No Man’s Land Review

No Man's Land CoverNo Man’s Land is a new novella from author A.J. Fitzwater, published in June by Paper Road Press. Set in North Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand during WWII, the story follows Dorothea “Tea” Gray, whose brother Robbie has gone off to war to be a sapper. Wanting to do her part, Tea joins the Land Service, and takes over Robbie’s former job shearing sheep and working on the MacGregor farm. Tea is joined by three other Land Service girls, Alison, Carmel, and Izzy, and a young man named Grant whose illness kept him from joining the service.

On the day she arrives at the farm, Tea is followed by a strange, shadowy dog, and her feeling of something odd going on only builds from there. Her senses are heightened, and she hears her brother’s voice in a way she becomes increasingly sure isn’t just her own inner monologue or wishful thinking. Grant and Izzy are secretive around her, as if they know more about Tea than she knows about herself. She hears a persistent hissing, like something calling to her, especially when she’s around water. She also experiences sensations, sights and sounds, she’s certain don’t belong to her, and might just belong to her brother Robbie on  distant continent in the midst of war. While trying to understand what’s happening to her, Tea still has to contend with daily life, the exhausting work of the farm, and not drawing the ire of Mr. MacGregor. Contrasted with the mundane world of the farm, hidden just beneath its surface, it seems there’s a whole other world waiting for Tea. Sometimes it seems as though there’s another being inside of her, one that frightens her, and that she can’t entirely control. Further complicating matters is Tea’s attraction to Izzy. All her life, Tea has been taught that a woman loving another woman, or a man loving another man is unnatural, not to mention illegal. Tea’s conflicted feelings strain her relationship with Izzy, who could be Tea’s closest ally, helping her understand the power within her, and her true magical nature.

A border collie, mostly black with a scattering of white on the bib and paws, yelped and skittered. Her shadow! It wasn’t male after all. The look the dog cast back at Tea made her shiver for a third time. The familiar-strange scent hit Tea, making her flinch. It was a scent she thought she’d only dreamed, one she associated with starlight, fresh-turned soil, warm cotton.

No Man’s Land is gorgeously-written, wrapped in beautiful cover art by Laya Rose Mutton-Rogers. Fitzwater has a real gift for prose and sensory description, which they deploy to great effect, creating a sense of breathless disorientation around the ebb and flow of nature, the magic within Tea, and the chaos of war. The language is the kind that snaps you up and gets you lost in the best of ways, but at the same time, the characters, especially Tea, keep the story grounded. We get snippets of Grant and Izzy’s perspectives as well, but for the most part, we’re in Tea’s head, right alongside her as she experiences frustration – from her mother unpacking all her practical clothes and filling her suitcase with clothing designed to help her catch a husband, to the way the men on the farm goad her and tease her and expect her to fail at “men’s work”, and her conflicted feelings about Izzy and the growing power she discovers within herself.

Need and desire are an underlying current in all of Tea’s thoughts and actions – not just physical desire, but the desire to be respected, taken seriously, and to do something that matters, especially when it comes to the war. With her brother so far away, Tea feels helpless, made worse by the fact that she feels trapped by the box of expectations placed around her as a woman. She wants to break out, forge her own way in the world, but at the same time, she’s afraid. All her life she’s been taught there’s a natural order to things – magic belongs in stories for children, and women are meant to be wives and mothers and nothing more. Even though Tea doesn’t truly believe either of those things deep down, she’s been conditioned to accept them. The war forms a backdrop, but the conflict in the novella is far more personal, as Tea wars with herself, and what she’s been taught to believe about the world versus the larger possibilities of who she is allowed to love, who she is allowed to be, and what she’s allowed to do with her life.

No Man’s Land brings to the forefront women’s history, and the kind of stories that often go untold in war narratives, shifting the focus from soldiers on the front line to those doing vital work back home. Farm labor is just as important to keeping the world turning, but history often overlooks jobs considered “menial” or “women’s work”. The novella also touches on queer history and rights, particularly in the epilogue taking place years after the war. Tea’s self-discovery is rooted in history and a personal journey, but soaked in the magic and wonder of the hidden world existing alongside ours. It’s a lovely book, and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy right now.

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Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora

Dominion CoverDominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora edited by Zelda Knight & Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald brings together an incredible group of authors, spinning tales of near-future science fiction, post-apocalyptic worlds, distant and mythic pasts, and more, imagining what might be, and what never was. The anthology officially comes out in August, but I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek.

As the title states, the common thread binding these stories is Africa and the African Diaspora, but the stories themselves range across the genres and sub-genres of speculative fiction, from horror, to fantasy, to science fiction, and everything in-between. A wide variety of voices and styles are on display here, and there’s a little bit of something for everyone. The editors assembled a strong collection, with several stories that were true standouts for me.

“Red_Bati” by Dilman Dila is a charming and touching story of a robot dog programmed with sentience by his former owner, who finds himself scooped up as salvage. With only the ghost of the old woman who was his former charge as his companion, he must plot his escape or risk being scrapped for parts. Red_Bati sees himself as a human trapped in a robot dog’s body, and at its heart, the story is a very human one as Red_Bati copes with feelings of obsolescence, abandonment, and searches for his place in the world.

Once his battery ran down, he would freeze and that would damage his e-m-data strips. Though these could be easily and cheaply replaced, he would lose all his data, all the codings that made him Red_Bati and not just another red basenji dog, all his records of Granny. He would die.

“A Mastery of German” by Marian Denise Moore explores the idea of inherited memory, and the ethics of gene editing. The story touches on how easily history can be lost, especially Black history, by looking at whose stories get preserved and told, versus whose stories are forgotten because they’re merely “ordinary” people. Moore raises complicated questions about how science might be deployed to pass skills and knowledge from generation to generation, and how easily the ability to do so might be exploited and corrupted.

Somewhere in the world, there is a man, seventy years old, a native New Orleanian who has never left the city save for the occasional Category 5 hurricane. He has a sixth-grade education but he has always held some kind of paying job. However, if you ask him a question in German, he will answer you without hesitation in an accent reminiscent of the region around Heidleberg.

“Sleep Papa, Sleep” by Suyi Okungbowa Davies edges into horror territory, with an unsettling story of a son who finds himself drawn into the family business of grave-robbing and body harvesting, despite his best efforts to escape and make a life for himself elsewhere. When he sells pieces of a corpse from an unmarked grave, he finds himself haunted by the remains of his father, and he must confront his choices – his guilt over leaving, his decision to return, and his unwitting breaking of taboo.

There are mud tracks on the floor tiles that he didn’t notice before. They run from the door, but don’t end at Max’s feet at the entrance to the kitchenette. The TV’s light is insufficient, so Max squints to follow the tracks, which he notices are odd because while one is a complete footprint, the opposite foot has most of the sole with no trace of toes.

