Apex Magazine: Delicious Fiction Since 2009

Apex Magazine kicks off its annual subscription drive today. Apex has been bringing readers dark, and strange, and beautiful fiction for the past seven years. Whether under the editorial direction of Jason Sizemore, Cat Valente, Lynne and Michael Thomas, or Sigrid Ellis, Apex has been committed to bringing high quality speculative fiction and new voices and visions to readers. I could go on about why you should subscribe, but I’ll let the stories speak for themselves. Here are a few of my favorites from the past seven years.

An Evening in the City Coffeehouse, With Lydia on My Mind by Alexander Zikjak

The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente

each thing i show you is a piece of my death by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer

Ghosts of New York by Jennifer Pelland

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak

Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine

Erzulie Dantor by Tim Susman

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky

Build-a-Dolly by Ken Liu

Ilse, Who Saw Clearly by E. Lily Yu

Call Girl by Tang Fei

Becca At the End of the World by Shira Lipkin

This Is a Ghost Story by Keffy R.M. Kehrli

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon

The End of the World in Five Dates by Claire Humphrey

Last Dance Over the Red, Red World by Gary Kloster

Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu

Griefbunny by Brooke Juliet Wonders

Crow by Octavia Cade

Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker

A Sister’s Weight in Stone by JY Yang

It is Healing, It is Never Whole by Sunny Moraine

Find Me by Isabel Yap

When the Fall is All That’s Left by Arkady Martine

The Laura Ingalls Experience by Andrew Neil Grey

1957 by Stephen Cox

Cuckoo Girls by Douglas F. Warrick

Check out the stories, and if you like what you see, consider subscribing to Apex Magazine. It’s a fantastic publication. You won’t be sorry!

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Non Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part Six

It’s been a while, far too long in fact, so now it’s high time for another Non-Binary Authors to Read post. If you’re new to the series and catching up, the first five installments can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I use non-binary as a term-of-convenience, meant to include agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, neutrois, and other genders that do not align with the male/female binary. I do my best, but if I ever fuck up a pronoun, or misgender anyone, please let me know. I will make changes with my sincere apologies!

Foz Meadows is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer, and poet, and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe in 2014. My recommended starting place for her work is Ten Days’ Grace, published by Apex Magazine in 2014. The story describes a reality that feels all too frighteningly possible, where family structures are mandated by law, for the ‘good of the children’. Each child must be raised by two parents, one male, one female, regardless of whether they love each other. Single parenthood is not an option, nor is same-sex marriage, or abortion. A parent who finds themselves widowed receives ten days grace to mourn before they must marry again. Julia, the protagonist of Meadows’ story, finds herself in just such a situation. Twelve years into a loveless marriage, her husband dies in a car crash. Julia’s daughter, Lily, was the result of an affair with a married man, leaving her little choice but to marry a stranger in order to protect her daughter. Now, she’s forced into the situation again. Meadows shows the emotional impact such laws might have on women and children, those who have the least say and power in the situation, and it is heartbreaking. The story is not hopeless however. Julia develops a relationship with the agent assigned to ensure she remarries, and they strike a deal. He is gay and has no more interest in marrying than she does, but a marriage will protect him, and help his career. It’s still a relationship of convenience, but one that seems like it could develop into a genuine friendship. Sora and Julia are both taking a risk, trusting each other when they barely know each other. By having Julia and Sora follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit, Meadows shows how useless said laws are. After starting with her fiction, I highly recommend checking out Foz’s non-fiction on her blog and elsewhere.

Lora Gray is a writer, illustrator, and dance instructor. My recommended starting point for their work is Shadow Boy, published in Shimmer’s September/October 2016 issue. Shadow Boy is a take on the story of Peter Pan, specifically one of its darker and more disturbing aspects – the idea of a boy whose shadow needs to be forcibly reattached. The focus is not Peter here, but PJ, whose family believes her to be a girl, but whose shadow is a boy. PJ’s shadow fights PJ from within, further adding to their struggle to decide who they are and who they want to be. PJ doesn’t fully identify as a girl, but doesn’t fully identify as male either. Their family is less than supportive, and when Peter comes into their life, at first it seems like a blessing. He scorns traditional gender norms with his clothing, and propriety in general, stomping around funerals and wearing dead pigeons as jewelry. PJ envies his freedom, but there’s something sinister about him as well. When PJ’S shadow escapes, Peter offers help, but he wants to keep PJ’s shadow in return. I’ve always been a sucker for Peter Pan stories, especially ones that touch on the darker side of his nature. There’s something truly unsettling about a boy who never grows up, who kidnaps other children, but abandons them if they refuse to live in his world of perpetual childhood. Gray does an excellent job of weaving familiar elements of the Pan story with issues of gender dysphoria, and outside perception vs. self identity. The imagery throughout the piece is striking, and beautiful language balances the pain in the tale.

S. Qiouyi Lu is a writer, artist, narrator, and translator. My recommended starting place for their work is Her Sacred Spirit Soars published in Strange Horizons’ Queer Planet issue. A pair of interdependent mythical birds, kimkim, with one eye and one wing each, are separated. One of the birds is forced into the body of a human woman as an experimental cure for her mental illness. The story is soaked in longing, as the woman remembers being the bird, and the bird slowly takes on the identity of the woman, becoming a ghost inside her skin. The doctors tell her she’s sick, but getting better; she remembers flying, and being part of something larger than herself. She remembers another being as part of herself, and there is a hole where that other half of her should be. In the center where she’s being treated, she  begins to develop a tentative relationship with her roommate, Yaulan. It feels both like a betrayal of her other half, and a moment of hope. They are both lacking something, both searching for a meaningful connection. Through gorgeous, poetic imagery, Her Sacred Spirit Soars explores the idea of identity and wholeness, while blurring the line between fantasy and reality. The story can be read as metaphorical or literal, and it works on both ways. It’s an excellent place to start with S. Qiouyi Lu’s work.

