There and Back Again: Readercon 2014

Fair warning, a lot of this post will be me squeeing about things you can’t read yet, but which you will be able to some day, and on that day you will want to squee about them, too.

Getting to Readercon was an epic adventure in its own right. Perhaps there weren’t dragons to slay, or mines to traverse, but there was a heck of a lot of traffic. At every single turn. What should have been a six and a half(ish) hour drive became a ten hour drive. Luckily I had stalwart companions - A.T. Greenblatt and Shveta Thakrar – and together, we prevailed.

Readercon has firmly established itself as my favorite con in the three years I’ve been attending, and this year was no exception. I attended more readings than panels this time around, and each was incredibly enjoyable.

The first of my highlights was listening to Shira Lipkin read her swamp witch story. It doesn’t have a home yet, but I have no doubt it will find one in a flash. Another highlight was listening to Maria Davhana Headley read her supernatural Bonnie and Clyde Story. It’s also homeless at the moment, as I understand it, but it won’t stay that way long. Other highlights included the Fearful Symmetries group reading, the Latin@ Writers group reading, The Booty Don’t Lie: A Cheeky Discussion of Butts in Literature panel, (so many puns! so much twerking!), and The Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours performance. There were other wonderful things throughout the weekend of course, but those were few that stood out.

Outside of official programming, Readercon is always a fantastic opportunity to see people I only get to see once or twice a year, and to meet new people. So much of the con is hanging out in hallways, the dealers’ room, and elsewhere, just chatting. The one downside to this is there are so many wonderful people, I feel like I never get enough time to talk to any one person.

This year, I once again participated in programming, both official and unofficial. The Circlet Press group reading went over well, and the Unlikely Cartography panel was surprisingly well attended for being lateish on Sunday afternoon. The panelists were brilliant, talking about unlikely maps and imaginary geography. Thank you again to everyone who attended! On the unofficial side, I recorded a podcast for Circlet Press, and sneakily tacked a reading on to the end of a real and proper reading by Danielle Friedman. Despite having a hard act to follow, I read Doctor Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron, because it’s short and because glitter is never the wrong answer.

Can I gush again about something you can’t read yet? I’m going to anyway. Danielle read from her novel in progress, and I love it. I’ve heard two excerpts so far, and I can’t wait for it to be a real physical thing I can hold in my hands, because it is fabulous.

The drive home was much less obnoxious than the drive there. I was once again privileged to get a preview of an awesome story you can’t read yet, but which you will be able to read very soon. Shveta read her story, “Krishna Blue” from the upcoming anthology, Kaleidoscope, due out in just a few weeks. The story is beautiful and brilliant, and you should all run out and buy the anthology as soon as you can. I’ve been lucky enough to hear an except of another story, by E.C. Meyers, which will be appearing in the anthology as well, and based on these two stories, I can promise you this anthology will kick ass.

So that’s it. Readercon was fantastic as usual, and I’m already looking forward to next year. In the meantime, I’ll be off to Capclave in October and World Fantasy in November. Hopefully with less traffic to fight along the way.


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Cryptography and Clowns and Academics, Oh My!

The Unlikely Story submission guidelines have been updated. What’s changed? We’re now paying $0.06/word in keeping with the SFWA’s new rules for pro markets. We’re also no longer accepting unsolicited reprints, though we will continue to consider them until the end of our current Unlikely Entomology reading period, which closes on 8/1/14. We’ve also announced our next two reading periods, and our next three unlikely themes.

The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography will accept submissions from 8/1 to 10/1. For this issue we’re looking for stories about coding, cracking, hacking, and things with a vaguely cyberpunkish feel. To get an idea of the kind of things we’re looking for, peruse the digital pages of our first Unlikely Cryptography issue.

The Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia is our next April Fool’s Day mini-issue, and we’ll be accepting submissions from 10/1 to 11/1. Why clowns? Because we’re horribly masochistic human beings and clowns are terrifying. See? We’re also looking for stories of jesters and fools, and they don’t need to be terrifying, but they do need to be 1038 words or under.

