My Favorite Short Fiction of 2018

The year is almost at an end, and I’m still frantically trying to catch up on everything I missed, but now seems like as good a time as any to reflect on all the wonderful things I did read this year. 2018 was another fantastic year for short fiction. I read a lot of it, but even then I feel like I only scratched the surface. Still, as folks think about what to nominate for various awards this year, I figured I’d share my own favorite reads from the year that was…

In Her Bones by Lindiwe Rooney The Dark – a disturbing and violent story about magic, power, and a woman taking control of her destiny. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Big Mother by Anya Ow, Strange Horizons – a coming of age story about monsters and a group of children straddling the space between worlds. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

To Blight a Fig Tree Before It Bears Fruit by Benjamin Naka-Hasebe Kingsley, Apex Magazine – a chilling story about bodies as commodities and fighting back against those in power. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Hydraulic Emperor by Arkady Martine, Uncanny Magazine – an obscure fragment of a cult film, an alien auction, and the power of desire and sacrifice.

Hehua by Millie Ho, Fireside Magazine – a story of murder, identity, assimilation, and the dark side of technology. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls by Senaa Ahmad, Strange Horizons – a powerful story of girls turned into living weapons, and the cost of war. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Wild Ones by Vanessa Fogg, Bracken Magazine – a beautiful story about mothers and daughters, the temptation of being stolen away by faerie, and those who stay behind.

A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix Harrow, Apex Magazine – a lovely and bittersweet story of magic, librarians, the power of fantasy, and finding the right book for the right person.

Granny Death and the Drag King of London by A.J. Fitzwater, GlitterShip – a story about queer identity, music, communal grief, and death personified. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by Phenderson Djeli Clark, Fireside Magazine – another story about bodies as commodities, and various kinds of ghosts.

Flow by Marissa Lingen, Fireside Magazine – a story of nature magic and refusing to be defined by others’ perceptions. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

And Yet by A.T. Greenblatt, Uncanny Magazine – a story that brilliantly combines a haunted house with quantum science, alternate realities, family, and regret.

The Triumphant Ward of the Railroad and the Sea by Sara Saab, Shimmer Magazine – a story of survivor’s guilt, the hungry sea, and a mysterious train. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The War of Light and Shadow, in Five Dishes by Siobhan Carroll, Beneath Ceaseless Skies – a sensory feast of a story about war, told by a character on the margins of battle, highlighting the power of a good meal, and the importance of a good narrative in shaping history. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Sandals Full of Rainwater by A.E. Prevost, Capricious – a beautiful story of found family, language, and building a new life far away from home. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Snake Season by Erin Roberts, The Dark – a creepy story of children born wrong and unreliable narrators. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Sower by Takim Williams, Fiyah #6: Big Mama Nature – an unsettling and effective horror story about nature taking back the planet. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Furious Girls by Julianna Goodman, Fiyah #6: Big Mama Nature – a story that deals with the way society tries to repress and control women’s anger, and the power that anger has to be turned toward good. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

I Frequently Hear Music in the Very Heart of Noise by Sarah Pinsker, Uncanny – a dream-like story about magical architecture, and the confluence of creative works and creative people.

White Noise by Kai Hudson, Anathema Magazine – an eerie story of family, ghosts, and loss. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Right Way to Be Sad by Shankar Gopalakrishnan, Strange Horizons – a story about animal empathy, loss, healing, and a very good dog’s capacity for love.

Strange Waters by Samantha Mills, Strange Horizons – a story of accidental time travel, and a sailor trying to get home to her family. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Pine Arch Collection by Michael Wehunt, The Dark – a deeply creepy story about an unsettling amateur film project.

He Sings of Salt and Wormwood by Brian Hodge, The Devil and the Deep – an effective horror story of a diver and his artist girlfriend who find themselves the recipients of disturbing gifts from the sea.

