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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 www.jason-sizemore.com 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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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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An Interview with Hailey Piper

Worm and His King CoverHailey Piper was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novella, The Worm and His Kings. In order to kick things off, I will make introductions by way of Hailey’s author bio.

Hailey Piper writes horror and dark fantasy, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She is the author of The Possession of Natalie Glasgow, An Invitation to Darkness, and Benny Rose, the Cannibal King. Her short fiction appears in publications such as Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Tales to Terrify, Blood Bath Literary Zine, and many more. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where she haunts their apartment making spooky noises. Find her on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays and on Instagram via @haileypiperfights.

Welcome, and congratulations on The Worm and His Kings! Without giving too much away, would you care to give folks a taste of what your novella is about?

Thank you so much! I’m happy to be here! The Worm and His Kings is a cosmic horror novella that follows Monique Lane in her search for her missing girlfriend beneath Manhattan in 1990. She faces both her past horrors that haunt her and the shadows and secrets that lie ahead.

You do a wonderful job establishing character, mood, and mythology in the novella. What came first for you, in terms of inspiration, or did the story arrive as a whole package?

Weirdly enough, the lore came first. That’s usually not the case for me, I’ll have a concept or characters in most cases, but here the mythology grew in pieces. The characters who would approach that, and what they chose to do about it, developed later and had a few false starts.

On a related note, I’m particularly interested in Gray Hill and the empty place, as both are so effectively described. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about Gray Hill’s origins, and the idea of the empty place. I love the idea of absence as a horror concept, a place that people instinctively avoid because it just feels wrong.

Some elements of Gray Hill are essential to the lore, but how she impacts the story in some ways emerged from Staten Island urban legend Cropsey (there’s a 2009 documentary on Netflix by that same name if anyone’s curious!), and as was the case with my last novella, Benny Rose, the Cannibal King, urban legends seem to seep into my work. The empty place started as a bad feeling. I’d experienced this myself not over any particular place, but it would just come upon me sometimes, exactly as you say. Sometimes a spot would just feel wrong, and I’d move away from it. But that grew into the events of the book, even if Monique can’t immediately understand what’s haunting her.

Another thing you do a fantastic job with in the novella is blending supernatural horror with very human horror like the rejection Monique experiences at the hands of her family, or the idea of losing someone you love. As an author, is one type of horror – human versus supernatural – more interesting to you to explore, or do you prefer to combine them as you do here?

I think horror is at its strongest digging into those human elements and at its most interesting when digging into supernatural elements. Supernatural ideas and beliefs have been part of that human experience for all of human history, and I think it’s hard to untether that from our emotions. That’s probably an overlong way of saying that I prefer to combine the two. The story, characters, themes, and reader all benefit when the speculative elements of a story draw from humanity, even if they’re presented as monsters.

The majority of your published work to date has been horror. What in particular appeals to you about the genre? Are there other genres you’ve written in, or would be interested in exploring in the future?

For me, horror is the truest genre. We can peel layers from our emotions and cut to the bone when we look at our fears as sources to draw from, and I think often characters are the most themselves when afraid. I’ve written some science fiction and fantasy too, and one steampunk detective story that showed up in Planet Scumm #9 in September, but many of those still carry darker or horror adjacent elements.

Switching gears, you currently reside in Maryland. What are your favorite spots in the area, or places you like to bring guests visiting for the first time?

With it being 2020, I’m struggling to remember places that aren’t home or the grocery store (or what guests are!). There’s a place with a pond near the movie theater where we like to walk, and it’s pretty through every season.

Now that The Worm and His Kings 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 juggling a body horror novel and a novella that I’m struggling to classify, though I should have that situated soon. The kind people over at The Seventh Terrace are also working with me to get my first short story collection out the door, Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy, full of queer horror, isolation stories, and the monstrous feminine. That should release in spring 2021.

The collection sounds fantastic! Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you again for having me! It’s been lovely!

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An Interview with Karen Osborne

Architects of Memory CoverKaren Osborne was kind enough to drop by to talk about her debut novel, Architects of Memory, which is officially out today, and which my alerts inform me is on its way to my mailbox right now. I can’t wait! To get things started, I’ll make introductions by shamelessly stealing from Karen’s author bio.

Karen Osborne is a Nebula finalist, visual storyteller and violinist. Her short fiction appears in Uncanny, Fireside, Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for her work on a Klingon wedding. Her debut novel, Architects of Memory, is forthcoming in 2020 from Tor Books.

Welcome, Karen, and congratulations on your novel! Without giving too much away, would you care to tell folks a bit about Architects of Memory?

I began Architects of Memory purely to rekindle my love of writing after months of hustling in the content generation mills after I lost my job back in 2015. The book quickly became serious and deliberate and terrifying and just plain fun to write, and I highly recommend that anyone struggling with writing a novel simply lean in and embrace all of the elements that make you feel thrilled as an artist, no matter how ordinary or how strange.

Architects is the story of Ash Jackson, a terminally ill, indentured salvage pilot putting her life back together after losing everything in the war with the inexplicable alien Vai. It’s not easy—her new company, Aurora, can never know she’s sick, or they’ll stop considering her a good investment and she’ll never see her new love, ship’s captain Kate Keller ever again.

When Ash finds an alien weapon in a dead starship near the war’s last battlefield, she and her crew stumble into, and I’m gonna quote from the logline so I don’t give away spoilers, “a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn Ash into a living weapon.”

So Architects draws all of the gorgeous tropes I’ve loved in space opera all my life—found families, truly alien aliens, complicated relationships, twisty wild macropolitics—as well as a bunch of questions I had surrounding how corporations and corporate-adjacent entities like nonprofits and megachurches might metastasize in the future. After all, Elon Musk has already intimated on Twitter that workers interested in going to Mars could pay their fare with work once they arrive…

It also centers on what I consider to be the important healthcare question of our time: what’s more important to a society, a person’s productive valuation to the economy or their intrinsic worth as a human being? When I started writing Architects of Memory, I never thought that we’d be having this conversation in our society on this kind of macro level. We’re all talking about “personal responsibility” to keep us safe because our public health system has completely broken down. We’re just going along with the abdication of the U.S. government’s public health responsibility like it’s normal. We’re putting immigrant workers and grocery workers at risk of death just so we can eat meat and paying them with lip service. Ours is absolutely a world that Ash Jackson and the Aurorans would recognize intimately, and I definitely wish it wasn’t.

In addition to your novel, you’re also a prolific short fiction author. You have a particular talent for creating rich, secondary worlds and stories that feel epic in scope within just a few thousand words. Would you ever consider writing epic fantasy at novel length? And on a related note, do you find it difficult to switch back and forth between science fiction and fantasy, or are you equally comfortable in both worlds?

