WorldCon/DisCon III

The 79th World Science Fiction Convention (aka WorldCon, aka DisCon III, aka the Hugo Awards Weekend) is coming up next month. Programming will be both virtual and in-person, and barring any disaster I plan to be there in-person and participating in said programming. Here’s a schedule of where I’ll be throughout the weekend.

Author Reading – Thursday, December 16 at 1pm – Capitol Room

I will be reading along with Chris Panatier. I haven’t decided exactly what I’ll be reading yet, but I do intend to come well-supplied with chocolate!

Autograph Session – Thursday, December 16 at 2pm – SFWA Table/Dealer’s Room

I’ll be hanging out at the SFWA Table in the Dealer’s Room immediately following my reading to sign stuff in case anyone has stuff they want signed! Brenda Clough will be signing at the same time – come say hi to us!

Reviewing: Widely or Deeply? – Thursday, December 16 at 4pm – Virtual

Arley Sorg; Karlo Yeager Rodriguez (M); Jake Casella Brookins; Gary K Wolfe; Penelope Flynn; A.C. Wise

Presented with all of SFF to review, how does a reviewer determine their beat? Should they read widely, and address work as a knowledgeable generalist, or read deeply within their specialty, and bring that specialty to bear? Reviewers will discuss their practices of how they choose what to review or not to review, their path to their current specialty, if any, and their intentions for future work.

Holding Superheroes Accountable – Friday, December 17 at 11:30am – Empire Ballroom

Brenda W. Clough; James Bacon; Jenn Lyons; A.C. Wise (M); Peter Adrian Behravesh; Hildy Silverman

For superheroes to feel heroic, we want them to fight evil while remaining above the moral fray. But in many comics and comic book films, superheroes cross moral lines. How do we ethically evaluate heroes who act immorally, like Batman torturing villains, Wanda holding an entire town hostage, or Wonder Woman sexually assaulting a mind-controlled bystander? How can we talk about these stories in a way that holds heroes accountable for their immoral actions?

Short Fiction, Expanded – Saturday, December 18 at 11:30am – Diplomat Ballroom

Dana L. Little; Jenny Rae Rappaport; Michael Swanwick; A.C. Wise (M); Sarah Pinsker

Sometimes an excellent short story or novella demands to be fleshed out and republished as a novel. How can you do this successfully, and what are some of the pitfalls to avoid? When is the expansion an enhancement, and when is it just a marketing necessity?

Worldbuilding in Speculative Horror – Saturday, December 18 at 1pm – Virtual

Erika T. Wurth; Nino Cipri; A.C. Wise (M); Usman T. Malik; L. Marie Wood; KD Edwards

A horror setting generally starts with a safe and familiar world, and then introduces strange and frightening elements. But what if you don’t want to use the real world as your setting? How do you construct a horror novel that takes place in an entirely speculative world? What techniques can make the unfamiliar a safe starting point on which to build your horror?

Why Won’t You Stay Dead?!? – Saturday, December 18 at 5:30pm – Forum Room

Carrie Vaughn; Jennifer R. Povey; Jenny Rae Rappaport; A.C. Wise (M); Mari Ness; AJ Odasso; Ada Palmer

Characters have come back from the dead so often in superhero comics that it’s become a running joke, sometimes cheapening the impact of the death in the story. Creators have come up with a wide variety of tricks to resurrect or otherwise return “dead” characters to life. Is it just lazy storytelling, editorial decisions driven by commercial reasons, or is it something inherent to the storytelling form and round-robin method of collaborative authorship of comics?

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Awards Eligibility 2021

Tis the season! I’ve been gathering links from author others, editors, and publishers listing their award-eligible work published in 2021 for my annual Eligibility and Recommendations Link Post. Sometime next month, I’ll be putting together posts of my favorite reads of the year. But for now, I’ve put together a list of my own award-eligible work for the year. These works are eligible for all the usual awards (Hugo, Nebula, Stoker, etc.) in the categories noted below.

Novel

Wendy Darling CoverWendy, Darling, my debut(!) novel was published by Titan Books in June 2021. It’s a dark, feminist re-imagining of the aftermath of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, picking up with Wendy Darling as an adult with a daughter of her own.

There is a boy outside her daughter’s window.

Wendy feels it, like a trickle of starlight whispering in through a gap, a change in the very pressure and composition of the air. She knows, as sure as her own blood and bones, and the knowledge sends her running. Her hairbrush clatters to the floor in her wake; her bare feet fly over carpeted runners and slap wooden floorboards, past her husband’s room and to her daughter’s door.

It is not just any boy, it’s the boy. Peter.

When Peter unexpectedly reappears in Wendy’s life and kidnaps her daughter, Jane, Wendy must return to Neverland to rescue her, confront Peter, and reckon with her traumatic past. The story includes themes of found family, PTSD, queer relationships, mothers and daughter, and just how unsettling the idea of a boy who refuses to grow up is when you really think about it.

Collection

The Ghost Sequences is my third short story collection, released in October 2021 from Undertow Publications. As the name implies, this collection leans toward horror and dark fiction, with stories focused on ghosts and hauntings. The collection includes reprints and an original novelette, The Nag Bride. The collection received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.

Novelette

The Ghost Sequences CoverThe Nag Bride is an original novelette included in my collection, The Ghost Sequences. It centers on a young woman who must face her family history of violence when an ancient haunt returns to stalk her and her childhood best friend.

Weld marks cross the iron like ragged scars, and beneath the horseshoes there’s a folded piece of paper. Dirt sifts loose, trapped in its creases, as Sophie draws it out and unfolds it.

Detailed drawings of hands and feet cover the page. Her father trained as an artist – he’d met her mother at art school, where she was studying to be a sculptor. He’d even worked in medical illustration for a while, but together, Sophie’s parents fed into each other’s self-destructive habits, their talent squandered, uninterested in pursuing their art anymore and doing just enough work to pay for the next round of drinks, the next fix of their current chosen drug.

