Read and listen to “A Cold Glow”

The Alone in a Room with Invisible People podcast recently announced that they will be doing their second annual Halloween Special, and you know what that means!

It means that I just remembered I never bothered to post about the fact that my story “A Cold Glow” was one of the flash fiction pieces included in last year’s episode. I have a history of doing this.

Yes, that is my “handwriting.”

You can listen to it here. “A Cold Glow” plays at 24:25, but if you’re in the mood to overload on Halloween flash fiction, this episode is filled with all types of Halloween stories. Case in point: “A Cold Glow” is a sci-fi story about a kid on a space station who butts heads with the station’s computer in his quest to carve a jack-o’-lantern.

I forget how many other stories are in the podcast, but I had a lot of fun listening to a bunch of them last year while driving out to various Halloween adventures. Werewolves, witches, vampires, hauntings–they’re all present and accounted for.

The text version of the story will have a permanent home here.

We’re a month-and-a-half out from Halloween, and this post is scheduled for Friday the 13th. Works for me.

Goblins don’t buy groceries

When you cut a deal to get out of goblin jail, sometimes you end up on a secret pumpkin-snatching mission for the manipulative goblin wizard who busted you out. And it can an awkward situation when you’re with a squad of professional pumpkin-snatching goblins, and you’re just sort of… a kid.

This is the third preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book Pumpkin Goblins. The clip here is read not by me, but by my spouse (and number two fan*).

A part of this scene stemmed from writing anxiety. There was a self-flagellating voice in my head saying something like: “This story is really stupid. Why can’t you think of stories that aren’t stupid? Why would goblins snatch pumpkins from people’s doorsteps when they could just go to the store and buy a bunch of pumpkins?

Then a more helpful voice said: “Grocery stores don’t accept goblin money.”

And another helpful voice, one that sounded a bit more like a goblin, answered: “Also, we don’t have goblin money.”

I believe in brainstorming rather than waiting for inspiration to hit. When it does hit, it’s almost never out of nowhere. It happens because I’ve been thinking and asking questions, even if sometimes those questions are kind of whiny.

Here’s the transcript:

Korkor turned to Amber. “You’ll be doing my job. Keep the trick-or-treaters away while we take the pumpkins back in several trips.”
“How do I do that?”
“Shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe a bat-nexus grenade followed by a smoke shroud? Or a nice Spook’s Gambit followed by a Kirlik Maneuver?” He made an excited gesture of a swooping owl and handfuls of explosions. ”Do you have your own array of creeper-cell batteries and magic boosters, or do you need to borrow one?”
Amber said nothing in response.
“Here.” Korkor dumped a pile of pocket junk in Amber’s arms.
Torlik made an exasperated noise. “She doesn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and you know it’s not enough for a crowd.”
Amber wanted to help, though she really didn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and she hadn’t understood most of what Korkor had said. “I don’t get why you can’t just grow pumpkins yourselves. Or buy them.”
“Grow them?”
“Now?”
“Takes too long,” said the three goblins in overlapping bites of speech.
“Fine, buy them,” said Amber, suspecting that, somehow, this wouldn’t do either.
“Buy them?” With a dramatic arm thrown across his forehead, Torlik pretended to faint. “From a store?”
But Korkor’s eyes lit like jack-o-lanterns. “A store with aisles and aisles of pumpkins?”
“And a pot of stew?” Falkit added hopefully.
Amber shrugged “A grocery store.”
“Grocery stories don’t accept goblin money,” said Korkor
“Also, we don’t have goblin money,” added Torlik, turning out his pockets.
“Also, goblin money doesn’t exist.” Korkor turned to Torlik, and they nodded rapidly in unison.
There was a pause.
“Could you explain coupons?” asked Falkit.

I had been aiming to publish this on October 15, and I think it will be pushed back by just a few days. When it’s out, I’ll announce it on both this blog and my newsletter.

