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Sunday, June 21, 2015

EDITOR INTERVIEW: George Wells of 'Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry' Ponders Submissions and a New Publication

Short fiction publisher Empire & Great Jones has grown into a three-tentacled monster with their newest line Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. Zetetic is a word with Greek roots and means really awesome publication . . . er, something. This line of short fiction, like E&GJ’s other lines, is semi-pro ($.02/word, or higher, depending on how their Patreon campaign goes) and is generally open to submissions.


Unlike sister journals Spark and Ember, Zetetic publishes their stories online, where all can bask in their glorious glory! And I’m not just saying that. With stories from Stone Showers, Dino Laserbeam, and Clive Tern, it really is pretty glorious. The fiction is short, the fiction is odd, the fiction is memorable. 

Check out their June issue here.


With us today is George Wells, managing editor of Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. He’s here to tell us about the journal, what they look for in submissions, and the best book to hold close as the apocalypse of the written word approaches.

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Zetetic’s homepage states that We want to create a space where readers can find unique writing that they can connect to, that will make them say, “This was quite unusual, but I loved it.” Can you offer a specific example of a writer or work (outside Zetetic) that fits the bill? What, to you, is something that is weird and wonderful?

Kurt Vonnegut is an early example.  My senior English teacher in high-school had a book rack of stuff that he liked but wasn’t part of the curriculum and we were allowed to borrow those from him.  I read Slaughterhouse Five overnight and came back the next day a bit irritated with Mr. Veatch for not including that on the curriculum instead of When the Legends Die, the book we were working through at the time.  He listened to my rant, expressed his delight at my appreciation of the book, but informed me that the school board would never let him do that. 

Despite the fact that Vonnegut is still such a popular author, there’s something so odd about the way he wrote that I find his popularity a bit surprising—but encouraging. 

I also read In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, and remember being entranced by this world that didn’t make any sense but somehow did.

Life after God by Douglas Coupland is another example.  It’s a novel told in short stories and vignettes and accompanied by simple drawings.  I’ll admit that I even tried to write in that style, failed miserably, but ended up with something completely different and unusual for me, so maybe I got the headspace right, at least.

And I did enjoy When the Legends Die, too, by the way.


What sets Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry apart from other publishers?

We’re looking for unusual writing, but we want to reach readers, not just other writers—although we do hope they like us, too.  We even point this out in our mission statement: Many markets are so focused on finding daring new forms and unusual voices that they deliberately eschew storytelling, which leads to venues aimed more at writers than at the average reader. We don’t just want writers impressing other writers with their nifty experiments; we want the general reading public to say what we do when we find that one piece: “This was quite unusual, but I loved it.”


Are there any story ideas/themes/styles that you’re tired of seeing come through the slush? Any that you wish would come through?

Oh, goody!  I get to shake my cane at the clouds!

I don’t like poems without titles.  It strikes me as pretentious, like the poet is saying, “My words are so clear and deep that a title would only dirty them.”  It’s not that hard to come up with a title; take two or three words from the poem or crib Shakespeare.

Writing about writing = Blecch! I almost universally hate Ars Poetica and Meta-Fiction.  The pain of the writer’s journey is fine for blogs and forums, but beyond that, it’s simply not that interesting to the average reader.

I would love to see more of what we have so far.  New ways of expressing ideas that are a bit off kilter but still accessible. 


Every new business, no matter how well planned, hits unexpected speed bumps along the way. What unseen challenges did you face when starting Zetetic?

Technical issues have been the biggest.  Brian Lewis got me set up with the site, fixes all the big things, and gives me guidance, but I’ve had to learn a lot about how things work, since he’s already got so much on his plate.  What you see right now is mostly his doing and I’m taking on more, but slowly.

We had also hoped to see more reader donations. We pay our contributors, and readers are encouraged to donate directly to the author or poet on the page, but we’ve received exactly one one-dollar donation in almost three months.  That’s a bit disheartening.  We’re writers, too.  We want writers to make lots of money.

