All Hallows Read 2014

All Hallows ReadSomehow it is not only October, it is mid-October. I suspect gremlins, or possibly mice, of sneaking in and stealing time when I wasn’t looking. Regardless, mid-October means it’s high time I put together another All Hallows Read Book Exchange! If you’ve not heard of All Hallows Read, in short, it is a glorious holiday dreamed up by Neil Gaiman where you give books and receive them in return. The original idea was to give scary books, but I know horror isn’t everyone’s thing, so the way I run my book exchange, you can send any type of book at all. It doesn’t have to be new. It can be something from your shelves that you want to pass on to someone else, or if you happen to be an author, it can even be one of your own books.

It’s good fun. You get to share a book you loved with someone else, and get a book someone else loved in return. It’s a great way to discover books and authors you might not ever have picked up on your own, and as a happy bonus, you get to connect with other readers. If you want to play along, drop me a note in the comments, or send me an email at a.c.wise [at] hotmail.com by October 24th. I’ll arrange a highly scientific flow chart so that everybody sends a book and receives one from someone else. Let’s swap some books!

All Hallows Read poster courtesy of Introverted Wife. Visit the website to grab your own.

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A Game of Cards

StreetsofShadowsI’m a sucker for noir. I love the shadows, the rain-slick streets, the down-on-their-luck characters, all the classic dingy and dirty trappings of the genre. Up until now, I’ve never tried my hand at writing it. As I’ve said before, I consider Jessica Rabbit to be the ultimate femme fatale, and the fact that the stylings of Who Framed Roger Rabbit imprinted themselves on me at such a young age made me fear my view might be a little too…skewed to pull it off successfully. But then Streets of Shadows came along, and couldn’t resist. After all, isn’t skewed a good thing?

So I thought about noir and the close, gritty, rain-soaked streets I associate with the genre. Then I took my story and plunked it in the desert, Las Vegas, Nevada to be exact (though I did sneak in a freak rainfall, cuz, y’know, noir). I thought about the archetypal tough-guy lead, the straight, white, male detective with the perpetual five o’clock shadow outlining his perfect jaw. Then I wrote a story with a black, lesbian boxer-turned-bodyguard as the lead. I threw in magic and luck and grifters and card games. There is a femme fatale of sorts, but she doesn’t look like Jessica Rabbit, and whether she’s bad or drawn that way, I leave it for others to decide.

Streets of Shadows is now officially available for purchase. It blends noir and urban fantasy in tales spun by the likes of Damien Angelica Walters, Paul Tremblay, Nick Mamatas, Nisi Shawl, Seanan McGuire, and many more. You can see the full ToC here, and read Tom Piccirilli’s contribution, What I Am, for free at Apex Magazine.

I’ll even give you a little taste of my contribution, A Game of Cards, to get you started…

Times like this, it’s like I never left the ring. The crack of fist to jaw, spitting blood, and that first bitter-sweet pulse of heat that’ll be a beautiful bruise by morning. Except there are no spotlights, no crowds shouting my name, and it’s a lucky elbow thrown with a wild prayer rather than a punch thrown with skill that catches me.

One thing is the same: It hurts like a motherfucker.

The blow lands in just the right spot to send pain along an old fault line, the one that ended my career. Now I’m pissed.

I’ve got at least ten pounds on this guy, all muscle. He’s skinny as a rag soaked in kerosene; wiry is one thing, if you know how to use it, but he doesn’t. He’s flailing, cornered. He got one lucky shot. He won’t get two.

To read the rest, you’ll have to pick up your very own copy of Streets of Shadows.

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An Interview with Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein

KaleidoscopeJulia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein are the editors of Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, which was released from Twelfth Planet Press in early August 2014. They were kind enough to drop by to talk about the anthology, but before they do, allow me to introduce them by stealing from their bios.

Julia Rios is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. She is one of the three fiction editors for Strange Horizons, and host of the Outer Alliance Podcast (celebrating QUILTBAG speculative fiction). To find out more about her work, including her fiction, non-fiction, podcasts, narration and anything else she might be working on, visit her website www.juliarios.com. You can also find her on Twitter as @omgjulia.

