Category Archives: Random Rambling

Hey, It’s SOCKtober!

ETA: Our prize winners are Ralph Walker and Amy Bush. Thank you to everyone who participated and helped to make October a little cozier for those in need!

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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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!
Fireworks

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Unreliable Narrators and the Monstrous Feminine

American Horror StoryI just finished watching American Horror Story: Asylum. Yes, I am way behind and slow to catch up. However, in case there are others like me, consider yourself duly warned: Spoilers Abound.

Overall, I found Asylum somewhat uneven. However, the cast is consistently fantastic, the visuals are striking, and I enjoy the tropes they’re playing with, so I’ll keep coming back for more. One of the things that annoyed me about the first season of American Horror Story was that the last episode felt incredibly rushed. The pacing of the second season felt off as well, and the last episode in particular seemed to take a sharp left and introduce the possibility of an unreliable narrator rather suddenly. At first, this annoyed me, but the more I thought about it, the more the decision seemed like an interesting and valid one. Throughout the second series, we see several variations on the theme of identity, disguise, and which characters have the right to speak and be believed. Dr. Arden and Sister Jude have both reinvented themselves at Briarcliff to escape their past crimes. Later, Sister Jude has her identity taken away from her, along with her authority to speak and be believed. Dr. Thredson wears a mask to become Bloodyface, and vice versa; Bloodyface wears Dr. Thredson as a mask, one that gives him credibility and  access to his victims. A demon adopts Sister Mary Eunice’s body as an innocent disguise. A woman comes to Briarcliff claiming to be Anne Frank, and no one believes her. In face, almost every patient at Briarcliff has their sanity, reliability, and ability to tell truth from fantasy questioned.

So the groundwork for unreliability is there. Then, in the final episode, we see Lana Winters giving an interview where she looks back over her career as a journalist. Since her time at Briarcliff, she’s made a name for herself by unmasking corruption, and bringing down the mighty and powerful. During the interview, Lana admits to her own secret. Rather than dying at birth as she’d claimed for forty years, the child forced on her via rape, did indeed survive and she gave him up for adoption. This scene, as well as several leading up to it, begin to throw Lana’s reliability into question. She admits to bending the narrative to suit her needs and tell a better story. How many other details of her stay at Briarcliff, and her subsequent exposure of the abuse that went on there did she smooth over, change, or outright lie about to suit her needs?

The final scene of the final episode further throws Lana’s credibility into doubt. The final episode makes it clear that Lana is the overarching narrator for the season. Everything we’re told happened has been related to us through her point of view. In the final scene, we return to the 1960s, and Lana’s first encounter with Sister Jude at Briarcliff. During this conversation, Sister Jude predicts she will never see Lana again after denying her access to Briarcliff, and we see Lana walk out the door. With the possibility of Lana as an unreliable narrator established in the scenes prior to this one, the idea that everything that has been presented to us as truth all season long never happened at all.  Maybe Lana walked out the door that day and never returned to Briarcliff until after the government took over, and Sister Jude was long gone. During the final scene, Sister Jude also warns Lana about ambition, telling her that it will result in Lana ending up miserable and alone. If we take the scene where Lana is being interviewed as the only truth, however, we see quite the opposite. Her ambition has gained her everything she wanted in life. She’s a trusted journalist, author of multiple bestselling books, about to be honored by the Kennedy Center, in a loving and stable relationship, and living in a beautiful house that suggests she’s very financially well off indeed.

So, instead of a character whose backstory is torture and rape, motivated by said rape to find the strength to take on the world, we are opened up to the possibility of a character who is a liar and a monster doing whatever she has to in order to achieve her goal. This includes killing off anyone who could have disputed her story. Despite the stories of demon possession, alien abduction, and serial killers, it’s possible Lana is the only murderer in the story. We really only have her word to go on. It’s possible she was never incarcerated at Briarcliff, but she was a good enough journalist to figure out that the best way to break the story wide open was to paint herself as a sympathetic survivor and victim. She was also smart enough to know that the sensational story of a serial killer would gain her international notoriety and attention. Maybe Dr. Thredson really was Bloodyface, or maybe she killed him before anyone could figure it out either way. Maybe she eliminated Kit, Sister Jude, Dr. Arden, Sister Mary Eunice, and even the Monseigneur before they could dispute her story. Maybe she never had a baby at all. Maybe Lana was indeed playing a very long game. Maybe she tracked down an orphan with a criminal record, one with a history of mental instability and planted the idea that he was Bloodyface’s son in his mind to make her case that much stronger. Maybe there never was a Wendy. Maybe.

