Philadelphia Writing Workshop

On Saturday, November 17, 2018, I will be teaching a session at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. PWW is a day-long event held at the Sonesta in Rittenhouse Square with various sessions available focusing on topics from novel writing to query letters, picture books to historical fiction. My particular session will focus on Fantasy and Science Fiction, and there’s an option to reserve a session to receive a critique of the first 10 pages of your work from me. You can also book pitch sessions with agents and editors attending the workshop, which is a fantastic opportunity to get your work seen, and maybe even find representation or get published! It appears registration is still open, so if this sounds like your kind of thing, head on over to the website and book your spot now!

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Halloween Favorite: Movies

Here we are on the last Friday in October. The month went flying by, but it’s not quite over yet, which means there’s still time to enjoy more seasonal favorites. Once all the candy has been given out, or consumed, what better way to celebrate Halloween than curling up on the couch with a good scary movie? Or perhaps a cheesy movie? Or something with style, a touch of humor, and a dash of darkness? I have you covered, my friend…

Vincent Price on the set of The RavenOn Halloween, you can’t go wrong with Edgar Allen Poe, Vincent Price, or Roger Corman. If you’re feeling really saucy, why not combine all three with a triple-header Poe-stravaganza of The Pit and the Pendulum, House of Usher, and The Raven. The movies were released more or less back-to-back in 1960, 61, and 63, so why not watch them the way nature intended? I used to make a ritual of watching some combination of these three movies around Halloween every year. They’re full of glorious scenery-chewing, over the top colors, cheap sets, and for some reason, instead of a melancholy and haunting meditation on loss and death, The Raven now features a wizard’s duel and Peter Lorre transformed into the titular bird. Really, what’s not to love? And if you haven’t had enough after those three, rest easy knowing that there are in fact five more films in Roger Corman’s Poe cycle. You’re welcome.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show likely needs no introduction or talking-up from me. It’s a cult classic, and perfect for Halloween. Glitter, leather, fishnets, and murder. Singing, dancing, mad science, and references to other classics such as Frankenstein and King Kong. If you’re up for it, Rocky Horror can even be a participatory experience. Catch a midnight showing at your local theater, recite the lines along with the cast, and come prepared to throw toast at the screen. Don’t forget your corset.

BeetlejuiceBeetlejuice is another another classic that likely needs no introduction. This year, the movie is celebrating its 30th Anniversary, and dagnabit if it doesn’t still hold up. The movie hovers between comedy (the dinner party scene) and true darkness (Beetlejuice trying to force Lydia into being his child-bride, anyone?), and does so with tons of style. It may possibly be the most Tim Burton-y Tim Burton movie ever, and Michael Keaton does a fantastic job as the un-dead exorcist who specializes in ridding houses of the pesky living so ghosts can spend their eternities happily resting in peace. While the movie is more comedy than horror, there are horrific elements, and certain bits of the movie are disturbing the longer you think about it – like the aforementioned attempt at forced marriage – not to mention the fact that it opens with the death of a lovely young couple, and things go downhill for them from there. For the most part though, it’s good Halloween fun, mostly appropriate for the whole family, and you are pretty much guaranteed to have “Jump in the Line” stuck in your head for days afterward, and be happy about it.

HereditaryIn the realm of true horror films, it’s hard to go wrong with The Exorcist. Unless, you know, you enjoy sleeping, or whatever. It’s a classic story – girl meets demon, girl gets possessed by demon, girl ends up spider-walking down the stairs, vomiting pea soup, and levitating while priests try to save her. The best-known scenes aren’t even the scariest ones, though. The most effective parts of the movie come in the quiet moments of carefully built tension – the ragged sound of breathing, the knowledge that something terrible is about to happen, but hasn’t happened yet. That’s not to discount the spider-walk though. That scene is creepy as fuck.

To round things out, I offer up a recent watch, which I’m still thinking about – Hereditary. It’s hard to talk about the movie without giving too much away. Suffice it to say, the trailers for the film set up expectations for a very different kind of movie. The movie that was actually delivered is far more unsettling and haunting in multiple senses of the word. Reality and truth are slippery concepts throughout much of the film, building to a climax that cements the supernatural, but in a way that doesn’t undercut everything that came before. Again, the quiet moments are some of the most effective here, not so much in building tension, but depicting raw grief, loss, and pain more horrifying than anything otherworldly that happens. The otherworldly elements, however, are horrifying too, and images from the film are likely to stick with you for days afterward.