I certainly plan to. Writing careers are slippery beasties at the best of times, and you never really know where you’re going to go next, but I do have a synopsis and outline ready to go for at least two epic fantasies when it becomes time to write them. One is the novel version of “The Two-Bullet War,” which was published at Beneath Ceaseless Skies in mid-2019. I’m extremely excited to get my hands dirty with gunslingers, ancient mountain sorcery, democratic revolutions, and secret marriages. So there’ll be cars and telephones and guns, but also that epic feeling I know I certainly crave while reading fantasy.

I honestly can’t wait to do the worldbuilding. Most of my science fiction centers around stories that rely on the claustrophobia and physics of being in space—moon bases, tiny starships, shuttles and the like—which is a milieu I’m extremely comfortable writing in after focusing on it for so long. The Two-Bullet War will need me to build this wild, complicated, huge world, with a specific ecology, a complicated political system, and more characters than I’ve ever dealt with in a piece this long before.

I suppose it makes me a little nervous to switch, but I think writers always are, and should be, just a little scared of their next book. I think that fear is both healthy and helpful. I think it sharpens our abilities, keeps us on our toes, and makes everything just that much better.

I wanted to talk a bit about “The Bodice, the Hem, the Woman, Death”, which is one of my favorites among your stories. I love the idea of people carrying the souls of their ancestors around in their jewelry, and the way you use fashion to reveal aspects of the main character’s personality, and her relationship with her mother. Where did the seed for this story come from? Do you have any ties to the world of fashion that informed this piece?

Fewer ties and more baggage! I actually have a lot of baggage when it comes to fashion, and that’s exactly where the story came from. I was teased relentlessly for my looks in middle and high school and then spent most of my adult life in a plus-size body, working low-paying but wonderful journalism jobs where conservative dress was more than required. I didn’t think fashion had anything to say to me, which is definitely where the main character of “Bodice” also starts. There were years of my life where the only place I could get appropriate clothing was the clearance rack at that one expensive plus-size mall store, and in the early aughts, everything they sold made me looked like a walking baked potato.

My outlook completely changed once I started freelancing again in 2017, and I was no longer working with clients that needed me to be in business dress. Designers had finally gotten the message that plus-size women were human beings that didn’t want to look like potatoes or wear 1028384832 cold-shoulder tops. I started following Instagram personalities like Katie Sturino, began bleaching and dyeing my hair, and started buying the clothes I’d always wanted to wear when I was younger but could never find for my size—skull sweaters, long maroon dusters, chunky boots. I taught myself to sew, and that’s where I learned all that vocabulary for “Bodice.” And suddenly, with all of these new experiences under my belt, I had to ask the question: who was Karen Osborne if she was allowed to look awesome?

It sounds gauche and conceited and vain but finding out has made me more confident and happy. I’ve grown as a person and feel better in my own skin, and I didn’t have to stoop to self-hate or guilt or self-excoriation to do it. I’m not hiding in the corner anymore like society wants fat people to do. I’m taking selfies!

So that’s where this story comes from. It’s partially why Lia sews the travelling-dress for her mother: fashion is a cage for Lia, but it’s the way her mother, whose worldview is more limited, expresses herself and feels freedom. It’s only in respecting each other’s worldviews—Lia in making the terrible traveling-dress, and her mother in donning it—that they’re finally able to leave the house where they were both trapped. And, of course, their jewelry reflects their society and their journeys in very much the same way.

(I think I should mention here that shopping with my own mom is always a total blast.)

As for the souls in the jewelry, that one’s directly mapped. I own some pieces of jewelry from my maternal grandmother, who died when I was sixteen. I think of her every single time I pick them up. She was very special to me, and I wonder sometimes what she would say about how I turned out. So those pieces were the inspiration for the entire soul-economy in “Bodice,” which I hope I can write about again down the line.

You refer to yourself as a “visual storyteller”, which strikes me as accurate. You’re a photographer as well as an author, and your prose itself is very visual and evocative, almost cinematic at times. Do you see your work as a photographer and your work as an author informing each other, or are they different creative spheres in your brain? On top of all that, you’re also a musician. What role, if any, does music play in your writing and photography?

Karen Osborne Author HeadshotNice catch! I spent several years as a wedding videographer in Orlando, and it absolutely changed how I write. Modern wedding videography is the most exhilarating and exhausting thing I’ve ever done, and it basically requires you to be the director, lead camera, second camera, sound mixer, boom operator, and gaffer all at once, while never flubbing the first take—ever.

As a wedding videographer, you have to be omnipresent and omnipotent. You’re hypervigilant, hearing everything, watching everything, taping everything, knowing where the light is, knowing what the DJ or the presider is doing next, knowing where Uncle Joey is with his iPad so you don’t step on his toes, knowing which accessories the bride wants featured and which relatives were just invited so Aunt Patty stopped complaining and—you start noticing things you don’t notice in “real life,” and that absolutely trained my writing eye to notice the little details, too. Photography—especially news and portrait photography—is similar. It’s all about telling an entire story in one frame. You have to be both economical and incredibly creative all at once. Harnessing that aesthetic is a delightful challenge for a writer.

My relationship to music is similar. There’s a reason so many writers put on soundtracks before diving into their novels. Music is a language like English or Japanese or C++, and the more you pay attention to how to tell a story in lyrics and notes and orchestral swells, the easier you’ll find sentences and paragraphs. The structure of a novel is very much like the structure of a symphony, for example, and anyone who’s been to a folk festival has witnessed a master class in economical storytelling. I’ve spent most of my life playing the violin—when not in a pandemic, I fiddle with a ceilidh band—and music is a delightful warm place to return when things get tough.

Switching gears, you currently reside in the Baltimore area, a which seems to have a very active speculative fiction community. Do you think there’s something about the area that attracts speculative fiction writers and readers? What spots do you like to bring guests, or recommend to people visiting for the first time? Are there any particularly fantastical or weird spaces in the city that have inspired your fiction?

Baltimore is weird. It’s a great city. It’s the most American place I’ve ever lived, full of wonderful art and unbelievable contradictions and wild disparities and activism and people that care deeply about their communities. I haven’t actually written about Baltimore yet—I still feel, in many ways, like I have a lot to learn before I can, because the city is so complicated. Living here is more affordable than any of the other places I’ve been. I think artists, writers and musicians have a lot more room to breathe, to worry about art instead of rent, and it shows in all of the great stuff going on.
Because there’s art. So much art. One of the things that non-Baltimoreans don’t always know is that the city is covered in murals! There’s community theater of all kinds—tons of places to hear music, a rock opera society, an orchestra, a film district—and the support system for book culture continues to grow. There are tons of indie bookstores—The Ivy, Greedy Reads, Bird In Hand, Atomic Books, Red Emma’s, The Book Escape and more.

