‘Spacesuits Won’t Help You Here’ has been published in the Reddit Writers Anthology!

Reddit is usually where I go when I want to kill time and brain cells. Usually. Back in the Summer, a group of writers came together from their /r/writing forum to join our powers together and help promote each other on twitter. There are virtual meetups, writeins, novel reading groups, kittens photos, and other shenanigans going on.

We also decided to put our skills to good use for Doctors Without Borders and gather stories for the first anthology of writing from redditors! You might guess it’s all stories about cats, weed, computers, and video games, but we also have sci-fi, fantasy, crime, and, more weirdly – a psychedelic adventure story about Burning Man written by me!

I love the way it turned out and I’m especially grateful to the editors and organizers, including Joe Butler (@writelikeashark) who put the whole thing together, @AlexHareland, and my editor @AizelleRaine. Hopefully they’ll be another anthology down the road!

 


Check out our group on Twitter – #redditwriters – we’re always welcoming new people!

Silent City, my novel, is now live on Amazon!

After year of writing, editing, cover changes, submissions, suggestions from friends, interruptions due to grad school, and other obstacles, it finally exists!

I started writing this novel years ago for NaNoWriMo. It wasn’t my first attempt at NaNoWriMo, but it was the first one that I thought might turn into something readable. The basic idea was to create a ‘Spirited Away’ or ‘Alice in Wonderland’ set in Baltimore, but with a more realistic feel and autumn vibe. Initially, a young girl named Anne got lost in the city and her imagination transformed the fast food restaurants and dirty panhandlers into an fantasy adventure as she searched for her mom. This concept ended up being pretty hard, basically because it’s a crazy challenge to actually describe things from a 5 year-old’s perspective. Like, can they reach the door knob, or read, or handle locks or money or other concepts? Do they know how street signs work or how the city is laid out? Probably not.

So it evolved into a story about an 11 or 12 year old girl who wakes to find the city completely abandoned. She meets her neighbor’s cat (who seems to be able to talk, now) and leaves Mt. Vernon to explore and figure out what happened. They encounter ghosts and monsters and other creatures along the way, and end up getting lost among some of Baltimore’s more well known monuments and locations as well as meeting a few of its ignoble celebrities.

Today it’s available on Amazon for free and later it will be $2.99. Soon it will be in print as well. I’m super excited and can’t wait to finally hold a copy in my hand, which will be a super surreal feeling after all these years.

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

Kafka on the Shore Book Cover Kafka on the Shore
Haruki Murakami, J. Philip Gabriel,
Fiction
Vintage
2006-01
467

An unlikely alliance forms between Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old runaway, and the aging Nakata, a man who has never recovered from a wartime affliction, as they embark on a surreal odyssey through a strange, fantastical world. Also, there are cats. Lots of cats.

Kafka on the Shore was the first book I read after moving to Japan. Since then, my memories have blended with images of shrines hidden in dense cities, truck drivers at lonely coffee shops, and talking cats roaming the weeds. Then again, who’s to say I never actually experienced those things? Living in Japan was a surreal, dreamlike experience with lots of drinking – kind of like this book.

After a rereading, the thing I really liked about the Kafka was how much it felt like Japan. If you haven’t been there but want to know what it’s like, it’s perfect. It’s also just a really cool story, and the author does a great job blending in boring details of every day life with bizarre happenings, while still having things make sense. Even so, I’m not sure if I completely figured out the whole story, but I think that’s OK.

Here are some other random ratings in no particular order:


Difficulty: Medium. It’s a bit long and there are some references that might not make sense to casual readers, but I enjoyed it all the way through so no complaints.

Weirdness Level: 9/10. It has UFOs, Colonel Sanders, and some Oedipus stuff, let’s put it that way.

Was it fun? There’s definitely some gloomy stuff going on (anyone who has taught Japanese teenagers will understand that this is unavoidable. Well, maybe that’s true of all teenagers).

Reread? The next time I feel like I need to escape from our American reality.

Stretched thin and Stressed!

Fasting, meditation, and yoga have helped me with the stress of the Physics lifestyle over the years (and especially the past few months), but things are starting to get frenzied again. Our boss John is pushing us to hit some landmarks in our thesis and to aim for graduation next year. In a way, this is good. Getting start early is key when you’re working on a 200 page monster. The next deadline is next week and I probably need about 10-20 new pages written between now and then.