Margaret Killjoy is a genderqueer author and editor. My recommended starting place for their work is Everything That Isn’t Winter, recently published at Tor.com. Elements of Killjoy’s piece remind me of Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent Station Eleven. They are both ‘quiet apocalypse’ stories, taking place after the end of everything when the world is in a period of recovery. In the case of Killjoy’s story, the protagonist, Aiden, is a former fighter, trying to find a place in the new world. The violence of their past frightens them, and they are struggling to make a new life, rebuilding themselves as they help rebuild society. At the same time, Aiden is going through a rough patch with their boyfriend, Khalil. There’s a gap between them, a breakdown in understanding that Aiden doesn’t know how to bridge or heal. When the In-Between Lodge where they live with a small community, harvesting tea, is attacked, Aiden goes off to fight. The impulse to violence warring with the desire for peace, and the fear of losing Khalil for good, eventually leads to a breakthrough. Rebuilding isn’t easy work, for individuals, or for society as a whole, but it’s easier together, and together Aiden and Khalil will find a way forward. The story provides a fascinating look at what happens to soldiers once the war ends, and a look at the new shape societies take when the fundamentals they took for granted are no longer there. It shows both the brutality humans are capable of, and our ingenuity and determination in the face of adversity.

So there you have it, four fabulous authors and a recommended starting place for their work. But wait, there’s more! This time around, I have a bonus recommendation, and a wonderful-looking project to plug.

First up, my bonus recommendation is the Queering the Genre series curated by D Libris. D is a genderqueer reviewer and occasional essayist, and I only include this as a bonus and not a main feature since I don’t believe they technically self-identify as an author. Queering the Genre includes guest essays, reviews, and author spotlights with a focus on queer fiction, and it’s well worth checking out. You can find D’s mission statement for the series here.

Last, but not least, is a plug for Andi Buchanan’s IndieGoGo campaign for Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue. Andi edits Capricious, and I’ve covered their work in a previous installment of this series. The issue looks like it will be fabulous, and there are lots of fun rewards on offer for backing the campaign, including your very own adorable, handmade fuzzhog. Take a look and lend the project your support, if you’re so inclined.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll do my best to make sure there isn’t such a long gap before the next installment of the series.



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Hey, It’s SOCKtober!

The weather is getting cooler, the calendar has flipped over, houses are draped in gauzy spider webs, and pumpkins are starting to make their appearances on front porches and lawns. All of that can mean only one thing – it’s time for #socktober2016! What is #socktober2016, you may well ask…. And I’ll tell you that it’s all Fran Wilde’s fault. Mostly!

From my perspective, SOCKTOBER started with this tweet:

Which was followed shortly by these tweets:

SOCKTOBER goes much deeper than fun socks. For that, I’ll step aside and let Fran herself explain: “I started posting socks for October yesterday because I was having a really hard day. Socks = whimsy = happiness, right? And then I figured it could go further and bring awareness to something I’ve known for a while. One of the greatest needs in domestic violence and homeless shelters, as well as for people on the move through upheavals is clean socks. Especially with winter coming, this is a huge deal. So I thought, I’ll post my sock pictures, but also plan to donate to a shelter a new set of socks with each photo I post. I have a massive sock collection, but No Idea if I can Make it 30 days, so it will be like a dance marathon, but with socks. I’m hoping others feel like getting involved too, but I don’t want to tell people how to do this right. Just working on awareness first, and maybe some socks for some people.”

As you can see, the upshot of this is, Fran is not only a wonderful author, she is a wonderful person. After seeing Fran’s tweets, I asked if I could help. We brainstormed, and came up with a plan to spread the socktober love. Throughout October, Fran and I and others will be posting sock pictures on Instagram and Twitter because socks are cool. We’d love for you to join us!

We also hope you’ll go a step further by donating socks to a homeless shelter in your area. As Fran mentioned, socks are one of the greatest needs at homeless shelters, especially as the weather gets colder. To find a shelter near you, and to find out how to donate, start here: www.homelessshelterdirectory.org.

Of course, you can donate other items of clothing, too. Many shelters on the website linked above list the items they most need, or provide contact information where you can inquire about donations.

But wait! There’s more! You can win fabulous prizes while you’re having fun and helping people. Here’s how it works. Donate a package of socks (or other clothing item of your choice), and post your favorite sock pictures on Instagram and/or Twitter between now and October 31, 2016. When you post @ us (@fran_wilde on twitter and Instagram; @ac_wise on twitter and @a.c.wise on Instagram), and tag your post with #socktober2016. You’ll be entered into our drawing for prizes including copies of Fran Wilde’s Updraft and Cloudbound (US-only for physical copies, audiobook anywhere in the world), a gift certificate to Sock Dreams, so you can add even more fabulous socks to your collection, and possibly some other cool stuff we come up with along the way. We’ll employ Ye Olde Random Number Generator to choose a winner on November 1st. It’s that easy!

So come join in the fun and celebrate #socktober2016 with us while helping those who need some toasty socks.

ETA: We’ve added a few additional prizes to the roster. Rachel Sharp has generously donated a $25 Amazon gift card, and a pre-release copy of her upcoming novel Phaethon (to be mailed out in December). On top of that, Rachel’s publisher, Pandamoon Publishing, is donating any three of their currently available titles. Thank you, Rachel and Pandamoon!

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Capclave & Children of Lovecraft Reading

Next weekend I’ll be attending Capclave, the DC-area convention run by the Washington Science Fiction Association. It’s a lovely, laid-back convention primarily focused on the literature of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Here’s my schedule for the weekend.

Saturday – 12:00 pm – Writing and Selling Your Story
Panelists:Scott H. Andrews, Lezli Robyn, Hildy Silverman, David Walton, A.C. Wise (M)
What are the elements that capture a reader’s, editor’s or publisher’s attention? How do you get them to pick up the story, and keep turning the pages?