Sea Shanties by Amelia Fisher, Apparition Literary Magazine – a story of drowning, and the longing to believe in the otherworldly. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Salt Lines by Ian Muneshwar, Strange Horizons – a queer man longing for home finds himself haunted by a supernatural creature. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Learning to Drown by Kristi DeMeester, Three-Lobed Burning Eye Magazine – a family with a mysterious link to the river, and the jealousy that threatens to tear them apart. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Meat and Salt and Sparks by Rich Larson, Tor.com – an uplifted chimp detective and her human partner set out to solve a murder in a story that explores the nature of sentience and humanity.

The Synchronist by Fran Wilde, Infinity’s End – a literal race against time in a story that explores the complications of clocks, families, museums, and memory.

The Fall, the Water, the Weight by Lina Rather, Augur Magazine – a lovely story about guilt and grief as childhood friends reunite to confront the disappearance of a a friend years ago in the pool beneath a waterfall, which may be a gateway to another world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Leviathan Sings to Me in the Deep by Nibedita Sen, Nightmare Magazine – an unsettling story of obsession, science, violence, and the songs of whales. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me by K.M. Szpara, Uncanny Magazine – a painful, yet hopeful, story about fighting to be seen, complicated family relationships, love, respect, and dinosaurs. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Speak Easy, Suicide Selkies by E. Catherine Tobler, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
– a gorgeous story about found family, transformation, the circus, and the sea. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Trees of My Youth Grew Tall by Mimi Mondal, Strange Horizons – a bittersweet story about a woman who loses her son, but finds her way back to a connection with her heritage and herself. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speech by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and A. Merc Rustad, Uncanny Magazine – a story about understanding between species, and communication with dinosaurs.

The Passenger by Emily Lundgren, Shimmer Magazine – a dream, or nightmare-like, story about friendship, longinh, and elusive, shifting reality. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good by LaShawn M. Wanak, Fiyah #7: Music – a story about the mysterious appearance of otherworldly creatures, friendship, and the power of music and voice.

The Chariots, the Horsemen by Stephanie Malia Morris, Apex Magazine – a story about women who fly, and those who try to keep them down.

She Don’t Fade by Die Booth, Vulture Bones – a ghost story about making peace with one’s past.

The Anchorite Wakes by R.S.A. Garcia, Clarkesworld – a story full of gorgeous imagery, about an A.I. learning to transcend her programming. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Dead Air by Nino Cipri, Nightmare Magazine – a found footage story of voice, silence, and a town that guards its secrets with malevolent force. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

A Bond as Deep as Starlit Seas by Sarah Grey – a touching story of a captain and her starship, a bad deal, and fighting to save a friend. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Carborundorum>/Dev/Null by Annalee Flower Horne, Fireside Magazine – a chilling story of technology used to limit women’s freedom, and simultaneously an uplifting story of friendship and women using technology to reclaim control over their lives. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

She Searches for God in the Storm Within by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Sword and Sonnet – a simultaneously gorgeous and painful story of abuse, and women who are storms.

The Pull of the Herd by Suzan Palumbo, Anathema Magazine – a lovely and bittersweet story of animal brides, and being true to one’s nature.

By the Hand That Casts It by Stephanie Charette, Shimmer Magazine – an action-filled story of poison, flowers, assassins, and secret identities. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Memento Mori by Tiah Marie Beautment, Omenana Magazine – a beautifully written and touching story about the friendship between a woman who collects souls and Death. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

It’s Easy to Shoot a Dog by Maria Haskins, Beneath Ceaseless Skies – a tense story of a witch, a dog, a brother, a sister, a debt, and a wish. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Sea-Crowned by H. Pueyo, The Dark – a story of siblings, the sea, and fear of the other.

Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions) by Debbie Urbanski, Strange Horizons – a story of AI and “difficult women” with a touch of Gothic flare. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Coyote Now Wears a Suit by Ani Fox, Apex Magazine – a story about tricksters, family, and learning to be yourself. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Toward a New Lexicon of Augury by Sabrina Vouvourlias, Apex Magazine – a story about the literal and metaphorical magic of community, and fighting back against those in power.

