Spring Book Love 2016

Here we are. It’s already spring somehow, although the weather seems somewhat confused about just what that means at the moment. Can you blame it? Didn’t the year just start? Time is flying, and unlike last year, I haven’t been quite as good at keeping up with recent publications. However, I have managed to read a few things published in 2016 thus far. I really dug them, and I think you might too, so please allow me to gush about them in your general direction.

Honey MummyThe Honey Mummy by E. Catherine Tobler is either the third or the fourth book in the most excellent Folley & Mallory series, depending on how you’re counting. I want to say this is my favorite in the series thus far, but they’re all brilliant, and it doesn’t seem fair to play favorites. This book sees Eleanor Folley and Virgil Mallory return to Egypt, along with Cleo and Auberon, to unravel the mystery of a whole new set of rings. The story kicks off with a break in at Mistral, the secretive agency where Folley, Mallory, Cleo, and Auberon work. A fire in the archives at first appears to be cover for a theft, but Eleanor quickly discovers something has been left behind rather than taken. A ring, to be precise, left exactly where she will find it, made of strange material she can’t quite identify. It’s enough to intrigue her, as is an invitation to an auction taking place in Alexandria, Egypt. As with any proper adventure, things do not go as planned. The group from Mistral soon find themselves faced with a theatrical and slightly unhinged collector, a sarcophagus full of honey, a member of an elite ancient order sworn protector Egypt, and that’s just the beginning of their troubles. The discovery of the sarcophagus brings up a host of memories for Cleo, just as she was beginning to come to terms with the loss of her arms during an archaeological dig two years ago. The doctors believe that the only thing that saved her then was honey, mysteriously present in the collapsed tomb as it is in the sarcophagus here and now. As Cleo’s past and present collide, the psychological wounds of her trauma prove to be as raw as ever. The Honey Mummy is as much her story as Eleanor and Virgil’s. History is a major theme throughout the novel –  the ancient sort, the personal kind, and the intersection between the two. Tobler deftly weaves the story’s threads, the larger mysteries of the plot informing and strengthening the characters as individuals and as they relate to each other as the story unfolds. Time is cyclical here, echoing the first books in the series, and the physical circularity of the rings themselves. Past and present bleed into each other, and Tobler explores the consequences of that, along with the weight of power, and the potential horror true magic can hold. History and mythology flow into each other and, as always, the whole story is soaked in gorgeous sensory detail and haunting imagery. On top of all that, it’s a kissing book, and an adventure book; a book with dastardly villainy, and tender moments. It’s  a joy spending time with these characters and watching them grow, and I can’t wait for their next adventure!

DatesDates! An Anthology of Queer Historical Fiction is just what it says on the label – a comics/graphic anthology of queer historical fiction. This is a project that first caught my eye on Kickstarter. The cover alone was enough to make me rush to back it, and the spirit in which the anthology was assembled only made it better. In their introduction to the anthology, editors Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra state their mission for the collection – to gather queer stories from across time and around the world, with one important rule: they couldn’t be queer tragedy. They had to show queer people living happy lives, having adventures, and being active players in their own stories. The pieces in the anthology more than deliver, though most of them fall more into the realm of vignette or slice of life than full story. Proving the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, the art speaks volumes and is worth the price of admission alone. There are a wide range of styles on offer here, from whimsical to art-deco and everything in-between. This type of project is important and worth supporting. We need more happy queer stories, and stories where queer folks are front and center, living their own lives rather than sidelined, killed off, or erased. As another bonus, according to their bios, most of the creators are young artists and writers at the beginning of their careers, which is another thing worth supporting and celebrating. Dates! is definitely an anthology worth getting your hands on.

Paper TigersPaper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is a novel about healing, about feeling broken, and what people will do to feel whole again. Years ago, Alison was caught in a terrible fire. Roughly half her body is covered in scars. She lost an eye, two fingers, and sees a physiotherapist regularly to manage her pain. She rarely goes out, and when she does, it’s at night, when no one else is around. She covers herself with a scarf and glasses, and hardly speaks to anyone except her doctors and her mother, and even then, they are the ones to initiate the conversation. However, on one of her nighttime walks, Alison happens on an antique shop that keeps hours as odd as hers, and is drawn in by a photo album in the window. She purchases the album and quickly discovers an entire world within its pages – a house she can literally visit, populated by ghosts who seem real. While she’s in the album, and for a brief time after she emerges, she’s whole. The healing doesn’t last, and her scars return, but Alison ventures into the album again and again, despite the feeling that something is terribly wrong. The album’s primary ghost, George, gives off an air of malevolence, and in the real world, she’s wasting away, neglecting to eat, and wanting nothing but to sleep. Paper Tigers could easily have been a straightforward story – hapless character finds a spooky item in a mysterious antique shop and bad things happen, but it’s so much more. The idea of a haunted photo album is a fascinating concept on its own, but on top of that, there are the hauntings within hauntings, in multiple senses of the word. The character of Alison takes the book beyond a straightforward ghost story. Her pain is real, the trauma she’s suffered coloring her entire life. Her desire to feel normal is palpable, and it makes her need for the world inside the album completely understandable. Walters doesn’t succumb to an easy, hand-waving solution where magic makes everything better. This isn’t a ‘cure narrative’, but it is one of acceptance as Alison moves toward an understanding that there are different ways to be whole. The ghosts are presented both as a genuine haunting, and a kind of addiction. Alison goes through withdrawal, she fights, she backslides. Nothing is easy or pat, and the book is stronger for it. There is some genuinely creepy imagery here, as is often found in Walters’ work, along with a thoughtful examination of pain, recovery, acceptance, and the stages of grief.

