Kelly McCullough writes fantasy, science fiction, and books for kids of varying ages. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series — Penguin/ACE, and the forthcoming School for Sidekicks — Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star — part of an NSF-funded science curriculum — and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited — funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Kelly on Twitter, Facebook, G+, ello
Every year in April my wife and I throw a party for a jar of jelly.*
It all started when a young man (me) went walkabout to the Arizona Renaissance Festival and needed someone to see that his apartment didn’t explode and that his cats stayed well-fed. The year was 1989. Many adventures were had by the lad on his walkabout, but that is not what this story is about. This is about his or, should I say, my, refrigerator.
Since I lived a hundred yards from both my parents and my grandmother, I’d never seen much point in using the kitchen of my apartment for anything other than storage. The oven was a convenient place to put the cat food bag, as the cats couldn’t open it, and it kept it out of my way. The cabinets were largely filled with strange artifacts (later identified as dishes by my wife-to-be) supplied by my parents and grandmother when I moved out. Actually, when they moved out and to two separate houses, but again, that’s another story. The refrigerator was a mystical place into which I would occasionally stuff a twelve pack of Mountain Dew, or a candle that had been melting in the sun.
None of this was really front-brain knowledge however, and when I went on my way to live in a tent in the middle of the desert I didn’t give so much as a passing thought to the functioning of my kitchen. For the friend, “CD,” who moved into my place as caretaker for the two months that I was gone however, the kitchen was a vitally important place, necessary to his survival.
So, one of the first things CD did after I left for parts south, was to go to a grocery store and stock up on food, which he then brought home and proceeded to put away. This turned out to be an adventure in itself, beginning when he opened the crisper. At some point in the distant past, I had been given a dragon candle. Slightly after that, it ended up in direct sunlight, softened, and folded in half. That was when I stuffed it into the crisper. Of course, it was already too late at that point, and all that I managed to do was create a multi-colored blob of wax, heavy on the purples and greens, and with a very odd topology.
Needless to say, CD, still foolishly possessed of the idea that if it was in the fridge, it had probably at one time been food, was deeply disturbed by this discovery. (I was unavailable for comment at the time, being somewhere in transit.) But after a while, he worked up his nerve, prodded the alien life form with a fork, and discovered that it was harmless. However, this experience made him very cautious when he approached the rest of the contents of the fridge, which turned out to consist of one never-opened jar of Red Currant Jelly that had expired some two years before his arrival.
When I finally returned from my wanderjar, CD naturally enough wanted to share the tale of his adventures in my apartment, and to question me about the candle (tucked away in a box in a cabinet-but still unidentified by him) and the jelly. After some careful inspection of the items in question and dusting off of old memories, I was able to identify the candle. But the jelly defied my powers of memory.
Or, at least, that is one explanation. However, since I have never in my entire life eaten red currant jelly, nor to my knowledge has it ever been a staple in my family’s household, I have darker suspicions. I tend to believe that it condensed out of the mysterious cosmic stuff of missing hangers and lost socks, and that it happened some time between when I left the house on my trip and when CD arrived a day later — and that it is possessed of inhuman and sinister motivations.
And so I have never opened it or discarded it (for fear that someone else might open it) and once a year (near the expiration date listed on the jar) we bring it out and throw a festival to appease it. Today will be the 23rd annual red currant jelly party, marking the 25thd anniversary of its expiration.
The Jelly Wakes!
*reposted with edits from SFNovelists
April 9, 2012 in Speaking Up
The kind of gendered hate speech that Cat Valente talks about here, the kind that gets heaped on the heads of women who express strong opinions on the internet, is never acceptable, and she is absolutely right to call it out. I strongly agree with what Jim Hines and John Scalzi have had to say about the topic as well. I’m a man, which means I don’t generally get subjected to this shit, but I can call it out when I see it and I can absolutely let the world know that I don’t and won’t give the people who are making this kind of attack a pass. If you’re wondering what makes me put this post up now, it’s that Abi Sutherland over at Making Light just reminded me that it’s important that those of us of the male persuasion also need to speak up.
I’m pretty sure these are all official enough to announce at this point. There’s more writing news hovering on the edge of announceable, since I have lots of writing balls in the air at the moment, but this is what looks solid and not seekrit enough to go out into the world as of this morning.
1) Broken Blade came in as first runner up for the Locus paperback best seller list for March, which is the closest I’ve ever gotten and very exciting. It’s mentioned down in the 2nd paragraph below the actual lists If only it went to eleven…
2) There will be at least one more book in the Fallen Blade series, bringing it to four. It’s currently titled Blade Reforged, and should be out summer 2013, around six months after Crossed Blades hits shelves in Nov/Dec 2012. Woohoo!
3) I just made my first foreign rights sale. The first three books in the Fallen Blade series will be coming out in German. I am VERY excited about this.
4) Bared Blade galleys arrived this week. It’s starting to look like a book.
5) Finally, a while back I got the cover art for the second book in the Fallen Blade series, and I LOVE it. John Jude Palencar again, and amazing work. I’m putting it down here at the bottom so you can see it large, because it is gorgeous.
