The Dog and the Ferryman

Today marks my third appearance this year in Fantasy & Science Fiction, and seventh overall with that magazine, as my story “The Dog and the Ferryman” hits bookstores, mailboxes, e-readers, and neuralinks everywhere. Ok, no neuralinks yet, but sooner or later than you might expect.

My first six stories with F&SF were a strict diet of hard sci-fi, so here’s something different: a fusion dish of fantasy, mythology, and science fiction seasoned with equal parts sweet and somber.

Writing stories can be a grueling experience (especially starting them, dammit) but “The Dog and the Ferryman” was a delightful outlier. About a year ago, I was paging through mythology books because that makes me happy. As I arrived at the stories of the Greek underworld, I started thinking about Charon.

Charon is on the sidelines of the juicier, heroic epics. Essentially, he’s a blue collar (or rather black robe) worker toiling at a thankless and soul-crushing (or rather soul-ferrying) job. He reminds me of the Dunkin Donuts commercials of yesteryear. “Time to ferry the departed souls…” All the work, none of the glory. 

The more I mused about him, the more interested I became in writing a story in which he’d headline the action. But what action? I wasn’t about to rehash Hellenistic legend…  but what if I brought Charon into the future? 

And what if in the future people are no longer dying?

That was as far as I got with the idea. For several days, I let it roll around in my head, not really sure if anything would come of it. Mostly the concept made me chuckle. Imagine that out of all global religions it’s the Ancient Greeks who got it right all along.

A few days later, I learned that some new exhibits had opened at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.

I love museums. Always have. From Peabody to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Edo-Tokyo Museum and beyond, I am a happy haunter of old relics, ancient parchment, saurian bones, and the delightful detritus of excavations. I’ve said before that I dislike the time period I was born into, but my “dislike” runs deeper than that: I have always felt like an unwilling prisoner forced to serve time in an era at odds with everything I am and everything I cherish. 

The Bruce Museum offered a giddy escape. They had an illuminating exhibit on the Silk Road.  There were Tang Dynasty artifacts. There were several rooms dedicated to the gruesome early days of American medicine (complete with blood tonics and leech jars). 

And there was an exhibit all about the history of comic strips.

Connecticut was instrumental in the development of this art. I explored the aisles, passing by snippets of Doc Savage and Prince Valiant, Calvin and Hobbes and the Batman. I halted before a display of the first example featuring a talking animal (something that is ubiquitous in comic strips today but was once a revolutionary concept.) The first taking animal ever depicted in the art-form was…

… a dog.

And one of the characters in the strip was named Buster.

There in the museum, the two ideas came together. More than that: I suddenly had the entire story in my head. It was rare and wonderful: writing is so often like tunneling through a mountain of solid granite. When I returned home, I wrote “The Dog and the Ferryman” in a matter of hours.

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In related news, while there’s no end to the acid-drenched soliloquy I could give on the year 2020, it also happens to be the Year of the Space Pirate for me. I just sold my story “Theft, Sex and Space Pirates” to Third Flatiron, completing a trifecta of published stories this year featuring my character Jolene Fort. The reluctant detective already appeared in “Death on the Nefertem Express” (March/April issue of F&SF) and will appear in Baen Books’ Cosmic Corsairs in “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates”. The sale of “Theft, Sex and Space Pirates” will see Ms. Fort tackle a most peculiar case of Grand Theft Shuttle…

I also sold a piece to Flash Fiction Online, and have some other news I’m sitting on until the contracts are signed. 

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