FurnaceFurnace is Livia Llewellyn’s second collection, and it is every bit as dark and weird as her first (Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, which I also highly, highly recommend). A sense of cosmic horror underlies Llewellyn’s tales, even when they aren’t overtly Lovecraftian. They capture the spirit of the Weird in the classic sense, and update it, injecting overt sexuality and horror in new ways. For example, In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982, a story original to the collection, hearkens back Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows with the idea of nature as a malevolent force. Unlike Blackwood, however, Llewellyn’s vision of nature isn’t a passive, lurking horror, but an active one, one her characters can either choose to embrace (literally) or refuse. There is an erotic edge to many of the tales, and like her first collection, desire plays dangerously close to the edge of pain and terror, often slipping over that edge. Love and want are kinds of violence, after all, with the power to tear people inside out. There is a dream-like (nightmare-like) quality to many of the stories. Haunting imagery flows throughout the collection, carrying the reader along with its power, making them willing to accept things that would be irrational in the real world, but perfectly logical in the world of the tales. Women buzz like lawn mowers, and sisters swap body parts to merge into one terrible and beautiful creature. Massive spiders occupy the penthouse floors of an impossibly tall apartment building. The subway system is a living, wanting thing. Giants rise out of the ocean and birth horrors upon the world. Many of the stories in the collection were new to me, but even in those I had read before I found myself discovering new things – previously hiddden sharp angles ready to draw blood and strange mirrors displaying warped visions of the world. It’s an incredibly strong collection, and if you’re a fan of weird fiction, horror, erotica, or just damn good stories, it’s one you should definitely read.

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Goings On

There are various goings on happening, now or coming up soon, so instead of a really substantive post, I’m going to tell you about them.

On April 5th at The Brooklyn Commons, I’ll be taking part in the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings’ launch party for Clockwork Phoenix 5. Clockwork Phoenix is an excellent anthology series, and the fifth entry is no exception. It’s full of fantastic stories, some of which I’ve covered in my recent Women to Read posts at SF Signal, and my Non-Binary Authors to Read posts right here on this blog. You can find the posts in question here, here, and here. Clockwork Phoenix 5 is currently available for preorder, and will be officially available as of April 5th. Starting March 18th, you can also enter to win your very own copy at Goodreads. I highly recommend grabbing a copy any way you can.

01 Publishing is currently running a Kickstarter for Whispers from the Abyss 2. As you might guess from the title, this is an anthology of Lovecraftian fiction. It contains a story a story of mine set in the same universe as Venice Burning, where R’yleh has risen, time is broken, and humanity is essentially fucked to hell. It’s a love story, of course. As part of the Kickstarter campaign, you can claim a critique from me – up to 8000 words for either a story of a novel excerpt. There’s lots of other fantastic rewards on offer, too. Go check it out!

Speaking of Kickstarters, Apex is currently working toward their second Stretch Goal for their anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling. The anthology is edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates and packed full of fantastic authors such as Sunil Patel, Alyssa Wong, Haralambi Markov, Maurice Broaddus, Michael Underwood, and Nisi Shawl taking tropes and flipping them on their heads. Thanks to meeting the first Stretch Goal, I will be contributing an essay to the anthology all about the Heroine’s Journey and everyone’s favorite goblin sparkle fest, Labyrinth.

This March marks Lethe Press’ 15th Anniversary. To celebrate, they’re holding a massive ebook sale. Buy a minimum of three ebooks and get them for $1.50 each. For less than the price of a fancy cup of Starbucks coffee, you could get, oh, say The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again, along with two other fabulous titles. That includes excellent things such as Christopher Barzak’s Before and Afterlives, Richard Bowes’ Dust Devil on a Quiet Street, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe edited by Steve Berman, Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction edited by Jean Roberta and Steve Berman, or Livia Llewellyn’s Engines of Desire.
And that’s just the tip of the highly affordable iceberg. What are you waiting for? Head on over and buy up some ebooks!


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An Interview with Mike Allen

Mike Allen was kind enough to drop by my blog today to talk about his latest collection, The Spider Tapestries, among other things. The Spider Tapestries is out on March 1, but there’s a Goodreads giveaway going on right now, so after you’re done reading Mike’s interview, head on over and enter for your chance to win. Now, to get things started, as I frequently do, I will shameless steal Mike’s author bio by way of introduction…

Spider TapestriesMike Allen edits the critically-acclaimed anthology series Clockwork Phoenix and the long-running magazine Mythic Delirium. His books include post-apocalyptic dark fantasy novel The Black Fire Concerto and career-spanning poetry collection Hungry Constellations. Mike’s stories have popped up in places like Weird Tales, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the anthologies Cthulhu’s Reign, Solaris Rising 2 and Tomorrow’s Cthulhu. His poetry has won the Rhysling Award three times, and his fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award and the Shirley Jackson Award. By day he works as the arts and culture columnist for the daily newspaper in Roanoke, Va., where he lives with his wife Anita, a goofy dog, and two cats with varying degrees of psychosis. You can follow Mike’s exploits as a writer at descentintolight.com, as an editor at mythicdelirium.com, and all at once on Twitter at @mythicdelirium.

