My daughter and I have a little ritual we re-enact from time to time. She’ll be exasperated with me about something, and I’ll tell her, “You’re my favorite daughter.” She replies, “I’m your only daughter.”
Which is true, but it doesn’t make her any less special. Things get a little more interesting when all three of my kids are arguing about something, usually why one of them was allowed to do something the other two weren’t. They turn to me for justification, and sometimes I’ll say, “Because they’re my favorite child.”
I wouldn’t recommend this as a parenting technique, but my kids are all into or past their teens and know me well enough to correctly translate my statement as, “You’re being ridiculous.” I love them equally, and proposing that I’d favor any one of them like that is silly, though the two boys might argue that I spoil their sister, just a little bit.
Likewise, it’s hard to look at a collection of my short stories, like Odd Little Miracles, and choose “favorites.” I like them all, for reasons as different as they are different. Some of them were easier to write than others. Some involved tackling a difficult idea and making it work inside a story. Some were just fun–they made me laugh as I wrote them.
Anyhow, here are three–no, four–I particularly enjoyed, in no particular order:
“The Silver Tree”
At the time I wrote this, it was the longest “short” story I’d yet attempted. It was anchored around a few vivid images that had been bouncing around in my head for a while–a graceful, willowy tree made of metal, a giant, corroded spaceship partially-embedded in a cliff, and a gloomy, clouded planet. I’d also been thinking a lot about long-distance space travel in generation ships, what might motivate such a journey, and what a colony established by the survivors might look like. Eventually, all those elements coalesced into a story. I was delighted when it was picked up by Kaleidotrope, a small print periodical that has garnered critical praise over the years, and not an easy magazine to get into.
It’s probably the most secular story I’ve written, and depicts a future I don’t find either ideal or likely. If there’s a message, it’s in the fact that the story presents two extreme positions on the merits of technology, neither fully satisfying. For the characters, something’s lost, and something’s gained, but I tried to find them a little island of hope in an impossible dilemma.
I don’t like the circus, but it fascinates me. This is a story that came to me as I was driving a long, straight stretch of Interstate 70 in eastern Kansas, paralleling a railroad track, traveling between sun-scorched, rolling hills. The hills were just high enough to make me wonder what might lie on the other side. I imagined a circus train broken down in that place, on a side track, and the story grew from there.
“Rubes” gave me a chance to play around with the circus world and turn the setup of Ray Bradbury’s classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes, on its head–with a tip of the hat to Zenna Henderson. The thing I love most about this story, though, is the way it transformed itself into a very human tale about broken people in need of a miracle, and a callous businessman who learns something about what it means to be a leader.
“Of All Things, Seen and Unseen”
The idea for this story came to me as I was driving home from visiting my son at college in Illinois. I’d recently read one of Karina Fabian’s Rescue Sisters stories, and the idea of nuns doing search and rescue in interplanetary space was simultaneously preposterous and brilliant. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Knowing search and rescue of any sort to be an extremely dangerous job, I wondered what it would be like for a member of that sort of religious community, both contemplative and max-adrenaline active, to be sidelined by a severe injury.
It was a daunting task. I had to write about a Catholic person, from a Catholic point of view, but I wasn’t a Catholic. I would be working in a setting and culture created by another author, so I had to ask permission to proceed. Fortunately, Ms. Fabian was both gracious and helpful. She provided a wealth of information about her stories’ universe, and kept me from drifting into misrepresentation of the Catholic viewpoint. In the process, I discovered a character, and a community, with more depth and emotional resonance than I expected. The title is an excerpt from the first line of one of the most ancient statements of Christian faith, the Nicene Creed.
“A Quiet Afternoon at the Alabaster County Ladies’ Sewing Circle and Patchwork Society”
First of all, I like the title of this one–it’s ridiculously long, but it sets the mood, and it’s truth in advertising. It was fun writing the banter between the two older ladies as they worked on their weekly project. I’ve experienced enough family reunions and church socials that the conversation felt comfortable and homey, with a little edge of sarcasm and amiable rivalry that always happens when old friends or relations get together.
And then, the story veered off into a very different place…but I’ll let you find out about that when you read it.
This concludes my reflections on Odd Little Miracles. I hope you’ll have a chance to read it sometime. If you do, come back and tell me what you think. For me, that’s the best part of writing.