Third Bear Variations: “The Quickening,” Inspiration, and Possibility

The 2010 Shirley Jackson Award finalists have been announced, and my collection The Third Bearis on the list. The only original story in The Third Bear is “The Quickening,” which you can read online here. It’s one of my favorite stories because it poses a challenge to the reader that will resolve as either an unscratched itch or something more satisfying.

The story is about a girl in 1950s Florida who is given a talking rabbit by a mysterious stranger. Her Aunt Etta, who oversees a rich man’s mansion and his orange groves, sees the talking rabbit as a way to make some money, but the talking rabbit is uncooperative. Indeed, out of earshot of anyone but Aunt Etta and the girl, the rabbit repeatedly says “I’m not a rabbit.” From there, things get rather dark, and the resolution may not satisfy someone who wants a clear taxonomy applied to the rabbit.

My inspiration for the story was a postcard found in a St. Augustine, Florida, giftshop:

Aunt Etta

But while in Amsterdam this past two weeks I found another postcard that hinted at a totally different story:


What if this image, not the first, had inspired “The Quickening”? What if the appearance of the rabbit had been a cause for joy or bliss? What if Aunt Etta had not loomed so precipitously over the narrative?

This made me think about variations on “The Quickening” and how there are many different lives to a story that go untold, and many different moments that could have been other moments.

Perhaps in some universe of potential story, Aunt Etta untied the rabbit from the stake and gave up. The rabbit’s stubborness wore down her own, and in that wearing down she became a better person. In that world, the rabbit’s continual refrain of “I am not a rabbit” becomes not a challenge but an invitation, and with the girl who narrates “The Quickening,” she seeks to explore what “I am not a rabbit” meant in a curious, perhaps even a mischievous way.

“Oh, you’re not a rabbit, all right,” Aunt Etta might say. “You look more like a frog, or a weasel. Are you sure you’re not an orangutan?”

And by doing so, her relationship with the girl opens up because they have engaged together in imaginative play.

In another world of potential story, I might also have followed the secretive woman from the Barnum Circus who visits the rabbit—which will not talk while she is there, although something passes between them. What was her tale? Why was there a moment of recognition, half sensed by Aunt Etta? This might even be a whole other story in itself.

Then there are the rabbits the girl didn’t receive from the mysterious man. Did they talk too? Who got those rabbits? Each rabbit accepted an acceptance of a new narrative, a new set of conditions, a whole new world. Some of those rabbits, surely, spilled their guts. Some of those rabbits must have been babblers Why the heck did I pick such a surly rabbit?!

What of the children of the migrant workers, who the narrator finds shy? What were their stories? Did they see the mysterious stranger? Did they receive rabbits? How they perceive the girl, Aunt Etta’s charge? Did they perceive her as she perceived herself—awkward, lumbering, apart? Or was she just someone to avoid because Aunt Etta could hire or fire their parents?

There’s the Mexican foreman with whom Aunt Etta has a physical relationship off and on. What did he see in Aunt Etta? What if anything did Aunt Etta tell him about the rabbit? Was she a totally different person with him?

Perhaps the Mexican foreman knew about the rabbit all along. Perhaps he disliked Aunt Etta because she held power over him. Perhaps he let the stranger give the girl a rabbit to see what would happen. And perhaps not. Maybe to him, it was just another job, one he’d soon be rid of once he’d saved up enough money to open his own business. To him, the rabbit was just another sign of Aunt Etta’s state of mind, she herself someone to occupy his time until he was gone. Who knows?

Then there’s the mysterious stranger himself. What did he think he was doing, giving the rabbit to the girl? Could he have foreseen what would happen? Is this his job? He just goes around giving out rabbits, some of which happen to be talking rabbits? Perhaps this was the first and last time. Maybe he got a job handing out wallabies or meerkats or guinea pigs later. Maybe rabbits got to be just too much of a hassle.

But this rabbit—it does niggle, even to me, makes me itch a little. Was he rabbit, or something else? Was he a zombie rabbit, or an uplifted rabbit or a ghost rabbit or a space rabbit or a robot rabbit or a god-rabbit? When he thought of home, where was home? (Could he have solved the story just by telling everyone who he really was?—“I am the Jesus Rabbit, worship me.”—I don’t think so.)

We’re in the girl’s point of view the whole time, of course, so perhaps there was no stranger. Perhaps she made that up. Perhaps, indeed, there was no talking rabbit, maybe not even a non-talking one. You never know with people telling stories. You never know how much of the truth you’re getting, and how many lies. You never know what world’s story you’re receiving, or how that starting point of inspiration might’ve been different and everything else that came after…changed, irrevocably.

