And Now For Something Completely Different

Greetings, ya’ll. (They tell me that’s how I’m supposed to talk now that I live in the midwest.) Now that my last run-on snippet from Pool has concluded, I find myself faced with the looming spectre of Nothing New to Post. Normally, I would simply toss out a little taste of whatever I happen to be writing on at the moment, but I am beginning to have a problem with that. Oh, I’m still writing on Pool ( for the moment), but I confess that I am increasingly uncomfortable with posting previews of a work that will not likely see the light of publicated day for a year. In a story that relies so heavily on a build-up of tension, I really can’t afford to lose the element of surprise. So…no more from Pool, is I guess what I’m telling you. At least, not until I’m a lot closer to done with it.

How close am I to done with it? Well, that’s the next thing. Not very. As some of you know, I underwent surgery last September, which I naively thought would give me lots of time afterwards to lie around, nibble on bon-bons and write while I recover. This did not happen. Even before I arrived home from the hospital, two of my sisters each came to an independant crisis which required a major move–one of them from the midwest back to Oregon and the other from New York here to the midwest. So back into the car I rolled, book in hand, believing I would get SO much writing done on the road (mind you, this is still only a few days out of surgery). This did not happen. The siblings were safely relocated, but Pool’s page count barely budged and I returned home barely able to maintain an upright position. Around about the time I started to feel well enough to sit up at the computer for hours at a stretch again, the holidays hit and seeing as how this was the first year following the loss of my mother, it hit kinda extra hard. So here it is, February of 2014, and I am finally able to sit down and devote myself once more to Pool. Except that along comes my sister Cris, who reminds me that I will be attending the RT Convention in a few months and wouldn’t it be a neat thing if I had, say, a hundred copies of something or another to pass out in the Freebie Room? Now, I don’t give a hundred copies of a  700-page book away for free, but as it turns out, I have this little novella I’ve been tinkering at off and on and it would do great as a sampler for the R Lee Smith writing style, but it needs to be finished, edited, printed and shipped before the Con and THAT means I need to work on it.

But working on The Land of the Beautiful Dead means more than just not working on Pool. It also means cutting back on the time I spend ham-fistedly attempting to socially medialize myself since, believe it or not, blogging does not come naturally to me and participating in the writers’ blog hops takes a disproportionately huge chunk of my time every week. So that’s got to stop. At least for the foreseeable future.

However! I do not wish for my cessation of hoppery to mean another ominous span of radio silence like what all happened back in December. So I have been wracking my brains trying to think of something I can post regularly to keep my readers reading without my having to do a lot of writing. And I think I can do it.

Back in 2003, back when my publishing career amounted to a half-dozen short stories that appeared in such timeless periodicals as Dagger of the Mind and Dark Desires (No, you probably won’t have heard of them), and one short story published in Hustler (my contributor’s copy was stolen out of my mailbox. He denies it, but I suspect my brother. I never even got to see my story in print. *sad face*), I entered the Confluence Short Story Writing Contest. The rules were these (as near as I can remember; it was over ten years ago): Entries must be less than 4000 words in length; Content must be “PG-rated” and suitable for all audiences, as winners were to be published in the program book at that year’s Confluence Sci-Fi convention; Entries MUST reflect the contest’s theme, which that year was, “The Alien Wore Fishnet Stockings”. Three winners would be chosen from the submissions by a panel of judges, two of which would receive a gift card of some sort (memory tells me it might have been Olive Garden or something), with a Grand Prize of five hundred dollars awarded to the best story.

So I wrote a story and sent it in. Now, keep in mind that I had exactly no experience with a ‘real’ submission process, although I thought I did. When I sent stories off to Dark Desires, for example, I would receive a phone call later in the week from the guy printing the magazine out in his garage, and he would tell me that he got the story and we’d discuss anything that needed discussing and it was all very friendly and casual. Even when I submitted my story to Hustler, I got a letter in the mail a few weeks later from someone telling me the story had already been read by everyone in the office and how funny it was and here’s your money, you’ll get a contributor’s copy in the mail (which I never did, Gary). My stories weren’t always accepted, obviously, but even when they came back to me, they came back with a friendly rejection letter and I honestly thought the whole world worked like that.

