11 Jan

Shani: A Disclaimer for a short story written when I was 14

A fellow SF writer is on his fourth round of chemo. And a number of us decided to come together to see if we could help him out by holding a fund raiser where we agreed to donate acts of whimsy for certain levels of funds raised. I agreed to give everyone a read of my first ever, full completed short story.

Well, I was thinking I would have the weekend to type this up for everyone helping out, but we blew right past all of our levels of hoped-for funds within a few hours. People watched as authors agreed to sing, read classic literature as if having phone sex, and way, way more. It was, in short, epic. And so I found myself asking for help to quickly prep the files for my piece of whimsy.

The intro/disclaimer I quickly wrote for that piece of juvenilia was this:

When I was asked to donate a piece of whimsy to this project to raise money to punch back against Jay’s cancer I said yes automatically. Yes, because having gone through a medical ordeal of my own I don’t wish that on anyone. Not even my worst enemy. And Jay’s a friend. So I super-extra unwish all of this on him and hate seeing it. Sure he’s all the way over on the West Coast, but we broke in together at roughly the same time and there’s always this ‘cohorts for life’ sort of feel among writers that start publishing around the same time. I couldn’t help but say yes… even though I don’t do whimsy all that well. I’m always in awe of cool stunts and whimsical events that people in this community do (like Jim Hines replicating urban fantasy covers on his blog).

I thought a good part of whimsy is to let yourself be potentially embarrassed. So twenty years ago I was fourteen years old, wearing braces, oversized glasses with a blue tint, unruly curly hair, and I read a lot. And I got it in my head that I would write a short story. Until then I’d mostly scribbled snippets (and there was that everlasting gobstopper of a novel I was always ‘working on’).


Here is a story that I wrote when I was still in middle school. The first one.
I said I would donate it to the cause. And I’m a man of my word. But in a fit of ‘Oh crap, what have I wrought’ panic I thought I would at least put a disclaimer in front of it, and here it is and…

… you know what, I don’t even regret it in the slightest. If it helped bring a few extra people to prime the pump of this amazing fundraiser, it was totally worth it. Fourteen year old me wasn’t embarrassed to try, and fear of being judged by peers and strangers only binds and hobbles us. And fourteen year old me would have been delighted to have helped out a colleague in this way, and been thrilled the story was read at all. Other than including a few hashmarks to properly indicated section breaks, the story is proudly included with all of its original errors.

Please to enjoy. And thank you, thank you again for helping with this fundraiser. You are good people. All of you.

Thank you also to Angie Rush for transcribing this from pictures I took of the original, yellowed paper copy.

Here on the blog, I’d also like to add to the story of how I came to have a paper-only copy of this story.

As I said, I wrote it almost exactly 20 years ago. When I was done with this story I gave a copy to my grandfather on his boat. He didn’t like it, didn’t understand what was going on. But he kept the damn thing.

After the hurricanes that hit in 1995, I lost a lot of my paper print outs, so the other copy of Shani was lost to the storm. I might have had a copy of it on a hard drive, but my hard drive failed in college somewhere my sophomore year. So I figured the story for a lost artifact that I’d always remember fondly… my first complete short story.

Until my grandfather collapsed in the Caribbean from diabetes-related complications. One of my uncles flew down and got him back up to Ohio for a stay here in Ohio with my parents while he mooned about their house recovering (and then being settled permanently as they realized his health was failing). And one of the things he still had when his things were moved off his boat to my parent’s house was his copy of Shani, which he gave back to me.

And so that is why I have, sealed away in a large envelope in the back of my filing cabinet, a 20 year old print out of the first short story I wrote, typed up on a Brother ‘word processor’ that had a four-line LCD screen that let me type a paragraph up before it started printing the words.

So donating this to the cause seemed like a very whimsical thing to do, and I’m so pleased that it is able to be used for a good cause after being lost, found, then hidden away.

If you’ve donated to help Jay Lake sequence his cancer, you can read my first ever short story written here.

If you read the story, and haven’t donated, please… consider going to help Jay here:

Jay Lake is an award-winning American author of ten science fiction novels and over 300 short stories. He is also one of more than a million Americans who have colon cancer. Diagnosed in April, 2008, Jay’s cancer has progressed from a single tumor to metastatic disease affecting the lung and liver, recurring after multiple surgeries and chemotherapy courses, and multiplying from single tumor presentations to multiple tumors presentations. Jay is now in his fourth round of chemotherapy, but it’s not clear that it’s working, and his doctors have little to go on in terms of advising further courses of treatment for him. In short, things are not looking good for Jay. Not at all.

However, a new technology is becoming available—one that may offer his doctors a better option for treating the cancer. We’re trying to raise funds to allow Jay to have whole genome sequencing. There is a small possibility that the results of such a test, which is more comprehensive than conventional genetic testing of tumors, may suggest a treatment path that Jay’s doctor’s may not have considered, and that could be life saving. It’s a really small chance, and Jay knows that.

The unlocked reward goals are a lot of fun. Right now we’re moving towards getting a 3-d scan of Cory Doctorow’s head making a funny face.

The possibilities are endless.