Saturday – 2:00 pm – Reading
I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be reading yet. Maybe some military-esque weird fiction? Maybe some eco-punk? Maybe a ghost story? Suggestions and/or votes welcome.

Sunday – 10:00 am – Cthulhu Wants You! For Breakfast!
Panelists:Alan Loewen (M), Tim Powers, Darrell Schweitzer, A.C. Wise
Love it or hate it, the Cthulhu Mythos and its related arcs are a literary phenomenon here to stay. Whether it be the Dreamlands, the Carcosa Cycle, the related King in Yellow, as well as other sub-genres, many a writer has cut their teeth on cosmic alienation and horror. Discuss the best and the worst of the lot as well as its future.

Sunday – 11:00 am – Feeding Off Fairy Tales
Panelists:Deidre Dykes, Bernie Mojzes, A.C. Wise
Many authors use fairy tales as an inspiration or even the basis of a new novel. The panelists will discuss why we keep going back to these stories, which ones are the most popular and which ones are ripe for use.

When I’m not on programming, I’ll be attending other people’s panels and readings, hanging out in the dealer’s room, hanging out in the bar, and catching up with friends. I’ll even have the corgi with me. He’s rather partial to people making a fuss over him and telling him he’s a good boy. If you see us, say hi!

The weekend after Capclave, I’ll be in NYC at Lovecraft Bar along with several other authors from Ellen Datlow’s latest anthology, Children of Lovecraft. I’ll be reading from my story When the Stitches Come Undone. Siobhan Carroll, Livia Llewellyn, Maria Dahvana Headley, David Nickel, Laird Barron, and Richard Kadrey will be reading from their stories. More details on the event here. Come join us!


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Hidden Worlds

It just so happens that three of my recent reads all deal with hidden worlds, the idea of seeing and choosing not to see, and the ways in which people themselves can be invisible. On top of that, I thoroughly enjoyed all three books, and that seemed like as good an excuse as any to group them together and talk about them here. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Roses and RotKat Howard’s debut novel, Roses and Rot, centers on two sisters Imogen and Marin. An author and a dancer respectively, they are accepted into an exclusive residency program at Melete, an artists’ colony that transforms the lives of those lucky enough to attend. The stakes for Imogen and Marin are more than just the promise of success. Even as adults, the sisters are still trying to escape their abusive mother, and Marin in particular sees Melete – and the opportunities it provides – as a way to ensure that neither sister will ever deal with her again. The hidden world in this case is Faerie. An initial sense of too good to be true, coupled with a vague unease, grows to the reveal that Melete’s true patrons are the Fae, and those who gain the greatest rewards from their time there are those who give themselves to Faerie for seven years as tithe. Howard also plays with the idea of glamour and perception, but there’s a secondary layer of hidden-ness as well. As victims of abuse, Imogen and Marin are invisible. Even though they bear scars, both physical and emotional, they’ve never told anyone about their mother. Like so many victims of abuse, they feared not being believed, or that speaking out would cause their mother to do even worse things to them. Abuse, and the darker side of humanity, is something many would rather not see and so we look away, pretend it isn’t there. Marin and Imogen’s situation also speaks to the authority adults have over children to convince them they are powerless. It’s a theme that comes up often in fairy tales, as does the reversal of that power, and Howard works with both throughout her novel. Imogen’s specialty is fairy tales. The project she intends to tackle during her residency is a novel that weaves together various well-known stories to tell a larger story, with the fairy tales she picks inevitably echoing themes of sisters, mothers, loss, and sacrifice. The passages of Imogen’s re-working of fairy tales that Howard scatters throughout the Roses and Rot are some of the most lovely and heartbreaking in the novel. Through Imogen’s eyes, we get at the heart of Roses and Rot – that stories have power. Fairy tales, as some of the earliest narratives we’re given as children, are a way to codify and make sense of the world. They are a way to reveal what is hidden. Stories do not have to be objectively “real” to be true, but of course, because Roses and Rot is a fantasy novel, the stories are real as well as true. The novel is told from Imogen’s point of view, but all the characters are fully drawn, making the choices Imogen faces even harder because it’s so easy to see things from Marin’s point of view. The prose is lush and gorgeous, but Howard doesn’t shy away from the dark side of faerie, or humanity either.  Ultimately, it’s a story about family, their love for each other, the ways they can hurt each other, fail to understand each other, and grind up against each other’s sharp edges. As in fairy tales, the path worth taking is rarely the easy one, and rewards never come without a cost.