But even unused, Sophie’s father had retained his skill and Sophie has no doubt these drawings are his. Long-fingered hands and long-toed feet, a woman’s face, the skin flayed on one side to show the delicate bones of a horse’s skull. A woman’s hand splayed, the tips of each finger anchored with nails to a horseshoe.

At the very bottom of the page there are words: This is how the Nag Bride is wed.

Short Fiction

Apex Magazine CoverThe Amazing Exploding Women of the Early Twentieth Century was published in Apex Magazine in March 2021. Two actresses from the early days of silent trick films harness their inhuman powers to take control of their destinies.

Mary Catherine freezes. The reel flickers to life and a woman swirls across the screen in her lover’s arms, all dark curls and smoke-lined eyes, and the space behind Mary Catherine’s breastbone stutters. A shout of warning lodges in Mary Catherine’s throat. She’s halfway to reaching for the screen, as if she could save the woman who is far too lovely to burn. But her beau dances her backward and flames scale the woman’s dress, little hands and hungry mouths framing her face and her open, silent mouth, as prettily as her curls.

Jenny Come Up the Well published at PodCastle in April 2021 features a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality while being hunted by a preacher named Brother Justin who has dark powers capable of erasing her and those like her from existence.

I made the mistake of looking up, and the glittering black pins of Brother Justin’s eyes caught me. I’d never experienced anything remotely like drowning, but looking at Brother Justin was what I imagined it would feel like — the world narrowing to a terrible point, my chest crushed with pressure, everything in me screaming for breath I was unable to draw.

This Height and Fiery Speed included in the anthology Prisms from PS Publishing is a take on Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo. After a man has a strange encounter on an airplane, his sense of identity and reality begins to break down.

His eyes adjusted to the dimmed lights. All around him, passengers had their tray tables down, eating meals that gleamed wet and red. His stomach lurched and the plane followed it, going into free fall. Alan couldn’t gather enough breath to scream. Something had him by the shoulders, lifting him from his seat and he kicked violently.

“I should have died in the woods that day,” the man in the seat next to him said.

Bourbon Penn CoverThe Hunt at Rotherdam published in Bourbon Penn is my take on the Gothic trope of the woman in the attic as a group of men – including one unwilling protagonist – gather at an ancestral estate for a very unusual hunt.

I was spared the need to reply when the bell rang announcing dinner. Course after course appeared, all meat, bleeding and on the edge of raw. My stomach twisted. I watched our hostess, who had perfected the art of moving food about her plate to suggest consumption, though I never once saw her put a morsel to her lips.

I could not deny her loveliness, but nor could I deny the eerie, otherworldly quality to her beauty. Her black curls were perfectly coiffed, her dark clothing chosen to blend with Rotherdam’s walls, features sculpted from wilder stuff to match some Platonic ideal. Ropes of jet beads dripped from her throat and ears, and two thick, silver cuffs circled either wrist. I thought of chains.

How to Find Yourself in a Fairy Tale published in Daily Science Fiction is a flash fiction piece drawing on fairy tale imagery and rules that examines the length people are willing to go to in order to get what they want and what happens when they actually get what they believed to be their heart’s desire.

Find your way into the woods. Find yourself a bird. For best results it should be a turtle or mourning dove. Stick to the path. This part is important: do not stray. Be bold. Be bold as you can. Pluck every feather until the bird’s skin is pale and smooth as a newborn child’s. Break the bird’s wings–every single fragile bone one by one. Children come into this world helpless, after all. You may choose to blunt the beak, or remove it entirely. That part is up to you. Remember–this is a fairy tale, choices have consequences.

Tips for Living Out of Synch for the Frequent Time Traveler podcast at Simultaneous Times is another flash piece examining the perils and complications of time travel.

At least once in your journeying, you will find the people who matter the most in your life don’t know you yet. From their perspective, you haven’t met, and they will be reluctant to trust you. They may even think you unhinged when you, in turn, tell them that you trust them with your life and they are the only ones who can help you.

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Review: The Annual Migration of Clouds

The Annual Migration of Clouds CoverECW Press was kind enough to send me a copy of Premee Mohamed’s The Annual Migration of Clouds, and let me tell you, I was thrilled that they did, since it was already on my must-read list for the year. I’m a big fan of Mohamed’s work, and this latest novella did not disappoint!

You don’t name it; you don’t give it a name either. They must have names for each other. I don’t know what mine calls itself and if it told me, I would try to forget, I swear I would.

Set in a post climate-disaster world, the novella opens with Reid receiving a coveted letter from Howse University in one of the domes, a near-magical place no one has ever come back from, but which promises a better life. She’s thrilled at first, until her mother begins to sow seeds of doubt in her mind – what if the university isn’t real, what if it’s only a scam, what will their neighborhood do without her.

Reid is already torn, plagued with guilt over leaving her mother behind and the thought of the extra work that will be pushed off onto her neighbors and friends. Their life is already one of scarcity and scraping by, and making matter worse, Reid and her mother both have a genetic disease known as Cad, a kind of parasitic, symbiotic creature living inside them that could go off at any minute, causing them to die in horrible pain.

The thing is of me, does not belong to me. Is its own thing. Speaks its own tongue. A semi-sapient fungus scribbling across my skin and the skin of my ancestors in crayon colors, turquoise, viridian, cerulean, pine.

Reid worries what will happen to her mother when she’s gone. She worries what will happen to her neighbors. She worries what will happen to herself. Reid’s best friend Henryk encourages her to go, as do several others. She wants to go, but that doesn’t stop her fear or her guilt. When a group of hunters offers Reid the opportunity to join them in bringing down wild boar, she sees her chance. If she’s successful in the hunt, Reid can leave her mother set-up with a nest egg in meat for trade before she goes. Hunting boar is dangerous however, and Reid knows the Cad inside her will go to great lengths to protect its host.