On the other hand, I’m heading to Virginia Tech early next month and I need to prepare a suite of readout electronics for our demonstrator detector. My colleague Kurtis is in town and he’s the perfect guy to approach for help on this – but I’ve only got a week. Yikes! Two deadlines at the end of one week. O_O

Fasting sounds crazy, but it’s not

Have you ever been hungry for an entire day? Or missed eating entirely for over 24 hours? I thought about this question while reading “Ender’s Shadow,” one of the sequels to Ender’s game. The main character is a scrawny orphan kid who struggles to survive on the streets but eventually gets recruited to help fight off an alien invasion. You know, pretty much every orphan’s story. The book was good, but for 23 year-old me it was also an insight into the lives of homeless.

Of course, I know I’ll never experience what it’s like to be a hungry kid in the Favelas (where Orson Scott Card was a missionary and likely got his inspiration), but I decided to try fasting to see what it was like. A high school teacher of mine, said he would fast on Fridays in solidarity with the poor. If he could do it once a week every week, surely I could try it at least once or twice.

Well, it turned out to be pretty hard! Shocking, right? Still, I managed to succeed that  first time, but didn’t end up doing it much over the intervening years. Occasionally I would do a day of fasting in Japan, but there were new challenges there: being tired and hungry in a classroom of sneezing 8 year-olds is a guaranteed way to get sick. So it’s been on the back-burner until relatively recently. Catnip treats are just too good

Over the holidays Amanda and I went home to Baltimore to visit friends and family. I wasn’t biking to school anymore, hiking, hitting the gym, or doing much of anything beyond drinking beer, reading books, playing games, and eating. It was relaxing, but my belly got way bigger (so did Beaker’s). Back in Hawaii, I already have an exercise routine down, but I wondered what I could do to help me shed some fat a little faster. Fasting? Why not.

So, how is it? So far, I’ve tried it every other Wednesday and it’s generally gone OK. My rules: no food, no calories outside of vitamins in the morning, and no fluids other than water, green tea, or black coffee (a recent addition). Here’s a breakdown of how it’s felt the past couple of times:

  • ‘Man, I miss my morning coffee. But that’s OK, I’m not so hungry yet.’
  • ‘Those vitamin’s kinda made me less hungry.’
  • ‘OK, biking up this hill to school seems more tiring than usual.’
  • ‘Man, I could go for a latte. I should go to Starbucks. Oh…”
  • ‘OK, it’s lunchtime and everyone is eating. What do I do now?’
  • ‘2 o’clock. That’s half a day. Not bad, right? I could eat when I get home and call it an ‘intermittent fast.’
  • ‘3:30. I’m gonna make it the whole day for sure!’
  • ‘4:30. My stomach is rumbling and my head is starting to hurt.’
  • ‘Wow, biking home was even harder than usual.’
  • ‘OK, I’m home and Elan and Amanda’s food smells amazing. Like, way more amazing than usual. Must… resist…’
  • ‘My head still kinda hurts.’
  • ‘Why does this book keep talking about food? Damn you novelists!!!’
  • ‘Zzzzz…. I’m too sleepy and tired to get out of bed and eat.’

Then the next day:

  • ‘Wow, I’m extra tired this morning, but my head feels really clear.’
  • ‘Hmmm, I feel pretty good!’
  • ‘Wow, everything smells amazing today.’
  • ‘Biking is a little tiring, but otherwise I feel better than yesterday.’
  • ‘Mmmm, delicious salad. These raw cucumbers are the most delicious thing ever.’

Is it worth it? So far I’ve experienced four major benefits:

  1. Losing a little weight / fat
  2. Feeling absolutely amazing the day after (even if I haven’t eaten yet)
  3. Less headaches, even after crazy yoga poses
  4. Shoulder injury feels way better

Overall, I’d say it’s been really beneficial. So far, I’ve succeeded in doing two 36 hour fasts  since January and a couple of half-day fasts. My go-to day is Wednesday and I’m aiming for twice a month. Even though it tough at the beginning, I know I will feel awesome afterward, so I’m planning to try again next week and see how it goes.

More Regular Updates on the Way

I’ve made a few resolutions for the new year, including working on my physical and mental health, focusing more on my work in physics, and spending more time on writing. Last year, I decided to attempt to write a short story per month. I didn’t reach my goal, but I did manage to write six or seven stories, so not bad.