So I’d probably take a person new to Baltimore on a morning bookstore crawl, then stop by the Visionary Art Museum in the afternoon, which is a wonderful space dedicated entirely to self-taught and folk artists. For dinner, it’d be tapas at Clavel in Remington, followed by a jaunt across the street to WC Harlan, a candlelit speakeasy, or perhaps, chili fries at an Orioles game.

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?

Being an event videographer is kind of like being a social engineer—we make wedding days look perfect, even if it wasn’t. You can really say that we’re—ha ha, and just so you know, I didn’t plan this phrase at all—the architect of the client’s memory. We remove familial discord and create familial bliss. We “forget” to tape the bouquets that aren’t perfect, and if you spend the day frowning or grumbling or annoyed, you’ll most likely get left out unless you’re on a client’s must-film list. I have removed unwanted family members, made unhappy brides look adorably nervous, chosen clips that make the groom look adorably hilarious rather than regrettably drunk, et cetera.

Since I’m a documentarian and not a director, I tend to stay unnoticed while filming. This allows the family to really be who they are, and for you to observe the way the family actually functions when they’re not performing for an audience. While editing, you spend hours with that family, watching them hug and laugh and celebrate and snipe at each other, and you really feel like you get to know them. It was a fabulous way to learn how people tick.

(You do need to be careful when delivering the project—despite the forty-odd hours you just spent editing the video, to our client you’re still just a stranger that showed up, said hello, then disappeared into the woodwork for the rest of the day. It’s such a weird dynamic. If you say things like “oh, my God, your Uncle Hugo has the most amazing drunk facial expressions,” you’ll sound like a complete psychopath, even if it’s 100% true.)

And yes, I’ve tried to weave that job into my written work! I wrote a wedding video horror story at Clarion, but I haven’t been able to move it out of tropey rejected territory into anything saleable. Someday I’ll figure out how to do it, when my abilities catch up with my ideas.

Now that Architects of Memory 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’ve just turned in the sequel, Engines of Oblivion, and it’s a really wild adventure that builds on the events of the first book. There are more Vai, more Natalie Chan, more corporate shenanigans—well, more of everything, really, turned up to 11. The book should be out during the first quarter of next year and is currently available for pre-order, so you can basically get both books at once.

Other than that, I’d like to encourage readers to support debut authors during this time—and purchase their books from their local indie bookstores! It’s so important that our indies survive the pandemic, and they can only do that if we continue to support them.

Buy more books you say? I can totally get behind that. Thank you for stopping by!

Thank you very much for having me!

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An Interview with Paul Jessup, Julie Day, Patrice Sarath, and E.N. Auslender

Way of the Laser CoverFour authors from the anthology Way of the Laser edited by Eric M. Bosarge and Joe M. McDermott were kind enough to drop by today to talk about their stories and the future of crime. Welcome Paul, Julie, Patrice, and E.N.!

Let’s start off with brief introductions. Would you all mind telling us about yourselves, and without giving too much away, a bit about your story in the anthology?

PJ: Hi all, I’m Paul Jessup, I’ve been slinging words for dosh for about two decades now in the genre scene, give or take a handful of years. I’ve got books! Books you should read. Weird, strange surreal world breaking brain bursting books. My story is a story that was inspired by some recent news about biobags, and their use in incubating premature infants. I won’t go into more than that, let’s just say it’s a bit of a twist on the heist genre and leave it at that.

JCD: Julie, here! I am a human currently very attached to my home. I’m also a writer—mainly of short fiction. Among other things I have a collection that came out a couple years back—Uncommon Miracles, a novella—The Rampant—that is a current Lambda Award finalist, and a charity anthology I’m editing—Weird Dream Society—that we’ll be releasing soon. All proceeds will go to the migrant and refugee advocacy organization RAICES.

Okay, so this is the thing. I am terrible at describing my own stories. So I’m going to cheat and quote a couple of lines from “Speculative Execution.”

In the decades since Limm and his Revenant Energy Corporation, Driesch had become a special city, the home and birthplace of fully realized AI. Dead & coded entertainers worked alongside theater projectionists and group effects specialists, Limm-Glass was pressed against a client’s exposed, living flesh. Modern entertainments included vibrations of emotion and physically transferred information, alongside those perennials, sight and sound

PS: Hi, I’m Patrice Sarath and I’m a writer from Austin, Texas. I’m the author of the Gordath Wood series and the Tales of Port Saint Frey, as well as a Pride And Prejudice sequel called The Unexpected Miss Bennet. I write SFF short stories as well, and my stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Weird Tales, Apex Digest and others. My story, “Spider,” is a heist story about a group of asteroid miners who plot to steal an asteroid, and the cop who tries to stop them.

E.N.: I’ve always had a bit of an obsession about the future of mankind and technology, probably from spending too much (or not enough) time watching every Star Trek show growing up. Oddly enough, my story Kalopsia is unlike other stories I’ve written given its focus on a future too close to our present and a reality that many don’t realise already exists.

What drew you to the anthology’s theme, and to the particular aspect of future crime you explored in your story? How did you go about envisioning the ways crime might change in the future in terms of how it’s committed and how it might be solved?

PJ: Mostly it was just kismet! I had the idea for the heist story, and around the same time this anthology started doing it’s Kickstarter. I knew the editors were great editors, and I wanted to work with them, so I set out writing that story.

JCD: “Speculative Execution” is the most science fictional story I’ve published to date, though I have a novella I’m working on that is also tech influenced. TBH, I like to write whatever I haven’t written before. So writing a crime SF story seemed exciting—at least until the deadline loomed. Over the last few years, a number of my stories have dealt with the disintegration or loss of self. It’s terrifying and in an A.I. world its also far more complicated than our current experience. Something about the tech world I envisioned and the way that could affect the divide between living/ non-living really appealed to me. It also made for some interesting ideas around crime! (No spoilers.)

PS: I have always wanted to write a good old-fashioned heist story, and so when Joe (J.M. McDermott) invited me to contribute a story for this anthology, I was really excited. “Spider” is a prequel to my murder mystery on a space ship, called “Murder on the Hohmann.” There’s nothing new about greed or revenge, but I wanted to play with these eternal human conditions in a far-future environment.

E.N.:Initially I wasn’t certain that my story would fit in since it doesn’t follow a typical ‘future crime’ story a la the Julie Mao/Joe Miller story in The Expanse or a Blade Runner-esque crime, but then again, law is a line that doesn’t necessarily tiptoe the edges of morality. Is robbing a bank morally wrong if the bank laundered money for cartels? Crime will only ever be defined as the law allows it, unless some sort of Minority Report system is put in place, in which case there’s no outrunning Tom Cruise.

