writing

Novels

  • Singer of Souls

    A street musician with a drug problem tries to escape to Edinburgh and get clean, but runs into trouble with the Faery court.

    "He writes with an assurance that belies the fact that this is his first adult novel and shows himself to be a voice to be reckoned with–and much anticipated."

    —School Library Journal

  • Steward of Song

    The sequel to Singer of Souls follows Douglas's siblings as they deal with the fallout from magic, murder, and Faery prophecy.

    "Stemple riffs off Native American and Celtic myths with ease while skillfully depicting a world where any move can have dire consequences."

    —Publishers Weekly

  • Pay the Piper (with Jane Yolen)

    A Rock-n-Roll Fairy Tale that re-envisions the tale of the pied piper in modern times. Winner of the 2006 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book.

    "Yolen and her son, a professional musician, have produced a rollicking good riff on the Pied Piper."

    —Booklist

  • Troll Bridge (with Jane Yolen)

    In the second Rock 'n Roll Fairy Tale, young musicians and Dairy Princesses are dragged into Trollholm and trust the help of a mysterious fox-spirit to help them escape.

    "Drawing elements from ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ and ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff,’ [Yolen and Stemple] give folklore a modern spin in an entertaining tale."

    —Booklist

Short Stories

The Tsar's Dragons

The Tsar's Dragons

The Russian revolution…with dragons! A gonzo reimagining of the October revoluton written with my mother. As historically accurate as possible, with the dragons standing in as literal symbols of the seduction and danger of wielding great powers.

Reviews:

  • Booklist—"…a treasure trove for fantasy fans, especially dragon lovers."
  • The Book Smugglers—"…Another personal favourite of mine. Alternate history in Russia circa Russian Revolution following around different characters, including a Jew who works for Lenin, a member of the Tzar’s aristocratic circle and Rasputin himself. This one is vivid, gripping and actually riveting as the Red Danger takes a whole new meaning here. Loved it. "

A Piece of Flesh

A Piece of Flesh

This was the first story I wrote out of sequence. I had a full scene in my head, just not a full plot to go with it. So, I wrote the soup scene first, then wrote from the beginning on. I think I prefer writing in sequence, but I wasn't much bothered by this method; I'd do it again if I felt it was useful.

My writer's group, which consists primarily of women, thought it enlightened of me to write from the viewpoint of a fourteen year old girl. I almost didn't have the heart to tell them that I chose that perspective because I just couldn't see a fourteen year old boy cooking for his parents. Excuse me, I have to go root in the mud like the pig I am.

When the story was finished, I submitted to a few markets I felt might be right for it. Apparently, the editors of said markets did not feel the same way. Now, nepotism doesn't get you published, but it does get you the occasional hand written rejection notice. And when I got one, I was determined not to let my birthright go to waste.

"The story drags in spots, and it's just not that original."

Ouch.

Bloodied but unbowed, I reworked my story. As it was a modern retelling of the brewery in an eggshell myth, I couldn't make it completely original, but I juiced up the parts that were. I aggressively cut any sections that dragged. And there were a few spots that I'd known had dragged when I submitted it, but I hadn't admitted it to myself. I swore never to let that happen again. A red pen and a wastebasket are a writer's best friends. So, with my story now tighter and more unique than before, I sought out a new place to send it.

It sold to the next market I submitted to. I even sent a thank you letter to the editor who had rejected it.

 

Reviews:

  • SF Crowsnest—"Nowhere in the twelve original stories in this anthology is there room for cute. There is an edge to all of them...[A Piece of Flesh] is a chilling piece as it is a first person narration and the question arises as to [the main charcter's] reliability as a witness and the reality she relates."
  • Purple Pens—"The very best of the collection, though, was the powerful and chilling story, "A Piece of Flesh" by Adam Stemple, about a family with a baby who does not appear to be their own."

The Three Truths


The Three Truths was not a story I wanted to write. Don't get me wrong, I thought the idea of a historical samurai detective story was great, but as I knew absolutely bugger all about Japan in general and even less about the samurai class in particular, the amount of research required to do what would be a short stand-alone story was too daunting for me to consider seriously. I let the concept roll around in my mind for a few months, examined it from a few different angles, then told myself, "Fun idea. Completely implausible," and left it at that.

