Tag Archives: Drabblecast

Best of the Drabblecast

If you're not listening to the Drabblecast, yo...

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I have a fanatic devotion to the Drabblecast, a podcast that produces a great speculative fiction story each week. I’ve been gradually working through all 300 episodes of the archives since I started listening a year ago, and as of last month, I’ve finally caught up. And what better way to celebrate such a thoroughly enjoyable year of listening than by making a “Best of” list?

Therefore I present to you some of my favorite episodes picked from the first 300. I say “some” because my initial list had over 40 episodes on it, but I’ve forced myself to pick just 20 for this list. I’ve also left out of the rankings the Drabblecast B-Sides episodes (I may do a separate list for them) and episodes that featured classic speculative fiction stories (I’ve put a few favorites on their own list at the end). If you’ve not listened to the Drabblecast yet, any of these episodes would be a great place to start. If you do give them a listen, be sure to let me know what you thought.

My Top 20 Drabblecast Episodes:

  1. Drabblecast 211 – At the End of the Hall –  Easily my #1 pick, both because it has one of the best readings I’ve ever heard on a podcast, and because it makes me cry like a baby every time I hear it. It’s incredibly life-affirming.
  2. Drabblecast 043 – Jelly Park – A very close second, this story best captures everything I’ve come to associate with the Drabblecast: how strange things sometimes feel like home. Are you the kind of person who mopes alone after a bad breakup, or are you a bus driver who hums to herself all day, because you have a secret?
  3. Drabblecast 129 – Annabelle’s Alphabet – A moving story married to flawless production. It’ll give you goosebumps. Also a great intro to Tim Pratt’s work.
  4. Drabblecast 083 – Floating Over Time – It’s a truth of the human condition that life is never long enough, whether you live two years or two million years, and that none of us get any assurances in the face of death.
  5. Drabblecast 039 – The Beekeepers – Parasitic wasps and alien invasions. This is top-notch horror, but I’d recommend that you have a strong stomach going in.
  6. Drabblecast 298 – Flying On My Hatred of My Neighbor’s Dog – It’s funny. It’s dangerously funny. The kind of funny that causes you to suppress laughter until it bursts out anyway, and all the strangers in the vicinity will decide that you’re unstable and dangerous. You’ve been warned.
  7. Drabblecast 246 – The Kidney – I’m a sucker for anthropomorphic bodily organs just going about their business. It’s surprisingly moving for such a ridiculous concept.
  8. Drabblecast 299 – The Revelation of Morgan Stern – Remarkable for being both a great post-apocalyptic horror story and a great love story.
  9. Drabblecast 025 – The Worm Within – I love this episode, but I should warn you it’s gross in a potty-humor sort of way. But since I write this Medical Microfiction blog, you won’t be surprised at my love of subjects like intestinal worms.
  10. Drabblecast 155 – The Second Conquest of Earth – This is the story I’ve always wished I could write about cold readers. Excellent all around.
  11. Drabblecast 198 – Love in the Pneumatic Tube Era – A shamelessly romantic sci-fi love story. There’s not an ounce of cynicism in this one, and that pleases me.
  12. Drabblecast 106 – Boiled Black Broth and Cornets – Frank Key is an odd, odd author. I might compare his style to Dr. Seuss in that they both enjoy word play, but it’s hard to describe unless you hear it. Listen to this one. You won’t regret it. Also, I think Norm deserves a standing ovation for the tongue-twister at the end.
  13. Drabblecast 192 – Rangifer Volans – More Tim Pratt, this time with a Christmas-themed story! Cryptozoologists go looking for flying reindeer. It’ll make you laugh, I promise.
  14. Drabblecast 058 – Eggs – Another “Medical Microfiction” pick, and also about parasitic worms, this time of the cat-exploding variety. It’s gross, it’s hilarious, and it’s deeply disturbing.
  15. Drabblecast 236 – When You Visit The Magoebaskloof Hotel – I picked this one because I enjoy well-considered sci-fi, especially when a story taps into true alien psychology. This story also read like a parable of sorts. I listened to it a couple of times before I felt like I understood it, and got something new out of it each time around.
  16. Drabblecast 292 – Hollow As The World – It’s about Minecraft, and a teen dealing with the unexpected death of his best friend. I loved it from start to finish.
  17. Drabblecast 150 – Morris and the Machine – Yet more Tim Pratt! A time travel story about a man who cheats on his wife… with his wife. It’s rife with some interesting moral conundrums that left me chewing over the story for days.
  18. Drabblecast 091 – Gifting Bliss – It’s a parody of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, but I found this episode surprisingly moving. Norm created and performed a set of Nirvana song parodies that made this episode particularly outstanding.
  19. Drabblecast 274 – Amid The Words Of War – Another example of a well-considered alien species which feels extraordinarily inhuman. The story is written so well that you feel for the aliens anyway.
  20. Drabblecast 265 – Pop Quiz – First, the main episode is great, which is quite simple but has a great payoff. but this episode also features a Frank Key story about this Shatner-like captain on an epic voyage for nougat. And that is awesome.