What are your favorite Halloween watches, scary, funny, silly, or otherwise?

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World Fantasy Convention 2018

Next week (Nov 1-4), I’ll be heading to the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore. I’m looking forward to seeing folks I don’t get to see often enough, and finally meeting in person with some people I’ve only interacted with online. I’m also hoping for some good meals along with time spent in the dealer’s room failing to resist the urge to buy books. There are so many fantastic authors attending, and I look forward to going to readings, and listening to smart people say smart things on panels. I even have two programming items of my own.

Friday – 12:30 p.m. – Reading
I haven’t quite figured out what I’ll be reading yet, but I’m sure I’ll have it figured out by the time I get there.

Sunday – 12:00 p.m. Optimism in the New Dark Age
Panelists: Michael J. Deluca, Sarah Beth Durst, Matthew Kressel, James A. Moore, A.C. Wise

The ’00s brought us a glut of dystopian fiction, but in this new dark political era, what value or function can positive or so-called “hope-punk” fiction bring? Is optimistic fiction head-in-the-sand denialism, or is it mindfully visionary? Who are some of the writers creating this type of fiction? #HopePunk

The full schedule for the convention can be found here. I hope to see you there!

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Halloween Favorites: Novels

Another Friday means another round of Halloween recommendations, and this time, I’m talking about novels. Many of these are works I’ve recommended in one form or another before, but they’re worth recommending again. After all, there’s a reason I keep coming back to them over and over again.

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan is a dark, unsettling, psychological tale. Don’t let the cover fool you; the author herself has complained about it on numerous occasions, and it sadly doesn’t do the work justice. On the surface level, it’s a haunted house story. Underneath, it’s the portrait of a woman slowly unraveling, and it pairs nicely with another of my favorite Kiernan novels, The Drowning Girl. Both are novels that get under the skin, and in my case at least, left me uneasy for days after finishing them.

Experimental Film by Gemma Files is another novel I find myself thinking of frequently, even years after first reading it. Like Files’ “each thing i show you is a piece of my death” mentioned in my short story recommendations, the horror revolves around found fragments of film. But that horror quickly seeps off the screen and into the real world, and the truth the characters uncover is far older and stranger than they could have imagined. A highly effective novel, and again, one that definitely lingers.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt was originally written and published in Dutch, then not just translated, but rewritten, by the author and released in English with a new setting and – as I understand it – new ending. A small New England town is cursed by a presence referred to as the Black Rock Witch. Her eyes and mouth are sewn shut, she can appear and disappear anywhere around town at will, but as long as the stitches remain, and no one tries to leave the town, she won’t do them harm. It’s a story about becoming complacent in the face of horror, and the horrors people visit on each other growing out of that complacency. And as far as striking imagery goes, it’s hard to beat an ancient witch with her eyes and mouth sewn shut.

My Favorite Thing is MonstersMy Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris is less a work of horror in its own right, though horrifying things do happen, and more an homage to horror. As suits a graphic novel, the pages are full of stunning art, and it pays tribute to classic horror movie monsters, and the covers of old horror magazine, as well as referencing works of fine art. It’s a deeply human story, and the horrific things that happen are all human-made. The monsters in this case are a shield against the dark, not the things in and of themselves that make the dark terrifying.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay is a possession story. Or is it? Fourteen year-old Marjorie may be mentally ill, or she may be the victim of demonic possession. Running out of options to pay for her care, her family agrees to a reality television show being filmed in their house, documenting Marjorie’s supposed possession. Again, the prime source of horror here is the humans involved, but there’s plenty of eerie imagery to go around, and the sense of haunting does linger,whether it be of a psychological nature or a supernatural one.

Once again, these are just a few examples of my favorites. And as always, I want to know your favorites as well.

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Halloween Favorites: Television

Continuing my series of posts about things that put me in an October mood, and making recommendations for what to watch and read this Halloween season, this time around I’ll be talking about television shows.

Disney's Halloween TreatAs a kid, I loved Disney’s Halloween Treat, a compilation of shorts and excerpts highlighting animated ghosts, monsters, and of course, Disney villains. It seems there were two versions of this annual show, the other being A Disney Halloween, which featured much of the same materials, but was slightly longer. My favorite segments were always “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman”. And, of course, the dancing skeletons in the opening credits.