Alif the UnseenAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson deals with both the hidden world of the jinn, and the hidden world of grey hat hackers. Alif is one such hacker, willing to work for anyone who will pay him – from pornographers to extremists, revolutionaries to major corporations. At the novel’s opening, Alif seems to be deliberately unlikable. He’s self-centered, impatient, and rarely thinks of anyone but himself. At the same time, he manages to be a sympathetic character, which isn’t an easy trick to pull off. The people surrounding him – his neighbor and childhood friend Dina, Vikram the Vampire, Sheikh Bilal – are such compelling characters that because they care about Alif, the reader does, too. All the trouble in the novel begins when Intisar, the wealthy girl Alif loves, reveals she’s agreed to an arranged marriage. Alif goes slightly off the deep end and sends her a rather unsavory ‘gift’, evidence of their sexual relations, which could ruin her. She returns a mysterious ‘gift’ of her own – a book of tales called the Thousand and One Days – along with making it clear she never wants to see him again. Out of spite, Alif takes it literally. He writes a computer program to erase himself from her sight, a bot that uses language patterns, keystrokes, and other indicators to pick her out no matter what name, IP, or email address she uses and block her from seeing him. The program works a little too well, even though Alif doesn’t entirely understand why it works at all, drawing the attention of a powerful individual known as The Hand, who has been trying to shut down Alif and his hacker community for quite a while. The Hand, it just so happens, is also the man Intisar is set to marry. On top of all that, the Hand is after the Thousand and One Days. Alif and Dina go on the run, discovering the hidden world of the jinn to be very real, and the tales of the Thousand and One Days to be more than stories after all. As the novel’s title indicates, invisibility, seeing, and being hidden play a major role in the story. Alif and the other hackers hide behind screen names to protect themselves and their work. The world of the jinn is invisible to most humans until they learn to see it. Dina chooses to wear a veil for religious reasons, and as a way of protecting herself. The Thousand and One Days contains hidden meanings in each of its stories. Invisible code has a major impact on the characters and their world. In addition to literal unseen things, Wilson weaves more metaphorical interpretations of unseeing through the story as well. Alif spends a great deal of the novel refusing and/or unable to see Dina because of his own prejudices against her religious choices, and the sort of person he believes her to be. Just as he has to learn to see the world of the jinn, he has to learn to see her, and the others around him, leading to his growth as a character. On a larger scale, revolution and uprising are key to the plot, with the overlooked and ignored classes of society forcing themselves into the public eye and refusing to let the world ignore them anymore. Wilson doesn’t shy away from the uglier things in life – imprisonment, torture, murder – but she infuses the book with wonder and beauty as well with the jinn and their unseen world. All the elements come together beautifully, making Alif the Unseen a wonderful read.

Star-Touched QueenThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi tells the story of Maya, one of the many daughters of the Raja, but shunned by most of the women in the harem due to the ill-fortune assigned to her by the stars at her birth. Maya’s horoscope promises that she will be wedded to death and destruction and as such, she is looked down on, avoided, bullied, and blamed for any bad luck that occurs. Her father declares she will be married, allowing her to choose a husband from one of several politically advantageous matches, however it is soon revealed he doesn’t expect her to go through with it. Instead, he expects her to drink poison, sacrificing herself and preventing a war. Imprisoned, and seeing no other options, Maya nearly agrees, but at the last moment, a mysterious hooded man appears, saying he can save her and give her a whole world to rule if she only trusts him. She hastily throws the marriage garland at him, choosing him as her husband, and he spirits her away to Akaran, a hidden realm between worlds. At first, Amar refuses to show Maya his face. He asks again for her trust, telling her all will be revealed at the next new moon. In the meantime, he will help her develop her powers, she will rule equally with him, and nothing will be denied to her. Except for the fact that the world they rule appears devoid of people, the palace is full of locked doors and whispering voices, and Maya has the feeling of being constantly watched. Many classic elements of fairy tales and myth are at play here – the lover who won’t reveal his face, the locked door the bride must never open. Roughly midway through, the novel takes a sharp left turn, the story and its expected path completely upended to become something else. Akaran is revealed to be the realm of the dead, and Amar the lord of death himself. Already distrustful of Amar because of all his secrets, Maya allows herself to be convinced by a woman claiming to be her best friend from another life she can’t remember, but sees glimpses of in a room full of bottled memories, to betray her husband. Maya steals the noose Amar carries, the source of his power, and the world crumbles around her. She is exiled, realizing too late that Amar is indeed her true love; in the life she barely remembers, she betrayed him, abandoned him, and forced herself to reincarnate. Now, she must find Amar, and restore his power, thus restoring the balance between life and death. The second half of the novel is a quest story, again with classic elements from myth and fairy tale – retrieving a lost love from an evil influence, hidden identities, and supernatural companions. In this case, Maya’s companion is an undead demon horse with a penchant for eating human flesh, and she is one of the most delightful talking animal sidekicks ever to accompany a hero. Like Roses and Rot, and Alif the Unseen, the theme of the hidden in The Star-Touched Queen operates on multiple levels. There is the hidden world of the dead, as well as Maya’s true identity, hidden from herself and leading to a journey of self-discovery. There is also the idea of trust earned versus trust given, and Maya learning to see those around her more clearly as she grows as a character. The prose throughout is lush and gorgeous and absolutely breathtaking. A Crown of Wishes, focusing on Maya’s sister Gauri, is available for pre-order now, and due out in March 2017. I’m already eagerly anticipating it.


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An Interview with Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World, among other things. I’ll kick things off in the usual way by shamelessly stealing her author bio to make introductions…

Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. Her fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Daily Science Fiction, among other places. She is a 2006 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, and her 2010 novelette “Stone Wall Truth” was nominated for a Nebula Award. Caroline’s debut short story collection is coming out with Fairwood Press in 2016.

7 Wonders CoverWelcome! First off, congratulations on the publication of your collection. Would you care to give readers a taste of what kind of stories they’ll find within its pages?

Thank you! There are stories of time travel, alien invasions, Japanese mermaids, and monsters under the bed. I try to write the kind of sense-of-wonder science fiction and fantasy stories I loved when I was younger, but from perspectives that were largely absent from the literature of my childhood.
Psychology features prominently in both my SF and my fantasy (that’s my academic background, and I find the workings of the human brain fascinating). The nature of identity is a recurring theme in my collection: If a person replaces their body (either all at once or bit by bit), are they still the same person? How does our biological form impact our sense of self? How does who we are change over time, with age and experience? Short fiction is a great way to explore these kinds of ideas because I can revisit the same questions from lots of different angles.

I’m a bit of a process nerd, so I’m curious, how did you go about choosing which stories to include in the collection? Are the way the stories grouped meant to highlight certain themes in your writing?

I started by making a list of all my available publications. At the time when I was putting the collection together, I had about 60 published stories to choose from. There were about a dozen pieces that I was sure had to be in the collection, so I started a table of contents with those. I figured out early on that I wanted to start with “Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” and I wanted to end with the title story: “Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World”.
After that I was at a bit of a loss for how to proceed.

