We Clever Jacks

This is an old-ish story of mine (like 9 or 10 years old) (quite old!) that I keep linking to around Halloween because it’s my only Halloween story. There’s also a podcast version produced by the fine people at Podcastle.

We Clever Jacks
by
Greg van Eekhout

We are so clever, we Jacks. It’s true, we can’t move around like the gobblers do, paralyzed as we are atop stoops and posts, with candles flickering in our emptiness. But we are clever. We grin at each other from porches and second-floor landings and sawhorses set out in front yards. We grin and grin, and we have a plan.

Grimacing Jack came up with it. He’s just a little five-pounder, our Grimacing Jack, perched on a step ladder by the Hansen’s mailbox, and he’s sharp as a broken lollipop.

He made first contact about two days ago. “Hi, Jacks,” he said. “I’m Grimacing Jack, and I think this year we’ll play a good and nasty trick.”

We all started introducing ourselves.

Laughing Jack.

Shrieking Jack.

Happy Jack.

Wailing Jack.

Screaming Munsch Jack.

All the neighborhood Jacks. We are such good Jacks, we Jacks.

“This year we’re not putting up with any of that stuff our patch fathers have always put up with,” says Grimacing Jack. “No smashing in the gutter, no tossing in the street. No blowing up with firecrackers. No being ignored into November, sagging and settling and getting mottled black and furry. No way, my Jacks. This year we’re gonna make it the Year of the Jacks.”

We love our Grimacing Jack.

But here’s a problem: We got no legs. We got no arms. We’re just heads. Expressive heads, sure, but still, just heads.

Grimacing Jack laughs. It’s a high-pitched, half-hysterical laugh, beautiful, night-piercing, sure to make a two-year old pee his bunny costume. If only his laugh could be heard by anyone but us Jacks.

How are we going to play a trick? we ask. Hard to play a trick stuck up on a fence post. Tricks are for creatures with legs. Tricks are for walkers.

“Oh, my lovely Jacks,” says Grimacing Jack, “Dogs got legs. Dogs can move around. Are we dogs? Is that the best we can hope for?”

No, Grimacing Jack. It sure ain’t. Tell us, Grimacing Jack. Tell us how to be.

“We got faces,” Grimacing Jack continues. “We got eyes that glow and mouths that gape. After they sawed our heads open and scooped out our guts and our seeds, they cut faces into us, oh, such funny faces.” Grimacing Jack falls silent, gathering his malice. Somewhere a crow caws laughter at us. (We hate crows. They peck us.)

“Now, listen, my lovely Jacks,” whispers Grimacing Jack. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”

And so, finally, the night falls, and the gobblers come out: ghosts and werewolves and pirates and ballerinas and TV characters with bags and pillow cases and fake plastic Jacks full of sweets. Unprotected against their mad whims, we Jacks grin in fright. But in our secret dancing flame hearts, we wait patiently for the signal.

It comes in a single word, spoken by Grimacing Jack, that contains untold generations of anger and sorrow and respect and mourning on behalf of our patch fathers, severed from the earth and mutilated and abused by gobblers big and small.

“Payback,” quakes Grimacing Jack in the cold-dew night.

And we Jacks go to work, using the only things we’ve got.

Laughing Jack changes his face to Demon Jack.

Wailing Jack trasnforms into Demon Jack.

Smirking Jack becomes Demon Jack. We all do.

Orange light dances within dozens of identical Demon faces.

Only Grimacing Jack keeps his own face, as is his right as our general, our warlord, our king.

What will the gobblers do once they realize that, even without legs and arms, we are not helpless? That even though we can’t walk, we can move? Will they drop their bags of treats and run? Will they crush chocolate bars and suckers and gummy bears under their shoes as they stampede for safety?

“Hey, someone switched my pumpkin,” says a gobbler cowboy.

“Yeah, mine, too,” answers a gobbler ninja.

“Good prank. Some kids from another neighborhood must have swapped ‘em.”

“Yep,” says the cowboy. “Let’s go get ‘em back.”

And the gobblers move on. There’s no fright. No panic. No gobbler mommies and daddies coming out of the houses to gather their little gobbler children, confused and terrified by a night ruled by Jacks.
Nobody realizes just how clever we Jacks are.

Long after the gobblers have gone to sleep, we seek answers from Grimacing Jack.

Now what, Grimacing Jack?

Why weren’t they afraid, Grimacing Jack?

Grimacing Jack, why didn’t they care?

But Grimacing Jack says nothing. He just grimaces.

When dawn comes, we see Grimacing Jack on the ground, half his face caved in where he fell or got knocked over. Many of us will find ourselves sharing Grimacing Jack’s fate.