I know I’ll be busy this year, especially with my dissertation, but I think writing one page per day is absolutely doable, whether it’s creative writing, journaling, or scientific work. The lack of a digital journal has also been bothering me. For many, many years – an embarrassing number, really – I kept a journal on opendiary.com. I started when I was 16 and kept it up to date into grad school. It had stories from my time in drama club in high school, my journey out west and hiking in Montana, my blundering through early relationships and dating, my successes and failures at UMBC, and the drunken shenanigans I encountered while teaching in Japan.

Opendiary closed several years ago. In the meantime, I’ve been keeping paper journals. These are a lot of fun, and in some ways better – If I’m ever old and have kids or grandkids, I can pass them on. They’re also generally more *ahem* private.

That said, I think it’s good, and more practical, to keep an online writing practice going. So I’m going to get back at, right here, on this blog I set up here on my website. Why not? At least the robots that visit will be happy. Hello, fellow robots! Err, uh. I swear I’m not a robot. Just a scientist.

The Kindle Scout Campaign for Silent City Has Launched!

It’s been a long journey, starting the book as part of a NanoWriMo project years ago, to editing, to reediting, sending it around to people for comments, reediting, and submitting to places. I’m sure there are still some spots to improve, but I’ve had a great time writing this and I think it’s time to move on to other projects. That said, it’s got cats, ravens, Bromoseltzer Tower, and lots of references to random books inside, so what’s not to get? The story is set in Baltimore, with lots of references to local culture, so I’m hoping people from the area enjoy it, at least.

So what’s going on with it now? Basically, I’ve submitted the manuscript to Amazon via their “Kindle Scout” program. If it gets enough nominations, or the editors like it enough, or Amazon speaks to the elder gods deep beneath the Earth and they approve – then I get a contract, some cash, and free promotion in the kindle store.

SilentCityCoverB

Click here to check out the publishing campaign on kindle!

If you nominate the book and it wins, you get a free copy. If you nominate and it doesn’t win, you can either check it out on Amazon or I’ll send along a copy for free! If you want to nominate it and never read it because ebooks are lame, that makes sense too. If you’re thinking, “Who the hell is this guy and why should I nominate his book?” – OK, fair enough, I have no idea how you ended up here either.

Potential Book Covers

Friends, as some of you may know, I’ve been working on a novel set in Baltimore for many years now. The book is basically done, but I need a cover for it. I’ve toyed around with some ideas and come up with a few different variations. Covers, colors, backgrounds, and other things can be swapped pretty easily.  Let me know what you think!

SilentCityCoverA SilentCityCoverB SilentCityCoverC SilentCityCoverD SilentcityCoverE

 

Save&Go

by Ryan Walraven

Harold pressed his nose to the cold glass of the convenience store window and stared longingly at the street lights outside. Flurries were drifting down from somewhere high in the troposphere and they seemed to give a majesty to the evening that he was neither accustomed to nor inclined to associate himself with. The entire city was abuzz with life; bustling crowds of holiday shoppers had descended to roam the pine-scented shops and watch the Christmas lights go up. But unlike them, Harold was tethered to the counter of the Save-And-Go. Snow or no snow, someone had to guard the smoothie machine and sell donuts to the consumerist hordes.

“Hey Harold!” a cheery voice called from over his shoulder. “Stand there any longer and your tongue will freeze to the window.”

Harold put on a smile and peeled himself away from the view to face the fluorescent reality of the store. “My face is still intact, thanks,” he said. “I was just watching for the milk delivery truck.”

Josh, his boss, gave him a skeptical look and tapped his watch. “Not tonight,” he smiled, “the milk delivery comes on Saturdays.”

“Oh, right,” Harold gave a shrug, “I forgot. All of these days seem to blur together.”

Josh gave a curt laugh. “Keep talking like that and it’s going to be a long month,” he said, wagging his finger. “Business is going to pick up over the holidays, but most of your coworkers are out of town.”

Harold tapped his fingers on the plastic wood of the counter and restrained the urge to groan.  He knew where this was going. “Well, I’ll be here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays as usual.”

Of course,” Josh said, snapping his fingers and squeezing his eyes shut. He was dancing around the subject, Harold could tell, and strategizing as he listened to the Sinatra pouring out of the speakers overhead.

