Title: Behind the Mask
Date Published: 2017
Publisher: Meerkat Press
Source: Goddess Fish Blog Tours
Behind the Mask is a multi-author collection with stories by award-winning authors Kelly Link, Cat Rambo, Carrie Vaughn, Seanan McGuire, Lavie Tidhar, Sarah Pinsker, Keith Rosson, Kate Marshall, Chris Large and others. It is partially, a prose nod to the comic world—the bombast, the larger-than-life, the save-the-worlds and the calls-to-adventure. But it’s also a spotlight on the more intimate side of the genre. The hopes and dreams of our cape-clad heroes. The regrets and longings of our cowled villains. That poignant, solitary view of the world that can only be experienced from behind the mask.
~Guest Post from Chris Large!~
Forged in Fire
Try an Excerpt!~
Salt City Blue by Chris Large
Forged in Fire
In an age where social media heaps praise upon individuals simply for performing acts of common decency, it’s a sad-but-true fact that the bar for being labelled a “hero” has never been lower. I might be called a hero merely for dragging a stranded cat from a tree, or guiding a lost child to their parent or guardian. While such acts are commendable, they’re hardly heroic. I didn’t put my life in danger for that cat. I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t expect of the next person for the child. One isolated act of kindness a hero does not make. In fact, according to the above criteria, an axe murderer, or sexual predator, might equally be labelled a hero should they happen to express a moment of sympathy for a terrified feline.
A true hero puts the hope, the needs, even the lives of others ahead of their own. She sticks her neck out. She stands up for what’s right and puts it all on the line, with no expectation of praise or reward. She doesn’t do these things once or twice. She does them EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
Like many, my first heroes were my parents. Parents are those most wonderful of creatures whose job it is to devote themselves to making life better for someone else. My parents gave up evenings to watch me play basketball, and weekends to take me to cricket. They encouraged me when I need it, and taught me some hard lessons along the way. A lot of being a parent isn’t pleasant, or pretty. It can be damned hard work. But as a child I didn’t see it. I made assumptions about my folks that may not have had any basis in fact: like they would always be there, and they would always sacrifice for me.
And as a child, I very rarely said “Thanks”.
When it came time for me to assume the mantle of parent, some fatal flaw in my character caused me to completely disregard all of the above. In fact I still recall a conversation between my then wife and I:
“Having children won’t change us,” she said. “We’ll be the same people,” she said. “We can keep doing what we’re doing. There’ll just be more of us.”
“Sure,” I’d agreed, because having kids was just a thing everyone did, right? “We won’t change. Pass the salt?”
Oh, how I laugh when I recall that conversation. Not just a little chuckle mind, but a gut-busting, “HA HA HAAAAAAAAA!” that ends with tears rolling down my cheeks.
For three years I could only work part-time, or not at all. I took the kids to library readings, mother’s groups (at which I stood out like proverbial dog’s balls), and lugged them about in shopping centres on an almost daily basis. Before my children came along I’d had a high-pressure job, complete with high-pressure boss, but he proved to be a pussy-cat next to my new tiny task-masters. I had never worked so hard in my life.
I have nothing but respect for mums and dads around the world who are prepared to drop everything at a moment’s notice and come running to the rescue, every single day. Who delay, set-aside, and sometimes even give up on their own dreams to ensure those of their children become a reality. Because there are times in our lives when we can’t be the heroes of our own story, when we have to let others take centre stage.
My first heroes were my parents, and I’ve done my darnedest to be the same for my children. Not only because I wanted to, but because children force us to consider others before we think of ourselves. The bottom line is, if parenthood doesn’t change you, you’re doing it wrong.
My story, “Salt City Blue,” in Meerkat Press’ Behind the Mask, is the story of Helen Marshal, CEO and managing director of a huge corporate machine. She had considered parenthood once, but dismissed it as a young woman’s pipe-dream. Now, as a thirty-eight-year-old career businesswoman, it’s about to come upon her in a way she never could have anticipated.
Thus heroes are forged.
