First off, let's be honest: I'm a ham.
I have always been an entertainer. I think it is in my genes. My mother tells of recent ancestors of mine who were Vaudevillians and of my great grandfather who was a celebrated pianist. My father is a soft-spoken Southerner whose good humor is legendary.
Those two forces collided violently thirty-some years ago, and the result was me.
The "Story Hour" concept started in 1994 at a convention in California. It was a furry convention, and hence my badge bore the name of my online cockroach persona, Kagemushi. I was sitting in the lobby at one point and chatting with a friend about some dreadful thing or another -- I think I was regaling him with tales of the stupidity of my then-supervisor -- and I noticed that a crowd had begun to form. Being, as previously established, a ham, I projected my voice a bit farther and added a little extra flair to my words.
More and more people started to gather around. Some of them were sitting on the floor, their knees all tucked up to their chins and their eyes wide and fixed on me. I was rather stupefied by all this, but I kept going (in Vaudeville, they would say, "Keep moving. You make less of a target.") I was on my feet by now and throwing in a few grand gestures to punctuate my words, including the strangly-one I make when I get really mad. When the tale was finally done, this great knot of people broke into applause. Sitting beside me was a young artist by the name of Colin Crisanti, who reached up and tugged on my lab coat and playfully called, "Tell us another story, Uncle Kage!"
The name stuck. And not long afterward I was contacted by a staff member of the convention who invited me to "do it next year as an event."
"Do what?" I said.
That's how it all began. Each year the crowds got bigger. I moved from the lobby into a ballroom, and then into a bigger ballroom with a stage and a sound system. I started actually to plan the stories that I would tell in order to keep things flowing smoothly. Other conventions started to invite me as a guest to perform for their members, as well as to conduct auctions for them. In 1998, Anthrocon (then "Albany Anthrocon") invited me to be a guest of honor. That was part of a ruse to trick me into becoming their chairman, of course, but I was still terribly flattered.
Mind you, I am still not entirely sure myself why people like to hear me speak. I am just a dumpy middle-aged guy whose mouth is often engaged while his brain is on hold to tech support somewhere. Still, the audience packs in, the videotape sales are brisk, and more and more invitations come in.
If you're not too bored by now of the prattling and the self-aggrandizing (Hey, I didn't want to write a web page. They made me do it!) you can get a sampling of some of the types of stories I tell by clicking here.
I also write. Not a lot, mind you, but I've penned a few tales down. My first published story Tweaked in the Head appeared in an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories about birds of prey, the cover of which is pictured here. I wish I could say that it was through dogged determination and sweating and chasing down of publishers and enduring thousands of rejection slips that I finally found my way into print, but that would be a lie. The truth is that I was buddies with the editor.
I met Mercedes Lackey and her husband Larry Dixon at a convention in 1993 -- and, like just about everything I do, there's a story behind that, too. They are the most delightful friends whose home turned out to be a refuge for me when I was having a particularly difficult time with things. Like me, they are fascinated with birds of prey and are active raptor rehabilitators. It was a dreadful shame that I moved from where I was living and could no longer go to visit them on the weekends.
Early in May of 1998 Misty got in touch with me and dropped something of a blockbuster on me. "I'm putting together an anthology of stories about birds of prey. I want you to write one for me."
My response began with a combination of the words "Um," "Buh!" "Gack," and "wha?" repeated in no particular order, followed by "I couldn't do that!"
"Sure you can," she said. "I know that you know hawks, and I've seen how you write. Go for it. If it doesn't pass muster, then you haven't lost anything, but I think you've got it in you. Just make it about 7000 words."
"Well...OK. I'll give it a try. When's the deadline?"
"End of the month."
Of course I got busy right away. Since it was about birds of prey, the natural subject for it would be the bird I knew best: Red, a redtailed hawk who had been my teaching partner at the Vermont Raptor Center. I was determined to keep the science sound since junk science has always been a pet peeve of mine. To that end, I enlisted the help of my good pal Dr. Joseph Murphy, who made sure I didn't screw up the biology, and Dr. Colleen Murphy (no coincidence) who gave me some insights into psychology.
I showed the first draft to my old friend Tim Susman, a wildlife expert and a talented writer himself, who told me quite honestly that the ending sucked, so I rewrote it. I then showed it to another friend, Phil Pollard (also no coincidence), who has a keen editor's eye, who told me that the giant radioactive lizard was superficial to the plot and should be removed. Grudgingly, I took those 40 pages out. At least we were down to the 7000 words that Misty had called for.
I made the deadline. I think I was the only one who did, but it was good exercise, at least.
The book hit the shelves in December of 1999. I first found it in a Barnes & Noble in Bethesda, MD. My hands were trembling a bit as I pulled it down from the shelf and leafed through to my story. I felt dizzy when I saw my name printed beneath the title. My first published story! I started to feel very awkward when I saw some of the other names in the book. There are some heavy hitters in there, and it made me feel like the new kid trying to find a way into the old neighborhood gang.
At least they didn't make me swallow a goldfish.
The book can be found in the "Mercedes Lackey" section of any worthwhile bookstore, or in some it is housed in the "Science Fiction Anthologies" section. I hope that you will pick it up, and further that you enjoy my humble first effort.
I have always had a fascination with history; thus, when Lanny Fields first approached me and invited me to submit a story for the premiere issue of Historimorphs I jumped at the chance. The basic premise is historical fiction with anthropomorphics, although Lanny added the challenge that in each story, 'morphs and humans must interact in some way. He managed to gather together some of the finest talent in the fandom including Tim Susman, a gifted writer and illustrator whom I am very happy to call my friend.
The story that I decided to put together is The Secret of Wollknäul, which takes place in Germany during the waning days of World War II. I enlisted the aid of my German friend Christian Schwartz to make sure I didn't mess up the language, and borrowed the name and persona of my scrappy colleague Dr. Joe Murphy for one of the main characters.
Historimorphs can be purchased from Sofawolf Press, either from their web site or directly from them at any anthropomorphics convention.
Also from Sofawolf Press comes a collection of science fiction stories all written around a mining colony on a cold and distant planet. Breaking the Ice was put together by Tim Susman, who first created the world of New Tibet a few years ago. The setting of his story captured my imagination and when Tim invited me to conjure up my own story about New Tibet I literally jumped at the chance. Four very talented anthropomorphics writers joined in and Breaking the Ice was born. Tim's story A Prison of Clouds forms the centerpiece of the book. My own story starts the book off almost as a prologue. I can only hope that I managed to capture the spirit of New Tibet as vividly as Tim did.
Tim never envisioned any avian species on New Tibet, but my protagonist Jyo isn't exactly a typical resident. He is probably the only one of his kind on the planet, in fact, although he has his reasons for being there. Oh, yes.
And once again from Sofawolf comes Anthrolations. Some of the finest writers and artists have been featured within its covers since its inception. I was very flattered to be asked to submit a story for issue #5, which was released in July of 2002. I chose to send them a little story called Six, which I had written a few years back. It is somewhat unique among my stories in that it is based upon an actual incident that happened during my Red Cross days. For a synopsis, let us just say that experience with wildlife rehabilitation comes in handy when you find unusual creatures hiding in the basements of abandoned houses. The story features illustrations by the amazingly talented Stephanie Hahn, which came as a very pleasant surprise to me. I can only pray that my humble effort at writing does justice to the wonderful images she created to accompany it.
Now, if you have read this far, I suppose you deserve to see a few of my other stories. Be forewarned: all of what you are about to read is true.