First of all, welcome and congratulations on the publication of your latest collection! I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at The Spider Tapestries, but for those who haven’t, would you care to provide a taste of what’s in store?

Thanks, Alison! The Spider Tapestries samples my writing at its absolute weirdest. It’s funny for me to say that, because just about all of my published stories were born in Bizarreland. But these seven stories (and I always wanted it to be seven, I think because of the rhythm of “Seven Strange Stories” as a subtitle) represent the tales where I pushed hardest against the boundaries of what a story can hold –and in some instances, how a story can be told.

My first collection, Unseaming, had some wacky story structure and surreal plot developments, but I think all the tales in that book can be unambiguously classified as “horror.” While the stories in Spider Tapestries run amok through genre conventions. I tend to describe the book as “half as long as Unseaming and ten times weirder.”

You blend a lot of styles in The Spider Tapestries. One style I was particularly intrigued by was the weird-noir of Twa Sisters and Still Life With Skull. Could you talk about where that voice and world came from? Are there other stories set in this universe? Perhaps a whole story cycle, or even a novel?

“Twa Sisters” was the first, and it came about as a kind of kooky convergence. On the one hand, my buddy Patty Templeton introduced me to the art of Alessandro Bavari, whose astonishing photo-manipulations contain a whole cosmos of post-human decadence. One the other hand, my great friend Nicole Kornher-Stace dared me to write a story the way I write a poem. She was thinking in terms of my use of language, but that’s not the only tool I use in poetry. I’ve written a lot of ekphrastic poetry, and I’ve written concrete poems that arrange words in shapes on the page to convey sci-fi concepts, in deliberate tribute to works by Alfred Bester and Harlan Ellison.

So I decided to write an ekphrastic story based on Bavari’s imagery, and added concrete poetry techniques to convey how the two entities that live inside my first person narrator’s brain have independent points of view. I challenged myself to just make up the story as I went rather than work from an outline, which for some reason led to that mock-noir tone. That established the atmosphere for all that follows. I began “Still Life With Skull” as a lark and finished it for Ian Whates’s Solaris Rising 2 anthology, drawing more inspiration from Bavari’s work. It was a fun exercise: I assumed those surreal images were photographs of real events, and then tried to deduce the who and the why.

I have actually drafted a third story in the sequence, called “The Three-fold Feather,” that will probably end up as a novelette once it’s all spit-polished. I can’t fathom where I’m going to sell that story, but that’s a problem for another day.

In addition to your short fiction, you’re also an award-winning poet, a novelist, and a newspaper columnist. Do you have separate compartments in your brain for each type of writing, or do they all flow into one another? When you need a break from writing all together, are there other creative (or non-creative) outlets you turn to in order to recharge your batteries?

The different types of writing do require some compartmentalization, but not as much as you might think. Stringing together the paragraphs of a news story and stanzas of a poem can be remarkably similar, for example. Often, both are non-linear in structure, and I’m writing them with a mind toward juxtaposing elements so they convey maximum information and impact. When I’m writing a story, I don’t concentrate near as much on cadence and quirky word choice as I do with a poem, and yet, if I had a dime for every response to my work that included some variant on “You can tell the dude’s a poet” … I’d have a nice pile of dimes, heh.

I’ve quite deliberately maneuvered things so that darn near everything I do in my life connects to writing in some way. I love hiking and I’m something of a movie snob, and that might well be about the sum of what there is to know regarding how I spend my time…

On a somewhat related note, you also edit Mythic Delirium, which in its current iteration is a magazine of prose and poetry, and the Clockwork Phoenix anthology series. Do you ever sleep? Or, to put it in a slightly more seriously, how do you balance all your projects? Does your editorial work influence your writing, or vice versa?

I didn’t graduate college with any ambitions to become an editor. In 1995 an acquaintance asked me to edit an anthology, claiming he would provide the funding. This turned out to be a lie, but I had already acquired all the stories and poems before I figured this out! I finished the project on my own dollar, and on the scale of what could be expected from a self-published, Kinko’s-copied, saddle-stapled book in that era, it was a success that actually opened some doors for me. That book , New Dominions, is long forgotten, but it showed me that I could pull off that kind of project. So I kept pursuing them.

How do I balance them? Quite poorly! I do sleep occasionally though.

My writing and editing do cross-pollinate, but it’s difficult to explain exactly how. As an editor, I get introduced to writers who are working well outside the mainstream (some of them I catch while they’re still on their way toward re-defining the mainstream). That’s great for me, in terms of discovering creative regions to explore that are new to me. As a writer myself, I know what my hopes are in terms of how an editor will treat my work, and so I use those as guidelines for how I approach editing. I think my tastes as an editor are significantly different from my tastes as a writer, though: more breadth of subject matter, more light to balance the darkness, fewer monsters and corpses.