While we haven’t determined the exact reading period yet, The Journal of Unlikely Academia will be next. We’ll be looking for stories about unlikely fields of study, fictional academic papers, stories about schools, students, teachers, and teaching. Why limit ourselves to one specialized field when we can look at learning itself?

In the meantime, our current issue, The Journal of Unlikely Cartography, has been getting some nice reviews. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, I encourage you to check it out! Don’t forget, you can also subscribe and receive the PDF version, including author interviews and occasional bonus content. Just send an email to unlikelystory (at) and we’ll sign you up. Happy reading!

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To Readercon I Go!

In just over a week, I will once again be headed to Readercon in Burlington, MA. For those of you who don’t know, Readercon is a wonderful, magical place full of books and people talking about books. This will be my third year attending, and I’ve been consistently impressed with the insightful panels, lovely people, and generally positive atmosphere.

As I have in the past, I’m unofficially and sneakily taking part in programming. On Friday, I’ll be participating in the Circlet Press Group Reading. I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be reading yet, but I’m leaning toward erotica about spies. On Sunday, I’ll be par of the Unlikely Cartography panel, which appropriately enough celebrates the publication of Unlikely Story #9: The Journal of Unlikely Cartography. I’ll be moderating, so my participation will mostly consist of gently prodding the authors of the Unlikely Cartography issue, then sitting back and listening to them say smart stuff. The program descriptions for these two panels appear below, and the full Readercon Program can be found here.

Friday – 9:00 PM – EM – Circlet Press Group Reading. Cecilia Tan (leader). For over twenty years, Circlet Press has been the only publisher specializing in erotic science fiction and fantasy. Contributors to the recent best-of collection Fantastic Erotica and other Circlet books will read excerpts from their work.

Sunday – 1:00 PM – G – Unlikely Cartography. Shira Lipkin, Sarah Pinsker, Carrie Cuinn. This summer, Unlikely Story will publish their Unlikely Cartography issue, featuring stories by Shira Lipkin, Kat Howard, Sarah Pinsker, Carrie Cuinn, and others. Together with editor A.C. Wise, these authors will discuss their stories, and other authors (historical and modern) who similarly explored the cartography of the fantastic. Influences and discussion topics may include Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Eco’s Legendary Lands, Post’s Atlas of Fantasy, Mieville’s The City and the City, and more.

When I’m not actively participating, I’ll be attending panels. I’ve already spotted several I’m excited about, and I suspect I will lament my inability to be in two places at once on multiple occasions over the course of the convention. Aside from panels, I’ll like be hanging out in the bar, hanging out in the dealers’ room, or wandering around in a daze, my head swimming with all the smart things people have been saying about books and speculative fiction. If you see me wandering in such a daze, say hi! I hope to see you there.

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Join the Cyborg Revolution

UpgradedNeil Clarke recently announced the ToC for his upcoming anthology Upgraded. As far as I know, it is the first anthology about cyborgs edited by a cyborg. How cool is that?

Among many fabulous stories by wonderful authors is my own contribution, Taking the Ghost. Because the first thing you think of when you hear the word cyborg is secondary world fantasy with metallic limbs powered by ghosts, right? Or maybe that’s just me. Regardless, I’m thrilled to be in such good company in this anthology, and I’m looking forward to reading the other contributors’ stories. I’m also thrilled to be in an anthology with cover art by Julie Dillon. Her work is gorgeous.

Upgraded is officially out sometime in July, but it’s available for pre-order now.

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Here Be Dragons

What lies beyond the edges of the known world? Some say dragons, some say the edge of everything. A map can take you there, but can it bring you back again? These are the questions we asked authors to explore when we put out the call for submissions for the Journal of Unlikely Cartography. Not only did they rise to the challenge, the authors in this issue exceeded our expectations, leading us into unknown territory with maps both frightening and beautiful. They delivered maps in hearts, maps through space, maps for running away and finding the way home again, and tales of cartographers – those unlikely creatures who draw the borders of the world. They led us into unknown territories, as all good authors and cartographers do, pointing the way to the wonders where the map ends.