I ended up taking my list of available stories and sorting them into categories: fantasy stories, science fiction stories, and flash fiction (irrespective of genre). Initially I’d planned on mixing the flash stories in with the longer pieces, but as a reader I enjoy flash stories more if I know in advance that I’ll be reading flash. When I go into a flash story expecting something longer, I am inevitably disappointed, despite the fact that I really love flash!

The solution was to separate the flash from the rest of the stories. I initially thought I’d divide the longer stories into fantasy stories and science fiction stories, with a cluster of flash fiction in the middle, but when I looked at my list I realized I’d written about twice as much science fiction as fantasy.

So I divided the book into three main sections, based on the type of world in which the story takes place: our world, fantasy worlds, and alien worlds. There were definitely some stories that could have gone in more than one category, but overall it seemed like a good structure. In between each of the main sections of the book there is an ‘interlude’ of six flash stories.

Flash isn’t an easy length to write. Do you find it comes naturally to you, or was it something you had to teach yourself to write? What is your process like for writing a longer piece versus a flash piece, if they differ?

These days I do find that flash comes pretty naturally to me, but it is something that I originally had to learn to write. One nice thing about flash is that because it is so short you can write lots of flash stories in a relatively short period of time–it is an easy form to practice. There’s also something very satisfying (at least to me) about trimming a story down to its bare essentials, giving the reader just enough to extrapolate an entire world.

For me, writing longer stories is often about building a core (flash-length) idea into something bigger. One way I’ve done that is to mash several flash stories together: “Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” is an example of this flash-mash method. I show the aftermath of an alien invasion through a series of five interrelated flash stories. Each one focuses on a different stage of grief, and told from a different character’s perspective.

The other main strategy I use for building shorter ideas in to longer ones is to add extra threads. Flash stories tend to be simpler: fewer characters, one driving goal, fewer obstacles to overcome. Adding more elements tends to make the story more complex, at which point it requires more words. I’m currently working on a space opera novella, and creating something at that length has been an exercise in exploring tangents and nuances that I would normally trim away when writing a shorter story.

I have to gush about the collection’s cover art for a moment, because it’s absolutely gorgeous. Is the artist someone you found, or someone your publisher connected you with? Was it a pre-existing piece that fit your stories, or did you have any input into the design?

Thank you! I LOVE the cover art. It is by a Japanese artist: shichigoro-shingo. I was looking for artwork for my cover and stumbled across his work–he did the October 2015 cover for Clarkesworld. My cover art is a pre-existing piece, but it captures the feel I wanted for the collection as a whole, and it is also a good fit for the title story.

Wil Wheaton praised your story ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death‘ on Twitter, which is pretty darn awesome (both the story, and the fact that he linked to it). Did he happen across the story on his own, or do you have a connection to him? Was there a sudden spike in the story’s readership after he signal-boosted it?

I was ridiculously excited about that when I found out about it! Aside from that one tweet, I have absolutely no connection with Wil Wheaton. He happened across the story on his own–from what I gather, he reads Lightspeed Magazine on a regular basis.

The story definitely got some extra attention after the tweet. I checked with John Joseph Adams, and there was a spike of about a thousand readers over a two or three day period.

In addition to your writing, you’re also a photographer. Do the two ever feed into each other? Have you ever written a story inspired by a moment you captured through a lens, or, on the flipside, have you ever set out to compose a photograph specifically to illustrate your work?

These days the two tend to stay relatively separate, mainly because I haven’t had much time to devote to photography.

I’ve had one photograph that was the official illustration for a story of mine–back in 2010 my story “Blood Willows” appeared in Flash Fiction Online, illustrated with a photo I’d taken of a Japanese Laceleaf Maple. For the old version of my website, I used to make small photo icons to go with each story on my publications page. It was fun, but once I got over a dozen stories it made the page too cluttered and hard to read, so now I just list the stories.

I’ve written stories that were sparked by images before, and even stories inspired by photographs, but I don’t think I’ve ever written a story that was inspired by a photograph that I took myself.

In 2010, your novelette ‘Stone Wall Truth‘ was nominated for a Nebula Award. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news, and what you did to celebrate?

I do remember! At the time, my oldest daughter was a little over a year old, and I was home with her when I got the call to say that I was a nominee. We had a lovely time bouncing around in the living room and squeeing, although my daughter (obviously) had no idea what the excitement was about. Later celebrations included wine, chocolate, and shopping for a fancy dress to wear to the award ceremony.

Now that the collection is out in the world, what else are you working on? Any inclination to write something novel-length? Anything else in general you have upcoming that you want folks to know about?

I have just finished the latest round of revisions on a middle grade novel with the working title Junk Craft Magic. It’s the story of a mixed-race girl who helps the local junkyard pixies fight a monster made of hazardous waste. I’m also working on a space opera novella (with fire kittens!) and a handful of short stories.

The middle grade novel and the space opera novella both sound fantastic. I can’t wait until they make their way into the world so I can read them. Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for inviting me!

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Quiet Horror

We’re in a golden age for horror movies, particularly the quieter kind that rely less on gore and jump scares, and more on tense explorations of our deepest insecurities. At its best, horror as a genre has always done that. The Exorcist played with the violation of innocence, the loss of faith, single parenthood, and the limits of our understanding of the human mind. Alien played with forced impregnation, isolation, and the idea that humans aren’t the smartest sentient lifeforms out there. More recently, we’ve seen movies like Cabin in the Woods playing with standard horror tropes and asking audiences to look for a deeper meaning within the patterns of our cultural narratives and the stories we tell. All of that is a round about way of saying I like horror movies, and I want to highlight a few of the recent ones that do interesting things in terms of examining fear, flipping tropes, and asking questions beyond how much blood can we throw at the screen. I’m probably one of the last people to see and discuss these movies, but in case I’m not, beware – spoilers abound.

