July 24, 2023

Excited to announce that I’ve sold my novella ONE MESSAGE REMAINS to the illustrious and soul-transporting Psychopomp Press!

Major Lyell Tzajos is a man on a mission—and he’s goshdarned proud of it, thank you very much. His higher-ups have assigned him to travel halfway across the continent, back to what was recently the front of this latest go-round of an eternal war, and recover the hastilyinterred remains of the enemy soldiers so they can be identified and repatriated to their families. There’s just one thing he hasn’t considered: what if the dead don’t want him there?

This novella will be part of a mini-collection, so the novella, plus THE GENERAL’S TURN (which is a novelette, about 8200 words), plus two more short stories I haven’t written yet. I’m very excited to write the stories; this is a world I’ve wanted to return to since I scribbled down the very first lines of THE GENERAL’S TURN. In particular I think once you’ve established a story where you ask “What is wrong with these people?” you get an immense creative urge to answer it in several different ways, with several different narratives.

What is wrong with these people? Why is the war going on so long? Why don’t any of the armistices stick? Can’t they just give up? Is it really so bad being defeated? Why fight when you know you’re going to lose? Why die when you know that’s the outcome every time? The dead have a lot of questions, just as the living do.

I know Tzajos. I mean, I know a lot of people like Tzajos. They’re all very Dudley Do-Right, and are quite offended when they see an ACAB bumper sticker. Their attitude is, “You may not like what we’re doing, but we’re better than criminals! We’re standing up for the principles of law and order and the endless fight against anarchy!” Meanwhile I’m looking at my own life, at friends and family members who make the same argument about helping me, and I keep telling them that forcing help on someone who hasn’t asked for it isn’t helping. It’s harming. Almost every time, practically universally. If someone hasn’t got space in their life for your help, you have just made their lives infinitely more difficult. And like Tzajos, they can’t see that; they can only see the system, or maybe the capital-S System, in which they believe exists a perfect slot for everyone in the world, and all I need (all the enemy needs) is a little nudge to get into our slot, why aren’t we in there already, just move, just get in, goddammit, and stop sticking out.

Like THE GENERAL’S TURN, this is a story focused on the point of view of the villain. But although he’s a bastard in the ACAB sense, I always felt that he wasn’t a bastard along every axis. Maybe there is some deep-buried seed inside me that I dug up and transplanted into him: this small, hard, nearly impenetrable belief that there’s got to be some good inside everyone, and perhaps it will not be revealed in their lifetime—unless they are given a chance.

I also, as the announcement mentions, wanted to probe into this idea of influences—what makes us who we are? The easy, Aristotelian, Western literature answer is agency, autonomy. We are who we are because of the choices we make, which luckily fit so nicely on the page. The truth is (as most of us know at some level, but those of us from equity-seeking communities tend to know at a much more conscious, everyday level) that agency is not always the majority of identity or existence. As Salman Rushdie says (I paraphrase lightly), we would be horrified if we knew the extent to which our lives are controlled by the decisions of people we don’t know about, working in rooms we don’t even know exist. Individualists (and writers) hate this idea—it takes too much away from the fundamental principles of their personality and goals. But it’s the truth. Not even just politicians, I mean, or generals or secret police or covert agents, but transportation engineers, people who design wastewater plants, you name it.

Your life is, whether you admit it or not, out of your own hands. It always has been. It always will be. The world is far more likely to change you than you are to change it. What will you do with that information? Wrench yourself to pieces fighting it? Or learn to live with it and make something out of the parts of your life you do seem to control? Tzajos finds this out firsthand: unlike me and my friend, he doesn’t worry about the voices of his favourite novelists  finding their way into his letters. It’s the voices of the dead. Impossible to fight, impossible to reason with, seizing control of what he believed was his—the private world of his letters.

So the whole question of the novella becomes: Now what?

Now what will you do with this influence? What will you do with the influence you still have left to you?

I am so honoured to be working with Psychopomp press on this mini-collection, and I can’t wait for it to be out in the world—I think we are aiming for late summer-early-fall-somethinglike-that 2024, so stay tuned!

Related Posts
Share via
Copy link