Review: Wild Time

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

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

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

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

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An Interview with Apex Editors Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahhh, editors and their spoiled pets!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Interview with Josh Rountree

Josh Rountree was kind enough to stop by today to talk about his new collection, Fantastic Americana, published by Fairwood Press. To kick things off, allow me to introduce Josh by way of his author bio.

Josh Rountree writes horror, fantasy, science fiction, and whatever else sounds good at the time. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Realms of Fantasy, Bourbon Penn, PseudoPod, PodCastle, Daily Science Fiction, and A Punk Rock Future.

His second short fiction collection, Fantastic Americana: Stories, will be available August 10, 2021, from Fairwood Press.

Josh lives in Texas and tweets about records, books, and guitars @josh_rountree.

Fantastic Americana CoverWelcome, and congratulations on Fantastic Americana! It’s a really wonderful collection. Care to give folks a sense of the types of stories they’ll find in its pages?

Thank you! The collection contains a mix of genres: dark fantasy, weird science fiction, cosmic horror, alternate histories, and stories that live on the fringes. I have a couple of novelettes in the book, but all the rest are short stories, many of which appeared in magazines and anthologies over the last fifteen years. Two are original to the collection. There are stories here about wolves and witches, dark bargains, and magic portals; post-apocalyptic angel hunters and people living in fairy tale worlds of their own creation; ghost chickens, giants, rock stars, and well-intentioned demons; rocket ships to Mars and Cold War espionage at the end of time. Characters that may be fundamentally broken, but still keep hunting for hope.

Appropriate to the collection’s title, a theme that runs throughout is the mythologizing of America – taking real life historical figures and moments and making them larger than life, or on the flipside taking a classic tall tale such as the story of Paul Bunyan and making him more human. What keeps drawing you to this particular theme?

I love reading history, and I’ve always enjoyed writers who undercut the popular narrative of America and approach it from a more critical angle. Larry McMurtry is one of my favorite writers, and much of his fiction is about deflating they Hollywood built myth of Texas and the American West. As a sixth generation Texan, I can attest that we’re in love with our own history, and even today we have people in power who want to keep teaching the mythologized version of Texas and the West, instead of recognizing the more difficult historical truths.

I feel like a lot of these stories are about people getting stuck in certain times and places, and needing to move on without necessarily knowing how to do that. They all want to leave, to go someplace better, but they aren’t sure where that is. The story “Chasing America” is about Paul Bunyan on the run from giant killers, and it shows the giant getting smaller and smaller as the years progress, and the country seems to shrink along with him. Paul Bunyan is a walking talking representative of Manifest Destiny, and his actions continue to screw things up, no matter his intentions.

I also just think it’s fun to play around with historical figures and give them new stories. And I love mixing it all with twentieth century pop culture – fast cars, music, video stores, old moves, urban legends, whatever. Pulling this collection together, I realized that there are a few stories set in the future, a ton of stories set in the past, and only a couple that have a contemporary setting. I don’t think it’s just nostalgia that causes me to write about other times, but more a desire to rearrange all of these myths into something more relevant to today.

Music also plays a key role in a lot of your stories, and sometimes even the intersection between music and mythology where rock stars become literal legends. What role does music play in your life as whole? When it comes to writing specifically, how does music shape your stories? Do you listen to music as you write, or have a mental soundtrack in your head for certain stories? Have you ever written a story inspired by a song that puts your own interpretation or spin on a musician’s lyrics?

Music has a heavy influence on my stories for sure. I’ve been an obsessive music fan since I was a kid. I listen across a broad spectrum of styles, and read a lot of music biographies, so those work their way into my stories quite a bit. Most of the musicians I read about are pretty flawed, often because of the lifestyle required to reach the level of fame they’ve aspired to, and I think that makes them interesting characters to write about. They are sometimes broken, but always striving, and always driven.

I find it creepy how dying young is such a fast lane to eternal stardom. We don’t want these people to die, but when they do, we buy their records in droves. We make sure our kids are wearing tee shirts with their band logos. Our magazines commemorate the tenth, fifteenth, twentieth anniversary of their deaths. We’d rather have more music, but we console ourselves with the legend. We make these rock stars (and actors) part of the pantheon of America. And then, I guess, people like me write stories about them and perpetuate the myth. It’s pretty dark, but also kind of irresistible.

Unfortunately, I can’t listen to music while I write; I basically need silence or some sort of low background buzz like in a coffee shop. But I will often have songs in mind when I’m writing, or even have a specific song inspire a story. “Can’t Buy Me Faded Love” is an obvious example from my collection. This one basically came to me as a title, and I had to figure out a story to go along with it. But often it’s a little less concrete. I may set out to write a story that feels like a certain song makes me feel. That’s really hard to achieve, and I don’t think I ever have, but it sets me off in the right direction.

The stories in this collection include fantasy, science fiction, horror, and a good deal of genre blending. Do you have a favorite genre to write in? When you set out to write a story, do you do you do it with the intention of writing say, a science fiction story, or does the story come first and the genre, tone, and voice follow as the story unfolds?