The other thing that concerns me is traffic.  I’m surprised at how low it is on some pieces, and it seems that some writers don’t realize how much work they have to do to promote their own writing.  We can only do so much.


How long is the lifespan of a submission from the time it is submitted until you send that acceptance/rejection email, and what kind of process does it go through?

Between a couple of days and about a month.  On the one hand, we don’t give feedback, so that speeds up the process, but on the other, we’re sharing readers with Spark and Ember—who do offer feedback—so I have to give those queues priority.  So when readers have time, they jump over to the Zetetic queue to read and vote on a few pieces.  I then take a look at what we have when the votes are positive or negative.  If I’m not in total agreement, I might take it to our online meeting room and ask for comments from the readers or else discuss it directly with Brian if I really like the piece but everybody else voted no.  On rare occasions, I hand-pick before it even gets votes if I’m just that sure of it.

However, we’re still new, so we’re not drowning in submissions, and since the acceptance rate is low for any magazine, I’m stilling culling some from the Spark and Ember queues, and Brian has sent me several pieces himself.


Okay, the apocalypse is upon us! It’s not zombies or nukes or nuclear zombies. It’s an apocalypse of the written word. Every book, digital and print, is gone. Like a Twilight Zone episode. What one book do you guard with your life as the book thieves storm your house?

This is going to sound odd coming from a writer, reader, and editor of fiction, but it would have to be For the Time Being, by Annie Dillard.  It’s a collection of thoughts about existence and spirituality based around sand, birth defects, religious writings, and other seemingly random topics that delights me every time I read it—and that’s about six times now.  It’s quite unusual, but I love it!


What's in store for 2015 and beyond?

More money for our writers and more writing.  We’ve started a Patreon campaign with goals for paying our writers 4¢ per word and increasing frequency of publications.  Right now we pay 2¢ per word and publish twice a week, but we need to aim higher.  Writers deserve to be paid a decent rate and we don’t want to resort to selling advertising space on our site.

We want to pay writers more so that readers get better and better stories, too. It’s amplifying—readers pay the writers better, we continue to attract great unusual pieces, readers get more cool stuff to read, so they want to pay the writers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

BIG NEWS, LITTLE NEWS: Updates from The Land of Imagination

Things are happening!

2015 has been a good year thus far (as I expect the rest of it to be). I've had some work published, and that's exciting and great and all that, but that's The Little News and nothing compared to The Big News. Which is: My wonderfully wonderful wife is pregnant! Certainly not the first Hemphill to be born, but the first to us, and I couldn't be more excited! We have names in mind--strong, honest, awesome names--names that will ensure our child is the smartest, coolest, most loved being to ever walk the planet--but for now we're calling him/her Baby H. The due date is in October and, oddly enough, it happens to land on the 26th, which is my birthday! Whoop!

Picture Courtesy of Karlee Hemphill, aka Mama H

Now, for The Little News. As I say, Things are happening!

Daily Science Fiction published a flash fiction story of mine titled Fields (Lords of Fate). This one is a magic realism/pseudo-fantasy story depicting a bloody battle from an unusual POV. It's short and punchy and a proud moment for me. I'm not really a science fiction author, I'm more horror and magic realism, but DSF is one of my favorite publications and I've been set on tricking convincing them to accept one of my stories. It also puts me 2/3 of the way toward that SFWA membership.

Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things dropped their inaugural issue last month and it includes a reprinted horror novella that was originally published in their sister publication Spark: A Creative Anthology. While Spark is the adult line of fiction, Ember is for youth and young adult audiences. I'm especially happy to be a part of this project because Ember is dedicated to reaching young readers and instilling in them a strong love for story. Not only that, they encourage young readers to write and submit their own work for future issues! 

My contributor copies arrived today and they are flippin gorgeous.

Tales to Terrify re-released an oldie-but-goodie of mine in audio. I wrote Cheating the Shroud in 2011 as an homage to Philip K. Dick. It's a story about a head named Harold. Confused? You betcha. Better listen to the story so you know what's going on. It's also available through iTunes. And man, their timing couldn't be better. This news article about a real-life Harold the Head was released the same day.