At conventions, you have been known to roam the halls wearing a truly fabulous hat. It looks like the kind of hat with a story behind it. Is there a story, or is it the sort of thing where if you told me, you’d have to kill me?

Alas, the hat you reference has vanished into the aether! A natural outcome, I suppose, for a gift from a Goblin Queen (i.e. Amal El-Mohtar, co-editor of Goblin Fruit). My wife, Anita, must be given due credit for having added more and more decorations to that hat until it achieved extreme fabulousity — everything on it referenced something I had written. A replacement may be in the works.

I have no doubt that the new hat will be every bit as fabulous as its predecessor! Anyway, now that your second collection is out in the world, what are you working on next?

I am revising a novel, Trail of Shadows, that’s an expansion of one of my stories from Unseaming, “The Hiker’s Tale.” I’m also busy promoting my newest anthology, Clockwork Phoenix 5, which you know as you contributed an awesome story to its pages (he said with a grin).

Aww, shucks! You’re too kind. Thank you for stopping by!

Thanks for letting me do so!

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A Glitter Bomb for Your Ears

Glitter SquadronHas this ever happened to you? You find yourself sitting around the house, or at the office, or stuck in traffic, and you think to yourself, how can I get more glitter in my life? Wonder no more, my friend! The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again is now available as an audio book! The stories and the cocktail recipes between them are wonderfully narrated by Renata Friedman, and you can grab your very own copy at Audible or through Amazon. Now you can take glitter with you wherever you go! Planning a road trip? Let the Glitter Squadron ride shotgun! Headed to the gym? Let the Glitter Squadron make your workout fabulous! Writing an angry letter to the editor about how there are too many birds in your neighborhood? The Glitter Squadron will help soothe your rage-filled soul!

Still not convinced? Check out what these fine reviewers have to say about the collection…

Ana Grilo of The Book Smugglers gave the collection an 8/10 in her review at Kirkus, and called it “whimsical” and “delightful”.

Mieneke van der Salm aka A Fantastical Librarian called the collection “fun to read” “but also surprisingly touching and serious” in her review.

Derek Newman-Stille of Speculating Canada calls it “as beautifully, sparklingly camp as the title suggests” in his review.

Alyx Dellamonica compares the stories to “gems strung together in a necklace” in her review at Tor.com, and she named it among her favorite books of 2015.

Now you can get all that fabulous glittery goodness in audio form. As an extra bonus, listening to the book will leave your hands conveniently free for mixing up one of those aforementioned cocktail recipes so you can sip along with the gang as they save the world. If you’ve ever wanted fill your ears with glitter, there’s finally have a medically safe way to do so. Happy listening!

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Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 5

It’s been a while, but it’s time for another edition of Non-Binary Authors to Read. If you’re new to this series, here’s where you can find part 1, 2, 3, and 4. Now that you’re all caught up, let’s get this part 5 party started!

Penny Stirling is an agender author from Western Australia. My recommended starting place for ous work is Kin, Painted from the Summer 2015 issue of Lackington’s Magazine. The language in this story is flat-out gorgeous. It concerns a family of artists, each with their skin painted or adorned in a way that both makes them a living work of art, and expresses something about their personality. The protagonist’s father is decorated with game boards for chess and backgammon worked into his skin, their mother is a dancer coated in glass and reflective paint, one of their sisters is a royal guard painted in camouflage, and one of their brothers, the lover of the Duchess’ son, is tattooed with roses from the Duchess’ garden. So it goes for every member of the family, except the protagonist who still struggles with how best to define themselves. Over the course of the story, they try on a myriad of different art forms – watercolor, ink, mosaic, chalk. Each attempt is lovingly described, as are the characters. Stirling gives readers a world of gender fluidity, of family, and of finding oneself. Each character feels fully realized, with their own arcs to follow in the tale. The result is a portrait (if you’ll excuse the pun) that feels epic, yet on an intimate scale. Taken all together, it’s a very worthy starting place for Stirling’s work.

Laurie Penny is an author, journalist, feminist, and activist. My recommended starting place for her work is How to Be a Genderqueer Feminist published at Buzzfeed. While Buzzfeed is better known for clickbait articles in the vein of 21 things you can list that will make people follow this link, Penny’s essay is heartfelt, honest, and speaks to a larger truth. In it, Penny discusses her own gender identity, and growing up feeling like she never fit in with either binary of girls or boys. Similar to David J. Schwartz essay about the restrictive nature of masculinity, which I discussed in an earlier installment of this series, Penny talks about how her early understanding of feminism was damaging to her. The restrictive category of female can be as problematic as the restrictive category of male. Penny’s journey took her through an eating disorder, suicidal ideation, questioning of her sexuality and gender identity, and eventually emerging on the other side to find a supportive community that helped her understand her identity. How to Be a Genderqueer Feminist is an important essay furthering the discussion around the spectrum of gender, pushing for less limited definitions, and showing there is room for a wide range of expressions of self. Hopefully it is the kind of piece that will help others struggling with their notions of who they are, and either way, it is a wonderful starting place for Penny’s work.