Try an Excerpt!~
Salt City Blue by Chris Large
“Skyball did what?” I said, unable to believe my ears.
My logistics manager took a deep breath. “He seriously damaged our lunar transit depot. It was an accident, Ms. Marshal. I believe he was trying to defend it. But you know how he loves to grandstand.”
“And what have you done about it, Martin?”
I was going easy on Martin. He was the closest thing I had to a friend.
“What could I have done?” Fine beads of sweat had begun to form on his furrowed brow. “He’s Skyball!”
Genevieve, my personal assistant, and Laura, a pale young graduate she’d recently hired, stood by the conference room’s floor-to-ceiling windows gazing out on a typically grey Salt City afternoon.
“You’re my second in command, Martin,” I said. “I expect you to manage situations like this.”
“Ms. Marshal,” said Martin. “With respect, no one could have managed this . . . including you.”
Martin realised his mistake the moment the words were out of his mouth, but it was a moment too late. I rarely tolerated excuses, and even rarer were the times I admitted to being personally incapable of doing my job.
“For Chrissakes, Martin!” I cried. “What the hell am I paying you for?”
Martin sighed, “I really don’t know, Ms. Marshal. You seem perfectly capable of running the company without advice from me. . . or anyone for that matter.” He glanced toward Genevieve and Laura, who continued to studiously ignore him. Beyond the windows, neon-painted mist crawled sluggishly between the city’s edifices of glass and steel.
“This isn’t about them!” I cried. “I’m talking to you. You’re gutless, Martin. You’re a plodder. You wouldn’t recognize a hot prospect if it sat on your fat, fucking face! Now get out of my sight. I never want to see you again. You’re fired!”
Martin’s eyes snapped wide. He’d expected a tongue lashing but he clearly hadn’t expected to lose his job. Neither had I intended to fire him. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Martin’s face drained of colour. “You mean . . .”
“I mean get out!” I screamed, thumping the table with a clenched fist.
I waited for the sound of his departing footsteps to die a slow death and swivelled toward Genevieve and Laura.
“Now Laura, can you please remind me what the hell it is you do here? And why I shouldn’t just fire your ass right now as—”
But something caught my attention beyond the bullet-proof window-glass. A small, man-shaped speck shot soundlessly through the dark mist in the distance, lit intermittently by spotlights from the towers above.
“Jesus,” I said, jumping from my chair. “It’s the man of the hour. Look at the sonofabitch go.”
I pushed past the two women and stood with my face so close to the glass it began to fog over, anger radiating from my skin in waves. “I wonder who he’s going to bankrupt this time?” I muttered. “Thank God we don’t have any material assets downtown.”
As he cut through the rain and clouds, a vapour trail billowed out from a point behind his feet, a ghostly after-echo in the evening air. We’d all seen Skyball survive lightning strikes, rocket strikes, and meteor strikes on news vids. He had no known weakness, except perhaps Crimson Reign, Salt City’s perennial enemy and Skyball’s arch nemesis.
News media had linked the pair romantically. Some went as far as to suggest Skyball and Crimson Reign were the last of their kind, survivors from a dying planet who’d escaped and found their way to Earth, destined to be together, doomed to be apart.
“One of Crimson Reign’s giant robots is causing havoc at the Mendelsohn Center,” said Genevieve, touching her earpiece. “Twenty stories high with death-ray vision.”
I sighed. No matter what Salt City’s inhabitants thought of them, Skyball and Crimson Reign were the real players in town. The rest of us were just supporting cast.
“Um . . .” Laura’s eyes were huge behind wire-framed glasses.
“What is it, Laura?”
“Ms. Marshal, your skin. It’s . . . glowing.”
~Meet the Authors!~
The authors will be awarding a $20 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
Kate Marshall lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and several small agents of chaos disguised as a dog, cat, and child. She works as a cover designer and video game writer. Her fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Crossed Genres, and other venues, and her YA survival thriller I Am Still Alive is forthcoming from Viking. You can find her online at katemarshallwrites.com.