Alisa Krasnostein is World Fantasy Award winning editor and publisher at Twelfth Planet Press and part of the Galactic Suburbia Podcast Team. She was Executive Editor of the review website Aussie Specfic in Focus!. Currently working on a PhD in Publishing, in her spare time she is a critic, reader, reviewer, runner, environmentalist, knitter, quilter, and puppy lover. For more information, visit her website www.twelfthplanetpress.com. Or find her on Twitter as @krasnostein.

Thank you, Alisa and Julia for being here! First, could you start off by talking a bit about how Kaleidoscope came to be? Where did the idea for the anthology start? How did you go about making your vision into a reality?

We’ve both been passionate about new stories that challenge some of the dominant voices for a long time, so it’s natural that we’d team up for something like this. We got to know each other originally because we are part of the speculative fiction podcasting community (Alisa is part of the three times Hugo nominated Galactic Suburbia, and Julia hosts the Outer Alliance Podcast and is part of the Hugo nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show). In May of 2012, Alisa listened to an Outer Alliance Podcast recording of a WisCon panel on heteronormativity in YA novels, and was interested in developing a project in response to the discussion. The rest snowballed from there. A vigorous email volley turned into regular Skype chats, and by the time we met in person in Toronto at the World Fantasy Convention later that year, the planning for Kaleidoscope was well underway.

What was your editorial process like? I assume there were certain authors you knew you wanted to work with from the start. Did you have an open reading period as well? For the authors whose work you solicited, did you ask for a particular type of story, or let them run wild? Did anything surprise you about the stories you received?

We sent a lot of invitations to writers, and those invited submitters had the chance to send their stories in early. We bought a few stories before our crowdfunding campaign opened in October of 2013, but one of our goals was to have an open reading period so that we could find new voices. We asked everyone for the same thing: contemporary stories with diverse protagonists. We wanted the feeling of the settings to be relatable and recognizable to teens even while they were full of wonder. Within those guidelines, though, anything was fair game. We were surprised by the depth and variety of the stories we received. We started out thinking this would be a fantasy anthology, but very quickly decided to change the guidelines to allow for science fiction because the science fiction submissions were so good.

What made you decide to do a YA anthology in particular?

Alisa had been wanting to branch out into YA with Twelfth Planet Press, and Julia has always enjoyed reading YA, so it seemed like a great opportunity all around.

You’re working together again on Twelfth Planet’s Year’s Best Young Adult Speculative Fiction series. Aside from that, are there any plans for a second volume of Kaleidoscope? Or any other anthology projects you’re working on together?

We’d love to do a second volume of Kaleidoscope, but right now we haven’t made any firm plans beyond the Year’s Best YA Science Fiction and Fantasy. We’re in the process of putting together the 2013 volume right now, and we’re also reading for the 2014 volume.

Aside from your editorial projects with Twelfth Planet, is there anything else either of you are working on or having coming up that you’d like people to know about?

We’re both still podcasting, and Julia’s still editing for Strange Horizons. Alisa’s working on a PhD in publishing, managing Twelfth Planet Press, and wrangling her nearly one-year-old daughter. It’s safe to say we’re both keeping busy!

Thank you again for stopping by. Congratulations on Kaleidoscope. It’s a wonderful anthology.

Thank you for interviewing us. We’re thrilled that you asked.

Interviewer’s Note: I seriously cannot recommend Kaleidoscope enough. It is a wonderful anthology, and you all need to go out and buy a copy right now.

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The Blair Witch Project Rewatch

Blair WitchThis year marks the 15th anniversary of The Blair Witch Project. (Do you feel old yet?) I re-watched it this weekend, and it still holds up. As the first widely acknowledged and successful (no one counts Cannibal Holocaust) found footage horror movie, it remains effectively creepy, but that’s not what struck me. On re-watch, I noticed something I’d never noticed before: the Blair Witch is the hero of the story.