A few great classic stories you should also check out:

Drabblecast 069 – The Storyteller by Saki

Drabblecast 200 – The Last Question by Isaac Asimov

Drabblecast 251 – The Music of Erich Zann by H. P. Lovecraft

Drabblecast 273 – The Electric Ant by Philip K. Dick

Drabblecast 300 – Bloodchild by Octavia Butler

Okay, I lied. Here’s a few more:

Drabblecast 281 – Doubleheader XII – More Frank Key! This episode is a particular favorite of mine because of the reading, and the way the two stories fit together.

Drabblecast 017 – Morton – Sometimes the jerks in life have all the luck. Also, it’s worth noting how even the early episodes of this podcast are very high quality.

Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse – If you’ve read Flannery O’Connor, you’ll really appreciate why this story is hilarious. If you haven’t, you should listen anyway and then go read Flannery.

Drabblecast 191 – Primary Pollinator – A humorous sci-fi piece about the lengths you have to go through to maintain an alien ecosystem. Also makes me really glad that plants aren’t sentient.

Drabblecast 135 – “Hello,” Said the Stick – This one’s hard to describe without spoilers, but it does, indeed, involve a talking stick.

Drabblecast 115 – Clown Eggs – An episode that balances humor and horror in perfect measure. If you weren’t terrified of clowns, you will be.

Drabblecast 113 – Charlie the Purple Giraffe Was Acting Strangely – I don’t always like meta-story humor, but this one worked well. Feel for the poor comic book characters who suddenly realize we’re watching them.

Drabblecast 082 – An Overgrown Clump of Narcissists – A perfectly weird story with a nice twist at the end.

Drabblecast 075 – Trifecta IV – The stories are good, but it’s the original song written by Norm Sherman to commemorate the first 75 Drabblecast episodes that makes this one outstanding.

Drabblecast 052 – Sleep Age – A bit of magic realism cast in the form of a thought experiment: what if we could commodify and sell sleep?

Drabblecast 142, 143 – The Golden Age of Fire Escapes – This two-part story has outstanding production in the style of an old-timey radio show. If that wasn’t enough, it also features the concluding segment of Connor Choadsworth: In Search of the Mongolian Deathworm!

Drabblecast 257 – Judgement Passed – A team of scientists returns home to Earth to find that Jesus showed up and Judgement Day’ed everyone while they were gone. Now what?
Drabblecast 109 – Babel Probe – Time travel, alien horrors, and the ancient Middle East. Nuff said.

Drabblecast 234 – Jagannath – Another great story about symbiosis, where humans maintain an alien’s body from the inside.

Drabblecast 217 – Followed – This episode is a parable for consumer culture, and the invisible consequences of having cheap things. It’s also one of the most clever zombie stories I’ve ever heard.

Drabblecast 124 – Ghosts and Simulations – This one hit close to home. A story of terminal illness, what kind of immortality technology might offer us, and whether this is a good thing.

Drabblecast 188 – The Store of the Worlds – If there are infinite dimensions, somewhere out there is one that fulfills your most desired dream.

Motley Microfiction: The Toymaker’s Dilemma

In the North lives a man, a giver of gifts, a Saint. He spends his days making toys and brooding over the airwaves, which bring in affirmations from around the world. Out there, they believe in him. So the songs say.