Davies effectively harnesses truly chilling imagery to ultimately tell a story about family, responsibility, and being caught between a sense of duty, and a desire to make one’s own way in life.

“The Satellite Charmer” by Mame Bougouma Diene feels epic in scope as it follows the transcendence and evolution of Ibrahima, who throughout his life has felt a strange connection to the mining satellite stripping and exploiting his people’s land. The writing is lovely, and the story’s structure itself mirrors Ibrahima’s journey, opening into something larger as the tale progresses, the language shifting to hold the reader at a greater distance as Ibrahima increasingly loses touch with his humanity and becomes something more.

The beam was death: he knew that; but to him it was life, in a way he couldn’t quite understand. His senses heightened when it dropped, turning the clouds a deep red, every action anticipated by just a fraction. The future was not so much ahead of him, but already waiting for him to reach out and touch, if only he could break out of his body. Sometimes it almost felt like he could; that if he took a step forward and over the cliff to certain death he wouldn’t fall.

“Ife-Iyoku, The Tale of Imadeyunuagbon” by Epeki Oghenechovwe Donald closes out the anthology on a strong note with a powerful tale of a woman repeatedly denying the expectations placed upon her, and refusing to play the role others would assign her. Like “The Satellite Charmer”, the story has a post-apocalyptic feel, and follows the transcendence and evolution of one character, Imade, as she becomes something more than human. A small group of people survive the fallout of nuclear war in Africa and develop powers as a result; the sacred charge to survive leads them each to make difficult choices according to their beliefs, however Imade alone refuses the idea of destiny, and refuses to be used as a vessel for the survival of her people. The story explores of power, the expectations placed on men versus women, and like “Sleep Papa, Sleep” the weight of  tradition and society versus personal freedom.

She felt the blowing of a chilled wind, but Mama Inkiru’s wrapper did not stir in the wind. Mama Inkiru sailed slowly to her, and now she realized why everything seemed to hazy to her, why the wind had no effect on her, why she cast no shadow: Mama Inkiru was dead.

Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora is currently available for pre-order. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of this fantastic anthology and reveling in the wide variety of wonderful speculative tales within!

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Way of the Laser Review

Way of the Laser CoverWhat might crime look like in the future? Will a terrifying bot tell us we have 20 seconds to comply before blowing us to smithereens? Will replicants hunt each other across bleak, neon-soaked cityscapes? Will crimes be prosecuted before they even occur on the advice of vaguely creepy mediums floating in vats of goo? The Way of the Laser: Future Crime Stories edited by Eric M. Bosarge and Joe M. McDermott brings together eighteen all-new stories by authors including Julie C. Day, Paul Jessup, EN Auslender, Patrice Sarath, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, and Marie Vibbert, among others offering up their own answer to this question. It’s not a matter of whether humans will continue to commit crimes in the future, but how will we do it, why will we do it, and how  technology and good old-fashioned intuition will factor into solving those crimes?

The authors have a wide variety of answers, providing fresh takes on crime tropes from heists to the quintessential English country murder. Algorithms are employed to pinpoint likely suspects in Patrice Sarath’s story of miners looking to make one big score that will solve all their financial problems, while clones come into play in Mur Lafferty’s whodunnit, complicating the question of inheritance and whether a murder has even occurred at all.

One of the most affecting stories in the collection is EN Auslender’s “Kalopsia”, which despite the futuristic touch of targeted advertising beamed directly at potential consumers, feels very of the moment. It concerns a woman named Angkasa, whose very existence is made illegal through unjust immigration laws, and her story is heartbreaking and hits very close to home in the current political environment as she struggles to simply survive while constantly being bombarded by ads for things she can never afford to buy.

When she dared peer through the wintry onslaught at the maelstrom of cars lined up and stuck in the road, barraged by bullets of ice, Optotrex’s holographic ad glowed in purple and blue hallows, stinging the rain and ice that fell through with holy desire. It bade her with a 20 meter tall male swimsuit model to see through the storm at the one true way: Optotrex would see for you if you saw your way to Optotrex.

In “Speculative Execution”, Julie C. Day offers up a tale full of slick and stylish prose and excellent worldbuilding that at once feels futuristic and echoes the smog-filled streets of old London with its mudlarks and rag and bone men scrabbling at the edges of society to make a living. Automatons and AI ghosts haunt the streets, and no one is ever truly un-watched or alone.

Dim light from a waning gibbous moon, along with orange-hued streetlamps, illuminated the glass-paned storefronts. The face of the human automaton in the Spirit Mother display window seemed equal parts arch and menacing rather than simply blank, something about the rivets running along the circumference of its hairless metal skull. Something about its heavy metal eyelids and thin metallic lips. And then there was the “Reserved” sign that hung around its bare metal neck.

“Our Lady of Turquoise Country” by Monica Joyce Evans takes place in a virtual game world populated by AI gods that wear the aspects of Egyptian and Aztec deities, which is at times reminiscent of Tad Williams’ Otherland series. Evans’ story feels epic in scope, while being relatively short in length, and packs and emotional punch as the protagonist is given a second chance to save a virtual child and help her grow.

Another standout in the anthology is “Sister Thrush” by Marie Vibbert, where the protagonist is drawn into a shady underworld by his hacker kid-sister who has paid the price for her crimes and is now on the run in the form of a mechanical bird. The story offers several clever twists, while also being a touching story of family caring for each other and fighting for each other while simultaneously frustrating the hell out of each other.

With a wide array of stories imagining the way crime might occur, be prevented, and solved in the future, this anthology is well-worth the read for SFFH authors doing what they do best – speculating about what changes the future might bring, and more importantly, examining the humanity at the core of those changes.

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An Interview with Paul Jessup, Julie Day, Patrice Sarath, and E.N. Auslender

Way of the Laser CoverFour authors from the anthology Way of the Laser edited by Eric M. Bosarge and Joe M. McDermott were kind enough to drop by today to talk about their stories and the future of crime. Welcome Paul, Julie, Patrice, and E.N.!

Let’s start off with brief introductions. Would you all mind telling us about yourselves, and without giving too much away, a bit about your story in the anthology?

PJ: Hi all, I’m Paul Jessup, I’ve been slinging words for dosh for about two decades now in the genre scene, give or take a handful of years. I’ve got books! Books you should read. Weird, strange surreal world breaking brain bursting books. My story is a story that was inspired by some recent news about biobags, and their use in incubating premature infants. I won’t go into more than that, let’s just say it’s a bit of a twist on the heist genre and leave it at that.

JCD: Julie, here! I am a human currently very attached to my home. I’m also a writer—mainly of short fiction. Among other things I have a collection that came out a couple years back—Uncommon Miracles, a novella—The Rampant—that is a current Lambda Award finalist, and a charity anthology I’m editing—Weird Dream Society—that we’ll be releasing soon. All proceeds will go to the migrant and refugee advocacy organization RAICES.