Sarah Benwell is a YA author, and my recommended starting place is the essay Knights, Defenders and Double-Edged Swords at Gay YA. The essay is brief, but important. It is a call to action, a call for representation of genderfluid characters in YA literature. It is the kind of thing, if acted upon might help youth going through the same journey Laurie Penny describes in her essay feel less alone. As most people are painfully aware, young adulthood is a formative time, and can be a confusing one. People try on identities and figure out who and how they want to be in the world. Many of us turn to literature for role models, and as Benwell points out a lack of genderfluid and non-binary characters can be actively damaging. To quote directly: How can anyone feel good, normal, okay, wanted, valued, if they cannot find themselves? With no role models to look up to, and no language to explain themselves? No stories. When society either confronts them or denies that they exist (and sometimes does both in one breath)? You can’t. We need representation. Erasure of marginalized groups is too common in literature overall, but in YA it’s especially impactful. Benwell’s essay draws attention to the importance of representation, and pushes for more of it across the field, making it an excellent starting place.

Alex Dally MacFarlane is an author, editor and historian. My recommended starting point for their work is Two Bright Venuses from Clockwork Phoenix 5. The story takes its inspiration from a real 17th century BCE astronomical record, which describes the rising of a superior and inferior Venus. The story posits two Venuses as fact. Because of their twin nature, exploration of them is only possible through a unique form of synchronicity – astronauts made to be exact mirrors of each other in every way, acting in complete unison. This is the kind of story that slips between the cracks of genre, straddling and blurring the line between science fiction and weird fiction. It is both a tale of space exploration, and a tale of ghosts, as the planet Venus reaches out to overwrite the astronauts trying to understand it. There are shades of Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy here, as MacFarlane presents the reader with an unknowable Venus, a wild place that is ancient and changes those who try to explore it. The story also explores elements of identity as the astronauts, Inferior Irunn and Superior Irunn, are linked to both each other and the planet. Which feelings are truly their own, which are external to them? Where do the boundaries lie, and in the end, does it matter? What is self in the face of something so vast? There are hints of mythology at play, and while the story doesn’t necessarily give readers an easy path by explaining itself upfront, it is well worth it. The story is richer for making readers pay close attention and work to understand the shape the of the world. Haunted and haunting, it is an excellent starting place for MacFarlane’s work.

Four more authors, four more excellent works to read. As always, I invite you to leave your own suggestions for work by non-binary authors in the comments.

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An Unlikely Holiday

FoolAs I mentioned in my last post, Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix is officially out in the world. That being the case, Unlikely Story has moved onto its next adventure. This time, we’re exploring the roots of April Fool’s Day. It’s a strange holiday, unlikely even. Peasants become kings, the earth is renewed, and tricks are played. Can you write a story encompassing those concepts in less than 2,000 words? If so, we’re the venue for you!

The guidelines for The Journal of Unlikely Observances can be found here. This is a mini issue, so we really are looking for flash fiction. As the guidelines say, we’re willing to be a little flexible, but by that we mean it’s okay if you go over by a few words, not a few hundred words or more. As the old saying goes – kill your darlings. Give us a story that’s lean and mean and encompasses the spirit of April Fool’s Day. There are more details on our website. We can’t wait to read what you send us.

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The Clowns Have Landed

ClownsIt’s been a long journey, but Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix is finally here! This is Unlikely Story’s first print anthology, and we’re very proud of it. There are twenty-two stories, seventeen of them brand-spanking-new, featuring clowns, jesters, and mimes in all their guises – happy, sad, funny, and yes, frightening. There are whaling clowns, tormented jesters, parasitic shoes, haunted clown cars, eerie mimes, and clowns at the end of the world, from authors such as Mari Ness, Chris Kuriata, Cate Gardner, and Cassandra Khaw, to name just a few. There are also original illustrations accompanying each story, and clown facts scattered throughout the book, because knowledge is power and know thy enemy and whatnot.

Those who backed the Kickstarter (thank you very much, we couldn’t have done it without you!) at the relevant levels should be receiving their print and ebook copies soon. In the meantime, the ebook is available on Amazon. With any luck, it’ll eventually be available in a  other places as well, and the print version should be up on Amazon shortly as well.

Coming up, there will be a Goodreads giveaway. We’ll also be announcing our future plans for Unlikely Story in good time, so keep an eye our website. But for now, it’s time to pile into the clown car and join us for a ride. The circus awaits you.

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Coming Attractions 2016

Now that I’ve raved about the novels, anthologies, collections, and short stories I loved in 2015, it’s time to talk about a few things I’m looking forward to in 2016. There will be more, of course, because there are always more books to get excited about, but here’s a small sampling to whet your appetite.

The Honey Mummy by E. Catherine Tobler – I absolutely love the Folley & Mallory series. The third book is due out next year, and I couldn’t be more excited. Eleanor and Virgil are fantastic characters, and this time they’re headed to Egypt. Plus, the novel promises to reveal more about Cleo and Auberon, two intriguing characters who clearly have rich pasts that have only been hinted at thus far. For those who haven’t read the Folley & Mallory series yet (and why haven’t you?), they’re full of action and adventure, with a touch of steampunk, plus shapeshifters and mysterious artifacts and errant gods. They’re a heck of a lot of fun, full of gorgeous sensory detail, and I suggest you seek them out right now.

