An Interview with Miriam Seidel

Miriam Seidel was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her wonderful novel, The Speed of Clouds. To get things started, I’ll make introductions by way of shamelessly stealing from her author bio…

Miriam Seidel is a writer, curator, librettist, and longtime sci-fi fan. Her novel, The Speed of Clouds, will be published by New Door Books in April 2018. She wrote the libretto for an opera about the visionary inventor Nikola Tesla, performed in Belgrade, New York, and Philadelphia, and a sci-fi radio play for New American Radio. She’s written about visual arts and performance for Art in America, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications, and her writing has won fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

The Speed of CloudsWelcome and congratulations on the publication of your first novel! Without giving too much away, would you care to give folks a taste of The Speed of Clouds is about?

Well, the main character, Mindy, is a fangirl for SkyLog, a major sci-fi franchise, who edits her own fanzine. It’s 1999, so fan fiction is already big, but just starting to migrate from printed zines to online. Mindy is disabled—she has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. But when she loses the leadership of her club, she’s forced to explore different parts of the SkyLog fan universe, which ends up bringing her to a stronger, more open version of herself. Meanwhile, other, more sweeping versions of events come in through fan fiction stories and the obsessions of some of the characters. I wanted to get at that heady, disorienting feeling in the contrast of those two kinds of experience—our regular, more circumscribed lives, and the bigger things we imagine.

There are so many wonderful things about this novel, the characters, their relationships, and the shared passion over nerdy pursuits, whether it’s music, collectibles, science fiction or computer programming. Did one of these elements in particular form the seed of the novel that the rest was built around, or did it all come together at once? Or, to put it another way, what was the spark that drove you to write The Speed of Clouds?

The spark was definitely my experience of going to Cons. I had been reading and watching sci-fi and fantasy since I was a kid, but never as part of a group—I was kind of a loner, and there wasn’t as much going on then. But later I heard about the Star Trek Cons, and my antennae started buzzing. I told myself it would be a fun thing for our son, who was in elementary school and watched the shows with us. But looking back, I kind of used him as my excuse to check it out. I loved the whole thing—the overheated atmosphere, the tension between the cheesiness and all this pure passion, the fans themselves, and especially how they got dressed up! It felt like a kind of ritual of communion with this large-scale fictional world.

At a certain point, Mindy came to me as a character, full-blown. And then the other things gathered around her like a centrifuge. I felt that she was strong enough to be at the center of these other elements, a lot of which I’m into myself: contemporary art, electronic music, Buckminster Fuller. BTW, I do have a theremin (which makes a cameo in the story), and I’ve played it, although it’s really hard to master.

Obviously the culture of fandom is deeply important to the novel, which touches on cosplay, conventions, zines, fan fiction and more. What is your own personal experience with fandom, and what is your particular fan passion?

My personal experience has been through Cons and clubs. Right now I’m a member of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, which has many really smart, serious fans and stimulating discussions. And I love Galactic Philadelphia, a new SFF reading series.

I want to hone in on the fan fiction aspect of the novel for a moment. You use it effectively in The Speed of Clouds to echo the characters’ real life experiences, but you also touch on the importance of fan fiction in expanding a property’s world. For example, fan fiction creates the space to explore consequences which can often get lost in episodic television, and it can improve representation by including queer pairings through slash fiction, whereas a mainstream TV series might be afraid to go in that direction. Are you a writer and/or reader of fan fiction yourself? If so, have you ever come across a story line in fan fiction that you’d want to see brought to life in the main property itself? If not, what would be your choice of media property to write fan fiction for if you were going to delve into that world?

I am so fascinated and heartened by this aspect of fan fiction. In one way, I see fan fiction taking story-making full circle, from telling stories around the fire, to folktales, to written literature, film, and now electronic mass media, and fan fiction then re-appropriates the mass media to create this proliferating, grass-roots art form that you could see as a new kind of folk art.

And then in this new, unregulated space, things like slash fiction could emerge that rewrote the possibilities of gender and sexuality, adding them into that narrative of the future. That was pretty radical when it started in the 1970s. And it’s interesting that slash began mainly with women writers. I really wanted to fold in the Mary Sue phenomenon, which also rose out of early fan fiction by women, but then turned into a weapon used by fanboys against women writers. Women in fan fiction feels somehow related to the growing numbers of great women’s voices in SSF writing now. I know it’s not a direct line, and that the wave of new women writers may be more of a concurrent phenomenon, but women writing fan fiction could have been a contributing factor. It was liberating, and it still can be.