American Gothic only lasted one season, 22 episodes, many of which aired out of order when it was originally shown on CBS, and some of which never even made it to air. But damn it if I didn’t imprint on this show hard when I was in high school, and now I am the happy owner of the full series on DVD. A small Southern town full of secrets, a Sheriff with supernatural powers who may actually be the Devil, his son who wants nothing to do with him, and the ghost of the boy’s murdered sister – you know, a regular happy family. The show does nod to the true Southern Gothic tradition, particularly with its  buried secrets, and employs many of the classic horror trappings – bloody messages of warning spelling themselves out on the walls, a moon that’s perpetually full, and a creepy little kid who can fuck you up with his mind. Plus, American Gothic gave the world the gem that is Sarah Paulson – she’d done some theater before then, but this was her onscreen debut – so it’s worth it for that alone.

American GothicAnd speaking of Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story - my current TV horror jam - feels like a spiritual successor to American Gothic. At very least scratches the same itch for me. Who knows what American Gothic would have become if it had continued past one season. There’s a good chance it would have gone horribly downhill, but American Horror Story manages to prevent that somewhat with its anthology format. Every season is a new series, with different characters (mostly), but many of the same actors. Of course, all the seasons exist in the same universe, so there’s some crossover, and elements from one season can creep in as plot points in another. The show features top-notch actors – the aforementioned Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Evan Peters, James Cromwell, and many others. It’s a joy watching the actors reinvent themselves from season to season, and sometimes even within a single season. Over the course of seven years (thus far) the series has hit many of the classic horror tropes – haunted houses, creepy carnivals, witches, and horror-filled hotels. The series has its ups and downs, but it’s well-acted, frequently visually stunning, and in a horror-y kind of way, just plain fun. I still have some catching up to do, but at this point I’m sold, and on board for whatever the series wants to do.

Stranger Things has only had two seasons thus far, but right from the get-go, it was pretty much an instant classic. The show taps into 80s nostalgia hard, calling to mind the works of Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and H.P. Lovecraft, while scattering pop-culture references like Ghostbusters, Dungeons and Dragons, and various arcade games throughout. The show is more than just references though. There’s genuine growth for the characters, and family and friendships are at the heart of the show. The actors are fantastic, and everyone feels perfectly cast. It’s clearly a show made with love, and I can’t wait to see where the Duffer brothers take the story next.

PreacherCan I make the case for Preacher? It make not be strictly horror, but it certainly has horror elements – vampires and other supernatural creatures, an undying killer bent on revenge, the actual devil, and it isn’t shy about liberal sprays of blood. I adored the graphic novel series when I first read it, and I’m really enjoying seeing the changes the show has made, where they’ve re-imagined things, and where they nod to the source material even as they shift things around. The whole cast is fantastic in my opinion, the locations are wonderful, and the way the episodes are filmed – the framing, the choice of lighting – it all feels perfect. I admit I was hesitant when the project was first announced. Could they do they graphic novels justice? The first season felt a little uneven to me, but the show really hit its stride in season two, and it has completely won me over.

Even though I don’t  watch The Simpsons regularly anymore, I do try to tune in for each year’s Treehouse of Horror episode. Now going on their 30th installation of the anthology show, there are of course hits and misses, but its easier to forgive the misses when there are classics like the Simpsons’ take on “The Raven” and “The Shinning”. And even if some of the vignettes fall flat, even a bad Treehouse of Horror is worth watching.

Once again, this is just a small snapshot of worthwhile Halloween fare. What are your favorite horror and Halloween watches?

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Halloween Favorites: Short Fiction

Halloween is my favorite season, and yes, it is a full season and not just a single day. The cooler weather, the leaves rattling in the trees, all things pumpkin, and of course candy and costumes – what’s not to love? It’s also the perfect time of year to immerse oneself in seasonal fiction. In that spirit, every Friday in October, I’ll be posting some of my favorite reads and watches that never fail to put me in mind of Halloween, starting with short fiction.

