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Monday, May 1, 2017

ORIGINAL FICTION: When Elsewhere is Everywhere





WHEN ELSEWHERE IS EVERYWHERE
a story


by JC Hemphill





Maddie was ready to explode. 
Today was the day of days, the one she’d anticipated since last season’s finale, the day that would allow her to cross off the sole item on her bucket list. The day, she knew, that would mark the highest of highs in a lifetime comprised of far too many lows.
She grabbed her phone from the nightstand as soon as she woke up, opened the media app, and selected the page for her favorite TV show, Elsewhere. Part of her suspected the new season wouldn’t be up. She’d dreamed the show had been canceled. But it was right there where it belonged, accompanied by a new picture of the cast huddled around a campfire, the dark wilderness closing in on them, pressing them closer to the cone of firelight illuminating their haggard faces.
It was official: Season 9 of Elsewhere was ready to binge.
And what a season it promised to be! Considering the way Season 8 ended, with Malcolm on the verge of insanity, with the wastelanders launching a massive attack on the colony, with Petra and Anna-May finally—finally—admitting their love for one another and then seeing the torches of the invasion force as it descended on the colony from the surrounding mountains, a love connection that came just a little too late.
It’d been too much for Maddie. She’d spent weeks after that cliffhanger brooding. Almost lost her hospitality gig because she’d grown so sour over the unresolved tension.
But eventually she turned her thoughts to Season 9 and formulated a plan—an epic plan that turned her brooding into excitement—and here, today, that plan was coming to life.
She could hardly keep still.
As if fate was rooting for her, the bullet train system the government spent years constructing had been completed last week. She’d feared it wouldn’t be done in time and that she’d have to drive the whole way, but they did it. Now as she boarded the 8:15 train to Estes Park, Colorado, she would reach her destination in an hour.
As soon as she found a seat on the crowded train, she pulled her phone out and selected the media app. Once more she studied the cover image of her favorite characters huddled around a campfire. Tyler looked particularly good. Handsome and rugged, per usual. But crouching next to him, like a fat, ugly spider, was Eldritch, the scum responsible for betraying the colony’s location to the wastelanders. Eight seasons the colonists remained hidden from the feral tribes littering the mountains. Eight seasons! And for what? To be betrayed by that coward? Disgusting!
Maddie wished all the pain and misery in Elsewhere on Eldritch. Hopefully he died. Or worse, she hoped the wastelanders decided to make him their next meal. Like they had of poor Jonas way back in Season 3.
The train began moving. Somebody wearing earbuds had taken the seat next to her, and, not all that surprising since it was the number one show in America, he was watching Elsewhere on his phone.
Maddie looked away, fearing spoilers.
Across the aisle from him, a woman and her son pressed their heads together, peering down at one of the new SS-HD tablets. They too were watching Elsewhere. In fact, everyone Maddie could see was staring down at brightly lit screens, the colors dancing across their faces like the firelight from the new season's cover image.
She wanted to watch it so bad she felt a pang in her stomach. Yet her plan was to wait until she reached her destination. It would be hard—dang near impossible, that pang told her—but rewarding. Because she was on her way to Elsewhere itself. She’d discovered where they filmed the show, a valley outside Estes Park, and would spend her day in Elsewhere watching Elsewhere.
Magnifique!
Her roommate—the only person in the world who loathed television—had compared Maddie’s plan to a pilgrimage.
Maddie had been insulted at first, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized there was nothing wrong with that. Lending this day that sort of spiritual significance was poetic. And true, really. If Maddie worshipped anyone, it would probably be Wanda Bilks, the writer and creator of Elsewhere.
So yeah, this was a pilgrimage.