But as he broods and makes toys, he has his doubts. Who knows if they exist at all, out beyond the endless snowstorms? Their faith has never been a problem, but he’s not sure he believes in them.

Once a year, he rises, dons his red coat, and goes to find out.

He brings the toys– just in case.

———————————————————————————————————–

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...
He goes into the world with arms full of toys. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hello, friends! Sorry for the long absence – I’ve had my hands full with a lot of stuff for the last several weeks, and as a result, the poor blog got neglected. But I’m back, and for the next several days, I will be posting reams of Christmas-themed flash fiction to gear up for the holidays!

Today’s piece was recently published on the Drabblecast Episode# 305, and now I’m happy to present it to you on my blog as well. I would highly recommend listening to the episode, because the production took the story to another level.

One theme I love to explore in my writing is radical acts of faith in the face of the unknown, and this story is an example. Santa is famously connected to the idea of belief. I’m reminded of The Polar Express, where those who believe in Santa can hear the bells of his sleigh, while those who have lost their faith can’t. In this story, the choice to believe in Santa shapes your external reality.

Well, what if belief were a two-way street? What if Santa, in the isolation of the North, isn’t sure whether he is just making all of us up, because we’re equally wonderful and magical to him?

I like to imagine that if we were to pick up where the end of this story leaves off, everyone involved would be pleasantly surprised. Santa would find the children waiting for him, after all. The children’s faith would be rewarded. A long hoped-for relationship, a source of deep longing, would finally come to pass. That’s the essence of faith, and the essence of Advent.

Of course, it could all go the other way. Santa might find nothing but endless snowstorms. But I think there’s still something to grabbing that bag of toys, going outside, and taking a look.

My First Podcast!

The logo used by Apple to represent Podcasting
Podcasting: it makes your head turn purple and shoot out beams of light. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s something fun for your Monday: I recorded my first podcast for the Dribblecast, the fan podcast of the Drabblecast. That means if you go to this link, you can hear me read “Funeral on the Ocean Floor,” a short story written by my husband Jason. You can also download it for free on iTunes on the Dribblecast’s podcast channel.

I had a blast producing this one, as I have zero experience doing any sort of recording or audio editing. Through a huge coincidence, I got to use professional-grade equipment to record and edit the track. I’m especially proud of the background music, as I pieced it together myself from audio loops – look at me get technologically advanced, hey! Special thanks to the random guy who quite cheerfully spent an hour of his time teaching me how to use the software and hardware, and to Tom Baker for uploading the episode for me (twice).

Anyway, give it a listen if you have a few minutes, and let me know what you think! Happy Monday, friends!

Coffee is Hospitality: The Art of Friendship on the Internet

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to mention it on my blog, but last Friday, the Drabblecast featured one of my stories on Episode# 299 – “The Revelations of Morgan Stern”. For those of you who are regular readers, it was my story Dear John, a little tale framed around themes of loss and hospitality. The production of my story absolutely blew me away, and I was especially moved to have this one picked because of the story behind it, which you can read about in the original post.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been blown away by a series of loosely connected events that have left me moved and humbled by the kindness, thoughtfulness, and love of people I’ve only ever met online. It took me by surprise; to a degree I’ve always carried the unspoken assumption that there’s a clear and obvious distinction between the people you deal with face-to-face and those you deal with on the internet. As if the one is more “real” or counts for more than the other.

And while nothing will ever replace my friends and family, I think I’m wrong to undervalue the extended network of friendships made possible through the power of technology. We’re something like pen pals, many of us separated by half the world, and yet brought together by common interests. We celebrate each other’s triumphs. We feel one another’s pain. And sometimes we push each other to levels of courage that would be impossible normally.

After all, hospitality is coffee. Sometimes you invite people into your home and share a cup together. But other times, you invite them in from afar. You – yes, you – have joined me in my living room on many an evening to swap stories and jokes over a beer. Other times, we’ve sat at the kitchen table while I poured out my frustrations, fears, and sadness. Right now, we’re sitting in the student lounge together at my college as I finally recognize what a good friend you’ve been to me all along.

I’ve been lucky enough to go for a run with those of you involved in the production of the podcasts I listen to. Together we braved the heat, rain, and cold, set records, jumped over snakes, waved to neighbors, high-fived children, and snarked at catcallers and other rude folks.