As far as writing fan fiction myself, I’ve read it but haven’t written any. When I was a kid and read something that really struck me, I always wanted to draw the characters, so I guess you could call that fan art. I did that with Lord of the Rings, and this was long before the movies came out and stamped those versions of the characters into our retinas. It could be fun to rewrite parts of LOTR with women characters—either new ones, or expanding on the few who are in there. And this may be a reach, but you could say my novel is my way of writing fan fiction.

Switching gears a bit, I’d like to ask about some of your other artistic work, specifically the libretto you wrote for the opera about Nikola Tesla. How did that come about? What was it like seeing something you’d written performed live?

Like some of my characters, I have a tendency to get obsessed with certain subjects, and I became completely obsessed by Tesla after reading his biography (the one by Margaret Cheney, which I recommend). I was working as a visual artist at the time, but I had seen some contemporary opera, and it just seemed clear to me that Tesla’s story had to be told as an opera—that it was too big and strange to be anything else. Here was a figure whose inventions had shaped our world, yet who was subject to visions throughout his life. I was very lucky to connect with the composer Jon Gibson, and he set my libretto to a wonderful score. I did see it performed in Philadelphia, and then in Belgrade and New York on Tesla’s 150th birthday. Hearing the words I had written coming to life in Jon’s music was profoundly thrilling. I felt that in the first rehearsal, and at every performance.

Switching gears again, there are a fair number of speculative fiction writers living in and around the Philadelphia area. What do you see as some of the more fantastical, or science fictional elements of the city that make it a draw for writers? In general, what are your favorite places to visit in the city, or places you recommend to people who are coming to Philadelphia for the first time?

What a great question! I’m not sure why Philadelphia has been a congenial place for speculative fiction writers, but it may have to do with the fact that it’s always been a strong city for science and scientists. I do think Ben Franklin is an icon in this way, with his interest in electricity and mathematics—did you know he was into magic squares? And there’s the Franklin Institute, which hosted a lecture by Tesla in 1893, and they have a working Tesla coil in their electricity exhibit. And the ENIAC was developed here at Penn—I only recently learned that women played an important role there, as they did at NASA.

My personal favorite science/sci-fi icon is the Bicentennial Moon Tree, which was planted from a seedling that orbited in space, in Washington Square. It looked pretty sickly though, and I wondered if the trip had been traumatic for it. Then it died, but they’ve now replanted a clone from the original, which is also kind of science-fictiony.

Now that The Speed of Clouds is out in the world, what’s next for you? Is there anything else you have upcoming or that you’re working on that you’d like people to know about.

The next novel I want to write will be straight sci-fi/fantasy. Right now it’s in the notes-and-outlining phase.

Thanks for dropping by!

Thank you so much! I’m such a fan of your writing, and I appreciate what you do for the SFF community!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Author Interview

An Interview with Scott Gable

Today, I’m pleased to welcome Scott Gable, publisher of Broken Eye Books, and editor of many of their fine anthologies, including the upcoming Welcome to Miskatonic University.

Scott GableWelcome, Scott! To start things off, would you care to introduce yourself and tell folks a bit about Broken Eye Books?

So great to be here! I run the indie press Broken Eye Books out of Seattle. We’ve been going for eight wonderful years, publishing the odd, strange, and offbeat side of speculative fiction. We love to blend genres and blur the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, and the weird.

You’re currently running a Kickstarter for two volumes of Welcome to Miskatonic University. Could you give readers a taste of the sorts of stories they’ll find in its pages?

We asked authors to envision a modern-day Miskatonic University, that institution from the Cthulhu Mythos that always seemed to be at the center of all things strange and magical. And as we read through the slush, an interesting pattern developed. There was a shift in the types of stories we received that fell along a spectrum: on one end, the setting and mood of the weird fiction typified by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, albeit modern, and on the other end, we see where weird fiction starts to blend with other speculative genres (fantasy and science fiction, though largely fantasy in this case with stories more akin to Grossman’s The Magicians or a more adult Hogwarts). This was fascinating and presented a great opportunity to more deeply explore weird fiction’s relationship with other genres, so we split the project into two anthologies—the first consisting of the fantastically weird and the latter of the weirdly fantastic.