Okay, so this is the thing. I am terrible at describing my own stories. So I’m going to cheat and quote a couple of lines from “Speculative Execution.”

In the decades since Limm and his Revenant Energy Corporation, Driesch had become a special city, the home and birthplace of fully realized AI. Dead & coded entertainers worked alongside theater projectionists and group effects specialists, Limm-Glass was pressed against a client’s exposed, living flesh. Modern entertainments included vibrations of emotion and physically transferred information, alongside those perennials, sight and sound

PS: Hi, I’m Patrice Sarath and I’m a writer from Austin, Texas. I’m the author of the Gordath Wood series and the Tales of Port Saint Frey, as well as a Pride And Prejudice sequel called The Unexpected Miss Bennet. I write SFF short stories as well, and my stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Weird Tales, Apex Digest and others. My story, “Spider,” is a heist story about a group of asteroid miners who plot to steal an asteroid, and the cop who tries to stop them.

E.N.: I’ve always had a bit of an obsession about the future of mankind and technology, probably from spending too much (or not enough) time watching every Star Trek show growing up. Oddly enough, my story Kalopsia is unlike other stories I’ve written given its focus on a future too close to our present and a reality that many don’t realise already exists.

What drew you to the anthology’s theme, and to the particular aspect of future crime you explored in your story? How did you go about envisioning the ways crime might change in the future in terms of how it’s committed and how it might be solved?

PJ: Mostly it was just kismet! I had the idea for the heist story, and around the same time this anthology started doing it’s Kickstarter. I knew the editors were great editors, and I wanted to work with them, so I set out writing that story.

JCD: “Speculative Execution” is the most science fictional story I’ve published to date, though I have a novella I’m working on that is also tech influenced. TBH, I like to write whatever I haven’t written before. So writing a crime SF story seemed exciting—at least until the deadline loomed. Over the last few years, a number of my stories have dealt with the disintegration or loss of self. It’s terrifying and in an A.I. world its also far more complicated than our current experience. Something about the tech world I envisioned and the way that could affect the divide between living/ non-living really appealed to me. It also made for some interesting ideas around crime! (No spoilers.)

PS: I have always wanted to write a good old-fashioned heist story, and so when Joe (J.M. McDermott) invited me to contribute a story for this anthology, I was really excited. “Spider” is a prequel to my murder mystery on a space ship, called “Murder on the Hohmann.” There’s nothing new about greed or revenge, but I wanted to play with these eternal human conditions in a far-future environment.

E.N.:Initially I wasn’t certain that my story would fit in since it doesn’t follow a typical ‘future crime’ story a la the Julie Mao/Joe Miller story in The Expanse or a Blade Runner-esque crime, but then again, law is a line that doesn’t necessarily tiptoe the edges of morality. Is robbing a bank morally wrong if the bank laundered money for cartels? Crime will only ever be defined as the law allows it, unless some sort of Minority Report system is put in place, in which case there’s no outrunning Tom Cruise.

Now, an individual question for each of you…

Paul, your story “Halo 13” plays with the trope of the creepy AI who just has your best interest at heart. Why do you think the caring AI who takes things to the extreme makes such a compelling character, and particularly, such a compelling villain? What made you want to explore the trope in your story?

I think it’s a timely character as well, which is what makes it so compelling. Right now, we have AI doing so much for us, it doesn’t feel like a huge stretch to go from AI telling us what ads to show us to AI trying to take care of everything. It’s creepy, and it feels like that’s the way we’re going, and nobody is stopping to ask, “hey, is this right? Do AI’s even really predict as well as we think they do?”
I mean, since most AI’s are just blackboxes that even the coders don’t understand, we’re giving them a lot of power over our lives and choices and freedoms. For what? There is no exact proof that what they suggest is exactly what we want, and a lot of times the end results are laughable. So, on one hand it seemed to me this was the way things were going, and it terrified me.

But that was only one piece of the puzzle. I think the best villains are ones that have personality, that seem to be tragic in their own ways. So I felt like I had to really get into her head, and that’s what came out was this story. Her need to be a mother, to care for the babies she sees as being her property, it just felt so tragic and heartbreaking and yet a little insane as well. Like she was unravelling, because they obviously weren’t her kids after all, but she felt like it, and that made her act irrationally.
And add in the idea of drones, an AI without any center who lives on the internet, that can see everything you do and turn any computer into a weapon against you? It’s unsettling and terrifying to me, and perfect for a story like this.

Julie, I love the way the world you created for “Speculative Execution” feels simultaneously old and new. There are echoes of 19th century London with its Rag and Bone Men, Mud Larks, and roving gangs of pickpockets, but at the same time the world feels very slick and futuristic with its Glassed ghosts and constructed Tin Men. How did you go about building the world for your characters, and making it feel real and lived-in?

Usually I spend a lot of time world building while I’m writing a story. In this case, that wasn’t the case at all. I spent many weeks—far too many weeks—working on a fantasy world for a role playing game that didn’t get off the ground. I loved the world and the various conflicts embedded within it, but I didn’t feel any real spark to write a piece a fiction. It was all too known to me. Then came this anthology and the joy of layering tech over the existing world just felt *right.* Having a draft world that I’d documented and mapped also made the writing go so much faster. I’ve never written a story of this type in so little time. Less than a month to the final form of a story is unprecedented for me. I’m actually thrilled at how this happy accident of old project-new project led to something I feel could be a series of stories.

Patrice, I love the way you expanded the heist/one-last-big-score trope in “Spider”. I was particularly intrigued by the way space station technology is used – the AI algorithm finding connections between people, and the use of increased gravity to pin down everyone but the cops. Were there any particular influences or inspiration that sparked this story? What sort of research did you do in terms of extrapolating and adapting technology as it might exist on a space station into something that could be repurposed for law enforcement?

PS: I wanted to play with a couple of ideas for my setting. One is that of the company town. How would an asteroid mining station out near Jupiter be managed and governed? Well, the corporation would control everything. I created a legal structure of a Corporate Citizen Entity and gave the Bifrost Corporation the right to control everything and everyone on the station. Well, the next step was to create the way that was actually managed, and that was the station AI. But AIs are notoriously slippery as they are learning environments, and humans are very slippery as well, as we just don’t do what we’re told to do.

Creating the mining technology and protocols was loads of fun as well – how exactly do you mine an asteroid and get the resources out of the asteroid and back to Earth? I read about investment companies that are seeking to build and monetize that technology in order to make a killing. We have companies right now that are the predecessors to my Bifrost Corporation.

And finally, creating a solar system where humans now occupy two planets – Earth and Mars – and what that means for politics, economies, and all that good stuff.

E.N., your story, “Kalopsia”, feels terrifyingly of-the-moment, with a very light, speculative/futuristic touch. I appreciate the way you offer a different take on crime theme. Rather than a story about someone overtly committing or solving crimes, you examine the way government systems essentially criminalize the very existence of immigrants, rather than helping and protecting a vulnerable population. It’s an important story to tell, and I wonder if you could talk a bit about what it means to you to tell this story, and where the inspiration to examine that aspect of law enforcement came from?

