Category Archives: Author Interview

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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An Interview with Nino Cipri

Nino Cipri was kind enough to drop by today to talk about their debut short fiction collection, Homesick. To start things off, as I usually do, I will make introductions by shamelessly stealing from Nino’s author bio…

Nino Cipri is a queer and trans/nonbinary writer, editor, and educator. They are a graduate of the 2014 Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and earned their MFA in fiction from the University of Kansas in 2019. A multidisciplinary artist, Nino has written plays, screenplays, and radio features; performed as a dancer, actor, and puppeteer; and worked as a stagehand, bookseller, bike mechanic, and labor organizer. Nino’s 2019 story collection Homesick won the Dzanc Short Fiction Collection Prize, and their novella, Finna – about queer heartbreak, working retail, and wormholes – will be published by Tor.com in 2020.

Homesick CoverWelcome, Nino, and congratulations on your debut collection, and your upcoming novella! Without giving too much away, could you give folks a taste of what kind of stories they’ll find in your collection, and talk a bit about what your novella is about?

Thanks for having me! Homesick contains eight reprints that span the entirety of my writing career, along with a new novella about a group of dysfunctional scientists and activists that discovered an extinct species of weasels with its own writing system. Finna is forthcoming from Tor.com in 2020, and is about two coworkers and recent exes that have to team up to rescue a grandmother who wandered into a wormhole in their homegoods store.

Those both sound amazing! I’m always interested in how authors go about assembling short story collections. How did you approach Homesick in terms of what stories to include, and how you ordered them? Is there a certain overarching theme to the collection, or a way you see certain stories of yours being in dialogue with each other throughout the book?

A lot of my work looks at characters who are searching for connection. That searching and yearning is probably the strongest thread throughout these stories, as well as its opposite idea: that what is most familiar to you is driving you away, towards the unknown. “Home” manifests in different ways throughout the collection, and a lot of these characters are estranged from theirs, or become so over the course of the story.

That said, there’s a lot of variety in the stories in terms of aesthetic, tone, and genre. I used different approaches in the stories, or blended them together in a single story. I guess the dialogue you’re asking about is contained in that variety; “home” can mean a thousand things, and its pull can take all kinds of shapes.

I wanted to ask about one of your stories in particular. Dead Air, published at Nightmare Magazine, is one of my favorites of yours, and one of my favorite stories from last year in general. I love found footage narratives, and I’m impressed with the way you created such an effective atmosphere in your piece using found audio footage. Much of the story is implied through silence and the things the characters don’t say. Did you encounter any challenges with this format, working almost entirely with dialog and being unable to use the usual author tricks of visual and other sensory description to immerse the reader? Did your background in radio and theater play at all into the writing of this story?

That story gave me so much trouble. I originally wrote it to be a radio script, but couldn’t figure out an ending and then sat on it for a couple years. I rewrote it as prose for a workshop, but liked the audio transcript format too much to give it up. There’s something about strict and experimental formats, about the careful construction and trickery of it, that excites my writing brain. I like building my own architecture and then bending it.

But none of that is easy, and it necessitates a really long revision process. I wanted some of the horror to come from what went unsaid and unheard between Maddie and Nita — most of my favorite horror refuses to deliver answers or that a neat resolution in which balance/the status quo is reformed. On the other hand, you can’t scare people if they don’t know what the hell is going on. I ended up re-drafting “Dead Air” three or four times before it was hit the right balance.

On a related note, you had another story in Nightmare in 2017, Which Super Little Dead GirlTM are You? Take Our Quiz and Find Out! that uses a quiz format to tell the story. Do you like to periodically set yourself the challenge of telling stories in non-traditional format, or is it a simply a matter of certain formats being the best way to tell certain stories? Are there other formats you’d like to try out for upcoming projects?