And lastly, Rocky Mountain Revival, a local podcast here in Colorado, released The Homecoming in audio. This is a literary short story that's infused with a kind-of, sort-of sci-fi element. It's hard to describe. Let's call it magic-science-realism. You know what, you better just check that one out for yourself, too. Summing up my own work is strangely difficult. Harder than actually writing the stories.

More is on the horizon. More is always on the horizon. Some things are accepted and pending publication, like my story Sun Melody: A Plagiarized Life, which is due to appear in Space and Time at some point, and others are on wait lists or hopefully beaming from the murky depths of slush piles around the fiction world. But the biggest and best thing on the horizon is still Baby H!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

8 TIPS EVERY NEW WRITER SHOULD CONSIDER

I've been doing this for some years now - writing and freelance editing, I mean - and I still sometimes feel as if I'm poking and prodding my way through the darkness that is publishing. It's exciting, it's frustrating, it's probably proof that I'm a masochist. But, I will say, it's easier than it was when I started out. Much easier. Because through poking and prodding, I've learned some stuff. The dark world of publishing is crowded. There are . . . things hidden out there. Sometimes you poke these things, and sometimes they're good things that want to publish your manuscript. But sometimes you poke a monster. You can't see it, but you smell its hot breath bearing down on you, for this monster is a giant.

So I figured some fellow stumbler-through-the-dark might appreciate it if I stick a red flashing light on the monsters I've awoken over the years. Not rules for new writers, but things they might want to consider, monsters they may want to watch for.

And here they are, in a handy-dandy 8-point list!

1)  WRITING IS ART AND ART IS HARD

My wife and I were recently driving through Denver when she said to me, "I don't get these sculptures scattered around the city. It's just random junk thrown together. Makes me feel like I could quit my job and become a sculptor."

I used to hold the same opinion about most modern art. "It's just paint splattered on a canvas."

Except it isn't. It's purposeful; there is technique. What my wife and I weren't 'getting' is that an artist spends years, even decades, learning a craft. They know that strategically placing a certain color in a certain position draws the eye in a certain direction. The artist, in essence, manipulates the viewer without the viewer being aware that he or she is being manipulated. You know you love Picasso, but you might not know why beyond the vague "I think his pictures are pretty." Lots of pictures are pretty. But why is Picasso's work prettier than, say, Joe-Blow Paintbrush? Because Picasso knows things about his craft that the average person doesn't. The same applies to modern writers.

Too often, I and other people have thought, this is what I love, and love is never hard.

Is that a really big halo or is your head in the clouds? Art is hard. It's very, very hard. If it wasn't, nobody would care about it. Art's value lies in exclusivity, either through specialized knowledge or a talent that must be developed over long periods of time. Face facts: You aren't J.K. Rowling, there's a ton of work ahead of you, your first (and second and third) story is going to suck, and rejection is going to become a close personal friend. Nobody picks up a basketball for the first time and joins the NBA. Writing is no different.

You are literally competing with the entire English speaking world and then some. Publishers receive thousands of submissions a year from every English speaking country in the world. They also receive translations of authors who don't speak English. Competition is fierce, my friend. It's probably the biggest monster roaming the dark.

But that's okay; that's how it should be. The key is to mentally prepare yourself. This is a marathon, not a casual jog through the park. Get ready.

2)  LEARNING THE TANGO BEFORE THE TWO-STEP

Forget marketing, forget learning the publishing world, writing for a specific audience, making money, a career, or anything else that isn't specifically aimed at writing a fantastic story. It's easy to get caught up in the accouterment of the writing world and to get distracted from actually being a writer. Worry about mastering the basics of writing. Then worry about mastering the basics of storytelling. Leave the other stuff for last. 

Noah Lukeman puts it well in his book The First Five Pages (Fireside, 2000):
"Many writers spend the majority of their time devising their plot. What they don't seem to understand is that if their execution - if their prose - isn't up to par, their plot will never even be considered."

3)  RESIST INSTANT GRATIFICATION . . .

. . . if your goal is to build a career out of writing.

