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December '05 -- guest edited by Christopher Monks

New York Times Exclusive
  by Greg Ames

The Writer's Life
  by Tom Barlow

Let the Reader Beware
  by Richard Grayson

Use Your Indoor Voice
  by David Gianatasio

I am so sorry that my homing device was chafing your ankle
  by John Jodzio

The Six Times I Tried Smoking
  by Nathaniel Missildine

mailing list?

Stanley had expected that, since she'd won their argument, his wife would be pleased when he incorporated her words into his next short story.

"When I read the story I realized I'd been repeating, almost word for word, what you said to Pop the day he came back from Las Vegas," Stanley overheard Crystal say to her mother over the phone.

She paused, twisting the phone cord. Every time she let go, it twisted up again.

"Like you would have had the nerve to leave Pop if he was still alive." She paused again.

"Who died and made you Oprah?" she said. She saw Stanley watching, carried the phone into the bedroom and closed the door.

Stanley used those details in his next story.


"Cut this shit out," Crystal said after she read his story in Weird Tales.

"Cut what out?" He didn't look up from the paper.

"Quit putting me in your stories. It's rude."

"Beg your pardon, but that's not you in the story."

She gave him the finger. "You should hear Mom; she thinks I should kick you out of the house. And she's dense as a brick."


He wrote a horror story about a writer tormented by the slanders of his mother-in-law. In his story, the conflict eventually drew the writer and his wife closer together.

His mother-in-law called him after the story appeared in Realms of Fantasy Magazine. He turned on his pocket recorder before he answered the phone.

"I'm sorry you feel that way about me," she said. "I always liked you."

"I like you, too," he replied.

"Bullshit. Let me read you what you wrote."

Stanley could hear her thumbing through a magazine.

"'The whole time Lenny and Darcel were talking about reconciliation, her mother was whispering into her daughter's ear a catalogue of her son-in-law's inadequacies.' I don't say those things about you."

"It's fiction," Stanley said. "I made it all up."

"Bullshit," she said. "I can recognize an insult when you shove it up my nose."


Stanley's next story, "The Harridan of Hackensack," included a vindictive widow character with Tourette's syndrome who repeatedly shouted the word "Bullshit." It appeared in the June issue of Absolute Magnitude.

His wife and his mother-in-law took an unplanned bus tour of New England the week after the magazine hit the news stands. Crystal didn't leave him any prepared dinners or clean laundry.

Stanley spent most of the week alone, working on a story about the last man on Earth. It had a happy ending.


Crystal broached the topic of a trial separation a few days after she returned from a skiing getaway with her mother to the Finger Lakes area.

"Bullshit," Stanley said. "There's nothing wrong with our relationship."

She pulled a copy of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine out of her pocket and turned to his story, "Tramps Go Round, Tramps Go Down." She put her finger on the text she had highlighted and placed it in front of him.

"This mother and daughter, that pick up a father and son in an orbiting casino and screw their brains out? The tall, thin mother with the jug ears? The daughter with the outie and hair on her chest? Hair on her chest?" She picked up the magazine and threw it at his head.


He worked for most of the next month on what he thought of as his Robinson Crusoe story, a man stranded alone in space after his selfish wife ran off with a criminal mastermind and his black widow mother, "Two-timing the Double-backed Beast."

Crystal introduced the issue of Strange Horizons in which the story appeared as evidence in their divorce proceeding.

Stanley kept careful notes throughout the hearing: the setting, the characters, the way the bailiff cleared his throat repeatedly when Stanley was talking, but remained stock still when Crystal or her attorney spoke.


His story, "The Blood Suckers of Io," appeared in Analog and was nominated for a Hugo award. His agent gave him the good news as Stanley lay in the critical care unit, waiting for his body functions to stabilize enough that Crystal's bullet could be removed from his chest.

"My ex-wife pulled a knife on me once," his agent said, settling into the chair next to Stanley's bed. "The judge was a woman. My ex played the PMS card and ended up with the house, and both cars. The judge made me keep the cat."

"Women," Stanley said, pulling his recorder from under the blanket to make sure it was still on. "Can't live with them, and they're piss-poor shots." He shifted a couple of the IV tubes running into the back of his hand, and said, "You get along with your mother-in-law?"

Central Ohio writer Tom Barlow has published fiction, poetry, magazine articles, catalogues, advertising, and technical manuals. He writes because conversation requires a lot of give and take, and he's always thought of himself as mostly a giver.