Cloudbound by Fran Wilde – I’ve raved about Wilde’s first novel, Updraft, quite a bit, so you know I’m looking forward to the second book set in the Bone Universe. As I’ve mentioned before, Wilde’s worldbuilding is stunning, and I can’t wait to join Kirit, Nat, Wik, and the rest and they continue to negotiate the politics of their world, and figure out what the [Updraft Spoiler Redacted] will mean to their lives.

All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – I’ve consistently enjoyed Anders’ short fiction, and I’m very much looking forward to her debut novel. It promises mystery, magic, and time travel. What more could you want? Plus, the cover is gorgeous, and I’ve come to expect good things from Anders’ work, so I can’t wait to see what she does at novel length.

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard – Kat Howard is another author whose short fiction I love, and whose first novel I’m eagerly anticipating. Sisters and sacrifice and fairy tales? Yes, please! Howard’s short fiction is lovely, and I suspect her first novel will be as well.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – I loved the hell out of Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, thus I am already making grabby hands at her second novel, due out in Fall of 2016. Vampires and garbage collectors in Mexico City, with a neo-noir flair. I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to this one.

Furnace by Livia Llewellyn – This is the second short fiction collection from an author whose first collection was a gut punch that still haunts me years later. The collection will be released by Word Horde, publisher of several fantastic anthologies. The combination of author and press certainly have me intrigued, and I’m always excited to read more of Llewellyn’s work.

Spider TapestriesThe Spider Tapestries by Mike Allen – I had the good fortune to get a sneak peek at this collection, and I can assure you it’s wonderful. Allen has a great talent for combining beauty and horror, and these stories are no exception. High fantasy, future weird noir – this collection has it all – style voice, and great stories to boot.

Singing With All My Skin and Bone by Sunny Moraine – I’ve raved about Moraine’s novels here before, but this is their first short fiction collection. The collection is being published by Undertow Books, which does gorgeous work, so I expect great things. Moraine’s short fiction tends to be by turns, brutal, lovely, angry, and stylish, and sometimes all of those things at once. I look forward to seeing how this collection comes together.

As I said, this is just a sampling of the things I’m looking forward to in 2016. There are also new short stories on the way by my favorite authors, anthologies by my favorite editors, and new writers and publications to discover. Plus, I haven’t even gotten in to other media yet, like Captain America: Civil War, because I’m starting to let my hopes creep up a little bit for that one. I’m also hoping for more Jessica Jones and Supergirl, too. All this, of course, and there’s still tons to catch up on from this year, and the year before, and the year before and… However, I remain undaunted, and I also want to know what you’re looking forward to in 2016 as well!

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Favorite Novels, Anthologies, and Collections of 2015

A few weeks back, I posted about my favorite short fiction of 2015. To go along with that post, here are the novels, collections, and anthologies I loved this year. I’m sticking to things published within this year, but there will be an ‘honorable mention’ section at the bottom for non-2015 work.

As a side note, when K. Tempest Bradford announced her Reading Challenge, encouraging folks to take one year off from reading books by straight, white, cis, males, I found I’d already started the year that way, so why not continue? I didn’t apply the rule to short fiction, but I made sure all the novels and single author collections I read this year played by the challenge’s rules. And you know what? The world didn’t end. I read some fantastic work, and all the books by straight, white, cis male authors I didn’t read this year will still be there next year, and in the years to come. In the coming year, I’ll read whatever strikes my mood, but the main thing I intend to challenge myself to do in 2016 is read more non-fiction. I have a wonderful stack of recommendations culled for twitter and other places, and I look forward to dipping a toe into the truth-is-stranger world in-between the fiction reading. Now, on to my favorites of 2015…

Karen MemoryKaren Memory by Elizabeth Bear – I went into further detail about why I loved this book back in March. The short version is, it has a fantastic voice, strong, diverse characters, and it’s just good fun. There’s adventure, daring escapes, and it’s a kissing book full of girl cooties in the best possible way. The story centers on the ‘soiled doves’ of Madame Damnable’s Sewing Parlor, and the lengths they’ll go to in order to protect their own. Wild West with a touch of Steampunk, and as I said, a heck of a lot of fun.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – I also blogged about this one back in the spring and again at Fantasy Book Cafe as part of their Women in SFF Month. The story centers on three friends who, as teenagers in the 80s learned to cast spells using vinyl records. The novel also deals with the same three friends in the present day, showing the how their lives have fallen apart somewhat as a result of their magic-using back in the day. Moreno-Garcia takes a light touch with the speculative element, allowing the characters and their relationships to truly shine. Meche, the main character, is particularly striking. She’s angry and authentic in a way few fictional characters – especially women – are allowed to be. At the same time, she’s utterly sympathetic. All around, it’s a beautiful novel, and the final scene of the book is just heartbreakingly lovely.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley – I raved about this book back in the summer. Like Signal to Noise, Magonia gives us a female character who is allowed to be prickly and angry and justifiably so. Aza is dying, trapped in a body that’s failing her, while still doing her best to live a normal life. The novel is soaked in gorgeous imagery, and it’s absolutely heart-wrenching at times. Family, and love, and life, but also birds, and flying ships, and all kinds of wonderful things. It’s a brilliant inversion of a portal fantasy, and isn’t afraid to utterly shake up the world as the characters know it.