I sent my story in two weeks before the deadline and waited. The deadline came and went, but no one called me to tell me they had received it. No one wrote me a letter, acceptance, rejection or otherwise. Complete radio silence.

A few weeks went by and my bewilderment began to turn to apprehension. Was it really that bad? Could a story even be so bad that no one bothers to tell you how much it sucked? And then a new thought: What if they never got it? What if they lost it? I pictured a table piled high with manuscripts and my own modest offering slipping away behind a filing cabinet, never to be seen again, its genius doomed to go unappreciated until the end of time or the cleaning lady scooped it up and chucked it out with the rest of the trash. O horror! As days continued to pass, the idea that my submission had been lost continued to build in me until I could not stand it anymore. I dug out my contest rules and did something so unprofessional, I’m cringing as I confess it: I emailed them and asked if they had read my story. I did not ask if they would please attach it to the refrigerator with little magnets once they did find it, perhaps adorned with stickers and gold stars, but I think it was probably assumed.

To my (past) relief and (present) surprise, I actually got an answer to this attention-begging tactic. I was told yes, they had received it and read it. O happy day! Then I was told not to tell anyone (whoops), because they really shouldn’t be telling me, but I had won the Grand Prize. Five hundred dollars for a single short story was more than I had ever imagined at that time. Even Hustler only gave me a hundred (and the contributor’s copy which absolutely did not end up beneath my brother’s mattress, right? Right). Buoyed by this tremendous success (my story was potentially read by two or even three thousand people at a science-fiction convention!), I began to think seriously about scrapping the whole short-story-in-fanzines approach and writing a novel. I had this idea for one about a woman who was abducted by bat-people…

Anyhoo, all of this is an unnecessarily convuluted way of saying here is my 2003 Confluence Short Story Writing Contest Grand Prize Winning story, Interspecies Relations, which I will be posting here once a week, roughly half a page at a time. Since I have no plans at this time to ever publish it anywhere else (I really don’t do PG-ratings), only you, dear readers, and whoever read their Confluence program book back in 2003, will ever see this story. Enjoy!

* * *


Hannah Fuller stood at the side of her newlywed spouse and tried to ignore the clamor of what seemed like a thousand news reporters and Secret Service agents as she fished out the key to the front door of her brand new home.  Her mate-for-life clicked its mandibles nervously when the first key wouldn’t turn, but the next one got it and the door opened.  Hannah started forward.

There was a complex pattern of chirps, and an androgynous, faintly tinny-sounding voice emanated from the translator clipped to her mate’s collar:  “Wait.”

“What’s the matter, Nix?”  Besides the army of press hounds gnashing their teeth behind us, I mean.  Hannah refused to look at them, but she wanted very much to be out of their range, and the sooner the better.

X’sizza’’ryk’n’a’’a’nix waved its antenna in an oddly evocative gesture of apology.  “This is our new home,” said the translator as the Tharku whistled and chirped.  “Should not we be carried across its outer access?  Yes?”

The thought of trying to heft the eight-foot alien momentarily staggered Hannah’s weary imagination.  Ever perceptive of her moods, Nix immediately wrung its sensitive feeler-hands and started waving its hooked foreclaws anxiously.  “It is the custom to be carried?  Yes?  Or bad luck follows?  I have studied the customs of your people and I would not offend my wife.”  Nix bobbed its head in great distress.

Hannah patted Nix’s thorax amid a strobe of flashbulbs.

“It’s okay, Nix, let’s just think about it for a sec.”

The human bent her head while the Tharku rotated its left eye back at the cameras.  “Why don’t you lift me over and I’ll try to…pull you in.  Okay?”