E.N.: My non-literary life involves work and research with refugees, about their lives and struggles both after their escapes from the horrifying situations back home and their efforts to re-establish a sense of normalcy wherever they arrive. There’s an obvious governmental pushback against refugees in many countries because of a fear of ‘blowback’, i.e. riling up those who might be more xenophobic or nationalistic who fear that they (the nationals) might somehow lose their livelihoods or their cultural identities because of refugees. Not to elicit any world leaders by name, but this is shown by a stated preference for ‘Christian’ refugees rather than Muslim ones in some countries, and the general rhetorical bloviating that comes from other governments that go so far as to violate their own laws in order to keep refugees, no matter how small a number, outside their borders. So my story’s protagonist is someone who contains the qualities I’ve found in many with whom I’ve spoken, and is someone who has to contend with a far more authoritarian/Orwellian bordering regime. Many of the more subtle technological tactics used by law enforcement in the story are already being utilised today in various countries, and we for whom the fear of it does not apply consider it mundane even when we can view the repercussions of it in plain sight.

Back to the group questions. Going on a bit of a tangent, but still sticking with the topic of crime, what are some of your favorite crime shows, books, or movies? Alternately (or additionally) who are your favorite fictional detectives, or fictional criminals? Who would you most like to sit down with and hear about their favorite cases/capers?

JCD: One of my kids loves The Gilmore Girls as in she can recite entire scenes. I have a similar relationship with Hercule Poirot and the TV series Poirot. Cozy mystery shows are my pre-bed comfort food. I’ll never be allowed to care too much for those that happen to be murdered and the detective(s) are the best of reliable old friends. I also loved the series Sherlock. I believe both shows were produced by the BBC? Perhaps there’s something in my interest in period crime stories and how my own crime story turned out…I hadn’t noticed the connection until now. In terms of sitting down and listening, a criminal caper will win every time…as long as the storyteller isn’t *too* terrifying in person.

PS: My two absolute favorite crime series are The Closer and Breaking Bad. Favorite detective? Columbo. Absolutely.

E.N.: I’m a sucker for a detective protagonist with very obvious issues. Along with some of the movies/TV I’ve mentioned (BR, Minority Report, The Expanse), Sherlock Holmes is always a reliable read. James Ellroy probably crafted some of the most memorable crime fiction of the 20th century and is a dizzying writer to boot. Batman, despite his predilection for punching his problems away, is a detective at heart (The Long Halloween may be the best Batman story, in my opinion). Psych, while not as serious as my previous examples, is a nice play on the Holmes/Watson dynamic and is utterly hilarious. As a more unconventional crime movie, Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others) is a fantastic film concerning the Stasi their spying operations on state dissidents. Timecrimes is another fantastic film that if I say anything about it I might give the whole story away. Gattaca, one of my favourite films ever, is another unconventional crime movie that should be required viewing in schools. Oddly enough the one detective I’d like to sit down with is DC hero

The Question, an esoteric and somewhat obfuscatory character who’s changed over the course of his (and subsequently her) existence. He began as a Randian figure and evolved in Denny O’Neil’s Zen and Violence, and was portrayed by the ever fantastic Jeffrey Combs in Justice League Unlimited as a Fox Mulder-type conspiracy buff who was also a brilliant detective.

PJ: Oh, now that’s a tough one! Of course, you’ve got the Coen brothers crime films like Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men that are fantastic, and comedies borrow heavily from the crime genre, like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Raising Arizona. And David Lynch also takes a lot from crime fiction in everything he does, and then twists it around and adds a dose of surrealism. It’s really hard to pick my favorites, the list can go and on and on and on.

My favorite fictional detective has to be, of course, Agent Dale Cooper. You can’t deny the man has style.

If you were casting yourself in a crime story, would you see yourself as the clever criminal mastermind pulling off the perfect scheme, or the brilliant detective who catches the criminal?

JCD: I’m closer to the Miss Marple tangential-talker who throws a wide enough net to pull seemingly disparate clues together.

PS: Hah, Shane Harris, my cop in “Spider,” has so much of me in her. So I guess I am the dogged cop.

E.N.: I’d be both, because the Evil League of Criminals (trademark pending) decided to clone the most brilliant detective in the world in order to have the most brilliant criminal in the world. It’s a constant game of cat-and-mouse, or more accurately, cat-and-cat. I’d also be every member of the Evil League of Criminals (trademark pending). Everyone is me. It’s a confusing story.

PJ: The clever criminal, for certain. I don’t enjoy much detective fiction, but I do love me some crime stories. There is just something so interesting about seeing down on their luck criminals try and make it for one last gig, and seeing everything fall apart right in front of them (or pulling it off with style and panache).

Finally, in addition to your story in this anthology, what else do you have coming up, or what else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

JCD: Well, I mentioned the anthology the Weird Dream Society, which has taken up a lot of my time for awhile now. I’m really proud of that book, the authors are fantastic, and what we’re trying to accomplish with its publication. I’m also working on a couple of short stories and a shortish novella called Every Thought a Sin, which involves murals whose paint is infused with genetically engineered microbes, photosynthesis, climate change, and eye scooping (which is even worse than it sounds).

PS: I’ve got a few exciting opportunities but nothing that can be revealed yet. I’m looking forward to readers’ reactions to “Spider” and the rest of the anthology – the stories in here are definitely loads of fun and very thought-provoking!

E.N.: Beyond spending this pandemic quarantine time enjoying the comforts of my bathrobe and exploring the depths of my limited culinary abilities, I’m currently revising a giant novel about AI, human cybernetics, and human life in the age of ‘human evolution’, writing another about space stuff, and churning out short stories when I’m procrastinating with the novels. Somehow I get work done too.

PJ: So much stuff! I am constantly working on short stories, and nonfiction. Really, I need to update my website with so much that I’ve got coming out recently. I’m also working on a weird generation ship novel with organic technology and AI’s based on chaos magic. I’ve also been working on a few video games you can see at: https://cupofstars.itch.io/

Thank you all so much for dropping by!

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Pride StoryBundle Interview: Andi C. Buchanan

Capricious Gender Diverse Pronouns CoverIn connection with the Pride Month StoryBundle, I’ll be posting short interviews with some of the contributors throughout the month of June. Catherine Lundoff and Heather Rose Jones will be hosting interviews as well, so keep an eye on their sites too!

Last week, I posted an interview with Craig Laurance Gidney. Joining me this week is Andi C. Buchanan, Editor of Capricious, a wonderful speculative fiction magazine based out of Aotearoa New Zealand. The special Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue is included in the Pride StoryBundle, which contains “Sandals Full of Rainwater” by A.E. Prevost, one of my favorite recently-published stories, and one that continues to stick with me long after reading.