Finna CoverI absolutely love stories told in non-traditional formats. Sometimes it’s because those formats do fit better with the pieces of the story I have; with Super Little Dead Girls, I had characters but no plot, which made a personality quiz format perfect. The genre mashup felt like a good way to comment on some of my least favorite tropes in horror, around the way it treats dead women and children. With “Dead Air,” the format adds layers of meaning and complexity onto the story. Sometimes, though, I just like the challenge. I’ve always written in different kinds of genres and media. I’ve been working for a couple of years on a longer experimental, interactive narrative that’s told through a wiki, and includes maps, multimedia, and talk pages. I’ve had to put it on the backburner while I finish other projects, though.

Your partner, Nibedita Sen, is also an amazing author. Would you, or have you, ever collaborate(d) on a writing project together?

We’ve talked about it, for sure, but have both been too busy to try as of yet. (Unless you count writing fanfic that caters to each other?) One of our pipe dreams is to co-edit an anthology (or multiple anthologies!), particularly of queer and trans horror.

Ooh. I bet you’d put together a fantastic anthology! Switching gears a bit, has your role as an educator teaching fiction and seeing the way students engage with stories changed your own approach to writing at all? Has it changed the way you read stories?

Teaching built on the skills that I learned from workshopping and reviewing fiction; learning to analyze the thematic elements of a story, as well as the skill and craft it took to write it. The main questions I was trying to teach my lit and creative writing students was “what was the author attempting here? did they succeed? how and why?” Teaching did show me that people connect to stories (or don’t) for all kinds of reasons. I knew that intellectually before, but it was reinforced over and over again while teaching. (Hearing a bunch of twenty-year-olds ragging on my favorite stories is very humbling!)

It also gave me an excuse to read outside my usual haunts. One of the stories I assigned to my creative writing class was Courtney Milan’s The Governess Affair, which is an amazing historical romance, but not like any of the fiction I usually read. Milan is a master at structuring a relationship-driven story through intertwined character arcs.

Your bio might partially answer this question, but 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 been working on and off since I was eleven, so I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve worked at pet boarders, a state fair, cafes and restaurants, gas stations, plant nurseries, theaters, mail rooms, bookstores. One of my favorite gigs was as a food columnist for a Chicago culture website; it didn’t pay much, but it comped my meals, and it taught me to write on deadline. Plus, I had leeway to write about pretty much anything related to food.

Probably my weirdest job was as a housecleaner? There was something strangely intimate about being up close and personal with someone’s dirty house, though it wasn’t an intimacy I wanted or enjoyed. I learned that most upper-middle class people have terrible taste in decor, and also how to properly dust a room, which are both very important lessons. (A story in Homesick, “Not an Ocean, but the Sea” is partly based on those experiences, and includes a cameo by my least favorite clients’ vacuum.)

With your collection out, and your novella on the horizon, what else are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

Those two things are taking up most of my brainspace, along with job-searching. I’m revising a novel that’s based loosely on “Which Super Little Dead Girl Are You?” and trying to figure out what I want my next big writing project to be. In the meantime, I’m writing flash fiction on my patreon and starting up a newsletter, so if you like my writing, those are the best places to consistently find it.

Thanks for stopping by!

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An Interview with Paul Jessup

Paul Jessup was kind enough to drop by my blog as part of the Apex Blog Tour to chat about his novel Close Your Eyes, among other things. All month long, you can snag Paul’s book, and a myriad of other wonderful Apex titles for 25% off with the discount code SEPTEMBER.

Now, to get things started, I will shamelessly steal from Paul’s author bio in order to make introductions.

Paul Jessup is a critically-acclaimed/award-winning author of strange and slippery fiction. With a career spanning over ten years in the field, he’s had works published in so many magazines he’s lost count and three or four books published in the small press.

Close Your Eyes CoverWelcome, Paul! Since this interview is part of the grand Apex Blog Tour, let’s start with your recent Apex novel Close Your Eyes. I’d describe the book as genre-crossing, or perhaps genre-smashing, combining elements of horror and science fiction, while also being lovely and poetic. How would you describe the work to intrigue those who may not be familiar with it yet?

