Tales of Tales ~ Part 7: Common Ground

Staying on the science fiction side of things, today I thought I would talk a little bit about “Common Ground,” another story in my collection To Unimagined Shores.

I actually can’t recall the “inciting incident” or the idea spark that led to this story. It’s based around a colony ship arriving at a new planet to find that it’s not as empty as the colonists expected. It also has a lot to do with parenthood, and I suspect the idea first came to me not long after our daughter was born. I do vividly remember lying awake one night thinking about the story and how excited I was to start writing it. There was a particular idea in it that, at that time, I thought was one of the best things I’d ever come up with. It’s a magnificent feeling, when you know you have a great story idea and it’s just waiting to come to life under your fingertips. The wonderful feeling doesn’t always last, and the story doesn’t always turn out to be as fabulous as you thought it was going to, but those moments of excitement and the feeling that you really have something are priceless.

“Common Ground” was published at Nuketown in 2001. Later, in 2003, the aliens from “Common Ground” formed the basis for one of the alien races who showed up in the novel I was writing for National Novel Writing Month, “One’s Aspect to the Sun.” I had obviously enjoyed writing these aliens. They were one of the first really well-developed alien races I’d created, and they have stayed with me. Years later an editor would tell me, “You really do write great aliens.” She wasn’t talking about these aliens in particular, but I’m quite proud of that comment, and it makes me strive, whenever I create an alien race, to make them very believable.

Once past the end of the garden we saw the cave. A dozen yards distant the shrouded entrance gaped blackly in the rock wall. And under a natural outcropping, half obscured by shadow, stood three aliens.

My stomach churned. My own breath made a hollow whistling sound in my throat. These were the creatures who had our babies. I could not even see them clearly yet, but a fist of fear tightened in my chest.

One of them held up a hand, but we had already stopped. The others were armed, not overtly menacing but standing easily erect, perhaps five feet tall and garbed in wrapped shirts and loose leggings.

The apparent leader gave a short speech, the words a tumbled gibber of growls, yips, and barks. It ended on a questioning note.

It’s the last day to enter my contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Image “Planetfall by Moonlight” copyright 2010 by Sherry D. Ramsey

Tales of Tales ~ Part 6: On The Road With Fiamong’s Rule

Writing some stories is an uphill slog from start to finish, while others are so much fun to write that they practically seem to write themselves. “On The Road With Fiamong’s Rule” was one of those pure-fun stories for me.

Yet another of my stories that was idea-sparked by an anthology call, this one was originally written for an anthology looking for road trip stories–with, of course, an element of the speculative thrown in. The idea of a human-alien partnership in that road trip materialized quite quickly, as I recall, and as I said, the story seemed to write itself. This was one that I actually finished before the anthology’s deadline date, submitted and had accepted. Alas, something went wrong with the project, the anthology itself never made it to print, and I had to send the story out looking for another home. Such are the vagaries of the writing life.

The good news is that it did find another home, in the premiere issue of the Canadian Neo-Opsis magazine. If you look carefully, you can actually see my name on the cover. That was a first for me. Cool!

This story doesn’t follow a strict chronological timeline–there’s a fair bit of jumping back and forth between the “present” of the story and flashbacks to the past and the events leading up to the story’s “present.” I think I was experimenting a bit when I wrote this one, and I’d probably just been reading something that recommended starting a story “in medias res”–in the middle of the action. To illustrate what I mean by that, here’s the opening:

The worst moment of the whole trip came just before three a.m. on Friday. I stood in the driving rain, mud seeping insidiously into my shoes. The alien’s outline looked enormous in the dark, and the tire iron in his hand even more so, silhouetted against the probing glare of the police car’s headlights. When the cruiser had driven past a moment ago I thought we might be in the clear, but no, it had turned and was coming back.

My credit card was still being held hostage by the jerk at the service station and I had lost the rest of my ID in the motel fire. We had to make it to Ottawa by noon the next day or the entire mission could fail. I had about thirty seconds to think of something to tell the police, and if I didn’t get rid of them quickly, the alien would give himself away and we’d both be in the soup.