Accessing the Future
edited by Djibril al-Ayad and Kathryn Allan – This anthology, put together by the good folks at The Future Fire, features stories putting disability and mental illness front and center. Too often science fiction sweeps disability under the rug. Either there’s a ‘magical cure’ that makes disability a thing of the past, or it’s erased through a simple lack of inclusion. Accessing the Future reflects a world that looks more like our own, and includes disability that isn’t hand-waved away or ignored. There are some truly stand-out stories in this collection, and I particularly enjoyed those by Nicolette Barischoff, Samantha Rich, and A.R. Sanchez.


Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older – Magical graffiti, old family secrets, and characters fighting to save their neighborhood, and the world. The speculative element in this one is definitely more overt than in Signal to Noise, but again, it’s the character interactions that truly make this book shine. One thing I particularly appreciated about this as a YA novel is that it doesn’t cut adults out of the picture all together. Sierra and her family don’t always see eye to eye, but they care about each other. The adults don’t automatically dismiss everything the teens and have to say, and vice versa. In the end, it’s multiple generations within the neighborhood who come together to make things right, and that’s something I don’t see often enough in fiction, particularly of the YA/MG variety.

She Weeps Each Time You’re Born by Quan Barry – I wrote about this one in October’s Women to Read column. Barry shows readers Vietnam as a country full of ghosts. Rabbit is born in her mother’s grave, and sees spirits no one else can throughout the rest of her life. Barry is a poet, and this is her first novel. The way she uses language let her roots as a poet show, while still being utterly satisfying as prose. This is a beautiful, looping novel, unfolding bits of itself at a time to reveal a stunning whole.

Letters to Zell by Camille Griep – I wrote about this one a few months ago. Letters to Zell is a surprisingly effective take on what happens after the ‘happily ever after’ of fairy tales. It’s also a truly touching portrait of strong female friendship, flawed, but unshakable. Griep provides fully satisfying growth arcs for each of her characters over the course of the novel – they grow together as friends, and individually, as human beings.

Updraft by Fran Wilde – I blogged about this one a few months ago as well. Updraft is a novel full of stunning world building. Kirit is a fiercely determined character, fighting for the right to speak, fighting for her family and her friends, and negotiating a complicated web of politics and secrets. There are breathtaking descriptions of flight, and the bone cities, towers, and bridges Wilde describe make this one of the most unique secondary world fantasies I’ve seen in a long time.

Ghost Summer

Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due – This is a reprint collection, but most of the stories here were new to me. I highlighted one of the stories in my November Women to Read column, but any one piece from the collection would be worth highlighting, as they’re all very strong. The stories are grouped together by theme or setting – a small Florida town haunted by ghosts and old sorrows, and a post apocalyptic future in the wake of a mysterious disease, among other things. The variety and strength of these stories make this an outstanding collection.

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente – I’d been looking forward to this book all year, and it did not disappoint. As is typical of Valente, this is a novel soaked in style. Elements of it are reminiscent of Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris novels, but at the same time, her world(s) are wholly unique and the voice is unquestionably Valente’s. Radiance is art deco punk, alternate history, retro future space travel, just to name a few of its many facets. The novel is ambitious in scope and style, combining documentary film, noir, romance, fairy tale, and radio plays to slowly unfold the tale of a disappeared filmmaker, a young boy who is the sole survivor of his Venusian colony town, and a father who filters his reality through a camera lens. Valente gives us the pieces of a puzzle, each gorgeously rendered, adding more pieces to the box just when we think we have the picture halfway figured out. But it’s never frustrating. Each new element only makes the whole that much more dazzling. Radiance is a novel about stories, about the lies we tell ourselves and each other, about seeing and being seen, about the narratives we use to make sense of the chaos of life. Taken all together, Radiance is a stunning and decadent, horror-sci-fi-fantasy that makes the wide variety of voices, themes, and genres it takes on feel effortless.

Against a Brightening Sky

Against a Brightening Sky by Jamie Lee Moyer – A fully satisfying end to a trilogy which started with Delia’s Shadow. Refugees are pouring into America in the wake of the Great War, and bringing their ghosts with them. Delia is more fully in control of her abilities in this book, but she still has dangers and fears to face – fear of failing her friends, of losing those she loves, and being unable to stop the tide of sorrow brought to her doorstop by the dead. As always, the characters shine, including the city of San Francisco itself. Moyer does an excellent job of revealing new depths to Delia, Dora, Gabe, and the rest while introducing new characters, and tying all of their stories into the larger picture of a world putting itself back together in the wake of a devastating war.