Now, an individual question for each of you…

Paul, your story “Halo 13” plays with the trope of the creepy AI who just has your best interest at heart. Why do you think the caring AI who takes things to the extreme makes such a compelling character, and particularly, such a compelling villain? What made you want to explore the trope in your story?

I think it’s a timely character as well, which is what makes it so compelling. Right now, we have AI doing so much for us, it doesn’t feel like a huge stretch to go from AI telling us what ads to show us to AI trying to take care of everything. It’s creepy, and it feels like that’s the way we’re going, and nobody is stopping to ask, “hey, is this right? Do AI’s even really predict as well as we think they do?”
I mean, since most AI’s are just blackboxes that even the coders don’t understand, we’re giving them a lot of power over our lives and choices and freedoms. For what? There is no exact proof that what they suggest is exactly what we want, and a lot of times the end results are laughable. So, on one hand it seemed to me this was the way things were going, and it terrified me.

But that was only one piece of the puzzle. I think the best villains are ones that have personality, that seem to be tragic in their own ways. So I felt like I had to really get into her head, and that’s what came out was this story. Her need to be a mother, to care for the babies she sees as being her property, it just felt so tragic and heartbreaking and yet a little insane as well. Like she was unravelling, because they obviously weren’t her kids after all, but she felt like it, and that made her act irrationally.
And add in the idea of drones, an AI without any center who lives on the internet, that can see everything you do and turn any computer into a weapon against you? It’s unsettling and terrifying to me, and perfect for a story like this.

Julie, I love the way the world you created for “Speculative Execution” feels simultaneously old and new. There are echoes of 19th century London with its Rag and Bone Men, Mud Larks, and roving gangs of pickpockets, but at the same time the world feels very slick and futuristic with its Glassed ghosts and constructed Tin Men. How did you go about building the world for your characters, and making it feel real and lived-in?

Usually I spend a lot of time world building while I’m writing a story. In this case, that wasn’t the case at all. I spent many weeks—far too many weeks—working on a fantasy world for a role playing game that didn’t get off the ground. I loved the world and the various conflicts embedded within it, but I didn’t feel any real spark to write a piece a fiction. It was all too known to me. Then came this anthology and the joy of layering tech over the existing world just felt *right.* Having a draft world that I’d documented and mapped also made the writing go so much faster. I’ve never written a story of this type in so little time. Less than a month to the final form of a story is unprecedented for me. I’m actually thrilled at how this happy accident of old project-new project led to something I feel could be a series of stories.

Patrice, I love the way you expanded the heist/one-last-big-score trope in “Spider”. I was particularly intrigued by the way space station technology is used – the AI algorithm finding connections between people, and the use of increased gravity to pin down everyone but the cops. Were there any particular influences or inspiration that sparked this story? What sort of research did you do in terms of extrapolating and adapting technology as it might exist on a space station into something that could be repurposed for law enforcement?

PS: I wanted to play with a couple of ideas for my setting. One is that of the company town. How would an asteroid mining station out near Jupiter be managed and governed? Well, the corporation would control everything. I created a legal structure of a Corporate Citizen Entity and gave the Bifrost Corporation the right to control everything and everyone on the station. Well, the next step was to create the way that was actually managed, and that was the station AI. But AIs are notoriously slippery as they are learning environments, and humans are very slippery as well, as we just don’t do what we’re told to do.

Creating the mining technology and protocols was loads of fun as well – how exactly do you mine an asteroid and get the resources out of the asteroid and back to Earth? I read about investment companies that are seeking to build and monetize that technology in order to make a killing. We have companies right now that are the predecessors to my Bifrost Corporation.

And finally, creating a solar system where humans now occupy two planets – Earth and Mars – and what that means for politics, economies, and all that good stuff.

E.N., your story, “Kalopsia”, feels terrifyingly of-the-moment, with a very light, speculative/futuristic touch. I appreciate the way you offer a different take on crime theme. Rather than a story about someone overtly committing or solving crimes, you examine the way government systems essentially criminalize the very existence of immigrants, rather than helping and protecting a vulnerable population. It’s an important story to tell, and I wonder if you could talk a bit about what it means to you to tell this story, and where the inspiration to examine that aspect of law enforcement came from?

E.N.: My non-literary life involves work and research with refugees, about their lives and struggles both after their escapes from the horrifying situations back home and their efforts to re-establish a sense of normalcy wherever they arrive. There’s an obvious governmental pushback against refugees in many countries because of a fear of ‘blowback’, i.e. riling up those who might be more xenophobic or nationalistic who fear that they (the nationals) might somehow lose their livelihoods or their cultural identities because of refugees. Not to elicit any world leaders by name, but this is shown by a stated preference for ‘Christian’ refugees rather than Muslim ones in some countries, and the general rhetorical bloviating that comes from other governments that go so far as to violate their own laws in order to keep refugees, no matter how small a number, outside their borders. So my story’s protagonist is someone who contains the qualities I’ve found in many with whom I’ve spoken, and is someone who has to contend with a far more authoritarian/Orwellian bordering regime. Many of the more subtle technological tactics used by law enforcement in the story are already being utilised today in various countries, and we for whom the fear of it does not apply consider it mundane even when we can view the repercussions of it in plain sight.

Back to the group questions. Going on a bit of a tangent, but still sticking with the topic of crime, what are some of your favorite crime shows, books, or movies? Alternately (or additionally) who are your favorite fictional detectives, or fictional criminals? Who would you most like to sit down with and hear about their favorite cases/capers?

JCD: One of my kids loves The Gilmore Girls as in she can recite entire scenes. I have a similar relationship with Hercule Poirot and the TV series Poirot. Cozy mystery shows are my pre-bed comfort food. I’ll never be allowed to care too much for those that happen to be murdered and the detective(s) are the best of reliable old friends. I also loved the series Sherlock. I believe both shows were produced by the BBC? Perhaps there’s something in my interest in period crime stories and how my own crime story turned out…I hadn’t noticed the connection until now. In terms of sitting down and listening, a criminal caper will win every time…as long as the storyteller isn’t *too* terrifying in person.

PS: My two absolute favorite crime series are The Closer and Breaking Bad. Favorite detective? Columbo. Absolutely.

