The "Sidekicks!" anthology is out!

Originally published at An Experimental Life. You can comment here or there.

"Sidekicks!" is out, and available through Amazon, B&N, and the Apple App store. (But if you purchase it directly from the publisher, the authors--myself included--get a bigger cut.)

From the Read Village review: "This collection is clever, weird, disturbing and smart in a Twilight Zone meets Saturday Night Live kind of way."

They gave an individual shout-out to my story, "Alex and the OCD Oracle," too!

"And then there is the story “Alex and the OCD Oracle” by D. Robert Hamm about a partnership that defies explanation. Involving diet soda, nudity, fantasy, mythology and an inflatable kiddie pool, this adventure is just plain odd. Readers will like it. Readers will hate it. Readers will reread it in broad daylight to make sure they did not conjure it in a dream."

Table of Contents (You may recognize some of these names):

“Introduction” by Alasdair Stuart

“Coffee and Collaborators” by Patrick Tomlinson

“Hunter and Bagger” by Alex Bledsoe

“Alex and the OCD Oracle” by D. Robert Hamm (Hey, that's me!)

“Quintuple-A” by Nayad Monroe

“Hero” by Kathy Watness

Fangirl” by Steve Lickman

“After the Party” by  Graham Storrs

Learning the Game” by Michael Haynes

“Doomed” by KW Taylor

“In The Shadow Of His Glory” by Bill Bodden

Second Banana Republic” by Donald J. Bingle

“The Balance Between Us” by Alexis A. Hunter

“The Decent Thing to Do” by Daniel R. Robichaud

The Minion’s Son” by Daniel O’Riordan

The Old West” by Matt Betts

“Worthy” by Mary Garber

“Relic of the Red Planet” by Neal Litherland

The Gold Mask’s Menagerie” by Chanté McCoy

“A Recipe for Success” by Alana Lorens

“At Your Service” by Kelly Swails

Click the "read more" for a brief excerpt from “Alex and the OCD Oracle,” my story in the collection.

(the first 600 words or so from my story)

The first thing you need to know about Jimmy Cane is that no matter what anybody says about him, he’s not crazy. And I don’t say that just because he’s my best friend. Sure, he once showed up to a black-tie affair wearing lederhosen and leading a ferret on a leash, but in his defense, I’m pretty sure lederhosen are considered formal wear in some parts of the world, he was wearing a black tie, and the invitation did say, “and guest.”

Okay, so maybe he’s a little bit crazy, but if you had Jimmy’s ‘gift,’ you would be, too.

See, Jimmy’s a precog, but not in the traditional sense. He doesn’t actually know what’s going to happen; he just gets these compulsions that usually seem to work out in the end. Like OCD, but with a purpose. That whole thing with the lederhosen and the ferret? Set off a Rube Goldberg-type chain of events that saved a guy’s life. In addition to the general agitation that comes when he tries to resist acting on his compulsions, knowing that something as small as, say, what color socks you’re wearing could be a matter of life and death for someone puts a lot of pressure on a guy.

So when I let myself in over at Jimmy’s place to find him on the floor in a bathrobe surrounded by thirty or so cases of diet soda and blowing up an inflatable kiddie pool, it wasn’t the strangest thing I’d ever caught him doing.

“Hi, Alex,” Jimmy said between breaths, “I know, I know. Don't have all the soda yet; I just couldn't wait to get the pool ready.”

Which made perfect sense, in a Jimmy kind of way. I grabbed a couple of Blue Moons from the fridge and kicked back on the couch until he finished with the pool and plopped down next to me, panting. We clinked our bottles together, and he drained about a third of his in one long drought. He sighed and wiped sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his robe.

“Okay,” I said, “Whatcha got?”

We long ago gave up on serious predictions about the outcome of Jimmy’s compulsions, but we make a game of seeing who can come up with the most outrageous guesses. We play as a team against reality, and give ourselves points every time we out-weird what actually happens. Two-on-one odds may seem a little unfair, but reality’s been doing this a lot longer than we have, and it has the home field advantage. So far, reality is winning, and I don’t even want to talk about the point spread.

“Diet soda, kiddie pool… Gotta’ be a connection there,” Jimmy said. “I was thinking maybe a pile of aspartame-addicted carp showing up on my doorstep.”

“Nah, not weird enough. Make ‘em talking carp and I think we’ve got something. I got a better one, though; how about the Apocalypse is nigh, and diet soda will be the only currency of value in the aftermath?”

“Makes sense; only mutants would actually drink the stuff. But what about the pool?”

“Like you said—mutants.”

“What does a kiddie pool have to do with mutants?”

“Oh, so now I’m supposed to be an expert on genetic anomalies? Maybe it’s their religion.”

