020: Object Permanence

My last story for the year is “Object Permanence,” which was recently published at Fireside Fiction. Most of us would probably like for 2020 to blink out of existence as if we were infants lacking the titular concept of the piece (or would that be temporal permanence?)

The inspiration for the story came from Twitter accounts that embody inanimate objects. For example, Karl the Fog has over 300k followers, towering over many human influencers. Then there’s Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, Sutro Tower, and countless others. Some of these accounts are official, while others are maintained by anonymous locals.

So I wondered: what if there was a conference for these inanimate accounts? What friendships and fights would break out? How would a person change if they spent their time channeling the experience of non-living entities? What if every noteworthy object had its own digital persona?

I also wanted to experiment with embedded tweets as a literary device:

These (fake) tweets acted like pull quotes: dialogue somewhat removed from the prose. The comment and like counts also communicated a bit of narrative between the lines.

I had more ambitious plans for the piece, including building out an entire fake conference website and creating a web of social media accounts that would lead readers deeper into this strange world. But, alas, I ran out of time. I’m hoping to incorporate some these ideas into future stories.

In 2018, devastating wildfires engulfed the Bay Area. I remember obsessively checking the air quality indicators, seeing if my son would have a “fire” day off from school—a twisted version of the glorious snow days I experienced as a kid in New York. (Soot angels, anyone?)

There was a lot of chatter about how Karl the Fog needs to vanquish the grim layer of smoke above SF. On a lark, I created Karl the Fog’s nemesis: Balor the Smoke, and spent a few weeks doing PSA’s about air quality:

I also poked a bit of fun at Karl and other folks. A few other inanimate accounts started to follow me, like local mountains and buildings. I got a fair share of epithets thrown at me, telling me to GTFO of the city. I answered all of these with suggestions on how to avoid the smoke (ie. me) and stay healthy.

It was an interesting experience filtering my mind through an anthropomorphized plume of wildfire smoke, and much of that served as inspiration for the piece.

After a few rounds of rejections from publications, I almost gave up and trunked the story into the depths of my hard drive. It’s difficult enough selling a literary short story, let alone one that incorporates non-traditional elements. So naturally, I tweeted about it, and the Fireside Fiction folks took notice, ultimately buying it. They were one of the few SFWA qualified pubs that had published on hypertext-like stories, like the wonderful STET by Sarah Gailey.

I’m thankful they took a chance on my weird story.

Goodbye 2020

2020 was a curveball for the world. I ended up staying indoors with the family for most of it, receding into a steady rhythm of kids, cooking, writing, and coding.

Here’s looking forward to 2021: when we can all (hopefully) emerge and breathe easily again. Stay healthy out there!