Today! At Uncle Hugo’s!

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The Will and Kelly show continues for one more day. I will be at Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore with the most esteemed William Alexander, and we will be signing books. 1:00. Be there or be some kind of quadrilateral.

For the book lover, there really is no better place on earth than the twin cities. Our independent bookstores are numerous and well-visited, and each one is unique unto itself. They have their own distinct personalities, flavors, secrets and predilections. They welcome; they entice; they encourage their own particular brands of wonder. Uncle Hugo’s occupies a particularly soft spot in my heart. It is a bookstore’s bookstore – the shelves so crowded and the corridors so narrow, that the weight of stories begin to coalesce into their own strange gravity. Space bends in that bookstore. Time, too. Entire libraries are compressed onto a single shelf. Entire universes onto one dusty page. There is more stuff in that bookstore than there is stuff in the known universe. I will be pulled in, wrapped up, smothered with words. I will be pinned into paper, drowned in ink, surrounded with stories. I may not make it out alive. There are worse ways to go, though, really.

To Uncle Hugo’s I go! Wish me luck! (And you should come!)

 

Another Student Story!

Many of you may remember that, a while back, I did a fiction residency at Epiphany Catholic School. I told the kids that if they started a story and wanted to work on it for a while, they could send it over to me at any time and I’d share it on my blog. Well, finally a really cool kid took me up on it! Sixth grader Christine  wrote a very fun little story about a dragon who was convinced that he was just a plain pet lizard, despite the encouragement of the people around him. I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I did. Thanks, Christine, for sharing your story with us!

The Dragon That Could

By Christine Z.

CRASH!

“Henry? What was that?”

“Uh…nothing Mom. Bruce just ran into the door again.”

Bruce is my pet lizard. Well, he’s not really a lizard but he sure thinks he is.  He is actually a dragon, but he can’t fly or breathe fire or doing anything a normal dragon can do, so we just say he’s a lizard.  I’ve been trying to teach him how to fly but, well, I think you know how that’s going.

“I told you, Henry. Lizards don’t fly! No matter how hard you try, I won’t fly because I’m not supposed to!”

       “Bruce, how many times do I have to tell you? You are a dragon! Not a lizard! If I wanted a lizard, I would’ve just gone next door to Monty’s. He’s got a billion lizards. But no. I flew all the way to Zion to find the perfect dragon. Do you know how far away that place is from here?”

          “No I don’t…OF COURSE I DO! I lived on Zion for years before some stupid kid named Henry came and kidnapped me because he wanted a lizard that he could teach to fly.”

          “No, Bruce. He wanted a dragon because he thinks dragons are really cool.”

          “If he wanted a dragon then he should’ve kidnapped a dragon not a lizard.”

          “Okay Bruce. I’m done. I give up. You just won’t accept the fact that you are a dragon, so I will stop trying to make you.” Pft! Yeah right! I would never give up, but I have a plan to make him realize that he really truly is a dragon.

          “Thank you. You have finally found some respect.”

          “Stop it. You’re starting to sound like my sister. She’s all ‘You should learn to respect people. You would have more friends if you did.’ I hate those kind of people.” That sounded really lame. What kind of brother quotes his sister in front of his friends? I’m surprised Bruce is still awake.

“Woah! Take a chill pill. I was just kidding.”

“You better be because I hate my sister when she does that. Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Wow, Henry. Could you be more obvious? I mean, really? ‘Do you have any brothers and sisters?’ Just thought I’d blurt that out without thinking because I want my plan to be ruined.

“Since when do you care about my family?”

“Um. I-I’ve always…uh…c-c-cared a-b-b-bout…mm…yo-your f-fam-m-mily. Hehe. I…uh… j-just…um…th-th-thought that y-you…uh…w-wouldn’t want-t-t to…mm…t-talk a-b-b-bout it. Hehe.” I just blew it! I hate how I can never lie because whenever I try to, I always stutter.

“Oh. I know what your trying to do.”

“Ummm….Y-you d-d-do?” Oh no! My plan will be ruined if he finds out what I’m doing.

“Yeah. You’re trying to bring up a sore subject for me so that you can play Mr. Nice Guy who is trying to be a good friend.”