Unlikely Story #9: The Journal of Unlikely Cartography is now live, featuring new fiction by Sarah Pinsker, Carrie Cuinn, Rhonda Eikamp, Kat Howard, James Van Pelt, and Shira Lipkin. We’re delighted with these stories, and we’re thrilled to share them with you. Enjoy!

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Self-Rejection and Self-Sabotage

This is sort of a follow-up to my last post, possibly a semi-related postscript. Whatever you want to call it, it’s relevant in that it deals with another way we authors sabotage ourselves. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “don’t self-reject” or “don’t try to do the editor’s job for them”. Basically, if an editor never even sees your work, they’ll never have a chance to fall in love with it and publish it.

But it’s easy to fall into a self-doubt spiral and talk yourself out of submitting a piece. Maybe you’re intimidated by the other works published by a magazine, by the strict-sounding guidelines, by the idea that editor X could never possibly want story Y. Maybe the story has already been rejected from a few publication, so you let yourself start to think it’s crap and no one will ever want to publish it and you’d be better off shoving it in a drawer and never thinking about it again. It’s easier to talk yourself out of things than into things sometimes.

Speaking with my editor hat on (it’s very fancy; it has feathers), let me just say: DON’T.

Don’t listen to that voice. It’s a jackass; it has no idea what it’s talking about. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, this is another thing I struggle with myself, so do as I say, not as I do etc. You know the drill.
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Permission to Fail, Permission to Succeed

As authors, we’re supposed to give ourselves permission to fail, accept our crappy first drafts (and occasionally second through thirty-third drafts), get the words wrong, and allow ourselves to make mistakes without feeling like it’s the end of the world. Too often though, we forget to give ourselves permission to succeed as well.

What do I mean? Well, a couple of things. I’ve seen and participated in variations of this conversation in person and online on several occasions recently, and what it comes down to is this:

  • We’re uncomfortable talking about ourselves and what we’ve accomplished
  • We look around at what others are doing and feel we haven’t actually accomplished anything in comparison
  • We make excuses to and for ourselves to not take our work seriously and prioritize other activities above it

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m guilty of all these offenses. Given past behavior, it’s not likely to change overnight, so consider this a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do kind of post.

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Achievement Unlocked!

I set myself goals as a writer. They’re mostly nebulous goals, ones that don’t have clearly defined steps I can follow to achieve them. They’re goals like: It would be awesome to be nominated for an award someday, I’d love to have a story published in X magazine, or I’d really like to work with editor Y. Maybe they’re more wishes or hopes than actual goals, but either way, every now and then one of them gets a nice little check mark beside it on my list. One such goal I can now put a check mark beside (or perhaps an exclamation point/smiley face with glitter and rainbows) is appearing in an original anthology edited by Ellen Datlow.

When I first start reading short fiction anthologies, I had an ‘aha!’ moment reading one of Ellen Datlow’s fairy tale anthologies co-edited with Terri Windling. The work was consistently strong and fresh and just about every story brought something new to the genre. Ellen Datlow’s anthologies are consistently on my must-buy list; if she publishes it, I want to read it. From the moment I first started reading work she’d edited, I added a goal to my list of working with her someday.

Not only do I have a story included in an upcoming Ellen Datlow anthology, it’s carnival themed, a setting that just happens to be one of my fiction-writing fetishes. Nightmare Carnival will be out in October, but it’s available for pre-order now. Here’s the rest of the ToC, should you need more convincing beyond the fact that it’s edited by Ellen Datlow.

Preface Ellen Datlow
Introduction Katherine Dunn
Scapegoats N. Lee Wood
The Firebrand Priya Sharma
Work, Hook, Shoot, Rip Nick Mamatas
And the Carnival Leaves Town A.C. Wise
Corpse Rose Terry Dowling
Last of the Fair Joel Lane
A Small Part in the Pantomime Glen Hirshberg
Hibbler’s Minions Jeffrey Ford
Swan Song and Then Some Dennis Danvers
The Lion Cage Genevieve Valentine
The Darkest Part Stephen Graham Jones
The Popping Fields Robert Shearman
Skullpocket Nathan Ballingrud
The Mysteries Livia Llewellyn
Screaming Elk, Mt. by Laird Barron

It’s been amazing working with Ellen on my story, and I can’t wait to see the finished anthology.

