The submission period for the anthology is still open, and you can read more about it here.
I'm happy to announce I'll have a story in the forthcoming anthology Ghosts on Drugs, edited by Hy Bender. The anthology has an outrageous thematic concept that freed me to write a story that is as insane as I could make it. Can't talk much about it, except to say it's called "The Ash Heads; or, a Gram of Pure Humanity."
The submission period for the anthology is still open, and you can read more about it here.
Lord Byron's Prophecy, which was published in October, has been named to Kirkus's Best of 2015 for Indie Fiction. A pleasant surprise!
I've been remiss not to mention this anthology, which I'm very happy to participate in. I contributed a story called "Riveter" which I believe to be one of the best tales I've ever done.
Publisher's Weekly reviewed the anthology a few weeks ago. The review did make a little mention of the story:
Sean Eads’s “Riveter” is a truly unexpected take on Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, here envisioned as ruthless but sympathetic.
"Truly unexpected" is a good thing, right? Right?
The anthology comes out in August. Buy yourself a copy or five.
The first review of Lord Byron's Prophecy has arrived. This is from Publisher's Weekly:
Events come together a little too quickly at the novel’s end, but readers will be engrossed by Eads’s skillful weaving of the past and present through the troubled psychology of sympathetic, fully human characters.
Jason Rennie, the publisher of Sci Phi Journal, wrote me today to say he'd like to take "Ghostwritten" for a forthcoming issue. I'm naturally excited by the story acceptance, but I'm more excited just by the existence of this publication. Their first three issues are already available.
I'm excited to announce my appearance in this upcoming anthology. My story is called "Lost Balls." I really enjoy golf, and I've wanted to write a golf-themed horror story. I tried once, about 5 years ago, and it turned into a fairly boring novella that was basically The Hitcher set on a golf course. "Lost Balls" is by far more successful. Be on the lookout for it later in 2015.
Now this is an interesting magazine. I've just pitched them a story that was almost-but-not-quite taken by Asimov's, whose editor Sheila Bradbury wrote to say that she thought the story was "moving and beautiful," but a little too slow paced and philosophical. And now here's a new magazine that specifically wants philosophical science fiction.
I've got my fingers crossed. The story is called "Ghostwritten," and deals with the nature of human creativity. I sort of wrote it as a cross between Kafka and Poul Anderson's novel Brainwave. Set in a far-flung future where humanity seems to be experiencing a 300-year long collective writer's block, a theory has emerged that all human creativity actually originates from a signal sent by aliens. Now that signal has stopped, and an expeditionary force is sent to the planet that has been pinpointed as the signal's origin point.
I play a lot with the idea of Greek muses in the story. I also tried to do some interesting thematic stuff with gender in the story. For instance, the crew of the expeditionary ship is all male, while the name of the planet is Mnemosyne, who was the mother of the Muses in mythology. In a sense, the planet is the story's only "woman."
It'll be interesting to see if they end up buying it. The story is probably philosophical enough, but it's plot definitely hinges on a suspension of disbelief that just might not be acceptable. That's always the dilemma for a writer like me who enjoys a lot of absurdity in his fiction. Regardless, do take a look at what this neat new magazine is offering.
I was asked recently to participate in a blog tour by Grey Matter Press to promote their latest anthology, Equilibrium Overturned. Since the anthology contains my short story, "The Alamo Incident," I was very happy to be involved.
Then I learned they wanted the writers to meditate on the nature of evil. And I thought, What can I possibly say about the topic of evil that hasn't been said hundreds of times before?
Back in high school, I was taught to begin essays with a quote, since it’s a good and simple way to get your audience’s attention. So when asked to write about the nature of evil, I went searching for something suitably impressive—a line or two from, say, Kierkegaard to overawe you and make you more receptive to my arguments.
After reviewing several hundred entries about evil in various quotation dictionaries, I decided that the last line in Bruce Springsteen’s song “Nebraska” was the best choice, though it doesn’t specifically reference the word evil at all. “Nebraska” is a brief recounting of the 1950s murder spree by Charles Starkweather, as reminisced by Starkweather himself. It concludes with Starkweather offering an explanation about why he committed his heinous deeds (and seduced a young girl into enthusiastically assisting him):
“Well sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.”
Who needs help from Kierkegaard or Nietzche when you can go straight to The Boss?
I think meanness is closely related to evil, and I think innate meanness is what theologians like to dress up as mankind’s fallen nature. As you might suppose, I do not subscribe to supernatural origins of evil any more than I believe I get short story ideas from Muses.
Meanness some will argue is inferior in both terminology and concept, a feeble, solitary plink on the far right side of the piano keyboard, a note hopelessly outclassed by evil’s thunderous electric guitar solo. A brother pulling his sister’s hair is being mean. Admittedly very few would label such an act evil. But let’s withhold judgment for now.