LanaIf these things are true, it makes Lana Winters a fascinating example of the Monstrous Feminine. Unlike Grendel’s Mother, or Mrs. Vorhees, she doesn’t kill to protect or avenge her child. She kills solely for her own gain and to further her career. And unlike so many Evil Queens, Wicked Stepmothers, and Lady Macbeth, she’s never punished for her ambition, either. She gets exactly what she wants in the end, and there’s no one left to challenge her. She’s already shown us her ability to be determined and unwavering. We don’t see any evidence she’s succumb to guilt further down the road. She set out a course for herself, followed it, and in the end, she reaped her reward. Now that the last threads are tied up, all she has to do is sit back and live happily ever after.

It’s also possible I’m reading too much into things. However, I prefer the version of Lana Winters who sets a goal for herself and stops at nothing to achieve it rather than one who perpetually suffers. Regardless, it’s interesting to think about. Now, judging by my current pace, I may have some thoughts about American Horror Story: Coven to share in a year or two…

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All Hallows Read Book Exchange 2015

All Hallows ReadAs so frequently occurs (to me least), it’s somehow already October 1st, and I’m not quite sure what fold of space/time allowed it to happen. Like a switch being thrown, the temperature landed firmly in the Appropriate Fall Weather category today. The sky darkened, rain fell, and there was a decided chill in the air. Honestly, there are no complaints here.

October is one of my favorite times of the year. I love winter, but there’s something about the in-between-ness of fall I find irresistible. It’s pumpkin season. Ghost season. The haunted time of year when the world is thin. It’s also time for All Hallows Read .

Those of you who know me (and possibly even those who don’t) may have noticed I’m pretty into reading. I’m also pretty into enabling others when it comes to discovering/acquiring new books. All Hallows Read – a brilliant tradition started by Neil Gaiman, and explained by him at the link above – is all about fostering a love of books. For the past few years, I’ve organized my own All Hallows Read Book Exchange. The original idea of All Hallows Read is to give someone a scary book. My ‘rules’ for the book exchange are more relaxed. Basically, if you dig reading, want other people to be excited about books you love, are comfortable sharing a mailing address with a total stranger, and are willing to drop a book in the mail, this is the thing for you!

The way it works is: You drop me a note in the comments and/or send me an email at a.c.wise (at) hotmail.com, and I organize an exchange whereby you send one book to someone and receive one book from someone else. Even though the original idea is to exchange a scary story, it doesn’t have to be horror. It doesn’t have to be a new book either. It can be second hand, well-loved, science fiction, humor, mainstream, whatever you want. Preferably, it will be a book that means something to you, and one you want to share with someone else.

Each time I’ve organized this exchange, I’ve personally found it to be tons of fun. I’ve discovered some amazing authors and encountered books I might not have read otherwise. At least one person has told me they’re interested in participating again this year, which makes me think other people dig it too.  So join in the fun! Give a book, get a book, and share the joy of reading.

(The All Hallows Read image above is from Introverted Wife, who creates a variety of fabulous All Hallows Read posters every year.)

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Gone Home

Gone Home came out in 2013, so only I’m a few years late on this one. Standard warning of spoilers ahead versus my assumption that everyone else has already played this game apply.

Gone Home Gone Home doesn’t really fit easily in a single category, which is part of what makes it so appealing. The best way to describe it is a quiet adventure/exploration game. However, unlike most adventure games, there are no standard puzzles to solve. There are hidden rooms to uncover, a few combination locks to open, and keys to find, but the majority of the game is simply walking through an old, empty house, discovering letters, notes, and other objects that allow the story to unfold. Your player character is Katie, a college(ish) age woman, coming home to visit her family after spending time in Europe. As the game opens, you arrive at the house to find your family gone, without any explanation, leaving you alone to explore.