Pack of demons. Sulphur breath. Cloven as the devil. Calm down, quick: the invader in me cannot see what is happening, it only knows to respond to my fear.

The novella is beautifully-written in its exploration of environmental disaster, community, and complicated family relationships. Mohamed does a wonderful job of paralleling the Cad Reid inherits from her mother with the fears and guilt her mother passes down in a passive-aggressive fashion. Her mother accuses Reid of being selfish, and instead of being happy for Reid and trusting her, she lets her own selfish fears of being alone manifest in trying to guilt Reid into staying. There are hints at some underlying jealously in their relationship, even in the midst of the love. Some element of Reid’s mother seems to want to hold her back, resenting that she may have the opportunity for a better life when she herself never had that chance. The near-paralyzing fear Reid’s mother tries to infect her with is mirrored in the way the Cad literally freezes Reid when Hen is threatened by wild dogs and she wants to help him – both cause her pain in order to keep her safe, which is ultimately a means of protecting themselves.

Mohamed strikes a delicate balance in showing a family relationship which could be toxic or genuinely loving, symbiotic or parasitic. The question of whether Howse University is real is left open, underlining that life is complicated and full of risk and unknowns. The decisions Reid and her community face aren’t easy, and there’s always a chance of someone getting hurt, but should that stop them from living their lives and taking their chances on a better future? There is a comfort in the idea of sticking to tradition and what is known, over forging a new path through the world. Again, the fact that the disease is hereditary speaks in its own way to the idea of parents wanting what is best for their children, but smothering them in their efforts to protect them, versus children wanting to live their own lives and being forced to rebel in hurtful ways in order to do so.

The Annual Migration of Clouds does an excellent job of exploring all of this, and does an excellent job with all the relationships in the community as well. It’s a plausible imagining of post-collapse society and the way humanity has a tendency to survive and find ways to carry on.

In closing, I also have to call out the fact that this book is absolutely stunning as a physical object. There’s a silky, textured feel to the cover, and the cover art by Veronica Park is gorgeous and just keeps getting better the longer you look at it. The design is echoed throughout the book with the interior illustration that heads each chapter. If you like books-as-objects, this is another one that I recommend grabbing in hard copy.

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What Have You Done, What Have You Loved? 2021

Hello, lovelies! I can hardly believe it, but we’re almost at year-end, which makes it the perfect time to look back on what we accomplished and the things that we loved. As I’ve been doing for several years now, I am once again compiling links to author/editor/publication eligibility posts, year-in-review posts, year’s best lists, and general reviews and resources. These posts serve several purposes – to help those who nominate works for awards to remember what eligible works have come out during the year and what category they fall into; to help readers find work they might have missed and might love; and for creators to reflect on the amazing things they accomplished over the year. If you are an author, editor, publisher, artist, poet, etc., I highly recommend making a post of your own, and if you do, please let me know! I’ll be putting together my own lists of my favorites of the year, along with what I published, at some point as well.

I’ve divided the post into a few hopefully helpful categories, and I will continue to update with new links as I receive them. Please do spread the word, tag me with your posts on twitter (@ac_wise), drop me an email at a.c.wise@hotmail.com, or drop links in the comments. I look forward to seeing what you made this year and what work you loved!

Note: Cat Rambo maintains a similar list, and they were kind enough to set up a webform to gather information for our posts. Please feel free to use the form as well and that will get both of us your information.

nullEligibility Posts

Links to authors/editors/publishers posting their award-eligible work, organized alphabetically. (** denotes an author eligible for the Astounding Award.)

Ajeigbe, Oluwatomwia

Alexander, Phoenix

Allen, B. Morris

Allen, Skye

Anderson, G.V.

Appel, John

Argentino, Joe

Arthurs, Bruce

Bailton, Adria

Bangs, Elly

Barb, Patrick

Barber, Jenny

Barrant Klein, Annika**

Bartles, Jason

Becard, Avery

Beckett, L.X.

Bell, E.D.E.

Bernardo, Renan

Bhatia, Gautam**

Blackwell, Laura

Bleu, Gabrielle

Booth, Die

Bradley, Lisa M.

Brewer, Steven D.

Brothers, Laurence Raphael

Buchanan, Andi

Burton, Rebecca**

Cahill, Martin

Calabria, Erin

Campbell, Chris

Chan, Grace**

Chand, Priya

Chng, Joyce

Chronister, Kay

Chrostek, John

Clark, C.L.

Clarke, Jeannine

Cleveland, Kristin


Cobbe, Elizabeth

Coleman, Kel**

Cornetto, Holley

Cossmass Infinities

Costello, Rob

Crighton, Katherine

Criley, Marc A.

Crilly, Brandon

Croal, Lyndsey

Czerneda, Julie

de Anda, Victor

de Haan, Laura

de Winter, Gunnar

Daley, Ray

Damken, Maggie

Dandenell, Karl

Das, Indrapramit

Datlow, Ellen

Day, Sarah**

Deeds, Marion

Demchuk, David

Dewes, J.S.

Dheada, Shiksha

Dila, Dilman

Donohue, Jennifer R.

Doocy, Maiga

Dotson, J. Dianne

Dunato, Jelena

Ekpeki, Oghenechovwe Donald

Farrenkopf, Corey

Feistner, Victoria

Felapton, Camestros

Fields, C.M.

Fogg, Vanessa

Forest, Elizabeth

Forrest, Francesca

Fox, Emily

Francia, Kate**

Fullerton, HL

Garcia, Rhonda J.

Key, Justin C.

Garcia Ley, K.

Garcia-Rosas, Nelly Geraldine

Gardner, Benjamin

Genova, Barbara

George, JL

Goldfuss, A.L.**

Grauer, Alyson

Greenblatt, A.T.