As I said above, writing is hard. So when I started out, I was looking for some kind of affirmation that, despite this fact, I was good at it. For that, I looked to getting short stories published. I had written maybe two or three pieces of fiction in my life before I submitted a story called Control to a webzine contest. And it won. 1st place. Whoooooo-hooooooo. Time to quit my job!

Only . . . no.

Winning a writing contest held by a website that very few people read is not a huge victory; it's a small one. It gave me confidence out the wahzoo. Which motivated me to write more.

So far so good.

But I didn't get the whole time-to-develop thing. Control is, if I'm being honest, fun but kind of horrible. It's amateurish. And, thank you Internet, it is forever 'out there'.  It's featured on a defunct (but still active) website, the owner of which left no contact info, and someone researching me can find it. Something I wrote long before I figured out how little I knew is forever representing me as a writer now. Because a reader may not make the distinction. Let's say someone reads my current work (a reader, but more likely a publisher I'm querying for a new novel idea) and decides to find more of my stuff. If they hit Control, expecting to find something similar to what they just read, they will be disappointed.

Publications stick with you. Getting a publication feels great, but it's a feeling that will fade, and might even mutate into regret, given enough time. Don't be afraid to stick a story in the trunk. Don't be afraid to write the next one, and the next one. Send it to some top tier publishers if you think it worthy (at least give your story the benefit of the doubt by working from the top down), but consider this: if you're just starting out, a rejection from Shimmer Magazine can be better for your career than an acceptance from WeHaveFifteenReaders.com.

Not that teeny-tiny publishers don't have their place. This isn't a rule (Hulk smash rules!), but rather, as the title suggests, something to consider. Some of them produce great content. Some of them nurture and guide young writers. And I'm forever grateful to the guy who thought Control was good enough to pay me for it. Not everyone writes stories with a career in mind. Some people just want a place to display their work, and that's all gravy, baby.

4)  PAY TO PLAY PUBLISHING

There are six gazillion publishers out there. Most don't pay. These are often called FTL (for the love) markets, and generally have very few readers. These are whatever. Some are good, most are somewhere between dismayingly horrible and only-okay, and they often fall into the instant gratification/a place to display your work for friends and family to read category.

But then there are shared profit publishers. Mostly found in short fiction, these publishers promise to pay you X% of the profits from the sale of your work. No advances, no guarantees. But it sounds good. The word royalties comes into play, and suddenly I'm picturing monthly checks from my publisher. In my head, sales are good, because I'm gonna market it like crazy, and so is everyone else associated with this project.

Except this: Publishers do this because they are unsure of their own product, what their own involvement will be, and if they can actually find someone to shell out $18 for a small press book, possibly littered with inexperienced authors, when that person can buy a similar book with proven authors for $15. This leads to publishers marketing to their own authors more than the general public,  with a goal of pushing overpriced contributor copies onto the very people the profits are supposed to benefit: the writers. Not a great sign in my opinion. It reminds me of pyramid schemes, or Mary Kay, forcing 'employees' to push products on friends and family, exploiting personal relationships as a sales technique. I've heard of authors spending a lot more money on buying contributor copies than they earned in royalties, indicating that the publisher is dependent on selling to their authors.

In my experience (I participated in 2 such payment structures early on), the result is MAYBE one royalty check for MAYBE ten dollars, but more likely nothing. Remember, it's profit sharing. That means that the publisher first recoups their investment, which can include paying an editor/owner salary. It's the money they make after that is paid, in small percentage, to the author.

Now, this is more along the lines of information than warning. You might not get paid, or you might. Just be aware that what you do is work. Love it or hate it, it is work and it is valuable. Don't give it away to publishers who have little faith in their own products.

As a general hack for researching potential publishers:
Look for investments in advertising, website, previous products, and guaranteed payments/advances to authors - these are signs that someone is invested, possibly heavily, into ensuring your words reach readers. Being paid isn't simply about making money. It's about an indication that the publisher can actually fulfill a purpose: getting your words into the hands of real people.

