In January 2014, this little book came out. It wasn’t a thunderous crash or a lightning bolt, but just a little ripple to those involved, a gentle reception in the world of books.
As with anthologies, they introduce you to different authors and are a great way to celebrate the short stories that we love to write. Shorts don’t need to follow the rules novels do, and sometimes a writer just needs to get the creativity out. They can end without finishing, it’s not as structured. And they often are bursting with creativity, like a powerful buttermint, starting strong but over within a few minutes. They are also great ways to get publishing credits, and that means something within the world of publishing. Simply, SHORTS Rock!
Xchyler Publishing did a lot of these anthologies in the first years, building an author talent base as well as an audience. So many of my Xchyler friends went with getting short stories in anthologies in a way to get published. I however, did the opposite.
Xchyler contracted my fantasy series in November 2012. I was already an author in their library. A lot of their anthologies had to do with Steampunk, at that time I knew next to nothing about Steampunk. Even today, if you ask me, Steampunk is still out of my depth. Then they announced a fantasy anthology. Fantasy was something I could do. I don’t remember the theme of the anthology, but it sparked a thought, “Well, I have my Frankenstein story.”
Frankenstein story doesn’t sound very fantasy, but it’s not really Frankenstein, but about Re-animation.
So, several years ago I had a friend named Matt. This is someone I worked with and trained during my day job at the Blood Bank. Matt was always the kid trying to fit in, he wasn’t shy but had a hard time connecting with people, or people understanding him, but he clung to me because I was nice and helpful and liked Depeche Mode, which he was a huge fan. He had mild Tourettes, though he didn’t like people knowing. He never wanted to be treated differently. I grew fond of him because he reminded me of my younger brother. We supported each other, and he was sure I would be the next JK Rowling.
Matt also suffered from night seizures, something we all knew. One day he came in with a huge gash on his face and he said he fell off his bed during a seizure. A few weeks before he died, Matt came to me asking for help. His seizures were getting worse and he couldn’t remember processes at work. We worked together and I coached him through some things. I did worry at that time, but he said he was fine. Two weeks later he just didn’t show up for work. Matt was gone. It was shocking.
I had known Matt had an identical twin. He often talked about his glowing brother, who working in computers and was making a fat lot of money, and how he would compare his lonely life to his amazing sibling all the time. But I only knew Matt as a single individual. People who grew up knowing them, knew them as a set, but I didn’t. At Matt’s funeral mass I met his brother and I’ve never felt so out-of-body than at the meeting. It spooked me. I saw Matt in the casket, but there was his face shaking my hand. I can’t describe it. It was like my logical brain couldn’t make sense of it. I know Matt died, but why is he standing, staring at me? I glanced at his brother several times during the mass, dwelling on the hardship of losing that other half of you. The whole situation bothered me.
Maybe he’s not dead. Maybe that was him?
That’s what my brain kept telling me. It was just a little thought, but it led me down a pathway of thought that continued the whole time I was there. I came home and wrote a quick outline of what would become Hawkweed. I called it my Frankenstein story, since it involved reanimating tissue, more importantly, 3D printing of a already programmed brain. I got really excited about this.
My first paragraph:
Jaren stood looking at his face in the casket, all the features exactly the same, the sharp nose and angled jaw—the very same features inherited from his father. Like looking in a mirror, all except for a small brown spot near the right temple, but in every other respect, identical.
I outlined it so Jaren (the brother) and Melina (the girl in-between) had their own narrative in a frozen dystopian Russia.
I decided to give it a go for NaNoWriMo and see if I could write the whole thing during that month. I intended on it becoming a full novel, even a series. I knew how I wanted to do it, but as I wrote it just became increasingly harder to do. Not just the cold and hopelessness of their situation, but it was extremely emotional and draining, and frankly, joyless. It got too hard to write at that moment in time, not long after Matt’s death. I stopped and shelved it.
It was close to two years when the anthology was announced and I thought about dusting it off. Maybe a short story. I could do that. I really liked what I had done. I liked the characters, the imagery, the frozen world, I wanted to share it. I edited it and reshaped it into the story found in this book. I’ve called it my finest work.
Melina’s Room, Petersboro
Cold, colder than usual. The frost on the window cracked near the edges on the thick panes of glass. No use in looking out at the white blizzard anymore. No one should walk in the frigid winter at this time of night, not even the soldiers. Pointless. Yet, I continued to stare.
It had been six months. Six months of cold. Not just the continual winter that blankets the world—I made it cold, like suffocating ice. I made the world colder by my existence.
I scratched a name into the glass, a name I loved. Why torture myself again? But I couldn’t help it. I took my fingernail and slowly smoothed it away until only a small square of smooth blue glass shown underneath. The hurt came back. It always returned when it was frosty like this. The memories returned, but I pushed them back. My brain shouldn’t wander there. I knew better than to dwell on my previous life.
I titled the story Hawkweed after a little resilient flower, much like a dandelion. The hawkweed doesn’t know it’s not supposed to grow where it shouldn’t, it just grows because that’s what it needs to do… it needed to live. Life continues on despite what happens to us. It’s symbolic, and I liked it. The title came organically, just like a hawkweed would.
As with many anthologies, our time is up and the rights are being released back to me. I don’t know if this will be the end of Hawkweed, but several are looking forward to reading it as a full novel. Short stories don’t need endings, and this one leaves you wanting a conclusion. In order for me to write it I need to figure out some logistics and how to tell the narrative. Big decisions like that. But I don’t see it as an end, but as a beginning, a new chapter for this story of a thousand possibilities. So, I accept it back with open arms.