E.N.: I’m a sucker for a detective protagonist with very obvious issues. Along with some of the movies/TV I’ve mentioned (BR, Minority Report, The Expanse), Sherlock Holmes is always a reliable read. James Ellroy probably crafted some of the most memorable crime fiction of the 20th century and is a dizzying writer to boot. Batman, despite his predilection for punching his problems away, is a detective at heart (The Long Halloween may be the best Batman story, in my opinion). Psych, while not as serious as my previous examples, is a nice play on the Holmes/Watson dynamic and is utterly hilarious. As a more unconventional crime movie, Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others) is a fantastic film concerning the Stasi their spying operations on state dissidents. Timecrimes is another fantastic film that if I say anything about it I might give the whole story away. Gattaca, one of my favourite films ever, is another unconventional crime movie that should be required viewing in schools. Oddly enough the one detective I’d like to sit down with is DC hero

The Question, an esoteric and somewhat obfuscatory character who’s changed over the course of his (and subsequently her) existence. He began as a Randian figure and evolved in Denny O’Neil’s Zen and Violence, and was portrayed by the ever fantastic Jeffrey Combs in Justice League Unlimited as a Fox Mulder-type conspiracy buff who was also a brilliant detective.

PJ: Oh, now that’s a tough one! Of course, you’ve got the Coen brothers crime films like Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men that are fantastic, and comedies borrow heavily from the crime genre, like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Raising Arizona. And David Lynch also takes a lot from crime fiction in everything he does, and then twists it around and adds a dose of surrealism. It’s really hard to pick my favorites, the list can go and on and on and on.

My favorite fictional detective has to be, of course, Agent Dale Cooper. You can’t deny the man has style.

If you were casting yourself in a crime story, would you see yourself as the clever criminal mastermind pulling off the perfect scheme, or the brilliant detective who catches the criminal?

JCD: I’m closer to the Miss Marple tangential-talker who throws a wide enough net to pull seemingly disparate clues together.

PS: Hah, Shane Harris, my cop in “Spider,” has so much of me in her. So I guess I am the dogged cop.

E.N.: I’d be both, because the Evil League of Criminals (trademark pending) decided to clone the most brilliant detective in the world in order to have the most brilliant criminal in the world. It’s a constant game of cat-and-mouse, or more accurately, cat-and-cat. I’d also be every member of the Evil League of Criminals (trademark pending). Everyone is me. It’s a confusing story.

PJ: The clever criminal, for certain. I don’t enjoy much detective fiction, but I do love me some crime stories. There is just something so interesting about seeing down on their luck criminals try and make it for one last gig, and seeing everything fall apart right in front of them (or pulling it off with style and panache).

Finally, in addition to your story in this anthology, what else do you have coming up, or what else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

JCD: Well, I mentioned the anthology the Weird Dream Society, which has taken up a lot of my time for awhile now. I’m really proud of that book, the authors are fantastic, and what we’re trying to accomplish with its publication. I’m also working on a couple of short stories and a shortish novella called Every Thought a Sin, which involves murals whose paint is infused with genetically engineered microbes, photosynthesis, climate change, and eye scooping (which is even worse than it sounds).

PS: I’ve got a few exciting opportunities but nothing that can be revealed yet. I’m looking forward to readers’ reactions to “Spider” and the rest of the anthology – the stories in here are definitely loads of fun and very thought-provoking!

E.N.: Beyond spending this pandemic quarantine time enjoying the comforts of my bathrobe and exploring the depths of my limited culinary abilities, I’m currently revising a giant novel about AI, human cybernetics, and human life in the age of ‘human evolution’, writing another about space stuff, and churning out short stories when I’m procrastinating with the novels. Somehow I get work done too.

PJ: So much stuff! I am constantly working on short stories, and nonfiction. Really, I need to update my website with so much that I’ve got coming out recently. I’m also working on a weird generation ship novel with organic technology and AI’s based on chaos magic. I’ve also been working on a few video games you can see at: https://cupofstars.itch.io/

Thank you all so much for dropping by!

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Pride StoryBundle Interview: Andi C. Buchanan

Capricious Gender Diverse Pronouns CoverIn connection with the Pride Month StoryBundle, I’ll be posting short interviews with some of the contributors throughout the month of June. Catherine Lundoff and Heather Rose Jones will be hosting interviews as well, so keep an eye on their sites too!

Last week, I posted an interview with Craig Laurance Gidney. Joining me this week is Andi C. Buchanan, Editor of Capricious, a wonderful speculative fiction magazine based out of Aotearoa New Zealand. The special Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue is included in the Pride StoryBundle, which contains “Sandals Full of Rainwater” by A.E. Prevost, one of my favorite recently-published stories, and one that continues to stick with me long after reading.

Could you tell readers a bit about the Capricious SFF Gender Diverse Pronouns issue in this StoryBundle and how it came about?

Absolutely! It’s Issue 9 of Capricious and the first special double issue, and it includes 10 science fiction and fantasy stories that all use gender diverse pronouns. Some are explicitly about gender – others include characters who use these pronouns, but whose gender is mostly incidental to the story.

When I say gender diverse pronouns, I essentially mean those that are used irrespective of gender, or to signify gender in ways different to he/him/his and she/her and their translations. It includes singular they, other established pronouns sets like Spivak or sie/hir, and some of the authors’ invention.

It came about partly because I wanted to read more of these stories, partly because authors found some editors prejudiced against them, and partly because I know some people are genuinely not used to a range of pronouns – and I think a great way to become used to them is to read stories.

I’m really happy with how it turned out and I’m hoping to edit a second volume along similar lines at some point in the next few years.

What is your favorite part of the editorial process at Capricious SFF?

I love reading submissions – I don’t have slush readers so while I will sometimes get second opinions on stories I read everything myself. It’s exciting to find new or new-to-me authors with something interesting to say.

I also really enjoy searching for artists and artwork. Some of our covers are commissioned, others use existing work. Finding the right fit for the issue – and my determination to have something different on every cover – has been a challenge, but it’s also fun to look at possibilities, and has introduced me to some amazing artists, including Laya Rose who created the cover for Issue 5 as well as this issue.

What other books or stories do you have out that readers of this StoryBundle might enjoy?

My novella From a Shadow Grave was published last year by Paper Road Press. It’s a queer time travel/historical/urban fantasy story, inspired by a real murder and local ghost story.

My published short stories include Girls Who Do Not Drown (Apex, 2018) about murderous sea horses, island life, gender, and solidarity (and which comes with a warning for suicidality and trans/misogynist violence), Henrietta and the End of the Line (Translunar Travelers Lounge, 2019) which is about a lizard girl who lives on a squid train, and Blaze (Vulture Bones, 2018), a story about young people who live beside a lake of fire.

I’ve also published some short non-fiction, including Design a Spaceship in Uncanny Magazine’s Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue.

Aside from your own work, what are some of your ow favorite queer reads you would recommend to folks?