The Dragon Diaries are a series of micro fiction post that I started writing in March of 2010. At the time, I was really sick with the stomach virus of doom and awake in the middle of the night, plus borderline hallucinating. My brain, wired as it is for narrative, started scripting out little bits of a dragon’s diary. They had been living over in notes on my facebook page, but I felt they really belonged over here.
March 3, 2012 in Uncategorized
Lee’s memorial was amazing, with laughter and tears and technical difficulties that led to pure beauty. There was a real magic to it that I’ve never seen at any other service, and for that Laura and I are both deeply thankful.
The service was held at the Bread of Life Church for the Deaf, a classic little fifties Midwestern neighborhood church. We got there early and sat outside in the car for a few minutes. I wore a formal black kilt rig for mourning because I was going to be giving a part of the eulogy and because Lee loved the kilt. Laura wore pants and was a bit less dressy, and I think that the reversal of traditional gender roles there is something that Lee would have loved. She loved shaking things up.
Laura and I took up station at the church entrance to greet Lee’s friends and the members of her communities as they came in. We wanted something to do—we’re both much happier when we have something to do, and there was the guest book to point out and the sticky door to manage for the many wheelchairs and walkers. The funeral home folks handled a lot of that, but the turnout was huge and they were happy to have us helping, especially once the crowd really started rolling in.
Right from the start this funeral felt more joyous than any memorial I’ve ever attended, mourning and sadness, of course, but also a celebration of a woman who really LIVED. Not quite an Irish wake, but so much more than merely a memorial. The mourners came in every size and shape, and more than one species. There must have been a dozen service dogs, and they really helped lend an air of love and community to the crowd. And it was a crowd, a standing room only crowd. Lee was loved by so very many people, and an astonishing number of them turned out. She loved the color purple, everyone knew it, and many honored her memory by wearing her signature color. Even the church honored her there, it being Lent.
The service opened with the assistant pastor signing, and the pastor interpreting in spoken word from the pews. It felt exactly right. Then it moved into a more typical format with a few bible verses read by family and another piece by the pastor, all interpreted in ASL.
Then the pastor, Susan, went into her homily and that’s where the magic really started. The pastor started with a story about how Lee had her name legally changed from Leone to Lee, because if Lee didn’t like something she changed it. There were a lot of nods at that and some laughs, and few muttered “yeahs.” Then Susan said that this was the point at which she would normally have talked about the deceased resting peacefully with god, but that though Susan believed Lee was with god she didn’t think there was anything peaceful about it. She was quite sure that Lee was demanding to see heaven’s accessibility policies. The whole room roared with laughter, and something changed then.
What had been a sort of coalition of mourners, with many smaller groups joining together to say goodbye, suddenly became a community celebrating a life. And it went on like that with many tears and a continued laughing rumble that was impossible not to love.
When Susan finished, I was up first. I read the appreciation that I wrote in Lee’s honor, and it was perhaps the hardest reading of a life that has included a lot of time on stage. I couldn’t even introduce the piece, because I knew that if I took one step beyond the words written on the page I was going to cry my head off and not be able to speak a word. As it was, I managed all right, and didn’t really break up until the last line, at which point a little crack in the voice was okay, as was crying my way off the stage.
I wrote my appreciation for me and for Laura, and most of all for Lee, because I loved her and I needed to say goodbye. It was an emotional snapshot of a decades long relationship. I expected a few others to read it because most things I write are read by at least a few, but hadn’t really expected anything more to come of it. But it apparently struck a chord in Lee’s communities and with the family. Dozens of people have expressed how much it meant to them over this past week, and it has been humbling and edifying and a bit scary to see my work reflected back at me in a way that I rarely encounter.
Lee’s boss, Alan Peters, followed me, giving a more traditional sort of eulogy and doing it up proud. I was both impressed and moved by his ability to speak clearly and strongly with tears rolling steadily down his cheeks, something that is simply beyond me. He talked about Lee and their friendship, and her work in improving accessibility for everyone. He also talked about her absolutely glorious laugh, and the whole room laughed and cried with him.
Last up was Lee’s brother-in-law Michael, who read out a resolution passed by the Minnesota state legislature in honor of Lee. He was clearly as nervous as it is possible to be about being up there, but again, he did her up proud. Neither Laura or I had heard anything about that beforehand and it was a moment of great pride and a punch in the gut at the same time. Lee would have loved it, but she wasn’t there to know. There have been a lot of those punches this week. Lee was an incredibly joyous person and a bit of a ham and she would absolutely have loved all the attention she’s been getting. But she’s not there. Instead, there is a hole in the world that can never be filled.
After the eulogies, the pastor did pastor things and then put in a CD of Amazing Grace. It went about ten words in and then started skipping. Nothing ever went smooth in Lee’s life, and a technical glitch at her funeral seemed somehow exactly right. I know that she would have loved watching Susan signing the skip over and over and over. The room roared once again. Susan tried to fix the problem, but it just wasn’t happening, and she eventually gave up. There was a long moment of silence then, while Susan contemplated what to do next.
