(as referenced in “Pale as the Noonday Sun”, “Sanguine”, Aqua Equal”, “Edge of the World”, and other short stories set in the SF Fireverse of Jonathan Shipley)
As futuristic humans of Terra moved out into space, they immediately categorized known space as Terran or Outsector — very much an “us vs. them” divide. Terrans during that colonial expansion tended to be brash and trigger-happy, and border wars with non-human cultures followed. The Outsector label became more precise, differentiating cultures. One of the updated labels was “Saurian Space” that lumped together a range of saurian, reptilian, and amphibian cultures.
The chief characteristic of these cultures from a human perspective was that they were ancient. Sentient saurians developed tens of thousands of years before sentient mammalians, and their cultures reflect that age difference. In ancient times, two great saurian empires — the militaristic Zaradon and the tech/trade-oriented Xcath — controlled vast territories within the Milky Way. When saurians refer to ancient happenings, they usually express it as “ere the Fall of Zaradon.” But those empires ended abruptly. And here we need to access the semi-mythical lore of the Dragonlords.
All saurian cultures share some common imagery. The Wan Iguana is the universal symbol of Death, and Dragonlord is the universal symbol of Wrath and Power. But while the Wan Iguana is clearly a metaphor, the Dragonlords are historical facts. In their wrath many thousands of years ago, they obliterated the vast empire of Zaradon and threw down the scientific advances of Xcath. That event so scarred the racial memory of saurians that even the mention of the word “Dragonlord” causes a panic reaction. The one institution most impacted by this reaction is slavery. For several decades, the border wars of the expanding human colonies supplied a steady stream of human slaves for saurian markets, both as menials and as edible delicacies. All of this officially halted when the last Dragonlord through his Voice decreed all forms of human slavery at an end. Unofficially, however, human slaves were still traded on the black market, particularly by those races lacking a racial memory of the Fall of Zaradon.
This tension between official and unofficial positions drives the plots of several of the stories that take place in Saurian Space.
Back in March of 219, when I started writing “The Tripper of Aberdack,” a story about time tripping and marijuana, I could tell it would be an extra-long short story, but I liked the characters, so it was fine to spend some time with them. Then along came the anthology Classics Remixed from Left Hand Publishers that wanted fractured re-tellings of well-known tales. I thought, “Why not?” and sent my protagonist, a high school varsity pitcher from Montana, on a cyclone-driven bus trip to Oz. And because it was Oz, I added in a talking German shepherd as the team mascot. The resulting story, “Ding Dong the Pitch is Deadly” (he kills the Witch of the West with a fastball),” sold quickly and I discovered that a talking German shepherd was exactly what my original short story needed. So I kept writing . . . and writing. Now in April of 2020, the Aberdack tale has passed 60,000 words and is still not finished, though the end of the time-hopping is in sight. And suddenly I have a novel. I’m pleased — don’t get me wrong — but it’s also odd to have a novel spring to life without permission. But you know how it is with high school kids these days — easier to ask forgiveness afterwards than permission before. No wait — that’s everybody.
Looking over my list of publications in 2018, I am struck that four out of seven are reprints. Now reprints are great — a second (or sometimes third) sale of a published story ranks up there with royalties as the best passive income ever — but when I’m selling primarily reprints, it makes me wonder if my production of new ideas is down. In the particular case of 2018, I think the reason is Pole to Pole Publishing and the ramping up of their Re-Imagined Series, which aggressively publishes reprints. I sold three stories to them this past year. It is also hard not to wonder if something was off this last year because the number of overall publications was dramatically down. But again, there’s a context. The numbers are down because the previous year had the advantage of bringing to print many of the stories that had been sold during record-breaking 2016 when editors bought twenty-three of my tales. And now, as I look forward to 2019, I can be pleased that one story has already made it to print this January and anticipate more to come.