The first, Welcome to Miskatonic University, represents the first half of that spectrum. These are the tales with the unknown at their core, where relatively normal people in a relatively normal world come face to face with the unknown, and we get to see what happens. These are the stories most tightly anchored to our reality, to what we now. In the second, It Came from Miskatonic University, the setting and mood change a bit. And this isn’t a binary—not an either-or; it’s a spectrum with gradation in how these elements change. In these tales, that next layer of secrets have been stripped away. (It makes perfect sense that, after a century of uncovering secrets, a college might not be the same as it was.) In these tales, at least some of the unknown is stripped bare for the characters. This appears in two different ways: either 1) what was once unknown is now known from the start by either the main characters or the setting as a whole or 2) the protagonist is themself the “unknown,” being privy to the secrets—whether a Deep One trying to save her human girlfriend or a powerful sorcerer on a mission—and thereby becoming a direct window to that unknown for the reader. These are the lands where weird fiction blends with fantasy and science fiction. When the unknown has been revealed, accepted, and possibly even incorporated into the setting, we are flitting across weird fiction’s borders with other speculative fiction. And it makes sense that after some time at MU, as in the second anthology, you might learn a thing or two.

Past Broken Eye Books anthologies have explored Lovecraftian mythology in the future, and mashed up Lovecraft and space opera. This time around, you’ve asked authors to tell stories set in the modern day. What appeals to you about Lovecraftian mythology colliding with our current day world? Overall, what sparked the idea behind the anthology?

Well, there’s the easy answer that we just love mashing together two seemingly disparate things to get something hopefully greater than its parts. (That’s how you get peanut butter cups!) Before Tomorrow’s Cthulhu, for instance, we did the anthology Ghost in the Cogs, combining steampunk and the supernatural—which was crazy amounts of fun, by the way. So really, that ethos of experimental “what if we try this?” is very much a part of our books.

As for the Cthulhu Mythos, it’s always taunted me, from that first Del Rey collection that inaugurated me as a kid who liked weird fiction. I would be all “Yeah! And then what?” and always wanting more. The “terrible crushing dread of existence” didn’t have to end in the 1920s. Everyone at some point in their lives knows it’s still kicking around in their closet. So why not bring it into the modern world? And as a gamer, the Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green RPGs were already planting such wonderful seeds for how a modern Mythos might take shape.

As for the science fiction elements, there’s never really been a shortage of weird horror to go around, but it’s always felt that the weird science elements would get overshadowed by the supernatural. And to me, the two are both vital for weird fiction. “From Beyond” is one of my favorite highlights from the Mythos of weird science. These are those crazy, “misunderstood” experiments that start from scientific principles but quickly go off the rails into realms that science just has no answers for (like Frankenstein before it). That’s the key: it’s still unknown, the narrative just pokes that unknown with a “scientific” stick rather than a “supernatural” one.

As for the modern world, that’s where I live. I want stories that spin off from that world and with more relevance to the modern human condition, stories that shine a light on the unknowns of today and that embrace both the supernatural and the weird science. I want inclusive stories that represent our modern sensibilities, and I want to hear it from lots of different voices. I want all of us to be excited to explore and experiment, to take those bits we like and forge something unique and all our own.

If you were enrolling at Miskatonic University yourself, what courses would you be most interested in, or what would your major be? Would you try out for any sports? Join any clubs?

Tough call. I’ve always been torn between the sciences and the humanities. And though I’m sure I could fully redeem Tillinghast’s and West’s experiments—what could go wrong!—I would likely find myself drawn to library sciences, instructing students on the proper care and maintenance of those dangerous words. Books are a responsibility, you know, requiring a commitment of both time and intention, an understanding of the preventive safeguards and reparative ministrations for the physical and mental wellbeing of both you and them, and a dedication to their proper socialization and training and mental stimulation. Countless are those hurt by a book’s misuse.

And I would definitely take a yoga class, or tai chi. Something for stress management. (I wonder if there’s a non-Euclidean yoga?)

TentaclesAs part of the Kickstarter, you have some pretty awesome swag to offer including university bumper stickers, hand-bound books, and custom art. Could you talk a bit about the art and design aspect of the anthology, how you identify artists, and how you work with them to bring unique visions of the eldritch and squamous to life?

I have a big list of authors and artists I’m itching to work with. As I discover a person’s work, I often know immediately that they’d make a great fit for some project percolating in the gray matter—and often, I know exactly what I’d want them to work on. I find artists online and from their work on other books and games, but most notably, I find them at the conventions I attend. (I stumbled upon the cover artist for Pretty Marys All in a Rowgawki—for instance, at Emerald City Comic Con 2017. I enjoyed their work so much and knew they’d be a perfect match for the novella.)