The game sets up a classic mystery trope, and the atmosphere – storm raging outside, creaky, creepy old house sounds, the occasional shadows at the corner of your eye – certainly sets you up for horror and jump scares. The setting is even slightly reminiscent of The 7th Guest and its sequel and The 11th Hour, but it isn’t a horror game. That said, to the game’s credit, it maintains the sense of tension throughout, even when nothing overtly threatening happens. The moodiness is only the backdrop to the real heart of the story. Continue reading

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Daredevil: The Good, the Bad, and the Stereotypical

DaredevilI’m finally caught up on the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil. I assume everyone has seen it at this point, but in case you haven’t, there will be spoilers (though most of them are tucked away behind the cut). As the title of this post implies, there were a lot of things I enjoyed about the series, and many that frustrated me. In this case, the bad and the stereotypical are pretty much focused on the same thing. But let’s start with the good stuff:

The fight scenes. They are brilliantly choreographed, often in one long take.  Many modern movies and tv shows rely on quick cuts, either to hide the use of stunt doubles, or as deliberate stylistic choices. Daredevil is having none of that. Like a good sex scene, a good fight scene should be a conversation, it should tell you something about the characters involved – how they move, whether or not they use weapons, what they key in on as an advantage or a distraction. In particular, the episodes Cut Man, and Stick, stand out  – the first for the brilliant single-shot hallway fight scene, the second for highlighting the fight-as-conversation.

The acting/casting. It’s pretty darn wonderful. The main actors in particular consistently nail the nuances of their characters, and reveal depths through tiny gestures. Well done all around.

The opening credit sequence. It’s lovely. The red wax/paint-like substance dripping down to take on the forms of religious iconography and the Hell’s Kitchen landscape is highly evocative, and the simplicity of the music pairs with it perfectly. Both set an excellent tone for the show.

The four main characters. Matt, Karen, Foggy, and Fisk, are all fully realized. The way they interact, meshing or clashing, is wonderful. They each have their own motivations, their own hang-ups, and their own strengths. And, as mentioned above, they are cast and embodied perfectly by the actors.

The lighting. Okay, I’m a little torn on this one. Everything is dim. It’s a thematic choice, tied into the main character’s blindness, and it’s interesting. No other show out there (that I’m aware of) is lit quite this way, at least not that consistently. It’s striking. But, without contrast, the novelty tends to wear off after a while. It’s a very nitpicky thing, but every now and then, I found myself wishing for a different color palette just to mix things up.

And now, behind the cut, the part where I complain about stuff (and where most of the spoilers lie)… Continue reading

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Month of Letters 2015

TypewriterLetter Month is almost upon us. Are you excited? I am. If you can’t be bothered to click on the link, the short version is, it’s a month where you send people real, physical things in the mail, and they send you things in return. It’s awesome. You should do it.

Despite including a picture of a typewriter here, I (alas) do not actually have access to a functioning Underwood typewriter at the moment. I do however have a fancy new quill set given to me by my lovely spouse, which I’m dying to try out. So, if you want a smeary, illegible, possibly disastrous missive from me, sent by honest to goodness mail, you should sign up and friend me. I’m on as A.C. Wise.

Fair warning, I may mail you glitter. I promise to at least try to keep said glitter somewhat contained. (Guarantee void in all places you may live/visit/ever pass through, just in case.) Join me! I look forward to sending you things!

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Highlights of My Family History

For my birthday, my mother gave me a lovely hand-written book detailing our family history, pieced together from old documents and passed-down legends. She included family trees, showing how everyone is related – helpful since my family has a tendency to re-use names – and photos to put faces to the names. Some of the stories may be exaggerated or guess-work, as family histories can often be, but regardless, it’s fascinating. Here are a few highlights from the Irish-English-French-Danish side of my family.