I love writing in a variety of genres, and really, I consider anything with a speculative element fair game. On occasion I’ll set out to say, write a horror story, particularly if I may have a certain market in mind, but often, once the thing gets going, it sort of takes on a will of its own. At that point, I’m not going to jump in and force the story to be horror if what it really wants to be is near future science fiction. The horror idea I started out with will still live in the bones of that science fiction story, and hopefully the combination of the two is something better than I’d have come up with on my own.

I think some of my best stories happen when I combine genres, either on purpose or by happy accident. A few of the stories in the collection, I can’t say for sure whether they’re fantasy or science fiction or something else, and ultimately, I don’t think it matters. When I first started submitting my writing for publication, I was definitely targeting specific horror and fantasy markets, and I tried not to let the stories stray too far from the path. Eventually I gained more confidence in my writing and started weaving in some of the non-speculative genres that I love – westerns, crime, historical fiction. After that, I began having a lot more fun, and a lot more success. And though I’m a fan of science fiction, I never really considered myself a science fiction writer. But it kind of elbowed its way into the stories with everything else, and I’m surprised now at how many of my stories fall under that umbrella.

Fantastic Americana is your second collection. Your first collection, Can’t Buy Me Faded Love, came out over ten years ago. Did you find the process of putting together a collection different the second time around, either in terms of your personal approach, or in terms of the publishing landscape now versus then?

Yes, it was a completely different experience this time. One of the main differences is that most of the stories in Can’t Buy Me Faded Love were originals. I’d had some success selling to magazines and anthologies and had built up a backlog of stories that I realized all had some sort of musical element. This included a novella called “Indie Gods” that I had no clue how to market at the time. This was still in the waning days of self-addressed stamped envelopes for submissions, and frankly the prospect of marketing a standalone novella was a little daunting to me. But it fit in with the theme of these other stories I’d been writing, and I added a couple of reprints that I considered two of my strongest, and a collection was born. I had worked with Deborah Layne at Wheatland Press when she bought one of my stories for her phenomenal Polyphony anthology series that she edited with Jay Lake, and Wheatland was publishing some of my favorite writers like Howard Waldrop and Bradley Denton. We talked about it at a con, and Deb was kind enough to take a shot on a book full of what I guess could best be describes as rock and roll fantasies and alternate histories. And she got Howard Waldrop to write the introduction, which still kind of blows my mind. I’ll always be grateful.

But I came to Fantastic Americana with a different sort of collection in mind. I’ve been selling stories since 2002, and apart from the two stories I mentioned from my first collection, none of them had been reprinted. I love these stories but reading them would mean tracking down out of print anthologies, finding old magazine issues from years ago, or hoping they were available in web zine archives. I wanted for quite some time to collect my favorites into a new collection, so I made the shortlist of stories I wanted absolutely to include, added a couple of new ones that fit the spirit of the book, and I realized most of them fit very well with the theme of Fantastic Americana. I’ve always been a fan of Fairwood Press and the short fiction collections they’ve released over the last twenty or so years, and it was a dream come true to work with Patrick Swenson to produce this book.

Switching gears completely, one of my favorite questions to ask authors is about non-writing related jobs. What is the most unusual job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it, and has any aspect of that job worked its way into any of your stories?

I’ve never had any strange or interesting jobs, but I worked at a video store in the early nineties and that directly influenced me to write a story in the collection called “Rewind.” We were always in stiff competition against the larger chain store that had a bigger selection, and the grocery store next door that rented movies cheaper, so apart from weekend nights, that place would sometimes become a ghost town. It often felt like we were on the verge of going out of business, and that informed “Rewind” for sure. Apart from the lizard people, invading aliens, monster hunters, and mech suits, the story is a pretty good reflection of that place as I remember it. Not the worst job ever for a twenty-one-year-old who loves movies.

I also worked on my Grandaddy’s cotton farm when I was a teenager, and that influenced some of these stories as well. Until I put this collection together, I don’t think I realized how often sandstorms appeared in my writing. But growing up in West Texas and spending time out there in the fields, they seemed always to be lurking. It still feels very visceral to me, and that landscape tends to become a character of its own when I’m writing about that time and place.

Now that Fantastic Americana is out in the world, what’s next for you? What are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

I’m always working on new stories, and I have both a novella and a novel that I’m shopping, so fingers crossed something good will happen with those. Later this year I have a new story appearing in the third issue of the fantastic new magazine, Weird Horror, published by Undertow Publications. It’s called “A Red Promise in the Palm of your Hand” and is another in a loose series of dark fantasy stories set in nineteenth century Texas. If you enjoy “February Moon” and “The Guadalupe Witch” in my collection, you might like this one as well. I’m having fun with these, and plan on writing more.

Thanks for stopping by!

And thank you for the opportunity!!

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An Interview with Charles Payseur

Charles Payseur was kind enough to stop by today to talk about his new collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories, which is currently available for pre-order and will be published this summer by Lethe Press. To kick things off, allow me to introduce Charles by way of his author bio.

