The Magazine of the Bethlehem Writers Group
Welcome readers to our quarterly Winter issue. As we begin another new year in the not so new millennium; I feel like it is a good time to take a look at how popular the printed word is. Right now information and entertainment can be accessed, downloaded, and streamed continuously 24-hours a day, onto our tablets, phones, laptops, and televisions. It has never been easier to get what we want when we want it. So where does that leave us writers? Surprisingly, traditional print books are gaining popularity again. According to Nielson.com, traditional print book sales increased as sales of ebooks dropped 3% in 2015. At the same time, there was an increase of downloading ebook’s onto Smartphones, to a total of 14.3% of digital sales. As the USA remains the country that publishes by far the most books, it is interesting to know that over 600 million print books and over 200 million ebooks, were purchased in 2015. That is a lot of books!
Self-publishing has also increased in popularity. Did you know that “The Martian” written by Andy Weir was originally self-published? (Yes the one that became a box-office hit starring Matt Damon.) Some self-publishers have also been able to get successfully funded by organizations such as Kickstarter. This is a new avenue for self-publishing. An author can upload their book project and then investors can choose to fund it or not. One example of how this can be successful is the children’s book “Lil Bub”. What an adorable little dog?
Unfortunately, even though Indie authors are hitting the best seller list, they are still vying for limited shelf space in stores. Eventually this may change as store managers continue to realize that a good book is a good book, regardless of how it was published.
In other news, Wattpad is continuing to grow in popularity boasting about 45 million users. On this site an author can share their work and receive feedback similar to Goodreads, which is now owned by Amazon and has a healthy 20 million users. That is over 65 million active users between the two sites.
Clearly, there is a huge market for books, whether they are print or ebooks, self-published or traditionally published. It is much harder to measure the stats for short stories, but considering there are too many publications to name that publish short stories and poetry, both in print and online, I’d safely say that there is an increasing demand for those too.
To sum it up, get writing and get publishing, perhaps your next novel will star Matt Damon too. You just never know!!
In this issue we have a poem titled "Feedback" by John Grey, and a short story in our &More about Agatha told by each of the characters and written by members of BWG.
Our featured author Daniel Krippene takes the reader into a dystopian future with his short story "Snow Belt Sanctuary".
BWGRoundtable are excited to now pay authors for publication.
We look forward to receiving your submissions and comments.
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Topped with several inches of lichen roof sod, the ramshackle cabin of splintered, bug-eaten logs belonged in one of Lloyd’s antique picture books.
I dropped my pack on a snow-salted boulder. “You got to be kidding me. Millions of deserted homes and you come up with a haven for rats and who knows what else?”
“You want to take your chances with roving gangs who’ll turn you in for a few cans of expired cat food – that’s if they don’t eat you instead,” Lloyd replied with a chuckle. “Aren’t many of these structures left in the world.”
“Gee, I wonder why. What’s holding this thing together, termite carcasses?”
Lloyd un-padlocked the door and scanned a smudged, pregnant sky. “Looks like you’re going to get some practice snowshoeing.”
Decades of dust and molder assaulted the nostrils when I opened the door.
“I’ll leave you the shotgun, Winchester, and plenty of ammo,” Lloyd said. “Let me walk you through the power cells and hydro unit.”
"I’ll stick out like a bonfire on Directorate sat-scans out here.”
Lloyd jerked his thumb skyward. “Won’t get through this shit. Even if it did, you’ll blink red like all the other wildlife in the area. Probably tag you as a hibernating bear.”
“Wildlife? What wildlife?”
"Thought you were seventeen, not a six-year-old sniveler afraid of the dark.” He laughed and patted the stubble of my face. “You need to man up, Ryan."
A spider web sealed cupboard groaned when I opened it. It took a little finger scrubbing to read the expiration date on a can of SPAM. “This shit is over twenty-years old.”
“Nobody’s been up here since the plague ended. Long as the can isn’t blown; expiration dates aren’t what they used to be.”