5)  ART & MAKING MONEY: The Illogical Taboo

Sunday, August 3, 2014

EDITOR INTERVIEW: Dino Laserbeam of Freeze Frame Fiction Discusses Publishing and the Art of Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction - if you don't know what that is, I'll tell you: to the reader, flash fiction is a short-short story that can be read in under five minutes. Not just a scene, but an entire self-contained story, complete with beginning, middle, and end. The brevity forces authors to be so economical that the result is often something close to poetry.

But writers, or at least this writer, see flash a bit differently: to us, it's a unique form of storytelling that writers invented to torture themselves. Apparently we thought writing a good story at length was too easy, so we decided to find ways to cram it all into 1,000 words or less. It can be . . . trying. I recently posted my own attempt.


With that said, I enjoy writing flash. It's a game. How can I manipulate words to make them say more? And reading it is even better. Which is why I asked Dino Laserbeam, editor-in-chief of Freeze Frame Fiction, to answer a few questions.


Freeze Frame is a semi-pro publisher specializing in "any genre, no content restriction - just good flash fiction."


I like these guys because they put out quality fiction. And they do it for free. Their first issue can be read online here, or, for those on the go, an ebook will soon be available through Amazon. I was personally pleased to see some names I'm familiar with - Alex Shvartsman and Stewart C. Baker - both terrific writers - alongside some new talent to discover.


The second issue is in the works, so if you're feeling inspired, they're accepting submissions for it until September 15th.

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Writing a good story of any length is difficult, yet flash fiction challenges writers to do just that . . . in under a thousand words. Why do writers torture themselves by trying to pack so much into so little?

Because writers are naturally masochists! More seriously, it’s because of the challenge. Writing a novel is hard because it involves a lot of words, a lot of time, and a lot of planning (or re-structuring); a writer has to maintain a certain story and pace for tens of thousands of words or more. Flash fiction is difficult for the opposite reason: the writer still has to give us story elements, defined characters, and enough to keep us reading, but he only has 1,000 words to make his point. Could you do that? Don’t you want to find out?


GIVING IT AWAY - "FIVE YEARS GONE" PROMOTION

For 3 days in August, I'm giving away my story Five Years Gone through Amazon! 

From today, Sunday, August 3rd, until Tuesday, August 5th, head on over to Amazon to download your free copy. 


This modern gothic story comes from a real moment in my life, something that has always remained with me, and while I can't promise every word is true, I can promise that everything behind those words is.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEWS - HORROR EDITION: Harvest Home (Thomas Tryon), Rosemary's Baby (Ira Levin), The Fog (James Herbert)

Harvest Home (1973)
Gripping, powerful, superb! - explosive descriptors like these turn up on book covers all the time. According to blurbs, 99% of all books are gripping, powerful, superb! Harvest Home is no different. My copy proudly claims that Tryon's work is "One of the most terrifying novels in years."

Yeah, yeah, we get it - I'm an idiot if I don't read your book.

Well . . . in this one case, this one beautifully macabre book is all that and a bag of chips. It truly is gripping, powerful, superb! So much so that I can't express how much I enjoyed Harvest Home beyond giving it a perfect 10, which I don't do lightly. In all the books I've read, I might give five or six a 10.

Harvest Home is a slooooow burn. 

Like many horror stories, this one starts with a married couple moving somewhere new. In this case, the Constantines have been lucky enough to land the perfect house in a reserved farming community in New England called Cornwall Coombe. And while the reader knows there's something wrong with the town, or, rather, the people within the town, what exactly isn't clear. The tension climbs in satisfying baby steps as the main character, Ned Constantine, an out-of-his-element city slicker, uncovers the history behind Cornwall Coombe and the odd rituals and practices of the seemingly hospitable locals. I hate to say too much about the plot because this book is part mystery, part horror. Unraveling the mystery is a big part of why Tryon's book is so great.