Maybe a year after conceiving the idea, I was engaged in a favorite hobby of mine: digging through the bargain bookracks outside my local bookstore. There always seemed to be a gem or two to be found sandwiched between the thumbed through self-help books and the visual guides to T.V. shows that got canceled after one season. And today was no exception. The Book of the Five Rings was written in 1643 by a samurai called Miyamoto Musashi. He was an undefeated duelist, a master of the sword, and a renowned teacher of martial arts and military science. And here on the bargain rack was his master work outlining his views on combat, life, and the way of the warrior. All that for a mere seven dollars. How could I resist? I didn't, of course. And a funny thing happened while I was reading it. The voice of Master Shichiro sprang into my head. And he spoke the first line of The Three Truths...

"It is not the way."

"Crap," I said aloud.

Having an idea for a story and not writing it is one thing. But once the voice of a story is in your head, you're screwed. You have to write it. You can't not write it. Cursing my lack of knowledge, I began searching for more books on samurai.

After a month or two of reading and the priceless help of many knowledgeable people—including amazing author and kenpo master, Walter Jon Williams, and equally amazing friend and near-samurai himself, Sean Mellum (any mistakes in the text are entirely my own, of course)—I felt ready to begin.

I hit my first snag after only a few paragraphs. My conceit was that the samurai was writing down this story before committing, ritual suicide. But from what I now knew about samurai, there was no way one would write down the story I had envisioned. He would have no concern for his own life or name, only for his master's. I was in a quandary; If I made my main character believable, made him a true samurai—which was central to the plot—then the story would never be told. Fascinating stuff, but not real useful to me as a writer.

I wasn't ready to give up, however. I had a few tricks up my sleeve, and I pressed on, attempting to write myself out of the hole I had dug myself. After just a page or two, I realized it was hopeless and was ready to kiss off two months of research and a few days of fruitless typing.

But, as I have seen him do many times since, Ken'ichi arrived just in the nick of time.

On the first page of my first pass at The Three Truths, Master Shichiro, as he does in the final story, awakens to find a dead woman in his bed. I was just letting myself write, trying to work out on the page the viewpoint problem that was, I thought, going to kill my story. So, I thought, what does a samurai do when he awakens with a dead woman in his bed? I decided he would call for his servant.

Enter Ken'ichi. He was a throw-away character, someone to pass the time with while my main guy got dressed and out the door, ready to meet his fate. But the interplay between the two men stopped me cold. This was supposed to be a dark piece. A moody, depressing tale of a lone man who died alone, protecting those who didn't care for him.

But Ken'ichi was...well, he was...funny! And definitely no samurai. And it hit me, this was the solution to my problem. He wasn't a samurai. He would have no moral qualms about writing down what had happened. I threw out everything I had written so far, and started anew. But from Ken'ichi's viewpoint.

And maybe, I thought, since Ken'ichi wasn't bound by the same code that Master Shichiro's enemies used against him, just maybe I could save his life.

Then again, I've always been a sucker for a sad ending.

Reviews:

  • Locus—"An amusing and cynical story"
  • Internet Review of Science Fiction—"Stemple proves himself a natural storyteller by his use of compelling characters, rising tension, and pleasantly complex villains. A strong effort."

Kitsune


Kitsune was the second story I wrote in the series about Master Shichiro and his servant Ken'ichi. I started this one with no idea of a plot, I just wanted to keep writing about Master Shichiro and Ken'ichi, two characters I had a great deal of fun with. So I put Keni'chi on his master's shoulders outside a country house and mentioned they may have to kill everyone inside. There. Now I had to find out why. I backed up to the beginning of the day and let them recite poetry to each other while working in the garden. This could have gone on for some time, but before long a messenger showed up.

And lucky for me, he brought a plot with him.

The story got picked up by Paradox, the same magazine that bought The Three Truths, and received an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection, an anthology devoted to the best short fiction of 2006.