By the way, I just saw an in-progress version of the cover illustration as the color is being added. It’s going to look cool, and I’m excited to post it sometime next week!


*I may not have a lot of fans, but they are the most organized fans in the world: they numbered themselves.

Pumpkin Goblins: just like elves stealing toys

When an elite squad of pumpkin-snatching goblins shows up at your house, they usually make off with your pumpkins before you realize it. That way, you can blame teenagers and don’t have to consider the fact that goblins exist.

This is the second preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book, Pumpkin Goblins. And the scene I read here is one of my absolute favorites. In it, Amber finds herself face-to-face with the three goblins who tried to steal her pumpkin. One of the first pieces of this story I wrote was the bit of dialogue in which the goblins think she’s named Ember (like fires), rather than Amber (like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago). There’s a story behind that.

Originally, Amber’s name was Ember. I think I had Elfquest on the brain, but it also seemed like a cool name, one that went with jack-o-lanterns and spooky forests.

The problem with cool names?

They set off Mary Sue alerts in my head. And since Amber is definitely not a Mary Sue, I thought it would be better to give her a “normal” name. Changing one letter was an incredibly time-efficient way to do this. But it works on another level too: my best friend growing up was named Amber. We usually played outdoors and sometimes went on adventures, so I think Amber is a fitting namesake*.

Here’s the transcript:

The goblin leader took one long step so that he was directly in front of her, close enough to grab the pumpkin and run. He locked eyes with Amber, and she felt aware, in a way that she never had before, of being human. Of having fat and muscle flesh out the gaps of her skeleton where the goblin had knees and elbows and all kinds of joints poking out of his wiry frame. Of having soft human skin with peach-fuzz hair where the goblin was the almost-smooth gray-brown of a birch tree. He flashed her a wicked little grin, his teeth neatly pointed. “What’s your name?”

“Amber.”

“Ember?”

“We like embers,” said the other two, bouncing their words off each other. “Because we like fires.”

“No, Amber, like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago.”

“Oh.”

“Amber.”

“Like dead bugs.”

“That’s a lovely name for a girl.”

The goblin leader turned around to the other two and announced to them, “I don’t think she’s going to help us. She obviously doesn’t care about Halloween.”

“I care. I care more than you! You’re trying to ruin my Halloween.”

“If we don’t get enough pumpkins, everyone’s Halloween will be ruined.”

The other two jumped in. “Ruined.”

“Ruined and wrecked.”

“Wrecked and wretched.”

Amber glared at the goblins.

“Look,” said the lead goblin. “This is all aboveboard and legitimate business, and we would be glad to show you identification, if we had anything like that.”

The tall goblin with the trench coat piped in, “We’re just like elves stealing toys, only for us it’s pumpkins.”

“Elves make toys, not steal them.”

“That’s what you think. Ever lose your favorite toy at the mall, and you swear you never let it out of your hand?”

“Well, yeah, but I think I just left it at the shoe store.”

“Oh, elves and shoes, elves and shoes,” muttered the lead goblin. “You said you’re having a bad Halloween?”

Amber glanced into the lit living room window, where her brother was playing video games with Sybil. “It’s the worst Halloween ever.”

The tall one leaned into her face ominously. “And it’s going to get worse still. Not just for you. For everyone. Summer-warm air. Half-hearted tricks. Reluctantly-given treats.”

Suddenly, the third goblin, the one with the sunglasses and fingerless gloves, the one who had spoken least, jumped up off the small garden rock she had been squatting on and waved the other two goblins into a huddle. They talked rapidly for a moment in language that was both higher and lovelier than Amber had expected, then turned again to face her.
“We have decided. You may come with us to the Goblin Oak and place the pumpkin there yourself,” announced the leader.

We’re a little over two weeks from the aimed-for release of Pumpkin Goblins. In between frantic editing and formatting, having a job, and enjoying fall, I’m planning to put out at least one more of these preview scenes, and also a recipe for goblin candy.