What was I, a previously normal at-home-mom of two, doing here? Tim was going to be furious when he found out.

Definitely the worst moment of the whole experience. Well, except for what happened later.

“In medias res,” indeed. I think I might have been testing to see just how far into the action one could really start a story. :)

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Tales of Tales ~ Part 5: The Ambassador’s Staff

Keeping to the SF side of the equation, I thought I’d take a look today at “The Ambassador’s Staff.” This story was originally published in the anthology Thoughtcrime Experiments. There’s a lot of interesting data on the website, compiled by the editors during and after the process. If you’ve ever thought about putting together an anthology, it makes a very interesting read. You can also read the entire anthology there.

Funnily enough, what I didn’t realize when I submitted the story to this anthology, was that they were particularly looking for stories that had been previously rejected by other markets. I don’t know how I missed that, but I did. This was actually the first place I’d submitted the story, and it was accepted. Oops!

The editors liked it, but wanted me to rewrite the ending to some extent. They gave very clear suggestions, but my first reaction was panic—they wanted it done over the weekend! At first I honestly didn’t know how to tackle it. But after some calming breaths and a hot drink, I got to work, and the editors were happy with the result.

Where I live, there’s talk from time to time of building a launch base for boosting things up into orbit—apparently our geographical location makes it a prime spot for this. It has never materialized (and I somehow doubt that it will, although I would love to be wrong about that), but I did start thinking…what might it look like here in a hundred years or so, if such a thing were built? The result was Cape City, a spaceport town. The other big idea in this story came from—spam! The subject line of a spam email made me imagine a drug called Level…and once again, two ideas clicked and decided they needed to be together.

I followed him to the door and he headed into the street. I watched him through the window, weaving his way through the folks milling around the spaceport, a few going to or from jobs, more just wandering—the street vendors, the homeless, the dealers and the Levelers.

One of those was sprawled in the doorway of Kugar’s video shop across the walklane, and I could tell the way he just stared, not moving, not blinking, that he was Leveled ‘way up. Kugar wouldn’t like that, but if he wanted the Leveler moved, he’d have to pick the guy up and carry him away. Once that white liquid finds its way down their throat or into a vein, they’re living in an alternate reality, and they don’t see, hear, feel or care anything about this one until they come back down.

I sighed and turned away from the window. The joke is that Leveling is the furthest you can get from Earth without actually boarding a ship. If I’d gone off-planet when I’d had the opportunity—well, who knows what would have happened. But chances are I wouldn’t be living in a tiny apartment above my office in a place like Cape City. Even if it was my own office.

“The Ambassador’s Staff” mixes genres, something I’ve realized I really like to do. This one puts a sort of hard-boiled female detective character on the streets of a spaceport town. I’d like to do more with this character as well, and I have a couple of ideas percolating. When she’s ready, I’m sure she’ll tell me how they turn out.

Tales of Tales ~ Part 4: Signs & Portents

So far I’ve been talking about some of the fantasy stories in the collection, so today I thought I’d move over to one of the science fiction stories.

“Signs & Portents” first appeared in Oceans of the Mind, which was a professionally-paying, .pdf-format magazine that published quarterly issues from 2001 to 2006. They were one of the first, as far as I know, to really make a strong attempt at an entirely electronic-based publishing format, and they published some great stories from wonderful writers around the world.

As writers, we’re often asked where we get our ideas. I don’t always have an answer for a particular story, but I do remember this one. Have you ever had the experience of glancing at a note or sign, and reading something quite different than what is actually there? Then you look again and realize that what you thought you saw wasn’t right. Well, there was a period when that seemed to be happening to me a lot.

At about the same time, there was a story going around about a fellow in the nearest city to where I live, who appeared regularly on a street corner, bearing a sign protesting this or that. I don’t know that I ever saw him myself, but an image of him had built itself up in my mind.

So, somewhere in my brain, these two ideas collided (hey, just like in a particle accelerator, which figures largely in the story), and “Signs & Portents” was born. This is the way a lot of my stories seem to happen—two unrelated ideas that meet, shake hands, and decide that they would work well together.