The Starship and the Temple Cat by Yoon Ha Lee, Beneath Ceaseless Skies – a lovely yet heartbreaking story about ghosts, loyalty, and the casualties of war.

Variations on a Theme from Turandot by Ada Hoffmann, Strange Horizons – a story of opera, destiny, and taking control of your own fate.

The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly, Tor.com – a mouth-watering story of food, memory, love, and pastries with the power to topple an empire.

How to Swallow the Moon by Isabel Yap, Uncanny Magazine – a gorgeous story of friendship, loyalty, longing, and monsters.

Again, I feel like these stories only scratch the surface of all the wonderful work published this year. In fact, I may continue to update this post as I do more catching up. In the meantime, happy reading!

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Award Eligible Work 2018

In the spirit of practicing what I preach, I’ve assembled here a list of my own eligible work for 2018. In addition to all the usual awards (Nebula, Hugo, etc.), as a Canadian, I’m also eligible for the Prix Aurora Awards.

Short Fiction

A Moment Before Breaking (~7,900 words) published in The Devil and the Deep

In the End, It Always Turns Out the Same (~3,600 words) published in The Dark

With One Tongue (~3,800 words) published in Augur Magazine Issue 1.2

Words in an Unfinished Poem (~7,200 words) published in Sword and Sonnet

The Time Traveler’s Husband (~4,200 words) published in Shimmer Magazine #46

Non-Fiction

Words for Thought, a regular column published at Apex Magazine

Women to Read, a regular column published at The Book Smugglers

Non-Binary Authors to Read, a regular column published at The Book Smugglers

Mother Knows Best, a one-time essay published at Nightmare Magazine

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What Have You Done? What Have You Loved? 2018 Edition

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is that the most nerve wracking? It’s the beginning of award season in SFF world, kicked off by the opening of the Nebula Award nomination period.

As I have done every year for the past few years, I am assembling here a links post compiling various awards eligibility posts from authors, editors, and publishers, along with recommendation posts, and links to various review sites. The goal is to help folks remember what was published this year, or catch work they might have missed. If you are an author/editor/publisher/reader with a post of your own, please let me know! Drop a note in the comments, reach out on twitter (@ac_wise), or send an email to a.c.wise[at]hotmail.com. I update this post regularly and try to keep it in folks’ minds throughout award nomination season, so do check back often!

If you’re in doubt about whether or not you should make an eligibility post – do it! Self-promotion can feel squirmy and awkward, but it’s incredibly useful to those who nominate to know what works are out there, and what category they fall into. You’re doing people a service, so please, please, please, post and share! Now, on to the links, which are broken down by category and organized alphabetically by last name.

Eligibility Posts

Anderson, G.V.

Apex Magazine

Apparition Lit

Bangs, Elly

Beck, Rachel

Bolander, Brooke

Booth, Ruth EJ

Camp, Bryan

Cato, Beth

Charette, Stephanie

Chng, Joyce

Criley, Marc

Crilly, Brandon

Czerneda, Julie

Daley, Raymond

Dandenell, Karl

Dawson, J.R.

Day, Julie C.

Donnelly, Lizz

Donohue, Jennifer R.

Douglas, Carol Ann

Dovey, Matt

Drayden, Nicky

Edelman, Scott

Feldman, Stephanie

Fiyah Magazine

Fogg, Vanessa

Forest, Susan

Gallery of Curiosities

Garcia, R.S.A.

Greenblatt, A.T.

Gower, Jasmine

Grigsby, Sean

Griswold, Amy

Harris, Nin

Haskins, Maria

Heartfield, Kate

Heijndermans, Joa

Inklings Press

Kania, Kathryn

Kunsken, Derek

Kurella, Jordan

Lewis, L.D.

