Book Review: Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

18077752ACCEPTANCE, Book 3 in THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY.  By Jeff VanderMeer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 2014



If you haven’t read the entire Southern Reach Triology, you need to get on it. Now.

This is a series, especially this last book, that will spawn fandoms, fan fiction, movies, youtube discussions, and I’m sure will start to pepper advanced lit class syllabuses every where. Make sure all your friends and family read because you will want to talk about this story repeatedly and indepth.

This book is horror. It is dystopian science fiction. It is creative environmental journalism. Mostly it’s epic weird as only VanderMeer can deliver.

I’m a sucker for writing that pushes my understanding of story and language. VanderMeer does both in his deconstruction of what is Area X in this volume of the series. His change of point of view for character self-examination is brilliant. In this book especially, the terror (and terrior) is always just bubbling to the surface and you can’t help but shudder as you read. That bar scene, the scene with Whitby in the attic, the phone call with Control and The Voice, and the spooky owl that seemingly has human intelligence.

On page 314 of ACCEPTANCE, I swear VanderMeer knows what it is to be in the midst of a PTSD-trigger fest.  I will never look at a darkness in the water again without wondering if its a leviathan, or descend in a cave and wonder if I’ll meet the moaning creature.

I’ve read each in the series twice and will likely start over again.

Now who wants to talk about this book with me?


We interrupt National Poetry Month for a Social Experiment

My friend Jacqueline Fedyk is amazing. She’s a visual artist, musician, writer, tea connoisseur and all around delight to be around. Right now she’s in the midst of a very cool project, a social experiment, if you will.

She has a box of 100 Vintage DC Comic Postcards. She bought them, and at the time didn’t know why she was buying them. But she came up with a brilliant way to use them and share the joy for comic-lovers, social scientists and all manner of creative individual. She’s having anyone and everyone contact her for a post card. She’ll take a photo of the postcard and post it on her blog including a fictionalized adventure created just for you.  (Note: she promises not to sell your info or post it on the interwebs. She will only use your information for this project and nothing else ever.)

Why is she doing this, you ask? Because she just wants to see if she can do it and where all the cards end up and if others will post about this kookie artist in the Cascade Foothills who is sending out personalized (albeit fictionalized) adventures. And to see if she can get 100 people to join in.

The day my card arrived from her, it was such a welcome sight in my mailbox amongst the medical bills, junk mail, and weekly grocery store circulars. I love that mine had this Iron Giant type robot and all the old-school DC heroes like Flash and Green Lantern. The adventure caused me to squeal in glee. Here’s what she wrote:



For me it will have been only a few hours since we lost saw one another, but for you it will have been 10 years. The Doctor has promised that you will recieve this postcard at the right time. There was a problem with the Quantum Flux that has resulted in a “time-skip.” Meet me at 7:45 p.m. in the old graveyard and please bring me a six pack and a box of ginger snaps!It’s been a long day for me and an even longer one for you!

Your Pal,


Fun right? Oh and when I met her at the graveyard, we had a big ol’ party! 😉

She still has plenty of cards and I hope you all will contact her  and join in on the fun.

You have nothing to lose. Just gain a cool postcard and a moment of amusement and possibly even joy. Happiness in your mailbox. Do it. I promise you won’t regret it.


Free-Range Fiction: Dragons Dressing Down

Ya missed me, right? I know you missed me. I missed doing this. Trying as part of 2013 to get back into the swing of posting some flash fiction at least once a week. Like Myke Cole told me on his AMA Reddit, you have to keep moving forward. This is part of my moving forward. 

This photo below was part of Chuck Wendig‘s near weekly flash fiction writing challenge. There were 31 to choose from. I chose number 17. She spoke to me. I feel like I’ve been her — whether it was in DC, Frankfurt, Paris, or Moscow. People stare. They want to know the truth. But…do they really?  Also if you’ve traveled the globe like I have — there are a lot of feral animals out and about. Those photos didn’t speak to me.  There were a couple of others I might use for future stories…but for now, our little goth trick or treater peaked my interest and let the words come pouring out. 

Here’s my Dragons Dressing Down. It comes in right at 999 words. I could have written more and I may take this idea and run with it down the road. We’ll see.  Do comment below and let me know what you think of the story. Should I write more?

P.S. I did not know there truly was a war on Halloween in Russia. When I was telling a friend about the story I was writing she said, “Oh yeah, I heard that they are trying to outlaw Halloween in Russia.” I had to look it up. Looks like people have fun with it. I’d go to their parties. Everything I wrote was before I knew about the recent developments in Russia. No, I’m not psychic — I just sometimes make stuff up that actually appears to be true near 7,000 miles away. 