I find it so hard to choose at this point; there have been so many amazing releases recently. I love JY Neon Yang’s Tensorate series and think the latest, The Ascent to Godhood, may be my favourite, which is a high bar. Ada Hoffmann’s The Outside both embraces and subverts cosmic horror, and includes a powerful sapphic relationship. Ida by Alison Evans is at once a science fictional exploration of the decisions we make and a delicately crafted and vivid portrayal of early adulthood. The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes, is powerful, unsettling, and yet gentle. Lastly, and just released, is AJ Fitzwater’s No Man’s Land which is a queer historical fantasy set in Aotearoa New Zealand during World War II.

Thank you, Andi!

As a reminder, Pride Month StoryBundle lets you pay what you wish for an awesome bundle of queer books. For a minimum payment of $15, you can get all 11 books in the bundle. You can also choose to help support Rainbow Railroad with your purchase. Please do check it out, and stay tuned for more interviewers with StoryBundle authors!

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Pride StoryBundle Interview: Craig Laurance Gidney

Spectral Hue CoverIn connection with the Pride Month StoryBundle, I’ll be posting short interviews with some of the contributors throughout the month of June. Catherine Lundoff and Heather Rose Jones will be hosting interviews as well, so keep an eye on their sites too!

First up is Craig Laurance Gidney, the author of A Spectral Hue, which is a gorgeous and haunting novel about the power of art and community, and the ability of art to literally transport the viewer to another world and transform the way they see.

Without giving too much away, could you tell readers a bit about your book in this StoryBundle?

A Spectral Hue is a contemporary ghost story about outsider artists that features an all-black, all-queer cast.

I love the way color and art suffuse a Spectral Hue, and the way the events occurring are seen as a haunting by some, and a calling together to a place of sanctuary for others. Could you talk a bit about the inspiration behind the novel and how it came together?

I was inspired by a particular type outsider artist, like Henry Darger and Madge Gill, who created their work with an almost religious devotion, or viewed their artwork as messages from other realms.

What other books or stories do you have out that readers of this StoryBundle might enjoy?

I’m looking forward to reading Andrea Hairston’s Will Do Magic for Small Change. I adored the first novel set in the same world, Redwood and Wildfire. I love the complexity of her writing, and the way she mingles Science Fiction, Folklore and Blackness. (I also enjoyed Catfish Lullaby and recommend it highly).

Aside from your own work, what are some of your favorite queer reads you would recommend to folks?

More people should know about the trans author Gabriel Squalia. Her novel Viscera is so disgustingly beautiful, full of body horror and weird magic and humor. Full of sentences and imagery that sear.

Thank you, Craig!

The Pride Month StoryBundle lets you pay what you wish for an awesome bundle of queer books. For a minimum payment of $15, you can get all 11 books in the bundle. You can also choose to help support Rainbow Railroad with your purchase. Please do check it out, and stay tuned for more interviewers with StoryBundle authors!

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An Interview with AJ Fitzwater

Cinrak the Dapper CoverAJ Fitzwater was kind enough to drop by today to talk about their delightful debut collection, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper. To kick things off, I will make introductions by shamelessly stealing from AJ’s author bio.

AJ Fitzwater, a professional dragon wearing a dapper meat suit, is a practitioner of the speculative from New Zealand. They attended Clarion UCSD in 2014, and have won two Sir Julius Vogel Awards. Their work has appeared in such venues of repute as Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer Magazine, Glittership, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and a host of anthologies. Their first short fiction collection “The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper” will be out from Queen of Swords Press April 2020. A radio trained voice, AJ also does voice acting and podcast narration.

Welcome, AJ! Congratulations on the publication of The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of being introduced to Cinrak, would you care to say a bit about what people can expect from the collection?

Thank you so much! Someone described Cinrak as “a warm hug”, and I didn’t know that is what I was going for until I got there. It’s all about a capybara pirate and her found family of rapscallions going on adventures on the high seas of Ratdom. There’s Loquolchi the marmot opera diva, Orvillia the Rat Queen, Mereg the Sharp as Cinrak’s rat mentor, Colombia the drag queen mer, Agnes the mysterious kraken, Xolotli the glass whale, and Benj the chinchilla cabin boy. I was aiming for fun, a smattering of ridiculous language, and a sideways twist into pirate unions and battling the biggest monster of all – ones personal anxieties, and learning to be a leader.

I’m sure you have or will get this question a lot, but I must know, where did the inspiration for Cinrak originate? Is she inspired by a real capybara? A real pirate? Inquiring minds must know!

The original story Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars began as an in house joke at a New Zealand natcon a few years back, when a participant brought their rats along as a Guest of Honour, and there was a rat based short story competition. Wild Ride won second prize, then went on to be published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

The character of Cinrak came about from two venues. When I was at Clarion, Jeff VanderMeer let us doodle in an ARC of Acceptance, so on a whim I wrote about wild capybara appearing in strange places in the text. Next, Tumblr was a great place for random educational reading, and posts about capybara came across my dashboard frequently, especially how social and chill they were with other animals. I wrote in my notebook “capybara = great negotiators/leaders”. The square angles of a capybara spoke to me of a dapper butch, I gave her a bow tie and a little saltiness, and let her go ham.

I love the voice of these stories, and the fact that they’re full of adventure and romance. They are charming, and above all joyful, which is something you talk about in your introduction to the collection. I was hoping perhaps you could expand on that concept a bit more – the idea of responding to dark times with joy, and the importance of telling happy and fun stories as well as grimdark ones, especially when it comes to queer characters.

I never expected my first book to be light and fluffy (pun intended)! I usually write very srs bznss stories about feminism and queerness, and my vision when I started writing a decade ago was a debut collection of serious speculative interrogation that shifted the conversation a tiny notch on the dial. Hopefully that will still happen!

But I’m happy to be surprised at the enthusiasm expressed towards the Cinrak stories. I think it was a way for my mind to organically find softness and kindness during troubled times. It’s been extremely difficult to find equilibrium and voice, to help and be helped, since the rise of fascism and authoritarianism, and the extremely troubled times my trans and gender diverse siblings are going through. I’ve written some difficult and angry stories since 2016, but they didn’t exactly bring the catharsis I was searching for.

In 2018, I did a New Zealand Festival event with Charlie Jane Anders where she spoke on writing joy into the dark times, turning queer tragedy into queer hope, and writing ourselves into the future. I remember getting to the end of the interview and feeling uplifted by her positivity, that there could be a way out from here. I began immersing myself in readings and discussions about spiritual sustenance, activism in the long haul, and the doing the work of hope. While all this didn’t trigger an immediate response in my writing, it simmered until I wrote another Cinrak story later in the year (for Queen of Swords Press Scourge of the Seas Of Time (And Space).