Li, Mina

Liburd, Tonya

Lundoff, Catherine

MacNutt, Toby

Malik, Joseph

Manuel, Keith

Martine, Arkady

Maxwell, Matt

Mead-Brewer, K.C.

Mohamed, Premee

Moher, Aidan

Moore, L.H.

Morrison, Diane

Nikel, Wendy

Novakova, Julie

O’Dell, Claire

Ogle, L’Erin

Oghaegbu, Chimedum

O’Reilly, Finbar

Payseur, Charles

Rakunas, Adam

Rappaport, Jenny Rae

Reardon, Matthew

Robson, Kelly

Rossman, Jennifer Lee

Rowat, Frances

Rowland, Alexandra

Royce, Eden

Rustad, A. Merc

Sabet, Amman

Sanford, Jason

Santiago, Gabriela

Schoffstall, John

Seiberg, Effie

Sjunneson-Henry, Elsa

Stone, Hayley

Stufflebeam, Bonnie Jo

Teffeau, Lauren C.

Toase, Steve

Tobler, E. Catherine

Tomaras, Joseph

Tomlinson, Patrick

Triantafyllou, Eugenia

Valentinelli, Monica

Vourvoulias, Sabrina

Wallis, Wren

Wanak, LaShawn

Wasserstein, Izzy

Wehm, Darusha

Wilde, Fran (And a bonus thread specific to non-fiction work.)

Wiswell, John

Worrad, James

Yap, Isabel

Recommended Reading/Favorites Fiction

Amazon Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2018 (So Far)

Barnes and Noble Best SFF of 2018

Barnes and Noble Bookseller’s Picks for 2018

British Science Fiction Association Recommended Reading List (Crowd-sourced. Add your own recommendations!)

Earl Grey Editing’s Recommended Reading

Maria Haskins Recommended Reading

Hugo Spreadsheet (Crowd-sourced. Add your own recommendations!)

Hugo Wikia (Crowd-sourced. Add your own recommendations!)

Kirkus Reviews Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2018

Latinx Authors Database 2018

Library Journal’s Best Books of 2018

NPR’s Best Books of 2018

New York Public Library’s Best Books of 2018

Paste Magazine’s Best YA of 2018

Jason Sanford Best Short SFF January – June 2018

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s Recommended Reading

SFWA Recommended Reading List (Crowd-sourced. SFWA members, add your own recommendations!)

Tiptree Award Recommended Reading List (Note: not all recommended works are 2018.)

E. Catherine Tobler’s Favorites of 2018

Tor.com Reviewer’s Choice Best Books of 2018

Tor.com Best Comics of 2018

Review Sites and Resources

The links in this section point to ongoing sites/columns etc. that review work throughout the year. Note, not all work reviewed is published in 2018, so double-check its eligibility before nominating.

Antler Review (monthly reviews, short fiction, long fiction, non-fiction, etc.)

Fiction Unbound (various)

Forest of Glory (short fiction)

In Short (short fiction)

It’s a Jumble (short and long fiction)

Kirkus SFF Blog (short and long fiction)

Lady Business (short fiction, long fiction, media, fan works, etc.)

Locus Online (short and long fiction)

Nerds of a Feather (long fiction, media, comics, etc.)

Non-Binary Authors to Read (short and long fiction, not all 2018 titles)

Otherwordly/NY Times (long fiction)

Quick Sip Reviews (primarily short fiction, some longer works)

Reading the End (various)

Reviews and Robots (various lengths)

Robots with Keyboards
(monthly lists of favorite short fiction)

Salute Your Shorts (monthly short fiction round-ups/reviews)

SFF Reviews (short fiction)

Skiffy and Fanty
(various)
Squee and Snark (short fiction)

Strange Horizons Reviews (short fiction, long fiction, media, etc.)

Tor.com (short fiction, long fiction, media, etc.)

Women to Read (short and long fiction, not all 2018)

Words for Thought (short fiction)

X Marks the Story (short fiction)

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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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