Inside Old Bones: It Slipped My Mind

After the unpleasant task of my most recent post, in which I bade farewell to an old friend and colleague, we’re moving forward in a more positive direction. It’s time for another look behind the scenes of Old Bones. In today’s entry we focus on a darkly humorous piece called It Slipped My Mind.

It’s the narrative of a man who has just killed his wife and is on his way home from disposing of the body, and explains to the reader his motives behind such a heinous act. He’s convinced it wasn’t his wife at all, but rather an intricately detailed duplicate, possibly planted by the government or aliens or some such. The imposter was able to fool him for a while but ultimately made a fatal mistake: she asked him if he’d ever eaten jambalaya before. His real wife would have known instantly that he had, because of the back story involved with that particular dish. He knew for sure then, and took it upon himself to take her out before she could do whatever dastardly thing to him she’d been sent to do.

This story was inspired, as so many of the good ones are, by real life events. In this case, it was based on a conversation between my wife and I – about jambalaya. Now, my repertoire in the kitchen is a bit on the limited side, but one thing I do make very well is jambalaya. In our early days together I figured whipping up a batch would be a good way to impress her, and asked if she’d ever had it before. What I didn’t remember is that not only had I asked her that no fewer than four times already… I had already actually made it for her. Her incredulous look, and the fact that she razzed me about it (and still does to this day) made me wonder if maybe I was getting a bit forgetful. I tried to cover for my oversight by pretending I was just teasing her, but she saw right through me and wasn’t having any of it.

It’s become a running joke between us now. If one of us forgets something, the other will counter with “but have you ever had jambalaya before?” Aside from the fun we have with it, the incident sparked my creative “what if…?” mind. I thought about what might happen if the circumstances were a bit different and things got out of hand, and as it played out in my mind this story began to take shape. I won’t spoil the ending here, I’ll just say it’s pretty clever, if I do say so myself.

So even though nobody actually died over this tasty dish, the story is deeply rooted in real events – based on a true story, as they say. My wife, who is still very much alive, got a kick out of the fact I was able to turn this ridiculous sequence of events into a horror story. The lesson here, of course, is this: writers will always find a way to mine a story from what may seem to be nothing of substance. Just something to bear in mind whenever I’m around.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!


Remembering J.

Today’s post takes us briefly away from Old Bones back stories. I’ll return to those presently, but something has come up to nudge them aside for the moment.

I’m a little late to the party on this; I blame my sporadic social media presence. Nonetheless, late or not, I heard the news today that my old friend, editor and mentor, J. Richard Jacobs, has passed on, and I felt it warranted an interruption of the regularly scheduled programming.

I chuckled to myself as I wrote that, knowing it would rub J the wrong way. As a staunch and vocal atheist, terms like ” passed on” held little meaning for him. “I haven’t passed on,” I imagine him correcting me, “I’ve died. Kicked the bucket, if you prefer.”

An author, an editor, a creative mind in the same stratosphere as the Asimovs, Heinleins and Bradburys; a small and unassuming man who stood tall among the literary giants. 

I met J many years ago, back when he was merely ancient. He came with a reputation for being a no-nonsense, curmudgeonly type, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. To my delight, J turned out to be a very pleasant, no-nonsense curmudgeon, and we bonded instantly. 

My first correspondence with J was in regards to a story I’d submitted for one of his Twisted Tails anthologies. As busy a man as he always was, he replied to me almost immediately (a trait he maintained the entire time I knew him) and was very kind in his assessment of my fledgling work. He accepted that piece and numerous others over the years. I was always more than happy to supply him with stories whenever he needed “a few more to round out the book” as he put it.

As busy as he always kept himself, there were always so many projects just beyond his fingertips that he wanted to pay attention to. His drive to produce more work, in a number of platforms, always gave me a kick in the pants whenever I felt lazy or uninspired. I’m sorry he won’t get to see Heaven Help Us All, a round-robin collaborative novel he orchestrated, brought to life. But I understand it will see the light of day, and those of us who participated in its creation will have one final attachment to our old friend.

I regret not having the chance to work with him more than I did, but I’m grateful for the stuff that’s out there with both our names on it.

Beyond our collaborations, J was always there to lend advice or suggestions along my path. He’d already accomplished more than I ever will years before I even knew who he was, but to me and the countless others who had the privilege of knowing him he was always just J, never too old or accomplished to learn something new. He had a sharp eye for detail and was always quick to point out flaws in an illogical viewpoint. 

He gave freely whatever he had to give, and I frequently sat under the learning tree and took all of it in that I could. I don’t know that he had too many enemies out there – rare for a man of his age and conviction not to, but there you have it – largely because he had a non-confrontational way despite his closely-held beliefs. He wasn’t unwavering, but you sure had to come with a convincing argument. 

All of this to say, J was a good friend and a good man who will be missed by all whose lives he touched, however briefly. It was my pleasure to call him my friend, and the science fiction world – not exclusively, but especially – will mourn his loss.

Farewell, old friend. I’d say ‘until we meet again’, but I know you’d scoff at that, even if you smirked as you did. I hope the joke’s on you and there really is something else out there beyond this mortal coil. Think of the stories you could tell…

Speaking of stories, here’s one last one. On Friday, I was standing in a parking lot with my wife, Sheryl, when a car passed us. When the passenger turned his head to look at me as they passed, I noticed he bore a remarkable resemblance to J, and I said as much to her. Just now I reminded her of the incident and the coincidence of having to write this today, to which she replied “Maybe it was him.” After threatening for years to find a way to come to Canada for a visit, maybe he finally found a way.