But there was a problem. Her eyes wouldn’t stop wandering to other people’s screens. She kept catching glimpses. Eldritch skulking through shadowy undergrowth; Anna-May pointing to something behind Petra; an explosion.
Did somebody blow up the habitat!?
It couldn’t be . . .
Maddie turned her phone back on and, with a trembling finger, played the first episode of Season 9.
As the opening credits rolled, accompanied by that sad, iconic strumming of a fiddle, Maddie experienced a deep sense of coming home. That was the best way to describe the flighty sensation in her chest—like returning to a home she never wanted to leave in the first place.
Happy tears filled her eyes.
This was it . . .
No.
She turned off the phone. After waiting this long, she couldn’t surrender now. So she tried looking out the window at the Kansas landscape zipping by. But Kansas was flat and boring. No will-they-or-won’t-they love affairs took place outside that window, no tense stand-offs between colonists and wastelanders, no exploding habitats (Cripes, is that really what happened?).  Just the azure and emerald meeting of land and sky.
Bleh.
She turned the phone back on and pulled up Season 1 to re-watch the pilot. Soon, her anxiety melted away, replaced by that coming-home feeling.
She exhaled. It was almost—maybe this was a bit dramatic, but oh well—it was almost like a heroin addict greeting the day’s first high.
The second episode was just starting when the train stopped. She looked up to see half the car empty. People had debarked without her noticing and since she wasn’t sure how much time she had before it started rolling again, she scrambled off. But leaving the train didn’t slow her down; she sprinted to the nearest bus stop, checked the sign to make sure she was in the right place, and waited. Knowing it was another ten minutes before the number 17 arrived, she dove back into the show.
Even on the sixth viewing, Season 1 held up nicely. She caught things she hadn’t noticed the first five times. Like how Eldritch (still a good guy at this point) sometimes let his gaze linger on Mary-Ann a little too long. Had he coveted her even then?
She didn’t bother looking away from the screen when the bus arrived. Somehow she found a seat and somehow—another sign that fate was her companion—she managed to pull the cord to stop the bus at the right time, all without missing a single line of dialog.
She did, however, tear her gaze away when she exited the bus. There must’ve been seven zillion pine trees lining this stretch of road and she needed to find a dirt path tucked between them somewhere. That’s what the fanzine that revealed the filming location said.
After searching in both directions for a few yards, she found the path. It was wide and easy to spot when she stood before it.
Nearly there, she thought.
Proceeding down that corridor of trees, listening to the crunching of pine needles under foot, the sough caressing the branches, the chirping of birds, Maddie felt as if she were floating through a pine-scented dream. At the end of the path, she came upon a lake that reflected the many mountain peaks enclosing it. Just like in the show. To the left was a large boulder—Fishing Rock, the colonists called it. Again, it looked exactly as in the show. She watched as a hawk slid across the sky, dipping low over the water, presumably seeking a trout to snatch, before ascending once more, talons empty, and vanishing beyond the treetops.
Maddie, still floating, went to Fishing Rock and sat upon it. She might’ve stayed there consuming the entirety of Season 9, in the very spot Petra had finally—finally—kissed Mary-Ann, if not for the serenity of this place lulling her every sense. For no matter how clean the cinematography, no matter how HD the screen, the show had never revealed such vibrance. Never had she smelled the sweet aromas of nature, never had she felt the cool mountain air on her skin, never had she seen her own face reflected in the waters.
It never occurred to her that elsewhere—or anything outside her living room—could feel so essentially spiritual. It was just a place, after all. Yet this place felt like coming home, too.
So she sat upon her rock and just absorbed it all. Eventually she took a stroll around the lake, just her, her thoughts, and that soothing breeze.
The show, it seemed, could wait another day.