When it came time to create Ratdom, I went for the simple – I wanted a world almost devoid of homo-and transmisia. What would their history and political structures look like for that to happen? As for romance, it’s a very awkward thing for me to write, so I leaned into it and made Cinrak romantically awkward, allowing her the space to be loved for it.

Overall, you’re a very prolific short story writer, and you have a knack for capturing a unique voice for each of your tales. How do you go about finding the right voice for each piece? Is there anything special you do to put yourself in a particular mindset, or is it more a matter of each story talking to you in the voice that suits it best?

I have a magpie brain. I’m always chasing a shiny idea. I like experimenting with as many different themes as possible.
Usually my characters arise from that. Cinrak is an anomaly, as she was character first and I built the world to suit her. Sometimes the blender of my brain will throw back a very particular way of speaking for a character or narrative, and I let that lead. Character creation and consistency is one of the hardest things for me, and in early drafts I often find them talking in my voice, their emotional growth is flat, or I’ve recycled a thought pattern, narrative, or character style from a previous story. It’s always a challenge to keep my stories and characters fresh.

Switching gears, you currently reside in New Zealand, which is a place I’m ashamed to admit I know very little about beyond the media stereotypes of natural beauty and adorable animals. What’s something that you think would surprise outsiders about New Zealand? What are some places you like to bring guests, or recommend to people visiting for the first time?

Aotearoa New Zealand is a very driveable country. You’re never more than a couple hours from any coast. Most main centers are an easy few hours drive, bus, or train between, so you’ve got plenty of time to explore. The landscape changes dramatically very quickly. In Te Waipounamu South Island, for example, you can go from the rain forests of Westland, over the Southern Alps, and into the desert plateau of Central Otago within a day.

I prefer Wellington to Auckland. Wellington is quite maneuverable and centralized, with a lot of funky shopping, eats, and arts within the CBD. I’m glad it’s the home of this year’s Worldcon, I can’t wait to show all the great bookshops to my friends.
My home city of Christchurch has been going through dramatic changes since the earthquakes. Currently there’s a big lean towards arts and very centralized eating places, especially Euro style eating halls. We’re waiting for our new convention center and stadium to be built to bring big events back to the area.

I get the sense New Zealand has a thriving speculative fiction community. What, in your mind, are some fantastical or speculative elements about New Zealand, if any? Overall, do you think there’s particular flavor to New Zealand writing that sets it apart from writing from other places, something that would cause you characterize something as “New Zealand Literature”?

Aotearoa New Zealand is an isolated country, even from ourselves. It’s a series of islands that can’t be linked by bridges (as yet), with enormous biodiversity. We are a colonized land, still requiring a large reckoning of our racist history. M?ori and Pasifika cultures, land sovereignty, and political rights are essential parts of our country. And diverse peoples from the world over making their homes here have always been a part of us.

The isolation, environment, history, diversity, mythology I feel are intricate parts of our storytelling. The Quiet Earth is a good example of the isolationist story; a scientist deals with traversing the country and being trapped within its shores when the majority of the population mysteriously disappears. While NZ adult literature tends towards the realist, NZ YA is home to mythology and the fantastic, dealing often in environmental and resisting authoritarianism themes.

New Zealand literature also tends to have a very dry, dark sense of humour, also something that has come out of the isolation and can-do attitude. I have definitely found the sarcasm and humour in my prose doesn’t always sit right with overseas readers, but I don’t want to change it. I want readers to sit with the uncomfortable.

Switching gears again, 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?

This is a hard one. All my day jobs have been quite ordinary, with the occasional weird thing happening (usually customer related; I have a poop-in-a-shop story).

Ah yes. The time I was a meerkat. Helped me figure out I’m terrible with kids. A telecommunications company was doing a roadshow in schools and us high school age volunteers were put in animal costumes to match their TV advertising. Except we looked like Winnie The Pooh characters on meth. It was a very hot day, I was sweating buckets inside my full faced, head to toe meerkat costume, and every young child I approached to offer lollies or hugs I made cry or run away. Cinrak I was not.

Now that The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper 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 have another book coming out! “No Man’s Land” is my WW2 shapeshifter land girls novella from Paper Road Press in June 2020. I also have a story I am exceedingly proud of, How To Build A Unicorn, in Fireside Fiction’s April 2020 issue.

I’m working on two different novella ideas, both science fiction. One is about a genderqueer person looking for their lost mothers on a desertified planet – at the moment its a bit of a mash up between Mad Max Fury Road and the brain ship genre. And the other is about an orbital pilot who has an accident, finds themself in not quite the right life, and with the aid of a veterans counselor goes in search of their missing pieces – a bit Murderbot, a bit brain ship, possibly a prequel to the previous novella.

All of those sound amazing! Thanks for stopping by!

You’re welcome, and thank you for the opportunity. I hope people enjoy Cinrak and her buddies.

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An Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novelette, the Invention of Ghosts. To kick things off, I’ll make introductions by way of shamelessly stealing from Gwendolyn’s author bio.

Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; and her debut novel, The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, LampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology, among others. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can also find her online at Facebook and Twitter.

Welcome, Gwendolyn! You are an incredibly prolific author, and now you have a new novelette out in the world. Without giving too much away, would you care to tell folks a bit about it, and where they can find it to read it for themselves?

Invention of Ghosts ArtFirst off, thank you so much for having me on your site! It’s so wonderful to be here talking with you!

My new novelette is called The Invention of Ghosts, and it’s part of the Charitable Chapbook Series at Nightscape Press. One-third of proceeds from all the books in this series go to charity; for mine, I chose the National Aviary, a bird sanctuary in Pittsburgh and one of my very favorite places.

As for the story itself, it’s all about two best friends in college who get wrapped up in the occult. As they delve deeper into the spirit world, the tenuous threads of their friendship begin to fray, and they become haunted in a way neither of them could ever expect. This is one of my more surreal tales, and I’m so excited for it to make its way into the world. It should be out sometime this winter, hopefully by the end of December or early January. The print run is a limited edition, and there are only a few dozen copies left at this point, so for those out there who are interested, it’s available exclusively from Nightscape Press.

It sounds wonderful, and the fact that friendship is at the heart of the story seems to be a recurring theme in your work. Which makes a nice segue into the next thing I wanted to talk about… Your novel, Rust Maidens, might be described as industrial horror, or perhaps economic horror, and of course body horror plays a big role too. The central image of girls turning into manifestations of rust and blight is so evocative. Did the novel start with the imagery, or did it grow out of the more mundane elements which are every bit as horrific – the pressure to conform, the fear of losing your livelihood, the idea of a town itself crumbling away as industry dries up?