“I can never keep anything from you, Bruce.” That’s a lie. For example, one time I went to the movies with my friends after school and when I came home an hour late, Bruce believed that I was studying at the library. He is so gullible. Gosh. I never noticed how parent-like Bruce is. That’s exactly what I need: another parent.

“And you shouldn’t…keep anything from me. Friends don’t keep secrets, remember?”

“If friends don’t keep secrets, then tell me about your childhood.”

“Okay. Deep breaths, Bruce. You can do it. Just tell Henry about your family. I think I’m ready.”

“Good. Now let’s start with your most interesting memory.”

“My most interesting memory? Um let’s see…oh I remember. It was a long time ago so my memory might be a little rusty, but I’ll try my best. I was outside playing with my best friend Roy, he was a unicorn, when this strange creature came up to us. The creature was big and hairy. He had beady red eyes that stared at you as if you would be a perfect snack. He started to walk toward us growling and gaining speed fast. Roy picked me up and put me on his back because then we could run faster. Roy ran faster than I’ve ever seen him run before. He was obviously just as scared as I was. As we were running, we noticed that the creature’s footsteps had disappeared so we stopped to rest. Then the creature jumped down from a tree and almost landed on us. We quickly got up to run again but something stopped us.”

“What was it? What stopped you?”

“See, that’s the thing. I don’t remember what stopped us. I also don’t remember anything before that day or after that day. The next thing I remember is waking up to the sound of wind. That was the day when you came and took me. I don’t know how much time passed between those two events. I don’t remember my family or my home or anything except that horrifying day.”

“Oh my gosh! Are you serious? You don’t remember anything other than that day?”

“Nope. Nothing. It’s as if all those other memories before that were never there.”

“Wow, this is serious. We need to find out what happened to you to make you lose your memory. I guess we get to go back to Zion.”

“Really? You would do that for me?”

“Of course I would. We have only one problem.”

“What’s that?”

“How are we going to get there? My mom took my jet pack because she found out that I stole dad’s hovercraft.”

“It’s too bad you don’t have a sister with a bubble car.”

“Oh yeah! Kat’s car! We can use that to get to Zion! You’re a genius, Bruce!”

“I know.”

“But how are we going to get the car? Kat is always watching and she has fingerprint locks.”

“You get the fingerprints and I’ll distract her.”

“Okay. Meet back here in ten.”

“See ya!”

Okay so now I have to get my sister’s fingerprints. How am I gonna do that? I’m just kidding. I know exactly how to do that. I just have to get her to hold something long enough to get her prints to stay. I think it’s time for her daily dose of Vitamin Q. Vitamin Q is a vitamin that makes your attitude 100%. We give this to Kat once a day because she has a very rotten attitude.

Now that I have a plan, it’s time to take action. I open my bedroom door and walk out and down the hallway. As I walk by Kat’s room, I hear her on the phone with someone and she says that 2:00 would work fine. I wonder who she’s talking to. I’ll probably find out later. Anyway, I walk up the long and winding staircase and finally reach the study. In the study, you sit on a special chair and you hold a book. By holding the book, all the contents of that book absorb into your body through your skin. If I am going to a different planet, I should probably learn more about it. I sit down in the chair and pick up a book about Zion. Every book takes a different amount of time to download into your brain. For example, this book about Zion will take three minutes. I wait impatiently while the book absorbs. Two minutes left. Why is this book so big? One minute. It’s almost done. 5…4…3…2…1…beep beep beep.

Now to the kitchen. I walk through the living room where dad is watching robot racing as usual. Finally, I’m in the kitchen. I get out a glass and go to the computer. I type in Vitamin Q juice and…

“Henry, what are you doing?”

“Oh, hi Mom! I was just getting Kat’s Vitamin Q juice to bring to her room. I thought I would help out and do it for you today.”

“How sweet of you! I won’t disturb you. Just keep working. I love you!”

“Love you, too Mom!”

I press enter and the cupboard opens. Inside the cupboard are the juice and a Unibar (for her unicorn). I take both and head for Kat’s room. I walk back through the living room and the study. I carefully go down the stairs and walk back down the hallway. I knock on Kat’s bedroom door and I hear a loud thump from inside. The door slowly opens and a head peeks out.