Charles Payseur is an avid reader, writer, and reviewer of speculative fiction. His works have appeared in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others. His forthcoming short fiction collection, The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories, will be published by Lethe Press (Summer 2021) and his editorial debut, We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, is forthcoming from Neon Hemlock Press (August 2021). He currently resides in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with his herd of disobedient pets and husband, Matt.

The Burning Day and Other Stories CoverWelcome, and congratulations on The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories! It’s a fantastic collection! Care to give folks a sense of the types of stories they’ll find in its pages?

Genre-wise, it’s a pretty balanced mix of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative horror. It’s entirely short stories, too, which seems a little odd for a collection (most authors tend to have novelettes or even a novella) but for more mainstream speculative fiction I find the short story is where I excel, at least for now. I do often enjoy dipping into non-human narratives as well, from a sentient star to a kind of merman to rivers who can shift into humanoid form. The stories by and large all feature a bit of action, a lot of angst, and probably plenty of queer characters and themes.

It strikes me that many of the stories in the collection center around the pairing of longing and hope, or the idea of being in a dark time, but coming out on the other side of it, regardless of whether they’re science fiction, fantasy, or a slip-streamy type blend of genres. Is that something you consciously had in mind when deciding which stories would go in the collection and what order to put them in? Are there other themes you had in mind, or something particular you hope people take away with them after reading the collection?

I’ve tried, though never been entirely satisfied with the results, to sort of look at what I write and where I write from. At what I’m trying to “say” in a broad sense. So I tend now to try and have a more focused approach. When I was picking the table of contents for the collection, and setting it all together, I wanted to somehow capture both my trajectory through time and thematically in my work. So when I was picking a first story, I went with one of my first professional sales, “Rubbing is Racing.” It’s a quick, brief story that touches on some grim themes but focuses on freedom, release, and a kind of rebellion against a broken system. As I structured the rest of the collection, I did keep most of my earlier works in the front, but found as I went that the impact of my stories seemed to change as I grew, as a person and a writer.

So in the earlier part of the work there’s “Shoot and Ladders” and “A Million Future Days” and “Spring Thaw,” works that are fairly grim, that grapple with being stuck somewhere you don’t want to be, unable to really embrace yourself, scared to take action. It’s a theme I feel culminates in “The Sound of,” that really gets at the fear of helplessness and hopelessness, of complicity in the face of corruption. And I tried to make that a kind of anchor in the collection. A low point in terms of optimistic outlooks. And from there I tried to dig back out, to find more power in rebellion again, the energy and drive of “Rubbing is Racing” but less of the directionless energy. More organized and better able to see past that feeling of lack of agency. From there, I hope that people start to see a more proactive take on resistance and change, ways of breaking down toxic systems and expectations and embracing something affirming and just.

In addition to your own fiction, many people also know you as an incredibly prolific reviewer. Personally, I’m constantly in awe of the amount of fiction you read and review each year! I know you’ve written about this a bit in other places, but what’s your philosophy, or the approach you take to reviewing? Dare I ask, how do you find time to balance your review work with everything else in your life? Do you ever sleep? Do you still have time to read just for fun? On a possibly related note, do you find your reading habits have changed since you became a reviewer, and are you able to turn your critical brain off and simply read for pure enjoyment?

Reviewing is something of my coping mechanism. I do it a lot, and around basically everything else that I do, whenever I can. My general philosophy is as straightforward as I can make it and boils down to be “Be compassionate and own your opinion.” By which I basically mean I try to be the reviewer I want to see in the world, the kind of reviewer I would want both to read my own work and whose reviews I’d want to read. My general thoughts are that a review put out into the world becomes a text. That text, like those that I review, is then there. Other people can react to it, can review my reviews, and I keep that in mind, that I have to own what I write, that I need to be both deliberate and responsible when it comes to what I do. Which so far has served me quite well.

As for time? Well, again, short fiction is my coping mechanism. So every time I am somewhere and can’t do something else, I’m reading. Any time I feel directionless and bored, I seek out something to read. Which has probably saved me, though I don’t know I balance it well with writing and other things. Especially 2017 and on, I’ve struggled to write, and reviewing became something that was…safe, I guess. That was something I could feel good about. So I probably have drifted into letting it take over a lot of my creative time and energy. And I don’t have regrets about that, though I’ve been trying lately to rebalance things a bit.

For reading, I do find it difficult to read outside of my reviewing. Mostly because I do a lot of reviewing and the stuff I read to review are works I want to read, that I’m excited to read. I have a TBR pile of books that is epic, though, and I do want to get to the point where I’m reading more novels, where I can reading graphic novels and manga more. Even when I’m reading for fun, though, I’ve always liked reviewing. So I don’t feel that it’s stretching a different muscle or anything. Even before QSR I was on Goodreads A Lot and loved to dive deep into what I was reading. It’s just how I like to engage with texts. Which is how I’ve been able (I feel) to keep on doing the work with short fiction reviewing so long. It’s genuinely something I like doing, so it’s more that my critical brain and fun brain walk hand in hand.