Jimmy nodded sagely and stroked the three-day growth of beard on his chin. “Hm…,” he said, “Plausible. Hope you’re wrong, though; I think I’m allergic to apocalypses.”

-------

Get the anthology to read the rest, along with nineteen other stories by authors both established and unknown.

Story sale and upcoming changes and stuff

Originally published at An Experimental Life. You can comment here or there.

Another story sale! The first Alex story, "Alex and the OCD Oracle" comes out in the "Sidekicks!" anthology (edited by multi-talented author/editor Sarah Hans) next month. The Alex stories are funny urban/contemporary fantasy tales based around Alex Bayne, who refers to himself as the least supernatural person he knows, but to whom pretty much the entire local supernatural community bring their problems, despite his fecklessness. More about "Sidekicks!" coming soon, including the table of contents, the awesome cover art, and an excerpt from my story.

Also, I need to make some long overdue changes to this site. I've been doing most of my blogging at http://anexperimentallife.tumblr.com/ lately, but while I'll certainly keep that going, and most content from elsewhere will still be posted there as well, I'm looking at switching from Drupal to Wordpress simply because as much as I love Drupal, it's totally overkill for what I'm doing, and although I enjoy working with it, it does require a bit more fussing than Wordpress. (By the way, if you follow me on Tumblr, drop me a line over there in my Ask box and let me know, eh?)

See, it's not that I haven't been blogging--Just that I haven't been doing it here.

On a personal note, I have recently relocated to the East Coast, and acquired the most perfect girlfriend in the history of everything. You will be hearing more about this development, because I simply can't shut up about her. :-)

So I've been doing most of my blogging on Tumblr

Originally published at An Experimental Life. You can comment here or there.

Even though I keep promising to make this my main blog, I've been failing at that. My Tumblr is at http://cogito-ergo-wtf.tumblr.com, and is full of writing, cockatiels, science and science jokes, inane musings (like, what if every time a baby says, "Dada," it's actually referring to the early twentieth century are and litereary movement? Babies are deep, man.), fandoms, and other stuff. Lots of stuff. See you there.

If you create a new Tumblr and follow me from it, drop me a line so I'll know it's not one of the many spam Tumblrs out there, and I'll follow you back.

This is why I'm a writer, not a physicist

Originally published at An Experimental Life. You can comment here or there.



In the equation above, solve for "Fuck you."

Despite my childhood ambition of becoming a physicist, this is, indeed, how math looks to me. Rather than explain my mathematical ineptitude, I decided a while back that it would be simpler to make a graphic to which I could refer people. As geeky as I am, I did base it on a famous equation--Schrodinger's Equation, in fact--although I didn't know what most of the symbols meant. (And had I thought about it, I would have put a cat in there somewhere.) The way the nonsense gets thicker toward the end sort of symbolizes the way I start out thinking, "Yeah, I can do this," and then end up sobbing into my calculator...

Fortunately, I have friends who are much better at math than I am. One of them, my buddy Mike Roach, mentioned that I had psi to the power of an airplane, and I was like, "Really? I always just thought of that as the little candelabra thingy." He also suggested the caption, "In the equation above, solve for 'fuck you.'" Appropriate, since I always get the vague feeling that math is flipping me off and sniggering at my inability to do anything about it.

The lesson here? There isn't one, except perhaps that math is scary, and should only be operated by people of the highest moral character.

No, seriously--Math is important, and I've often felt dumb about my lack of facility with it. It's not that I can't understand it, but that as hard as I try, I cannot seem to make myself focus on it for extended periods. Maybe it's the ADD, or maybe it's something else. Words, on the other hand... I can hyper-focus on words. (Hyper-focus is one of the things that comes along with ADD, and although it can be an asset, it isn't always as cool as it sounds, especially considering that a person with ADD doesn't always get to choose what his or her brain likes to focus on. I'm lucky, in that despite my mathematical shortcomings, my brain likes focusing on language.) So while I may never be able to do the math required of the hard sciences, I can at least understand the concepts, and write stories inspired by science. Sure, the bulk of my work is urban fantasy, not science fiction, but even in my non-science-fiction, I do my best to make sure I get the science right, and sometimes even correct a widely-held misconception or two.

I'd rather be good at both math and writing, but all in all, this is not the worst trade-off ever. Reading science fiction was one of the things--along with devouring my parents' encyclopedias starting as soon as I could read--that sparked my love of science to begin with, so maybe--just maybe--if I'm very, very lucky, something I write might someday spark an interest in someone who will end up doing the kind of science I'll never be able to. (You know, those who can, do, and maybe those who can't can at least inspire a little bit.)