Could you tell readers a bit about the Capricious SFF Gender Diverse Pronouns issue in this StoryBundle and how it came about?

Absolutely! It’s Issue 9 of Capricious and the first special double issue, and it includes 10 science fiction and fantasy stories that all use gender diverse pronouns. Some are explicitly about gender – others include characters who use these pronouns, but whose gender is mostly incidental to the story.

When I say gender diverse pronouns, I essentially mean those that are used irrespective of gender, or to signify gender in ways different to he/him/his and she/her and their translations. It includes singular they, other established pronouns sets like Spivak or sie/hir, and some of the authors’ invention.

It came about partly because I wanted to read more of these stories, partly because authors found some editors prejudiced against them, and partly because I know some people are genuinely not used to a range of pronouns – and I think a great way to become used to them is to read stories.

I’m really happy with how it turned out and I’m hoping to edit a second volume along similar lines at some point in the next few years.

What is your favorite part of the editorial process at Capricious SFF?

I love reading submissions – I don’t have slush readers so while I will sometimes get second opinions on stories I read everything myself. It’s exciting to find new or new-to-me authors with something interesting to say.

I also really enjoy searching for artists and artwork. Some of our covers are commissioned, others use existing work. Finding the right fit for the issue – and my determination to have something different on every cover – has been a challenge, but it’s also fun to look at possibilities, and has introduced me to some amazing artists, including Laya Rose who created the cover for Issue 5 as well as this issue.

What other books or stories do you have out that readers of this StoryBundle might enjoy?

My novella From a Shadow Grave was published last year by Paper Road Press. It’s a queer time travel/historical/urban fantasy story, inspired by a real murder and local ghost story.

My published short stories include Girls Who Do Not Drown (Apex, 2018) about murderous sea horses, island life, gender, and solidarity (and which comes with a warning for suicidality and trans/misogynist violence), Henrietta and the End of the Line (Translunar Travelers Lounge, 2019) which is about a lizard girl who lives on a squid train, and Blaze (Vulture Bones, 2018), a story about young people who live beside a lake of fire.

I’ve also published some short non-fiction, including Design a Spaceship in Uncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue.

Aside from your own work, what are some of your ow favorite queer reads you would recommend to folks?

I find it so hard to choose at this point; there have been so many amazing releases recently. I love JY Neon Yang’s Tensorate series and think the latest, The Ascent to Godhood, may be my favourite, which is a high bar. Ada Hoffmann’s The Outside both embraces and subverts cosmic horror, and includes a powerful sapphic relationship. Ida by Alison Evans is at once a science fictional exploration of the decisions we make and a delicately crafted and vivid portrayal of early adulthood. The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes, is powerful, unsettling, and yet gentle. Lastly, and just released, is AJ Fitzwater’s No Man’s Land which is a queer historical fantasy set in Aotearoa New Zealand during World War II.

Thank you, Andi!

As a reminder, Pride Month StoryBundle lets you pay what you wish for an awesome bundle of queer books. For a minimum payment of $15, you can get all 11 books in the bundle. You can also choose to help support Rainbow Railroad with your purchase. Please do check it out, and stay tuned for more interviewers with StoryBundle authors!

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Pride StoryBundle Interview: Craig Laurance Gidney

Spectral Hue CoverIn connection with the Pride Month StoryBundle, I’ll be posting short interviews with some of the contributors throughout the month of June. Catherine Lundoff and Heather Rose Jones will be hosting interviews as well, so keep an eye on their sites too!

First up is Craig Laurance Gidney, the author of A Spectral Hue, which is a gorgeous and haunting novel about the power of art and community, and the ability of art to literally transport the viewer to another world and transform the way they see.

Without giving too much away, could you tell readers a bit about your book in this StoryBundle?

A Spectral Hue is a contemporary ghost story about outsider artists that features an all-black, all-queer cast.

I love the way color and art suffuse a Spectral Hue, and the way the events occurring are seen as a haunting by some, and a calling together to a place of sanctuary for others. Could you talk a bit about the inspiration behind the novel and how it came together?

I was inspired by a particular type outsider artist, like Henry Darger and Madge Gill, who created their work with an almost religious devotion, or viewed their artwork as messages from other realms.

What other books or stories do you have out that readers of this StoryBundle might enjoy?

I’m looking forward to reading Andrea Hairston’s Will Do Magic for Small Change. I adored the first novel set in the same world, Redwood and Wildfire. I love the complexity of her writing, and the way she mingles Science Fiction, Folklore and Blackness. (I also enjoyed Catfish Lullaby and recommend it highly).

Aside from your own work, what are some of your favorite queer reads you would recommend to folks?

More people should know about the trans author Gabriel Squalia. Her novel Viscera is so disgustingly beautiful, full of body horror and weird magic and humor. Full of sentences and imagery that sear.

Thank you, Craig!

The Pride Month StoryBundle lets you pay what you wish for an awesome bundle of queer books. For a minimum payment of $15, you can get all 11 books in the bundle. You can also choose to help support Rainbow Railroad with your purchase. Please do check it out, and stay tuned for more interviewers with StoryBundle authors!

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Read the Rainbow 2020

Pride Story Bundle AuthorsThe Pride StoryBundle is here, and I’m delighted to once again be a part of it! This year’s bundle includes my Nebula-finalist novella, Catfish Lullaby, alongside a fabulous collection of queer books at a pay-what-you-wish price. If you choose to pay at least $15, you get all 11 books included in the bundle, and you can also choose to have a portion of your purchase support the Rainbow Railroad, a wonderful organization that helps LGTBQIA+ individuals escape persecution and relocate from countries and areas where they are unsafe due to their identity and/or sexuality.

As I’ve done in past years, I wanted to once again put together a Pride Month recommended reading list to help you queer up your summer TBR pile. As an extra happy bonus, several of my recommendations happen to be included in the Pride StoryBundle! And now, on to the recommendations…

General Resources

As always, the Lambda Literary Awards is a great place to look for queer reading recommendations across all genres including speculative fiction, poetry, romance, non-fiction and more. A list of this year’s finalists and winners can be found here.

Author and reviewer extraordinaire Bogi Takács focuses on QUILTBAG+ fiction and in particular own voices work in eir reviews, and eir website is a wonderful resource for adding more queer titles to your TBR pile. E also has a Patreon with monthly book-buying guides and more.

Author and reviewer Charles Payseur offers monthly Queer SFF Short Fiction round ups through his Patreon , another great source for your shorter fiction needs.

Author Xan West/Corey Alexander’s website is another excellent resource for queer fiction with a focus on romance, erotica, and kink, featuring various fiction rounds ups and useful links and resources.

Novels, Collections, and Anthologies

A Spectral Hue CoverTranscendent 4: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction edited by Bogi Takács. This series continues to impress, gathering the best trans speculative short fiction of the year in one convenient place, and helping to highlight stories that readers might have missed. It’s always a wonderful collection and a great way to potentially discover new-to-you authors.