*Apparently, “namesake” can refer to both the person one is named after, and the one who received the name. No wonder that always confused me.

That awkward moment when you’re stuck in goblin jail

You should figure that if a group of sneaky Halloween goblins gives you a map to anywhere, there’s going to be something tricky about it.

This is the first preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book Pumpkin Goblins. It’s a Halloween adventure story. In the scene I read here, my main character, Amber, finds herself in goblin jail after an incident with a goblin map.  I’ve seen other authors post audio of themselves reading their work, and I enjoyed it. This is despite the fact that I’m not patient enough to listen to an entire audio book.

Shoving aside my introverted tendencies and my Massachusetts accent*, I decided to do the same.

Here’s the transcript:

Hi, I’m Kris Bowser, the author of Pumpkin Goblins. My main character, Amber, is having the worst Halloween ever. This scene is the predicament she finds herself in after some trouble with a magic goblin map.

Amber sat in a jail cell that had been carved from an enormous pumpkin, and smelled like it. She knew she should be afraid, but couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time to mark out a face on a would-be jack-o-lantern, and that toasted pumpkin seeds would be coming out of the oven soon. The cell had bars that looked like twisted, ropy wood, but held firm like iron. Maybe she should be scared of never getting free, but pumpkin jail was at least not so boring as spending the evening watching Dean and Sybil play video games.

A soft, quick noise came from the tiny window high on the cell’s outer wall. Clinging to the window bars, forearms tight to hold himself up, was the leader of the three goblins who had come to her house. Finally, some answers.

“You!” Amber exclaimed. The goblin was the closest thing to something familiar and friendly in what felt like days, and she had a lot of questions for him. “Are you getting me out of jail?”

“Confess to nothing. Don’t mention me.”

“I don’t know your—”

“Do you have it still? Right pocket. No, other one.”

Amber fumbled around her pockets. “Halloween candy?”

She heard the thunk sound of a goblin kicking the outside of pumpkin jail in frustration.

“Where is it? Where?” His head darted frantically. “Confiscated!”

The two goblin fists released the bars, and he dropped out of sight.

Amber leapt to the window. “Wait!”

Somehow, he had already made it ten feet away. He turned back. “Don’t worry. Don’t worry, don’t tell, for Halloween’s sake. We’ll get you out.”
Then he ran off.

I also have some line art for the cover to show off. The illustrator, Justin Motta, wanted me to make sure that you know the art is still in the early stages. Because this was clearly important to him, I’ll say it again, in larger letters:

The cover art is still in the early stages.

pumpkin-goblins-lineart

Can you image how awesome and Halloweeny this is going to look when there are colors?

And larger still:

The cover art is still in the early stages.

Stay tuned for more preview scenes from Pumpkin Goblins! Halloween is coming.

 


*Honestly, my accent isn’t heavy anyway, and I’d rather have a Massachusetts accent than vocal fry, which I learned about while googling things like elocution and audio recording software. I actually tried speaking with a vocal fry after watching the videos. It’s uncomfortable.

Spirit Notes Fading is out!

Spirit Notes Fading cover

This is my book. I bet you figured that.

If it’s news to you that I have been working to put out a short collection of  short stories, that’s because I’ve been basically awful at announcing it, or telling people at all.

So let’s get that out of the way: I published Spirit Notes Fading a few days ago. Currently, it’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The book is a short collection of fantasy short stories, all fairly different, but with a few threads in common. Magic, music, journeys, and a sense of eerieness come up across the four stories in the collection. Here’s the summary:

A punk band struggles to save their show when it’s upstaged by the wail of a real banshee.

Across impassable seas and beyond lonely cities, two wayfarers journey across a vast continent.

A tired wanderer fights his impulse to run when he is hunted down with a magic photograph.

An ocean-sick miner steals a submersible to escape from the oppressive priest caste of a deep-ocean settlement.