The very earliest kernel of The Rust Maidens was definitely rooted in how much pressure there is for us all to conform. I had this image of girls in an oppressive neighborhood breaking free in some horrific way. Originally, the concept was that they all died and then got up out of their graves and just went home, much to the horrors of their families. However, that sounded a little too much like a zombie story—and I love zombies, but that isn’t what I wanted for this one—so I decided to shelve the whole idea for a while.

Then about six months later, I wrote a ghost story that was published in Black Static called “Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends” that took place in Cleveland in 1980. I had so much fun researching that era, and I didn’t want to leave it behind quite yet, so I decided to revisit the previous idea of the girls in the oppressive neighborhood. From there, I blended it with yet another story that I wrote and didn’t want to let go: a coming-of-age body horror tale called “Reasons I Hate My Big Sister.” Each of those story concepts gave The Rust Maidens a huge puzzle piece of its existence, so the book had a bit of a Frankenstein-esque origin.

Also, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before, but that earliest idea with the girls getting up out of their graves was going to be called Something’s Happening to the Girls on Denton Street. I thought that title would have had an interesting, almost campy horror quality to it in the vein of titles like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. But once I started developing the newer version of the story, I decided a simpler, more evocative title would work better. Still, I just couldn’t let the original title go, so I named the neighborhood in The Rust Maidens Denton Street, and I worked that old title into the opening of the back cover description. It even became a sort of tagline for some of the book promotion, so it makes the campy horror fan in me happy that I still got to use it somewhere after all.

I also wanted to talk a bit about your novella Pretty Marys All in a Row. I love the idea of characters from urban legends, ghost stories, and rhymes forming a kind of club based on a common name. What was the inspiration behind the novella? What is your favorite non-Mary related urban legend or ghost story, and would you ever want to explore it fictionally?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with urban legends and folklore. My husband grew up loving them too, so it’s long been a favorite topic of conversation for us. One evening on a road trip, we got to talking about Resurrection Mary again, and we started discussing how there are so many folkloric characters named Mary. We went through three or four right away, and instantly I imagined all of them together, sharing some kind of strange, unlikely bond. The story blossomed from there.

As for non-Mary legends, it’s hard to pick only one! If I had to narrow it down, though, it would probably be the person hiding in the backseat of the car, and the service station attendant trying to warn the driver before it’s too late. That one still gives me the shivers whenever I think about it, how someone is doing their best to help you, but you’re afraid of them rather than the real threat. Prior to this question, I’d never thought about incorporating that urban legend into a story, but now that you’ve got me thinking about it, maybe I will someday. It certainly unsettles me enough to be worthy of a horror story!

Switching gears a bit, but still somewhat related… You currently reside in the Pittsburgh area, a city that’s had its own share of ups and downs with industry. Did the city have any impact or influence on you while writing Rust Maidens? What are some of your favorite spots in Pittsburgh, either places you go to gather inspiration, hidden gems, or places you like to recommend to people visiting for the first time?

Overall, I would say that Pittsburgh didn’t have a huge influence on The Rust Maidens; the novel was definitely intended as an homage to my home state of Ohio. That being said, since I wrote most of the book in Pittsburgh coffee shops, being surrounded with so many reminders of the Rust Belt probably didn’t hinder my process, so maybe I do owe a bit of a debt to the Steel City for that. (Don’t tell Cleveland, though; there’s a big rivalry between the two cities!)

As for Pittsburgh, there are so many great spots to visit. I’ve already mentioned it but my favorite attraction is without a doubt the National Aviary. I’m a huge bird lover, and I’ve gotten so much inspiration from just spending an afternoon there with my husband. There’s also the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museums, which are such amazing places and host so many cool events year-round.

As for locales more off-the-beaten path, Trundle Manor is a very nifty attraction for fans of the wondrous and weird. It’s a living museum dedicated to oddities, a kind of modern Wunderkammer. You won’t find anywhere else quite like it, so if anyone is ever in Pittsburgh, I certainly recommend scheduling a tour. You won’t soon forget it.

Speaking of residences, I have to ask about the abandoned horse farm, which is an evocative image all of its own. Have you every encountered any equine ghosts? Or any other types of ghosts around the farm?

No ghost horses, not yet anyhow, although my husband and I are always on the lookout! That being said, we do have what we call “Third Cat,” a little spectral feline that occasionally darts about the house alongside our two corporeal cats. My favorite part of this story is that my husband and I both started seeing Third Cat dashing in and out of rooms around the same time, but we opted not to mention it at first to each other, because we thought it was too weird. Then add to that the fact that a friend of ours has researched and written an extensive book about the paranormal in our area, and he told us that this exact phenomenon is very common in our region. So my husband and I are only one of many families with ghost pets apparently, which absolutely delights me to no end.

Changing topics 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?

Gwendolyn KisteI’m never sure what qualifies as unusual per se, but for almost fifteen years, I worked in different aspects of the fashion industry, both behind and in front of the camera, and that was definitely a unique experience. There was a lot I learned it from it actually—my ongoing love of photography came from that time, for example—but more than anything, I probably figured out how to multi-task from it. I did fashion design and then I also did my own fashion show production, so putting together a collection and also coordinating all the details for a live event certainly helped me learn how to prioritize tasks and work with groups of people. It also helped me get over any fear of public speaking since I had to go in front of crowds at the shows.

Also, yes, it has worked its way into my fiction, quite recently in fact. I have a story called “The Maid from the Ash: A Life in Pictures” that will be coming out in the inaugural issue of Weird Whispers, a new weird fiction publication from Nightscape Press next year. The story is told with a wraparound device of a photography exhibit, and the plot deals specifically with issues of body autonomy in the fashion industry. It’s a weird little tale and one I’m very proud of, so I’m thrilled for it to make its debut in 2020.

Last, but not least, what’s next for you? What are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

I’m slowly finishing up my second novel right now. It’s all about witches and witchfinders, whispering shadows and ghost birds. It brings together so many fairy tale elements that I’ve loved since I was growing up, as well as plenty of real-world horror too. I’m very excited and eager about getting the book out into the world (although I do wish it would stop dragging its feet, so I can actually finish it!).

I’m also hoping to put together my second collection in 2020. Most of the previously published stories are selected at this point; I just need to finish a couple of the new stories before I’m ready to put it together. I’m a big fan of short fiction, so it will be a lot of fun to have another collection. Still, that’s months away at the moment. Always so many projects to work on, and so little time in the day to make them all happen!

I look forward to reading both the novel and the collection when they make their way out into the world. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Thank you again, A.C.! You’re the best!

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