For book covers, I generally try to have a very rough idea (or several possible ideas and often will chat with the author—for the single-author works—to get their feedback) of what I’m thinking about for a book so that the artist has something to latch onto and expand on. But I don’t want to tell these artists how to do their jobs, so I leave as much detail to them as they’re comfortable with. We typically go through a round of low-res mockups of possible ideas, and then once we’ve settled on something, I typically back away. They’re artists and know what they’re doing.

For the Kickstarter, I wanted to offer something special beyond the core books, and Near Mint (the bookbinder for the deluxe edition) and Merle Rice (creator of the fleece squid hats)—both local artists that I met at conventions—seemed a wonderful fit, as did Frank Casey who’s slated for the second anthology’s cover. And of course Yves Tourigny and Michael Bukowski I’ve worked with before on the Ride the Star Wind illustrations. And if we unlock that particular stretch goal, even more artists will be added.

And the bumper stickers are largely my own designs (with assistance from Jeremy Zerfoss and Michael Bukowski for some of the illustrations), and I’ve had a blast making them.

After Welcome to Miskatonic University, what’s next for Broken Eye Books? Any other upcoming projects you’d like folks to know about?

There are a couple novellas coming next that I’ve already announced and a couple that I haven’t. There’s also another novel slated for later this year along with a new publishing imprint. And of course, I wouldn’t be me without the next few anthologies in mind. Our online magazine Eyedolon will be the next big thing to watch from us as that’s where the next pebble drops.

We’re a small press, so we can adjust our course with relative ease, embracing the chaos of book publishing. But always spinning new tales and hopefully not taking ourselves too seriously.

Thank you for dropping by! I can’t wait to see the finished anthologies!

1 Comment

Filed under editor interview

An Interview with Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut novella, The Only Harmless Great Thing. To get started, I’ll make introductions by way of shamelessly stealing from Brooke’s author bio…

Brooke Bolander writes weird things of indeterminate genre, most of them leaning rather heavily towards fantasy or general all-around weirdness. She attended the University of Leicester 2004-2007 studying History and Archaeology and is an alum of the 2011 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD. Her stories have been featured in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Nightmare, Uncanny, Tor.com, and various other fine purveyors of the fantastic. She has been a finalist for the Nebula, Hugo, Locus, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards, much to her unending bafflement. She can be reached at her website (brookebolander.com) or on Twitter @BBolander

Welcome and congratulations on the publication of The Only Harmless Great Thing! Without
giving too much away, care to give readers a taste of what it’s about?

The Only Harmless Great ThingThe Only Harmless Great Thing is my weirdo prose-poem alternate history novella tribute to two really terrible, mostly forgotten bits of ephemeral American history: The 1903 public execution by electricity of Topsy, an abused circus elephant, and the deaths of the radium girls, factory workers employed in New Jersey and Illinois to paint watch dials with radium-laced dye. Nobody bothered telling them that the paint was toxic, and none of the girls suspected a thing until, one by one, they began to sicken and die of radiation poisoning. In the universe of the book, things work out a little differently for all involved. Bonds are struck and terrible choices are made—choices that will also have massive ramifications in an alternate present and a far-flung future. It’s a book about anger, and injustice, and women, and friendship. It’s about stories–how they shape narratives and who gets to shape those narratives. It’s about coming together, solidarity in anger and in the fight.

Also: Wooly mammoth folk tales. I can never forget to mention the wooly mammoth folk tales. If you’ve been dying to read a wooly mammoth folk tale, boy have I got the book for you.

Since the book is rooted in events that actually occurred in the early 20th century, what kind of research did you do to inform your writing? What drew you in particular to that time period, or to the story of the radium girls and Edison’s experiments with electricity?

I’m a history student slash historical buff, so a lot of this was already rattling around in my head, looking for a way out.

The late 19th/early 20th century is such an odd period; industrialization rattling on at an ever-increasing clip, making the lives of many better while crushing the poor and the marginalized to feed the altars of Our Sainted Lady Progress. So many things we’ve come to rely on in modern life were invented then. So many of our problems now come from callous decisions made around that era, broken, unsustainable, exploitative systems cemented in on which our own personal Omelas teeters and sways. Want to understand why things in the States are splintering the way they are now? Trace the cracks and fissures back to the period after the Civil War and go from there. You can do that all the way back to the beginning–the systems this country built itself on were always, always rotted through–but recently I was watching a documentary on New York at the turn of the last century and it was remarkable how much you could pinpoint at that nexus leading to where we are currently. The same systems that gave us the freedom of the automobile belched pollution into the air, necessitated the creation of the assembly line, and tore highways through urban neighborhoods with a callous disregard that’s breathtaking. There’s very little we have now that didn’t come with a price. The rich and the powerful wrote the tunes we’d be dancing to on down the decades.