All of this was in my head when I listened to a recent metacast from the folks at Escape Artists (behind the podcast magazines Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod). The gist is that these podcasts are endangered species because of high readership but low support. You can read a partial transcript here and a summary here.

Coffee is hospitality. We mark our friendships through such rituals, through a mutual give-and-take where we loan support when the other needs it most. Sometimes this support is emotional. You’re both broke, and the best you can do is commiserate. Other times, you have the luxury of being able to extend a hand when needed.

I think the biggest difference between internet friends my face-to-face friends is that I’ve always found it easy and natural to practice hospitality towards people who are physically there. Online, there’s just enough distance that you forget to offer the coffee. You forget that you can. I mean, I can’t pour caffeine into my keyboard and expect it to come out on your end, but there are other ways of extending hospitality all the same.

Anyway, I’m changing that. Since I’m not completely broke, I’ve decided to repay both Escape Artists and the Drabblecast for their gift of friendship by becoming one of their paid subscribers. It’s the financial equivalent of getting together and buying them coffee once a month. I can most certainly do that.

If you’re also a fan of these shows, I’d encourage you to do the same if you’re able. If you’re not one of their fans, why not give them a listen? You might find something worthwhile, as I did.

How about you guys? How do you view your internet friends versus the ones you meet face-to-face? Who do you like to support around the blogosphere and interwebs?

Medical Microfiction: Pogonotrophy II

The Mo-Keepers

In the weeks following the conquest, politeness meant averting one’s eyes as we adapted to the new status quo. Tacitly we agreed to carry on with our iPhones and cappuccinos like we weren’t all infested with parasitic hair.

The luckiest acquired one parasite only, affixed above the lip according to custom. More commonly, two or three dotted one’s face.

But for others, it’s hellish. Yesterday, I passed a man writhing in a ditch, positively lousy with the things. Despite his swatting and shrieking, they skittered along his flesh until nothing showed but moustaches.

I averted my eyes and hurried past.

————————————————————————————————-

Français : Général Emiliano Zapata - 1914 lice...
Why does this guy look so unhappy? It’s because the moustache is calling the shots! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you catch Pogonotrophy Part 1 a few weeks ago? Today’s piece comes from the same series that some friends and I have been writing on the Drabblecast forums under the heading of The Moustache Mythos. Eventually we plan to record the whole run and release them as a mini-podcast series, hopefully in time to commemorate Movember.

Today’s story gives a bird’s-eye view of what the world is like after the invasion of alien moustaches intent on world domination. I came up with the concept while thinking about Wookiees from Star Wars, and deciding it would be hilarious and a little disturbing if they got that way because they were colonized by evil moustaches.

The title “The Mo-Keepers” is an homage to Drabblecast episode # 39 – The Beekeepers, which is also about an invasive alien species. While I didn’t have this story in mind while writing today’s piece, after the fact I noticed the resemblance and decided to pay my tribute.

I realize my posts have been spotty this month. I much appreciate you guys bearing with me as I struggle to keep pace with school and work. This has been compounded by some other good news on the family side of things – my mother-in-law recently got a kidney transplant after spending years on the waiting list, which meant an emergency (and happy) day trip up to Atlanta to see her at the hospital.

What’s going on in your neck of the woods right now? What have you been writing about on your blogs? If you leave me a link in the comments, I promise to check it out during my study breaks!

Creeper Guy Revisited: You’re Always the Hero of Your Own Story

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...
You always know the villain by the awesome mustache. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I want to share some thoughts looking back on my experience with my neighborhood stalker (a.k.a. Creeper Guy) two months ago. As always, if you’d prefer to stick with the flash fiction, no hard feelings here. Check back tomorrow or browse the archives.

Let’s start with a familiar story. It’s about a hero, a villain, and a damsel. The villain’s of the mustache-twirling variety. Because he has it out for the hero, he’s captured the damsel and tied her to the train tracks. The hero somehow learns of this plan, hops on his horse, and rides to rescue his lady.

In the distance he hears the sounds of the train whistle growing louder and louder. Does he get there in time? Of course! He’s the hero. He jumps off his horse, duels the villain, and unties the damsel just moments before the train whooshes past.