When I say, “I published Spirit Notes Fading,” I mean that I self-published it, and I did all the work myself, except for some of the proofreading. I wrote the stories, revised them, copyedited them, designed the cover, designed the interior for both print and digital versions, and converted everything into the correct formats. There is a general idea that self-publishing is easy, and that anyone can just slap up anything with basically no work put into it at all. There’s a bit of truth to that; you can take a lot of short cuts; you can skip a lot of steps. To publish my own work with diligence, I had to level up a lot of skills. I’ve actually spent a few years working on those skills, because although I didn’t know until a few months ago that I was going to publish Spirit Notes Fading, I knew that I was going to publish some book.

I keep wondering about things I should have changed. Story-wise, edit-wise, format-wise. Did I leave too many tree branches in the cover? Is it just a mess? That kind of thing. But overall, I’m proud of the work I did, and I think I met the standard I set for myself.

However, as I said, I’ve been ridiculously inept at announcing it. “I have a book coming out!” is the sort of thing you’re supposed to announce on your blog, your newsletter, and whatever social media you use. Aside from promotion, it’s an accomplishment. Sharing accomplishments is generally considered an ok thing to do, right? As long as you’re not being showy, narcissistic, and ridiculous, like so:

“Wow, that’s a great story about your dead uncle. It reminds me of how I wrote a book.”

“As the author-publisher of the short story collection Spirit Notes Fading, I think I’d like to order a hamburger, no bun.”

“Hi, can I get a couple of scratch cards? Oooh, I can barely scratch off this silvery stuff, my hand is still so sore from all the computer work I did to publish my recent short story collection.”

But I’m so far on the introverted end of the spectrum that I feel weird even mentioning it. Even on my own website! In the past week, there were three times that I ran into people I hadn’t seen in awhile and it went kind of like:

“Hey, long time no see! What’s up with you?”
“Not much. Working. Need more hours.”
Some talk about other stuff.
“Oh, by the way, I wrote a book. That’s the kind of thing you tell people, right?”

And so this, right here? This is me telling you. I wrote a book. You can read it, if you’d like.

“Smithereens”

bloghopThe Storytime Blog Hop is back, and now slated to be a quarterly event taking place in January, April, July, and October. If you missed the blog hop back in August, definitely check it out. We had a great mix of stories. I found out about this January’s blog hop just in time to finish a story I had lying around. You can read it below, then follow the links at the bottom to check out the other participant’s stories. All stories are speculative fiction (fantasy, sci fi, horror, or any blend of those three) and all are somewhere in the range of PG-rated: no graphic sex or violence

Smithereens

A story by Kris Bowser

“That was the last time I tell someone my daughter was carried off by rockbats,” Hintasa announced to the darkened alcove. The latest noble seeking aid from Her Ladyship the Geomancer had barely left, and the thud of the closing door echoed through the stone hall.

Skiomeir stepped out and stared through her with graphite eyes. He had been a shadow’s width out of sight the entire time. Too close. “You said they need the lie.”

“It’s an embarrassment.”

“Only to you. The rest are terrified of the rockbats. Shall we invent another commoner to have been carried off?”

Hintasa crossed her arms and stood rooted in place. Unyielding as stone, she thought, then chased the thought away as a ridiculous bit of irony.

“I’ll do it this time. I never would have thought I’d have the imagination for it, but it’s been enjoyable. Let’s see… Ataminosz, age thirty-four, came with that caravan. His brother found cover in time and saw the whole thing.” As always, his speech tripped along lightly, water over brook-bottom pebbles.

Hintasa narrowed her eyes. A mother, a monarch, a shaper of stones, she had honed a gaze of disapproval to move a granite cliff face to contrition. “You’re the one who took her from me.” Anger heated her chest.

“Never mind. I should leave the fictions to you. Amazing natural talent. But you know this can’t last.”

