Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

Excerpts From Books Fifty Years From Now

Overland have put up a new webpage, and hidden within that page, is a story I sold to them last year, entitled 'Excerpts From Books Fifty Year's From Now'.

Here's how it starts:

We buried Jarrah on company time, with me and Birch digging up the earth we didn’t have no rights on.

There’s no kindness to dropping a mate into a hole you just dug, let me tell you. The tall smokestacks coughed up dirty breaths behind us and there ain’t none of Jarrah’s family there and there ain’t never gonna be. Just those stacks and tall, lean Birch with his arms resting on the shovel he didn’t own and me on me haunches like a dog once we’d finished. The two of us as witnesses and diggers and priests staring down at skinny Jarrah still in his worker oranges.

I wanted to say something profound, but all I could think about was working out here in the fucking dirt and on the fucking stacks. About spending ninety per cent of my time in protective clothing with me face sealed behind a helmet. About how most of me conversations were done through the static in a mike. About how when not in the fucking suit, I was sleeping in a fucking oxygen chamber and losing half my fucking pay sucking back that clean company air while resting. Which would mean fuck all if I died like that Jarrah. Dying like him - sudden and right there in front of his mates - means that the toxins got right into me. Me mates’ll bury me like him cause ain’t no-one in the company going to allow you to be cut open for cause of death and they’ll burn first. They got the rights to burn us as they please, too. You gotta sign it to get the job.

But I’m thinking - I’m thinking about what will happen to me if I’m buried like Jarrah? Will anyone have something profound to say? Or will they just stare dumb into the hole, thinking that something ought to be said right before the concrete pours in? There ain’t much to say, I know that. Instead, I tossed a spray of dirt in over Jarrah and said all that there was left: “No more fucking contracts to sign now, mate.”

Inches of Dirt, Talia Gulara, page 1.

I've always kind of liked this little story, because it allowed me to play with form and style, which I always enjoy doing, though not every story gives you the chance to do it.

I originally wrote this piece based off the idea of a collection entitled the Worker's Paradise, which was released by Ticonderoga Publications, a small press outfit run by Russell Farr. I submitted the piece to him, originally, and he asked for a rewrite, which I did, because I thought I could make it stronger on a second read through. I try to avoid re-reading my work for much that reason, mind you, but occasionally it's for the best. Unfortunately, Farr and Evans, the editors on the book, took something like six months to deal with the piece after that, and while I try to be cool about such things--independent presses are often one or two people projects, and are subject to all that shit you get with it--someone else had interest in the piece, for another book that didn't eventuate. That new book just wanted rights for another country, but Farr wanted World Rights, and so in the end, I ended up with the story and no place to sell it, which is, you know, how it happens some days.

Selling it to Overland was nice, however, and probably the best outcome for the piece, because it was a publication outside the usual circles for me. You get published enough, and you will find people who dig your stuff, and you can kind of end up in a pattern with them, which is really cool; but at the same time, it can mean you're only finding the people who already know about you, and you don't grow your audience, which is one of the goals for short fiction, in my mind. Short fiction is grass roots stuff, and if you're hitting fifty people with it, hitting five hundred, it's all good, but it's also got to be hitting new people to be working properly, I figure. Plus, I'd always liked Overland, and figured it would be kind of cool to say that I'd had a piece there.

Also, they paid me well.

Win win, hey?

In addition, you can find a review I wrote a few issues later. As with any opinion I have about books, an editor took offence, and wrote a nasty email, and I later mocked her on this blog. She may or may not have come back later to tell me what a cunt I was.


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