And then, just before Susan could break that silence, an absolutely glorious soprano voice started singing Amazing Grace from somewhere in middle of the church. Within a few words the whole crowd was singing and it was pure magic, a truly touching tribute to a grand lady. I couldn’t sing because I was crying too hard, and honestly, given my singing voice, that’s no great loss. After the song finished we followed the casket out to the waiting hearse—given Lee’s life it really ought to have been a Metro Mobility van, and it really ought to have been late—but the hearse works too. We all gave our final goodbyes, many people making the ASL sign for love and touching the coffin.
Then we went back inside and watched slides from Lee’s life and told stories of her. One young woman who had made a point earlier of coming over to tell me how much my appreciation meant to her, somehow convinced her smart phone to cough up a video of Lee that she hadn’t been able to get to run before that day. It was of Lee getting a birthday gift, and it had that Lee cackle that we all loved so well. Another person imagined that the pearly gates had better have a wheelchair button installed if they didn’t want a world of trouble from Lee. And so it went.
Somewhere in there we introduced the people who are taking over from her as staff to her cat Marygold, to the person who had preceded Lee in that role and they all talked about Lee and her cats and exchanged pictures and email. Another of Lee’s friends, the poet Morgan Willow brought us a limerick she wrote for the occasion—Lee loved them. About a million people told Laura and I how much they had heard about us from Lee and how much she adored us. There was chocolate everywhere, another of Lee’s loves—I think we must have found fifty pounds of it squirreled away in various places in her apartment. Dogs were admired, hugs exchanged, and in general it was a perfect mixture of the bitter and the sweet.
Goodbye Lee, you came, you saw, you conquered, and we will miss you forever.
February 24, 2012 in Uncategorized
My wife Laura’s aunt Lee was smart and tough and sarcastic and funny and fierce. That last most of all.
That toughness and humor reminded me of the women who raised me, and I liked her from the moment I met her. That was at Laura’s high school graduation almost twenty-two years ago. The feeling was mutual. Part of that may have been that I sat down to talk with her, so that we could be at eye level while she used her wheel chair. Some of it may have come from my grabbing a pad of paper and a pen to talk so that she didn’t have to read my lips. Some of it was the fact that we were both science fiction fans and cat people.
Mostly though, I think it was because she loved Laura fiercely—just as she did everything fiercely—and she trusted Laura’s judgment. Since I was having the usual issues with being the new boy come a-courting, and maybe a bit more than the usual issues, that instant acceptance was very welcome.
When Laura went to college that fall, Lee got into the habit of taking her to every Shakespeare play that came along at the Guthrie Theatre. We would pick up Lee and I would drop them both off and pick them up afterward. That lasted two or three years until Lee suggested that I really ought to come with them. For nearly twenty years after that Lee was our regular date for Guthrie shows, mostly Shakespeare, two or three a season. It was always wonderful to see Lee and have dinner and chat, and it’s going to be very hard to go back to the Guthrie without her, though she wouldn’t want us to stay away, which means we won’t.
In grad school, Laura took sign language courses so that she could speak to Lee more easily, and I learned what I could at second hand, finger-spelling and a small vocabulary of signs that let me at least communicate the basics without resorting to spelling or pad of paper. I never got very good at it, but she was always patient with me, and glad to see me doing what I could. We talked about lots of things, the three of us, but mostly about books and cats, which were her passions as well as ours. That and our lives.
She always wanted to know what we were up to, and she cheered us both on as Laura worked her way through grad school to becoming a professor and I went from wanting to write to being a published author. She never let a visit pass without telling us how proud she was of us and how much she loved us, and we loved her back, likewise fiercely.
That’s how we’re going to miss her too, fiercely.
That was the pitch line for my dream last night, that or something very much like it. I think my brain may have overheated in the night and started to melt. While I slept last night, I got involved in a stage production. It was a period piece set on Galadriel’s yacht on the eve of last alliance between men and elves. Tension was high as it was only a question of time until the war against the dark lord Sauron broke out. The action of the play was focused on the intense rivalries and unlikely alliances between classes. So far, so very strange. Add in that the name of the yacht was the Galifrey——I can only assume that it sailed through time as well as along the mighty Anduin——and the strange goes to eleven. The thing that make me fear for my frontal lobes though, was that the production was being staged as part of the opening ceremonies at a con. I fear my dreams.
February 17, 2012 in Silly
Brain: Hola Kelly, como estas?
Brain: En este photograhphia, el autobus—
Me: (interrupting) WTF brain?
Brain: Shh, play along. Buenos tardes, Senors e Senoras, en este photographia—
Me: Seriously, WTF? It’s been nearly 30 years since we took Spanish and I’m pretty sure you’re doing it wrong.
Brain: (triumphantly) See!
Brain: No one inspects the Spanish exposition!
Brain: Get it? That’s a joke, son, laugh.
Me: For this you woke me up before 8:00 am?
Hits brain with stick, but it’s too late. I’m already up. Sigh.