I’d like to talk a bit about your Liver Beware! series in which you drink and review the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine. What inspired the series? Did you read Goosebumps as a kid, or are you coming to the books fresh with an adult sensibility? Are there any other series or any other authors whose body of work you’d want to give a similar treatment in the future?

Thanks for asking about this! It’s definitely a project of mine that…probably surprises people a little, because it’s rather random. But the Goosebumps books were how I learned to read. When I was young I was not a strong reader, and struggled with getting into books. Until Goosebumps. They were what really made me look forward to going to library, and I’d sneak reading them in my desk at school, and just generally devoured them for a few years. I’d tried to return and to a reread in…2010, I think, and got as far as Deep Trouble before I stopped. The books, while nostalgic for me, are very hit and miss in terms of quality (for me as an adult reader, at least), so I let that lapse. Around the time that I was launching my Patreon, though, I was thinking of things I could offer patrons to…sweeten the pot, I guess (because a lot of my Patreon is just sort of fund the work I do for free at Quick Sip Reviews). And I thought it would be great to return to do a more concerted reread, one that would allow me to balance the uneven quality of the books with booze! I’ve had so much fun with the series, and do plan to migrate them over to public access (I have done so for some, but I’m way behind that part at the moment).

I had read…most of the books already (and as I said, I’d made a go at a reread before). But most of them either I didn’t remember well or had sort of mixed up with the show (which I loved watching when I was younger). So most of the time it’s all new to me! As for what I might do next…I’m not sure. I don’t have as strong a connection to any other middle grade series (though I’ve quite enjoyed the more recent Frightville books by Mike Ford). I’ve actually been weighing changing gears a little and doing drunk reviews of X-Men comics. Like, story arcs. Because I’ve very much been meaning to return to reread my old comics and they are often…well, much of the time they could probably only be improved by the addition of alcohol. But we’ll see! Liver Beware! still has through the end of the year, so I’ll probably wait to make a final call after that (after 62 months, I might take a wee break first).

As if reviewing and writing wasn’t enough, you’re also making your editorial debut this year with We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020. Could you talk a bit about your process in putting together the anthology, both in terms of selecting stories to include, and deciding on their order within the book?

I’m really honored that dave ring of Neon Hemlock approached me about being involved with the series, and he even let me name it! It’s something I’d been thinking about since the Lethe Press Best Ofs discontinued, and though I’d never done editing before, this plays into my strengths. Namely, I get to read a lot of short fiction. Which I do now anyway. And I put out monthly lists of works with queer content and themes (that project is on its fourth year now). So this was sort of the natural extension of that. It was also much more challenging than I had thought it was going to be, though, because it’s one thing to just read and reflect on stories, and another to try and make the call of what can be considered a “The Best.” What helped was really thinking about it as being a voice in a conversation. Not an authority, really, though editing in general is a form of gatekeeping and it’s important to not lose sight of that. But that this was going to be a The Best that could be stories I just really loved and wanted to share with others.

Logistically, the process worked a lot like with The Best American series that John Joseph Adams edits with guest editors each year. I took on the JJA role of reading as absolutely widely as I could, and pouring over the submissions. Because of the nature of the project, we feel it’s important to leave room for authors to put forth their own stories, first because there’s a lot I can’t personally get to in my regular reading, and because queerness is such a complicated thing, and we didn’t want the only person deciding what stories were “queer enough” to be, well, me. Now, it’s not perfect solution, and there’s a heavy and complicated conversation to be had about queerness in SFF, but I do feel we did our best to be inclusive and careful about it, and I am 100% thrilled by the result. What happened was I cast as wide a net as I could and passed on my favorites to my co-editor, C. L. Clark, and they got to add any that they felt I missed, and then they made the final decisions about what went in (with some discussion on where to draw the line for length purposes).

For order within the book, I thought it important to lead with something with energy and get to some of the more difficult and grim stories a little later (in the center of the collection), before rising again to end with a complex but lasting resilience and hope. I’m still quite new at this kind of organizing, but I tried to provide something where people could take breaks but where I hope they feel like there’s a flow from piece to piece, a kind of energy as the stories feed into each other, that will get readers to say “just one more” and then find that they’ve reached the end and still want more. We’ll see if that pans out, though.

Back in 2017, you and Nicasio Andres Reed took a deep (pun maybe intended) dive into one of the greatest Star Trek characters of all time, Garak, from Deep Space 9, looking at Garak-centric episodes of the series, along with media tie-in fiction featuring him. If you were offered the opportunity to write your own tie-in novel/graphic novel/comic series featuring Garak, would you? And if so, what sort of story might you tell?