Well, thank you for those kind words! And I think what you said is pretty tantalizing, as well. I guess in a way I would say that it’s a surreal space opera, that has moments that are horrific but it’s not horror, and moments that are pure and beautiful and right. I would say maybe it’s as if Jodorowosky made a Star Wars tie in novel, with maybe Satoshi Kon creating the character designs along with Moebius? And yet that’s still not quite right, is it? It’s a space opera that destroys its own boundaries, and does a lot of things space opera probably shouldn’t do. In a way, it’s a fairy tale, in the old fashioned sense of the word. Full of surrealism, danger, sex, and terror.

That’s a pretty good way to describe it! Your prose in Close Your Eyes borders on poetry, and the images throughout are incredibly striking – from creepy surrogate doll bodies, to a character whose lover is a supernova. Reading the novel almost feels a bit like lucid (or semi-lucid) dreaming. Given how highly visual the novel is, have you ever pictured it being adapted into a visual medium, and if so, what form would that take – animation, graphic novel, some other form? Do you have a dream collaborator you’d want to work with on said adaptation?

Haha, yes! Of course I have. I actually talked about this for a while with my editor, Jason Sizemore, while he was editing the book. Just the usual game of, if this was a movie, who would you cast, etc. And he said something I thought was perfect, that it should be an anime series. And I really feel like it should, the character designs in my head were heavily influenced by Japanese fashion at the time.

I mentioned some dream collaborators above, with Satoshi Kon being one of them. Sadly, Geiger passed, but his designs for the ships he created in Alien and Dune were a huge influence on the ship designs in the book. I loved that organic, cold, and corpselike feel to it all. As if the dead lived on as machinery, and it felt like the perfect expression for how the ships would look and feel.

Switching gears a bit – in addition to novels, you’re also a prolific short fiction writer. Where do you typically start with your writing – an image, a line, a character, or does it vary from story to story? Do you generally have a sense of where you’re going when you begin, or do you let the story take you where it will and discover it along the way?

I usually have an idea, some strange little idea I toy around with for awhile. I do research, I gather images and thoughts, I read tons of books, look at lots of art, trying to get feel for what this idea could be. And then I get a sharp image and a first sentence and I start writing.

From that point on, I just follow the story, I don’t plan anything at all. Most of the research I’d done before gets thrown out completely, and most of the original idea gets tossed aside. But that’s okay, what’s important to me is getting to that start and then letting the story surprise me. I love being surprised. I guess for me the research point is more for gathering images and thoughts and ideas and shoving them into my subconscious mind, to let it sit there and fester and grow.

And then when I write this festering research from before reaches its tendrils into the story, but it’s changed. It’s different, and far more interesting than it could’ve ever been before.

Most of your fiction tends toward the dark and the weird – what draws you in particular to that flavor of speculative fiction? What are some of your favorite works, or recent favorite reads within the speculative fiction genre, dark or otherwise?

I wish I could say why I’m attracted to such things. I’ve thought about it over and over again, and I guess to me there’s a beauty in that dark weirdness, and I love all kinds of beauty. I think it’s terribly narrowminded to not see the beauty in depression, sadness, and death. To only see the beauty in joy, or in reality as a thing of beauty is limiting the human experience.

And at times, I feel like the human experience is all about observing the beauty in the universe. And that includes the beauty of sorrow, of shadows, of the things that run from the light. I was also raised Catholic in a Catholic household, and my whole childhood was haunted by the images of saints being tortured. They were beautiful images, and the faces always seemed beatific, transcendent, not in pain at all. I would say as an adult that they seemed orgasmic, but as a kid I had no idea what that would be. And I think this kind of childhood twisted my experience on what beauty is, what I could be, and how art has conversations with it.

As for modern writers, I know a ton of great ones! It’s so hard to choose. Selena Chambers’ Calls for Submissions is a fantastic collection, as is Georgina Bruce’s This House of Wounds, and Anya Martin’s Sleeping with the Monster, and Laura Mauro’s Sing Your Sadness Deep, Natania Barron’s Wothwood, Michelle Muenzler’s The Hills of Meat, the Forest of Bone. I also know of one fantastic weird horror novel by an amazing writer (and good friend) that’s stuck in agent hell and not getting traction, but I won’t talk about that one here…since no one could read it yet. But I got to read it, because I’m awesome.