Scary Stories to Tell in the DarkFirst beloved, best beloved, and always in my heart is the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, three volumes of folklore gathered by Alvin Schwartz, from urban legends, to campfire ghost tales, to eerie poems and rhymes, and everything in-between. Of course, the definitive version of these collections are the ones illustrated by Stephen Gammell whose horrifying illustrations make the stories that much more unnerving. My first encounter with the books was being read one of the stories in a classroom by a teacher. I immediately sought out the full collection in the school library, and eventually purchased copies of my own, reading and re-reading until the covers were cracked and tattered. They make regular appearances on the most frequently banned books list, and probably with good cause, but that’s all the more reason to read them, no matter what your age.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – a classic tale of gas-lighting whose true horror lies in the treatment of the protagonist by her physician husband, but which doesn’t skimp on the haunting and unsettling imagery.

The Color Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft – elder gods and unimaginable horrors from the deep are all well and good, but for my money, the creepiest of Lovecraft’s stories is this one about an unnatural color that slowly and steadily drains the life from the land and people around it.

October CountryIt’s impossible to pick just one Ray Bradbury story to recommend, so I’ll recommend a whole collection, The October Country, which perfectly encapsulates the notion that Halloween isn’t just one day, or even a season, it’s a whole damn country. It’s a state of mind, a turning of the leaves, and a creeping dark. So many of my favorites are gathered here: Skeleton, The Jar, The Small Assassin, Homecoming, but really, the whole collection is brilliant from beginning to end.

each thing i show you is a piece of my death by Gemma Files and Stephen Barringer – I’m a sucker for found footage and horror stories about film, and this is one of the best, the kind of story that sticks with you long after you put it down.

eyes i dare not meet in dreams by Sunny Moraine – dead girls climbing out of refrigerators, dead girls on train tracks, dead girls wanting everything and nothing and refusing to stay in their graves. This isn’t a traditional ghost story, but it is certainly haunting.

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado – another story where the true horror lies in a husband’s treatment of his wife, but playing off the kind of urban legends gathered by Alvin Schwartz, and drawing on the very act of storytelling, complete with instructions to the reader on how to interact with their audience.

Really any collection edited by Ellen Datlow that tends toward the dark and the horrific is a sure bet for Halloween reading, and there are plenty to choose from: The Doll Collection, Nightmare Carnival, Hauntings, or any one of her Year’s Best Horror anthologies.

The stories above are just a small sampling of horrific tales, but they’re certainly a good place to start. What are your favorite short stories to read and re-read around Halloween?

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An Interview with Sabrina Vourvoulias

Sabrina Vourvoulias was kind enough to drop by today to talk about the re-release of her debut novel, Ink, which is out now with a shiny new cover and introduction from Rosarium Publishing. To start things off, I’ll make introductions by shamelessly stealing from Sabrina’s author bio…

Sabrina Vourvoulias is the author of Ink, a novel that draws on her memories of Guatemala’s armed internal conflict, and of the Latinx experience in the United States. Her short stories have appeared at Uncanny Magazine, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, GUD Magazine, Crossed Genres, and in a number of anthologies, including Kaiju Rising II (Outland Publications), Sharp and Sugar Tooth (Upper Rubber Boot) and Sunspot Jungle (Rosarium Publishing), all upcoming in 2018-2019. She is freelance bilingual journalist and editor; her pieces have appeared at Public Radio International, Philly.com, Philadelphia Magazine, City and State Pennsylvania, NBC Philadelphia, Telemundo 62, and The Guardian US, among others. Follow her at www.sabrinavourvoulias.com, on Twitter @followthelede and on Facebook @officialsabrinavourvoulias.

Ink CoverWelcome, and congratulations on the re-release of Ink! For those who may have missed the novel the first time around, could you give a little taste of what it’s about?

All across the United States, people scramble to survive new, draconian policies that mark and track immigrants and their children (citizens or not) as their freedoms rapidly erode around them. For the “inked” — those whose immigration status has been permanently tattooed on their wrists — the famous words on the Statue of Liberty are starting to ring hollow. The tattoos have marked them for horrors they could not have imagined within US borders. As the nightmare unfolds before them, unforeseen alliances between the inked of — Mari, Meche and Toño — and non-immigrants — Finn, Del and Abbie — are formed, all in the desperate hope to confront it. Ink is the story of their ingenuity. Of their resilience. Of their magic. A story of how the power of love and community out-survives even the grimmest times.

With its themes of “passing”/”not passing”, and individuals’ status, safety, and access to resources being linked to where they were born, Ink feels especially timely right now. Did the, let’s say flustercluck, of the current political climate play into the decision to re-release the novel now? Overall, could you talk a bit about those themes, how the novel came about, and why this was a story you wanted to tell?