She Walks in Shadows edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula Stiles – This anthology puts women front and center in the Lovecraft mythos, a space where they’ve historically been almost entirely absent, downplayed, and ignored. The stories offer fresh takes on familiar tales, and move beyond the established framework to bring readers something new. Overall, the anthology is strong, but those stories in particular that stood out to me were by E. Catherine Tobler, Gemma Files, Molly Tanzer, and Pandora Hope. As an extra bonus, the stories are all accompanied by fantastic illustrations.

An Inheritance of Ashes

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet – This is another novel I’d been looking forward to for a long time, and which did not disappoint. Bobet immerses readers in a world blending weird fiction and dust bowl punk, set in a far future after the fall of existence as we know it. Gods, or what many people call gods, are real, and far stranger than we ever imagined. The story centers on Hallie who is living with her older sister Marthe on the farm they inherited from their father. Marthe’s husband never came home from the war that nearly broke the world, and they are struggling to maintain their independence, put enough food on their table, and keep everything from falling apart. Their relationship is deeply fraught, and Hallie in particular is a beautifully flawed character. Her pride and determination keep her from asking for help, often to her detriment and the detriment of others. At the same time, she is true to herself and what she feels in the moment. She always tries to do the right thing, even when it backfires. The world Bobet paints as a backdrop for these characters is fantastic; twisted bird-spider things, fox-eared lizards, and the island-sized corpse of a beast all leak into the world in the wake of the wicked god who was killed by a vanished hero. Every character has their own strengths and motivations – ones that sometimes keep them from understanding each other, but who are, in the end, fiercely loyal to each other. It’s a novel of family, friendship, discovering yourself, and fighting to save a world.

Honorable Mentions (aka other favorite reads from 2015, published in earlier years)

Line and Orbit by Lisa Soem and Sunny Moraine

Nightmare Carnival edited by Ellen Datlow

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan

Prophecies, Libels & Dreams by Ysabeau Wilce

Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor

Hild by Nicola Griffith

The Cutting Room edited by Ellen Datlow

Streets of Shadows edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Ghosts: Recent Hauntings edited by Paula Guran

There you have it. There’s a whole (figurative) pile of books I’m already looking forward to for next year. No doubt they will become a literal pile soon enough, spilling from my shelves and end tables, begging me to read them. Those books, however, are for a separate post. What books did you love best in 2015? What did I miss that I need to add to my already in-danger-of-toppling pile?

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Remembering Barry King

Back in 2009, I attended my first real convention as a writer. It was a Worldcon, and the only reason I got up the courage to go is because it was being held in Montreal, my hometown. Having never been to a con before, my general impression was of something huge and overwhelming where everyone already knew each other, and where I most definitely didn’t belong. I attended panels, and for the most part spent the weekend too terrified to talk to anyone. The exception was the workshop I signed up for, where a pro and a neo-pro author teamed up to take on small groups of writers and teach them how to critique each other’s work, as well as offering feedback of their own. I came away from the workshop with largely positive feelings, and the other authors who participated did as well. After the convention, we suggested keeping the group going through a private online workshop, which grew into Anticipation, named after the convention where it all started. One of the authors who was key in making this happen was Barry King.

A few weeks ago, one of the members of our workshop reached out to the Anticipation workshop group to let us know that Barry had passed away.

Barry was young. He was full of life and energy. He was one of those people who seemed like he would always be there. Until he wasn’t, and I still can’t quite believe he’s gone.

I didn’t have the chance to meet Barry in person at that first con in Montreal. We became friends through the workshop, and stayed in touch even after I drifted away from the group. We swapped critiques. I followed his blog with interest, always eager to see his latest efforts in macro photography, or read about his cooking adventures. Both his parents (I believe) were diplomats, and he grew up everywhere. He was passionate about a great many subjects, and could talk intelligently and at length about any and all of them – history, politics, philosophy, music, and, of course, writing. I finally got to meet Barry and his wife at Readercon three years ago. We kept running into each other in the hallways, and as always seems to happen at cons, we never found the time to sit down properly and have a drink or a meal together. I regret that even more now.

Barry wrote strange, wonderful, densely layered stories. The kind of stories that stick with you long after you finish reading them. In my co-editoral capacity, I was lucky enough to publish two of those stories at Unlikely Story: Those Who Gave Their Island to Survive and Something in Our Minds Will Always Stay. Other of his works can be found at Crossed Genres, Ideomancer, and Lackington’s among other places.

Even though the members of the Anticipation Workshop have largely gone their separate ways now, we wanted to do something as a group to honor Barry’s memory. He was a giving writer, and we decided a scholarship to a writing workshop in his name would be most appropriate. We chose Alpha Workshop, an eleven day residential workshop for teens 14-19 to learn the craft of writing genre fiction from established pros. The Barry King Memorial Scholarship will provide need-based funding to help a young writer (or writers) attend Alpha. Preference will be given to Canadians, in honor of Barry’s chosen home. Anyone interested in donating can do so here. Follow the paypal link, and make sure to put ‘Barry King Memorial Scholarship’ in the note to seller field so they know where to direct the funds. If you know a teen who might be interested in attending Alpha, point them here. The application process for 2016 hasn’t opened up yet, but it will soon.

A legacy helping a new generation of SF/F/H writers hone their craft  – I think Barry would have approved.

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