham ordered, gesturing with an arm the size of Len’s torso. Two of Leatham’s eyes remained focused on the shadowed crags of the mine while the others turned toward Len, anticipating his question.

Len activated the lights on the drone and focused them on the area in question. “Sir, how will the vote proceed? The fighting is getting worse–this is just in the past hour–and we will never succeed in bringing order. The police are occupied just picking up fatalities and three of them were injured breaking up fights in the past week.”

Leatham examined the mine, then indicated his satisfaction with a gesture. Len turned the lights off and the tour resumed. “Yes,” Leatham said, “I have come to the same conclusion. Tell me, Chu Len, if security measures are necessary, could their cost be borne by the Union, to come from the dues of the new branch should it pass?”

“I believe…the union representatives I have spoken to feel confident that it will pass. I am sure that in order to ensure a vote, they would bear a cost.”

A link appeared on Len’s ‘net. “Make sure of it,” Leatham said. “Then call that man.”

“Will he arrange security?”

Leatham made the growling sound that Len had learned was Gl’zaran laughter. “He is security.”

* * *

The morning of the vote arrived as scheduled under the Cerean dome, with the images of the yellow Gl’zaran mist creeping up the rim of the sky. Len met the dawn at the port, where a single elegant silver vessel with a golden spiral around it was dropping like a raindrop to the broad port surface. Out from it emerged a single Gl’zaran, a male double the size of Leatham, his skin mottled green with age, swathed in a sweeping cloak that glittered with gold and diamond. Though he had only six eyestalks, when they all focused on Len, the human felt his knees weaken. “Greetings, Cordwainer Seventy,” he managed. He’d seen males before, though usually it was the neuters who came to Ceres, but none of the males he’d seen matched this one’s stature and elegance.

“Human, eh? Fascinating.” The Gl’zaran followed Len to the skimmer, and even when Len’s back was turned, he felt the weight of those six eyes on it, the bulk behind them moving almost silently so that the swishing and crackling of the cloak was the loudest sound that reached his ears.

At the Mother’s Firmament Dazzle Hall, the crowds of humans and Gl’zarans and Cetians choked the plaza, and Len had to stop the skimmer. “I’m sorry,” he said, pointing ahead to the vast double doors that stood vainly open. “We will have to walk.”

Cordwainer sat still for a long moment, so that Len cleared his throat, unsure if the alien had understood him. But then the immense bulk shifted, and one arm reached for the skimmer door. “Time to work,” he rumbled, and threw the door open.

At first, nobody noticed save those just nearby, all attention focused on the hall and the doors. Signs and shouts flew and echoed and already Len could see fights going on like boils in the seething crowd. And then he heard something, a low hum that made his ears itch. Gl’zaran and human and Cetian alike began to turn.

Cordwainer stood beside the skimmer, and in one massive arm he held a weapon. His fingers curled around a handle that protruded from the base of it, and above his hand spread out a dozen golden nozzles, surmounted by a spinning globe that threw off sparks and seemed to be generating the hum. Shouts faltered, fights slowed, signs lowered. The Gl’zaran’s voice rang out clearly. “We are all now to behave ourselves.”

Slowly, he began to walk toward the hall. He’s crazy, Len thought, someone’s going to jump him. But the crowd parted, and Len hurried to follow the massive Cordwainer, even though the hum continued and he had to rub at his ears. And through the silent crowd they walked, to the double doors where Leatham awaited them.

Leatham bowed and exchanged some words with Cordwainer in Gl’zaran, and allowed the massive warrior and his golden gun to take up station inside the hall. Gl’zarans and humans filed in mutely, recorded their votes, and walked out undisturbed by the crowd. And over it all, the Gl’zaran watched, his golden gun at the ready, and never did it need to do more than hum.

 

(Yes, this is a deliberate sort-of homage to Cordwainer Smith’s classic “Golden The Ship Was–Oh! Oh! Oh!” Well spotted. :)

Nine: For Your Eyes Only

9. For Your Eyes Only, Sheena Easton. “For Your Eyes Only” tries to recapture the Carly Simon magic of “Nobody Does It Better,” with moderate success; it’s close to “All Time High” purely on pop song merit, but grabs the sound of the 80s much better, and that’s when I grew up, so points to it. Interestingly, the song was almost written and performed by Debbie Harry, who had penned her own version (later released as a Blondie song with the same title, which sounds more like a typical Bond theme if you imagine the orchestra behind it). Behind-the-scenes production issues led to the hiring of a new composer for the score who was also contracted to write the theme song, and Harry took her song and her voice and quit, leaving it for Sheena Easton.