Dragons Dressing Down

In Russia, Dragons dress like Halloween party goers and inspire fiction.

I hope I can find Hector. I have not seen him since last year. This year we will be in Moscow, much to my objection. There is a war on Halloween here. Imagine what the peasants would think if they knew this night hid dragons?

I truly would rather fly than take the subway. But, there are no dragon wings for me tonight, All Hallow’s Eve. The modern world gives me one night a week to walk among them. Unfortunately, I fear I may be losing even that. I stand here, a dragon now made human by the strong magic of this one night.

My beautiful horns look like horns still, but they shine of plastic to merge into the 2012 world. My magical white and black scales are smooth and juxtaposed against each other, white skin against black eyes and lips. This hair I get in this human form – I’m always fascinated by it. My true nature holds no hair. It’s long, black, and very shiny. I hold a basket decorated with skeletons and jack-o-lanterns, in case anyone thinks that my mostly black translucent, spotted with crystals wings are anything but a costume to ward off evil spirits and ghosts. Although, for near seven decades, this holiday means less about crossing between the two worlds and more about procuring all the sugary treats that the spoiled children of the west and now developed east can.

I hail originally from Mongolia. But, I make sure that I transform closer to the urban areas on this eve. The Keepers make sure we have large buildings to hide in – barns in the country, warehouses in the cities. What, do you think vampires are the only creature that has human allies? Vampires are babies compared to the dragons. In Moscow, on this night, I can hide amongst party goers. Not so much in the outer reaches of Mongolia.

I can smell the drug addict behind me. He’s not so different after more than one thousand years of living amongst mankind. There is always the drunkard, the opiate addict, those seemingly possessed of the head and hunched in corners or lying about the streets in a heap of disheveled discontent. I’m always used to the stares and whispers, even on this night. My costume is so elaborate – I hear the same thing every year: “How long did it take you to come up with that?”

One year, I had to meet Hector in a night club and the manager was upset when I wouldn’t enter their dress-up contest. I told him I had an unfair advantage – that I was part dragon and that just didn’t seem fair. He said, “Da, da, that is why you must enter.” Hector made us leave.

In the last decade there are fewer and fewer of us who meet. There is a new order, descended from the Orthodox Church Guard. They hunt us on Halloween. They have campaigned hard to get their followers to disallow their children to participate in Halloween festivities. They planted criminals and hooligans to make the streets unsafe. Our last bastion of safety is in the raves and nightclubs.

But Hector and I just want to be together. The two of us together with the last of our kind; there is but 13 of us left – unless pairs like Hector and I can bare offspring. All we wish is to spend our one day together without being seen or heard in our dragon forms. There is a strange peace to be among the humans with some anonymity.

The man besides me acts like he doesn’t want to look at me. But I can tell he’s looking at me. A book and headphones, how obvious do you have to be to give away that you are a voyeur, an interloper, and likely a dragon hunter? I distrust anyone unless they smell of a Keeper or are dragon. I find it funny that the woman to my left is telling her child to be fearful of me. The child has keeper blood running through her – only a halfling, but it’s still there. I turn and give the child a crystal from my wings. It will be a scale tomorrow. It will act as a homing device for the Keeper recruiters. The child should be brought up in the appropriate environment. Not by some ignorant human woman. Many of the Keepers were lost when the dragons were killed for sport so many centuries ago. But, the earth is in need of the dragons to be leaders again; but, we must up our numbers. The armor the Keepers create for us can do very little against some of man’s weapons any more.

I have to change trains. I can feel the book-carrying man following me. There are many people, thankfully. He won’t do anything here. I see more young people dressed up for the festivities. A few more stops and I will be at the night club.

My spine, now covered in taffeta and satin tingles. I can feel Hector close. I think I sense Raul and Sophie, too. Sophie lost her offspring ten years ago; I hope she is not sour and silent any longer. We dragons hold onto our delight and depression even longer than some humans. A decade of grieving, in my mind, is enough. Sophie, however, is a century older than I; she doesn’t find my opinion to be much.

The train stops. The man does not follow me, but I sense other trouble around. There is a woman walking in front of me, I keep up with her step.

The nightclub is not yet open, but there is a cafe next door. My human body wants sustenance. There, there is hector. I can see him through the glass; He, in all his horn-riddled and red and orange brilliance. He smiles. I smile back.