The part of the movie most people forget (I certainly did), is the segment with the interviews that starts everything off. It’s possible those interviews are designed to be forgettable, but in reality, they give us the heart of the story. One town resident relates the tale of a hermit who lived in the woods and murdered seven children. Of course, as people have done for centuries, he claimed a witch made him do it. Other townsfolk recount instances of seeing a ghostly/inhuman woman, or tell second or third-hand stories about the Blair Witch. Only one story includes a first-hand physical encounter with the witch, and in it, the witch does nothing more serious than touch someone on the arm.

But the movie pulls engages in misdirection. It puts the story of the innocuous encounter with the witch in the mouth of ‘Crazy Mary Brown’, so of course we can easily dismiss it. The movie also puts the Blair Witch right up front in the title, so when spooky things start happening in the woods, she is in our mind, and of course she is to blame. We have a credible witness telling us she’s the root cause of all evil after all, the hermit who murdered seven children. Who could be more reliable?

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Going to Capclave…

…and I’m gonna be on panels, and, yes, I intended to get Going to the Chapel stuck in your head!

Ahem. That is to say, from October 10th to 12th, I will be attending Capclave in Gaithersburg, MD, and participating in the programming taking place there. My schedule, should you be interested, is as follows:

Friday – 10:00 p.m. – Reading – Frederick
Cuz what people want to at 10pm on the first day of a con is going to a reading by some jerk they’ve never heard of, right? But, hey, I’ll bring chocolate and alcohol. You like those things, don’t you?

Saturday – 10:00 a.m. – Alternative Sexualities in SF/F – Bethesda
Panelists: Shira Lipkin, Emmie Mears, Sarah Pinsker, A.C. Wise
How well are alternative sexualities (or sexuality of any kind) portrayed in science fiction and fantasy?

Saturday – 3:00 p.m. – Best Short Fiction of 2014 – Bethesda
Panelists: Scott H. Andrews, D. Douglas Fratz, Sarah Pinsker (M), Norm Sherman, A.C. Wise
Which novellas, novelettes, and short stories published this year were your favorites? Which do you think deserve to be nominated for the Hugo/Nebula/Tiptree/World Fantasy etc? Which short fiction pieces deserve to be nominated but won’t and why not?

Saturday – 10:00 p.m. – A Whiter Shade of Pale – Bethesda
Panelists: Day Al-Mohamed, Shahid Mahmud, Emmie Mears, Sherin Nicole (M), A.C. Wise
The worlds of many fantasy/SF novels seem to be overwhelmingly white and European. It wasn’t that long ago that Justine Larbalestier had to protest the use of a white cover model to depict her mixed race protagonist. Why do writers (and cover artists) do this? How can we bring diversity into our genres? Is it getting better? Are non-white authors and hero(ines) still rarities? Is the fear of getting it wrong overwhelming the desire to portray more diverse protagonists and non-Western settings?

Sunday – 1:00 p.m. – Non-Binary Gender in SF/F – Bethesda
Panelists: Shira Lipkin, Emmie Mears, Sarah Pinsker, Benjamin Rosenbaum, A.C. Wise (M)
Alex Dally McFarland’s post-binary gender series at Tor.com has caused the occasional bit of controversy. However, there is no reason why science fiction and fantasy should have characters that don’t conveniently split into male and female, especially when dealing with alien life forms.

Sunday – 3:00 p.m. – When Did Fangirl Become a Dirty Word? – Rockville/Potomac
Panelists: Emmie Mears, Sunny Moraine, Sherin Nicole, Janine Spendlove, A.C. Wise
It used to connote enthusiasm, now it implies contempt. Why is this? What can be done to combat this attitude?

The full Capclave schedule can be found here.

When I’m not on panels, I’ll be attending other people’s panels, hanging out in the bar, or hanging out in the dealers’ room lusting after the pretty, pretty books. If you’ll be in any of those places, say hi. I look forward to seeing you there.