Definitely the world has started to catch up to my worst fears, and so made a rerelease of the novel something to think about and consider. I’m grateful to Rosarium Publishing for having the guts to take it on — not many publishers are interested in reprints to begin with, much less of a provocative novel about immigration dystopia.

The novel came about because I’ve been writing, as a journalist, about immigration issues in the U.S. for more than twenty years, and advocating, as an individual and a person of faith, for the protection of immigrant human rights for the past 15 years. Because I am bilingual and bicultural, I was hearing and reading the horror stories of what was happening to undocumented immigrants (via deliberate legislative criminalization, anti-immigrant policing and enactment of increasingly punitive policies) well before the mainstream media and the public became aware of them.

Also, since I grew up in Guatemala during its brutal 36-year undeclared civil war, I saw really distressing parallels. There was a cautionary tale in the way that, as the Guatemalan government grew increasingly oppressive, the circle of those it targeted became inconceivably large and its methods became unrepentantly inhumane. I also looked to U.S. history to see that moment when our own government decided to turn citizens into non-citizens on the basis of ethnicity and perceived “foreignness,” during the shameful internment of Japanese residents and Japanese-Americans during World War II.

So in my novel, I took existing U.S. immigration policies and/or sentiments, and pushed them to what I believed were extremes to create a dystopia. But what was inconceivable as actual immigration policy in 2012 is, to my horror, not so inconceivable in 2018, and so some of the aspects of the book are now more current event than near-future imagining. GPS trackers implanted in immigrants? Former NJ Governor Chris Christie proposed exactly that during his GOP primary run in 2016. Efforts to strip naturalized citizens of their citizenship, and depriving non-citizens of constitutionally guaranteed rights? Happening. The internment centers disguised as sanitariums in my novel find a parallel in the detention centers for children the government currently insists are just like summer camps. And if the forcible drugging of detained children and adults that has been reported recently isn’t yet the forcible medical procedure that is depicted in my novel, it isn’t far enough from it to ease my concerns.

In addition to Ink, you’re also a short story writer. Last time we spoke, you were thinking about assembling a collection. Is that still in the works? If so, are there any overarching themes you’re working with, or any particular feel you would want readers to take away from the collection as a whole?

I have three wonderful beta readers checking over the collection of short stories — tentatively titled The Unruly Dead — as we speak, and I hope at some point in the not-too-distant future to shop it around. These aren’t all linked stories, nor stories that all take place in one neighborhood (or even one country), but there are themes that reappear time and again in my work: the power of community, the responsibility we have for one another, the need to stand — in ways big and small — against injustice and oppression.

It sounds like a fabulous collection! Speaking of your short fiction, one of my favorite among your stories is “La Gorda and the City of Silver” (conveniently reprinted last year at Mithila Review). If you were going to have your own secret crime-fighting alter ego (luchadora or otherwise), what would that persona be like?

Heh! I wouldn’t be a luchadora — I’m neither flamboyant nor fit enough for the job — but I would want to be someone who could fight and heal at the same time. The video game, Overwatch, appeals to me because it has a number of playable characters that can do both: Zenyatta, Moira, Mercy, and my favorite, Ana — who is 60 years old, has scars and regrets, and is the mother of a fierce and amazing daughter (as I am). Listen, if I could put people who are actively doing damage to sleep for a while (just long enough so they’re no longer a factor), heal up people who have been grievously hurt, or just worn down to hopelessness, and then nanoboost the effects of work the good people I know and respect are doing in the world … I’d be unbelievably happy. It wouldn’t suck to look like Ana, either. ;)

Along with your fiction, you’re also a freelance journalist. How, if at all, does your journalistic writing influence your fiction, and even vice versa?

They are different ways of writing, but both are forms of truth-telling.

My fiction is frequently built on journalism’s bones: Skin in the Game was prompted by spending time at a long-time drug encampment in Philadelphia, in advance of an investigative piece I edited. El Cantar of Rising Sun was inspired by the shooting death of a young Latino attending a peace concert — a story I covered and wrote editorials about. Even my novel, Ink, had as its starting point a news story I read about an undocumented worker who was dumped across a state border by strangers.

At the same time, fiction lends my journalistic work its attention to craft, its ability to evoke, its love of direct quotes that illuminate character.