Ha, Thomas

Haber, Elad

Harn, Darby

Haskins, Maria

Haynes, Michael

Heijndermans, Joachim

Heike, Sylvia

Henry, Veronica G.

Hewitt, Alexander

Houser, Chip

Howell, A.P.

Hudak, Jennifer

Hughes, Louise

Hugo Eligibility Database

Iriarte, José Pablo

Jain, Sid**

Jiang, Ai

Jones, Shelly

Kasley, Vivian R.

Reading by LamplightKatsuyama, Umiyuri

Katz, Gwen C.

Keane, Paula

Khalid, Kehkashan

Khanna, Rajan

Kiggins, Mike

Kim, Isabelle J.

Kimbriel, K.E.

Kindred, LP

King, Scott

Kinney, Benjamin C.

Kobb, Shawn

Koch, Joanna

Kornher-Stace, Nicole

Kraner, Steph

Krishnan, M.L.

Kuhn, M.J.

Kulski, K.P.

Kurella, Jordan

LaFaro, Brennan

Laban, Monique

Lasser, John

Lavinge, C.J.**

Lee, PH

Leitch, Stina

Lévai, Jessica**

Lewis, L.D.

Lin, Monte

Louise, A.Z.

Low, P.H.**

Lowd, Mary E.

Lu, Lark Morgan

Luiz, Dante

McCarthy, J.A.W.

McConvey, J.R.

McGill, C.E.

McLeod, Lindz**

Madden, Anna

Madrigano, Clara

Magariti, Avra

Malik, Usman T.

Mamatas, Nick

Manney, PJ

Manusos, Lyndsie

Mehrotra, Rati

Miles, Jo

Miller, Janna

Mingault, Reed**

Mohamed, Premee

Moher, Aidan

Moore, L.H.

Moore, Nancy Jane

Mudie, Timothy

Murray, Meg

Napier, Kali

Navarette Diaz, Tato

Nason, Derek

Neugebauer, Annie

Nikel, Wendy

Ning, Leah**

Nirav, Hanna A.

Nogle, Christi

Ogundiran, Tobi

Othenin-Girard, Léon

Palumbo, Suzan

Pauling, Sarah

Payseur, Charles

Pearce, C.H.

Pichette, Marisca

Picknard, Mikyuki Jane

Pinsker, Sarah

Piper, Hailey

Psfetakis, Victor

Povanda, Jared

Queen of Swords Press

Sybil ReadingRajotte, Mary

Rambo, Cat

Ratnakar, Arula

Reynolds, Jeff

Ring, Lauren**

Rose, Christopher

Royce, Eden

St. George, Carlie

Salcedo, Sarah

Sand, R.P.**

Sayre, A.T.

Schrater, Maria

Sehgal, Divyansha

Seiberg, Effie

Seidel, Alexandra

Serrano, Arturo

Shirey, Austin

Shiveley, Jordan

Singh, Amal

Smith, Chloe

Space Cowboy Books

Speculatively Queer

Stanley, Nelson

Stelliform Press

Stemple, Adam

Stephens, Elise

Stewart, Andy

Stuart, Julian

Sutherland, K.A.

Taft, Eve

Talabi, Wole

Tales from the Trunk

Taylor, Jordan

Ten, Kristina

Thayer, A.P.

Thomas, Richard

Ticknor, M. Elizabeth

Tighe, Matt

Toase, Steve

Tobler, E. Catherine

Tordotcom Short Fiction and Books

Treasure, Rebecca E.**

Triantafyllou, Eugenia

Tsamaase, Tlotlo

Uncanny Magazine

Undertow Books

Van Alst, Jr., Theodore C.

Vaishnav, Minoti

Victoria, Ricardo

Wade, Juliette

Ward, Caias

Ward, Antonia Rachel

Wasserstein, Izzy

Wellington, Joelle

White, Gordon B.

Wigmore, Rem

Wilde, Fran

Willsey, Kristiana

Wilson, Lorraine

Wiswell, John

Wolverton, Nicole M.

Yates, April

Yates, Pauline

Yeager Rodriguez, Karlo

Yoachim, Caroline M.

Young, Eris

Zerby, Christopher

Favorites/Recommendation Lists

What did reviewers love this year? What books are your peers seriously digging? Click through the links below to find various recommended reading lists and various best of the year lists.

Amazon’s Best Books of 2021

Barnes & Noble Book of the Year Finalists

Die Booth Recommended Reading List

A.P. Howell Recommended Reading Thread

José Pablo Iriarte Recommended Reading Thread

Kirkus Best SFF of the Year

Library Journal Best Books of 2021

Nebula Recommended Reading List

NPR Favorite Speculative Fiction Books of 2021

NYPL Best Books for Adults 2021

NYT Best Books of 2021

Oprah Daily Favorite Books of 2021

Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2021

Lauren Ring Recommendation Thread

Shelf Awareness Favorite Books of 2021

Stoker Recommended Reading List

Time’s 100 Must Read Books of 2021

Waterstones Best Books of the Year Shortlist

Review Sites and Resources

Looking for yet more recommendations of things to read? The links below will help you find reviews, news, interviews, and more!

Lady Business

Lightspeed Magazine Reviews

Locus Magazine

Maria’s Reading

Nerds of a Feather

Nightmare Magazine Reviews

Quick Sip Reviews

Strange Horizons Fiction Reviews

Tor.com

Vanessa Fogg’s It’s a Jumble

Award Info

What awards are out there? Who can nominate works? What are the various deadlines? The links below may help answer your questions!

BSFA Awards – Nomination period for BSFA members is current open! Crowd-sourced suggestions and recommendations can be added to BSFA’s open spread-sheet by anyone.