It took concentration to focus on Lloyd’s instructions. The clench of anxiety was hard to ignore, a silent voice ached to beg Lloyd to stay. “What if I get hurt? Can I call you if I need too?”
“Don't get hurt." Lloyd extracted the battery from my com tablet. “Directorate satellites can track these things, bonehead.” He tried not to laugh when I gaped at him. "If you absolutely need to contact me, use the encrypted R-Sat function I loaded. Keep it under thirty-seconds, and make sure to remove the battery.”
He clapped me on the shoulder. "I’ll swing around in a couple weeks.”
Lloyd’s snow-cat disappeared down the trail until distance and snow-fall consumed its chugging rumble. The silence of a winter forest pressed against me with its suffocating mantle.
Loneliness was not a new concept to me, but it was always in a sea of survivors, distraction and noise. Dark took on a new meaning. Wind moaned the melancholy of a first class haunting. Its womanish howl practicing scales ranging from a bone-strumming bass to banshee soprano. I swear at times it called my name.
Hoooo - Ryaaaaaan.
It snowed for five days; the fifth a whiteout blizzard that flayed the skin. I muttered curses to the idiots who screwed up the earth's environment and reestablished the Arctic Circle in what used to be the Adirondacks. Welcome to the new Snow Belt, Lloyd laughed in my head. Belt my goose-pimpled ass. It was a belt, suspenders, flannel shirt, and a hat.
You’ll be safe, Lloyd had said. No one will find you. Life in the wilderness is a freeing experience.
Roused from deep hibernation to full panic alert one night, I sprang-up so fast, the zipper of my sleeping bag ripped. Retinas burned from sudden flashlight glare, my watch read 2:36 AM. I sucked in a breath and held it, despite a rocketing heart that wanted every molecule of oxygen I could send it.
A scream, muted by walls of the cabin.
A design obligation of all zippers was to jam at the most inappropriate time. It budged a few inches, enough for me to worm myself from its trap. Cold air blasted me full awake when I burst outside in long johns and unlaced boots. My neck throbbed with the millisecond delay of my heartbeat.
Growling drifted from somewhere deep in the woods. Sounded like feral dogs. Their populations exploded in years, but I never thought the animals ventured far from the former populated areas that gave birth to them. Many animals sounded human-like when attacked. Rabbits make the most heart-wrenching squeal when hawk talons sweep them from the ground. My heartbeat descended with the presumption of a natural thing.
About to go back inside, my eyes adapted to the dark picked up a ghostly red glow deep in the woods. A campfire? Couldn’t be.
Then I heard it. A distant shout muffled by snow-laden branches.
“Ah … bugger off.” Definitely human.
My heart returned to the panic treadmill. Adrenalin broke safety seals and sent me back to fetch the shotgun. I chambered a round, and shoved spare cartridges in a jacket pocket. Snowshoes fastened, I sucked in a huge breath. You sure about this? Could be bounty hunters looking to bag the only human born after the plague ended. Nah. I’d hear gun fire by now.
Weaving between trees in the purple glow of starlit snow, I plodded toward a fiery-red glimmer and sounds of snarling. When I cleared a hillock, down in a protected hollow, someone in a hooded white snowsuit fended off a pack of large black-furred dogs with an emergency flare.
Damn, those are big dogs. Wait. Holy shit. Wolves. Five of them.
After the plague removed their only predator, wolf packs swelled with the unexpected bounty of livestock left to fend for themselves. I wasn't aware wolves had migrated east, or were unafraid of humans.
Two wolves snapped at the torchbearer, never getting close enough to get swiped by the flare. The other three circled. The flare sputtered. Soon, light-blinded retinas would fail for both of us. Wolves didn’t need to see. The nose would guide them like a programmed missile in a flesh-ripping frenzy. I gripped the halogen flashlight along the barrel, and switched it on.
“Hoooooo,” I yelled to distract them.
Five sets of animal eyes and the hooded man turned toward my light at the same time. The wolves formed an offensive line. My hands shaking, I inched forward, swaying the gun from one to another. My adrenaline pump injected its magic as if to say be scared later.