Harold averted his eyes, compulsively clicking the receipt-signing pen open and closed.

“You know,” Josh said, winding up and putting his hand on Harold’s shoulder, “If you could use some extra hours for the holidays, the store would love to have you.”

No. No. Harold closed his eyes and bit his tongue, but he couldn’t think of a reply and somehow the words came rolling out: “Sure, I guess.”

Harold turned his head and sighed. This would probably mean working on Christmas eve. Somewhere inside of him, part of his soul collapsed like an arthritic grandma on a hot city street.

“Thataboy!” Josh said, thumping him on the shoulder and shaking Harold like a limp mop. “You’re awesome, Har!”

“You know,” Harold said, rubbing his shoulder. “You have unusually strong arms for such a skinny guy.”

Josh laughed and thumped him on the shoulder again. “You should come to the gym with me sometime!”

This was a request Harold had more practice at refusing. “No thanks man,” he said, patting his flat stomach. “I’m skinny enough as it is.”

“Suit yourself,” Josh said. He winked at Harold and turned to leave.

Harold gave a sigh of relief, but Josh turned back at the last second. “Hey Har, while it’s slow would you mind restocking the shelves?”

“Noooo problem,” he said. Of course he didn’t mind doing all the work. He grabbed a cart and rolled it to the back room, grabbing haphazard bags of potato chips and candy bars, along with a whole array of bottled sodas and tea. Josh hadn’t mentioned the drinks yet, but he would. That was guaranteed.

He rolled back to the floor and found a lone customer roaming the aisles: a skinny teenaged girl with flyaway hair and a serpentine green scarf. She ignored Harold, despite the rattling of his cart, and danced around a shelf of pixie sticks and bubble gum. She was kind of cute in an Ellen Page sort of way, Harold concluded.

He rolled the cart down an adjacent aisle, certain that he’d make it to the soda cases without even attracting a glance from the girl, yet some inexplicable whim struck her and she skipped directly into his path like a gazelle into a freight truck on the African Savanna.

The rolling cart of liquid sugar cane and processed potato barely grazed her knee, but it was enough to send it careening into a candy display. The resulting collision  knocked half a dozen bottles to the floor and engulfed an entire shelf of gummy bears.   

“Whoa, sorry,” she gasped, gaping at the mess.

“It’s nothing,” Harold replied, rolling his eyes and surveying the devastation. The gummy casualties numbered in the hundreds, maybe more, and ruined plastic packages lay all around them.    

“Are you sure you don’t need some help or something?” the girl said, tugging on the draw string of her hoodie.

“Sure, I guess,” Harold mumbled and knelt down to pick the intact sodas away from the mess, his heart beating.

“Is that a yes or a no?”

He sighed; it was pretty much impossible not to imagine the girl making the situation worse. “Never mind. Don’t worry about it.”

“Oook.”  She shrugged and wandered off.   

Harold quickly got to work, but behind him someone cleared their throat.    

He turned and glanced over his shoulder, expecting Josh to demand an explanation, but it was just a customer standing at the register: a guy in the leather jacket leaning on the counter and waiting to be checked out.  Exercising his benign judgment, Harold saved a lone squadron of gummy bears from the disaster and perched them atop one of the shelves. Then, dusting his hands off, he jogged over to the counter and rung up the guy’s items. It was important to keep one’s priorities straight on the job, and small acts of individuality were the only thing that helped him keep his sanity.

“Hrrnhrmnnnn.”  The customer cleared his throat again.

Harold looked up into a pair of bloodshot eyes and noticed several details about the man’s appearance: his hair was long and tangled, his leather jacket was worn and cracked, and his face was covered in a shaggy mustache that curled around into a pair of enormous sideburns. As he looked at Harold, one eye seemed vaguely out of focus.

“Can I help you?” Harold ask, tentatively. 

The man raised a finger to reply and licked his hairy upper lip, but couldn’t seem to get the words out. He thumped his hand on the counter instead, his body quivering.

Harold backed away from the counter, rolling his eyes.  He had experience dealing with these types – the man had probably been having drugged-out convenience store adventures for going on thirty years. Rather than argue with such a veteran, Harold decided to summon Josh right away.  He turned to leave, but the man finally spoke.

“Cigarettes,” the man mumbled, his chin now resting against his chest.

“We don’t carry –” Harold started.