Oh glob. So, I absolutely adore what Una McCormack has done with the character, building off of the phenomenal acting (and writing) of Andrew Robinson. Together they have done so much to take Cardassians in general and complicate them and get them on a level that I feel is important, especially given recent global political trends. I also love how McCormack worked so much of Cardassian literary traditions into those novels. What I would do…you know, if I could do just something completely one-off, I think I’d like to turn the tables on that a bit. We’re always seeing Garak as a sort of window into Cardassia, and Cardassian art and literature, but I’d be interested to see him taken through something much more human (something that I feel could have been done better in “Our Man Bashir”). I actually wrote a little fic about Garak being loaned The Picture of Dorian Gray and I think it would be really interesting to see Garak find some human literature that actually spoke to him on a deep level. That might break through his own disdain for art from other cultures. Given how Star Trek itself grows out of the human literary and artistic tradition, I think it would be an interesting meta twist that would allow for some insight into not Garak as a Cardassian, but Garak as a person. But seriously I could go on about Garak all day so will try to hold myself back from saying more.

Switching gears completely, one of my favorite questions to ask authors is about non-writing related jobs. What is the most unusual job you’ve ever had? What did you learn from it, and has any aspect of that job worked its way into any of your stories?

Haha I feel I have a fairly bland employment history, actually. I’ve been a lifeguard, a dishwasher then cook at a bar and grill, worked for university housing, and then got into prepress at a commercial printer. Of those, being a cook (where I got to work alongside my twin sister) was probably the most interesting/unusual. I had no experience going in, and was often overwhelmed, and the work was exhausting and often disgusting. But I did learn how to take that sort of situation and try to have fun with it. I’d sing along to the radio (I am not a good singer) and get my sister and the waitresses to laugh. We talked about starting a band called Fish and the Chips (I was going to be Fish), but only my sister could play an instrument. I’m actually not sure that the job has really worked its way into any of my stories…yet.

Now that The Burning Day and Other Strange Stories is out in the world, what’s next for you? What are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

I’m partly completely unsure what’s next for me. Aside from the collection and We’re Here (which will continue next year with editor L. D. Lewis), I’m trying to climb back into writing more regularly. I’ve been writing a lot of poetry. I hope to maybe collect up all the romance short fiction I’ve written over the years that has largely been lost to presses closes or breaking contracts and find a place to rerelease it. I have ideas for longer works, but I’m slow and I also have my reviewing work. So…we’ll see!

Thanks for stopping by!

And thank you!!!

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May & June Events: Panels and Podcasts and Readings (Oh My!)

I can scarcely believe that May is already well underway, which means Wendy, Darling officially comes out in less than a month! I cannot wait to share my dark, feminist take on what happened to Wendy Darling after her time in Neverland with all of you! The official release date is June 1, 2021, and May and June are going to be busy months with various readings and panels related to the book’s release. If you’d like to hear me read, or listen to me chat with other authors, here are some of the places you can find me over the next little while. I’ll continue to update this space with links and other info as it becomes available!


Peter Panel FlyerThe Peter Panel – May 22, 2021 from 7:-8:30p.m. EST

It seems that 2021 is the year of the boy who never grew up! Aiden Thomas, Kayla Ancrum, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and I all have books inspired by Peter Pan out this year, so of course we had to put together a Peter Panel! Join us as we discuss our novels, with four different takes on Neverland and the works of J.M. Barrie who inspired us all. Martha Brockenbrough will moderate the chat, which promises to be far-ranging and a lot of fun. The event is free and you can register here.

Sturgis Library Panel PosterSturgis Library LGTBQIA+ Pride Month Fiction Talk Celebration – June 8, 2021 from 6:30-8p.m. EST

In celebration of Pride Month, Richard Kadrey, Sam J. Miller, Cassandra Khaw, and I will be talking about writing, offering up plenty of queer reading recommendations, and doing a Q&A session. The event is free, but registration is required. More info and details on how to sign up are available here. ETA: It was a fantastic chat with wonderful queer reading recommendations and great craft tips for writing multiple POV characters among many other things. In case you missed it, the archived recording of the panel is available here.


Celebrate Horror 2021 – May 28, 2021

Sadie Hartmann (aka Mother Horror) is once again organizing a horror reading extravaganza. Dozens upon dozens of horror writers contributed videos of themselves reading excerpts of their work and the whole thing will go live on May 28 on the Nightworms YouTube channel. You can hear me read an excerpt from “The Nag Bride” an original novelette appearing in my upcoming collection, The Ghost Sequences (out in October from Undertow Books). Other authors reading include Tim Waggoner, Rio Youers, Linda Addison, Paul Tremblay, Wendy Wagner, and many, many more!

NYRSF Reading – June 9, 2021 at 7 p.m. EST

Rescheduled! Due to unforeseen technical difficulties, the NYRSF event is moving to Wednesday, June 9, 2021. On that new date and time, I’ll be reading an excerpt from Wendy, Darling and chatting with the wonderful Barbara Krasnoff about the book. You can visit the NYRSF facebook page to learn more about the series. ETA: The archived recording of the reading and my chat with Barbara is available here.

Ephemera Reading Series – June 16, 2021 at 7p.m

Found family and chosen family are themes woven throughout Wendy, Darling, and so I’m absolutely thrilled that the theme for this installment of the Ephemera Reading Series is Family! I’ll be reading along with Arkady Martine and Brent C. Lambert, and there will be a musical performance by Irene Zhong. I cannot wait for this event. It’s going to be so much fun! More info here. ETA: If you missed the event, the video is available here. Brent and Arkady both read amazing excerpts from upcoming works and I can’t wait to read them rest of them, and Irene performed two beautiful songs. I highly recommend checking it out!