Hugo Awards

Nebula Awards

Science Fiction Awards Database

Stoker Awards

 

Image Credits:

Girl Reading, Artist/Maker Unknown, c. 1932, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Reading by Lamplight, Wanda Gág, c. 1927, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Sybil Reading, Attributed to Ugo da Carpi, c. 1517-18, Philadelphia Museum of Art

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World Fantasy Convention Montreal

After much back and forth, giving up, cancelling plans, and re-making plans, I will actually be at the World Fantasy Convention in Montreal in person! Unless something dramatic happens between now and the weekend, of course, but otherwise, I will be there Friday and Saturday and looking forward to seeing other folks who are attending in person. I have two programming items scheduled, so if you happen to be there as well, here is where you can find me!

Reading – Friday – 5:30 p.m. – Outremont 5

My current plan is to read an excerpt from Hooked, which is coming out next year. This will be my first time reading any part of it aloud for other humans, so if you’re into exclusive sneak previews, come join me!

The Power of Speculative Non-Fiction Essays – Saturday – 5p.m. – Virtual
Eugen Bacon, A.C. Wise, F. Brett Cox, Sean Dowey, Angela Keely (M)

We’ll be discussing non-fiction essays and their contribution to the genre. Hope to see you there!

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Review: Shadow Atlas

Shadow Atlas CoverShadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas edited by Carina Bissett, Hillary Dodge, and Joshua Viola is forthcoming from Hex Publishers at the end of November. They were kind enough to send me an advance copy, and let me say first off, this books is really wonderful as a physical object. If you’re the sort of person who likes books-as-objects, then I definitely recommend snagging a print copy of this one. The conceit of the anthology is that it collects various legends and hidden histories from across the Americas. These documents, gathered by the Umbra Arca Society, include case files, illustrations from agents in the field, and even blank pages for readers to contribute their own notes and thoughts to the titular Shadow Atlas. The cover wrap under the dust jacket is even designed to look like a leather-bound tome, complete with a mysterious clasp, which may or may not open of its own accord.

Authors contributing to the volume include Gwendolyn Kiste, Josh Malerman, Julia Rios, E. Lily Yu, and Kay Chronister, among many others. Interspersed among the stories and poems there are also snippets of history and maps in addition to the above-mentioned illustrations, case notes, and blank journal pages. Even when the stories themselves get dark, the anthology’s design is light-hearted and fun, and it’s a pleasure to flip through its pages.

While many of the stories draw on existing mythologies and legends, others rely on a more personal kind of mythology, or weird and inexplicable happenings encountered by one or two people. I’m a sucker for hidden histories, mythology, and folktales, and this loose theme gives authors a wide field to play with. A few of the stories really stood out to me, and they are highlighted below.

Moon-Eyed Women by Kay Chronister is the story of a Welsh immigrant living in America whose father has arranged for him to have a true Welsh bride. The moon-eyed women of the title are rumored to be descendants of the mythological Madoc, though descendant is a tricky term in this case as the women are constructed in the model of Blodeudwedd of Welsh myth who was built out of flower petals by the magicians Math and Gwydion.

Deep in the honeymoon passion, Roderick overlooks his new wife’s faults. He toils without complaint, taking on both his own labor and what should rightfully be hers: the cooking and the milking of the new cow, the gathering of the firewood. Seeing his Blodeuwedd flinch from the sun, he holds his tongue, thinks tenderly on the underground hollow where she waited all her life to belong to him.

Chronister’s eerie tale explores the dark side of what it might mean to belong to someone, and to have someone belong to you, as well as exploring the idea of purity. It also follows the implications of what it means to have compliant, constructed wife to a logical and unsettling conclusion.

Things to Do in Playland When You’re Dead by Gwendolyn Kiste is an ode to the past, where the America-that-was is in itself a ghost. The story nests haunting upon haunting, but these hauntings are more melancholy than frightening as a ghost wanders through the soon-to-be closed Playland exploring its fading glory, contemplating San Francisco’s history, and searching for their purpose in the afterlife.

At the front window, you meet Laffing Sal, who always lives up to her name. She’s the giant animatronic clown that never stops smiling, her wide eyes staring out through the glass. It doesn’t matter where you are in the park–nobody can ever escape the sound of that laugh. It follows your every step.

There is a sense of nostalgia to the story, but it also reckons with the darker side of San Francisco’s history – its earthquakes, its murders, its overdoses, and its heartbreak. Kiste strikes just the right balance of sorrow and hope in this short yet satisfying tale.

You Ought Not Smile As You Walk These Woods by Annie Neugebauer caused me to wonder whether a story can be simultaneously cute and horrifying. This one certainly feels like it strikes that balance with its dark sense of humor and a classic (in the violent and bloody sense) fairy tale feel. A grandson goes to visit his grandmother and isn’t wise enough to heed her advice. Being the typical arrogant, greedy, and not too bright youth of fairy tales, he steals what he shouldn’t and even though he tries to gift what he steals to his grandmother out of kindness, the results are still horrifying.

The man smiled, nodding, and promised her that he would not show his teeth, even though he knew that the fairies of East Texas are scavengers and opportunistic carnivores. The small flying mammals posed no threat to a big strong, young man such as himself.

Like all good fairy tales, this one comes with a moral: Always listen to your elders, respect nature, and never think you’re cleverer than a fairy – especially one with a fondness for teeth.

Xtabay by Julia Rios presents readers with a series of stories nested within stories, evoking mythology, urban legends, and ghostly tales. A young girl grapples with her family history, in particular the history of her Mexican father who spent his life desperately trying to fit in and be something he wasn’t. As a young man, his cousin constantly teased him about his virginity, which led to an unwise relationship with a mysterious girl. Rather than doing what he knew in his heart to be right, he allowed himself to give into pressure, resulting in tragedy and a curse that followed him for the rest of his life.

“I don’t care that you’re sorry,” said the girl. “He deserved to die. And so do all like him! And you? I curse your oppressor heart a thousand times! May you always find that the harder you try to be one of them, the more you will feel your own heart being devoured! And when it happens again, remember me.”