So I think about that a lot, especially recently for, y’know, reasons. The exploitation of the radium girls was just one case in a long, long line of horrible incidents around that time: The matchgirls who came down with fossy jaw in London, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York, and the radium girls of New Jersey and Illinois. The first two were such public outrages they sparked protest and change; the London Matchgirls Strike of 1888 was a reaction to the growing number of fossy jaw deaths, and the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911 (the doors to the factory floors were locked from the outside to prevent union organizers from reaching workers; a fire broke out and 146 women, mostly young immigrant girls, burned to death) led to slightly improved factory safety standards and the organization of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. But until recently, the radium girls had been mostly forgotten. Their deaths sparked no grand revolt or reform. The lawsuits against their employers were stalled and put off long enough that most of the girls were dead before it was all settled. The best they could hope for was a payout for their families and the shutting down of the factories so that no more women would come to such an end. Nobody taught their story in schools; the only monument that stands to mark their passage was erected in Ottawa, Illinois after a schoolgirl learned what had happened and, horrified at her community’s silence over the matter, fought and pressured for a statue.

The past deserves telling. Even the nasty parts. Especially the nasty parts. If the stories aren’t told, they die, which is also a big theme in the book.

And Thomas Edison, as usual, has been credited with yet another accomplishment not his own, having precious little to do with Topsy’s death. She, like many a ‘performing’ elephant before and since, was so ill-treated she finally snapped and killed a man, at which point the Forepaugh Circus sold her to Frederic Thompson and Elmer Dundy, owners of Coney Island’s Luna Park. Her handler there was an alcoholic. There were more incidents, some involving the police, none of them really her fault. Eventually Thompson and Dundy decided to get rid of her, and what better way to both take care of the problem and promote their soon-to-be-opened park than with a public execution?

The confusion arises from Edison’s penchant for frying animals during the War of the Currents and the fact that the film crew sent to record the event were from Edison Studios. Edison was a terrible guy who deserves everything bad smeared across his name, but the Current War had ended fifteen years earlier, and Edison Studios took no direction from the man himself on who or what they filmed. As far as anybody can tell, he never even knew Topsy existed. She, like the radium girls, was simply another victim of a brutal, uncaring system. Her death served no purpose, for good or ill.

Your short fiction has been multiply award nominated at this point. Do you remember the first nomination, how you found out about it, and what you did to celebrate?

That would have been the Nebula nomination for And You Shall Know Her By The Trail of Dead in early 2016. SFWA calls you for that one, on the phone; I believe I was standing in my kitchen in Brooklyn when they rang, and for once I actually picked up. I’m pretty sure I said “thank you” a whole lot, got off the call, and went to go stare at a wall in a daze for the next half-hour. I was coming off a pretty rough winter, a bad time, and it just made everything extra surreal. I felt a little like Neil Patrick Harris in the final shot of Doctor Horrible.

But thankfully everything seemed to pick up from there, at least personally. Hearing that I’ve been nominated for something has never gotten any less weird, though. “You mean people LIKED that? … That much? Good lord, really?”

Completely switching gears for a moment… At the time this interview is being written, the background image of your twitter account is a scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. How great is that movie? It’s sort of a perfect storm of things that shouldn’t work together, but they do, and can never be replicated. (I may be a touch obsessed.) What is you favorite thing about the movie? Favorite character? Seriously, how freakin’ great is it?!

Bless you a thousand years for asking about Who Framed Roger Rabbit, one of my favourite movies if not my absolute favourite. It is great in so many ways I don’t even have space to go into them all here. It’s absolutely ridiculous that it’s so damned good, but I’ve been watching it since I was 7, and it just keeps getting better the older I get and the more I learn and learn to see. It’s a movie that never should have gotten made, a logistical nightmare both in the level of special effects needed and the constant wrangling to keep both Disney and Warner Bros and every other company with a character in the damned thing happy. And who the hell pitches a comedy/all-ages noir based on the same concept as an unmade Chinatown sequel with a Robert Moses figure as the villain, razing a marginalized community to the ground to build his precious freeway?

(True story, folks; it had the working title Cloverleaf and was going to go into the sordid land grabs that made the Los Angeles highway system possible. Considering how The Two Jakes came out, this was probably the best case scenario.)

