“Lampblack and Dust” will always have a special place in my heart. This short tale of the Weird West is unlike anything I wrote before it, or since.
Published by Third Flatiron, “Lampblack” is a small story which pushed me over the threshold for Active SFWA status. There’ll always be something special about that. It appears in Third Flatiron’s anthology Principia Ponderosa. Third Flatiron is a Colorado publisher attempting to do right by its writers and to meet SFWA’s professional standards for pay. It’s good to see another Colorado publisher attempting this, and good to support and be part of speculative fiction in Colorado.
With “Lampblack”, I do have a confession: The published version in Principia Ponderosa is not the full version. Principia Ponderosa’s is a trim 3,000 words, and that’s the official finished edit; however, the first draft was a fuller 7,200 words. A major splice allowed the cut, along with some aggressive trimming elsewhere.
I’m wondering—can you spot the splice? A whole lot of action disappeared. Here is a short excerpt from before the cut—
The graveyard spreads north from town, where the expanding salts haven’t yet infected the savanna. As the quarter moon passes zenith, a stale wind rises, and I trudge past thirty new plots nestled amongst the hundreds of older markers. The scent of fresh-turned earth guides me, and I kneel at the graves of Maybell and her little boy, Greene. As I press my hand to the still-soft dirt, it tickles my palm, and I caress the broken clay as I might have caressed Greene’s cheek. For a spell, all I can do is sob out my love for that boy.
I will not summon him–it’d be a step too cruel–so instead I lie across my sister-in-law’s ground. I’d embrace her if I could, but that time is passed.
After dark, my ink drinks the lightlessness, gains strength, and vivifies. I breathe glyphs over the ground which holds what was Maybell, trilling as the symbols slide from my face and throat and hands. From my flesh the indelible illustrations flow, whorls seething with meaning and which quiver through all creation. The inks swims forth to gambol upon the grave.
And Maybell rises.
from “Lampblack and Dust”