I'll say this: The story is masterful; the characters are real; the writing is smooth and immersive, dragging the reader into the tense world of Cornwall Coombe; it's Lovecraftian in its pace and tension, and the ending connects in a body-tingling way. And it was scary. I read a good bit of horror, but rarely do I find them scary. I guess I'm jaded. The Shining? Meh. Ghost Story? Meh. Hell House? Meh. 

But this one . . . THIS ONE!

I'm not sure why I don't hear more about this book. Maybe because it's from the 70's. But for every time The Shining is mentioned as one of the best, or scariest, horror novels, this one should be mentioned twice.

Score: 10 out of 10


Rosemary's Baby (1967)
"Go look at His hands," Minnie said [to Rosemary]. "And His feet."

"And His tail," Laura-Louise said.

This tale of a woman who suspects herself impregnated by Satan is well-known. When the book was released, it was the 50 Shades of its time - wildly popular, attractive in its indecency. Then came the movie. And now, nearly fifty years later, NBC has delivered a two-part movie.

Apparently the expression of innocence molested still resonates with people today. While much has changed in fifty years, the plight Rosemary faces - not being able to trust her own friends and family, the pressures of married life, the hopes and dreams and fears that accompany a new child - is something people can relate to today (minus the whole Satan-baby thing, of course). Morality is questioned; God is questioned. But most of all, safety is questioned.


The book is better than the movie. The movie is great, don't get me wrong. But the book is where it's at.

Like Harvest HomeRosemary's Baby opens with a married couple moving into a new home. But instead of a small town, it's the Bramford, a high-class, yet gothic, apartment building in NYC. The way we meet characters and learn the history of this old building makes it feel like a ghost story at first. As we meet the other residents of the Bramford, it becomes clear this isn't so. Rosemary, a stay-at-home wife, sees strange behavior in some of them. The old timers down the hall - the Castavets - are a little too friendly. And that nice girl who was living with them? She committed suicide.

When Rosemary becomes pregnant, her fears and suspicions are amplified. Not only does she suspect her neighbors of some pretty crazy stuff, she's starting to think her own husband is in on it. Ira Levin does a fantastic job of painting Rosemary and her distress. Is she crazy or is everyone else? Is her baby truly in danger? And if so, is the old couple down the hall the threat or is she?

Rosemary doesn't investigate the oddities of the Bramford - she falls into them. As such, she often feels like a passenger in the story. Nor does she seem too keen on taking control for much of the book. Her blank acceptance of some of the grimier details of the book make her frustrating at times. She transitions into a stronger character, but only barely.

What I like about Ira Levin is he doesn't mess around. His prose is sparse and fast, yet vivid. His style reminds me a little of Richard Matheson. Between this book and The Stepford Wives, it's clear that Ira Levine is a master of the page-turner. When I heard about NBC's movie coming out, I decided it was about time to read it. I think I finished it in two days. Something must've gotten in the way, because I normally would've read it in one. Like The Stepford Wives, it compels you to read on, and on, and on, until the final page is turned, and you realize you've been holding your breath an awful long time, then, finally, you breathe in deep and wander off.

Score: 8 out of 10



The Fog (1975)
England. An earthquake. A fissure in the street. A dense fog released from the bowels of the Earth. The military bungled something. Mass hysteria. Poison. A poison that perverts the mind, transforms good people, turns them wicked, turns them against one another. 
Murder. Death. Mayhem. Oh my!

James Herbert introduces a wide range of POV characters in The Fog. As the fog spreads and moves, infecting people, turning them feral, leading them down dark corridors of debauchery, we meet these characters, we learn a little about them, and then we watch them die. By their own hands or the hands of others. A gang of children savagely mutilate their teacher. A priest pisses on his congregation. A farmer is crushed by his own cows. There's blood and sex and lots of chaos. Finally, these characters fade away to reveal a central character, a hero - John Holman, Environmental Investigator! (Queue superhero music)

It was exciting at first. But then it wasn't. I found myself not caring about the characters. They came and went before I could care about any of them. Even the main character fell flat for me. The prose is fine. The scenes are exciting. But the excitement comes with diminishing returns since the characters were just too come-and-go. Like a slasher movie. And the come-and-go characters don't stop. Throughout the entire book, new people are introduced and killed five, ten, twenty pages later. Many of them have nothing to do with the main character or further the plot in any way, which is, in my understanding, supposed to be the point of every word written - to further character and/or plot. But what we have here is death for the sake of death, which I find kind of empty.

