Intentionally, subliminally, or otherwise, this collection contains quite a contrasting selection of stories, novelettes, and novellas, some of them old, some new, and a few that are new to you. Across the board, though, there is a common theme, a common feel, as my post-Midnight Recollections short-form work has taken on a more serious tone. Much of it is socio-political in nature—not necessarily because I’m keen as to what society and politics is all about, but because it’s all too convenient to use my fiction as a springboard for whatever soapbox epiphany I happen to be having at the moment.
“Distributed Logic” proved to be my most popular story in 2005. I wrote it in a brief amount of time; it was one of about six stories I’d put together early in the year with the intention of knocking the socks of various editors’ feet. 2005 was to be the year my name appeared in the pages of Asimov’s, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, yes, sir—
—it never happened. Each story was rejected by about a dozen magazines apiece. I finally decided that before the year was over and out, I wanted someone to publish my stuff (particularly “Distributed Logic”), and so started submitting to the online ‘zines. Aphelion and Anotherealm were the only two outfits interested. I salute them. The former got “Distributed Logic,” and the latter “Line 43,” and while virtual reality / cyberpunk is hardly as fresh and shiny-new as it used to be, there it was: two stories I wanted to tell that actually got told.
“Line 43” was the piece everyone hated. At the time, I’d just started reading Bradbury; this was my own take on Ray’s style, though many considered it merely an outlet for its author’s latent conspiracy theory views. It may not be the most original or well-written piece, but it did what I wanted it to do. Somehow, I feel the reviewers forgot the basic rule, that an author’s characters should be so passionate as to make the reader believe the author shares the same views—without the author actually doing so. But that’s just me.
“The Ninth Life of Vincent Nguyen” had an interesting journey before ending up in The Reformed Citizen. Three editors, one for a traditional print magazine, corresponded with me in great detail, saying they liked the story, but wanted it to make a blatant social statement one way or the other. Was it an erotic piece? Then add more sex. Was it a speculative piece? Then get rid of the sex. There was the man-on-man thing too: I’d toyed with having Jonah and Frank as lovers in an early version of “Color Conformity,” but removed the homosexual element at the suggestion of the editor. Six years later, I found myself in a similar situation with “The Ninth Life of Vincent Nguyen.” No one wanted it because it was either too sexual—or not sexual enough. Too gay or too straight. Contemporary fantasy or gay erotica with not enough penis-play. The vastly different opinions lavished upon me by various editors led me to the steadfast decision to keep the story the way I liked it, to neither tailor it for the sci-fi mags nor the erotica rags.
In “A Whisper from the Mirror,” I toyed with the idea of an actor losing control of his character. I’ve always had this notion of actors “becoming” their characters whenever performing, but what if said characters were summoned for each performance? What if they were plucked from some inner region of the psyche, allowed to dance and sing and play a while on the stage before being returned to their place of eternal slumber? This was an orphaned piece that really had nowhere else to go. I believed in it, however, and so here it is.
Time Chaser has had so many offshoots, it’s a wonder the novel ever got finished. “Fogy” was an outtake; Demis was supposed to be an over-the-hill news reporter who interviewed Storm / Chronos, the legendary time chaser. In tightening things up, I decided to remove Demis’ story completely—but, then, I had this personal vignette that I still liked very much. So, I grafted several ideas together with the Time Chaser leftovers, and “Fogy” was born.
“The Path Between” and “Arrival” are the two rarities that close out the anthology. Let’s start with the former story:
A lot of my material comes from dreams, which is not as elegant as one might think, considering how utterly abstract one’s thought can become during sleep. “The Path Between” was one of those occasions on which I dreamt a single scene that was so potent I just had to figure out a way to build a complete story around it. And that’s how it worked. From my dream came a scene, and from that scene came a story.
“Arrival” was written in 2000, during my time at ShadowKeep. I had the brilliantly naive idea of creating a shared-universe project based on a throwaway story I’d written using one of the first online office suites. I didn’t care much about Matthew, Darius, or Arrow, and neither did anyone else; the project never got off the ground, and I never made an effort to complete the story until late 2006, when a bout with the flu gave me some free time to re-read some of my old notebooks whilst floating in a feverish delirium. By the time I was well again, I’d worked out the whole thing in my head, banished all the old dead-ends to their shadowy niches—I was absolutely in love with the elves’ predicament. (And no, “Arkensaw” isn’t a misspelling, it’s Arkansas as it was when the elves lived there.)
There you have it: the method behind the madness, an updated catalog of brain farts and funny-sounding ideas. Here’s hoping The Reformed Citizen leaves a dent.