Chris Large writes regularly for Aurealis Magazine and has had fiction published in Australian speculative fiction magazines and anthologies. He's a single parent who enjoys writing stories for middle-graders and young adults, and about family life in all its forms. He lives in Tasmania, a small island at the bottom of Australia, where everyone rides Kangaroos and says 'G'day mate!' to utter strangers.
Stuart Suffel's body of work includes stories published by Jurassic London, Evil Girlfriend Media, Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine, Kraxon Magazine, and Aurora Wolf among others. He exists in Ireland, lives in the Twilight Zone, and will work for Chocolate Sambuca Ice cream. Twitter: @stuartsuffel
Michael Milne is a writer and teacher originally from Canada, who lived in Korea and China, and is now in Switzerland. Not being from anywhere anymore really helps when writing science fiction. His work has been published in The Sockdolager, Imminent Quarterly, and anthologies on Meerkat Press and Gray Whisper.
Adam R. Shannon is a career firefighter/paramedic, as well as a fiction writer, hiker, and cook. His work has been shortlisted for an Aeon award and appeared in Morpheus Tales and the SFFWorld anthology You Are Here: Tales of Cryptographic Wonders. He and his wife live in Virginia, where they care for an affable German Shepherd, occasional foster dogs, a free-range toad, and a colony of snails who live in an old apothecary jar. His website and blog are at AdamRShannon.com.
Jennifer Pullen received her doctorate from Ohio University and her MFA from Eastern Washington University. She originally hails from Washington State. Her fiction and poetry have appeared or are upcoming in journals including: Going Down Swinging (AU), Cleaver, Off the Coast, Phantom Drift Limited, and Clockhouse.
Stephanie Lai is a Chinese-Australian writer and occasional translator. She has published long meandering thinkpieces in Peril Magazine, the Toast, the Lifted Brow and Overland. Of recent, her short fiction has appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction, Cranky Ladies of History, and the In Your Face Anthology. Despite loathing time travel, her defence of Dr Who companion Perpugilliam Brown can be found in Companion Piece (2015). She is an amateur infrastructure nerd and a professional climate change adaptation educator (she's helping you survive our oncoming climate change dystopia). You can find her on twitter @yiduiqie, at stephanielai.net, or talking about pop culture and drop bears at no-award.net.
Aimee Ogden is a former biologist, science teacher, and software tester. Now she writes stories about sad astronauts and angry princesses. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Baen.com, Persistent Visions, and The Sockdolager.
Nathan Crowder is a Seattle-based fan of little known musicians, unpopular candy, and just happens to write fantasy, horror, and superheroes. His other works include the fantasy novel Ink Calls to Ink, short fiction in anthologies such as Selfies from the End of the World, and Cthulhurotica, and his numerous Cobalt City superhero stories and novels. He is still processing the death of David Bowie.
Sarah Pinsker is the author of the 2015 Nebula Award winning novelette "Our Lady of the Open Road." Her novelette "In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind" was the 2014 Sturgeon Award winner and a 2013 Nebula finalist. Her fiction has been published in magazines including Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Uncanny, among others, and numerous anthologies. Her stories have been translated into Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian, and Galician. She is also a singer/songwriter with three albums on various independent labels and a fourth forthcoming. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her wife and dog. She can be found online at sarahpinsker.com and twitter.com/sarahpinsker.
Carrie Vaughn is best known for her New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, who hosts a talk radio show for the supernaturally disadvantaged, the fourteenth installment of which is Kitty Saves the World. She's written several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels, as well as upwards of 80 short stories. She's a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R.
R. Martin and a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado. Visit her at www.carrievaughn.com.
Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches atop a hill in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She is an Endeavour, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her second novel, Hearts of Tabat, appears in early 2017 from Wordfire Press. She is the current President of the Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers of America. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, see http://www.kittywumpus.net
Keith Frady writes weird short stories in a cluttered apartment in Atlanta. His work has appeared in Love Hurts: A Speculative Fiction Anthology, Literally Stories, The Yellow Chair Review, and The Breakroom Stories.