Returning Home to…Books!


A bit of a glare on these, but returned home to find copies of:

—The advance reader copy of the Cabinet of Curiosities
—The Steampunk Bible (author copies—in stores now)
—Finch (Atlantic/Corvus UK paperback edition)
—Polish Shriek and Finch (well, okay, given to me in Poland)
—The Brazilian edition of my long story The Situation

Later, I’ll have photos of the books and other things acquired in our travels overseas, and then some posts on the actual visits.

Erm, not to mention Moomin stuff, pictured below, not including socks and deck of cards. (I should note some of it was gifted to us, and that although I went nuts in the Moomin store, it was thankfully offset by selling books at a con the last day in Finland. Whew.)


Back from Finland…More Photos

(Some members of the Tallahassee Tentacles; a most excellent surprise for our last day at the main event celebrating one of Finland’s best SF/F mags, an effort of Finnish fandom…more context tomorrow.)

Ann and I are back in Amsterdam, after an energizing and brisk week in Finland traveling from city to city, doing lectures, conducting workshops, and meeting and talking to some wonderful people. More soon on all of that, but check out this short account and the photos/vid below until I have more time. Vid was for the last day’s convention panel where you read a book trying to convince someone to buy it…but usually it’s supposed to be funny in some way.

Ann with a member of the mafia, Sari, and Pasi

With Leena Krohn and her husband Mikael Book

Shimo, me, and Saara (author of Mobydoll)

After the Escon convention, Friday

Signing the Good Book in Helsinki

Center: Toni Jerrman, Hannu Blommila, and me

Very special dog (more on that later)

Unexpected Development: Tallahassee Tentacles

Much more later, but for now, the Finns have created a new hockey team for Tallahassee…

Tähtivaeltaja Day! (Travels in Finland)

(The University of Helsinki audience for our lecture, asked to yell something before we had to move to a larger venue due to the number of people who attended.)

It’s Tahtivaeltaja Day here in Helsinki! Founder/editor Toni Jerrman will be celebrated! We will be interrogated, participate on a panel, have books available for reasonable prices (half proceeds going to Finnish fandom expenses basically). Kiva päivä ja ilta tiedossa! (Possibly cigars later too.)

Still too busy for a proper blog entry, but check out my facebook page for mini updates. (Not my facebook fan page.)

Travels in Finland…


This trip is a whirlwind, moving on to a new city each day, mostly by rail, so not too much time to blog just yet, but here are a few photos, with real blog entries and explanations to follow…






[Read more…]

Amsterdam and Finland: Helsinki, Turku, and More


I’m afraid the whirlwind tour this is precludes a long blog post, but here are some images from the last few days, starting in Amsterdam and then moving on to Finland. You can find more on my facebook page. More soon!




[Read more…]

Warsaw = Excellent, Finland and VanderCon to Follow…

NOTE: VanderCon in Finland starts this weekend, and ends back in Helsinki a week later after a hellaciously fun road trip. All the details can be found on the VanderCon website—check it out.

A long couple of days in Poland this past weekend, but very good ones. Had a great night at the Paradox Cafe, a wonderful Warsaw location for SF and Fantasy fans to talk about great books. Also had a great panel discussion at one of Warsaw’s biggest bookstores, and back-to-back three of the best interviewers in a long time–great questions. Got to see the old town, and some other areas. Had a couple of excellent meals.

The Polish TV morning show I did was a blast. They put makeup on me–like painting a bear. The woman who does the weather was very helpful and led me to the studio after the face-painting. Says to me: “Aww, now you look pretty. You’ve always wanted to look pretty, haven’t you.” “Yes. I have always wanted to look pretty.” Then I went on and did three minutes of Finch schtick, gave the makeup woman, whose 12-year-old reads F/SF a copy of the Polish F&SF mag, said not to let her son read Finch, and was gone….

Things I learned in Poland: There’s a huge palm tree in a Warsaw square done as a kind of Banksy joke, the Paradox Club poses the question of why SF/F fans elsewhere don’t have such an awesome meeting place, that according to the photographer for a newpaper article I have few useful mannerisms, and that SF/F fans everywhere are equally nice and knowledgeable. Many thanks to Konrad Walewski for setting it up, and it was great to meet long-time friends like Jan, meet my translator Robert Walis, and make so many new friends.

More when I have time, but my friend and writer Neil Williamson was with and he’s already done a blog post on it. Have also had a lovely time in Amsterdam with Erin, Riley, and Travis.


Video interview

Photos and more