Two wolves spread out in a flanking maneuver. Yellow eyes glared into the flashlight, driven by a stronger sense that could taste the warm blood in my veins. I took a knee to steady my aim. Can’t believe I’m actually doing this.
The wolf closest to me, turned to look at the torch person behind it when the flare spit and fizzled. Seconds from blindness, I had to force a move.
“Hey dog, you going to stand there all night?”
I absolutely excel at spouting lame lines under stress, but it worked. The wolf turned its attention to me with bared fangs. Rumbled growls thrummed the air. I inhaled and held my breath. Got you. Didn’t like being called a dog, did you. The alpha wolf charged me at a full run atop packed snow. Another two followed a second later. I exhaled and squeezed the trigger when the lead wolf got within twenty-feet.
The shot slammed the beast full in the snout and flipped it backward in a high-pitched screaming yelp. The other two stopped in their tracks to register what happened. I had precious seconds to load another cartridge, or I’d be a meat Popsicle.
I needed a game closer to ensure one of the beta wolves didn’t become the new alpha and chose the one with the most deadly I-want-to-kill-you stare. My aim went wide of the wolf's torso and blasted its tail clean off. The injured wolf limp-sprinted toward the woods, followed by fellow betas with tails tucked between their legs.
I quickly chambered another round, and did a lighthouse sweep with the flashlight. Satisfied, I flicked the safety on and stared at the dead wolf a few moments to calm the shakes. A cough behind me broke through the storm drain of dwindling adrenaline.
Head concealed inside a fur-collared arctic hood, the guy looked like a coal-mining snowman, minus the carrot nose and button eyes. He dropped the flare stub and sat on a rock with hooded head in hands.
“Our friends probably won’t be back tonight, but I don’t want to take any chances.” I swept the light in a circle. Snow skis leaned against a pine tree near a mountain tent and wilderness pack. “How’d you get out here?”
The white polyester blob rocked back and forth, and didn’t answer.
“Um, look, I have a cabin nearby. Isn’t real big, but it has a stove, a roof and a door that locks.”
The rocking motion stopped.
“Unless you have a better idea, you shouldn’t stay out here.”
Snowman hesitated a moment, then grabbed his pack to follow me.
My new camping friend stood in the doorframe, probably still sorting out if I was a werewolf in disguise. I removed my jacket, and worked on the potbelly stove.
“Are you hungry?” I rifled through cupboards for dried noodles. “When was the last time you ate?”
It was like trying to friend a stray cat. He eventually shuffled toward the stove and sat on a stool. I took apart the shotgun to clean it while the water heated. It had saved my butt this day and it deserved a little loving care.
I retried to initiate conversation. “Wow, that was scary. Good thing I heard you.”
When I turned around, hood, scarf and the top part of the snowsuit had been removed. I had to blink a few times to be sure I wasn’t experiencing a post traumatic hallucination.
Bedraggled chestnut hair matted to the oval, pale face of a young woman. She couldn’t be much older than me, which would have made her a child when over ninety-eight percent of the global population perished. According to Lloyd, as if the plague preferentially selected the young and elderly for extinction, people over fifty died off completely, number of survivors under the age of ten was infinitesimal. I imagined her worth to rover gangs must be priceless.
“If you’re – on the run, that’s fine,” I said. “Oh, I’m Ryan, by the way. Kind of a refugee myself.”
Water boiled over and hissed on the stove. I dumped a package of chicken-flavored noodles in the pot and stirred.
“Jenny,” the girl said. “Name’s Jenny.”
Strange accent. I handed her the soup. “Go slow, it’s hot.”
She took the pot and sniffed it.
“Noodles are a little dated, but then isn’t everything these days,” I laughed. “The accent, heard a recording once – sounds British. Is that where you’re from – before the plague?”
“Why is it you Yanks think it’s always British?” Jenny slurped her soup. “Australia.”
“Australia?” I didn’t mean to bark it. “You mean, like recently?”
The intensity of her green eyes sparkled like candle-lit emeralds. “Hitched a ride with a bunch of drongos on a sailboat. Hit the west coast few months ago. Been on your outback since.”
