Category Archives: Uncategorized

Technical Difficulties: Please Stand By

Comments on the site appear to be broken. It took me a while to notice, but I’m working to fix it. Apologies to anyone who has tried to comment recently and seen their comments vanish into the aether. Hopefully I’ll have things back to normal soon. In the meantime, please enjoy this picture.


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Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

As you know, Bob, a while back we held a contest to determine the next unlikely theme for the series of unlikely journals which we publish. By we, I mean Unlikely Story. And if you didn’t know that, and you haven’t been paying attention… shame on you/or, welcome, it’s lovely to see you here.

Regardless, whether you knew about it or not, we held a contest, and the winner was… The Journal of Unlikely Cartography.


Maps are wonderful. They’re practical in terms of getting you where you want to go, and physically, they can be downright gorgeous. By their very nature, they’re designed to guide you to places you’ve never been. What could be more unlikely?

With this issue, we’re looking for unlikely stories of maps and map-makers. As always, genre is not important to us, but our theme is: Maps/Map-making must be integral to the story.

Take us where we’ve never been. Tell us what happens when Google Earth shows a town that doesn’t exist. Spin the tale of the treasures discovered beneath X marks the spot. Tell us about that most unlikely map written on whale skin, in disappearing squid ink, leading to the lost kingdom of seal-pups seeking revenge.

You get the picture. Hopefully.

In addition to the examples mentioned in the guidelines, this editor urges you to read A.J. Fitzwater’s Cartography, and the Death of Shoes, and Livia Llewellyn’s Omphalos for an idea of her tastes.

So there you have it. The issue is officially open to submissions. Take a look at our guidelines and send us your best. We look forward to reading your work!

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Mommy Dearest

CarrieAfter pumpkin carving last night, we were in the mood for some Halloween-appropriate viewing. We decided on the original 1976 Carrie, and watching it got me thinking about the role of mothers in horror movies overall. [Uh, warning: spoilers for various movies ranging from 1960 to 2013 ensue.]

It’s been remarked elsewhere (and bloody hell, of course I can’t find the specific posts/articles) that there’s a shortage of depictions of motherhood, pregnancy, and even women over 30 in speculative fiction, and generally positive portrayals are even scarcer. When it comes to horror movies, things get worse. Let’s take a look.

Carrie’s mother actively harms her through physical and mental abuse; she inactively harms her by withholding information and through her choice of an extreme religious lifestyle. If she hadn’t been so repressed and felt the need to rebel, would Carrie have turned out the way she did? On the other end of the religious spectrum, Regan’s mother in The Exorcist is offered up in multiple ways as a possible cause for her daughter’s condition. Living an atheist lifestyle and failing to provide her daughter with a religious education and moral guidance has either left Regan open as a vessel for a literal devil, caused her to crave religion so badly she acts as though she’s possessed, or caused her severe delusions that manifest as a demonic possession. Either way, her mother harmed her through her choice of lifestyle, and in the end, only the church can save the day.

So, mothers, whether they mean to or not, are detrimental to their children. Moving on, we have mothers who have absorbed cultural values and actively pursue their children’s downfall.

Black Swan presents the stereotypical mother living her dreams through her child, causing the problems that ultimately lead to her daughter’s death. This motif harkens back to fairy tales such as Snow White, where the jealous mother or stepmother hates and fears her daughter’s youth and beauty with its unspoken implication that now that her childbearing years are behind her, the mother is obsolete and all value will be transferred to the next generation. Norman Bates’ mother doesn’t even get a break, and she’s dead. While it’s clear in Psycho that Norman has problems of his own, its strongly implied that most of said problems are rooted in his mother’s controlling nature, which persists beyond the grave. He is subsumed, adopting her persona to commit his murders, allowing her to continue into life after death through her son, and in the process, erasing him.

Those are only a few examples.

So where can we go for a positive portrayal of mothers in horror movies? Mama. Bear with me. I’ll present a semi-convincing argument, I promise. Perhaps it’s because the movie’s dirty little secret is that it isn’t a horror movie at all. Regardless, it puts not one but two positive (if unconventional) mother-figures on the screen.