Leaving writing aside for the moment, 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?

Working trash cleanup at a Renaissance Festival. I did it for about 8 years, through High School and College. It was definitely an experience, and perfect for my teens and early twenties. Lots of people my age, all living a Bohemian life, wandering about making money with acting and music. Made lots of great friends, and it was a highly fertile artistic experience.

And because I worked trash I got to see the nasty side of things, too. Maggot covered turkey legs, dead cats, drowned animals in the water supply. It’s odd how beautiful that could be in a faux medieval wood, with sunlight dappling on the corpse, lying there with eyes open as if to say, hello.

What’s next for you? What are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

Working on a big fat novel shaped thing, kind of like a similar approach to epic fantasy that I did with space opera and Close Your Eyes. Though that one is probably at least still a year away from being complete, and who knows if anyone will ever bite on such weirdness to publish it. I have a haunted house novel (about a house haunted by the ghosts of a 60’s suicide cult) that I just finished last year and have shopped around for a bit. As always, writing lots of short stories and articles for places like Strange Horizons and SFWA, as well as local newspapers and other places.

I’m also working on a video game! An old school console style RPG, with big epic plot completely adorned with the usual Jessupian weirdness you’ve come to expect. You play a shadow witch, captured at the start of the game by bone witch who wants to cut your heart out and use it for a spell. You’re in the cage, your desperate to get out, and a voice starts calling out from a box on a table near you…

And then it gets really weird. And yet the gameplay is old school Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy style gameplay, so in that way it’s all very familiar. I’m having fun making the pixel art and writing the weird dialogue and designing the levels.

That sounds like a lot of fun. Thank you for stopping by to chat!

Certainly! Any time. Hope I was half as interesting as my novel.

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An Interview with Alix E. Harrow

Alix E. Harrow was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January, among other things. To get started, I will shamelessly steal from Alix’s author bio in order to make introductions.

Alix E. Harrow is an ex-historian with lots of opinions and excessive library fines, currently living in Kentucky with her husband and their semi-feral children. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards; The Ten Thousand Doors of January is her first novel.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January CoverWelcome, Alix, and congratulations on the publication of The Ten Thousand Doors of January! It’s a wonderful book, and I feel lucky to have gotten a sneak peek at it! For those who haven’t experienced it yet, would you care to give a sense of what it’s about?

Is there any question more terrifying to a writer than “so, what is your book about?” So innocent! So devastating! But the short version is: it’s 1901, and a girl catches a glimpse of another world through a blue door in a field. Ten years later, she and her terrible dog have to find their way back to through the door with nothing but a mysterious book to help them. It’s about family and history, nowheres and somewheres and in-betweens, bad dogs and good friends and the stories we all inherit.

January is a fantastic character, among many fantastic characters (Bad!) in the novel, and her journey through its pages is magical. What came first in terms of inspiration for this story – the character, the setting, the plot, or some combination of all three?

The first two pages have remained more or less unchanged since the very beginning of everything. I wrote them before I had a plot or an outline or anything at all but the image of a young woman watching the sea, writing her own story. Her story started in an overgrown hayfield in western Kentucky and ended somewhere-very-much else. Most of writing this book was just filling in the gap between point A and point B, which I did by jumbling together everything I love most: a book within a book, a father-quest, footnotes, anticolonial sympathies, dogs, true love.

Doors to other worlds are obviously a key part of your novel, and you also wrote about portal fantasies in your beautiful and bittersweet short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies.” What draws you to the theme of portal fantasies? Do you have a favorite portal fantasy novel or story? If you a had the opportunity to travel another world, what would your ideal fantasy realm look like, and what means would you use to access it?