It Follows It Follows came out in 2014. It’s been much-lauded since, and rightly so. The premise is simple: you have sex with someone who is being followed, and from that moment on, you will be followed too. The creature that does the following can look like anyone, a stranger, or someone you know. It doesn’t want anything. It cannot be reasoned with. It will walk straight at you, slowly but relentlessly. It will never stop, not until you’re dead, and then it will turn back on the person who infected you. It Follows plays on the teen slasher trope of sex getting you killed. There’s an element of shame in the standard trope – being virginal earns you safety; being promiscuous earns you a violent death. It Follows turns the trope sideways. Your risk is also your safety. Sex exposes you to the monster, but it protects you as well. Having sex with someone else passes the monster on. Like the videotape in The Ring, the more copies that are made, the more sex that occurs, the more layers there are between the you and the monster. If the standard sex-as-death trope can be read as a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease, then It Follows’ take can be read as a metaphor for life itself. Nothing is safe. There is risk in everything, but some things are worthwhile. There’s a dreamy, timelessness to It Follows. It deliberately calls back to the horror movies of the 70s and 80s with its stylistic choices. At the same time, it is set in the here and now, with prominent use of modern technology like an e-reader. And it is set outside time, with that e-reader technology divorced from any recognizable form it exists in today, instead being housed inside what is essentially a make-up compact. The group of friends who band together against the monster of It Follows give the movie the feel of films like The Goonies, E.T., and Stand By Me – a buddy film about growing up and coming of age, rather than harkening to the teen slasher model where characters are picked off one by one and only one can survive. There’s a kind of childhood innocence to it, the idea that we are stronger together than alone. Which goes back to the way the movie treats sex, not as something adversarial, but something that brings people together. The ending of the movie is beautifully ambiguous. In the last scene, two characters walk down a sidewalk, while a third follows. Perhaps the monster is still with them, or maybe it’s merely coincidence.  My preferred interpretation is acceptance. The characters have chosen to let go of their fear, knowing they can’t control everything. Safety in life is never guaranteed, but you can’t let terror rule you.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at NightA Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is another 2014 release, similarly praised and similarly deserving. It’s an Iranian vampire film, shot in black and white, resulting in a piece that is stark, moody, and full of beautiful lighting and striking images. It plays with some of the same fears and insecurities as It Follows, but from a different angle. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night takes on the idea of deserved death, the idea that women putting themselves in ‘risky’ situations deserve whatever happens to them. Instead of being a cautionary tale where a girl breaking the rules is punished, thereby restoring order, the movie makes the girl alone at night the predator herself. There are shades of Let the Right One In, of innocence subverted, and those deadly supernatural beings giving protection to those who have been beaten down by life. The subversion of innocence in both movies – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Let the Right One In – also plays into the idea that there is no such thing as innocence. The people being protected are just that, people, flawed, and capable of doing terrible things in their own right. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night also deals with addiction, loneliness, and the ties that bind us to other people – money, sex, love, duty, and blood. Here monstrousness is being outside, separated from others and unable to relate to the basic elements of humanity. While the ending is less ambiguous than It Follows, the final scene of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is open-ended. Again, it calls back to Let the Right One In, with two characters leaving the familiarity of home, and surrendering themselves to possibility, uncertain of what the future might hold.

HushHush, released in 2016, is quiet horror in a very literal sense. The main character is a deaf-mute author living in an isolated house in the woods. Her nearest neighbor is murdered in what appears to be a random sport killing, and she becomes the next target of the killer’s pre-murder cat and mouse game. Not being part of deaf culture, I can only give the perspective of a hearing person on the effectiveness of the movie. It doesn’t feel exploitative, but that isn’t for me to judge. From my own perspective, it primarily feels like a standard home-invasion horror movie, but ramped up to an extra degree of difficulty. The character cannot call for help, and the would-be killer cuts power – and therefore internet access – to her home, preventing her from contacting the outside world in an other way. Everything takes place in a single location, over a few hours, with nothing extraneous padding the plot. The killer is never even given any motivation for his actions, but in this case, it’s a feature not a bug. Everything extraneous is stripped away, leaving only tension, fear, and a sense of desperation. Even though there’s nothing supernatural about Hush, the blank-slate nature of the killer gives him the relentless feel of a zombie. He cannot be reasoned with and nothing will stop him. The opening scene is brilliant in its use of sound, first giving the viewer a hyper-awareness of every day noises as the main character cooks dinner, then taking  those sounds away and giving them a glimpse into her world. There is very little dialogue in the movie, leaving the focus solely on action, and psychological fear. Despite all this, the main character never feels like a victim. She’s resourceful, and she refuses to give up. When one tactic doesn’t work, she tries another. What is particularly refreshing is that the protagonist is given space to experience the terror of her situation – as any human would – but she isn’t reduced to only her terror. In terms of horror tropes, Hush can be seen as taking the final girl as its starting point, and unrolling from there, showing just what someone isolated and alone can do against an unstoppable force. Despite the lack of the supernatural, Hush is an effective horror, one that takes our fears, and allows us to explore them at a safe remove through the medium of film, the way the best horror movies do.

These are just a few of the recent crop of quieter horror movies, and I have several more on my radar. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your opinion. If you’ve seen It Follows, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, or Hush, what did you think of them? What are your recent must-see horror movies? Let me know so I can add them to my list!


Filed under New Movies

Three(ish) Things Make a Post

Here we are in July, and at long last Unlikely Story #12.5: The Journal of Unlikely Observances (aka the April Fool’s Day issue) has made its way into the world. Good things are worth waiting for, right? This issue celebrates the act of celebration with seven new pieces of fiction exploring fools, holidays, transformation, tricks, and rebirth. We have two Unlikely Story alums, Rhonda Eikamp and Charles Payseur, returning to our digital pages. We also have three new-to-Unlikely Story authors – Heather Morris, Arkady Martine, and Joshua A. Dilk. Something that is particularly exciting for editors, we also have two authors, Rajiv Mote and Anne M. Gibson, whose stories in this issue are their first professional paid publication. It’s a fantastic issue. I do hope you’ll check it out and let us know what you think!

