Inside Old Bones: Through the Eyes of a Child

Today’s edition of my behind-the-scenes look at my upcoming short story collection, Old Bones, takes us into a story that goes back several years. I will often attempt to give my story titles a double meaning, and Through the Eyes of a Child is one that does exactly that. It’s also one of a number of stories I’ve written with a child as the main character; maybe my first to do so, now that I think about it.

(I just now took a peek at the table of contents for Old Bones, and noticed this is one of three – arguably four, depending on how you look at it – stories which feature children as the main character. Over the years I’ve made an attempt to write not just from my own perspective, or that of others just like me. Writers, particularly beginning ones, will often inadvertently write every character as though they’re speaking through the character directly. Man, woman, child, modern, past, future: all written as if the character is a role being played by the author. I have attempted to avoid doing this, thus the inclusion of main characters that aren’t anything like me. The trick is to make the character relatable – if it’s a small child, make the reader believe these are the words and actions of a small child. I don’t always manage to pull it off, but it’s something I continue to work at.)

Several years ago my old friend J. Richard Jacobs – who I eulogized in this post – was looking for some stories for a themed anthology he called ‘Wunderkind’. He wanted stories about exceptional children, with special powers or traits. I thought about it for a little while, kicked around a few ideas, until I settled on what would ultimately become Eyes of a Child. The character, Tony, is a four-year-old boy with an IQ that’s off the charts. He also has a special secret ability that he doesn’t show or tell anyone about.

This is the part where I usually tell you about the incident or circumstances that inspired the story in question. I can’t do that today, because most of the plot behind this one stemmed from the game I play which I like to call “what if?” I almost never write to a prompt, but in this case I wanted to be included in this anthology, so I started kicking around ideas. Some of them were pretty far out, others simply lacked the impact I was looking for. I don’t know that it’s an entirely original idea – is anything, any more? – but I can’t recall ever seeing a similar story in my travels.

As with a lot of the things I wrote (and still write, if I’m being honest), I approached it with a sort of Twilight Zone mentality. I love the twist ending, and I like to think the reader doesn’t see it coming in this tale. The characters, Tony and his mother, Wendy, were named after real people. This, by the way, is something I frequently do, sort of an homage or tip of the hat to a friend or acquaintance. Most of the time I don’t tell anyone about this, not even the person in question. Rather, I prefer to let them stumble upon “themselves” when they’re reading and, hopefully, get a kick out of their inclusion (and if they don’t, well, then the story in question is purely a work of fiction and all resemblances to real people, living or deceased, is purely coincidental). I don’t want to spoil the story before you’ve had a chance to read it, but I will say that Tony was a real little boy I knew who passed away when he was about the same age as the boy in this story. Wendy is a friend of mine who has children of her own, though none (I don’t think, anyway) who can do the things Tony can.

The story satisfied my curmudgeonly editor, and he included it in his anthology. I was happy to share pages with many talented wordsmiths, all hand-picked by J. himself, and I was equally happy to have met with his approval. Wunderkind marked the third and final time my work appeared in the excellent Twisted Tails series, a fact I’m pleased and proud of. Now, I’ve chosen Eyes of a Child for inclusion in Old Bones, which I hope will bring pleasure and enjoyment to those who read it.

So that’s the story behind Through the Eyes of a Child. I hope you’re enjoying reading about the stories behind the stories, and will pick up a copy of Old Bones when it’s released. As always, thanks for reading. Be sure to pop over to my contact page and sign up to receive updates directly to your inbox.

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.