“What do you want, squirt?”

“I brought you your VQ juice and a Unibar for Sparkles.”

“Ugh! Why does mom make me drink this crap? It’s disgusting!” She tosses the Unibar to Sparkles and watches her devour it in a second. Kat takes the glass and drinks it as fast as she can. She makes a sour face and gives the glass back to me. She smiles at me and sits back down on her bed. “How’s life, Henry?”

“It’s fine but I actually have to go find Bruce. See you later!”

“Okay, bye buddy! I love you!”

Did you see how fast that juice worked? It’s amazing, isn’t it? I walk out of her room and go back to my room. I carefully put the glass down on my desk, trying not to smudge Kat’s fingerprints. I go to my computer and type in fingerprint kit. My desk drawer opens up and inside is a full fingerprinting kit. I open it up and remove some powder, a brush, and a fingerprint holder that looks like a half cylinder shaped piece of plastic. I dip the brush into the powder and dust the glass. When I can see the fingerprints, I take the plastic and place it on the glass where the fingerprints are. I carefully remove the plastic from the glass. It worked! I can see her fingerprints. Now I wait until Bruce comes back…

“Hey Henry! Did you get the prints?”

“Oh, hey Bruce! Yeah I got them. Did you find a good distraction?”

“Of course! I called your sister and told her I was a boy from school. I asked her if she wanted to go see a movie and she said yes! She is going to see the movie at 2:00.”

“So that’s who she was talking to on the phone! Okay so if the movie is at 2:00 then we still have ten minutes. Let’s get some sketches of what Roy and the creature look like to help us when we are on Zion.”

“Good idea!” He gets out a piece of paper and a pencil and starts to draw. Eight minutes pass. Finally, Bruce says, “There! All done. This one is Roy and this one is the creature!”

“Good job, Bruce! It’s 2:00! Let’s go steal some cars!”

Bruce and I walk down the hall and into Kat’s room. We walk to the other side of the room where the door to her garage is. The door is locked so I take out the fingerprint and put it up to the fingerprint lock. Access granted! We walk into the garage and get into the bubble car. I use Kat’s fingerprint to start the engine. We drive the car out of the house and all the way to Zion. It took a whole two hours!

We land on Zion and get out of the car. I take out my computer and scan the sketches that Bruce drew into it. Roy’s picture comes up and says that this really is a picture of Roy Unigreen. His profile says that he was killed by a unicorn hunter many years ago. The creature’s profile comes up and says that his name is Alek Hunter. He is a well-known and feared unicorn hunter. He has killed over 200 unicorns.

“I’m sorry, Bruce, about Roy. I can’t believe that Alek killed him. It was a very cruel thing to do.”

“That’s okay, Henry. It’s not your fault. Besides, I barely remember Roy.”

“I am going to set up a GPS feature to locate Alek.”

“Sounds good.”

BUZZ! Target located.

“The GPS found Alek! It says that he is in Cavern Cave in northern Zion.”

“I know where that is! I’ll lead the way!”

“I’m right behind you.” This is so exciting and sad at the same time. I’m surprised that the GPS actually found Alek. Usually killers try to hide themselves better than that.

I followed Bruce through forests and jungles, swamps and beaches, meadows and savannas. It seems like we’ve been walking for days, but Bruce never changes pace. He is in a very good mood which makes me happy.

“Hey Bruce?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you ever thought about why you can’t remember anything?”

“Yes, I have. Loads of times. Why?”

“Because I have a theory.”

“Go on.”

“Well, you know when you stopped to rest because you thought Alek was gone but then he came back?”

“Yeah.”

“And you can’t remember anything after that?”

“Right.”

“What if someone made you forget?”

“Maybe. My theory is that I hit my head too hard and lost my memory.”

“Both theories are possible, I guess”

“There it is!” He pointed to a very large cave.

“Wow! That’s Cavern Cave?”

“Sure is.”

“Okay Bruce. Whatever happens in there, just remember that you have always been my best friend.”

“Right back at ya. Oh, and I am glad that you kidnapped me and took me back to your house to live with you.”