The story deftly explores themes of racism, class, and the expectations society places on men vs. women, where women must remain pure, while men are mocked for not making sexual “conquests”. Rios shows the way these gendered expectations tie back to issues of class, race, and colonization with the idea that lower-class women are expendable and good enough to fuck, but not worthy of marriage, and showing how constantly trying to fit into someone else’s image of what and who you should be slowly erodes you from the inside out.

Blood Sisters by Christa Wojciechowski weaves together personal mythology and local legends as a pair of childhood friends travel to Columbia on a last girls trip before one of them gets married. Tina is afraid of things changing and brings Beats to a supposedly cursed mountain where standing at the top as an unmarried person dooms you to always to be alone. On their last night in Columbia, they go drinking with two local men, one of whom reveals the mountain’s nature to Beats, and thus also reveals Tina’s betrayal.

Since seventh grade, Beats and I were one soul in two bodies. Her freckled limbs–the scar on her right knee from falling on my driveway–were as familiar as my own. My voice came out as hers. The smell of her body, dryer sheets mixed with the funk of her greasy old shepherd, was my smell. Our periods were always in synch.

The story realistically captures the way friendships can drift apart as people grow, from a time in your life where you know everything about the other person and they’re you’re entire world, to a time where you just exchange emails occasionally, and how scary that transition can be. It’s not about a friendship breaking or anything dramatic happening, simply the way things change over time. Tina’s feelings of jealously feel very real and grounded, as does her fear of change leading to destructive behavior. The story also offers an interesting exploration of belief and the power it has over people. Sometimes simply knowing about a supposed curse is enough to bring it about, whether the curse is “real” in any objective sense or not.

Keep an eye out for this anthology when it releases at the end of the November, and if it sounds like it’s up your alley, consider pre-ordering it now!

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Capclave 2021

Capclave is coming up the weekend of October 1-3. It’s being held in person this year, which is both a weird feeling – the return to in-person cons! – and exciting as I’m really looking forward to seeing several people I haven’t seen in far too long.

The tentative schedule is up on the convention website, so this is where you should be able to find me throughout the weekend.

Saturday 12:30 pm – Author Reading – Monroe

I haven’t fully decided what I’ll be reading yet. An excerpt from Wendy, Darling? Something from The Ghost Sequences? Something else entirely new? You’ll just have to show up to find out! I will quite possibly have chocolate with me to bribe/thank you if you do.

Saturday 2:00 pm – All Writing is Political – Truman

Participants: Natalie Luhrs, Michael Swanwick, Caias Ward, Joy Ward, A.C. Wise (M)

Some critics say SF, Fantasy, and Comics have become too political. Has there been a change in the political content from the days of Brave New World, 1984, and Starship Troopers? Should entertainment be free from politics? Is it even possible? When something claims to be apolitical, what is it actually supporting? How can we be more conscious of the political implications of our own work?

Saturday 3:00 pm – Ghost Stories – Truman

Participants: Tom Doyle, Dina Leacock, Darrell Schweitzer (M), Michael Swanwick, A.C. Wise

Humans have been telling ghost stories since the first campfire. Peter S. Beagle has ghosts in ‘A Fine and Private Place’ and ‘Tamsin’. What is so attractive about ghosts? How are ghosts used in fiction – both in scary stories and non-horror fantasies? Are ghosts more important in cultures with religions focused on the afterlife? What are some of the best ghost stories in fiction? Do you believe in ghosts and if so why?

Sunday 1:00 pm – Twice Upon a Time – Revisiting Classic Tales – Washington Theater

Participants: Leah Cypess, Mark Huston, Jean Marie Ward, A.C. Wise

Disney was not the first to redo fairy tales. As part of an oral tradition, they were never static but were altered by every storyteller. Re-tellers have remixed archetypes and traditional elements down to the present day. So how can writers give new life to these old stories? How can they preserve the archtypes while providing fresh insight into familiar stories? And, given that everyone knows how the original stories went, what can authors do to make their version stand out?

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Review: Wild Time

Wild Time CoverWild Time by Rose Biggin and Keir Cooper (who were kind enough to provide me with a review copy) is a charming re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The story focuses primarily on the fairies and the company of players as they make their own respective preparations for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Though the setting remains ancient Athens, where gods and magic are very much real, Biggin and Cooper give the novel a more contemporary voice that leads to a timeless feel.

Titania looked at the Changeling, who was waiting calmly, hands on his hips and looking very casual. There was a confidence to his shoulders, and his body was as smooth as if it had been newly polished. He wore a piece of cotton, delicately printed, that bared his hips, and at some point one of the fairies had picked a red flower and placed it lovingly in his hair. ‘My word,’ she said leading him beneath the tree. ‘You’re completely gorgeous, do you know that?’

The novel incorporates familiar elements from Shakespeare’s play – the wedding, Puck’s mischief, and Bottom’s transformation – but it also introduces new ones, including Theseus and Oberon doing shots on the night before the nuptials and getting increasingly drunk, nostalgic, and maudlin, and a raucous Amazonian bachelorette party riding through the streets of Athens, descending on unsuspecting vendors demanding custom-made weapons and a sampling of local cuisine. Other elements are familiar, yet given a fresh twist, such as the play performed by the players becoming a mash-up of the story of Pyramus and Thisbe and Death of a Salesman. One of the most refreshing updates is Oberon and Titania’s relationship, which is presented here as much healthier and more respectful, with actual communication between the two, and genuine love and passion, as opposed to full of bitterness, jealously, and trickery.