The Sign Man in “Signs & Portents” was one of my favorite characters to write, although he’s not the narrator nor the main character of the story. But I enjoyed figuring out who he was and what he was doing on that street corner, and why his signs were so—well, if I say too much I’ll give things away.

Three days later, my head still bandaged, I walked toward the Sign Man’s corner. He was quiet today. The army fatigues were gone, replaced by a wrinkled blue plaid jacket and paint-speckled olive polyester pants. The ever-present placard read “SPACE SHUTTLES—AS IF!”.

I walked right up to him and just stood for a minute. He fixed me with a placid stare. His eyes weren’t mad at all today. They were quiescent spheres of polished granite.

“How did you know?” I said finally.

“Spare some change?” he asked.

“How did you do it?”

“The space shuttles aren’t real, you know,” he confided. “It’s all just entertainment. Hollywood jerking us.”

“Your sign,” I said. “I saw something on it the other day. A warning, maybe.”

“I’ll sell you the sign,” he offered, tapping today’s placard, “for a dollar.”

I steadied my voice. “No, not this sign. Another sign. A few days ago. It said, ‘Near miss on 24’. I was nearly killed on route 24 on my way home.”

If you missed the earlier blog post, I’m currently running a contest to win a copy of To Unimagined Shores. Click the link to get all the details, and take a moment to enter. Or if you can’t wait, you can buy a print or ebook copy (in multiple formats) from thirdpersonpress.com, amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

To Unimagined Shores launches December 6th

I’m just going to quote the Press Release here (which I did NOT write, by the way, because it would have been much briefer and more modest had I done so. That’s why one of my editors/publishers wrote it. :) )

Third Person Press announces the release of its third book, “To Unimagined Shores,” a collection of speculative fiction stories by Northside native, Sherry D. Ramsey.

Sixteen stories were previously chosen for publication in an impressive array of international magazines, collections and anthologies including On Spec, Simulacrum, Fantasy Magazine, The Day the Men Went to Town (Breton Books), Michael Stackpole’s The Chain Story Project, Gateway S-F, Neo-opsis and others. The seventeenth is a bonus story, never before published.

The collection is divided into three parts. Part One, Science Fictional Shores, includes seven stories about such intriguing topics as a road trip with a hitch-hiking alien, stolen embryos on a colonized planet, and inter-planetary intrigue involving a savvy Spaceport detective. The second section, Fantastic Shores, contains six fantasy-based stories on such deliciously intriguing subjects as a Victorian time machine, climate change in Hell, and a daughter’s redemption with the help of an unconventional angel. The last section, Magical Shores, boasts four stories which revolve around one main character: a young female apprentice to a crotchety but wise old wizard. The stories are by turns funny, tragic, light-hearted, serious but are always adventurous and unusual. Mark Rayner, author of The Amadeus Net and Marvellous Hairy, writes: “Sherry D. Ramsey’s short stories are filled with vibrant characters, good writing, and thrum with humanity, even when there aren’t many actual humans in the story.”

Ramsey, a former lawyer, is a full-time writer whose unpublished novel, “One’s Aspect to the Sun,” won second place in the 28th Annual Atlantic Writing Competition’s novel category, the H.R. (Bill) Percy Prize. She participates in the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia Writers-in-the-Schools program, and serves on the boards of The Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia, SF Canada and the Northside Victoria CBDC. She has been editor-in-chief and publisher of the award-winning online writer’s resource, The Scriptorium, for a over dozen years and is one of three founders of Third Person Press, local publishers of speculative fiction.

A book launch will be held Tuesday, December 6, 2011 from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Wilfred Oram Centennial Library, Commercial Street, North Sydney. Refreshments will be served, and the author will read from the collection and be available to sign books. The book can be purchased at the launch or anytime from Third Person Press at www.thirdpersonpress.com in both print or e-book formats, as well as through other online book sellers.
So, what more can I say? I’m very excited and pleased about this volume, which is a pretty good representation of my short fiction published over the past fifteen years. Come to the launch if you can! I’d love to see you there. :)