Meanness itself has an interesting etymology. In its earliest incarnation, around 1350, it actually meant communion and fellowship. In Chaucer’s time, meanness meant that you were neighborly. But that changed over the next two hundred years, and by 1550 meanness meant weakness and inferiority, particularly in matters of income. Being mean wasn’t too dissimilar from being poor, and of course poverty tends to inspire jealousy and envy. The Bible itself says the love of money is the root of all evil. By the logic of a much older linguistic construction, then, meanness might be linked more closely to evil than we ever realized.
But let’s return the Oxford English Dictionary to the shelf and talk about meanness as we typically think of it today. Everyone’s got a mean streak in them, and I think evil happens when that streak comes to the forefront and dominates, however briefly, your thoughts and deeds. I’ll use an example of my own mean streak, since I happen to be an authority on it. I work as a reference librarian, which puts me in contact with “the public” all the time. “The public” can try a person’s patience like no other. For example, once I had to deal repeatedly with a very elderly Japanese man who kept asking me the same questions over and over again, day after day for weeks at a time. I reached the point where I truly dreaded seeing him. He was harmless enough, and quite nice, but he pestered me and wore out my patience to the point where my mean streak came to the forefront and I looked at him and thought: We dropped two atomic bombs on your country, and somehow we still missed you.
As soon as I thought this, I knew I’d just reached a new personal low. While I hadn’t assaulted him or even said anything that might indicate my disturbing feelings at that moment, I was still basically wishing the old man dead, and using the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as grist for a nasty sarcastic quip. Pretty mean of me—and pretty damn evil when it comes right down to it. Of course, thinking of a bad act and actually performing one are separate issues, unless you happen to hold to the Confiteor and believe a sin in thought is equal to a sin in deed. I don’t believe that, but I’m weary of what evils meanness can eventually empower a person to commit. If meanness goes indulged for too long, the thought can become the deed.
Christianity has always seemed to want to cover up meanness in order to promote the more opaque concept of sin. Christ himself during his crucifixion looks down at the soldiers gambling for his clothes and says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But isn’t that bullshit? Those Roman soldiers knew exactly what they were doing. They were indulging in callous meanness while three men suffered a few feet over their heads. They weren’t naïfs any more than, more recently, Lynddie England and her commanding officers were when they flashed a thumb’s up sign while posing for photographs before a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners.
The worst part of meanness, then, is that it’s done in the full possession of your faculties. Indulging your meanness isn’t the same as going insane. When surveillance cameras showed CEO Des Hague suddenly and repeatedly kicking a puppy for no reason, we saw meanness in action—and evil. Hague claimed the dog upset him and he lost control of his emotional response—but he still knew exactly what he was doing.
Yes, there is indeed a meanness in this world.
How does all this relate to my story “The Alamo Incident”? Let me first say that when I wrote the story, I wasn’t remotely thinking about the concept of evil. I was primarily interested in creating a hero who belonged to the pulp tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The creatures that attack the Alamo might be malevolent, or that might simply be the interpretation of the narrator, Timaeus Shields.
The real evil in “The Alamo Incident” is President Jackson, who manipulates and psychologically bullies the narrator into doing his bidding. There are several historical people my imagination loves to inhabit—Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde come to mind—because the sheer uniqueness of their personalities are a challenge and a delight to recreate. I found Andrew Jackson to be one of them. Like him or hate him, even a cursory glance at his biography will show he was quite the badass, fearless and domineering, anxious to test the force of his will against almost anything. These traits are exhilarating to write about but dangerous to worship, especially when dealing with a man who also committed many despicable deeds.
The key to understanding Jackson’s character in “The Alamo Incident” is his reaction to the story Timaeus narrates to him to illustrate the question of God’s existence. In the story, a shapeshifting shaman turns into a wolf to kidnap babies, but returns to human form in order to eat them. Timaeus manages to kill the shaman and save a baby, only to find its parents have killed themselves in grief. Jackson says, “This is a bitterness I can taste!” It’s an over-the-top line, and one that makes even the loyal Shields question what sort of man the President is. The answer, of course, is that he’s not a very nice one at all. He’s mean and amoral, something Timaeus recognizes for himself—and about himself—in the story’s conclusion.
I got the artwork today for my next novel, which is called Lord Byron's Prophecy. It's coming out in 2015 from Lethe Press, the same publishers of The Survivors. I don't know how LPB's will be received, but it's the manuscript that's dearest to my heart, and it's quite long for me at 110,000 words (though I'm sure edits will cut it down a bit). After I read Michael Cunningham's The Hours, I realized how much I enjoyed the structure of the three characters' parallel lives and their union through a single work of art. I decided to try that structure myself. LBP is about the writing of Byron's apocalyptic poem "Darkness," a powerful, bleak work that describes humanity's descent into chaos when the sun extinguishes. In LBP, Byron is haunted by the growing notion the poem might be prophetic. Meanwhile, in the present, an aging literary professor haunted by his past and experiencing dementia begins to see the same visions as Byron, and his troubled son reaches manhood in a world where the prophecy might finally be coming true.
Sean Eads is a writer living in Denver, CO. Originally from Kentucky, he works as a reference librarian.