Space Cowboy Books Reading – June 17, 2021 at 9p.m. EST

I’ll be reading in conjunction with the wonderful Space Cowboy Books, discussing Wendy, Darling, and just chatting about books and reading in general. The event is free. For more information and how to register, visit this link. ETA: If you missed the event, the video is posted here. Jean-Paul at Space Cowboy Books asked from truly fantastic questions!


Tiny Bookcase – May 17, 2021

Not only did I have a wonderful chat with Ben and Nico, but we all wrote flash fiction stories to the same prompt and swapped them “on air” as it were. It was a lot of fun, and it was great to see how we all managed to take the same prompt of “fortified” and run with it in completely different directions for our tales. You can listen to our chat here, and hear three original flash fiction stories, including my own fairy tale about a princess who dreams of being of a castle.

CBC Montreal – All in a Weekend – June 13, 2021 – 8:30-9:00am

Not a podcast, but an actual real, live radio show! Back in the day, before these new-fangled podcasts and streaming on demand, people consumed their media at specific times of the day. Ask your parents, kids! Anyway, I will be chatting with host Ainslie MacLellan about Wendy, Darling live (eep!) on Sunday morning. Since I can’t go home to visit Montreal just yet, this feels like the next best thing! More info on the series here.

Breaking the Glass Slipper Instagram Live – June 18, 2021 – 1pm

Okay, I completely failed to post about this one in advance, but luckily the interview was recorded and is available here. I had a blast talking to Megan about writing Wendy, Darling, reimagining classic tales with a dark and feminist bent, the writing process in general, and of course, our fictional crushes!

Genre Talk Podcast – June 21, 2021

I recently had a lovely chat with the Genre Talk folks about reading, writing, Wendy, Darling, and SFFH in general. The episode should be available June 21, but in the meantime, here’s a link to the podcast in general so you can check out some of the other episodes and conversations with other wonderful guests. ETA: Here is a link to my specific episode.

Liar’s Club Oddcast – June 24, 2021

What happens when you get a bunch of Philly area writers together to talk books and writing? A whole lot of laughter and general silliness, it turns out. Gregory Frost, Keith Strunk, Merry Jones, Fran Wilde, and myself got to chat about reading, writing, critique groups, and of course play everyone’s favorite game – two lies and a truth. Turns out the Liar’s Club is awfully good at telling fact from fiction, or maybe I’m just a terrible liar. I’ll share the link to my specific episode when it’s available, but in the meantime, you can browse their other interviews here, including a recent chat with the wonderful Sam J. Miller! ETA: Here is a link to my specific episode.

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Howls from Hell Review

Howls from Hell Anthology CoverHowls from Hell is a forthcoming anthology from the HOWL Society (Horror-Obsessed Writing and Literature Society), edited by members of the Society, and showcasing the work of sixteen emerging writers from among its members. The anthology officially releases May 18, 2021, but is available for pre-order now. The Society was kind enough to provide me with an early copy for review.

The cover art by P.L. McMillan, who also contributes a story to the anthology, is striking, and each story is accompanied by an original illustration. All the illustrations, along with the design and layout work is done by Society members as well, proving this is a multi-talented group. The anthology as a physical object is sharp, professional-looking, and very nicely put together. Beyond the connecting thread of the HOWL Society, the anthology is un-themed, allowing authors to tackle a wide variety of subjects and approaches to horror. In these pages, you’ll find everything from quiet horror to the hyper-violent, supernatural horror, body horror, rural and suburban horror, and genre mash-ups with science fiction and fantasy. The variety of themes and approaches to horror is impressive, with a few stories in particular that  stood out to me.

“She’s Taken Away” by Shane Hawk is presented in the form of a police transcript of a conversation between Dr. Jay M. Landry and Annie Ellis, whose twin sister has been put away for terrible crimes. The piece is short, but with a strong voice, playing with the good twin/evil twin trope and exploring nature vs. nurture as the twins’ paths diverge and one sister engages in increasingly violent and disturbing behavior.

“Suspended in Light” by Alex Wolfgang is one of the quieter and more subtly unsettling stories in the anthology. A film student takes on a job cataloguing old film reels donated by a daughter cleaning out her mother’s estate. The first reel she watches features a man staring unnervingly at the camera, then setting up a second camera which seems to look back through the screen at her, causing her image to appear in a film shot over 80 years ago. The story effectively builds a sense of dread as it plays with the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, and looks at the sinister side of immortality on the silver screen, and what it means to capture memories through film.

“Possess and Serve” is a solid piece of sci-fi horror, imagining a future where individuals can subscribe to a service that allows them to summon an Assumed Control Unit officer to temporarily remotely possess their body to deescalate conflict and deal with other potentially dangerous situations. Sarah is one such officer who is summoned to the scene of a crime only to find that another Assumed Control Unit officer has possessed the body of the person who summoned them and is using said body to commit a horrific act. The story is tense, and nicely shows both the potential good enabled by technology and the ways technology might aid and abet the worst aspects of human nature.

