Tales from the Underside


Short stories for sophisticated young readers of whatever age; some wacky and humorous, some that will produce anxiety . . .

Hey, people. You might be relieved to know that this isn’t a funeral announcement. I know I am. Anyway, it is to inform you that the first of four books I’ve recently completed is available on Amazon. It is titled Tales from the Underside, and features stories for readers from fifteen to ninety. Well, eighty-two.

Themes range from a guy forced into a western-style duel in a southwestern desert, a Pakistani slum kid being indoctrinated to blow himself up, a starving cat giving his rescuer a lesson in commitment, a farmer being questioned by one of his cows who was sent by the herd elders to ask some stiff questions, to mention a few. The softcover book costs $8.50 plus shipping, less than five bucks, and the e-book costs $2.00.

The three books to follow are another volume of short stories, for a more mature audience, called Slightly Bent, which might give away the thrust of its material. Then there follows a book on Artificial Intelligence called Humang/A Cautionary tale of Free-Range Artificial Intelligence. This probes the near future when power begins to shift from human hands into those of the entities called AIs. The last book is a lengthy novel on a relationship gone south, called The Whammy, in which a man, after having undergone an uncomfortable session with a stage hypnotist, uses this to precipitate the divorce that he wants but is afraid of the heavy losses he’ll incur by going through the usual court process.

So, I don’t expect much to come of this announcement, reading tastes being such a personal matter. But if you do make a purchase I ask that you provide a review if you’re able to wade through my verbal undergrowth. This can be either positive or repelling, as befits your experience. I guess that’s it. Thanks, if you made it this far. The books can be found at: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01I4C0RCQ

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My latest offering in the vasty Amazon publication world is a sci/fi tale of the uncertainty and threat posed by two Artificial Intelligence entities called Cybots who have mastered human communication and are soon to be set free by the NSA to work their solutions on the various issues ravaging our earth. This has their human assistant, John Hillings, alarmed and terrified over the future of the human race due to his inability to express the basically emotional nature of humans to the Cybots in a way that gets past their rigid logicality. The book is titled:HUMANG-Machinosus Inimicus Rex and the Kid from W.H.O.A.

Humang: Machinosus Inimicus Rex and the Kid from W.H.O.A. by [Stephen Smith]

The book is available at


If you would, I’d appreciate your leaving a review. Thank you.

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7.1.14 Publication updates for visitors . . .

~I was recently informed that my story “Wild Horse Spring,” which was published in FrontierTales.com in May 2012, will appear in the third volume of The Best of Frontier Tales, published by Duke and Kimberly Pennell. Publication date to be announced when available. If you can’t wait for the book, the story is archived at: http://www.frontiertales.com/archives/2012/05May/wild_horse_spring.php (It is not available anymore).

~In case you haven’t read it and are panting to do so, another western story of mine, “The Gringo,” is available at: http://thewesternonline.com/thegringo.html.

~A surreal story titled “Sojourn in a Monkey Suit” can be found at:  http://www.defenestrationmag.net/2014/08/sojourn-in-a-monkey-suit-by-steve-smith/

~A story about my brief baseball career called “A Brush with the Bigs” was printed by Hobart Magazine in its annual baseball issue and can be found at: http://www.hobartpulp.com/preview/web_features/a-brush-with-the-bigs

~A chapter from book 2 of my military memoir, “Close Enough for Jazz,” titled “Taps for Sergeant Halder,” can be found at: http://militaryexperience.org/taps-for-sergeant-halder/

~A story about a little girl who practices mayhem with the help of her dog, “Janie & Spot, Renovators, LTD, was published by Drive In Tales, the summer of 2015 issue. It can be found at: https://www.joomag.com/magazine/drive-in-tales-summer-2015/0481472001410892708

After a drunken encounter with a knife wielding sociopath, things get weird for martial artist Rick Stancil. This is an urban fantasy titled “Weeder” defined by author/editor Ceinwen Haydon  as “A dark story, skillfully told, that casts a perverse spell.” It is found at: http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2016/04/weeder-by-steve-smith.html

~A sci/fi fantasy story, “The Alexandria Ring,” features a love connection between an arc-rider from the 2600s and a lumbering neer-do-well in Oklahoma of 1908.  It is  published by Main Street Rag in an anthology called “It’s About Time.”.

~A favorite story of mine is “The Furnace,” a Civil War story about a wounded Confederate private who communes with his intended on the battlefield.

Above hasn’t found a home yet . . .

Some two-dozen other stories are in process of finding a home in the print world or the net, whichever comes first.

I’m currently in the throes of going “indie” with my three-volume memoir of my wacky days in the peacetime Army. This means having covers designed, the books formatted properly, and a distributor engaged. The minute they become available via POD, or as e-books, this site, and others, will trumpet the fact. Then follows the publication of my novel, “The Whammy/A Twisty Sort of Love Story.” I know the world is waiting breathlessly . . .