A girl sails from the other side of the planet without drowning, actually makes it across the unprotected expanse without getting caught, and nearly ends up as wolf scat a stone’s throw from my front door.
A gazillion other places she could have headed, how the hell did she end up in the middle of Five Ponds Wilderness in the dead of winter? More importantly, where is she going?
Choosing ten favorite authors is no easy chore when you read as much as I do. I picked ten authors who affected me most growing up, which influenced my writing.
In alphabetical order.
1. James Clavell – I read Shogun while living in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Living in Asia during the seventies gave it special meaning, and I became hooked on everything Clavell wrote. I credit the desire to embrace foreign cultures to his books. The chance came in 1997, where I embarked on a ten-year stint in Singapore and Taiwan.
2. Michael Crichton – Especially intrigued by life sciences in high school, Andromeda Strain introduced me to a bold new world of futuristic thrillers involving engineered pathogens. Crichton's books were always richly researched and fast-paced. My favorite of Crichton's is Timeline, where time travelers go back to 14th Century France to rescue a professor.
3. Ken Follet – Where Clavell may have set the bar for historical thrillers, Ken Follet took it to a new level with a 12th Century monk's drive to build a cathedral in a two book series, Pillars of the Earth, and World Without End. Follet spares no ugliness in the oft-violent world of the European Middle Ages, but he balances it with the hidden beauty of a simpler time. Follet is must reading for anyone world-building in this timeframe.
4. Robert Heinlein – I was ten when I first read Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky, about a futuristic final exam for advanced survival that goes wrong and students become castaways in an unknown universe. Must have read it a dozen times as a kid, and I credit Heinlein for starting me on the sci-fi highway, absorbing every novel the man wrote. Podkayne of Mars remains a favorite.
5. Robert Jordan – Author of the Wheel of Time series, no one (except maybe George R.R. Martin), paints a complex fantasy world like Jordan. Admittedly, Jordan wandered inside his plot line as the series grew, and had a tendency for diarrhea of the word processor when drafting a scene. Jordan died before he could finish the series. Jordan's wife tapped fellow fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, to bring it all to a close with Jordan's notes. I loved the damned series, and the awesome cover designs by Darrell K. Sweet.
6. Stephen King – Believe it or not, King is another key author in my life discovered while serving in the Peace Corps. Try reading Carrie beneath a mosquito net, to the sounds of a sweltering Philippine barrio night, and not get the shivers. I've read most of his works, but The Stand remains my all time favorite, an apocalyptic tale that started my love affair with all things dystopian.
7. Barbara Kingsolver – When asked who my favorite literary fiction authors are, Kingsolver is first on the list. Poisonwood Bible stands out as her most notable, and Animal Dreams a personal favorite, but it was the more recent Flight Behavior that resonated with me. A story of a potential ecological disaster involving Monarch butterflies , a small town, Appalachian mother's life is irrevocably changed inside an arena of political, climatologically, and religious interests.
8. Dean Koontz – My first Dean Koontz novel was Lightning, a story of a young girl's rescue from a man who appeared on the heels of a lightning bolt. Like Stephen King, Koontz has the ability to write stories that appeal to sci-fi, fantasy, and horror aficionados. Koontz can breathe life into characters like no one else.
9. Kim Stanley Robinson – A late entrant to my top ten list of favs, Robinson was recommended when I lamented the glut of space operas, and I'd had enough of Einstein-bending captains traveling over light speed and evil lizard-like aliens. I started with a recent novel, 2312, in a future of colonized planets within our own solar system, enhanced humans, and the dark element of Artificial Intelligence. Not an easy read, Robinson keeps it real by adhering to the established tenets of Einstein and Hawkings, yet offers new ideas of what the future may hold for mankind.10. J.R.R. Tolkien – What can I add that hasn't already been said. Another pivotal series in my adolescent years that began with The Hobbit, you can't really get a feel for the richness of Tolkien's epic fantasies in the movies. You can't call yourself a Tolkien reader unless you've read his other works, like The Silmarillion.