That’s just the way of Trick or Treat. That’s how it goes for us Jacks.

But we still love our Grimacing Jack. He’s special, is our Grimacing Jack. Even all silent and smashed up, he’s trying to help us. We notice some little knotty bumps growing out of his skin. Little limbs. Not stunted. Just small. Unformed. Full of promise. He won’t manage to grow them before his inner light dies out, because he will be dead soon, our Grimacing Jack. We are all dying, we Jacks. But Grimacing Jack still tries to grow legs.

Thank you, Grimacing Jack, we say. And with the last of our strength, we all turn ourselves into Sorrowful Jack.

Maybe in next year’s crop there’ll be someone like Grimacing Jack. Someone willing to grow. Someone angry enough to organize. Someone who’ll figure out how to move beyond the porches and posts and stoops. Maybe there’ll be someone even more clever than Grimacing Jack.

And then, little gobblers, and then, such tricks we will play. Such clever tricks.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Till Her Final Breath

Story by Greg van Eekhout
Art by Sarah Winifred Searle
Copyright 2016 Greg van Eekhout and Sarah Winifred Searle

thfbp1

 

thfbp2

thfbp3

thfbp4

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A quick tip about historical settings, or rather one historical setting

I’m working on a story set in 1943 Los Angeles, and by way of research and curiosity I read Raymond Chandler’s short story, “The Lady in the Lake,” published in 1943.

I was looking for clear indicators of the 1943 setting. There were few. Some depictions of a lightly developed LA neighborhood that’s probably quite developed today. The procedure for placing phone calls. A Glendale phone number being listed in the Other Cities phone book. But no contemporary popular culture references. Very little slang.

Chandler’s prose, of course, is a thing of its time, but I don’t know if that’s so much a reflection of the time as the fact that his style sort of came to define the time.

The one thing that did clearly mark the era was smoking. Everyone smokes. All the time. Outdoors, indoors, standing still, in motion. It’s as much a marker of 1943 as horses and carriages would be of 1843.

You wanna set something in 1943? Lean on the smoking.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

San Diego Cracked-it-Con 2016

So a funny thing happened at Comic-Con International (also known as SDCC, San Diego Comic-Con, Comic-Con, or Help I Am Being Digested By 150,000 Nerds).

I was on this really super-great panel with awesome, super-smart people, and even though I was clearly the numbest skull on the stage, I don’t think I said anything career damaging. So, me, proud of that. After the panel, as is customary, we panelists herded ourselves up to Authors Alley in the Sails Pavilion for an autographing, run by the great bookstore folks at Mysterious Galaxy. Things were pretty quiet, so I got up to purchase a copy of Animal Badge, a new comic written by Naren Shankar and fellow panelist Javier Grillo-Marxuach, when I noticed someone waiting in front of the signing table for me to sign something.

So, I ran.

You know those roped windy switchback lines you’ve waited in for so many things? It was one of those. Nobody in it, so I was able to pick up some speed. Going around corners. On a bare concrete floor. Yes, I lost my footing. Yes, I went down. Yes, I felt something inside go snap.

But I got up! I hobbled to my chair at the signing table! I signed a couple of my books! I wondered how I was going to walk to the taco restaurant where I was going to have great tacos for dinner with friends and colleagues. Then I realized I should instead be wondering how I was going to walk to my car to go home which was probably more sensible than going out for tacos, given how much my ankle hurt. Then I was wondering how I was going to get to my car so my wife could drive me to the hospital, because, hell, you know, maybe I broke something? Then I was wondering why my pillow was so damned hard and why people were asking me if I was okay.

Yes, I passed out! I fell out of my chair! Onto the very same concrete floor that took me out the first time! I HATE THAT FLOOR!

My fellow panelists took good care of me, helped me get off the floor and back into a chair, gave me fluids and helped me avoid passing out again (Sherri L. Smith in particular was totally awesome), and folks summoned a whole string of convention center security people and first aid dudes and then EMTs. I got to ride out of Comic-Con on a gurney down VIP freight elevators and then in an ambulance out VIP loading docks.

I saw no celebrities.

Several hours later in ER, the verdict was a fractured fibula. Which made me a little glad, because it’s better to say you passed out from a fractured fibula than, like, bruised pride.

So, it’s going to be six weeks in a hard cast recovering from surgery, and that’s my Comic-Con story. And I’d like to reiterate that I continued to autograph copies of my books even with a fractured fibula. That’s pretty metal, I feel.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

California Bones – the comic?