We slowly walked into the dark and cold cave. Bats flew above our heads. Spiders and rats crawled below our feet. We travel deeper and deeper into the cave, now shivering because of the cold. There was a loud scream. We both jumped and tried not to scream ourselves. We came to a ledge that looked over Alek’s home or room or whatever you want to call it. We were just close enough to hear the conversation below.

“Please! I’ll do whatever you want!” shrieked the girl.

“Why should I let you live?” Alek asked.

“I have a family! Two sons and a husband. They can’t survive without me!”

“Does it look like I care?”

“No,” the girl said quietly.

“That’s because I don’t! There is only one thing you can do to spare your life.”

“What is that?”

“You must go and fetch me the three unicorns that you helped escape from me. Oh and bring me two extras to make up for it.” Alek demanded.

“But it is wrong to kill such an innocent creature!”

“What are you, my conscience? You have no right to tell me right from wrong. Just do what I say or die!” said Alek harshly.

“We have to save her!” whispered Bruce.

“How are we going to do that?” I asked.

“We have to go down there.”

“Okay but be quiet. We don’t want him to know that we are here.”

Bruce and I quietly tiptoed down to where Alek was. A rock fell and hit the floor near where Alek was standing.

“Who’s there?” Alek yelled.

“Why do you hate them?” Bruce yelled back.

“Hate who? Show yourself!” Alek yelled angrily.

“The unicorns. Why don’t you go after dragons or centaurs? Why Unicorns?”

“Who are you? Why should I answer your questions?”

“Because I can make it all better.”

“Make what better?”

“Your life. I can make you a better person.”

“And how would you do that?”

“I can make you forget all the bad things you’ve done. You can start a new life.”

“What makes you think I want a new life?”

“Because you were so focused on talking to me that you walked away from your prisoner and she escaped.”

“What?!?!” Alek screamed furiously.

“Yep. Look around you. Do you see her anywhere? No. And you wanna know why?”

“Why?”

“Because when you heard me talking about a new life without all the bad things and you started to think. And while you were thinking, you started to walk away from her and towards my voice. That means that you were considering my offer.”

“What do you want from me?” Alek asked with a little remorse.

“Do you remember the unicorn and the dragon that you chased in the forest? Do you remember killing that unicorn? Do you remember making the dragon forget everything?”

“Haha. Yeah, I remember that. That was one of my more interesting unicorn findings. The poor dragon had no idea what hit him.”

“Are you sure about that? Are you sure that you made the dragon forget everything?”

“Of course I’m sure. I never make a mistake.”

“Well, you just did.” said Bruce, stepping out of the shadows into plain sight of Alek.

“It’s my young dragon friend. How’s your unicorn pal?”

“I think you know the answer to that, Alek.”

“Wait! How did you remember that day in the forest?”

“Because you made a mistake. You felt bad about hurting a unicorn in front of his friend, so you accidentally did the spell reversed. You made me forget everything except that day when you were supposed to make me forget just that day. I read somewhere that magic is less effective when the user is sad or mad. That means that you were either sad or mad. I think it’s most likely sad because you had a bad experience with dragons and/or unicorns.”

“I..how..what..you..no..why..”

“Don’t know what to say? Here’s a hint: ‘When you drop that rock on me, will you please not hit my head?’.”

BANG!

“That looked like it hurt!” said Henry, coming out of the shadows.

“We did it!” exclaimed Bruce.

“We’re not completely done yet, though.” advised Henry.

“What did we forget?” asked Bruce.

“Two things. One: we have to bring this young lady home. And two: Don’t you want your memory back?”

“I didn’t even think about that. Do you think Alek could give me my memory back?”

“I think if he could take it away, he can definitely give it back.”

“Yay! We should probably tie him up so that when he wakes up, he can’t escape.”

“Good idea. Hand me that rope.”

We not-so-carefully put Alek onto a chair and tied his arms and legs. Then we made sure everyone was far away from him so that when he wakes up, no one will get hurt.

“Hmm…uhh…um…” grumbled Alek.

“He’s waking up!” cried the girl.

Alek slowly opened his eyes. He started to struggle but soon gave up when he found it useless.

“Good morning, sleepyhead.” said Bruce.

“Get away from me.” Alek said.

“I will as soon as you give me my memory back.”

“Fine. Bring me that book over there. The big blue one.” he opened up the book and then said, “This dragon’s memories are gone. Put them back where they belong.”