“Sprout” by M. David Clarkson is another piece with a strong voice, offering up an atmospheric story of nature reclaiming and repurposing life to its own ends in gruesome ways. The story also explores the dynamics of power in a relationship built solely on lust, and the dangers of both feeling owed access to someone else’s body and blaming them for your actions.

“A Fistful of Murder” by Lindsey Ragsdale closes out the anthology with a unique twist on the cursed object trope. While making a purchase at a pet store, a man receives change which includes a $10 bill with the word kill written on it in red ink. The cashier is seemingly unable to see the message, but a mere accidental glance is enough to fill the man with an uncontrollable urge to cause pain and take life. The story brings into questions the idea whether violence is essential to the nature of man, or whether external factors – for example the literal idea of money as the root of all evil – is to blame.

With its wide range of themes and styles, there’s a little bit of something for everyone here, making Howls from Hell a satisfying read for horror fans.

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And Then the Gray Heaven Review

And Then the Gray Heaven CoverOnce again I’m dipping my toes into the non-genre waters with an upcoming novella from Dzanc Books. And Then the Gray Heaven by RE Katz, which will be released on June 15, 2021, is a lovely meditation on loss, processing grief, queer found families, art as legacy, and networks of people supporting each other through the roughest times in their lives.

Jules is mourning the death of their partner, B, an artist and museum exhibition designer. Their grief is complicated by the fact that the hospital refuses to recognize their relationship, so Jules has to break into B’s hospital room to be with them at the end. B’s family is similarly wary of Jules, except for B’s brother, Alvin, though even he wasn’t there for B or Jules when they needed him the most. Following B’s death, Jules feels unmoored and alone. Seeing this, Jules’ neighbor Tina sends a family member to keep an eye on Jules – Theo. Theo and Jules strike up an immediate, sweet, and supportive friendship, which is the true heart of the novel. When Alvin unexpectedly arrives with a portion of B’s ashes to give to Jules, Jules hatches a plan to honor B’s memory by burying them within various museum exhibitions they helped design. Theo becomes Jules’ partner in crime, and they set off on a journey of remembrance and healing that brings Jules into contact with other people who were important to B’s life – an extended queer family that helps support Jules through their grief and helps them see that despite their initial feeling, they are far from alone.

We held cups of coffee with both hands and looked at each other. I said nothing. I was thinking about how I hadn’t talked to anyone about what had happened yet. This is what people have families for. I felt crushed into a fine powder–I was pigment. Windowsill blue. Ash taking air before gusting apart. No one to talk to and no reason to reach out. I didn’t want our friends to worry, and I had no information or comfort to offer them.

And Then the Gray Heaven feels deeply grounded in every day life, while also dealing with immense and complicated subjects like loss, love, grief, and neuroatypicality. The characters are richly drawn, and the web of support – the larger queer family – that B and Jules find around them at various points in their lives is heartening and immensely touching. The connectivity between people is mirrored through art, which weaves in and out of the story in various ways, from Jules’ first job as an airbrush artist, to B’s line of work. Art doesn’t merely connect individuals personally, but reflects a queer lineage and legacy, as subsequent generations of artists honor those who came before in their work, extending the network beyond a specific place and time, and opening up a larger world of people seeing and understanding each other.

The setting of the novel mirrors Jules’ journey, from the close confines of their apartment to the larger world of their roadtrip with Theo. As their network of friends grows, the world opens up, bringing them from the claustrophobia of grief and loss, back into the open spaces of hope and possibility. At such a short length, Katz manages to pack a lot into their work, making for a very impressive debut.

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March and April Virtual Events

Just over a year ago, I was planning to attend my first ICFA Conference. As the date of the conference grew closer, messages between attendees and emails from the organizers flew thick and fast as everyone tried to figure out whether the event would proceed safely. Ultimately, ICFA was cancelled, and this year, like so many other events over the past year, the conference will be entirely virtual. Even though there won’t be any of the famed poolside gatherings I’ve heard so much about, the line up of presentations, panels, and authors readings look wonderful, and I’m excited to be participating in the conference for the first time. I’ll be participating in a few other virtual events this month and next as well. I’m looking forward to all of them. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll check them out!

International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts Conference – March 18-21, 2021

Author Reading – March 20, 2021 – 11 a.m. EST

Host: John Kessel

Sofia Samtar
Greg Bechtel
A.C. Wise

I’m thrilled to be reading alongside two such wonderful authors. As mentioned, there are a ton of other incredible program items scheduled throughout the weekend, all around the theme of Climate Change and the Anthropocene.

Penguin Random House Spring Book & Author Festival – April 6, 2021

Fairy Tale Retellings Panel

Heather Walter
Olga Grushin
A.C. Wise
Renée Ahdieh

The festival is aimed primarily at librarians, but it’s free for anyone to register and attend. I look forward to discussing re-told fairy tales with this wonderful group of authors!