It’s a classic story, and a good one. And the perspective matters. As readers, we see through the eyes of the hero because that’s the perspective I told the story from.

But we reflexively do this all the time. You are always the hero of your own story. When we hear about a dangerous situation, we imagine that in similar circumstances, we’d outsmart the bad guy and save the day.

Take my Creeper Guy story. While I received an enormous outpouring of love and support, I also received well-intentioned comments like this:

“Show me where he lives, and I’ll beat him up if he bothers you.”

“If someone ever came after my family like that, I wouldn’t think twice about shooting him.”

“Shame on you for not calling the police sooner. You should have called a long time ago.”

“I’ve never run into crazy guys because I always run with my dog/with a friend/at the park/etc.”

In all of these statements, the person casts themselves in the role of the hero within my story. They presume that, given the same circumstances, they would have made a different decision that would result in a more victorious outcome. My actions (specifically, the months and months of inaction that preceded my eventual phone call to the police) don’t make sense. That’s not what the hero does. The hero is bold, decisive, and in control of the situation. The hero beats up the villain and saves the girl.

English: Poster for The Perils of Pauline (1914)
The damsel’s in a default state of fear. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But let’s revisit the story again.

She’s minding her own business, overpowered by a stranger whose intentions are inscrutable. She’s restrained. She’s lying on the train tracks while her kidnapper looks on and laughs. She hears the whistle of the train approaching. All she can think about is that she’s about to die. She would do anything to get away, to hide, to rewind time to that point in her life just hours ago (a lifetime ago) when mustache-twirling strangers only existed in the movies.

You see where I’m going with this.

Being a damsel in distress is inherently disempowering. It’s a role defined by helplessness and limited options. In my experiences with Creeper Guy, it really bothered me that this jerk could singlehandedly terrorize me into not running for weeks at a time. He had all the power. It’s a sick feeling. Whenever I had a run-in with him, I’d be afraid to check my own mail for days afterward, lest he be out there in his car, waiting. It’s the “flight” portion of the “fight-or-flight” response.

Remember: I’m exactly like you. I’ve had fantasies all my life that if anyone messed with me, I’d put them in their place. But when the reality of several tons of metal comes barreling after you, you run. You hide. You don’t want to think about it. You want to go back to that time in your life when your neighbors were harmless, when stalkers only showed up in the movies.

So what changed?

I already told you, remember? It was Connor Choadsworth: In Search of the Mongolian Deathworm.

Frank Bernard Dicksee. Chivalry
Me, Creeper Guy, and Connor Choadsworth. Hint: I’m not the damsel this time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am dead serious. Here’s the secret, the essential difference between the damsel and the hero: The damsel runs from danger because she doesn’t want to die. The hero runs towards danger because he doesn’t care if he dies. He has someone to fight for.

There’s a world of difference between fear and anger. Fear paralyzes. Anger empowers. As I sat at home staring at my iPod that day, I felt overwhelmed by the injustice, that this jerk would ruin my favorite episode of one of my favorite podcasts… well, you gotta draw a line somewhere. Wanting to defend the honor of Connor Choadsworth provided just enough rage to change my “flight” into “fight”. Having someone to fight for transformed me from damsel to hero in an instant, and heroes have options. Heroes are able to take action. So I did.

As a result, I think I better understand why people behave the way they do under stress. More importantly, I can silence the voice in my head that tells me that given the same situation, I’d do it differently. Just because I want to cast myself as the hero doesn’t mean I’ll have that option. Circumstances dictate so much. Who can know for sure what you’ll do until you’ve lived it?

For example, as the Trayvon Martin case has unfolded over the past few weeks, I found myself profoundly overwhelmed with its parallels to Creeper Guy. A pedestrian in his own neighborhood, being followed by a neighbor in a car whose intentions were unclear. The fear, the sense of danger, the inherent physical imbalance between vehicle and foot traffic. And if Creeper Guy had left his car and come after me, what would I have done? I have a bittersweet admiration for the young man who, being braver or more reckless than I am, rejected the role of the damsel outright. Hero or villain? Let God decide, but I can empathize.