The lovers Lysander, Demetrius, Helena, and Hermia, play bit roles as cosmic phenomenon and celestial bodies on the margins of the story. There’s sex magic and revelry and a brief interlude where Puck steals a train in what appears to be modern-day London. Somehow, all these elements work together, feeling like fun nods and clever updates, never tipping over into being too cheesy or ridiculous. Despite the more contemporary language, the story somehow feels more firmly rooted in ancient Athens than many interpretations of the original play. Overall, Wild Time is a fun and sexy read, straddling the line between novella and novel (though I think it technically falls onto the novel side). If you’re a fan of re-imagined classics, this is definitely one to check out.

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An Interview with Apex Editors Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner

Apex HeaderAfter a brief publishing hiatus, Apex Magazine made its triumphant return in 2021, with six issues slated for the year packed with short fiction, interviews, non-fiction, and reviews. Earlier this month, Apex launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund another year of publication in 2022. Editor-in-Chief Jason Sizemore and Managing Editor Lesley Conner were kind enough to drop by today to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what makes Apex Magazine so special!

To kick things off, allow me to introduce Jason and Lesley by way of their official Apex bios.

The man with the titanium jaw, Jason Sizemore is a three-time Hugo Award-nominated editor, writer, and publisher who operates the genre press Apex Publications. He currently lives in Lexington, KY. For more information visit www.jason-sizemore.com or you can find him on Twitter @apexjason.

Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications, and a Girl Scout leader. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

Welcome, Jason and Lesley! I’m thrilled to see the Apex Kickstarter off to such a good start, and I’m already looking forward to another year of fantastic content. I know editorial taste, or the particular flavor of a publication is sometimes hard to pin down, but to your minds, what makes something an “Apex story”? Or, if you prefer, what types of things make you sit up and take notice when you’re reading?

JBS: Hi Alison! Thanks for having us in your neck of the internet.

The stories we publish aren’t afraid to tackle heavy thematic issues in a thoughtful, interesting, and (most importantly) entertaining manner. I think genre fiction is uniquely suited for the task. A powerful story about spiraling alcoholic trying to survive in a colonized new Palestine might be too heavy a read for some. Place the story on a Mars colony and add a handful of science fiction flourishes and you have a story that is just as powerful but somewhat more palatable.
It’s a difficult line to tiptoe. Fortunately, for us, there are many incredible writers out there who do it and find their way to Apex Magazine.

LDC: I agree with Jason that many of the stories we publish do tackle extremely heavy issues. So much so, that there are times when we’ve asked ourselves if maybe this story is just a hair too heavy. We haven’t hit one yet that we’ve backed away from, but there have been a few – “How to be Good” by R. Gatwood comes to mind – that we’ve questioned whether it might be a bit too much for our readers.

“How to be Good” is an incredible story, but it isn’t light or feel good. It packs a strong emotional punch and leaves the reader chewing over what happens and how they feel about it. It’s these things that make the story so intense, but they’re also the things that I feel make it a perfect story for Apex.

When I’m reading through submissions, the stories that make me sit up and take notice are the ones that invoke a strong emotional response, be that grief, anger, or delight. They’re the stories that leave me with questions, that make me want to rush out and discuss them with another reader. I want stories that I can hold up to light and see different facets as I twist them back and forth. Those messy, complex stories are the best fit for Apex!

You’ve worked together on Apex for several years now, along with quite a large editorial team. What is your editorial process like? Has it changed at all with the magazine’s relaunch?

JBS: Maybe Lesley would disagree, but I believe our editorial process has streamlined post relaunch. All submissions go through our first readers. They will remove approximately 95% of submitted stories from the pool. Lesley reviews the remainder. The best she sends to me. At this point, you’re in the top 1%. Of those that I see, I usually will buy one out of five. All rejections come from Lesley unless your story makes it to my desk. You’ll receive a personalized rejection or acceptance from me.

Before we buy a story, most of the time Lesley and I will have a discussion regarding the piece. By this point, we don’t want to overthink it. We consider factors like how will our readers respond, is it the kind of story we should be publishing, does it contain any plot holes, and so on.

We receive 1200-1500 submissions a month. We buy 3 stories a month, on average. It’s kind of overwhelming to think about, but our process works.

LDC: We definitely have the submission process down to an art by this point! It’s process that works really well for us, and it’s one that has been built on years of experience. Jason knows that he can rely on my judgement to cut down the stories that our first readers bump up. He knows that the stories that will speak to him as an editor and for his vision of Apex Magazine are the same stories that I’m going to be drawn to. Having that relationship between us as managing editor and editor-in-chief is key for making Apex Magazine run smoothly.

What is/are your favorite aspect(s) of editing a magazine? If you can cast your mind back to when you first started editing Apex, what aspect(s) of being an editor took you by surprise? What advice might you give to someone looking to launch their own publication?

JBS: My answer might be different than Lesley and our first readers, but my favorite part is reading the stories that reach my desk. Nearly every piece I read has been vetted by some outstanding editors. I’d venture to say many of the stories I see that we don’t publish will find a home somewhere else. So it can be argued that the most important aspect of my job—selecting stories for publication—is the most enjoyable side of the work!

Coming from a corporate America background, I was immediately impressed by how helpful and supportive the genre can be. For all the drama and angst that permeates our little publishing niche, most folks are genuinely nice. People are there for your successes, and they’re there when you need a lift. Coming off the toughest two years of my life after putting the zine on pause while I focused on my health (mandibular cancer), I knew it was time to bring Apex Magazine back into my life, to help keep my mind clear of dark thoughts. I was anxious about the relaunch. Our readers, fans, writers, artists, and supporters all made it clear they were here for it. I’m eternally grateful.

LDC: While I enjoying reading submissions, it isn’t my favorite part of being managing editor. The amount of stories that I need to read can be overwhelming at times and I’m continuously worried about being behind (I don’t think there is any amount of time that I wouldn’t feel like I’m behind, so that’s a me thing). That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading slush. I definitely do and the feeling of finding a story that blows me away is amazing! It just isn’t my favorite part.