END

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

STORIES FOR EVERYBODY!!!

As usual, I'm behind. I mean, who knew raising a kid was so much work?
So instead of announcing my recent publications one at a time, I'm dumping them all at once. I've got stories for children, stories for adults, stories for adult children, horrors, science fictionseses (wait, what's the plural for "science fiction"?), literary stories, short stories, flash stories, long stories, stories that are just right, written, auditory, digital, and, well . . . that's probably enough. You get the gist - stories for EVERYBODY!!!!

Let's start with Audible. They asked to produce a couple of my stories for a new short fiction series they're doing (NY Times article). And I think they did a pretty amazing job! Hired voice actors, designed covers, all that good stuff. They were even gracious enough to supply me with some samples to share with you. I know, right?!? So nice of them...

DEAD DOG can be purchased here.



ERASURE can be purchased here.



LAST CALL was reprinted in DFPL's Memento Mori anthology. In print (here) and digital (here).

From the blurb: "The title, Memento Mori, is Latin and literally means: “Remember you too must die.” An ominous-sounding phrase, the saying derived from Puritan settlers who would often display tokens of death as a reminder to the living of the fragility of life…not to mention the eternal punishment awaiting those who wallowed in wickedness."



Next is SUN MELODY: A PLAGIARIZED LIFE, printed for the first time in Space and Time issue #126 (here).

About S&T: "Space and Time is a fifty-year-old publication that’s a must for true fans of Strange and Unusual fiction, poetry, and art. Readers can look forward to stories from the future stars of genre fiction intermingled with unique tales from pros like Jessica A. Salmonson, Norman Spinrad, Jack Ketchum, and Aliette de Bodard."



HOME IN THE DARK, a short story for kids and adults, was published in Wee Tales Vol. 4 (here).

This one is about a troll named Brogdean. Brogdean is displaced into a world he doesn't understand when the bridge he lives under is unexpectedly bulldozed.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

THINGS ARE HAPPENING

August has been a crazy month in the Hemphill household. We knew we were going to be moving, but not where. It was between Seattle and D.C. - we knew we were headed for the coast, just not which coast. But now we know. And since we're leaving in a week and a half, it's about danged time!

Washington D.C., here we come!



But wait, that's not all, folks! We still need to see what's behind curtain number two...

It was disgusting. It was horrible. It was so incredibly stressful my stomach is now one giant ulcer. And it's finally over. I've officially signed with a literary agent! My psychological thriller, STICK FIGURE SUPERHEROES, is now in the hands of Travis Pennington with The Knight Agency. I couldn't be more excited! This doesn't mean the book will be published, but it does mean that I've got somebody in my corner willing to make that happen.

It's been stressful, this agent search thing. Easily my least favorite part of being a writer. Worth it, but kinda horrible. And now that it's over, me and Karlee and Henry can all look forward to the future. 

Things are happening. Good things.


Friday, May 20, 2016

ORIGINAL FICTION: It Was Her

I met a man made of smoke today.


I decided to try something new: writing an entire story in a single paragraph.

Because, you know, writing a story at regular length isn't hard enough. And besides, who has time for all that reading? We all have stuff to do. ;)

Anyway, here it is. Hope you enjoy!






It Was Her
by JC Hemphill


I met a man made of smoke today. He had no lips for smiling, no eyes for seeing, no ears for hearing. He billowed and breathed and carried a case containing many items for sale. Inside were potions next to promises written in ink; rarities that shimmered alongside devices of great carnage; a history of forgotten treasures and treasures from forgotten histories. With a wave of his smoky hand, he said, "Take your pick, son, and please be quick." When I reached for something bright, it bled through my fingers and vanished. "Sorry, son, all outta that one. Try again, and please be quick." I reached toward the case, my hand hovering over gems, then an hourglass full of sand, until I fell upon a photograph I hadn't yet noticed. It was her, it was me, it was what I needed. It was her. I grabbed, expecting nothing but finding everything. She materialized beside me, a specter no more. In a flash, the man made of smoke closed his case and drifted away, leaving her, taking me, a photograph for sale.


END

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

BOOKS WORTH READING TWICE

I'm running way behind. This post was intended to be about my favorite reads from 2015, but being that it's almost February, that seems a little . . . late. But since there's no bad time to talk about good fiction, I'm doing it anyway. So there.

Every year I find books worth talking about. But 2015 was a bit of an outlier in that I read a lot of really, really, really good books. Books, some might say, worth reading twice. For me, wanting to read something more than once is a rarity and is pretty much the best compliment I can offer. 

Quot Libros, Quam Breve Tempus. So many books, so little time.