(My buddy Donovon over at Objects of Amusement was talking about making a T-shirt of this graphic for his screen printing business, Nuditee Covered, but I don't know if he ever got around to it. I asked if he needed me to make any changes, and he said the design had "constantly changing potential." It took me a several full minutes to realize he was making a reference to Schrodinger's equation. Doh!)

Hooray, Higgs Boson! But can we stop calling it "The God Particle?"

Originally published at An Experimental Life. You can comment here or there.



But can we stop calling it "The God Particle?" Even Higgs objects to the term.

I'm just as excited as the next guy about the recent confirmation of the Higgs Boson, and perhaps more than most. I even made a stupid little meme thingy to celebrate, complete with a bad pun. Because yeah, sorry, He-Man, but the Higgs Boson really is the original Mass-ter of the Universe. (See what I did there? And yes, the incorporation of the image is covered under fair use.)

But can we stop calling it "The God Particle?" Particle physicists in general don't refer to it that way, and Higgs certainly never called it that. In fact, in an interview in The Guardian, he says:

"I find it embarrassing because, though I'm not a believer myself, I think it is the kind of misuse of terminology which I think might offend some people." Of Nobel-prize winning-physicist Leon Lederman, who coined the term, Higgs says, "He wanted to refer to it as that 'goddamn particle' and his editor wouldn't let him."

Higgs himself just calls the Higgs Boson, "the Boson that's named after me," and likes to remind people that physicists Robert Brout and Franois Englert, at the Free University in Brussels, hit on the same idea at about the same time--Higgs just got more of the initial attention--and opines that they, also, deserve to have their names attached to the particle.

Read the interview here.

Killing my darlings, part one thousand

Originally published at An Experimental Life. You can comment here or there.

Once again, I find myself in a position of killing darlings I created in a moment of passion. Every writer does it, and it does get easier, but there's always at least a little bit of an "ouch" involved. In case you're not familiar with the expression, to kill one's darlings means to take out things you've written that you personally love, but that for one reason or another don't pull their weight in the story. Like the 615 word bit of scene-setting below, which I'm including to give an example of a perfectly good darling that nonetheless had to die, and to gratify my desire to have someone other than my writing group see it. (You'd also never know to read this snippet that most of what I write is more "fun.")

There are lots of reasons why a darling might have to die. Maybe it screws up your pacing, or contains a jarring shift in style or perspective (either of which is fine if that's what you're going for). Maybe it doesn't really have much to do with the rest of the story, and is only there because you personally found it interesting to write. Maybe there are just too damn many words for the length of the thing you're trying to write, and the story needs other words more than it needs that scene, or that chunk of exposition, or that subplot. For whatever reason, sometimes you have to kill your darlings to make your story stronger.

Those scenes and snippets are not always wasted, though. When I catch myself over-writing, if I'm struggling, of course I'll stop, but if I'm overwriting because I'm on a roll and very into the process, I go with it, and trust myself to pick out the parts I need later. Even if I'm pretty sure I won't use any of those words in this story, if my subconscious wants me to type them that badly, I'm going to do it unless there's a compelling reason not to. (Like a deadline.) When the words keep pouring from your fingers and the imagery is flashing in your mind's eye and you're genuinely excited about what you're doing, something great is happening, and I urge you to let it happen.

Even in a worst case scenario, if you end up using none of those words in anything you ever submit for publication, even if you gain no further insight, or derive any other obvious benefit from writing those words, you will have, for however long it takes to write those words, ridden a zephyr, and that sense of exhileration when the words are flowing and your breath keeps catching in your throat is worth the time. It can be pretty refreshing and energizing, too, and give you that extra burst you need to write more words that you know you're going to use.

The 615-word or so "darling" below is pretty much unedited, with only a couple of minor changes from the way it came out of my fingers in one big bluuuuuuuuurp of the keyboard, so no, these are not the most carefully-chosen words. The entire thing was me being self-indulgent and writing the kind of description for a short story that might--just might--work in a novel of a certain type. (After editing it to make it better, of course--like I said, this was mostly one long squeeze of the metaphorical trigger, and the part of my brain that spooges words out just happened to be stuck on "automatic.") But however cheesy and overdoneit may be, I kind of like it. And I'm sad about killing it.

The 615-word darling I had to kill:

The mansion was a place of carefully regimented opulence that would have seemed decadent if not for the obvious stick up its ass. The place was more like a museum than anything else; it was as though someone had positioned each piece of furniture, every work of art, even the pleats in the drapes, to present some sort of mathematically perfect textbook milieu that could be appreciated clinically, without all that messy business of making human beings feel welcome. Like those staged rooms in famous dead people’s houses where the emptiness was something you could feel. Even the lighting was specifically contrived according to each room or passageway, to coax a serene glow from a vase that was probably older than most of Europe’s great cities, or to make a lead crystal chandelier sparkle with a stateliness that diamonds could only envy, or to paint a meticulously-positioned shadow of a specific hue and density to balance other elements in the room or soften just this one line. All that was missing were red velvet ropes strung between waist-high brass stands to reinforce that invisible wall that keeps museum visitors from touching anything, not because they can’t step over the ropes, but because such a thing would be unacceptable, in much the same way that people stay out of each others’ homes unless invited, not because of doors, but because of the idea of doors and what they represent, the separation they symbolize.