There was a big flash of light and then I saw fire. I ran over to see where the fire was coming from. It was coming from Bruce. He can breathe fire again!

“Thank you, Alek. I will always remember this.” said Bruce gracefully.

“Yeah whatever. That was easy magic.” said Alek.

“Now open that book of yours and give yourself a new life without evil.”

“Alright. Hold on…Lemme find it…Aha! Here it is!” he said, “My life is bad and makes me sad. Give me a new one with many balloons.”

There was a bolt of lightning and he was gone. Alek was gone. Hopefully that spell worked and made him a better person with many balloons.

“Wait, Bruce, if you can breathe fire do you think you can fly?” Henry asked anxiously.

“I don’t know. Let me try.” he said right before he started flapping his wings and flying. He was FLYING!

“I can fly! Woo hoo!” Bruce screamed excitedly.

“So when Alek took away your memory, he must’ve made you forget how to fly. This makes so much sense now!”

Bruce came back down to the ground and told us to hop on his back. So the girl and I got on Bruce’s back and flew to the beach. We stopped at the beach and brought the girl to her family. Her and her family thanked us and said that we should come visit them sometime. We told them we would.

After that, we flew to the bubble car. I got in the bubble car and flew home while Bruce flew beside me. We got home and returned the car to my sister’s garage. We went back to my room because it had been a long day and we both needed some rest. I got in bed and Bruce laid on the floor.

“Today was the best day of my life!” whispered Henry to avoid waking up his sister who was sleeping down the hall.

“I agree. I couldn’t ask for a better friend.” said Bruce.

“I would say the same about you. Oh and one more question” Henry said.

“What’s that?”

“What kind of creature are you?”

“Oh that’s an easy one. I am a dragon and I’m proud of it.” 

Processing My Way through the Launch Pad Experience; or, How My Brain Was Destroyed, Rearranged and Rebuilt by the Shockwave of an Exploding Supernova

Ok, fine, that subtitle is slightly misleading. Still, given the transformative power of an exploding supernova – both destructive and constructive, leaving that part of the universe indelibly altered – I’m starting to feel a lot of kinship with nebulas.

First: let me tell you about Launch Pad. It’s a free, NASA-funded astronomy workshop for writers and editors. Essentially, they gather a bunch of nerdy, science-loving wordy-types and gives them a crash course in astronomy. We sat in lectures from ten in the morning until six, then seven, then eight at night, and then often went out after dark to play with telescopes. The whole thing is the brainchild of one Mike Brotherton: astronomer, hard sci-fi writer, and all around good guy. And for most of us, having the chance to spend the day learning, then playing with high-tech toys – well, it was a geeked-out paradise that I was, quite frankly, loathe to leave.

Now, I have a lot to say on the subject, but I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of day-to-day learning, since some of my fine compatriots have done it for me. (See Rachel Swirsky’s detailed and day-by-day accounts here, here, and….aw, hell, there’s a bunch of them. Just click on the Launch Pad tab and you’ll find the rest) Indeed, this is just the first of likely a few posts, since I’m still processing the whole experience and it’ll take me a while to really allow the thing to crystallize in my head.

Anyway, since I am, in my soul, a relational person, I always understand an experience in the context of the people with whom I shared the experience. In other words, anything I have to say on the subject of my time in Wyoming will be utterly meaningless unless I can say a few words about the people who sat in that room with me as our worlds were collectively rocked by SCIENCE!

First, here’s a picture of us:

Aren’t we adorable?

So, here are the folks I hung out with last week:

Walter Jon Williams – Author of like, nine million books, video game designer and writer, and a black belt, so he’s a person to whom you’d lose in a bar fight. Also, asker of incisive questions and cracker of the occasional wry joke which kept me giggling on my end of the table.

David J. Williams – The guy whose book I already bought and who also has a kick-ass accent. Also: every time he asked a question or made a comment, I realized that everything I thought I knew I didn’t know at all and I had to go back to the drawing board.

Carrie Vaughn – Author of some really cool werewolf novels (among other things), philosophizer, contextualizer, and explainer – not to mention a super-nice person and it was a pleasure to get to know her. Also: she’s the first person I’ve ever met who had watched Dorkness Rising! More on that in a minute.