Well, yes, actually, there is a California Bones comic. Right now it’s a one-shot consisting of a nine-page story, a three-page vignette, and five character pin-ups, all drawn by the remarkably talented and pitch-perfect Ryan Cody. We’ll be bringing copies for purchase to Phoenix Comicon, possibly a few dozen copies to give away at San Diego Comic-Con, and arrangements are being made to post it for free somewhere online. In addition, I’ll be offering it at a nominal price at Comixology and a small number will be on sale in the next week or so on Etsy. (Etsy isn’t just about squid-shaped coffee mugs, you know.)

This is my first comic, and it was ridiculously fun and rewarding to work in a medium I’ve been a fan of since forever, and one I’ve aspired to work in for almost as long. And, seriously, Ryan knocked it out of the park.

I would love to do more. In fact, right now I’m working out details to collaborate with an artist on a four-page story based on one of my flash fiction pieces. Since I’m paying the artists who work with me a decent rate, this is not a money-making endeavor for me. In fact, it’s pretty costly. But if I can find a way to make it economically feasible, I’ll do more.

In the mean time, here’s a look at the cover and a peek inside.

CABones-cover     CABonespage5

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Stuff I wrote in 2015 you can nominate for awards, y’know, if you want to

Hey! You like nominating and voting on stuff for awards? Some stuff I wrote was published in 2015. You can nominate and vote for this stuff.

There are two things.

Thing 1: PACIFIC FIRE
This is a novel. It’s about wizards who eat the bones of extinct magical creatures to gain their powers. I did a lot of research for this book. I almost died sinking in a mud volcano near the Salton Sea. Reward me.

Here’s the Tor Books website for Pacific Fire. There’s a hefty excerpt you can read.

Thing 2: DRAGON COAST
This book is similar to the last book only there’s more dragon. To research this one I had to go to San Francisco and walk the streets and eat delicious food. Reward me.

And here’s the Tor Books website for Dragon Coast. Again, there’s an excerpt.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

ConFusion 2016

Are you going to ConFusion? In Detroit? January 21-24? I think you should. I will be there, doing these things:

Friday 5:00:00 PM Reacting to Fiction in Public
Book discussion today, predominantly online, has created a new phenomenon of public reaction. Whether it’s love of a work or the opposite, this public reaction has become a performance all its own. Does this new paradigm create a culture where perspectives that deviate from those with the most social capital are no longer valid?
Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Susan Dennard, Andrea Johnson (M), Amal El-Mohtar, Greg van Eekhout

Friday 7:00 pm (Offsite) Barnes and Noble Tor Author Group signing
With Susan Dennard, Wesley Chu, V.E. Schwab, Lawrence M. Schoen and Cherie Priest
Livonia store
17111 Haggerty Rd.
Northville, MI 48168

Saturday 4:00:00 PM Autograph Session 1

Saturday 8:00:00 PM Would You Rather?
Hosted by fantasy author Sam Sykes, the contestants will play a science fiction and fantasy inspired game of “Would you rather?” Expect shenanigans, adult language, and laughs.
Brian McClellan, Sam Sykes (M), Cherie Priest, Greg van Eekhout, V.E. Schwab

Sunday 11:00:00 AM Formative Fiction: The Books That Hooked You
Every one remembers the book that turned them into a reader for life. The panel will discuss the books that were formative in their reading lives. What makes a piece of fiction formative?  How does formative fiction evolve with time? Is this work different for today’s new readers than it was for the previous generation or, even, the one before that?
Ferrett Steinmetz, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Mur Lafferty, Sarah Gibbons

Sunday 12:00:00 PM The Business of Rejection
Writing is a business built around rejection. Almost every writer in the industry has experienced it at some point, and many experience it constantly. Come learn how working writers deal with rejection, move past it, and embrace it for what it is.
Amy Sundberg, Kameron Hurley, Greg van Eekhout, Mur Lafferty (M), Gwenda Bond

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

2016

So, I’ve already posted about 2015, a year some suckage leavened by some nice things. So, what’s on board for 2016?

First of all, I won’t have a new novel out. That’s mostly because I didn’t complete one in time to have a novel out in 2016. From the time a novel is sold, a publisher usually needs at least nine months and often more than a year to get it ready for release. And by “ready” I mean not just editing and printing, but also positioning it with a marketing campaign and finding an advantageous slot for it in the release schedule. So, for me to have a book out in 2016, I would have had to finish writing it sometime in late 2014 or early 2015, so an editor could edit it, so I could revise it, so an art director and book designer and cover artist could make it pretty, and so on. Unfortunately, taking care of two elderly parents was more than a full-time job that didn’t leave much physical or emotional energy for new writing.

And I did actually write a new book in the last months of 2015, but it won’t be ready to go out on submission until early 2016. And then I’ll start another book, as one does if one is the sort of person who does that.