I open the door, the scent of coffee soothes the brain of my human form. Huzzah for All Hallow’s Eve.




Free-Range Fiction: Dog-and-Pony Show

This week’s flash fiction is once again inspired by the World-Con going Chuck Wendig. See his TerribleMinds Blog here and the challenge here. Basically we had a choice of four words from the list:









See if you can find the four I used. 

I give you: Dog-and-Pony Show, coming in at a sparse 890 words. I wrote this in the throws of insomnia with a film crew in my backyard. The latter is for another post. 

Leave me comments and tell me how ya like it. Thanks. 

The entire post was getting ready for the senator’s arrival.  Tinsley hated the dog-and-pony shows his assignment at the new hallmark military post demanded. 

“This is such a joke,” his buddy, Barker, said. “Wash the trash cans? What the fuck, they are trash cans.”

“Well, it’s for Senator Williams,” Sgt. Franks said, his Puerto Rican accent thick and sing-songy. “He is the chair of the Senate Arms Committee. Think of him as the man who signs your paychecks, troopers.”

Tinsley hated the word troopers. Like they were in fucking boy scouts and his unit wasn’t starring soon at their third rotation in Southwest Asia.

“I suppose we have it better than the fucking Marines, standing guard at the o-club in full dress uniform including those pansy-ass white gloves,” Barker snickered.  His baby face’s cheeks wobbled while his teeth gritted together.  Fort Meade was the first Post they converted over into multi-military use.  The Army, Air Force, Marines – even the goddamn Navy were all co-located here. Although the Navy boys were all Yeoman – paper pushers and few SPs, as their ships were up in the port in Baltimore or at the academy in Annapolis.

Tinsley nodded at Barker – he hated dress uniforms. He would rather scrub garbage cans. He hit the last spot on his last can and stood up from the row of trash cans in front of him. The whole squad was basically done scrubbing.  Tinsley stretched his lanky frame and twisted side to side like he was doing morning P.T. warm ups. His stomach grumbled.

“Sgt. Franks, it’s lunch, yeah?” Tinsley motioned towards the tower clock in the parade field in front of their little work area under the shade trees.  The hands read 1140 hrs.

“Yeah, let’s get these cans back in their proper locations and we’ll get some chow,” Franks said.

At chow, Tinsley waited for his usual Hamburger.  Before he could get his lunch someone called for Attention. Those seated stood; those standing turned towards the sound of the command and assumed the position.  In walked the post commander, the corps general, and Senator Joshua T. Williams (R-TX).  Inside his head, Tinsley moaned an “Ah fuck.” He could smell the melted cheese which dripped from the side of his burger begin to burn on the grill.  He was waiting for someone – the Sergeant Major, anyone – to call the ‘As You Were’ so that he could just sit down and fucking eat.  But it didn’t come.  He stood there along with every other swinging dick in the dining facility waiting and stealthily watching the procession of the Big Whigs to the front of the line.

The cooks and staff swarmed near the senator and officers and chatted with each other in Farsi. Most were asylum seekers from the War on Terror.  They were happy to serve chow three times a day to American soldiers – whatever their branch.  The VIPs got their lunches and finally the ‘As You Were’ was hollered out.

“Sorry, bub; you’ll have to wait for your burger,” Arnie said to Tinsley with a shrug. His name was actually Abdullah, but he had adopted Arnie.

“What?” Tinsley slurred the word through gritted teeth. His stomach was starting a coup against the rest of his body 

“The VIP has it,” Arnie pointed a spatula towards the retreating entourage.  Tinsley saw the burger on the Senator’s cafeteria tray.  He smoothed down the front of his ACU jacket and felt his feet move forward, left foot first.

“Hey man, where you going?” Barker hissed.

“To get my burger,” Tinsley’s feet started moving into a quick step. He didn’t notice the parting sea of other lunch-time comrades.

Within moments, he stood at the head of the Senator’s table. A few choice soldiers and Marines of the month sandwiched the senator, general and base commander.  

“Sir,” Tinsley said, the air forcing a tone from his mouth he hadn’t expected. The tone said, “You need to fucking listen to me.”

“The Senator would like to eat, Soldier,” the Corps General said to Tinsley with a look that said, “Step off, Private.”  Tinsley looked down at his buck sergeant stripes and then stared back at the general.

“Yes, so would I,” Tinsley said. “The Senator has my hamburger.”  The Senator looked down at his plate, so did the commander and general and the joes on either side of them.

“I do believe it’s…” but before the Senator could get the words out the Base Commander was in Tinsley’s face.