Below Hintasa’s clenched, shaking fists, the stone floor had risen up into two stalagmites. “I’m too young for this,” she muttered.

A knock resounded through the hall, and Skiomeir leapt to the side of the throne. As Hintasa turned to face the entry, stone cracked from behind her. One of the guards strode in, her eyes flicking to the twin stalagmites. “My apologies, Lady Geomancer, if my interruption angered you.”

She sighed and held her palms level above the floor. The stalagmites calmed back into flooring as she steadied her breath. “Now, what is it?”

“Lady Otanivar requests an audience.”

Hintasa had only seconds to glare at the spot where Skiomeir had stood, and then to calm her face as she had calmed the stone, before Lady Otanivar walked in with an air of bureaucratic righteousness bolstered by requests and concerns and dull ideas for committees to contend with the scourge of the rockbats. Every time such a meeting occurred, Hintasa toyed with the idea of blurting out the truth, but always her mouth remained clamped.

Assured that her land would be protected, Lady Otanivar lay a hand on Hintasa’s arm. “And how are you doing?”

The answer came automatically. “My daughter was carried off by rockbats.”

“Yes, but how are you?”

“Busy. You’ll have to excuse me.”

As soon as the guard escorted Lady Otanivar out, Hintasa turned back to the throne, to the lurking statue that had not existed before. “Now she’s going to notice next time when there isn’t a statue in that spot.”

The statue flowed back into life and color, and it was Skiomeir who stepped toward her. “You’d be amazed, the things I’ve found out as a statue.”

“Only because you can’t read,” Hintasa snapped.

“Do you know how fitting everyone thought it was, when the Lord of Spire took a geomancer for his wife? What lady could be better to preside over barren mountains and used-up mines? Only someone who sees life in the stone itself could see it in this land.”

“Are you as prone to speeches when you’re a statue? I think you matched the hall after all.”

“Sarcasm? I am stone. But I finally figured out why I am. Out of your loneliness, you thought to create a new companion for yourself. Your husband was gone, but you see life in the stone.”

She nodded admittance, because she would say nothing out loud. If he would only leave. The day’s business was far from over.

“I think if you wanted to love me, you shouldn’t have made me from the things you hated, that you happened to have on hand: the flagstones that didn’t sit quite right, the statue of the general on the second floor landing. The smithereens that fell from the ceiling when a storm hit the Old West Tower. And I think you have no right to be angry that someone else could love me.”

***

Hintasa kneaded the rock arms of the throne while the midwife took care of things. Let her deal with the element of flesh, and Hintasa would stick to the stones.

It was Skiomeir who brought out the tiny bundle of blankets. “Here. Your grandson. Poetic, we thought, that this is the grandson of the Lord of Spire.”

Graphite eyes blinked sleepily, unaware of the nine months of rockbat casualties that had been invented to conceal his entry into the world.

“I had an idea for pair of Suong gypsies, another caravan. But you can’t keep it up for the rest of his life.”

Hintasa stroked his tiny forehead. “You had better hope he doesn’t look like the Old West Tower when he grows up.”

***

As the midwife prepared to leave, Hintasa pulled her out into a corridor. “I want to thank you for helping my daughter through this. You know she’s had a tough time of it these last few months.”

“Yes, I had heard—”

“She was carried off by rockbats. In her condition. Eventually, I went to the mountains myself and fought them off.” Hintasa paced the corridor, and a stone punched out of the wall as she made a triumphant fist. “There’s no need to worry about the rockbats anymore. You can tell that to anyone who asks.”


And now check out the other stories!

Justine Ohlrich Two Deaths on My Birthday
Rabia Gale House Bound
Juneta Key Consequence
Mel Corbett If It’s Not Yours
Elizabeth McCleary Untitled
Katharina Gerlach Scars
Karen Lynn My Story
Angela Woodridge Uninvited Guests
Barbara Lund New Space
Kris Bowser Smithereens