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Authors: Michael Montoure

Slices

BOOK: Slices
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I’m not
the devil,” he told her, fusing her bones under his touch,
“but
I’m nearly as old as him and there’s those would say I do
the devil’s work, and maybe that’s so, and there’s
those that come to me for fame and those that come to me for talent
and you I found just wanting your breath to stay in your sweet body
and that’s surely something altogether different. No matter
what they say I’ve never taken anyone’s soul, never taken
anything that wasn’t mine and you’re going to give me
what’s mine, all right? You get to live, you get to walk away,
and when that moon comes around all sharp again nine times from now
you will have yourself two boys, two fine young boys, and one of them
will be your perfect angel, everything you ever dreamed, and the
other — the other one belongs to me, and on his twelfth
birthday, well. On his twelfth birthday, you hand him over to me, is
all. You hand one of your boys to me or there will surely be hell to
pay.”


Lullaby for Two
Voices

SLICES

MICHAEL MONTOURE

SECOND EDITION, APRIL 2011

Copyright
©
2011 by Michael Montoure.
All rights reserved under
International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

Cover photo from
www.flickr.com/photos/distill, made available under a Creative
Commons License.

Proofreading by Merchanical
Turk.
www.mturk.com

This book may not be
reproduced in whole or in part, by mimeograph or any other means,
without permission. For information address:
[email protected]

www.bloodletters.com

CONTENTS
Preface

 

“Cold Season”

 

“One Last Sunset”

 

“Remake”

 

“Rest Areas”

 

“Daddy’s Girls”

 

“Life Story”

 

“Only Monsters”

 

“Lullaby for Two Voices”

 

“Orpheus”

 

“Watch the Coin”

 

“Lost Boy”

 

“Puppets”

 

“The Thirteenth Boy”

 

“Counterclockwise”

 

PREFACE

Come
here. You trust me, don’t you? Take my hand. We’re going
to jump.

I’ve
been watching for years as writing and publishing have changed. They
were already changing when I first started paying attention to
writer’s guidelines for magazines and publishing houses —
don’t
use a dot-matrix printer,
they were saying,
don’t
use fan-fold printer paper
— struggling to keep up with changing technology, with tools
that were cutting edge for the time and have already gone the way of
the telegraph. Years later, it was
don’t
send your submissions via e-mail, editors prefer a paper copy.
I
don’t think that one’s true any more.

Most
of these changes were easy to keep up with. One of them wasn’t.

Back
in 1987, back when I was still having to try to explain to most of my
friends what “e-mail” was, personal computers had already
changed the way writers worked, forever. Word processors meant that
writers could painlessly work through multiple drafts without
retyping everything. Desktop publishing software had transformed the
humble
fanzine
— amateur magazines — from the realm of typewritten
mimeographed pages to slickly-produced, almost professional-quality
layouts.

I
put out a fanzine myself, with fan fiction based on my favorite TV
shows. (Smile if you like. But keep in mind that in the whole long
tradition of storytelling, from Greek myths through Shakespeare
through King Arthur and Robin Hood, this whole notion that you can’t
tell stories about certain characters because
someone
else owns them
is
a very modern one — and to my mind, a very strange one.) I
wrote stories, did the layouts, handled the printing and the
distribution.

But
even while I was doing it, as modern as the technology I was using
was, it felt immediately old-fashioned and outdated. Because while I
was shuffling pieces of paper around, I was also posting those same
stories online, on the Internet — and reaching an audience that
was literally global.

I
knew the Internet wouldn’t continue to be the domain of geeks
and academics forever. It was going to change the world, and it was
certainly going to transform publishing. I loved the printed page,
but, if writers could now get their words before the eyes of readers
all over the world in seconds, what was going to happen to books?

I
waited anxiously to find out. I’m still waiting.

I’ve
been staring at this carousel as it’s been spinning faster and
faster, looking for the right time to jump on. I suppose I’ve
been hoping that some New Normal would emerge out of it all —
some business model, some distribution system, that everyone would
point to and say, this,
this
is the way we do things now, and then that’s what I’d do.
That doesn’t really look like it’s going to happen any
time soon.

Print-on-demand
kept catching my attention. It was an incredibly promising idea —
no spending years shopping your manuscript around, hoping it gets
noticed and appreciated by editors and agents, only to have your book
disappear back out-of-print after its moment in the sun, unsold stock
remaindered or stripped and thrown away. But for years, there were
two problems with it all.

First,
the books were terrible. I don’t mean the contents (although
those frequently were terrible, too), but the books themselves —
cheap paper, poor print quality, flimsy binding, covers that creased
and peeled apart. This is finally changing — the technology
is catching up to the promise.

Second,
there was their reputation. Print-on-demand was no better than
vanity press — it didn’t count. This was what frustrated
me the most. Artists who sold their work directly to the public were
entrepreneurs; musicians who survived without a label were hailed for
their DIY punk spirit; “indie” comics artists who
published their own work were treated like heroes by their fans. But
a writer, self-publishing? Obviously a loser who wasn’t good
enough to
really
get published.