My favourite thing about it is how deft and tight the storytelling is. It’s a movie that never bothers infodumping about this bizarre world it takes place within when a shot of a photograph on someone’s desk or a single line of dialogue will do. We learn about Eddie Valiant almost entirely from his interactions with others. From Dolores and Lt. Santino we get that he used to be a great guy and an A+ detective, but unresolved grief over his brother’s death has turned him into a reactive, alcoholic mess taking muckraking jobs just to pay rent. From a really beautiful, wordless montage panning over their desk, we learn that Eddie and Teddy started out with the LAPD before hanging up the shingle on their own with Dolores to become respected PIs. The camera deliberately scrolls backwards chronologically through Valiant’s past until it ends on a shot of Eddie, Teddy, and their dad together in the circus–a single frame explaining why Eddie and Teddy were so open to taking Toon cases in the first place, how bitter and damaged the loss of Teddy has left his now-humourless brother, and, finally, how Eddie knows all those cool clown moves he makes use of in the finale. How the hell do you tell that much in ONE FRAME?! Cinema has its own language, and that entire scene rings like ‘cellar door’ to me.

And of course, none of this would work without Bob Hoskins acting his entire ass off, taking everything almost as seriously as his role in The Long Good Friday (Eddie, as you may have already guessed, as my favourite character). The scene where he has to confront his unaddressed PTSD over Teddy’s death and go back through the tunnel to Toontown–again, almost wordlessly; this is a movie that knows when to keep quiet–lives or dies on Hoskins’ ability to emote, and boy does he bring it. The acting on display would be phenomenal in any film; here it’s absolutely jaw-dropping. Watch: He’s nakedly terrified. He breaks out in a sweat, probably remembering in vivid detail his last visit there. He goes to take a drink of bourbon for courage, but stops with the bottle halfway to his lips. Slowly, like a light has just gone on, he lowers it, considering the label like he’s never really seen a bottle of Wild Turkey before until this moment. No, you see him decide, finally, I’m goin’ in there clean. He pours the contents into the gutter. He’s still terrified, but something has changed. And it’s not even sudden, this epiphany! The entire movie has been building to it. Once he takes Roger under his wing, he never takes another drink. He’s tempted, but the bottle always stops halfway.

… Also it’s still a really fucking funny movie. And I have gone on way too long here about Who Framed Roger Rabbit, sorry. You did ask!

There’s no such thing as going on too long when talking about Roger Rabbit! However, topic hopping again, you studied History and Archeology at University. Has any of that background made it into your writing thus far, or do you think it might in the future?

I think it informs everything I do or write in some fashion or another. Being a student of history means you have that much more of an informational back catalogue to dig into when you need a subject to write about. So many interviewers have asked me how I learned about these things, and it’s very strange because an awful lot of the time they’re already sitting around in vials in my head, waiting for a moment to react with something. “BREAK GLASS TO RECEIVE STORY.” History is nothing but stories interlinked, after all.

Now that The Only Harmless Great Thing is out in the world, what’s next for you? Any projects you’re working on you want folks to know about?

I’m currently working on a fantasy novel. I have always been working on this novel. Presumably I will be working on this novel until we go all the way back ’round the horn and start relaying stories solely as an oral tradition again, at which point the entire damn endeavour will be moot. Story of my life.

Besides that, though, I have an upcoming novelette at Tor.com about (what else) extinct animals and the end of the world. I swear up and down that my next piece will be about kittens on fluffy duvets and nobody will die or be angry, ever. Honest.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me! And for asking about Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Because Who Framed Roger Rabbit, y’all. Forget about my book: Go re-watch it. Seriously.

2 Comments

Filed under Author Interview

An Interview with D Franklin

D Franklin was kind enough to drop by today to discuss their new venture, Galli Books. I’ll start things off with an introduction by way of shamelessly stealing from their bio…

D is a genderqueer Glasgow-based bookseller. They are a recovering Ancient Historian, a comics nerd, a science fiction and fantasy devourer, and they are founder of Galli Books.

Galli Books Welcome and congratulations on the launch of Galli Books! For those not in the know, what is Galli Books? What sort of titles can people expect from Galli? What inspired you to found Galli?

Galli Books is a small publisher of speculative fiction anthologies with social themes and intersectional social justice intent. Our first couple of planned titles give a good idea of what to expect in future, too; a book about alternative masculinities, and a book of stories of scientists who aren’t (gasp) men!

I was inspired to found Galli when another call for submissions from another publisher went out that basically called for stories that it claimed represented suppressed ideas, when, in reality, they’re the dominant ideas in our genre and across society. A few people on Twitter joked about a response anthology and I… maybe took the joke too far?

You recently put out your first call for submissions (including a call for artists’ portfolios). For hopeful authors out there, what type of work is likely to catch your eye? Conversely, what do you not want to see in your submission pile?