“Report to my headquarters right now, Private Tinsley.”

“I’ll happily do that, Commander,” Tinsley said, then paused and pushed out his breath into the face of his superior officer. “With my lunch.”

Tinsley saw the general apologizing to the befuddled Senator. 

“Now, Soldier,” the commanders said. “Now. The longer you take the more pay I take from you and the more restriction I rain down upon your insubordinate ass.” 

Tinsley made towards the door and purposefully went away from the base commander and towards the Senator. It honestly made more sense to do that about face and march past the Senator. In one swift motion, quicker than he could spin his color guard rifle, Tinsley snatched the burger off the Senator’s plate and continued towards the door.

Forty-days later in the Brig down in Quantico, Tinsley ate Tuna for lunch.



In a writing dream she was born; today is its birthday

Today is my anniversary. It is my anniversary of jumping off the cliff and building my wings on the way down (thank you, Mr. Bradbury). One year ago today was the first day that I lived life as writing-centric.

Within the first few months I had a couple of regular freelance clients and was paid for a submitted short story. Things seemed like they were going to just go gang-busters and there would be no looking back.

Scraping by and using some community resources, I kept my children fed. Despite the difficulties, my spouse stood by me and served as lead cheerleader. His support has been critical and necessary to keep me going in those moments the rejection letters and emails came. Claims of adoration from fellow writers for my seeming stupidity disguised as bravery also buoyed me in the rough-writing seas. Rejections that said, “It was hard to say no to your (submission/application), please (reapply/resubmit),” kept me pumped to soldier on.

Right as the holidays descended on us all the freelance work dried up and I took a bit of vacation from creating anything new as far as stories went. I concentrated my creative energy on creating other art projects and opened my little Thrasher Studios Etsy shop.

At the dawn of 2012, I vowed to send one thing out every week.

In February I had my first public reading at the University Bookstore in Seattle. It felt so surreal. Could I actually be doing this? I was doing it. But still my insurance, my phone, my lights every month were at risk of being shut off. Yet, I persevered.

I continued through April 5th submitting something each week – a short story or a grant application. Peppered through these weekly “messages in a bottle” I sent inquiries to agents for my novels.

By the end of May all of my submissions and applications had been rejected. Ouch. However, some included those kind notes I mentioned above which testified that I chipped through – cracked a smile even – the Crown Jewels Guard Regiment blocking my path to the publishing tower.

I’m a week away from completing the edits and revision on a novel I wrote in 2009 (SECOND THOUGHT) and had shelved and now feel I’d be proud for this to be my debut work. Getting this work in front of agents will be my focus for the beginning of summer.

I’ve missed two deadlines for short-story submissions this month, caught up in familial obligations* as I have been. But freelance work has been absent for more than six weeks. I have some eggs in a basket here and there, but I don’t expect anything to hatch there until the Fall. Meanwhile, I have three children home all summer looking to me for movie and ice cream money, and never ending pursuit of shoes that fit last month, but don’t today. Salaries in the tech industry, where my spouse works, have tightened down and there’s just not the kind of paycheck to support the entire household as there may have been in the past. So, some things have to change. It’s hard to create when you’re rolling pennies to purchase toilet paper.

Today I applied for a service industry part-time job. No telling if I’ll get it. But, I figure I can get back out into the world beyond the cave of my writing studio and maybe, just maybe, my wings will be complete soon and I’ll be soaring through publishing success.

I’m not giving up. We all know that success is not an upward straight arrow. It squiggles up and down and all around. Regardless I’m continuing with the attitude that I expect good things to happen.

But the universe is requiring that I not throw all my energies at everything. I’m going to focus on a few things and shelve everything else – at least temporarily.

I knew going into it that this starving artist life was going to be tough and austere. I’m fortunate enough to have a supportive partner, and this little set back is not going to define me, it’s not going to alter my goals or my spirit or the elements of my writing life. It’s just going to look different than what I first envisioned it.

The fall off that cliff of security to the sea of my dreams is a long journey – heck the journey just to get to the cliff was a long one, too. I’m okay with that. Regardless, I’m still finding my wings. It’s like this song/video here, Sigur Ros’ Glósóli. If you’ve jumped off that cliff and are building your wings, comment below and tell me about your journey. If you’re just thinking about it – put on your red bandana, march to a different drummer, and come join us.

Meanwhile, there’s a manuscript staring at me awaiting my attention.


*In the spirit of full disclosure, part of my leaving a full-time stable job was to also be able to be home for my children more – especially my special-needs child.