You’ve mentioned Philly – we both live in the area, and we’re just two among a fairly good concentration of speculative fiction writers here. Do you think there’s anything about the Philadelphia area that makes it particularly fantastical? What are some of your favorite spots in the city, places where you draw inspiration, or that you would recommend to first-time visitors?

Philadelphia is a city that loves its poets (slam champions and laureates alike) and where there is poetry, magic lives. Gritty bodega and Pho under-the-El magic. Indelible broken-tile-and-mirror-wall and little-bronze-zoo-creatures-embedded-in-concrete magic. The magic woven by Coltrane’s notes and Poe’s nightmares and Betsy’s teeny-tiny stitches on a flag.

I have a whole suite of “magical Philadelphia” stories, some which you can read online right now (Skin in the Game and El Cantar of Rising Sun) and others in upcoming publications.

Favorite food place: the Mexican stretch of 9th Street in South Philly (especially the tortilla maker and the fish monger), and the Reading Terminal Market.

Favorite churches: St. Thomas Aquinas and Annunciation in South Philly (the Dec. 12 celebration of the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is memorable).

Favorite art venues: Taller Puertorriqueño on North 5th in el Barrio, Brandywine Workshop on South Broad, and the Fleisher Art Memorial on Catherine St.

Favorite coffeeshops: Buzz Café in Norris Square and Amalgam Comics on Frankford Ave.

Favorite place to protest: In front of the ICE building on Callowhill… ;)

To wrap things up, now that Ink is back out in the world, what’s next for you?

I’m doing a lot of playing these days. My first Kaiju story, “The Devil in the Details,” will out soon in the anthology Kaiju Rising II (Outland Publications). That was a fun piece to write — taking the Jersey Devil and tweaking it so it wreaks havoc in Center City Philadelphia, in Camden, in Downingtown…

Another Outland Publications anthology, Knaves, will be out in December with my story “The Life and Times of Johnny the Fox,” which I read at Readercon this year. Its protagonist is a character first introduced in my story “Skin in the Game,” and it is part trickster tale, part tall tale, part paean to the resilience of Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia and Puerto Rico after Hurricane María.

I dipped my toe in horror and steampunk-ish narrative in stories slated to come out in 2018 and 2019 (“A Fish Tale” in Sharp and Sugar Tooth by Upper Rubber Boot, and “St. Simon of 9th and Oblivion” in The Latinx Archive), and even tried my hand at a short piece for a new RPG…

All of that sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to read it. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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Capclave 2018

At the end of the month, I’m headed to Capclave, which this year is taking place September 28-30 in Rockville, MD. Nancy Kress and Alyssa Wong are the guests of honor, and as always, it promises to be a good time. I’m arriving Saturday morning, and my schedule is pretty packed from there. Here’s where I’ll be and when. Come say hi!

Saturday – 11 a.m. – The Best Fiction of 2018

Jonathan Edelstein, Jim Freund, and I will be discussing our favorite short fiction of 2018 thus far. (I’m really looking forward to this one!)

Saturday – 4 p.m. – Stalker vs. Love Interest

Alyssa Wong, Jeanne Adams, Craig L. Gidney, and Sherin Nicole, with yours truly as the humble moderator, will explore the line between creepy and romantic across various forms of media and fiction.

Saturday – 5:30 p.m. – Reading

I’ll be reading something. Who knows what? Stay tuned to find out. I may even read it out loud…

Saturday – 6 p.m. – Use of Mythology in SFF

Once again, yours truly will be serving as the humble moderator as Tom Doyle, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jean Marie Ward, and Steven H. Wilson discuss using mythology as source material for genre fiction.

Sunday – 12 p.m. – Writing Better Villains

Alyssa Wong, Bernie Mojzes, Allan L. Wold and I will be chatting about what makes a great villain. Mustache twirling may or may not be involved.

Sunday – 1 p.m. – Regionalism

With Sarah Avery and Andrew Fox, I’ll be talking about how authors give their story local flavor and convey a certain sense of place and time.

Sunday – 2 p.m. – So You Want to Be a Writer

I will be leading Suzanne Palmer, Jack Skillingstead, and Yosef Lindell as they share how they became writers, the triumphs and trip ups along the way, and the dos and don’ts of becoming a professional writer.

Sunday – 3 p.m. – Superheroine to Wise Woman: Creating Powerful Female Characters

Cerece Rennie Murphy, Jean Marie Ward, Michelle D. Sonnier, and I will talk about our favorite female characters and what makes them so wonderful.