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On The Unlikelihood of Rationality Becoming our Guiding Impulse

Within the minority of those who are largely governed by rationality and who attempt to apply reason in their dealings with others must exist a sense of the hopelessness of their position, faced as it is by the massive and immovable impediment of outmoded notions, emotionalism, and religious, political or racial doctrines in so many that we share this planet with, all of which militate against having the clear, receptive mind that is required to produce valid and sensible ideas.

Minds driven by one or more of the above fallacious world-views find it impossible to consider their position with any degree of objectivity. Moreover, no discussion is needed nor tolerated. From this position of unquestioned and self-righteous rectitude wedded to the nagging internal voice of uncertainty–which further hardens their resistance–comes the practice of shouting down your opponent. Self-examination does not apply. This promotes a circular system of quasi-reasoning that serves only to further set one’s beliefs and values.

This human predilection may be an outshoot of the principle that survival depends on taking a stern and definite stance, preferably supported by firepower. To be tolerant and open to  debate implies weakness, and without forceful insistence upon your belief platform it will come under attack. Therefore, one must maintain a rigid ideological footing. And anyone or any system that differs, threatens you and defines itself as an enemy. Hatred for these individuals or societies grows naturally out of this mindset until it becomes unsustainable. And since they won’t come over to you, nor you to them, what choice do you have in what has become for you a war of ideologies . . . but to kill. Your God would surely approve, the Ten Commandments notwithstanding.

Hardest of all things to achieve in the lifelong process of maturation is to live with ambiguity: the sense that nothing is absolute, that any doctrine is full of holes, that you’re never going to be right all the time, maybe not half the time, that maybe tolerance is as close as we’ll ever get to being holy. Unfortunately, nothing is more entrenched within us than our political and religious beliefs: the invisible, unknowable, unprovable, set in uncompromising concrete in what should otherwse be a fluid medium–our minds.

This is the sheer bewildering and unthinking inertia we come up against when we ask for a more human and civilized world.

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Horse Laugh

True love, we are told, can withstand anything, barring necrophilia, unsavory aromas and serial infidelity. My first venture into the slippery arena of amor, however, ended in a puddle of aromatic foam.

Cloudcroft, NM, is a mountain community whose revenue source at the time of this story, was largely from skiing and winter games. My family, dad Ken, mom Muriel,  sister Shirley, and I were on our way to Hobbs, also in NM, to begin a new life. Mom suffered from respiratory problems and her doctor recommended she move to a dry desert locale, away from Iowa’s winters.

We arrived in Cloudcroft after supper one evening in early mid-September and took a room in a cheap motel. Two rooms down another family was unpacking their car and carrying their suitcases into their room. I was outside staying out of the way while my parents set up a sleeping arrangement on the floor for my sister and me when a girl about my age emerged from her room. From inside, her mother’s voice counseled, “Don’t go too far, Millie.”

“Okay, mom,” the girl answered.

Millie had reddish-blond hair, whose attractive tint captured my attention, and she seemed at loose ends like me. Her gaze turned ninety degrees and spotted me. She walked toward me with a kind of natural boldness, then stopped by a 4×4 post supporting the overhang. “Hi,” she said leaning against the post.

“Hi,” I answered. She was close enough for me to see that she had light blue eyes and a pale skin dotted with freckles.

She regarded me, then said, “I’m Millie. What’s your name?”

After I answered, she regarded me some more, gnawing on her lower lip. Then she cast a glance back at the door to her room and said, “Let’s go for a walk.”

She had already left the post and started away from the row of connected rooms, so I gigged myself into action. As I caught up with her she stuck out her hand. It felt strange to catch hold of her hand and walk along as if we were old friends. Along with my usual self-consciousness I began to feel some odd stirrings inside. It occurred to me that maybe we were going somewhere where we couldn’t be seen, and that maybe Millie had something in mind, like maybe messing around.

We were heading toward a large fenced-in pasture in which three horses were foraging. About forty yards from the motel, she stopped next to a mare that was cropping at grass clumps about ten feet inside the fence.

“I just love horses,” said Millie dreamily. “Don’t you?”

“Yeah, I like horses. I like to draw ‘em.”

She apparently wasn’t impressed by this. “Did you ever ride on one?”

“No, I never did. Did you?”

She shook her head. “I hope to soon. When we visit my uncle’s ranch in California.”

She reached towards the mare, who stopped cropping grass and raised her head. A big black stallion that had been nosing for grass some fifty feet away in the center of the pasture saw this and must have concluded that treats were being handed out because he came on a trot. He stopped a few feet from the fence in front of us and studied Millie’s hands. Seeing that the mare hadn’t taken anything, he gave a snort and shook his massive head. My head barely came to the lower part of his mane. I was impressed by his size and the suggestion of powerful grace as he stood looking at the ground some feet away as if musing.

“Oh,” Millie said rapturously. “Isn’t he beautiful? Oh, he’s so gorgeous, so noble looking. I wish I had a camera.”