The line between these roles is a thin one. We never know what role we’re going to play until we’re playing it. One can transform into another so easily with just a change of motivation. Maybe the best we can do is to be conscious of these roles, and do our best to understand each other accordingly.

Do you usually picture yourself in the role of hero when you hear other people’s stories? What should we do about it, given it’s so reflexive and automatic?

Link Roundup 7-14-13

Toy Story
Toy Story (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A little extra reading to scratch those scientific and writing-related itches. Which are totally not deadly symptoms. I checked WebMD; we’re good.

From ScienceDaily: Some exciting new research proposes to starve out cancer cells while keeping the other cells in your body well-fed. It’s sort of a reverse-angiogenesis from what I understand.

It’s Okay to Be Smart posted this stunning video of a super-slow-motion lightning strike via National Geographic. Things are back to normal at my house post-lightning strike, although some of our neighbors in the surrounding townhouses haven’t fared so well. I also saw an exploded tree on my running route the next day. Will try to snap a picture of it for you if it hasn’t been cleaned up just yet.

John Negroni proposes a Universal Theory of Pixar that ties together all their movies. I love Pixar because almost all their movies are such stellar examples of good storytelling. I’ve taken quite a bit of inspiration from this list of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling, particularly #19: “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.”

Slate brings us a physician’s meditations on blood transfusions and how an unusual example of interfaith cooperation could save lives. I was personally very moved by Dr. Karkowsky’s article, and it gave me an idea for a sci-fi story. Inspiration’s such a random beast, eh?

Eric Alagan of Written Words Never Die provided a whole gallery of flash fiction on the theme of vampires generated by people around the blogosphere, which I highly recommend.

Since I spent 14 hours on the road, I listened to a LOT of old Drabblecast episodes as I continue to work my way through the archives. Therefore my list of best podcasts is exclusively Drabblecast this week — not that that’s a bad thing!

  • Drabblecast 288 – “Bayou Witch”: If you want a good introduction to this podcast, this would not be a bad place to start. The main story has a medical theme that I won’t spoil here. Also, the episode opens with my first-ever credited, published work of fiction, which made this a week to remember for me.
  • Drabblecast 058 – “Eggs”: Hilarious, gross, and all about helminthiasis, or parasitic worms. This is the definition of a terrible day in my book.
  • Drabblecast 069 – “The Storyteller”: a tale by the classic author Saki. I think this story had some profound things to say about good storytelling, and the tension between entertaining an audience and communicating a certain message.
  • Drabblecast 055 – “Circe’s”: Do you like truly surreal stories? Then check this one out. I found it especially memorable because of the great production values and fantastic sound effects/music.
  • Drabblecast 052 – “Sleep Age”: Thought-provoking sci-fi that also explores the problem of economic bubbles and fuel efficiency, all tied to the concept of sleeping for a living. The original song at the end of the episode might just be better than the episode itself.

That’s it for this week! What’s happening on your blogs? What caught your eye around the internet this week?

Fireflies, Lightning Storms, and Taking Shelter

The requisite "look at me in the cave" photo.
The requisite “look at me in the cave” photo.

I’m back from Mammoth Caves, and what a great trip it was. I spent 3 days in the woods and came out with zero bug bites. The park has a huge bat population which acts as the best anti-mosquito control you could ask for.

Some strange events this week have got me thinking about shelter, and what it means to live in civilization.

“Getting away from it all” is quite the First-World romantic ideal. We leave our safe, comfortable homes and go out into nature to live without amenities, and we call it recreation. It’s a luxury we’re lucky to indulge in. For me, the magic of camping’s those small, haunting moments where you see something so unlike anything in your day-to-day experience that it seems to have fallen out of your imagination.

Like this: while hiking through the woods a couple days ago, in the fading light of dusk, I came across an old graveyard filled with fireflies. Y’know, just like in this story I wrote a few weeks ago. We get fireflies around our home in Athens, but not in such huge numbers. It’s the chaos of nature, its unpredictability, that makes it so stark and lovely to encounter this way.

Seriously, there are fireflies here, but they're impossible to photograph!
Seriously, there are fireflies here, but they’re impossible to photograph!

Of course, nature’s chaos has its downsides too.