Fiction: For Your Eyes Only

Kelly was ten the first time she saw the Munchkins, three years after she learned the truth about Santa Claus (though she did not celebrate Christmas, most of her friends did, and her parents chose to celebrate it secularly) and three years before she stopped dressing up for Halloween (her last costume would be as Lady Gaga, complete with eggshell). Later she would learn that they called themselves Trolls, but she had just seen “The Wizard of Oz,” and besides, she knew that trolls were nasty things that lived under bridges and ate goats, and the Munchkins were slender, delicate creatures with rosy-pink skin and lively, intelligent golden eyes. They looked more or less human; it wasn’t until her eleventh birthday that she touched one and found that the rosy-pink skin was actually fine fur, as soft as a kitten’s. The first Munchkin she saw wore a filmy cloth around its body, and at first she thought that someone had left a tissue wrapped around a red highlighter. Then the highlighter moved, and Kelly squealed, and she spent the rest of the evening lying very still in her bed staring at her desk to see if any of her other pens or pencils would move.

A week later, she saw another Munchkin climbing the side of her wastebasket. It disappeared over the lip, and Kelly hurried over to peer down. The creature was holding up a broken barrette she had thrown out the previous day, but when it saw her looking down, it dropped the flowered plastic and leapt from the can so quickly that Kelly stumbled back and sat down on the floor.

The Internet on the computer in the living room did not provide much help. She told her parents she was doing a report on tiny creatures for her science class, but when she searched on “small pink people” she got links to little people working in Hollywood, or Bratz dolls, or a cartoon show she’d never seen; or to short essays about faeries and their kin. Eventually she found a link to books about “The Borrowers,” and read some from Amazon’s free sample. Wikipedia, which her class had just learned how to use, told her how the rest of the book would go.

It didn’t seem quite the same, but regardless, she went back to her room that night with a small saucer of milk, which she set on her desk. “This is for you,” she said, and crawled into her bed, pulled the covers up to her chin, and waited.

Nothing happened while she remained awake, but in the morning the saucer was empty. After that, Kelly brought a saucer up every night, and it was a week later that the Munchkins came out while she was awake, creeping up the chair and drawers, bringing little flagons to the saucer where they sat and drank, with an eye on her.

Kelly said, “Who are you?” and they jumped, but did not flee. They arrayed themselves at the edge of the desk.

“We are the Trolls,” the leftmost one said with a bow. “And we thank you for your gift of milk.” His tone was polite, but they all kept the same wary manner.

“You’re very welcome,” Kelly said. “I’ll keep bringing it, then.”

They bowed again, and that was all they said that night.

But as she gave them more milk and no threats, they warmed to her and spoke more often. She learned that they had come on a long journey, packed into boxes with an estate that had come from somewhere far away two hundred years before. They only stayed in a particular house for a short time, but they liked her house and had been here for a year now. And, most importantly, she learned that nobody else could see them when her mother burst into her room to scold her for not putting away her dishes, completely ignoring the three Munchkins sitting on Kelly’s desk.

When Kelly was thirteen, she wondered why only she could see the Munchkins. TV and movies suggested that she was insane, that they didn’t really exist. But she tested them by asking them to report on what her mother and father talked about at night, and that was how she learned that her mother had had an affair with Mrs. Besley, her fifth-grade English teacher, and that her father was battling alcoholism. Those were things she could not possibly have known on her own (she confirmed them by finding Mrs. Besley in school and saying hello from her mother, watching as she did the Munchkin-bright pink blooms in the woman’s cheeks), so she concluded that she was not hallucinating the Munchkins.

Kelly believed for a short time that God had sent the Munchkins to her as a gift. But the little creatures seemed supremely uninterested in whether or not she read her Torah, went to synagogue, or discussed any kind of religion with them. They did not come to her bat mitzvah and did not care about it when she tried to tell them.

They had a similar coming-of-age ceremony, but in it, their children left the family to strike out on their own and might never be heard from again. Kelly concluded that this splintering of the family was not something that her God would have condoned, and so reluctantly concluded that the Munchkins were not creatures of God.

Two months before her fifteenth birthday, the family of Munchkins gathered to tell her that they would be moving on. She cried, and some of them did as well, but they were feeling confined and trapped, having been in this house for nearly six years. They left her with a small ornament to hang on her wall which would tell other Munchkins that this was a friendly place, and they asked her to lower her head to the desk so they could kiss her nose.

Kelly’s going off to college this year, ready to study economics and play softball. She is about two years away from dressing up for Halloween again (as Columbia from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” with her sorority sisters), and two years removed from her first date (with Brad, a neurotic boy who washed his hands three times in an hour during dinner; she has had more and better dates since). Her father no longer drinks, and if her mother is still seeing Mrs. Besley, Kelly has no way of knowing.