A Spectral Hue by Craig Laurence Gidney. Conveniently part of this year’s Pride StoryBundle, this novel is simultaneously gorgeous and eerie, positing art as both a haunting and a sanctuary, depending on your perspective.

The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper by A.J. Fitzwater. Also conveniently part of this year’s Pride StoryBundle, this is an utterly delightful collection which recounts the daring adventures of one incredibly dapper lesbian capybara pirate and her gallant crew. Joyous and queer, full of found family, romance, and excitement. You can read a fuller review of the collection here and my interview with the author here.

Capricious 9: Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue edited by Andi C. Buchanan. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again since it’s also part of this year’s Pride StoryBundle and because it’s always worth highlighting this wonderful collection of stories exploring diverse pronouns and identities in a speculative fiction setting.

The Rampant by Julie C. Day. This novella is a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards and offers a fresh take on the apocalypse as best friends Emilia and Gillian try to bring about the Sumerian rapture rather than prevent it, while dealing with their own various losses, griefs, and their budding romance. A more detailed review of the novella can be found here.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling. I’ve recommended it before, and I’ll recommend it again – a tense and claustrophobic sci-fi/horror novel, which finds Gyre, a caver, alone on a dangerous expedition with only her handler, Em, for remote support. In addition to being an excellent sci-fi horror novel, the novel provides a fascinating exploration of unreliably characters and power dynamics through the growing attraction between Gyre and Em.

Pet CoverGamechanger by L.X. Beckett is an epic, sweeping sci-fi novel that explores climate disaster and recovery in both the real and virtual worlds, and features a wonderful rivalry to romance relationship. A more detailed review can be found here.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. A powerful YA/Middle Grade novel that explores the concept of monstrosity hidden in plain sight, along with the monstrous nature of angels. Reviewed in more detail here.

Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden. A novel with a richly-built world featuring living generation ships, unforgettable characters, dark secrets and impossible choices. I’ve loved everyone of Drayden’s novels so far and this is no exception.

Homesick: Stories by Nino Cipri. The debut collection from a masterful short fiction writer. You can read my interview with the author here and my review of their collection here.

I could go on and on, but how about some short fiction to mix things up? I do love a good short story, and these are some fantastic ones!

Short Fiction

Familiar Face by Meg Ellison. A haunting short story that explores technology as a means of communicating with ghosts, as well as touching on friendship, loss, and grief.

Clarkesworld Issue 154 CoverForgive Me, My Love, For the Ice and the Sea by C.L. Clark. A gorgeously-written secondary world fantasy where the protagonist is faced with the painful truth that she may have to lose her lover in order to save her.

Rat and Finch Are Friends by Innocent Chizram Ilo. A lovely and bittersweet story of friendship, budding romance, and characters who are forced to hide their true selves in order to survive.

Many-Hearted Dog and Heron Who Stepped Past Time by Alex Yuschik. A beautiful and twisting story of love, loyalty, friendship, time-travel, and sacrifice.

Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart by Sam J. Miller. A story exploring monstrousness through the lens of classic cinema brought to life.

The Devil Squid Apocalypse by Alex Acks. A bad-ass musician helps save the world from invading squid monsters with the power of music. What more could you want from a story?

These are just a few of the many wonderful queer reads out there that can help bulk up your summer reading list. On that note, since one can never have too many recommendations, what are your own favorite queer reads, long or short? Drop them in the comments and share the summer reading love!

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Shiny Shorts: Second Chances and New Perspectives

Here we are coming up on the end of May, which seems hard to believe. At least in this corner of the world, spring is upon us. Flowers are starting to bloom, leaves are getting greener, and everything is  bursting with color and life. At the same time, we’re not quite out of the dark and the world is still in a precarious state. It’s a good time for self-care, and stories and art are exactly that. In that spirit, I offer up five stories mixing melancholy with hope. They are bittersweet and occasionally frightening. They deal with liminal spaces, change, and coming to see things differently. They are about second chances and new perspectives, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Apparition 10 CoverThe Bear Wife by Leah Bobet in Apparition Literary Magazine is a take on the animal bride trope about seeing a person for who they are and not what anyone else expects them to be. Sanchez has been living with Betty Nosemaskwa since July, and now that winter is coming on, things are starting to change. She’s sluggish, slow, and sleeping most of the time. Dishes are piling up, the laundry is going undone, and the locals – something Sanchez is not – have repeatedly suggested the best thing for him to do is steal her bearskin, take control of her, and shape her into a proper bride.

He couldn’t have said when she faded. Between the rolling heat of August and the September leaves, before the snowstorm, she had already retreated to the house, and then two rooms. Before he could trace what had come over her, if it had entered by window or door, she took to her bed and stayed there, and he was here, coping with the remains.

It’s the way most animal bride tales go. A skin is stolen, and one party in the relationship is forced into a shape not their own, made to change to fit the other party’s worldview until something breaks and the whole thing falls apart. Sanchez, however, insists it’s not like that with him and Betty. He puts aside his fear – after all, a bear is a powerful creature that could destroy him – and he puts aside any thought that things could be easier if he followed the locals’ advice. Sure, he could have an “easier” woman, but then that woman wouldn’t be Betty anymore. So he meets her on her terms, instead of dictating his own, caring for Betty and trusting in her and their relationship even as she fully transforms in preparation for her long winter hibernation.

It’s a beautiful, touching, and quiet story, and can – at least to my mind – be read as a metaphor for someone coping with depression, or a neuro-atypical person who under other circumstances might be asked to be the one to bend and fit a neuro-typical world view. The story works perfectly on both levels, as the inversion, or refutation, of the typical animal bride story, and as a push-back against the world asking certain people, generally the most marginalized ones, to change, bend, and confrom, instead of shifting to accomodate them. Whichever way you choose to read the story, it’s a lovely one.

We Are the Flower by Claire Humphrey, a PodCastle original, is a bittersweet ghost story. MC comes across an exact replica of her bike down to the stickers and a tag with her initials on it. Every detail is so much the same that she knows it has to be her bike, despite the fact that she’s currently riding hers, and that the bike in front of her has been painted white and decorated with flowers – a sign that it has been turned into a memorial to commemorate a rider killed in traffic.

That’s what you do when someone dies in a bike accident. You paint their bike white and you set it up where they died. On rural roads people set up roadside crosses. In the city, you make a ghost bike.

That’s what you do when someone in the cycling community, a frequent rider, a bike lane advocate, dies. Someone like me. That’s what you do.

I said it like twelve different ways to myself, and it didn’t feel real.

Only it did feel real, because of some things like how I didn’t really know how I’d come to that corner that day, or where the other version of my bike had gone, or why the fuck I’d turned into a bird.