So, the thing that attracts me to portal fantasies is that I don’t like them. That’s a lie—I loved Narnia and Wonderland and Peter Pan and Oz as a kid, but I hated each of their endings. Dorothy and Alice waking up; the Pevensies tumbling back through the wardrobe, crown-less; Wendy growing old. They left me with this hollow, haunted feeling—what Neil Gaiman refers to as “a hole in your heart” in The Ocean at the End of the Lane—and I’ve spent more time than I’d really like to think about trying to fill it.

And then in grad school I studied empire through the lens of children’s literature, and realized that portal fantasies were often actually colonial fantasies, imagining chaotic foreign lands that needed civilized white children to take them firmly in hand. And after that I started thinking about turning portal fantasies inside out and backwards—making them about home-going rather than escape, about belonging rather than conquering.

(My ideal fantasy realm is something like Earthsea, where I would tend goats and work women’s magic and no one would ever know my name. Or maybe it’s Hogwarts, where I teach the History of Magic properly. Or maybe it’s Novik’s Wood in Uprooted? Anyway, I live in a house like Howl’s and have doors leading to every realm on different days of the week).

Your novel, and many of your short stories, make use of historical settings. What appeals to you most about writing about the past? When choosing a setting for a story, do you pick a period you’re already familiar with, or one that gives you an excuse to learn something new, or does it all depend on the story? Is there a particular time period you’re more drawn to than others?

What appeals to me about the past is the illusion that I can fully know it. The present feels too complex and ever-changing and vast to ever accurately represent it, while the past feels comfortably finite. The past can be divided into eras and periods; it can be assembled into sixteen-week syllabi; it can be footnoted in Chicago style and peer-reviewed. That’s why I tend to cling nervously to the end of the nineteenth century—it’s what I studied in grad school, and I feel more confident stomping around in it, tossing fairy dust in the corners.

You’re currently based in Kentucky, and I admit it’s an area I don’t know much about. What are some of your favorite places in the area to visit in order to recharge your creative energy and draw inspiration, or places you like to recommend to those visiting for the first time?

Kentucky is beautiful and terrible and broke as hell. I both love it and hate it, several times a day—I suspect lots of people feel that way about the places they’re from.
Here are the places that make me love it:
• Lake Nolin (a dammed river south of Elizabethtown that smells like catfish and sycamores and my entire childhood)
• Red River Gorge (obviously)
• Farm Market (a tienda/tamale place on New Circle Road in Lexington. Last week the owner had a new grandbaby, got emotional, and ended up giving my kids two free pinatas. 10/10 would recommend)
• Noodle Nirvana in Berea (a donut shop by day and a noodle place by night)
• A certain overgrown hayfield just south of Bowling Green (Door not guaranteed)

Here are the places I strongly do not recommend:
• The Creation Museum (obviously)
• The World’s Only Museum of Ventriloquism (due to the obvious haunting)

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?

Blueberry raking in Maine. I learned how to keep my shirt tucked in so I didn’t burn the everloving hell out of my lower back; how to play Dutch Blitz; how to jump an ancient VW van; how to fall in love. Every love story I ever write will be that one, I think.

Now that The Ten Thousand Doors of January 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?

My next book was pitched as “suffragettes, but witches,” and follows three sisters working to bring witching back into the world. I just handed its primordial first-draft to my agent. By fall of 2020, maybe it will have evolved into an actual, readable book.

It sounds fabulous! Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for all the work and service you give the SFF community—and your own lovely stories!

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An Interview with Sarah Pinsker

Sarah Pinsker was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea, and her debut novel, A Song for a New Day. To kick things off, I will shamelessly steal from Sarah’s author bio in order to make introductions.

Sarah Pinsker is the author of the novelette “Our Lady of the Open Road,” winner of the Nebula Award in 2016. Her novelette “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,” was the Sturgeon Award winner in 2014 and a Nebula finalist for 2013. Her fiction has been published in magazines including Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, Fireside, and Uncanny and in anthologies including Long Hidden, Fierce Family, Accessing the Future, and numerous year’s bests. Her stories have been translated into Chinese, Spanish, French, and Italian, among other languages.

Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea Cover Welcome, Sarah, and congratulations on not only your debut collection, but your debut novel coming out this year! Could you give folks a taste of the sorts of stories they’ll find in your collection, and without giving too much away, a hint of what your novel is about?

Hello! For the collection, we tried to choose a mix. I have about fifty published stories, and it was definitely hard narrowing it down. In the end we went with a mix of stories that had gotten some attention and stories that I liked but maybe not as many people had seen. As for content, I really liked this blurb from the publisher: “The journey is the thing as Pinsker weaves music, memory, technology, history, mystery, love, loss, and even multiple selves on generation ships and cruise ships, on highways and high seas, in murder houses and treehouses. They feature runaways, fiddle-playing astronauts, and retired time travelers; they are weird, wired, hopeful, haunting, and deeply human.” That’s as good a summation as any.

The novel, A Song For A New Day (Coming from Berkley on September 10, 2019) is set in the same world as my novelette “Our Lady of the Open Road,” and features a couple of overlapping characters. It’s set in a scared and narrowed near future where people have retreated rather than risk putting themselves in danger, and features two women trying to find their purpose in that setting, one of whom remembers what came before, and one who grew up in this new order. Music, connection, technology…

Both the collection and the novel sound amazing, and I can’t wait to read them! I’ve been a fan of your work since “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind”, and you’ve written so many fantastic stories over the years. One of my recent favorites is “I Frequently Hear Music in the Very Heart of Noise“, published last year at Uncanny. It feels more experimental than many of your other pieces in terms of structure and a less traditional narrative. Could you talk a bit about how the story came together, and what inspired it?

I love that story. I needed a story to bring to the Sycamore Hill workshop, and I had absolutely nothing. I found myself in a lovely library, and I decided to start pulling non-fiction off the shelves until I figured out my story. I happened upon a book called The Streets Where They Lived – A Walking Guide to the Residences of Famous New Yorkers, which is a book of walking tours. As I paged through it, it occurred to me that these walking tours were a form of time travel. A tour of a single block in midtown would bring you James Dean and Dorothy Parker, or a single building might offer you a glimpse into the lives of both Sylvia Plath and Phylicia Rashad, decades apart. They didn’t differentiate. And this story came to me that was a layering of people and stories and song, and the fantasy of a character invoked into the midst of all the real details, and weird comings-together of details that I hadn’t expected to connect, and also a love letter to the energy of New York. I grew up in the city, and I don’t think I’ll ever live there again, but there’s a feeling I get when I’m there that is unlike anyplace else I’ve been.

Music is a big part of your life, and as you mentioned, a recurring theme in many of your stories. I’m curious – do you listen to music as you write, and/or do any of your stories have a mental soundtrack that you put together either while writing or after the fact? Have you ever written an original song based on one of your stories or vice versa?

I don’t listen to songs as I write! Music takes up too much of my attention. I can sometimes put on something instrumental and let it fade, but for the most part I prefer silence. Or, oddly, coffeeshop noise, which can include conversations, cappuccino machines, and their music, so long as it isn’t my music. That said, many of my stories do have mental soundtracks. I don’t usually get around to actually making a playlist, though sometimes there’s a song I’ll need to hear before or after I write, or a series of songs. I’ve definitely written parts of a lot of the songs that show up in my stories, but my plan is to keep those to myself. I want people to imagine for themselves what the songs and the bands sounds like. I don’t think I’ve ever done the reverse, if the reverse is writing a story based on one of my songs; usually a song is complete and stands alone. I guess I’ve written stories based on other people’s songs, but that feels like a different beast. That’s usually because they’ve allowed some vagueness for me to explore that isn’t there for me in my own songs, since I know what lies between the lines.

A Song for a New Day CoverSticking with music, how does assembling a collection compare to assembling an album? Is there any crossover in terms of the way you think about rhythm and the way one piece flows into, compliments, or contrasts with the next, or in terms of building an overarching theme?