There are tons of good books to be read. More are coming out all the time. I'm eventually going to slink off of this mortal coil without having read most of them. It's sad, I know. Go ahead and cry some tears for me. . .

This is precisely why I want to celebrate those few that are worth reading again. Eventually, I will decide to pass up reading something new - something that may very well be just as good or better - for one of these tried-and-true gems.

Notice: Not all of these were published in 2015, that's just when I happened to pick them up. Also, there is no ranking to the order here. All were excellent.


A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is a horror lover's dream. Er . . . nightmare. Whatever. It was amazing. It tackles a bevy of horror tropes, weaving them through a compelling story full of quirky, yet real, characters. One thing that I enjoyed was the littering of horror- and weird-fiction themed easter eggs that reference everyone from Bloch to Danielewski to Laird Barron. But if you're not a horror fan, don't let that turn you off. On the surface this is a clever story about family and living in a modern "connected" world. I fully expect this one to win a writing award or two.

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU is an emotionally grounded thriller that shows how people being ripped apart by the death of a family member cope, or don't cope, and how we sometimes don't know someone as well as we thought. This book has two exceptional qualities that will stick with me. 1) The core of this story is very emotional and connected with me in a way that most books never even approach. 2) The taboo of head-hopping is pulled off with such mastery that I forgot it was something writers are supposed to avoid.

One word comes to mind when I think of THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM: Epic. The themes, the scope of the story, the places it has and will take me as I read the rest of the series - all of epic proportions. It's a science fiction story that isn't bogged down in science. It's a mystery that isn't predictable. And it's a piece of literary fiction that isn't pretentious or slow. As far as I can tell, Ken Liu did an excellent job with the translation. I expect the sequels to be on my list for 2016.

All hail the storytelling prowess of Joe Hill! NOS4A2 was so vivid, so complete, so believable that when I finished reading it, I felt I had left a duplicate of myself in the world of Hill's Christmasland. Somewhere riding around with that supernatural serial killer, Charlie Manx, is a copy of me. And he's a little bit frightened. In many ways, Joe reminds me a lot of his dad, only more to the point and little more theme heavy. As far as pure storytelling goes, Joe Hill is the new metric.

THE BURIED GIANT is a masterpiece of voice and authorial control. Ishiguro takes us through a strange fantasy land that sometimes feels like a fairy tale, sometimes like a real place in England's history. The world has forgotten how to remember, and as Ishiguro explores in this book, that may actually be a good thing. This is the kind of work that gives you the feeling that every written word has dual meaning. Something greater is being said with every page. It makes you think, and ponder, and reflect, and contemplate, and a bunch of other words that mean the same thing. I didn't know what the title was about until the very end and then it clicked and I was like, "Ahhhh, yes, I see what you did there." I love it when books do that.

Holy world building, Batman! READY PLAYER ONE is described as "the grownups Harry Potter" (um, don't they know that tons of adults read Potter?). It transports you to a near-future where an 80's themed video game dominates the world. People live inside this thing, like an internet you can physically step into. Cline makes it such a textured world that you feel a part of it. I'd be shocked if this wasn't made into a movie. Fans of Orson Scott Card or J.K. Rowling should enjoy this adventurous book.

I read nine or ten books on neuroscience during 2015 and THE BRAIN THAT CHANGES ITSELF was probably the best written. It mingles engaging anecdotes with the emerging treatments and technologies of neuroscience. Which, if I'm being honest, are some of the closest things to manmade miracles that I've ever seen. And his follow up, THE BRAINS WAY OF HEALING, was just as good. Doidge pulled off an interesting and informative read that launched my obsession with this topic. For a more speculative non-fiction about where this science and technology will go in the future, I suggest Michio Kaku's THE FUTURE OF THE MIND.

I won't say much about Thomas Tryon's THE OTHER because it's a book that needs to be discovered. Genuinely scary and unpredictable, this is a must read for horror fans. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the best. I recently saw GOODNIGHT MOMMY and thought it was similar, but not as well done.