Next week, I’ll be attending Readercon in Quincy, Massachusetts. For those unfamiliar, Readercon is a wonderful con with a literary focus. It’s become one of my favorite cons, and it’s one I look forward to every year. I’m not officially participating in programming, however I will be part of the group reading for Clockwork Phoenix 5. We’re tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m. on Friday, room TBD. If you’re attending the con, come see us! The rest of the time I’ll be attending other people’s programming, hanging out in the dealer’s room buying far too many books, hanging out in the bar, and hanging out with friends who I don’t get to see often enough. It promises to be a fabulous time.

As you may or may not have noticed, my upcoming collection The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories is up for pre-order. For a limited time, it’s available for the super-special pre-order price of $13. That’s $5 off the regular paperback price. If you’re of a mind to pick up the collection, now would be a good time to do so. The super-special sale price of $13 also applies to my first collection The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again.

Last, but not least, to all my fellow Canucks, Happy Canada Day!


Filed under Glitter Squadron, Kissing Booth Girl, Random Rambling

Cover Reveal: The Kissing Booth Girl

The most excellent Lethe Press unveiled the cover and table of contents for my upcoming collection earlier today. The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories contains fifteen stories (eleven reprints, and four brand spanking new). Follow the link to see the full ToC at Lethe Press’ site. The cover is stunningly gorgeous, and I could not be happier with the way it turned out. The artist is Reiko Murakami. Do yourself a favor and browse through her portfolio; her work is incredible. The collection should make its way into the world in October. In the meantime, here is the aforementioned cover. Isn’t it beautiful? I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hands!

The Kissing Booth Girl


Filed under Writing

Summer Book Love 2016

Summer is upon us. With the exception of the occasional minor drop in temperature, the days are full of warm weather and sunshine, at least in these parts. Since it stays light so much longer, there are extra hours to sit outside and read. Whether you’re on a porch swing, sipping a cool drink while the bees bumble lazily by, or stretched out on a beach towel listening to the surf crash, summer is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Of course, to be fair, any season is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Anyway, regardless of season, here are a few recent books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and perhaps you might enjoy them, too.

Kraken SeaSince 2004, E. Catherine Tobler has been spinning incredible tales of Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. Now, with The Kraken Sea, published by Apex Books, readers can go back to the beginning and see where it all began. As an infant, Jackson was left in a daffodil box at the steps of an orphanage. As a young man, he boards a train, bound for Chicago and a new life, along with several other orphans. Jackson isn’t like the other children, however. There’s something inside him, something terrible and powerful and wonderful. He struggles to keep it hidden, but sometimes he can’t help himself. He unfolds, and scales and tentacles burst forth from human skin. As he struggles to control his nature, Jackson is thrust into his new life as an errand boy at Macquarie’s  working for Cressida, an imposing woman who runs a good portion of the town. There are shadows at Macquarie’s, things Jackson may or may not be meant to see, and questions he certainly shouldn’t ask. He’s mean to do his job, keep his head down, and stay out of the neighboring territory run by the Bell family. Of course, he does none of those things, particularly after he meets Mae, the youngest of the Bell children, a lion tamer in a burlesque show that is at once fantastic, terrifying, and brutal. Jackson finds himself drawn deeper into the intrigue between the rivals who run the city, and the darkness that runs under it. Like Jackson himself, there are things hidden beneath the city’s skin, waiting to burst free, and nothing is what it seems. The Kraken Sea is a gorgeous novel, alive with sensory detail, and imagery that will steal your breath away. There is darkness under every glittering surface, but a darkness that begs to be explored. While the Kraken Sea stands alone, it hints at a larger world, at Jackson’s future, and the many dimensions of his character and his story. It’s a novel about love and family, loss and pain, and finding a place in the world. And, of course, binding everything, Tobler offers up the first tantalizing glimpses of her circus, calling you to run away and partake of its wonders.