Yesterday, we made the long 7-hour drive back home and settled in to enjoy having internet and A/C again. I didn’t think I’d miss much while cut off from the Web, but I found my inbox overflowing with awesomeness. A couple of critiques returned by the wonderful folks in my writer’s group on one of my bigger projects. Tons of comments and likes from you, my dear readers.

And the one that really floored me: an email from the chief editor of the Drabblecast asking for my author bio and permission to run my story “In the Shelter of Each Other” in this week’s episode.

I was surprised because “Shelter” is such a quiet little story (take a look – it’s just 100 words). When I was a child, my dad would often say that he didn’t mind spiders around the house or outside because they were such beneficial creatures. Like the bats at Mammoth Cave, they keep down the population of less beneficial bugs. But most of us don’t really like encountering spiders. “Shelter” was a thought experiment in how a woman might coexist and even befriend a creature that would normally be squashed out of hand. Nature intruding in one’s home, and then that same piece of nature working to weatherproof the roof. “In the shelter of each other, the people live.”

So I was feeling pretty warm and dandy as I relaxed at home yesterday. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude toward the experiences Jason and I had in nature, and touched to be remembered by my friends, family, and internet communities while I was gone. Outside our windows, a rainstorm had started up, and I felt snug as Wanda and her spider friend listening to the rain drumming against the roof as we sat snug inside.

And then lightning hit our house.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

This is hard to describe. It happened so fast, and it’s like nothing I’ve experienced in my life. It sounded like a sudden explosion all around us, followed by a high-pitched ringing that first I thought was my ears, then thought was the fire alarm, and then later discovered it was the sound of certain important electronics giving their last death rattle.

Jason and I just stared at each other for a long moment, completely unsure of what to do. Then we ran around to all the windows to make sure nothing was on fire. The storm was right on top of us, so we were too scared to set foot outside unless we had to. Oddly enough, the power stayed on and none of the circuit breakers tripped.

Finally we sat back down in the living room and decided everything was okay. I’d been in the middle of answering an email, so I was the first to notice that the internet was down. Okay, no biggie. It took us another 10 minutes of troubleshooting to realize the modem was fried.

Sigh.

One quick Walmart trip later (quick but grueling; remember we’d already driven 7 hours that day), we got the internet working. It was only later in the evening that we realized the A/C had gone out too.

At that point we had a good laugh. How ironic is it that, wanting to “get away from it all”, we gave up internet and A/C, only to come home and realize we were still camping?

Can you ever really escape the cave? What would Plato think?
Can you ever really escape the cave? What would Plato think?

We went into the woods, but we didn’t come back out.

At the time of this writing, we’ve had the repair guy out and are in the nebulous “waiting for parts” stage. And it could be a few days before we’re back to pre-lightning status at the Jones house.

You know what? That’s fine with me. I still feel so grateful. Grateful that thanks to the ridiculous amounts of rain this summer, Georgia’s not as scorching as it usually is right about now. Grateful again for the warmth and support of my family and friends — and you, dear readers, spread across the globe, who remind me that the shelter we live in is larger than this old townhouse.

Let’s live in the shelter of each other.

Link Roundup 7-9-13

English: Henry, the world's oldest Tuatara in ...
English: Henry, the world’s oldest Tuatara in captivity at Invercargill, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Science news and writing-related links from around the blogosphere, and a brief review of my favorite podcasts of the week:

In a huge breakthrough, scientists were able to derive tiny livers from human skin cells. Very awesome.

Whose heart skips a beat for epigenetics? Learn all about this innovative new branch of genetics from the fine folks at Discover Magazine.

The Artificial Selection Project is calling for submissions for the first edition of their new literary magazine. I like these guys and their project, and am polishing a few pieces to submit. If you write and are looking for interesting new markets, check ’em out!

Rochelle Wisthoff-Fields ponders the problem of sequels. It was good brain-fodder for me, as I’m prepping to write a sequel when NaNoWriMo starts up again in November.

Meanwhile, on MissKZebra’s blog, they’re talking about the tricky business of incorporating sexual elements into a story.

A coat made out of human chest hair: the ultimate upcycling project, or just plain gross? I vote gross, but I’d certainly buy one as a gag gift for my more hirsute friends.