Yes, absolutely! I don’t know if other people do this, but I ended up writing the first and last lines onto recipe cards, so that I could try an order, check the flow, then rearrange again. With albums, it’s similar: a lot of listening to beginnings and endings, checking keys and rhythms and modes and instrumentation. You want a strange balance of things that feel good next to each other but don’t sound similar. And then there’s a lot of reminding myself that whatever I choose is right in the end, since nobody else will ever know what the other options might have been.

One last question related to music, but also touching on another of your passions, horses and riding – what are some of the tropes around music and horses that fiction/film always seem to get wrong? Conversely, who really gets those things right?

Ha! I could write a book about this. I’ve led several workshops and conference panels on the subject. An author usually has one chance to win my trust on horse stuff, and if they blow it by having the hero gallop off on a twenty-hand stallion, I’m hard to get back. In film or TV, I usually can’t stand how much the horses talk. They’re constantly whinnying. Horses are pretty quiet unless they’re greeting you because you’ve brought their dinner, or you’re riding away on their best friend and leaving them behind. In books, it tends to be the horse-as-motorcycle scenario, where a horse is a convenient, uncomplaining, form of travel, and for some reason often has to be majestic and huge. The larger your horse the more food you’re going to need to pack for them – and the harder it’ll be for you to hop on and off without a fence or mounting block handy. Horses have likes and dislikes. They go lame. I should probably stop there. Who gets it right? Molly Gloss is a horsewoman, and it shows in her books. Judith Tarr, also. Le Guin doesn’t write a ton about horses, but the first lines of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” with “They flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another; they were vastly excited, the horse being the only animal who has adopted our ceremonies as his own” captures horse spirit really well, even as it ascribes human emotions.

You lived in several places, but currently call Baltimore home. What are your favorite things about the city? What are the spots you like to bring guests, or recommend to people visiting for the first time? Are there any particularly fantastical or weird spots in the city that have inspired any of your fiction?

This is another question that I could get carried away with if I let myself. I usually take visitors to the George Peabody Library, which is an absolutely stunning reading room, and sometimes to the Owl Bar, where during Prohibition they used the lit-up eyes of the owl sculptures to tell patrons when a raid was imminent. The American Visionary Art Museum is probably my favorite museum anywhere, for both the weird art and the excellent curatorial notes. If a person were to visit on the first weekend of May, I would get to take them to the AVAM’s kinetic sculpture race, where human-powered sculptures shaped like giant poodles or elephants or the monsters under your bed try to make it through a miles-long course of streets, waterways, mud, and sand.

The fantastical or weird spots that have shown up in my own fiction tend to be on a smaller scale. I have a story that was inspired by the locked room in the attic of our first rental home. The original story in the collection mentions the way the circus used to walk their animals to the arena from the trainyards in West Baltimore, allowing kids a moment of wonder regardless of whether they could afford tickets.

Other than asking about their cities, 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’m trying to think if any of my jobs have been that unusual. I’ve run Girl Scout camp riding programs, led trail rides, tutored SATs, played music. I don’t think the tutoring has made it into a story yet, but all three of the other things have. Writing and performing music has definitely taught me a lot about the kind of writer I want to be, and the kind of person I want to be. I’m glad I exorcised some of my cockiness on that career, so I could come into this one without expecting to be owed anything.

With your collection out, and your novel on the horizon, what else are you working on, or have coming up that you want folks to know about?

Um, let’s see. I’m working on another novel, and I have a whole bunch of stories in the hopper waiting to be written, and I have a story that I really like in the anthology If This Goes On, which was just released by Parvus Press. I haven’t gotten my copy yet so I haven’t read the other stories, but it’s edited by Cat Rambo and has a stellar lineup: Nisi Shawl, Andy Duncan, E. Lily Yu, Steven Barnes, Zandra Renwick. I’m proud to be part of that one.

Ooh. I’ll have to check that out! Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me!

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