But
all that finally seems to be changing as well. I keep hearing
about writers who are pushing the boundaries of how to get their work
into the hands of their readers — Elizabeth Bear, Catherynne M.
Valente, Scott Sigler, many others to numerous to mention — and
no one seems to think any less of them for doing it.

Is
it safe to jump? There’s space to land, just
there,
and I can grab that bar, loop my hand through that strap, I might
just be able to hold on —

But
I’ve still been standing here, keeping my feet on solid ground
— because I keep walking into these huge bookstores and
thinking, man,
somebody’s
getting published, still. No matter how hard everyone says it is, all
these people are still getting published. And I still want it. I
still want to be a “real” writer, whatever that means,
and I want to walk into one of these big box stores and see my book
on some big colorful cardboard end cap display. Soon to be a major
motion picture.

Well,
maybe. It could still happen. And it’s starting to look like I
could do
both
— like publishers just might not think a writer’s become
tainted and ruined and untouchable if they’ve dabbled in
self-publishing. And I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m
presented with two tempting options — I do like to choose
both of them, whenever possible.

All
these years, while waiting and watching, I’ve been telling
stories. Reading them aloud at coffeeshops and science-fiction
conventions. I became almost more interested in the readings
themselves than in the idea of getting my stories out there in print
— I love the performance, I love the immediacy of the audience
reaction, I love how much it’s taught me about language and
about the sound and meter and rhythm of my words.

Some
of my words ended up in print anyway. I have had one book of original
short fiction published, by a small start-up publishing house that
never quite found a distributor for it. That book,
Counting
From Ten,
does have a small but intense fan-base of people who have purchased
it from me in person, or on-line. (And this would be a great time to
mention that you can get a copy yourself, if you like, at my website,
www.bloodletters.com
. )

Those
fans, my readers and listeners, have been asking for years —
when will you have another book out?

I
haven’t known what to tell them. While I’m not sorry
about releasing
Counting
From Ten,
I don’t think I’d want to go the small-press route again
— not one that didn’t have an established distributor, at
least. But I just didn’t think I’d have a chance with a
larger publisher. Not with my short stories, at any rate.

Short
fiction has, for whatever reason, kind of dwindled in value in the
publishing marketplace over the last few years. Magazines devoted to
short fiction are slowly disappearing. And selling a single-author
anthology of short fiction, like this one, to a major publisher is —
from what I hear — practically impossible, unless you already
have an established following. Nobody’s interested in short
fiction anymore, the argument goes.

So
when I first published this book, I had finally come to a decision —
I
know
people who are interested, why not take my short fiction directly to
them, and save my novel-length fiction for a more conventional
approach to getting published?

It
felt like the right decision. It was certainly a simple, clean
decision, probably the best way to jump into two worlds at once.
Hedging my bets.

That
was just a few short months ago. Long enough that it feels like the
world has changed completely.

Those
big-box bookstores I mentioned earlier? Borders just filed for
bankruptcy. A few weeks back I went to one for their
everything-must-go clearance sale, picking over what’s left on
the shelves. (Even the shelves were on sale.) I felt strongly
ambivalent about the experience — any bookstore's death
diminishes me, to misquote Dunn; but I also felt a rush of
excitement, realizing I could be watching history change around me,
seeing the start of a shift away from traditional publishing models.
I felt kind of like a small mammal scurrying under the footsteps of
dinosaurs as the climate shifts around us.

Self-publishing
is definitely starting to take off in a big way. Authors with years
of publishing experience behind them are starting to make their
backlist available through Amazon’s Kindle store. There are
others doing the same thing who have never even submitted their works
to a traditional publisher at all — and some of them are
starting to become widely known, are even actually making a living,
by skipping the middle-man and selling their fiction directly to the
public.

It’s
not easy. No one’s promising that. To be able to do all this
yourself, you have to be not just a writer — but also an
editor, graphic designer, and publicist. Fortunately, these are all
things that appeal to me. You don’t have to be a control freak
to want to handle all this by yourself — but I have to say, it
sure doesn’t hurt.

So
I think it’s probably time to lose the safety net and try it
myself. After I make this book available on the Kindle, I’m
going to see if I can get the rights back for
Counting
From Ten
and get that on-line next. And after that, I’m going to give
Still Life
— the novel that grew out of my short story “One Last
Sunset,” featured in these pages — one more good, solid
revision, and put it up on-line as well.

After
all, people have told me for years — you should do what scares
you. So now you know. Doing this scares me.

I
hope this book will scare you, as well.

Michael Montoure
April,
2011

COLD SEASON

To
hear her tell it, you’d think she was dying.

I’m
sitting in my hotel, ten blocks from the hospital, in a room I can’t
afford. It’s all going on one of the credit cards, just like
the flight out here. I’m flipping channels, eyes keep drifting
shut. Nothing on — late night news, heads in suits talking back
and forth about the economy, about the Middle East. To hear them tell
it, everything’s ending, whole world’s sick.

I’ve
been at the hospital for the past eight hours, sitting by Mom’s
bed and listening to her complain. I haven’t spent any real
time with her in about five years and these eight hours reminded me
why.

She’s
fine. She’s going to be fine. She slipped on an icy sidewalk
and broke her leg. I wouldn’t have come all the way out here
for that if she’d told me why she was in the hospital.

BOOK: Slices
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