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Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife

Shimmer21As part of my secret, not-so-secret, not-really-a-plan-plan to appear in as many issues of Shimmer as possible, I have once again snuck my work into its fine oages. Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife was published a few days ago in Issue #21. It’s not quite erotica, but well…it is inspired by a famous piece of erotic art from the 1800s, Hokusai’s woodblock print, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. (Image below the cut, in case you’re not into tentacle sexy times.)

If you’re curious how the story came to be, you can read my Shimmery author interview . I also wax poetic about poutine, and discuss my obsession with featuring bodies of water in my fiction. Or, if you prefer to skip straight to the good stuff, there’s a Shimmer Drinking Game in honor of Shimmer reaching drinking age. Once you’ve had a few Shimmery drinks, jump past the cut for the visual inspiration behind the story. Cheers!

 

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Watermark Sneak Preview

WatermarkE. Catherine Tobler’s new novel, Watermark, was officially released today. It’s a faerie story, the best kind, the dark kind, about goblins and kelpies and the unseelie court. To help celebrate her book-birthday, the author has kindly shared a sneak preview, and she’s even giving away a copy. Enjoy this exclusive sneak preview…

I joined Finn in the circle as he tore off small chunks of bread. He set one piece atop a mushroom and the cap turned itself inside out as the mushroom consumed the bread. A small sigh echoed through the chamber, even above the roar of the water. The other mushrooms leaned in, closer to Finn, the bread, and me.

I tore off a bite of bread and followed Finn’s actions, but was too slow. The mushroom sucked the bread down, but also caught the tips of my fingers. It suckled briefly then pulled away with another satisfied smack.

“They won’t hurt you,” Finn said. “They know you. You’re kin.”

I didn’t fear them, not even when I realized the mushrooms were growing to enclose us in a living, hungry cage. I fed those mouths more bread and stared as the mushrooms stretched over Finn’s back, caps and stems slithering across his shoulders. At the cold caress of rippling gills against my cheek, I reached for Finn. There was fear then.

“Breathe,” he said, and the world winked out.

My slick fingers slid against Finn’s arm and there came an answering squeeze from him. But his hand was not his hand at all, for his fingers were being swallowed by… Coffee? Ink? Oil? The fingers gleamed for a moment, then pressed firm into the hollow of my elbow. He held tight to me, even if I didn’t understand what I could both see and not see in the same instant.

When the world resolved itself, we were somewhere else. I could hear the pounding waterfalls, but that cavern was far distant. A quiet wood spread around us, grass rising in aquamarine spikes. I knew grass was not that color and as I watched, the color bled out of it until the grass hummed with a green color that remained unearthly.

But this wasn’t Earth.

And Finn wasn’t Finn.

Now that you’ve had a taste of the deliciousness in store, head over to the author’s webpage for a chance to win a copy. Or go straight to the source and pick up your very own copy at Masque Books!

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An Interview with Frances Grote

Frances Grote’s first short story collection, Death, Madness and a Mess of Dogs, was released today. She was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut collection and her work in general. Allow me to start by introducing her…

Frances is a psychologist with an MBA, a mother of four, and an award-winning author of memoir and short fiction. She supports her writing habit with a day job in the biotech industry, where she is a leading authority on the creation of supplier partnerships. When she finally figured out she was never going to achieve her goal of having an organized house – or, for that matter, an organized life — she traded in housework for writing some of those stories she was always talking about. Publishers Weekly called her first book, Fire In The Henhouse, “a novel brewing with tension, lightened by warm humor.” Her new short story collection expands on some of those same themes.

Thank you for being here today. You just published your first short story collection. Could you tell us a bit about Death, Madness and a Mess of Dogs?

I suspect many writers have an experience similar to mine, where they start out thinking they’re writing about a particular subject or character or topic, only to find that their work ends up somewhere very different than what they were expecting. This is certainly true of the stories in this collection. Some of them are humorous, some fall into the category often labeled “contemporary fiction”, some are genre, and a few simply defy categorization. As I was working on them I didn’t have a specific unifying theme in mind. But once the collection was done it became clear to me they’re all about variations on love and how the realities (or in some cases fantasies) of experience skew love without changing its fundamental nature.