Skeleton Hour Panel FlyerHWA Skeleton Hour – April 8, 2021

Writing Horror in a Post-Covid World – April 8, 2021 – 6p.m. PST/9p.m. EST

Hosted by Kathryn E. McGee

Panelists: Richard Thomas (Moderator), Sarah Langan, Usman T. Malik, Josh Malerman, A.C. Wise, and Lucy A. Snyder

This promises to be a great conversation with an excellent group of people. The event is free and the link to register can be found via the facebook page above.

Flights of Foundry – April 16-19, 2021

Author Reading – April 16, 2021 – 8p.m. EST

Panel – April 17, 2021 – 4 p.m. EST

What Makes Your Skin Crawl? Modern Horror Beyond Borders

Moderator: A.C. Wise; Panelists: Eugenia Triantafyllou, Clara Madrigano, Nibedita Sen, and Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas
This panel will look at recent horror fiction across a variety of media including novels, short stories, and film with a particular focus on stories and authors from outside the US. What trends do we see emerging in modern horror fiction? What do we want to see more of, and which stories still aren’t being told?

The panels and readings look fabulous this year! The full schedule for Flights of Foundry can be found here.

Second Life Book Club – April 28, 2021

A Conversation with A.C. Wise – April 28, 2021 – 12 p.m. SLT/3p.m. EST

The Second Life Book Club is a long-running, popular series taking place within Second Life. I’m delighted to be taking part, reading from my upcoming novel, Wendy, Darling, and chatting about writing and books in general. Earlier in the month, Sam J. Miller and Nino Cipri will be participating in the Book Club as well, on April 14 and April 21 respectively. The whole series is well-worth checking out!

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Lagoonfire Review

Lagoonfire CoverLagoonfire by Francesca Forrest is the second novelette in the author’s Tales of the Polity series published by Annorlunda Books. I reviewed the first entry in the series, The Inconvenient God, for The Book Smugglers in 2018. The novelettes each stand alone fairly well, centering on Decommisioner Thirty-Seven, also known as Sweeting, as she deals with a discrete case involving the decommissioning of gods once their worshippers have moved on.

In Lagoonfire, Sweeting is sent to investigate an incursion of sea water in a new development under construction to determine whether it might have been caused by Laloran-morna, the former god of warm waves. Even though she decommissioned him, the process didn’t entirely take, leaving him with a limited version of his powers. Since the development is going up in an area once sacred to Laloran-morna, Sweeting’s superiors suspect the former god may be trying to sabotage the construction, even though the now-mortal Laloron-morna currently lives in a compassionate care facility, close to dying. Over the years, he and Sweeting have become friends, and when she goes to ask him about the seawater, which he claims to know nothing about, he tasks her with helping him fulfil his dying wish to get a message to his lost love.

Sweeting quickly discovers the situation is far more complicated than it initially seemed. Laloron-morna’s love may be a forgotten goddess of an ancient people that most believe are only a myth. As she attempts to gather more information, Sweeting runs into a history professor named Ateni whose research seems to support her theory, but shortly after they meet, Ateni is accused of terrorist action and arrested. Convinced of Ateni’s innocence and trying to prove it, Sweeting gets herself caught up on the wrong side of the investigation as a possible co-conspirator as she seeks to unravel the mystery, clear Ateni’s name, and keep her promise to Laloron-morna before his time runs out.

And then the sun returned in full force, drawing mist up from the ground all around us and from our sodden clothes. It was clammy and uncomfortable–but also unearthly, beautiful. I turned slowly, letting my arms pass through the glowing streamers. So soon they would fade away, but in that moment, it was like being among celestial beings, clothed in light. I caught sight of Ateni’s face, lips parted, eyes shining. Yes, this was better, much better, for a dedication to Laloran-morna’s unknown love. I returned to the water’s edge and poured the palm wine, Ateni and the ghostly curls of mist my silent witnesses.

Forrest once again perfectly blends magic and bureaucracy with touches of humor to bring the unique world of the Polity Series to life. Lagoonfire expands on The Inconvenient God, introducing more of Sweeting’s co-workers, along with several other decommissioned gods who act as an occasionally snarky, occasionally helpful chorus, but also as a found family, supporting each other and Sweeting. Sweeting’s character is deepened as well, as we learn why she’s so reluctant to share her name and prefers to go by her title or her childhood nickname. Coming to terms with the past is a major theme in the novelette, as is the question of who controls the narrative of history. Love, loss, memory, friendship, and found family are also resonant themes. Even at a short length, Forrest delivers a satisfying story and plenty of character development, while exploring the way history, including personal history, continues to shape the present. Identity, as a people, and as an individual person, can be shaped by history, but it’s always worth asking – whose history? Who is telling the story, and what do they have to gain by telling it that way? Forrest creates several interesting and effective parallels between the personal and the political when it comes to understanding the past and the ways in which the past informs the present and the future. Lagoonfire is a highly enjoyable novelette, and I hope there are more entries planned in the series.

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