Troubles

I wrote the beginning to Troubles one night after coming home from my regular Tuesday gig at The Half-Time Rec. Anyone who has been there will recognize it in the first line of the story. After writing a fair amount, I sent it off to my mother. No letter, no explanation, just the first page or two of a story. She responded in kind. The story flowed quite easily for a few days and then we got stuck. For months. We couldn't move the piece forward. Worse still, we had an anthology interested in it, and we still couldn't finish it. I wish I could say that we had a spark of inspiration...

No wait, I don't wish that. We banged our heads against this story, working it and reworking, trying to get it to click. We thought we'd found the right ending a dozen times only to have it fall apart in our faces. But we kept at it, and eventually it worked out. And this, I believe, is a perfect example of what I like to call "Arts and Crafts." When the art is flowing, everything is easy. The words flow from your fingertips to the page like they're preordained. But I've never had that feeling last through an entire project. And when the muse has left you, you'd better have enough craft to finish what you started, or you end up with a drawer full of half-done drafts. And if you're lucky, you end up with what I feel is an even greater feeling: that feeling you get when everything comes together—the inspiration, the hard work, the writing and revising—and you have a beautiful, workable story.

Reviews:

  • The Greenman Review—"Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple also have an enjoyable tale here in 'Troubles', a look at how the Fey brought along their politics when they emigrated to America. Befitting the involvement of Adam Stemple, a seasoned musician who has played with Boiled in Lead and The Tim Malloys, the pub setting feels quite right."
  • Publishers Weekly—"This anthology may not reshape literature, but it is a sheer delight of grand storytelling."

Robin Hood v.1.5.3

Sherwood

My first sale. My mother often sent me submission guidelines of anthologies she thought I would be interested in. Few sparked ideas. And since I was much more musician than writer at the time, even those few ideas that were generated were unlikely to end up being written. This one stuck in my craw, however: Robin Hood as a computer virus. I felt it was an entertaining concept, and even better, I thought it unlikely that anyone else would submit anything even remotely similar.

I am my mother's son; the object of writing is publication. Or, if not exactly the object, it is at least the desired end result.

So I blithely set out to write the thing.

It was just a touch more frustrating than I expected (insert raucous laughter of every person who has ever written anything here). Turns out, as I still insist to this day, getting ideas is the easiest part of writing. The hard part is translating those to the page. But still, I muddled through, and the result met with surprisingly good response, despite my cringing every time I read it at the "mistakes" I wouldn't dream of making today. (I think up new and grander mistakes these days.)

Reviews:

  • The School Library Journal—"Nine short stories about Robin Hood and his legacy are chronologically presented, from Yolen's tale of his mystical birth to Adam Stemple's story of Robin's adventurous spirit redistributing wealth through the Internet...Clever application of folkloric elements to original stories combined with consistency and smooth writing will enliven the imaginations of all Robin Hood enthusiasts."
  • Kirkus Reviews—"Adam Stemple takes [the Robin Hood legend] hilariously into our own future by setting an Artificial Intelligence with a Robin Hood complex loose in cyberspace."
  • The Greenman Review—"All [the stories] are quick, delightful reads suitable for reading of a warm summer's evening. I particularly like Adam Stemple's tale of a digital Robin Hood redistributing the global wealth of all the rich..."
  • Children's Literature—"Crafted by master word weavers, this wonderful collection of eight original short stories adds new designs and textures to the to tapestry of Robin Hood lore. ... And in Adam Stemple's humorous 'Robin Hood v. 1.5.3,' delighted readers will find Robin's cyber spirit redistributing the world's wealth through the Internet."

Dealing with the Devil

A young adult fantasy poker story. That's right, a young adult poker story. My how times have changed. I became email pals with another poker player/author by the name of Pete Hautmann. He was putting together a YA poker anthology and invited me to submit saying, "I'm really looking forward to reading your piece because at the very least I know I won't have to edit any of the poker content."

Evidently, he'd had to write some editorial letters containing things like, "No, a flush beats a straight," and, "You get two cards in holdem, not three."