I’m not editing it alone, I’ve got some excellent consultants in to co-edit the volume with me! Shout out to Jay Wolf, Ronan Sadler, and Brandon O’Brien! Work that will catch our eye will be socially progressive, will rewrite the standard toxic and fragile models of masculinity that dominate in our society, will have diverse casts, and will engage with a range of responses to masculinity. What we don’t want to see is a whole lot of Conan clones, because that’s what we’re reacting to, nor straightforward parody of that… unless it’s really spectacularly done parody, of course!

On a somewhat related note, since you’re also a reviewer, what are some of your recent favorite reads? Or your all-time favorite reads? What titles would you point people toward in order to get a sense of your tastes, or just in general because you love them and want people to read them?

Recently, I loved Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun: theology and fairytale run up against each other in a claustrophobic Victorian gothic melodrama. More broadly, everyone should read the Imperial Raadch trilogy by Ann Leckie, Becky Chambers’ heartwarming and intelligent Wayfarer series, and quite literally every novel N. K. Jemisin has ever written. Your own Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again has a special place in my heart for combining so many different registers so brilliantly, and for what it does with masculinity (TOPICAL); I’m still not over ‘Roller Girls Have More Fun’.: blushing over here.) (Interviewer’s note And, of course, there’s Terry Pratchett, miss him as we all do…

In addition to being a reviewer and a publisher, you’re also a bookseller. Do you have any “tales from the trenches” that you’re able to share, either in terms of odd questions you’ve received, or inspiring stories of helping someone find the perfect book?

Oh, the tales I could tell… if it wouldn’t be unprofessional. Let’s just say that sometimes, “It’s the recent one with the silver cover” is surprisingly more than enough information to go on; that books that haven’t been in print for half a century AREN’T going to be available in a first-hand book shop; and that no, you can’t have a copy of the book that’s not out for another week, because we don’t have it in – it’s not out for another week.

To topic switch a bit, you’re based in Glasgow – what’s the speculative fiction scene like there? More generally, what are some of your favorite places to visit in the city, or places you would recommend to someone coming to Glasgow for the first time?

Glasgow has a seriously thriving speculative fiction scene; internationally it is perhaps eclipsed a little by some of Edinburgh’s writers like Laura Lam, Ken MacLeod, and Elizabeth May, but we’ve got some great folks of our own. The irrepressible and brilliant Hal Duncan is possibly our most notorious current speculative author, but Neil Williamson, Ruth Booth, and Cameron Johnston, whose debut is coming later this year, are all also locals; the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers’ Circle does a great job of encouraging and helping new writers, and it’s produced some real crackers!

Any visitor to Glasgow needs to visit one place, and it’s a café. Or a gin bar. Really, it’s both. Cup in the daytime is a lovely café with cakes, food, and a whole menu of different kinds of tea. At about 5 o’clock, it turns into Gin71. The name originally referred to its street address; now, it refers also to the number of gins they have. We’re also home to a whole lot of museums and art galleries, plus there’s always the Charles Rennie Mackintosh architecture to admire!

Aside from Galli Books, do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like people to know about, or any other closing thoughts in general you’d like to share?

“Aside from founding a publishing house and putting out a public call for stories to your anthology while working as a bookseller”, you mean? HAH, oh for that kind of energy! Though watch this space for future calls for submissions!

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Galli Books. Thanks for dropping by!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Author Interview

An Interview with Ada Hoffmann

Ada Hoffmann was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut fiction and poetry collection, Monsters in My Mind. To get things started, I’ll make introductions by way of shamelessly stealing from Ada’s author bio…

Ada Hoffmann is the author of over 60 published speculative short stories and poems. Her work has appeared in professional magazines such as Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and Uncanny, and in two year’s-best anthologies. She is the winner of the Friends of the Merrill Collection Short Story Contest (2013, “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”) and a two-time Rhysling award nominee (2014 for “The Siren of Mayberry Crescent” and 2017 for “The Giantess’s Dream”).

Monsters in My MindWelcome and congratulations on the publication of your first collection! Care to give readers a little taste of what sorts of things they’ll find in the pages of Monsters in My Mind?

Dinosaur opera. Hive-mind squid. Non-neurotypical fairylands. Half-living spaceships in the shape of dragons, teenagers working together to escape cyber-surveillance, and Neolithic vampires who prowl in ancient ruins with their packs of human followers. Passionate and difficult relationships, both romantic and familial. Characters who are monsters, characters who love monsters, characters who fight against monsters with everything they’ve got, and characters who are all too human.