I really wanted to like this one, but couldn't. A lot of people love The Fog. I may get angry e-mails. It is what it is. Think Andromeda Strain meets The Mist meets The Crazies. That's James Herbert's The Fog. John Holman must solve the riddle of the fog, how to reverse its effects, and ultimately stop it, all while surviving a country full of ravenous lunatics trying to murder him in the worst possible ways. I forced myself to finish, as I'm hardheaded about giving up on a novel, but I barely made it.

Score: 2 out of 10

Sunday, May 11, 2014

ORIGINAL FICTION: The Homecoming by JC Hemphill

I wrote "The Homecoming" a while back and thought I'd share it today. It isn't Mother's Day themed, but it is about a boy finally connecting with his mother.

My own mom was a big part of my life and I'm grateful we were never forced to go through the tribulations Devin and his mother face in this short story.

Thanks for reading and Happy Mother's Day!


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The Homecoming
by JC Hemphill


The house was quiet--
No.
It was noisy.
There had been a lull between songs when Devin returned home from school and now Elvis' Blue Suede Shoes was blaring over the stereo. All the shades were drawn and the lights were off except for a single yellow glow at the top of the stairs. His mother's voice filtered down through the music, her lyrics a slurred step behind the King's.
She was drunk.
Dad would've said she was as drunk as a skunk. Or was it a monk? He couldn't remember. He'd have to ask Dad when he saw him.
Devin sighed and went to the kitchen for a glass of milk. It was unusual for her to be drinking this early in the day--she usually waited until after dinner to open the wine--the risk of getting another DUI on the way to McDonald's was too great--but today was an unusual day. To top it off, she wasn't drinking wine. According to the half-empty bottle on the kitchen counter, she was drinking whiskey. Knob Creek, by the label. He recognized the honey-colored bottle from Dad's old stash, except he remembered it being full with the seal intact.
A thought bloomed: the bottle, which had been locked away in the museum that was Dad's study, was out while Mother was upstairs, undoubtedly dancing in front of the mirror with a lowball glass in one hand as she belted "Go cat, go."
Which meant there was a good chance she had left the study door unlocked.
As the track changed from the upbeat Blue Suede Shoes to the crooning Heartbreak Hotel, the atmosphere shifting from motivated to melancholic, Devin made his way toward the study. A buzz of excitement filled him when he saw the door sitting open. Mother hadn't let him enter the study in a long time. Not since she had caught him using the old ham radio to contact the aliens. He'd been twisting the dials as he'd watched Dad do, trying to find the right frequency to communicate with the mothership. All he wanted was to ask them to bring Dad back. He'd trade all his toys and even his bike, a real fast one with good tires, but Mother wasn't having it. She had stormed into the room,  eyes redder than the Devil's buttocks, snatched him by the arm, and dragged him out.
The bruises healed in a couple of days, but Devin would always remember her in this way. It was the moment she had changed from an ally to a speed bump in the road to finding Dad.
Devin stepped into the room. The desk and bookshelves were shadowed outlines. Even in the dark it seemed familiar. Being in there reminded him of the feeling he got on their family trip to Disneyworld. Although Devin had never been to Disney before, he had instantly felt a part of that jubilant place. Not that there was anything jubilant about the study, but he received that same tingling sensation of being connected to a place he knew he was only visiting. It would end, this visit, this feeling, and that made the joy sad in a way.
"Hey," a sharp voice said from behind him. "What're you doin home already?" Devin turned to face his mother. She stood in the hallway with one strap of her halter-top hanging off her shoulder. Her white jeans looked wet at the bottom as if she'd waded through a flood to get there. "And what're you doin in that room? Huh?" She cantered forward, paused, and leaned against the wall to keep the world from pitching her sideways. She looked up at him, her face twisted in something between anger and concern.