“Cigarettes!” the man shouted. The Sinatra pumping quietly out of the speakers seemed distant and faraway, the store a silent wasteland.

“We don’t sell any,” Harold said, backing up another step and bumping into the wall.

The man’s eyes widened and his gaze drifted shakily to the windows and the snow falling outside. “How… how come you ain’t got no cigarettes?”

“We hate tobacco farmers,” Harold gibed, exasperated as he turned to leave the store and summon Josh. The man lunged over the counter and his hand caught Harold’s shoulder.

“Smokes,” the man reiterated, his breath reeking of smoke and whiskey.

“We don’t have any goddamned cigarettes,” Harold said, losing his temper and smacking the man’s arm away.

The man’s eyes widened and his lip trembled as he surveyed his own arm like some sort of alien artifact. Harold spun and tried again to leave, but the man pushed him from behind and sent Harold tumbling over his own backpack. He fell to the floor behind the counter, his elbow hitting the wall and erupting with pain.

Behind him, the man grunted and moved off into the store mumbling. Harold gave a quick sigh of relief – he was still alive – and tried to haul himself to his feet, but when he put weight on his right arm, the elbow gave way and collapsed. Taking a deep breath and leaning back against the wall, he tried to think reasonably. The best thing to do now would be to call the police. There was a phone nearby on the counter, but Harold concluded that the one in the back office was probably a better choice. He started to get to his feet and froze.

“Hey man, hands off,” the girl with the green scarf said.

“Bitch,” the man growled.

Harold’s mind raced. He dove for the phone cord and dragged it off the counter to where he was hiding.  He held his arm out to catch it, but his heart was beating and his arms were shaking. The phone smacked his arm and clattered to the floor, its receiver shattering into five pieces.

Harold froze.

“Get off me man!” the girl shouted again.

Harold cringed; he didn’t want to get shivved but it was too much to just sit there and listen. Grabbing a broom with his left hand, he unsteadily hauled himself to the counter.

The red-eyed man was standing in the middle of the central aisle, his back to Harold as he faced the girl.

She had her arms crossed and her eyebrows raised.

Overhead, the music stopped. The playlist must have come to an end. Harold gripped the broom in hand like a medieval broad sword and steadied himself. If he lunged just right…

“None uh these people round here,” the man started, stumbling forward and clutching the girl’s arm. “None uh them…”

Harold’s pulse was racing. His mouth had run dry and his right arm felt as if it might break off at the elbow, but he had to do something. He started off from behind the counter and raised the broom to swing, but before he could, the girl went crazy.

“Get the fuck off of me!” she screamed, pushing the guy back into a shelf of potato chips. The man’s bloodshot eyes looked as startled as Harold felt. She stomped up a step closer and pointed at the man’s face and then out the door. “Seriously. Get the hell out of here old man!”

The man’s lip trembled and he pushed himself to his feet, crushing potato chips and corn curls under his palms. Harold’s mouth dropped open as he awaited the flash of a fist, or a knife, but the man got to his feet and stumbled past, straight out the door.

“Some people,” the girl said, shaking her head. “Are you alright?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess” Harold said, shaking his head and limping back to the counter. “Fine.”

“You shouldn’t let guys like that push you around,” she said, carrying a pack of gummy worms to the counter as if nothing had happened. “He’s just a drugged-out creep.”

Harold laughed curtly and rang her up. “Hey,” he said, as she walked out the door.

“Huh?” she turned, her hair wafting in the draft out of the heating ducts.

“Nevermind,” Harold said, shaking his head and rubbing his elbow.

“See you later.” She waved and left.

As if on cue, Josh returned to the store, but Harold had made up his mind.

“Did I miss anything?” Josh joked, cracking a smile.

“The music went off,” Harold shook his head and walked to the counter, leaning the broom against the Tic-Tac display. “And I quit,” he said quietly.

“Excuse me, Har?”

“I said I quit.”

“I thought so,” Josh replied, eyeballing Harold. “Are you messing with me?”

“No.”  Harold grabbed his bag and jacket from under the counter and turned to go, but stopped. “No,” he said again, “not this time.”

The automatic doors parted with a hiss and he passed out into the night, subconsciously searching for signs of a green scarf, but the whirling snowflakes were thick, covering everything, and he couldn’t see far beyond glow of the store front.


© Ryan Walraven 2015