Then time and volition seemed suspended. Before our softened gazes a purplish-black organ the diameter of a baseball bat began to slide from the stallion’s penile sheath, growing close to two feet in length. A tiny squawk issued from Millie’s lips. She edged tensely away from the fence. From the nodding tip of the stallion’s penis shot a garden hose stream of urine that spattered against the churned up soil of the corral behind his front hooves and quickly formed a puddle the color of egg yolk.

Between the spatter noisily lashing the widening pool into crenellated spires of foam rising from its perimeter, like egg whites beaten until the frothy stuff stood, romance had been sending out tendrils of hopeful longing. Then blunt reality interposed itself in the form of the stallion’s preposterously enormous dick sticking out so far as to sweep our wispy sentiments into oblivion.

The forceful hiss of urine plunging into the foaming pool, now glinting an unwholesome off-greenish tinge, must have gone on for twenty seconds or more, its rank, steamy aroma enveloping us in an invisible cloud. Several feet away from me, Millie made an “Ulkk-k,” sound.

I had been so distracted by this engrossing event that I had forgotten about Millie standing stiffly away from the fence. I watched as she panted a few times and seemed to be struggling to swallow. My attention drawn back to the stallion, I was wondering where that lengthy organ reposed between waterings when Millie said, “I think my mama’s calling me. I better go.”

I watched her jog and walk by turns toward the motel. I shrugged, somewhat disappointed in her faintheartedness, then turned my attention to the horse reeling his member splotched with pink back inside his abdomen. He had bitched up what was to have been my first taste of a girl’s lips. I studied him wondering if his timing at uncoiling his colossal member had been deliberate. Maybe he was getting even with us for teasing him with nonexistent treats. His upper lips folded back revealing his big uneven teeth. Then he whinnied, clearly laughing at me.

Actually that didn’t happen. What did happen was that Millie and I almost met next morning, but when she saw us leaving our room, she kept to the far side of her parents car

so she wouldn’t have to exchange glances with him who had witnessed her moment of personal embarrassment.

Offended that I no longer met her criteria for whatever it was she’d had in mind the day before, I whinnied.

Well, actually that didn’t happen either.

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Intro and Welcome

October 19, 2011

Hey, there. Come on in, have a seat. Uhh, watch the cat, Sophie’s her name. The house is pretty much hers, and I don’t try to persuade her otherwise. So, you’re here mostly out of curiosity I’d guess, since I’m not famous or even somewhat known. Maybe it’s our shared writing interest that drew you? Or maybe you like to yammer about baseball before players began drawing millions and some of the charm was gone from the game?

No? The writing, then. Good. It’s the biggest thing for me, too.

Want a root beer? No? Okay, I’ll try to make the visit worth your while. Now I don’t pretend to be a guru about the writing process, but I can talk about my own experience with absolute conviction. I hope that my stumbles and occasional risings above myself will make this site worthwhile to you who, like me, seek the Shimmering Golden Oz of Publication Land, a place that might be just starting to appear over my personal horizon.

I visualize the process of getting there as a kind of board game: You start at the lower left corner, intending to eventually arrive at the upper right, where the castle of OZ gleams in all it glory. But, like finding fulfillment in life itself, there is no direct and simple way there; the path is marked by dotted trails that wander all over the board, intersecting on occasion and dead-ending on others. These trails are navigated through a dice throw. Even numbers require following a straight path. Odd numbers allow you to make choices whenever you cross a diverging trail. The trails lead through sometimes difficult terrain: there is the Slough of Despond; the Canebrake of Rejection; the Marsh of Verbiage, and a few more.

But then you happen upon a clearing marked by a sign saying, “Congratulations, your story has been selected for publication in the E-zine, ‘The Rathole of Barking Insignificance.’”

A thrill goes through you. You realize that this, even for the paltry remuneration of $2, constitutes affirmation of a core belief: that you are a writer, and that the outpourings (droppings?) of your overheated imagination have worth; someone has found delight in your story: “Outgrabings of a Mome Rath.”

“Bitchin!” you exclaim, pirouetting around the room, “And huzzah.” A light has burst through the gloomy overcast of years of unrewarded toil and fractured belief in yourself and settled around you in an aura of hope and beneficence. You spend the rest of the day in a jumpy sort of ecstasy, unable to sit still for long before the need to make goofy faces at yourself in the mirror urges you from your chair looking for someone to bounce your wriggly self against, until hubby/wifey says, “For God’sake, go run laps around the neighborhood, better yet the whole town!”

I know. It just happened for me. I sold a western story called “The Gringo,” to thewesternonline.com on September 4, 2011, a date that will live in luminous personal significance forever. Yeeha! Let me know when it happens for you. We’ll hoist cans of diet Dr. Pepper to each other via SKYPE in mutual celebration. As authors.

P.S. A second story has found a home: This is “Wild Horse Spring,” displayed on Frontiertales.com in May, 2012.

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