On one hand, we have the entity referred to as Mama. Over the course of the movie we see she wasn’t the best of mothers while alive. When they tried to take her baby away, she chose suicide, taking her child with her. In a twisted way, her choice shows a fierce kind of protectiveness, an extreme love leading her to believe that even death would be better than letting her child be raised by someone else. It’s the same logic that informs her protectiveness of the two abandoned  girls she adopts after her death. Sure, to the outside eye the girls aren’t being raised in a healthy environment: They’re at least half-feral, and anyone who thinks they can do a better job raising them tends to die or be threatened with death at Mama’s hand, but still – Mama’s heart is in the right place. She loves the girls; she saves their lives initially, and continues to keep them alive against all odds. She protects them, and beyond that, she’s an engaged parent. She plays with the girls, she spends time with them and takes an interest in their lives – something many living parents neglect on a regular basis. Certainly Carrie, Regan, Nina, and Norman’s mothers never really took an interest in their lives beyond trying to impose their desires and values.

On the other side of things, we have Annabel, a woman thrust into motherhood when her boyfriend finally finds his long-lost nieces after years of searching. Annabel actively hates the idea of motherhood, but she does her best, and in the end she comes to love the girls in her own way. Despite her own fears, she chooses to make them her family and in the end, her love is what saves Victoria. By the same token, it’s Mama’s love, as twisted as it is, that saves Lily. (Yes, I choose to see the scene where Lily is taken away as positive, so there.)


At it’s heart, Mama is a rather sweet movie about the power of the family you choose, all dressed up in horror’s clothing. Sure the jump scares are there, along with the moody lighting, the unsettled atmosphere, and the sense of creeping dread. It works as a horror movie, but it also works as a movie about love, and in its own weird way, it shows motherhood in a positive light – a rare thing for horror movies from any age.

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Filed under New Movies, Old Movies, Uncategorized

Philly Mutt Strut

I signed up for the 7th Annual Mutt Strut yesterday. It’s an event I’ve had my eye on for a while, but this will be my first year participating. It’s basically a leisurely walk, on a hopefully gorgeous day, amidst a chaos of dogs. It’s also a fundraising event benefiting PAWS, Philly’s largest no-kill shelter.

Anyone paying attention has heard me talk up PAWS before. They are a fabulous organization, doing good things to save homeless animals and place them in loving and permanent homes. I’ve fostered cats through PAWS and worked with others who have done the same. I can attest to PAWS’ dedication and caring, and I want to support them in any way I can.

So, come October, I will be strutting with my mutt (pictured at right). I will hopefully be joined by some of my co-workers. We constantly share stories about our dogs, so it seemed only right to get together, let our dogs meet each other, and support a wonderful cause while we’re at it!

I’ve set up a personal fundraising page for the Mutt Strut. If you happen to have a few dollars to spare for a great cause, I’d be thrilled if you’d consider using them to support PAWS. I’d be equally thrilled if you’re inclined to spread the word about my fundraising efforts, or, if you’re local to Philly, if you’d consider signing up to strut with your own mutt. Any support you can lend will help PAWS save lives and provide medical care, shelter, and food for cats and dogs awaiting their forever homes.

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Coincidences in the Sky

Because finding fascinating WWI letters in an antique shop wasn’t enough by itself, we also went on a hot air balloon ride on Saturday. And because even that wasn’t enough, we had an odd experience, you know, above and beyond the fact that we were in a wicker basked being held up by fire and air, a mile above the countryside. First – the balloon ride itself was lovely. The weather was perfect and the views were gorgeous. In addition to cows, horses, sheep, and goats, we also spotted a deer and a fox, and watched a small plane take off from the local airport and fly below us. The pilot even gave us toy plastic parachutes to throw over board. We also spotted a car accident.

We didn’t see the crash occur, but shortly after we took off, we heard sirens. From our vantage point, we could see the lights from the cop cars and the ambulances, and what looked like a car that had run into a wall. We speculated on the nature of the accident. A few people took pictures, including the woman standing next to me (one of the eight strangers sharing the ride with us). She asked me about the zoom on my camera, and whether I could make out any more detail about the accident from my photos. We established her zoom was better, though she still couldn’t see anything.

We drifted on, away from the accident and on to other sights. A few minutes later, the woman beside me receives a phone call. After a moment, stricken, she says, “My mother was hit by a car. That was the accident.”

The pilot made an emergency landing. The ground crew picked the woman up, and helped her get to the hospital. Then the pilot took the rest of us back into the sky.

The rest of the flight was uneventful, though the pilot seemed shaken. We landed in a farmer’s fresh-cut field at the end of the trip, and two of the boys from the family came out to help pack the balloon away, while other family members and neighbors looked on. The ground crew drove us back to the launch site as the sunset, and gave us champagne.

All in all, it was a lovely trip, but also slightly strange. I haven’t seen any news stories about the accident, hopefully that means the woman’s mother is okay. In addition to the two photos below, there’s a whole album here, if you happen to be particularly curious.