DeathMadnessMessofDogs

Family seems to be a common theme across your stories – the relationship between husbands and wives, mothers and children, brothers and sisters. Did you consciously set out to explore family relationships through the lens of various genres, or was it a happy accident as you played with the tropes of SF, historical fiction, fantasy, slipstream, and contemporary fiction (to name a few)?

Though I didn’t intentionally focus on family as a theme, I am intensely fascinated by human beings and the inevitable wackiness of our behavior. I observe other people as they go about their everyday lives with the same kind of gawking, magnetized curiosity that other people experience at the scene of an accident. I became a psychologist because, when I was young and naïve enough to believe such things were possible, I was convinced I would be able to someday figure out “Why” – what makes us act and react the way we do? And then one day, I did, at least to my own satisfaction. And the answer is, we do what we do because that’s the way human beings are. We can learn, we can change, but at the end of the day our best intentions evaporate when we bounce into or off of the unexpected. Portraying the variations on that theme is what enchants me about writing and family is one of the most rich, treacherous environments for getting bounced around, a natural place to set some characters up and see what happens.

You’ve also published a novel, Fire in the Henhouse. Could you talk about that a bit? It’s set in the fictional town of Dooleysburg, PA, but loosely based on Doylestown, PA. If you don’t mind saying, how much truth is mixed in with your fiction? Are there real people who inspired the characters in your book?

No question that the charming quirkiness of Doylestown inspired me to finally get off my duff and start writing fiction. There are all kinds of things about the town, where I’m lucky enough to be based part of the time, that inspire flights of fancy. I did a signing at a book club an hour or so west of there, and the members had rented a van and taken a field trip to Doylestown to see how many of the settings in the book they could find. And there were certain events, some of them very disturbing, inspired by tragic events that were narrowly averted while I was writing the book. But when it comes to creating characters, I’m not so much inspired by real people as I am by isolated observations – the way a couple sits in a tavern, physically at the same table but mentally in different universes; the unabashed pride of someone nearly too old to walk parading down Main Street on Memorial Day in a uniform that clearly lives in the attic the rest of the year – my imagination grabs those details and just takes off with them.

In 2010, you and your husband launched Rule Bender Press. Could you talk a bit about your experience running a micropress? What are some of the challenges? The rewards? Did anything surprise you about the publishing business? Do you have any advice for those thinking of getting into the publishing business?

The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone considering getting into the publishing business is don’t do it unless you feel passionate about it. Well, maybe I shouldn’t be so dogmatic – I do believe not only that everyone has a story (at least one) to tell, but that we have no business judging each other’s stories. Every living person is entitled to her or his voice, and if letting everyone have access to the means to publish their own stories is a mechanism for ensuring we can all get heard, I am enthusiastically in favor of that.

But my husband and I see our micropress as a serious business endeavor. And for anyone who wants to treat publishing that way, be prepared to invest the time and money needed to get it right. There were two things that surprised me quite a bit when we decided to get serious about publishing. The first was that while it’s difficult to break into the infrastructure, there are lots of generous people out there who willingly share expertise, tips, and advice, and much of what the “big guys” know can be scaled down to be very useful for small start-up presses. The second thing, which was kind of disappointing, is that there’s an assumption that publishing “outsiders” deliver substandard quality. Because Rule Bender Press is small, we outsource many of the services larger houses might have on staff. But we only work with established professionals. From my perspective, “small” is often an enabler of quality, not its opponent.

Anyone thinking about starting a publishing business – as opposed to self-publishing, which really does have a different focus and different requirements – should be prepared to invest time, brainpower and money. You can self-publish pretty successfully using many of the free or low-cost tools that are available now, but if your publishing endeavor is going to be a real business you’ll need to treat it like one. That doesn’t mean you’ll need to spend a fortune, but if you’re going to be successfully representing the work you produce, you’ll need to “buy a ticket onto the industry bus”. This means having a budget for professional editors, designers and promotion; attending industry conferences, and putting time into networking. (Not social networking, which has gotten so competitive in terms of grabbing people’s attention, but real networking, where you walk around and shake people’s hands and pretend you’re always that charming.)