And just for fun, Jason tells the traumatizing story of the first time he saw “A Clockwork Orange”. Yes, I’m responsible for the fact he had to watch it twice. Personally, I thought the movie was brilliant. Just as twisted as they say it is, though.

Favorite podcasts I heard this week (I’m almost always behind, so these are “new to me”):

  • Escape Pod #400: “Rescue Party” by Arthur C. Clarke. Full-cast production of this amazing golden-age sci-fi classic. The episode blew me away, and epitomizes everything a fiction podcast can be, what with amazing performances and production values. It went nicely with my Kubrick marathon as well; I promptly rented 2001: A Space Odyssey after listening to this episode.
  • Drabblecast #286: “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse” by Andy Duncan. A bizarre and appropriate send-up of one of my all-time favorite short story authors. I won’t give away the twist ending, but I’ll give you a hint: think “Southern Gothic”. Don’t miss my Twabble at the end, too!
  • Drabblecast #42: “40 Quarters” by Tom Williams. The life you save may be your own, so compensate those public servants properly, folks.

What’s happening on your blog? What interesting articles have you seen around the blogosphere this week?

Medical Microfiction: Prosopagnosia

Brain Damage You Can Believe In

It’d been over a year since my racist grandma made one of her trademark comments about “those people” bringing down the neighborhood. Indeed, all our family get-togethers had seemed unusually civil lately. Great-Uncle Ernie hadn’t cracked a sammich joke in ages, and my horrible Aunt Louise actually complimented a rabbi yesterday.

Concerned, we took Grandma in for a full workup.

“I’ve been seeing lots of similar cases,” said the neurologist. “They can’t tell a stranger’s face from their own anymore. Damage to the fusiform gyrus in the brain. Turns out radiation from cell phone use isn’t so harmless after all.”

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Perception: Prosopagnosia
Do you see one face, or many faces? (Photo credit: sbpoet)

Remember pareidolia, the human tendency to see faces in pretty much anything? Today’s word, prosopagnosia, is what happens when the portion of the brain responsible for pareidolia goes bad. Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, is the inability to tell one face from another, usually because of damage to the ventral fusiform gyrus. A person with this condition will not be able to tell one face from another. Your racist grandma won’t be able to tell “her people” apart from the “wrong sort”. She won’t even be able to recognize herself if she looks in the mirror! Prosopagnosiacs rely on clothing, voices, and other cues in order to recognize friends, family, and acquaintances.

I started composing this story several weeks ago, and in that time I’ve seen this rather obscure medical word pop up everywhere. First, Brad Pitt decides he’s got face blindness. It may very well be the case, but call me skeptical. Prosopagnosia is more than just being bad with faces and names. Honestly, I’m bad with faces and names. Terrible, in fact. I’ve been known to answer the door and cheerfully introduce myself to old friends I haven’t seen in years. But I can still recognize my own face in the mirror. I can tell my husband apart from my brother. People with true prosopagnosia can’t do that. I would want to ask Brad if he routinely mistakes his wife for other women, or has trouble telling his own face apart from his coworkers’ faces in promotional shots of his movies.

Otherwise, he’s just bad with faces. No shame in that, but it’s not face blindness.

A shaken Clark Kent, unconcerned about his sec...
Either everyone in Metropolis has prosopagnosia, or they’re a bunch of morons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In other prosopagnosia-related news, I found this hilarious article speculating whether Superman induces face blindness in the people around him, which would explain why no one seems to see through his terrible Clark Kent disguise.

Finally, living at the intersection of face blindness and microfiction, the award-winning sci-fi author Ken Liu wrote his own 100-word story for the Drabblecast this week entitled “Prosopagnosia”. Go listen to the episode! The story’s unbelievably good, especially for its length, and best of all, it’s medically accurate! With the Brad Pitts of the world muddying up the definitions for the public, I always appreciate it when writers give a little TLC to scientific precision.

As an added bonus, listen for my 100-character story at the end of the episode. It’s under my forum name, Varda, but we’re the same person. Really.

Brad Pitt, if you’re reading this, I’m not the same person as Clark Kent. Sorry for the confusion.

Are you good or terrible with names and faces? Do you know someone or do you personally experience medical prosopagnosia? What’s it like?