Shadow Farm

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Fragments of History

I found myself in an antique shop today. There, on one of the shelves, among the bottles and records and books and old postcards was a box marked WWII letters. I picked one up at random, read it, and knew I needed to buy it. I picked up another, read it, and it only made the first letter, the one that had hooked me, all the more intriguing, and all the more heartbreaking (from a certain perspective). I picked up a third letter at random without reading it, and brought them to the cash. Then I sat outside the shop on a bench in the sunlight, and read them again.

First of all, the box was mislabeled. The letters are dated from 1917, so from WWI, not WWII. They are from Ralph H. Arch of the 330th Infantry, stationed at Camp Sherman, sent to Anita Plymire at Grace Hospital in Virginia. Anita, who Ralph repeatedly refers to as his ‘little wife-to-be’ throughout two of of the letters, the two I read second and third, which seem to written earlier than the first one I read.

In those two earlier letters, Ralph addresses Anita as ‘Darling little Pinkey girl’. He also gives her the pet names of ‘kiddie’ and ‘girlie’. He talks about how much he misses her, how lonely he is, how he can’t wait to marry her. He references the children they will have one day, how much he wants to hold her, and how happy their life together will be when he finally comes home to her. His letters imply they have known each other all their lives, but their romantic relationship before he left for Camp Sherman was a relatively new thing.

And then there is the letter that hooked me. The one I read first. A full transcript of the letter is behind the cut (with original spelling, grammar, etc. in tact).

Continue reading


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Black Bean Soup

It’s not exactly a new year’s resolution, but I do plan to make an effort to try more new recipes this year. Between the day job and the commute, I have a bad habit of getting stuck in food ruts. I make whatever is easy and convenient, therefore missing out on new things. So my goal that isn’t really a goal is to make weekends food experimenting days. When I’m pleased with the results, I may even post the recipe here. Today, I am pleased. And as an extra bonus, today’s recipe is insanely simple.

Black Bean Soup

1 Can of Black Beans
1 Can of Diced Tomatoes
1 Can of Chicken Broth (substitute vegetable stock for vegetarians)
1 Can of Corn (optional)
1/2 Red Bell Pepper, Diced
1/2 Yellow Onion, Diced
Shredded cheese and sour cream to garnish (optional)

Saute diced red pepper and onion until both are browned/soft. Puree sauteed onions and peppers with beans, tomatoes, and chicken broth/vegetable stock in a blender until smooth. (After blending, add corn if desired). Heat pureed mixture in pot or crockpot until ready to serve. Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream if desired. For extra bonus point, the soup pairs nicely with cheese quesadillas.

Stay tuned (or not) for possible future recipes!

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Philcon 2012

So, I’ll be at Philcon next weekend. Have I mentioned that? Probably not. But I’ll be there! I have a schedule and everything!

Below, subject to change, is where I’ll be when. Will you be there, too? If so, drop by and say hi! And regardless of whether you’re there or not, do you have any brilliant ideas of subjects I should cover in any of my panels? I have a pretty good idea of what I want to say but I’d love to hear your suggestions for Lovecraftian fiction you want people to know about, non-US authors you want people to read, resources for new writers, women in fantasy, the best work of 2012, or any of my other panel topics. Hell, feel free to weigh in on things that have nothing to do with my panel topics. I’ll yell your suggestions at people in the bar and/or the Dealers’ Room, which is where I anticipate spending most of my time when I’m not on panels.

Fri 8:00 PM in Plaza III
Panelists: John Ashmead (mod), Darrell Schweitzer, Marvin Kaye, A.C. Wise, Neal Levin

Is anyone writing good cosmic horror today? What new directions has cosmic horror been taken in?

Fri 9:00 PM in Plaza IV
Panelists: Patricia Wake (mod), Eric Avedissian, A.C. Wise, Brian Thomas

It is not just “cyberpunk” and “steampunk” anymore. Now we have “Fairypunk”, “Dieselpunk”, and even “Arrowpunk”. What unites all of these? Do elements make a story “punk”, and do they even turn up in these stories?

Sat 10:00 AM in Plaza V
Panelists: A.C. Wise (mod), David G. Hartwell, Andrew C. Murphy, Alex Shvartsman

There are a lot of great authors that just aren’t as popular in the US as in other countries. Who are some of the writers that don’t get a lot of attention here that we should be reading?

Sat 11:00 AM in Plaza IV
Panelists: Glenn Hauman (mod), David G. Hartwell, Ellen Asher, A.C. Wise, Patricia M. Cryan

Everyone goes to science fiction movies. Science fiction ideas are familiar to almost everyone in the society. Why don’t we see more science fiction novels on the best seller list?