Once she’s accepted her death, MC is left to figure out why her spirit – occasionally in bird form – is still around. Is she meant to avenge herself, forgive the people in her life who did her wrong, or is there some other unfinished business she’s meant to attend? The anchor point in her post-life, the person she finds herself continually returning to, is her housemate Chris, who’d she’d only just realized she had romantic feelings for right before she died. In fact, she’d been planning to tell Chris as much on the day she died. “We Are the Flower” is both a love story and a ghost story, bitter for the fact that MC and Chris will never get the chance to see how their relationship might have grown, but sweet for the fact that MC is given a chance to see it blossom in a literal sense through one last moment of contact. Chris saw MC truly in life, respected her and understood her in a way no one else did. That ability to see her clearly, and the connection they formed, extends to the ability to see her clearly after death as well, if only for a moment, giving MC the chance to resolve her unfinished business and move on.

Driving with Ghosts by Clara Madrigano in The Dark shares an initial set up with “We Are the Flower” as the protagonist encounters a vehicle that shouldn’t be there, in this case, her grandfather’s Packard Hawk, the car he had when she was young, even though her grandfather is long dead. The car was both a source of joy and pain for Marina; she loved going for rides with her grandfather, but also suffered abuse at his hands while they were alone on the road together – a trauma she has locked away and never shared with anyone.

Many times, while at Penn and, later, in New York, I Googled a particular combination of words: ghosts, cars, loved ones. I never found what I was looking for, an experience exactly like mine, but I found a lot about women and cars. Women who accepted rides from strangers and were never seen again. Women who accepted rides from men they knew and were never seen again. Rides you could book in a serial killer’s car, the real deal; the people who ran the business would even lock you in the car’s trunk so you could live the full experience of the female victims.

Marina sees the car again as an adult as she’s fleeing an abusive relationship with her boyfriend, Mark. There’s a certain lure to the car, and Marina is tempted more than once to accept its invitation and climb into the passenger’s side – whether to confront her grandfather, or merely escape, she isn’t sure. The car becomes the link between Marina’s past and present in more ways than one as she comes to terms with two abusive men in her life and the way they both made her feel powerless. The car, both ghostly and real, reflects the complicated nature of Marina’s relationship with both her abusers, a combination of desire and pain, freedom and captivity, and the way they took her love and used it against her, making her doubt herself and taking away her sense of control. Marina ultimately finds a way through her trauma to reclaim her power, given a chance through this haunting to confont her past and seize the wheel to steer her own destiny.

Fiyah 14 CoverUniform by Errick Nunnally in Fiyah Magazine is an utterly heartbreaking story about a soldier who has essentially become a ghost haunting his own life. In order to help his family, Patrick joined the Marines at age 17, signing over his body to be transformed into a living weapon. Now that the war is over, Patrick is trapped. He can’t go back to the person he used to be, and doesn’t know where he fits in a world that no longer has a “use” for him.

On the street, pedestrians crossed out of his path at their earliest opportunity. A targeting matrix flashed over the scene in front of him, doing the only thing it was good for without a weapons system to command: snapping photos. Faces everywhere captured his attention. He wanted to forget his face, but the longing for that vestige of humanity haunted him with the pre-data memory of what he looked like, who he wanted to be.

Patrick withdraws from his family, and from almost every aspect of daily life, other than occasionally riding the subway in an attempt to connect with some shred of his former self. Everywhere he goes, however, he finds himself feared and reviled by the very people he fought to protect, who now see him as an abomination. Until a little girl grows curious about him and asks whether he’s a robot, giving him a second chance to reconnect with his humanity, moments before a tunnel collapse puts the entire subway in danger.

“Uniform” is simultaneously beautiful and brutal, and absolutely had me tearing up by the end. It’s a story that speaks to trauma, and the way soldiers are made into part of the machinery of war, literally in Patrick’s case. Sometimes, the most painful and terrible aspect of war comes after the fighting, when soliders are asked to return home to a “normal” life when they have had their humanity stripped away in order to become more perfect killers, and then are expected to re-integrate into a society that can see them as nothing but dealers of death and violence. Patrick is insulted, called names, assaulted, and suspected of causing the very accident he seeks to save his fellow passengers from when all he has ever tried to do is protect the people he loves, and it is absolutely wrenching to see him suffering, knowing his situation is all too real. However, there are moments of joy in the story as well as Patrick forms a connection with the little girl on the subway, providing a spark of brightness against the story’s powerful exploration of loss, grief, trauma, othering, duty, sacrifice, and what it means to be human.

Smilers by Chip Houser in Bourbon Penn is an eerie yet surprinsingly poignant zombie story. It’s told from the perspective of Aiden whose older brother Zach is doing his best to protect him from learning the truth about what’s happening to those around him.

Aiden rests his chin on the back of the living room couch, watching his older brother mow down zombies in ZomPlex. The zombies grab at Zach’s avatar, mouths moving like they’re chewing. Aiden’s not sure if they’re supposed to be hungry or angry or both. Their facial expressions don’t match any of the cards from the game he plays on Tuesdays with Ms. Hampton. Zombies don’t make a lot of sense to Aiden, but that’s okay, lots of things don’t make sense to him; he’s barely seven.

Outside of Zach’s game, the zombies in “Smilers” aren’t ravenous flesh-eating monsters. Whatever is affecting people started with the oldest among the population, and it’s steadily working its way down to the youngest, allowing Aiden to stay innocent and oblivious for as long as possible. Instead of turning them into ravening creatures, the transformation turns people into empty, mindless things, esmiling in a way that looks wrong and painful, caught in a loop of whatever they were doing when they changed – whether it’s texting a friend, like the cashier at the corner store, or perpetually reading the same page of a newspaper, like Aiden and Zach’s father.

Aiden reads as neuro-atypical, with his own way of processing emotions and the way people express them. He’s been told that smiling means happy, so if the people around him are smiling, everything must be okay, right? Aiden’s main priority is getting his brother to take him to the pool. He knows he’s not allowed to go alone, and besides sometimes there are bullies. Aiden finds it easier to deal with bullies and the world in general when he’s his true self – safely inside the wolf masks that lets him sneak and howl and be strong and unfraid. It’s a disguise that allows him to see himself more truly, even if others don’t fully understand him.

The relationship between Zach and Aiden is touching, and painful at the same time, as it’s clear to the reader and Zach what’s happening, even if Aiden doesn’t fully realize it. The image of the empty smilers is a truly unsettling one, and there’s a growing sense of dread as the world narrows and the plague closes in. At the same time, there’s a sense that some part of Aiden does know what’s going on, and yet rather than give in to fear, he embraces joy and innocence – his brother’s last gift to him. Rather than bend to the world, he shifts his perspective to see only the good things, like a pool all to himself  and no bullies to stop him jumping off the high dive board over and over again. Rather than letting the world change him, and conforming to its rules, Aiden remains fiercely and fully himself until the very end.