And the rewards? I can honestly say that nothing I’ve done professionally has come close to the satisfaction I feel when somebody reaches out to me because they want to tell me what they felt about something Rule Bender Press published. It still feels like a gut punch every time somebody posts a negative comment, and I suppose it always will, but that is nothing compared to the sheer pleasure when a reader talks to me about something we produced as if the characters are someone they know, or tells me something wonderful the book made them feel. I have so many favorite stories readers have shared with me — one told me when she finished Fire In The Henhouse, she went to sleep hugging the book, and another told me he almost got in trouble with his wife until he showed her his dog-eared copy because she didn’t believe him when he said he was in his office reading – it turns out he’d never finished an entire book before. You can’t beat stories like that for giving you a reason to keep going.

What other projects do you have coming up that you want people to know about?

Thanks for asking! I’m currently working on a novel that’s the most challenging thing I’ve written yet because the story itself is so emotionally difficult for me – it’s about a woman who has to find her voice and stand up a controlling, manipulative husband in order to, essentially, stay alive. Like many writers, I begin to live my characters’ lives internally, and I have to find ways to keep my mental distance enough to be fair to all the parties in this story. To me, there’s no point in writing a character, any character, if s/he isn’t sympathetic to some degree. I have to love my villains as well as my heroines. But of course, if you’ve read Death, Madness and a Mess of Dogs, you already know that.

Thank you for stopping by!

Thank you for inviting me!

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Giveaway: Upgraded

upgradedCyborgs are awesome. We all know it. So why wouldn’t you want to read about them? Don’t answer that, it’s a trick question. Because I’m a nice person, I want to enable your desire to read about cyborgs. To that end, I’m giving away a copy of Upgraded, an anthology filled with stories by the likes of Elizabeth Bear, Tobias S. Buckell, Ken Liu, Rachel Swirsky, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew, among others. It’s about cyborgs and it’s edited by a cyborg, namely Neil Clarke, of Clarkesworld fame. Should you need more convincing, the entire ToC is available here.

I had hoped to come up with some sort of super-clever and thematically relevant contest, but as it turns out, I’m not a clever person. So… If you want to win a copy of Upgraded, comment on this post and tell me why you think cyborgs are awesome. Or, if you’re anti-cyborg, tell me why they’re not awesome. Or, if you’re not into explaining yourself and think I should mind my own damned business, leave a cyborg-neutral comment. The winner will be chosen by a random number generator, or maybe my corgi, so your pro, anti, or indifferent cyborg stance will not impact your chance of winning.

The contest will be open until September 30, 2014, why not.

ETA: The random number generator has decreed musingaloud, who commented over on LJ, to be the winner. Thank you everyone for your fabulous comments, and congratulations, Pam!

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(Finally) Announcing…New Bugs!

We had a lot of fabulous submissions, and a lot of very tough choices to make, but I’m pleased to say we’ve made our final selections for Unlikely Story #10: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology. In no particular order, the issue will feature:

Miranda’s Wings by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Bookends by Michael Wehunt
Prism City Blues by Naim Kabir
Gemma Bugs Out by Victorya Chase
On Shine Wings by Polenth Blake
Coping With Common Garden Pests by Will Kaufman
Meltdown in Freezer Three by Luna Lindsey

I know I say this a lot, and I mean it every time, but this is an incredibly strong issue, and I can’t wait to share these stories with you. Unlikely Story #10 will be available sometime in November. In the meantime, we continue to read subs for Unlikely Story #11: The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography. If you’re interested, you can find the guidelines here. Come October 1, we’ll be reading stories for our next mini issue, The Journal of Unlikely Coulrophobia. So if you like clowns, or computers, we’re everywhere you want to be.

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