Marjorie Liu – Woman of spirit and grace. Unfortunately, also susceptible to altitude sickness. Still, the creative output during the course of this lady’s early career is nothing short of amazing and I have no doubt that she is likely to one day rule the world with her bookish prowess. Plus, she’s sharp, funny and holds her ground in an argument.

John Joseph Adams Dude. I love this guy. Fer serious. He’s an editor, writer, publicist, and generally made of awesome. Also: funny. I appreciate funny.

Rachel Swirsky One of my favorite writers ON EARTH. Also, someone with whom you never want to get into an argument with because she’s smarter and better informed than 99.999% of the world’s population. From now on, if I’m confused about something, I’ll ask Rachel and she’ll always know. Also, she’s a wonderful person and it was really fun to meet her.

Cecilia Tan – Another person placed under the heading of “People Smarter than Me”. Editor Circlet at Press – the press that Neil Gaiman famously called the “naughty books” of science fiction, and someone who truly gets the power of speculative fiction to transform how we understand and interpret the world around us. She’s like the Jules Vern of sexual politics.

Alice Henderson Ah, the juxtapositioning of the Light and the Dark! Author of some delightfully wicked novels – both original and those part of a larger universe (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Choose Your Own Adventure novels, for example. I mean, does a person get cooler than that? No, my friends. No they do not.) and one of the most light-filled souls I’ve ever met. So enjoyed meeting her.

Genevieve Valentine Love this woman. Millions and millions of love. First of all, if you haven’t come across her fiction (Strange Horizons, Clarksworld, Federations and like nine million other places) than you really need to. Like, right now. She’s also smart, snarky, wickedly funny and a lovely, lovely person.

Monte Cook is the most famous man ALIVE!!!! Or, at least he is to me, after we found out – through my incessant prodding, of course – that he had a bit part in Dorkness Rising! I’ll pause for a moment to let that one sink in. (!!!!!!!!!) Monte’s been writing novels and RPG stuff since forever and has won scads of awards and has a really cool book that I must purchase called The Skeptics Guide to Conspiracies. Mostly, though, he’s like the geeky big brother that I never had, and it was my great pleasure getting to know him.

Jeremy Tolbert, our elder statesman of the group as he had been in the workshop before – also he and Mike Brotherton go way back. Cool-headed and thoughtful, a terrific writer and photographer, and an entrepreneur. I like people who have made the self-employment plunge because it makes my own situation seem less insane.

Ian Randal Strock The man with the van, and yet another on our roster of editors in the group. You know, I’ve often thought that editors only exist to throw water on the positively brilliant ideas of writers and to generally crush our fragile little spirits, but I’m starting to understand that’s not true. Ian is a man of ideas: able to stare down treacherous mountain tops and sinister small-town sheriffs with grim determination and verve. Also, he can follow an astronomer’s directions and those guys think that getting something in the range of a power of ten is pretty darn close.

Bud Sparhawk Avuncular and gentle presence on my side of the room, punctuated by the occasional one liner – sharp and bright as the tip of a pin. Also has written more short stories than anyone alive as far as I can tell. I so enjoyed his company and running commentary throughout the week and even today have found myself waiting for a Bud-type comment that never comes as he is far, far away, alas.

Nicholos Wethington (that link goes to the website he writes for rather than his own – which, if it exists, I couldn’t find it. Which is a shame, because the guy is friggin brilliant) Our own Gentleman Scientist in the Edwardian sense – though without the tweed nor the pince-nez. This guy is amazing: got excited about astronomy one day and set off to learn everything possible on the subject. And then did. And now he’s building his own telescope, and will likely have a home-made rocketship in his back yard by spring. Also, a lovely person who was kind enough to share his knowledge with me on more than one occasion when I was clearly floundering.

Okay, fine. I was floundering all the time. This is why it’s good to know smart people.

Anyway, that was the group. And they were magnificent. I’ll be writing more on what we learned and its impact on me as a writer moving forward, but it was an exhausting week and an exhausting re-entry into family life, and now I need to get to bed. More tomorrow.

But while you’re all thinking about outerspacy-goodness, watch this video on the origin of the moon and be amazed.