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When Good Authors Write Bad

Yesterday, in honor of April Fool’s Day, we published Unlikely Story #8.5: The Journal of Unlikely Story Acceptances. The concept is pretty simple – we asked authors with at least one sale that would qualify them as a pro according to the SFWA (or a similar organization) to write us the worst flash fiction they could. It’s harder than it sounds. While I’ll admit I was reluctant to take on this issue at first, it ended up being a whole lot of fun. The titles! The fonts! The terrible puns! It was all so gloriously and beautifully bad that I couldn’t help smiling my way through the submission pile. It was actually remarkably hard to choose just five bad stories for the issue as well. In fact, if you’ll remember, we cheated a bit and listed several (dis)honorable mentions on our blog a while back. Anyway, yesterday we brought you the best of the worst, or the worst of the best, or something, all accompanied by truly wonderful illustrations. So quit hanging around here. Get over there and revel in the awful!

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Sex, Blood, and Dirty Words

The question came up at a local writers’ group I attend semi-regularly as to how much gore, sex, or profanity is appropriate to include in a novel or story. The very sensible answer was ‘know your audience’. It’s good advice. Obviously, if you’re writing a children’s picture book, you probably don’t want to be dropping f-bombs left and right (with the exception of Go the Fuck to Sleep), but that’s only half the equation. Just as important, or perhaps more important, is ‘know your story’.

Children’s books aside, most audiences are pretty good at determining the level of sex, violence, and profanity they’re comfortable reading. If it’s not their kind of story, they’ll walk away. So, yes, knowing your audience is part of it; if you really want to reach the people who will put a book down for being too violent, then obviously tone the chainsaw-wielding maniac scenes down a notch. But if that isn’t the story you want to tell, one full of fluffy kittens who share and are nice to each other and don’t own chainsaws, don’t write it just because you think it’s what readers want. Contrary to popular belief, most people are pretty good at figuring out what they want without being told. Don’t assume group X would never read a story about Y. Write the story you want to write, and let the audience find you.

Of course, there’s a flip-side, which comes back to ‘know your story’. Don’t lace your story with profanity, blood, and sexyfuntimes just because you can. Whatever choices you make, swearing or no swearing, sex or no sex, they should support your story. A five-page-long graphic sex scene is all well and good, but if you’re writing a manual on operating postal machinery, it probably doesn’t belong. However, if you’re writing a story set in the trenches of WWI, and your main character happens to be a field medic, then yes, descriptions of gory wounds and infected limbs might very well be appropriate.

So, the question is, does the inclusion of sex, blood, bodily functions/fluids, or profanity reveal something deeper about your character? Does it forward the story? If you remove the loving description of guts oozing through an open stomach wound, does the story fall apart?

Sex, blood, and dirty words that don’t serve the story can be sneaky sometimes. Though it does happen, not every author sits around, fingers steepled Mr. Burns style, wondering what they can throw in for shock value. Often times when those elements creep in, it’s the equivalent of an ‘idea story’. The wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if-giraffes-ruled-mars-and-also-monkeys idea that sets your brain on fire at 2am so you pound out the story as quickly as you can, not realizing there’s no ‘there’ there. It’s not a story, it’s a fragment, an idea that could be interesting with the right plot and characters to support it, but won’t stand on its own.

As authors, sometimes it’s hard to take a step back from our work and look at it objectively. We get excited about stuff. We get passionate and throw things at the page, and sometimes we lose sight of the big picture because we’re so in love with each shiny detail. This is where a good critique group/partner comes in handy. Hopefully they can tell you when you’ve gone over the top, when your language and scenes are gratuitous and no longer serving your story.

Before you get all excited about your blood-soaked space opera set in a whorehouse on a Mars ruled by a foul-mouthed giraffe and fire it off to an editor, take a step back, take a deep breath, and let it settle for a few days. Run it by a first reader and get some feedback before sending it out into the world. Whatever changes you do or don’t make from that point on, don’t do it because you’re worried about alienating a particular audience; do it because it’s right for the story.

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