Am I bummed not to have a new book in 2016? Not really. I released three new books in 2014 and 2015, and three books in two years isn’t half bad. And I do have a few things slated to come out in 2016, such as a paperback release, a short story in April, and possibly a comic book project or two. (The comics stuff is in very, very early stages of development, but I’m hopeful.) And I’m thinking of a direct-to-reader project or two to fulfill the requests of folks who have been asking me for sequels to Norse Code and The Boy at the End of the World. We’ll see if that’s something I want to do and if it makes sense to do it.

Other than career stuff, we’re planning another trip to the UK in summer. And possibly another in winter. There will also be hundreds of beach walks, dozens of sunsets, and probably no sunrises because holy crap who wants to get up early enough to see a sunrise? If the sun’s there when I wake up, then I’m happy to leave the sun to its morning business without my supervision.

Mostly, 2016 will contain a lot of who-knows-what, because that’s the truth about every life and every year. We don’t know what’s coming down the road. But we drive forward anyway, because we hope a good portion of the unknown things are good things. So, sunglasses on, windows down, tunes blasting, slightly exceeding posted speed limits, and let’s have fun and hope we don’t get a ticket.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A look back at 2015, with thanks

Firstly, secondly, thirdly, and all other numbers through lastly, thank you. Thank you for the emojis, commiserations, alcohol, hugs virtual and real, and all of the other countless ways you gave me boosts when I needed them this year.

Holy crap, this year. I mean, just, daaaamn. I mean HOLY CRAP, 2015.

In January I moved my parents into assisted living, sold their house, and then my mom died. It was more complicated than that sounds, because of ER visits and multiple facilities and other added degrees of difficulty. Also, the day after my mom died, I went out on a multi-city book tour.

Then in May my dad died. Again, added degrees of difficulty and multiple healthcare providers and lots of stress.

So, yes, much crap and a great weight of sadness.

And I’m not even going to mention other family crap that I don’t even wanna go into here. But holy crap.

But. That wasn’t all that 2015 was. It was also getting to see friends, and accepting support and love from them. Again, thank you, friends. I know many of you are dealing with so much — health issues, financial stresses, difficulties both acute and chronic. I hope I can do half as good a job helping you with stuff that you might be going through as you did helping me with mine.

Special shoutout to my cousins Michelle and Nicole for helping me move my dad. And to the caregivers and hospice nurses and workers who deserve to be paid millions for what they do.

And, as always, to Lisa. She was my rock. The kind of rock who gives you reasons to smile at least a few times a day and keeps you company during the worst kind of errands, and also reminds you that even in crap times, it’s still possible to have fun

In 2015 there were also dogs. HOLY CRAP, MY DOGS. They are so funny and cute and weird and entertaining. I seriously don’t know how I ever got through life before I had dogs. Dogs. They are awesome.

And there was a week in London, which we loved so much we’re going back next year, along with Edinburgh, Bath, and Oxford.

And did I mention I published two novels, Pacific Fire and Dragon Coast? And wrote a draft of a new book? Even wrote a short story or two?

So, there was much good in 2015. Some huge, major awful stuff, yes, but as the Eleventh Doctor says, “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.”

Thank you all for being in the pile of good things this year. You are important to me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Win a signed DRAGON COAST hardcover for donating to Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence

Dragon Coast

[UPDATE: I was hoping there would be no mass shooting while I was running this giveaway, but right now I’m seeing live updates from yet another one, this time at an Oregon community college. Whether you choose to participate in my giveaway, or donate money to a gun violence prevention group on your own, or lobby your representatives in government, please do SOMETHING to stop this insanity. Please.]

[UPDATE: I found a box of California Bones hardcovers I didn’t know I had, so I’m adding a signed hardcover of California Bones, plus an ARC of Pacific Fire, so you get the whole trilogy.]

I’m running another book giveaway, this time for one of three signed hardcovers of DRAGON COAST.

Here’s what you gotta do: Make a donation of $10 or more to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. I’ll be kicking in $100 myself.

What does the Brady Campaign do? They work to change a situation that leads to 32,000 annual deaths due to fun violence in the USA.

Email (gregvan@gmail.com) to tell me you donated. I’d love to see a screenshot of the donation verification screen, or a photo of your addressed and stamped envelope, but it’s not required. I want to make this easy. I would, however, like to know how much you donated so I can tally it all at the end.

I’ll choose three donors at random who’ll each get a signed hardcover.

I’ll keep the identity of the winners and all entrants private unless they want otherwise.

I will ship the books to the winners. Since I don’t want to have to pay a bunch for postage, I’m limiting it to addresses within the United States. If you want a special inscription, just let me know.

I’ll select the winners on Friday, October 2, 5:00 P.M. EST.

I think that should cover it. Let me know if you have any questions.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off