My favorite aspect of editing Apex Magazine is when Jason and I discuss a submission that I’ve bumped up to him. If I’ve sent a story up to his desk, that means I already love it, so when we go to discuss, I feel like I’m advocating for the writer. At that point, my job is to make Jason see exactly why this story is so amazing. We get into the nitty-gritty of what works, what doesn’t work, what aspects of the story we feel will connect with readers, and how this particular story furthers the Apex brand. It’s a deep conversation, pulling apart the story and holding up one part or another, and it’s really exciting!

For anyone wanting to work in publishing, I’d say to not be afraid to learn new skills. Many of us do this, especially in small press, have to wear many, many hats. As managing editor of Apex Magazine, I do so much more than read submissions. I copy edit, find cover art, do sales reports, marketing, and so much more. If I’d been afraid to try new things or held back from learning new skills, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. I wouldn’t have the foundation for it. So take risks, say yes, and learn new things!

Apex Issue 124 CoverIf it isn’t top secret, or as-yet-unknown, can you give us a sneak peek at what’s coming up for Apex in the rest of 2021, and any plans in the works for 2022?

JBS: In October, we have our Indigenous Futurists bonus issue coming out with Allison Mills as guest editor. In December, we have an International Futurists bonus issue guest-edited by Francesco Versa.

Should our Kickstarter fund and reach a certain stretch goal, we will be doing an Asian and Pacific Islanders special issue in 2022. Another stretch goal I’m hoping we reach is being able to include spot art with every story!

LDC: I’m going err on the side of not revealing too much for this question, but I will say is that we have some truly amazing stories coming out later this year and in 2022. Each issue we put together, I’m blown away by the quality of what we’re publishing. Each issue I think “That’s it. There’s no way the next issue can be as strong!” Then Jason reveals the lineup and I’m staggered because it is just as good if not better than the one before! Honestly, if you were to ask me to pick my favorite story published so far in 2021, I wouldn’t be able to do it because I have fallen in love with so many stories we’ve published this year, and I can tell you that what we have coming up is just as good!

Unless I’m mistaken, Jason has one or more felines who assist with the Apex editorial process, while Lesley has a canine assistant in Mr. Oz. What can you tell us about these real powers behind Apex and their editorial tastes and processes?

JBS: There is only one entity in my life that has the ability to stop the presses without question or hesitation: Pumpkin the Cat. If he decides it is time to play or if he needs his belly rubbed, well, that comes before all else. Apex comes to a grinding halt, not by my choice, but his.

LDC: Oz thinks we should take a break and go for a walk.

What do you mean we just took a walk and it’s work time?

You must be mistaken. Silly human, you sit too much! Let’s take another walk.

Or, if he isn’t insisting we take a walk, Oz decides the computer must go because he needs to sit in my lap. Basically, Oz is tired of all this “work” because it distracts me from my real job, which is pampering him 100% of the time.

Ahhh, editors and their spoiled pets!

Any closing thoughts or things you’d like folks to know about Apex?

JBS: Lesley Conner isn’t as scary as she might look. Behind the photos of wild-eyed and blood-covered Scout leader of a group of innocent Girl Scouts is a woman of great warmth and empathy.

LDC: One time. One time I let my Girl Scouts cover me in fake blood for a badge project and I’ll never hear the end of it! LOL (I do have an awesome picture of me covered in fake blood and it was a fantastic event!)

Apex is like a big family … if the family is strange and weird and slightly disturbing. We may tease each other (Jason provided proof with his response to this question) but we all know that we’re there for each other. We want each other to succeed and we want the same for our authors and artists. I couldn’t imagine working with a better group of people.

Thanks you both for stopping by and letting us all peek behind the Apex curtain!

The Apex Kickstarter runs through August 18. Do check it out and help out if you can. Apex publishes some truly amazing work, and I can’t wait to see what 2022 and beyond have in store!

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Bookplates!

Wendy, Darling Bookplate It’s hard to believe it, but Wendy, Darling has been out for almost two months now, and The Ghost Sequences comes out exactly three months from today. The world is slowly beginning to open up again, and people are doing things in person, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do many in-person book-related events this year. I’m hoping the second half of the year will change that, but in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to offer up signed bookplates for folks to stick into their copies of Wendy, Darling and The Ghost Sequences.

The artwork for The Ghost Sequences bookplate is a piece I commissioned from Lex Hunter (Huntress Studios), and I love it so much! They are open to commissions, so if you’re in need of some custom artwork for any occasion, I highly recommend checking them out! They were wonderful to work with, and the bookplates turned out even better than I could have imagined!

Ghost Sequences BookplateIf you have, or are planning to get, a physical copy of Wendy, Darling and/or The Ghost Sequences, and you want a signed bookplate to stick inside, I will happily send you one! I’m happy to personalize them too! As you can see from the images, the Wendy, Darling bookplates feature the silhouettes from the book’s cover. And as mentioned above, The Ghost Sequences bookplates (at the bottom left of the image) feature incredible custom artwork from Lex Hunter. (As a side note, the deck of playing cards in the background is the Cabintarirum set from Art of Play, and they are absolutely gorgeous. If you’re looking for a unique deck of playing cards, I would highly recommend them!)

Anyway, if you’re interested in either bookplate, or both of them, drop me an email at a.c.wise [at] hotmail.com or ping me on Twitter (@ac_wise) and I will be happy to get one or both in the mail to you!

The Ghost Sequences officially comes out from Undertow Publications on October 19,  2021 – just in time for Halloween! It’s available for pre-order now, and some wonderful people like Sam J. Miller, E. Catherine Tobler, and Stephen Graham Jones have been kind enough to blurb the collection and say nice things about it. On top of that, the collection just picked up a starred review from Publishers Weekly! If you pre-order directly from Undertow, you can even get a special discounted price. I am so looking forward to this collection coming out and joining Wendy, Darling as a real, physical book that exists in the world!

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