Sat 2:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two
Panelists: A.C. Wise (mod), Gardner Dozois, Lisa Padol, Alex Shvartsman

What are some of the great novels, novellas, and stories out there this year? What is likely to be nominated for awards in the field and why?

Sat 3:00 PM in Plaza III
Panelists: Victoria Janssen (mod), Keith R.A. DeCandido, A.C. Wise, Tim W. Burke, Meg Howard, Bill Olver

What books, websites and other research materials are essential for the new and prospective writer?

Sat 5:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Three
Panelists: Oz Drummond (mod), Barbara Barnett, D.L. Carter, KT Pinto, A.C. Wise

Regardless of the historical period that they are borrowing from, female protagonists in fantasy are typically strong and feminist and have mindsets that would be at home from the 1970s on. Is this required for modern readers, and is this becoming a cliche?

Sat 11:00 PM in Executive Suite 623
Panelists: Stephanie Burke (mod), Shelby Morgen, Bernie Mojzes, Thomas Willeford, A.C. Wise

Experienced practitioners (of WRITING…) give us the inside scoop on this specialized part of the publishing industry.


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Sunday Pimpfest VI

First up on the pimping block (I imagine it’s like a chopping block, but with less meat cleavers), Patrick Rothfuss is gearing up for his annual Worldbuilders fundraising extravaganza. At the moment he’s looking for donations of books, geeky crafts, and other fun things that might entice people to donate to Worldbuilders. Not that you should need enticing to support a good cause, but it’s even better when there’s cool shit to be won, too. Worldbuilders supports Heifer International, an incredible organization whose mission is to end world hunger and poverty by promoting sustainable practices that give struggling families and communities the means to feed and support themselves. Even if you’re not into the whole Worldbuilders thing, Heifer is worth your time.

Second, Halloween is only a few days away, which means there’s still time to participate in All Hallows Read. I could explain it, but you should really click on the link and let Neil Gaiman explain it instead. He has a British accent, so it’ll sound much nicer. I tried to organize my own little All Hallows Read book exchange a few years back. I think it was a success. I’ve been far too disorganized to put another one together since, but I still think it’s a fantastic idea. In fact, if you’re lazy like me, may I suggest a virtual book exchange in the comments? Recommend a scary or unsettling book, and I’ll seek it out my own damn self. No legwork on your part required! For my part, I shall suggest The Drowning Girl: A Memoir by Caitlin R. Kiernan. If you haven’t read it, you owe it to yourself to do so, post haste!

Last, but not least, I point you toward a call for submissions for The Flesh Made Word. This anthology of erotica about writing will be published by Circlet Press, and it being edited by my esteemed Journal of Unlikely Entomology co-editor, Bernie Mojzes. It’s going to be a wonderful anthology, so send a story his way. You know you wanna.

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Sunday Pimpfest III

This week’s pimpfest is going to be fairly focused. Not because there aren’t other awesome things out there worth your time, mostly because I’m lazy. Also because the thing I’m talking about is wonderful, and you should all know about it.

That said, I’m probably pointing you towards something largely aware of, but just in case you aren’t, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There came out this week. This is the second book in Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, which, as I understand it, will be a five book series. This is very good news. Revels is a sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I’m fairly certain I’ve squeed about the first book here before. If you haven’t read it… What the hell are you waiting for?

It’s everything a fairytale should be. It’s a book full of magic, but also consequences. It doesn’t flinch. It doesn’t apologize. It’s beauty, with bits of darkness tucked inside. And it’s brilliant.

At this late hour, I should offer a disclaimer. I haven’t actually read the book I’m pimping just yet. After the first one though, I’m all in. Actually, at this point, anything Cat Valente cares to write, I’m going to be excited about. She’s that good. The reason I haven’t picked up a copy of the book and devoured it yet is I’m waiting for the local date of Cat Valente’s tour. If she’s going to be anywhere near you, go see her. I happen to be lucky enough to be near once of the locations where she’ll be performing in conjunction with S.J. Tucker. Extra double bonus goodness for me!

One last Valente-related item to pimp this week. (See, it may be a one-person pimp fest, but there are a lot of things to talk about.) Cat Valente is holding an awesome Fairyland contest on her blog. Go check it out! And go read Cat’s books. All of them. Right now. Seriously.

Now it’s your turn. Beside Cat Valente’s awesomeness, what else is happening that I should know about? Pimp away!

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