Spells of Blood and KinI first encountered Claire Humphrey’s Spells of Blood and Kin by hearing her read an excerpt at Readercon, and I was immediately hooked. Spells of Blood and Kin is a werewolf novel, except it isn’t at all, and it’s so much more. The word werewolf is never once mentioned, leaving room for everything else Humphrey weaves into the story. There’s Russian folklore, magic, and witches, but in its deepest heart of hearts, it’s a story about family – the one you find, the one you make, and the one you’re born into. As the story opens, Lissa is dealing with the sudden death of her grandmother. Lissa’s grandmother provided spells, cures, and healing for the local Russian community, and now Lissa must take on her role, while trying to maintain the semblance of a normal life and not let anyone know she’s a witch. This complicated by her stepsister, Julia, showing up out of the blue, determined to help Lissa because family – no matter how distant – needs to stick together. Even further complicating things, a man named Maksim comes to Lissa, claiming her grandmother knew him and owed him a debt. He says he is kin, but explains very little other than that he needs very powerful magic to control a dark and violent aspect of himself that her grandmother’s magic helped keep dormant. The their stories run in parallel  – Lissa working to find a magic strong enough to put the wolf in Maksim back to sleep, while Maksim works to track down, tame, and train Nick, a young man he bit and accidentally turned – and of course, they eventually collide. As the title implies, the themes of kinship and blood echo throughout the novel. In Maksim’s case, family is those with whom he shares the horror of an existence tied to violence and pain. Before accidentally turned Nick, he purposely turned Gus, a young woman who would have died without his his intervention. They are pack, a family, dealing with their violent nature by turning their brutality against each other, rather than hurting someone they could actually break. Rather than romanticizing the animal nature of the kin, in Maksim Humphrey gives us a character who is truly haunted by his past actions, physically pained by his drive to hurt others, and desperate to shed that part of himself. In fact, all the characters in Spells of Blood and Kin have aspects of themselves they would rather keep hidden, from what they see as necessity, but they must learn to trust each other – something which is not easy for any of them. Humphrey flips several tropes in her characterization, which is another of the novel’s strengths. Despite her role as a healer, Lissa is one of the most closed off characters. Instead of being nurturing and drawn to others, she does her best to isolate herself. Maksim, a former soldier and a boxer, wants nothing more than to shed the violence of his past, while Gus embraces the freedom that comes with being kin. She tempers it with alcohol and fighting, she knows her limits and how to exercise self-control, but she has no interest in denying or burying the animal part of her. Nick starts as seemingly harmless, a slacker, but once he’s bitten he embraces the wrong parts of being kin. He tries to control those around him using his new superior strength. His life before being bitten was stagnant; as change is forced upon him, and he uses that change to try to resist the larger forward progress of his life so he never has to grow up and start acting like a responsible adult. Overall, Spells of Blood and Kin is a fantastic novel. It’s also Humphrey’s debut, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Sword and StarSword and Star is the third and final book in Sunny Moraine’s Root Code trilogy. I’ve raved about the others – Line and Orbit, Fall and Rising, and the related-yet-stand-alone book, Labyrinthian – in various places before. Sword and Star is no exception. In addition to be a satisfying wrap-up to the series, the final book in the trilogy builds on the first two in a way that expands the universe in which they’re written. Everything feels bigger in Sword and Star – the stakes are higher, the world larger, and every decision carries more weight. Taken together, the three books can be compared to a single camera shot, continuously pulling back so more and more of the world fills the frame. Line and Orbit was a fairly personal story, focused primarily on Adam and Lochlan, their budding relationship, and the immediate danger to both their lives. Fall and Rising broadened the focus, showing the way Adam and Lochlan’s decisions in the first book impacted those around them, their friends and loved ones, as well as people they barely knew, but who they would come to call allies. Fall and Rising also deepened and matured Lochlan and Adam’s relationship, taking it from the heat of battle and passion to a more complicated and contemplative level as they learned to live with each other, and learned who each of them were alone and together, in battle and outside of it. Now, in Sword and Star, the camera is zoomed all the way out, showing the larger consequences of the actions begun in Line and Orbit as they ripple across the galaxy to touch alien planets, shake the foundation of the government back on earth, and threaten to tear the fleet apart. Lochlan and Adam’s relationship has expanded as well, encompassing the possibility of loss in a new way as they both change and grow, and deal with their own pain and challenges. The emphasis is less on the immediacy of sex and romance, and more on the consequences of love, how it makes people vulnerable and stronger all at the same time. This idea is echoed in multiple relationships across the novel – Kae and Leila, Rachel and Aarons, Kyle and Eva. Friendships are tested, limits are pushed, and worlds both personal and all-encompassing hang in the balance. As usual, it’s all wrapped in Moraine’s gorgeous prose, and while I’m sad to see this series ending, I can’t wait to see what they move onto next.

All the Birds in the Sky
All the Birds in the Skyby Charlie Jane Anders perfectly captures what it’s like to be an awkward kid precisely at the age when everyone is doing their best to fit in, be liked, and present some kind of face to the world that will allow them to be accepted. Patricia is a witch who discovered her power at a young age after rescuing a bird and hearing it talk. Laurence is a computer and science whiz who followed schematics he found online to build a two-second time machine. Both of these incidents early in their lives set them on paths that will having far-reaching consequences for their own futures, and the future of humanity as a whole. Patricia and Laurence are special, and that sets them apart, but as is often the case, their specialness sets them too far apart. Laurence’s parents want him to keep his head down, not rock the boat, and be normal. Patricia’s parents think she’s a little hooligan. None of the other kids at school like them, and by the time they reach middle school, this social ostricization throws them together and they become friends. Anders perfectly captures the cruelty of kids towards each other, and the vicious things they’ll do to those they perceive as weak in order to secure their own status in the pack. However it isn’t just kids who are cruel in Anders’ world; adults are willfully clueless, if not outright hostile at times, further isolating Patricia and Laurence. The story resists the usual chosen one narrative. While Patricia does get accepted into a magical school, the invitation only comes after weeks of being tormented on all sides, and by accepting the invitation, she essentially has to cut all ties with her family. For all this though, All the Birds in the Sky isn’t a bleak novel. The future is laced with hope to counterbalance the despair. After middle school, Laurence and Patricia find their way back into each others’ lives as adults. Patricia is struggling with her powers, constantly being told by the other witches around her to avoid Aggrandizing herself, overreaching her powers and causing something terrible to happen. Laurence is working for a billionaire, building secret super science projects and trying to access other dimensions. At the same time, he’s struggling to maintain a budding relationship with his new girlfriend who he’s terrified of losing. Anders repeatedly teases the possibility of several catastrophic outcomes from either Laurence or Patricia’s particular talents. There are world-changing events in the offing, apocalyptic even, but even as these events come to the fore, the story never loses sight of the characters. It’s the little moments of interaction, and the humor Anders laces throughout, that make the novel shine. Patricia and Laurence aren’t always kind to each other. Their relationship is complex, and it evolves over time, and it feels all the more real and human because of it. Anders manages to balance charm, quirkiness, and dark moments as deftly as she blends the magic and science within the book so none of it ever feels out of place. All the Birds in the Sky is a kind of tapestry, one woven from wool and silk, hemp and ribbon, artificial intelligence and spells, feathers and electrical wires. Taken separately, the elements seem like they’ll never form a picture, but when you step back, the result is glorious. It’s a fun book, but one full of genuine emotion as well. As with Humphrey, this is Anders’ debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.


Filed under Recommended Reading