For all full list of all the programming going on over the weekend, check out the schedule on Capclave’s website. Hope to see you there!

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Curiouser and Curiouser!

Curious Fictions is a new venture founded by Tanya Breshears where authors can post fiction, and readers can subscribe to follow them, leave tips for stories they like, or simply read and enjoy. I posted my first story over there recently, Final Girl Theory, which is appropriately enough story 666 on the site!

Everyone knows the opening sequence of Kaleidoscope. Even if they’ve never seen any other part of the movie (and they have, even if they won’t admit it), they know the opening scene. No matter what anyone tells you, it is the most famous two and a half minutes ever put on film.

Final Girl Theory originally appeared at the late lamented ChiZine as part of their anniversary celebration, and was subsequently reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror Volume 4. It’s a personal favorite of mine, so hopefully you’ll like it too! If you do, you can do the aforementioned subscription thing, and receive a notification whenever I post a new story. There are tons of other great authors to follow on the site as well, like A.M. Dellamonica, Premee Mohamed, Syliva Spruck Wrigley, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Carlie St. George, Aimee Ogden, and many more. Stories cover a wide variety of genres – humor, horror, romance, historical, fantasy, and sci-fi to name a few – and there’s a handy time estimate at the top of each story, so you can match the piece with your bus commute, or while you wait for your kettle to boil.

I look forward to watching the site evolve, and exploring the other stories posted there. There’s even an adorable dog named Nutmeg on the staff. I mean, how can you go wrong? Head on over to the site and poke around. You’re bound to find something you love!

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Queer Collections

In among shiny novels, novellas, and even multi-author anthologies, single author short story collections often get overlooked. I’m admittedly biased since they published my two collections, but Lethe Press, publishes some really standout collections, and there are a few recent releases I want to highlight.

Forget the Sleepless ShoresForget the Sleepless Shores by Sonya Taaffe is hot off the presses this month. It’s a gorgeous collection, echoing with themes of loss, longing, and separation. Many of the stories either draw from mythology and history, or create their own, giving them a timeless, fairy tale feel. As a result, the characters have a sense of lives extending far beyond the page, as though the reader is merely peeking in on a slice of their lives. They feel familiar and strange all at once, giving the stories a haunted, and unsettling feel, in the best of ways. Another common thread tying the collection together is Taaffe’s meticulous use of language. Not only is the imagery striking, but sentences are constructed with a unique sense of rhythm that shakes the reader out of complacency and makes them carefully consider each word, its placement, and what Taaffe is saying. There’s a poetic quality and a flow to the language that only increases the dreamy, magical feel saturating the collection.

His scream shocked silence into his mouth, brought him scrambling upright in bed as though he could climb out of his flame-ridden flesh: plaster cool against his sweating spine, late moonlight in watery bars across the wicker-backed chair draped with his pants and Niko’s socks and somebody’s under-shirt, and Niko in the darkness beside him, slow with sleep and sharp with worry, saying “Blake? Blake, love. What’s wrong?”

–Little Fix of Friction

There are ghost stories, a father trying to reconcile with a daughter born of the sea, a dybbuk carried inside a lover’s skin, restless spirits, bodies buried in peat, and a monster born from the weight of history and science and the atomic bomb. Each story is unique, but again connected by that timeless feel and a beauty of language. In an overall strong collection, the stories that stood out as my favorites were “Little Fix of Friction”, “On the Blindside”, “The Boatman’s Cure”, “The Dybbuk in Love”, “Like Milkweed”, “The Salt House”, and “The Creeping Influences”.

Not Here Not NowNot Here. Not Now. was published earlier this year, and contains both short stories and novellas. The settings are far-ranging in both geographical location and time period, from historical to contemporary, and from the Greek isles, to the streets of New York, from a desert island, to the canals and opera houses of Venice. Jeffers adapts the voice of each piece to suit the setting, and does an impressive job of it. In the introduction to “A Handbook for the Castaway”, the author admits to inventing a “faux-seventeenth-century dialect”, however it feels authentic, perfectly suited to the piece, making the characters’ words come alive so the reader hears the cadence of them as they go along. Some of the same themes encountered in Taaffe’s collection are here as well, in particular myth and history, but they play out very differently. There’s less of a fairy tale feel to Jeffers’ pieces, but again, the language employed for each makes them feel grounded, imbuing them with a sense of place and history.