No children had ever run through these rooms without a nanny close behind admonishing them to have a little dignity, and there’d been no late-night passionate trysts on the daybed in the bright little sitting room Daniel had just passed. Although a maid or two had probably been bent over the desk in the study, or a pool boy given an “extra tip” in the pool shed, both of which activities would have been engaged in with a calculated and pre-determined safe level of passion, of course, and both of which would have been carefully ignored by the rest of the household, because at this stratum of society, transgressions of a certain type were permissible—expected, really—but to actually notice them would be unforgivable.

The smells also varied from room to room. Brightly regimented and carefully understated flowers in one room, an almost smothering cedar in another, and here and there the citrus or berry scent of a century’s worth of fragrant oils rubbed into wood so ancient as to be almost petrified. The smells in certain areas were the only thing that made the house seem even slightly alive, but even so, in most places the air carried, beneath everything else, that subtle mustiness of other people’s memories, and the dust from their feet that penetrates all the way through the carpeting and into the surface of the floor beneath so that it claims a place for all time, no matter how many clergy of cleanliness try to exorcise it with their chemicals and vacuum cleaners. The best they can do is destroy the old carpet like a discarded snake skin, seal off everything beneath with a layer of polyurethane, with perhaps a layer of carpet rich enough that its true purpose was not to cover the floor, but to say to visitors that its owners were so wealthy that they could afford to walk on even the most precious and expensive of things. And even so sealed and covered, all the dust and memories and pollens that have seeped into the bones of the house can’t be smothered, but are there, waiting to assert their claim once again when the layers of their oppression wear thin.

So yeah--That's what I killed. Again, not because it's horrible; I kind of like it, and think it has potential. Sure, it needs a good edit, like any other first draft of anything, but given that, in a longer story, and a story of the right kind, it would serve quite well. For an 8,000 word story, though, with everything else that needs to be in there, six-hundred and fifteen words is about five hundred too many for my purposes.

And even though I'm dumping most of this for now, it isn't wasted. I'll use little bits of imagery from this bit in other places in the story, and maybe in other stories, as well. Plus, although I didn't intend consciously to put certain things in, when I re-read this bit, I realized that there was a lot of symbolism in there that speaks to the story itself and the world I set it in. As a result of having written these words, I have a clearer idea of the setting, and a greater insight into the possibilities of the story itself. If I didn't use a single one of these words in the story, I'd still have gotten that out of writing them. And again, for just a couple of minutes, I got to ride the zephyr.

 

And here are the roughly 130 words with which I am (tentatively) replacing the darling above:

The mansion was a place of carefully regimented opulence that would have seemed decadent if not for the obvious stick up its ass. This was where old, expensive things came to die on display. Only the scents as Daniel approached the occupied wing made it believable as a home. Cinnamon and coffee, and just a hint of flowers. The mustiness that dominated the rest of the house like an unwanted memory was still there, but just barely.

Those may not be the final words--in fact, they will almost certainly not be--but they'll do for now. And as I said, even if I end up using none of them, I learned something by writing them, and had fun doing it. I guess to sum up everything else I've said here, not only should you not be afraid to kill your darlings, you should enjoy creating them, even if you know while you're doing so that you're going to have to kill them later.

 

So... What was the hardest darling you ever had to kill? Or wished you had killed? Or haven't yet been able to?

 

 

greenhair

6 News segment on my search for Sachi the Neurotic (and missing) Cockatiel

6 News - Lawrence :: Disabled vet determined to find lost bird
If you live anywhere near Lawrence, KS, please watch this. I need to find this little girl. Not only has she been a major part of me keeping what little sanity I have left and helped so much with my recovery, she's my friend. (She also represents the idea that I can do something right.)

I haven't watched the piece because a) it was hard enough to get through the first time, b) I already know what Sachi looks like, c) as long as I don't watch it, I can pretend I didn't look and sound like a total dork, d) it ain't about me, and e) I'm vain enough that I know that even though the idea is to find Sachi, I'll be mortified at every little thing, like if my shirt billows out wrong or something, I'll be like, "but my stomach's flat again, and now it looks like it isn't," or, "damn, I didn't realize I was getting that much gray hair," and stuff like that.