But she packs the ornament lovingly in her small jewelry box, and when she arrives in her dorm room, it will be the first thing she hangs on the wall.

Ten: You Only Live Twice

10. You Only Live Twice, Nancy Sinatra. This is a great late-sixties song, and points for including a bit of far Eastern sound to go with the Japanese theme of the movie. The original version was apparently much more heavy with Oriental sound and was performed by Julie Rogers, but the producers said, “This isn’t working,” and they searched for a replacement. Frank Sinatra was tapped to sing it, but he recommended Nancy, who had just had a #1 hit with “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” The result, after a lot of different takes (Nancy was a nervous 26-year-old), was one of the most popular themes, covered by a number of different artists (including Coldplay). But it’s number ten on my list.

Fiction: You Only Live Twice

Vilnus had worked in the blacksmith’s all his life. He’d made shoes for the horses of a dozen knights and had mended one blade, for Sir Kilhain (may he rest in peace). The heat of the forge which had so intimidated him as a seven-year-old boy now comforted him; sometimes he slept in front of it.

Sure, there was the occasional disruption in his life, like the time the water sprites had driven all the townsfolk out of New Marsham and they’d had to hire the Seven Blessed Monks to drive the demons out. Getting the town back had been worth the gold, even the extra they’d paid for the loss of three of the Blessed Monks. And there’d been the time the witch had lain a curse on the town so that every mother’s milk turned sour. They’d had to pay three wandering mages to fight the witch before one finally destroyed her.

Still, Vilnus knew towns that lived in the constant fear of dragons, towns that had found themselves on the fronts of terrible wars between unknowable combatants who fought with vapor and shadow, towns that had been renamed Hero’s Rest and Last Quest for all the heroes who’d fallen attempting to defend the towns from their plight. All in all, New Marsham was a quiet town, with disruptions only every few years. Many of its oldest inhabitants died of old age, as Vilnus himself hoped to.

Not before he and his beloved Rilla gave birth to their child (the wise woman assured them it would be a daughter) and one or two more. When Vilnus took over the smithy from old Weyland, he would want his son to apprentice with him. He looked forward to the quiet, anonymous years ahead with contentment.

*

“Sir!”

A hand shook his shoulder. “Sir Vilnus, sir!”

Vilnus opened his eyes to the round red cheeks and earnest gaze of the apprentice smith. “Sir, your horse’s shoes are ready, sir.”

The tall youth shook the dream from his lean features and stood. “Thank you…what was your name again?”

“Oh,” the apprentice said. “My name is not important, sir. It’s Weyland.”

“Of course. And your wife is Flora, and your first child is due soon.”

Weyland beamed. “So good of you to remember, sir. It is an honor to have the slayer of Frostblood and the savior of Lichthall here in our humble town.”

“Well,” Vilnus said, “someone must deal with this barrow-wight that’s been stealing your children, eh?”

“Aye.” Weyland looked away. “And you’ve a Holy Cross on your sword. I know you’ll fare better than the others.”

Perhaps he might; but if he did, then he would fall next year, or the year after. All heroes knew they had to make their name before their death, and Vilnus had been lucky so far. He would have no child to carry on his legacy, no woman to hold him at night, but his name would be known throughout the land, and his death would be mourned by many.

Vilnus said good-bye to Weyland and mounted his horse, then rode in the direction of the monster, because that is what heroes did.

Life Update and Bond Songs

As I wrote on Facebook, I have been accepted to Kij Johnson’s CSSF Novel Writing Workshop this June, which is very exciting. I enjoyed working with Kij at Clarion and am looking forward to meeting the rest of the workshop crew (and on working with the one I already know, Watts Martin).

The workshop starts June 1, so I am going to try to get through the top ten Bond songs by then. The writeups on the songs are done, but the flash fics I generally write off the top of my head when I do the posts, so they take a little more time. Still, two a week for the rest of April and May sounds doable. For the top ten, I’ve also found a Bond website that has a few tidbits about each song, so I’ll include those (with links) in the writeups.

Here are the bottom 12, as a refresher:

22. Die Another Day, Madonna.
21. The Living Daylights, a-ha
20. Moonraker, Shirley Bassey.
19. Thunderball, Tom Jones.
18. Goldeneye, Tina Turner.
17. Diamonds Are Forever, Shirley Bassey.
16. License to Kill, Gladys Knight
15. Tomorrow Never Dies, Sheryl Crow.
14. Another Way To Die, Jack White (from “Quantum of Solace”)
13. The World Is Not Enough, Garbage.
12. From Russia With Love, Matt Munro.
11. All Time High, Rita Coolidge (from “Octopussy”).

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