Hunger drove me out at dusk. I followed the trail my brother had made dragging what was left of our sister. I began to smell fresher blood and to hear noises, horrible noises, chuckles and coughs and chirps. Peering between a rock and a leafy bush, I saw a wake of black vultures squabbling over the corpse of my small brother and our sister’s few disjointed bones.

— The Hyena’s Blessing

While there are ghouls and sirens to be found in the collection’s pages, many stories do away with the fantastical element altogether, or touch on it very lightly. Alongside the fantastical creatures, there is also a castrato singer, and a young boy suffering terrible migraines and obsessed with the Harry Clarke illustrations of the work of Edgar Allan Poe. There is love, both unrequited and reciprocated, lust and sex, hearts broken and hearts mended. It’s a deeply human collection, one that elegantly straddles worlds real and unreal. The stories that stood out to me in particular were “You Deserve”, “Seb and Duncan and the Sirens”, “A Handbook for the Castaway”, “The Hyena’s Blessing”, “Captain of the World”, and “The New People”.

Acres of PerhapsAcres of Perhaps by Will Ludwigsen, also published earlier this year, just happens to be part of the special sale Lethe Press has going on right now, so it’s the perfect time to snag a copy. It’s a slender collection, but one with an interesting conceit. Many of the pieces are fragmentary, describing episodes of a non-existent, Twilight Zone-like TV show, called Acres of Perhaps. Like The Twilight Zone, Acres of Perhaps occasionally pushes boundaries to make both political points and artistic ones, while other episodes are straight up campy sci-fi. All of this is established in the opening story of the collection, appropriately titled “Acres of Perhaps”. The story focuses on the fictional show’s writers, each with their own vision for the series. The “tortured genius” of the bunch, David, believes he’s had an actual encounter with the supernatural, after falling through a hole in a massive stump in the woods, and emerging in a weird mirror-world where everyone is almost, but not quite like themselves, and where he is more creative and productive than he ever could have been in the reality where he belongs. The story plays with and deconstructs the idea of genius, and the creative muse, and what counts as an acceptable sacrifice in the name of art – health, family, friendship, love? The story blurs the line between reality and fiction, never fully answering the question “of whether anything supernatural is going on, and it’s all the stronger for it.

It was dark, just as David had described. There was a slight intimation of a breeze, breathing also like he’d said. My eyes couldn’t focus on the bottom, black and speckled with something like stars. It might have been night on the other side, where David Findley was still writing in an attic somewhere with a bottle of gin beside him.

–Acres of Perhaps

The story feels true – the rivalry and affection between the writers, the struggle against budget constraints and studio notes, David’s battle with alcoholism, and Barry and his lover having to live a closeted life due to the attitudes of the time, yet still being able to enjoy support and acceptance within their writers’ circle. The snippets of episodes interspersed with the other stories in the collection add richness to the opening story and vice versa. While the other stories are not directly connected to Acres of Perhaps, they do have the uncanny feel of stories that could take place within the series’ universe, with many exploring alternate timelines – particularly “Night Fever”, which places Charles Manson in the era of disco, and “Poe at Gettysburg”, which imagines Edgar Allan Poe as president – and asking the all important question at the heart of that type of science fiction show: “what if”.

To close things out, I’ll include a shout-out for two slightly older Lethe titles – A. Merc Rustad’s wonderful So You Want to Be a Robot, and  Livia Llewellyn’s Engines of Desire. Both contain stories that are simultaneously brutal and gorgeously written, delivering gut-punches and breathtaking prose in one go. Many of Rustad’s stories explore the complexities of gender and humanity through the lens of the fantastic, while Llewellyn turns that same lens on sexuality, desire, and violence. Llewellyn’s collection skirts the edge of horror, and indeed was twice-nominated for the Shirley Jackson award, while Rustad’s collection spans genres, from rich, secondary world fantasy, to contemporary science fiction, and all the interstitial spaces in-between.

I’d highly recommend browsing Lethe’s catalogue, especially now with the aforementioned sale going on. The press also publishes novels, novellas, and anthologies, all worth checking out. In addition to the content of the collections being top-notch, Lethe’s books look and feel good too, with striking covers and excellent layout and design. As always, I remain a firm believer in there being no such thing as too many books in a TBR pile. Happy reading!

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