In fact, when my story came in, he told me it was the only one he sent along to his editor verbatim. Yeah me!

(Of course, that editor wanted some changes done, but they were easy fixes. I mention this only in the interest of full disclosure and hope not to take away from the "Yeah me!" theme of this article.)

Poetry

Poems are dreams...edited.


For Charles Bukowski on my 45th Birthday

Tossing words into the void
hoping for story
to fill the emptiness
more naked on the page
then in bed with a woman
exposed
but who cares?
no one reads this shit anyway.

Red and Black

I dreamt of dragons,
red and black,
and that I was a young man again
and things weren't what they seemed:
good and evil
are human concepts
that dragons disdain;
Red and Black,
brother and sister,
hive queen and drone—
these are things worth
breathing fire over.

No matter how old I become
I will always remain
a child of fantasy.

Fenris

Let the moon slide down your throat, Nephew.
Pale light and cold stone,
it is the last thing you will taste
before me.
And I am no savory morsel, no feast for a king.
Not even your subjects
(scavengers, mongrels, curs)
would care for this banquet.
I am fibrous meat and hardened gristle,
flesh turned to leather by long years spent
too near the sun.
You will choke on my old bones, Nephew,
and I will make my death your own.

Desayuno en Costa Rica

It is a pleasant isolation:
sipping coffee I hope is decaffinated,
surrounded by the chattering
of a language I know only a little.
Quiero tipico, huevos fritas, y decafe con leche
gets me eggs,
tortillas,
gallo pinto,
sour cream,
and the coffee so bitter-sweet
I suffer a crisis of my atheist faith.

It costs four dollars American for this feast
and three hundred to kill a man,
last night's dinner companions
telling me the dangers
of two men on a motorcycle,
faceplates black,
idling on Avenida Central.
But thoughts can't stay dark long in this place:
the sun is too bright, the sky too clear.
I sip my coffee
and watch Volcan Poaz lying dormant on the horizon.
Pura Vida!

Fatherless Christmas

It rained
on Christmas day,
snow's absence
apropos of the nothing,
the void
on the red velvet couch—
pale and frayed
now, but still there—
where he'd always sat.

"Tradition,"
he said, piling on
every robe,
every sweater,
every hat
he received.  Warmth
our most common gift
as he faded
into old age.

But Christmas past recalls
a towering man
in camouflage and bold beard,
buck knife slitting open
presents almost as easily
as the turkeys he shot
and hung
from the garage
for Thanksgiving.

Blood and memory;
love and time.

I wish it would have snowed.

I Never Thought

I never thought much
about the future
until one day
it tapped me on the knee
and said,
"Daddy, what's for breakfast?"

Father

When I leave tomorrow
I won’t wish you farewell.
   You will not.
You have grown too thin,
insubstantial; not
a man, but a shadow
waiting to fade
into the dark.

I would ease your pain
   if I could,
but you have pills for that.
So I am content to
  trim your beard
    change your clothes
      rub your head and neck
and remember you—
not as a shadow
but a man.

And when you leave
   for your sake, soon—
I hope that you are wrong
about God.

Kids and T.V.

Once you have kids
your sex life is suddenly
edited for content.

My Sister's House

The walls are good plywood—not particle board.
The foundation is sunk deep.
Double-paned glass
fills the south-facing windows
and thick tiles on a steep roof
promise to weather well.

But no one mentions
the quality materials,
or the long hours of labor
that caused a home to sprout
where before there was nothing
but field and fancy.
 
They all note the cupola:
proud, egret-feathered cap
on an otherwise puritan
New England home.

Nothing is judged on utility alone.
Nor should it be.

Mud Cakes My Eyes—A Pantoum


Mud cakes my eyes,
I have crawled in the dirt so long.
More worm than man,
I am blinded by fear.

I have crawled in the dirt so long,
I am become soil;
I am blinded by fear,
ambition, spite.

I am become soil.
Plant something within me.
Ambition, spite,
shit, manure—

plant something within me,
see it sprout green and new.
Shit, manure—
every living thing has poor beginnings.