As we enter 2017, I have to ponder the literary strangeness of 2016 . . . but good strangeness. All told, I sold 23 works of short fiction last year. This compares with my previous record of10 sales. And I have no clue why. If I had submitted twice as many stories to the editorial world, there would be some sort of correlation. But no, I submitted 90 times in 2016, compared with 140 submissions in 2015. Yet the good news kept flowing in during the year. Moreover, 2016 will also be the gift that keeps on giving. Only12 of the 23 have come out in print during this past calendar year — that’s 11 more yet to appear. As a recap, here’s the list 2016’s publications:
- Sweet Dreams (December 17, 2016) Crossroads in the Dark 2: Urban Legends, Burning Willow Press, LLC
- Rude Awakening (December 16, 2016) After the Happily Ever After: a Collection of Fractured Fairy Tales, Transmundane Press, LLC
- Tears of a Dead God (November 2, 2016) Sword and Sorceress Volume 31, Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Trust
- Phantoms of the Opera (September 25, 2016) Stories from the Near Future, Darkhouse Books
- Greatcloak (August 15, 2016) Visions V: Milky Way, Lillicat Publishers
- Love and Oil (August 13, 2016) Shadows in Salem: Wicked Tales from the Witch City, FunDead Publications
- Scow of Destiny (June 26, 2016) InfectiveInk, online magazine
- Something Wicker This Way Comes (June 9, 2016) Strange Mysteries 7, Whortleberry Press
- Lab Rat (May 17, 2016) What Went Wrong?, Lit Select
- Between Two Heartbeats (May 15, 2016) Hyperpowers (Third Flatiron Anthologies), Third Flatiron Publishing
- Whisper (April 29, 2016) Visions IV: Space Between Stars, Lillicat Publishers
- Pale as the Noonday Sun (January 11, 2016) The Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, vol. 1, Altair Australia Pty Ltd
Yes, wicked tales from the witch city, also known as Salem, Massachusetts. This anthology, Shadows in Salem: Wicked Tales From the Witch City, features stories of different genres and time periods set in Salem. My story, “Love and Oil,” is a tale of a house museum on Chestnut Street that adds a haunted portrait to its collection — a portrait with issues with the other portraits on display. As an old house person who collects antique portraits and has often docented historic tours, I was basically channeling myself as I wrote this story. It was fun to write and it’s great seeing it in print. Shadows in Salem can found on Amazon and other booksellers.
My futuristic science fiction story “Scow of Destiny” has been posted on the June “End of the World” issue of online magazine InfectiveInk. As you might guess, this story is about the end of the world, or at least the end of a galaxy-spanning star empire. We see that the mighty fall, but the little people go on. In this case, the little person is a garbage collector — as in garbage scow. The word “scow” caused discussion among early readers of the story, a number of whom hadn’t encountered the word before. So what do you think about scows? You can read “Scow of Destiny” free online at http://infectiveink.com/?p=2363.
Strange Mysteries #7 from Whortleberry Press has hit the digital bookstores, and of course I mention this because I have a story in this anthology. The title is — wait for it — “Something Wicker This Way Comes” and is the tale of a potentially cursed wicker plant stand. I say “potentially” because the job of investigators Justin Tyme and Marianna Trench is to figure out the weirdness that accompanies this piece of furniture. This is one of three haunted antiques stories I’ve written with the same investigative characters who live in Asheville, NC, next to the Biltmore estate. So if you like “Something Wicker” (see it here), you may also like the already published “Up On the Housetops Gargoyle Paws” in Strangely Funny II (see it here) and”Tearcatcher” in Strange Mysteries #6 (see it here).
To quote the Amazon blurb: “Everyone’s had THAT day—the one where a spell went south, a glitch ate some code in the doomsday device, and aliens are on the move eat your brains.” This is the theme of the anthology What Went Wrong? My story, “Lab Rat,” follows the an atypical day in the life of an assistant to a modern mad scientist. As events spin out of control, she has to ask herself, “Maybe I have the wrong job.” Truer words were never spoken What Went Wrong can be found at https://www.amazon.com/What-Went-Wrong-Jan-Flynn-ebook/dp/B01FUY9A3S?ie= UTF8&*Version*= 1&*entries*=0.
Also, in the context of bestselling Amazon authors, I broke the Top Ten . . . well, ten-thousand. On June 3, I was up to #6,134, which is an all-time high for the years I’ve been an Amazon Author. But two days later on June 5, I was down #79,733, which only goes to show that Fate is fickle (or in this case, book buyers).
My May was enlivened with three more sales. The first story was my annual submission to Sword and Sorceress, which is on volume 31. This is always a target of my literary year, and I have been included in the past six volumes. But before that, I was rejected for twenty years running, so I never take Sword and Sorceress for granted. The story, “Tears of a Dead God,” is my fifth tale of Jenna the exorcist who lives in a haunted kingdom with much demand for her services. The five stories together are almost half a novel’s worth of words, and I plan some day to assemble them into an aggregate novel.
Story #2 was also to a familiar publisher. Whortleberry Press puts out a number of anthologies each year, and I have been included in five of them in the past. This May, the anthology was Strange Mysteries #7, and the story was “Something Wicker This Way Comes.” This is the third “cursed antiques” story to sell and like the exorcist tales, these may eventually end up as an aggregate novel.
Then there was the third story, a completely different situation. “Love and Oil” with its haunted portrait will appear in Shadows in Salem, an anthology of spooky stories set in Salem. This sale was the tiebreaker. Last year I sold ten stories, an all-time record for me. This year has been even more active, and I sold ten in the first half of the year. “Love and Oil” breaks the tie and sets a new all-time record with eleven sales for the year. And there’s still another six months left.
Hyperpowers from Third Flatiron Anthologies is out and receiving good reviews. It’s a science fiction collection, specifically in the space opera subgenre that concentrates on the rise and fall of star empires with all the attendant ramifications. My story in the anthology is “Between Two Heartbeats,” a tale about smugglers caught in the broad political currents of conspiracy and regime change. Even though the characters are new, one piece of apparel — the powerful Greatcloak — has appeared in several other stories about this same star empire. “Between Two Heartbeats” can be found here on Amazon.