“Yes.  Acceptable.”  The translator’s perfect neutrality belied the obvious relief seen in swaying antenna.  A moment later, Nix’s strong feeler-hands closed gingerly around Hannah’s waist and she was thumped down in the echoing interior of her new home.  She braced herself against the wall and pulled as hard as she could as her spouse gave a little hop and let itself be propelled into the foyer.  Then they both turned and slammed away the news crews with a satisfying bang.


14 responses to “And Now For Something Completely Different

    • Oh ho ho! Not all of it. But I am sorry I lost so much of my early stuff. It makes such good blog filler. And I admit I’m emotionally needy enough to want to know if the story holds up after all this time.

  1. Thanks for feeding our addiction with more R. Lee goodness. I look forward to reading more. Inter-species Relations is almost like a Cottonwood Lite. I hope your writing of The Land of the Beautiful Dead goes well and you are able to gift those lucky (curse them) few with copies. Maybe there will be a few left over for the rest of us to buy. I hope!

    • Well, I…I guess they’re both bug-like? LOL, I never thought of this as anything like Cottonwood.

      I personally hope I won’t have any freebies left over. I can’t imagine anything more depressing than taking a hundred free books into a convention, having five thousand people look at them for a whole week, only to take them all home again. If that happens, I guess I’ll have to load them and me into a longboat and give my career a Viking funeral. But I’m sure it’ll be fine. Free books…everybody loves free swag.

  2. Thanks for this tidbit, R Lee! I’ll be checking in to keep following this story. Good luck with your novella! Hope to read it soon! :o)

  3. LOVE IT! How interesting to see how you have evolved as a writer. I think I relate to how you must feel about your earlier writing, but you never seem to give yourself credit where it is due! I am wringing my feeler hands FOR Nix because you convey his anxiety in these few lines in a way that has me wanting to clock the reporters with their own microphones! As for the rest of your post? I searched the internet frequently for some “anything” about R. Lee Smith after I read Heat, You had not yet arrived on the social media scene, but I managed to plunder through life devouring the rest of your work and hungering for more in spite of the absence of weekly blogs or an internet website. So (speaking for myself), I guess what I’m trying to say is… Don’t stop writing just to give us an “instant gratification fix.” We’ll be here. We’ll wait. We’ll try to be patient. And we will sigh with relief when Pool arrives!
    Your talent for spinning a tale (or tail or tentacle) is what won our hearts and tickles our antennae! : )

  4. Hi R. Lee! I jumped up and down in my seat when I read you were going to be at the RT convention but sadly couldn’t find you name on the list at the Giant Book Fair. Are you attending that event? I live in Louisiana so I’m driving in for the day and it would totally make my day if I got to meet you! 🙂

      • Yes! If you are going to be around that area lets meet!

        P.S. So far I’ve read Gann and I just finished the last Arcadia novel. And I have to say YOU ROCK. For all it’s brutality- I loved Gann. But Arcadia? Holey moley. You made that book feel like home. Your characters in that series are amazing. The evil ones are so vile and the good ones are SO good! Loved the transformation all of the characters go through. It was so satisfying for me to fall in love with Rhiannon as a character when the first time we meet her I HATED her. Totally saw another Nikki in her.

      • What can I say? I love writing damaged characters. Sometimes I like to fix them…sometimes I like to make ’em worse.

        This is the first time I’ve heard the Rhiannon/Nikki comparison. It wasn’t deliberate, but it’s definitely food for thought. If you want to know, though, Nikki IS the mirror image of another character of mine. As I’ve said elsewhere (somewhere), Cottonwood and The Last Hour of Gann were written as “sister books” and I tweaked both stories in a lot of places to draw parallels to the other. Nikki Bierce is Sarah Fowler; Amber is Kate. I just emphasized certain qualities of each character’s personality for each book. As an exercise, it was a lot of fun and I may have to do it again someday.

        And we will definitely hook up at the convention.

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