  • When my great-great grandfather on my grandmother’s side was 11 years old, his father came after him with an axe. He ran into the forest and hid, and when he came out the next day, his father had been taken away to an insane asylum.
  • Henry’s son, also Henry (see how this gets confusing?) married a woman named Maggie who wouldn’t let him go back home to England to visit his family. When his family tried to visit them in Ireland, Maggie set her own kitchen on fire to keep them from coming.
  • My great-great-great grandmother was known in her town by the name “Ma” Dymond. She and her sons were supposedly the equivalent of the local mafia in the 1850s.
  • My great-uncle caused a minor scandal in the family by abandoning his fiancee to marry a French-Canadian Catholic girl he met while on a business trip to Montreal.
  • There is actually a woman in the Danish line of my family whose last name was Hubbard. She was also a mother, and a presumably at some point in her life, old.
  • My great-uncle Augustus died at age fourteen while saving another child from drowning. There is a plaque commemorating him in his home town.
  • My great-great-great grandfather on my grandfather’s side was a coffin-maker. His son went on to open a very successful brewery at Cheese Lane and New Bread Street (Best. Address. Ever.)
  • At least two men and one woman among my ancestors ditched the person they were engaged to in order to marry someone else they met while traveling.
  • My great-aunt was talked out of marrying a suitor her family thought “wasn’t good enough for her” and remained single for the rest of her life. Her older brother, on the other hand, had an affair with the woman living next door as a teenager, and fathered a child with her. Their youngest sibling, my grandfather, grew up down the street from grandmother. They officially “met” when he drew a pig on the back of her shirt in kindergarten class. They were married for over 60 years.
  • In the 1940s, just before they were married, my grandparents went to gender-swapped fancy dress parties together. (There’s photographic evidence of this one!)

So those are a few highlights of my family history, at least on my mother’s side. Anyone else have fun family stories to share?

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The Blair Witch Project Rewatch

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

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

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

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Odd Jobs

With a few rare exceptions, most authors aren’t fantastically wealthy, and at some point in their lives have probably had to work a regular job while writing on the side. Being the sort of people that they are, authors often tend to gravitate to jobs other than the typical 9-5 desk jobs to support themselves. I personally know authors who have at various times in their lives been cab drivers, self-defense instructors, and dance choreographers. Stephen King was a janitor once upon a time and J.D. Salinger worked as an entertainment director on a Swedish cruise ship. There are various lists out there of the odd jobs held by famous writers before they hit it big.

The existence of these lists prompted me to ask the authors of the upcoming Journal of Unlikely Cryptography about their experiences with odd jobs and whether any of those jobs ever inspired their fiction. We’ll be publishing their answers starting later this month over at the Unlikely Story blog .

Asking the question also prompted me to realize I have a pretty good odd job story of my own. It has yet to inspire any stories, though it really seems like it should. My deep, dark, not-so-secret-secret? My first job in the U.S., when I spent the summer living in New Jersey between my first and second years of university back home in Canada, was selling lingerie and sex toys in a little mom-and-pop boutique. It’s actually one of the better jobs I’ve ever had. The owners of the store were a couple who I’m guessing were in their early sixties. The store itself was in a strip mall in the middle of a residential neighborhood, right next to an H&R Block and a Hallmark store. It was within walking distance from the apartment I was living in at the time, and given the specialized nature of the products sold, it was rarely busy. I spent most of my time sitting behind the counter either reading or writing, and maybe one or two customers would come in during the entirety of my shift.

But of course, since it was a sex store, while the majority of the transactions probably weren’t any different from any other retail transaction, there are a few instances that stick out in my mind. There was one man from out of the country who was very concerned that our products might be illegal and cause him to be arrested at the border. There was a man who spoke very little English who said he was there to buy a dildo for his grandfather, which I assumed at the time to be a translation error, but hey, you never know. There was a woman who came in with her three(ish) year old twin boys; one was clearly the evil one and ran around the store pulling things off hangers and throwing them on the floor, while his conscientious brother followed behind him and put everything carefully back in its place. And possibly the most memorable of them all was the very polite flasher who asked me if I would be interested in seeing his penis. I politely told him no, and he politely left. It was all very civil.

Perhaps one of these days some of those experiences will find their way into a story. Even if they don’t, it’s nice to have a rather unique job in my background. How about you? What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever held, and has it informed your fiction or your current occupation?

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