As always, I’d love to hear your own recommendations for short fiction you’ve loved, whether it be old or new. Take care of yourselves, stay healthy, and happy reading!

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Virtual Cons and Readings in May

The world sure as heck looks different these days, doesn’t it? In the midst of all the changes, it’s wonderful to see the creative solutions people are coming up with to stay together, even while far apart. Several SFF conventions and reading series have gone  virtual, including events at The Free Library of Philadelphia, Flights of Foundry, and the Nebula Conference all happening this month. I’ll be participating in the Free Library’s local author reading series, and programming for both conferences, which will also offer virtual social hangouts, dealers rooms, the opportunity for shared meals, and more. It may not be quite the same as getting together in person, but it’s bound to be a lot of fun. I hope to virtually see you there!

Note, all times below are given in Eastern Standard Time (EST) therefore may differ from program schedules on the individual conference websites.

Free Library Reading Series ImageFree Library of Philadelphia Local Author Series – Jon McGoran and A.C. Wise – Friday, May 15 at 7 p.m.

Starting in mid-May, the Free Library of Philadelphia will be Crowdcasting a pair of local authors reading from their work every Friday night at 7 p.m. Jon McGoran and I will be kicking off the series this Friday May 15. Jon will read from his latest YA novel, Spiked, and I will read from my novella Catfish Lullaby. We’d be delighted to have you join us! Links to the reading on Facebook and Crowdcast can be found here.

The Free Library has lots of other virtual programming to offer as well, and the Local Author Reading Series includes upcoming readings by wonderful folks like Fran Wilde, Siobhan Carroll, A.T. Greenblatt, Sally Weiner Grotta, and more.

Flights of Foundry – May 16-17

Flights of Foundry is offering a free (with suggested donation) virtual conference with 24-hour-a-day programming May 16 and 17. I’ll be doing an author reading and moderating two panels. There’s tons of great stuff going on throughout the weekend, including a virtual dealers room, and a virtual con suite with delicious-looking menus. The full programming schedule can be found here and consuite information can be found here. Mmm. Second breakfast.

Author Reading – Saturday, May 16 – 6 p.m – 7 p.m.

I’m planning to read from my upcoming novel, Wendy, Darling, due to be published by Titan Books next year. This will be my first time reading from the novel, which is both exciting and scary. Want a sneak peek at what happened to Wendy after  her adventures with Peter in Neverland? Join me for the very first look at my debut novel!

Building Characters – Sunday, May 17 – 12 p.m. – 1 p.m.
Ken Liu, Rachel Hartman, S.L. Huang, Suzanne Walker, A.C. Wise (moderator)

You have your plot, you’ve built your world, but what about your characters? Authors share their tips, tricks, and process for building well-rounded characters in both short and long fiction. Panelists will discuss how they go about creating engaging protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters whose stories readers care about.

Queer Representation in YA – Sunday, May 17 – 3 p.m. – 4p.m.
Marieke Nijkamp, Rosiee Thor, Suzanne Walker, Trace Kerr, A.C. Wise (moderator)

YA is a booming genre, but is everyone getting the chance to see their own experiences reflected in the stories being told? How do we help younger readers find queer content? Join panelists for a discussion of queer representation in YA – who is doing it well, what are the best resources for finding queer YA, and what stories aren’t being told yet that we want to see more of in books for young adults?

Nebula Conference 2020 BannerNebula Conference – May 29 – 31

The Nebula Conference organized by the Science Fiction Writers of America is a professional conference offering panels, workshops, mentoring, networking ,and socializing. It’s also where the Nebula Awards are presented each year. I’ll be taking part in the conference as a panelist, and in the awards ceremony as a finalist. I’ve updated this post with my schedule below. The full schedule of events can be found here. It’s going to be a fantastic conference. I can’t wait!

Nebula Awards Ceremony – Saturday, May 30 – 8 p.m.

Forming and Sustaining a Successful Writing Group or Critique Group – Sunday, May 31 – 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Rebecca Gomez Farrell (moderator), A.T. Greenblatt, A.C. Wise, Vylar Kaftan, and Curtis Chen

Writing is often a solitary endeavor–and with the current pandemic, it has become even more so. Writing and critique groups don’t eliminate the aspects of writing that can only be done solo, but a good group can serve as both a social support net as well as providing trusted feedback. The panelists will discuss the factors that go into building a successful group, both online and in-person, and what they’ve learned about keeping one going.

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Lisette of the Raven Review

Lisette of the Raven, Ash of the Rook by Suzanne J. Willis is part of the Broken Cities line published by Falstaff Books. Each story, novel, or novella is a stand-alone, but occupies a shared universe. Lisette of the Raven, Ash of he Rook was published last September, and the author was kind enough to send me a copy for review.

Lisette of the Raven CoverLisette comes from a long line of executioners. She has always known it is her destiny to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and the footsteps of all the other women in the family who came before her. However, at thirteen years old, Lisette is losing her hearing, leaving her unable to do a vital part of the executioner’s job – hear the condemned’s last confession. She tries to hide the truth from her mother, but her mother finds out and apprentices Lisette to an echo-catcher, setting her on a different path. During one of the last executions Lisette assists her mother with, one of the condemned delivers an ominous warning: The mothers are coming.

Seven years later, Lisette is still part of the cycle of life and death, gathering the last remaining echoes of the condemned and sending them through the labyrinth gate and into the next world. She has her raven companions, and she is content in her work, but one day a rook made of ash comes to Lisette with a message from a nearby charcoal burner’s camp. Obeying the rook’s summons, Lisette meets Gem, a young man who asks for her help with some mysterious branches he removed from the labyrinth and burned without realizing how dangerous they were. Soon after meeting Gem, a woman appears wearing a cloak of raven feathers, raising children made of ash from the remains of Gem’s fire. She is one of the mothers Lisette was warned of years ago, seeking justice for her lost children, and Lisette and Gem soon find themselves tangled up in her quest for vengeance and fighting for their lives.

The woman wandered–no slithered–around the camp, bending to sniff at the food bowls and passing her hands through the flame. Everything she touched froze, so that even the flame and smoke became delicate sculptures of themselves.

Even at novella length, Willis manages to infuse this story with an epic feel. The world is lush and gorgeously described, and one of the main joys here is simply reveling in the beautiful prose. The novella is a visual feast, with a highly cinematic quality, leaving it easy to imagine the magical world unfolding on every page. Another of the story’s highlights is Lisette’s relationship with her ravens, particularly Julio, her closest companion. The way they communicate, trust, and protect each other is lovely. As animal companions in fantasy go, birds are more frequently associated with villains, acting as aloof and threatening omens, but Julio shows the affectionate and brilliant side of corvidae. There’s some nice exploration of loss, destiny versus freedom, and a reminder to look beneath the surface as things aren’t always what they seem towards the end of the novella. Overall, Lisette of the Raven, Ash of the Rook is a quick, but satisfying high fantasy read.

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