I’m always fascinated with the various approaches authors take to assembling their collections. How did you go about picking which stories and poems to include, and how to arrange them? Would you say there’s an emergent overarching theme, or groups of themes within the collection?

I’m glad you’re fascinated by this, because so am I. I always wanted to arrange an anthology around a theme. When I got the idea of working with NeuroQueer Books, I came up with a way of structuring a collection just for this publisher. If I put words to the theme of Monsters in My Mind, it would be the theme of feeling different, not fitting in some big or small way, and the countless ways characters respond to that.

I went through all my stories and poems that were available to reprint, and I jotted down how they engaged with the collection’s theme. I used those notes to put together a rough ordering felt like it made sense – as if the theme was its own meta-story, with its own establishment, development, rising action, and resolution. I knew the stories I wanted to start and end with, and that helped give the meta-story a shape. Finally, I put the rough collection together and read through it a few times, tweaking the order to make sure it flowed and wasn’t jarring or doubling back on itself.

I’ve published several stories and poems that I think are very good, but that didn’t fit into the collection thematically. Either they didn’t have anything to do with the theme, or they engaged with it in a way that didn’t feel like a fit with where the meta-story wanted to go. Those ones, I am saving for another collection!

I’m admittedly biased since it originally appeared in Unlikely Story, but one of my favorite among your stories is “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World”. It also happens to be one of my favorite story titles ever, so I have to ask, which came first, the title or the story? I also have to ask the same question about the titles “An Operatic Tour of New Jersey, With Raptors” and “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”.

For “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”, the title came first, along with a mental image of the main character. The rest wrote itself. For “An Operatic Tour of New Jersey, With Raptors,” the idea for the story came first, but the title followed logically and was put on the page before the story’s actual words.

“How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World” was the reverse. The story’s working title was “AllBook, Rania, and the Infallible Cloud,” but that was a terrible title because no one who hasn’t read the story will know what any of it means. The actual title came in very late. It’s funny you should say it’s one of your favorites, because several readers complained that it was false advertising. Rania is a World Saver, and she crashes a party and engages in World Saving, but that’s a phrase that has a special meaning in the world of the story. The actual, literal world is not saved.

Switching gears a bit, you run an ongoing review series called Autistic Book Party. Could you talk a bit about how the series came about?

Back in 2012, I was a very shy little blogger who didn’t really know how anything worked. Autism representation was a thing I had started to pay attention to, and I had posted a couple of small things about it, but nothing huge. Then thanks to a signal boost by Jim C. Hines, I suddenly had people pouring in who wanted to know more. They kept asking me if I’d read this book, or that book. It should have been overwhelming, but I felt excited and inspired. I hadn’t known anyone was really interested in what I had to say.

I had actually not read most of the books, so I decided to fix that. I called it Autistic Book Party partly out of irony, but also because the glut of people did feel like a party to me. In retrospect I think that’s exactly how autistic people should party – by coming together and discussing a shared interest.

A question I always like to ask my fellow Canadians is about the idea of Canadian Literature. Do you think there’s a particular theme, tone, or some common unifying thread that makes a piece of writing particularly Canadian? If so, do you find it in your own writing, either surfacing unconsciously, or something you actively work toward or against?

Canada is such a big place with so much diversity. There are some obvious ways to make a story feel Canadian, like setting it in Canada. But I think it would be a mistake to identify Canadianness through just one factor – I think there are a lot of subgroups doing wildly different things. Even just within Canadian speculative fiction, I would say that’s true.

Since your Ph.D. studies focus on computer generated-poetry, I’m curious as to whether you’ve read “Caesura” by Hayley Stone, which was recently published in Fireside Fiction, and deals with an AI gaining self-awareness through poetry, and winning a major poetry competition no less. Do you think computers could get to the point of producing art, poetry, writing, and music that’s indistinguishable from human-created works? Or will there always be a kind of uncanny valley effect, for example the My Little Pony Names designed by a neural network (http://aiweirdness.com/post/164560090962/new-my-little-ponies-designed-by-neural-network) where some of them are spot on, and some are hilariously and/or terrifyingly wrong?

I have definitely read “Caesura” – in fact, it went on my list of favorite short stories from that month.
Computers in real life are at a point where the best of them can do a skilled pastiche of the patterns that emerge in human art. It’s not perfect, but it’s often good, and sometimes good enough to fool non-experts. But there is definitely an uncanny valley effect, especially in computer-generated creative writing, and it comes from the fact that computers don’t really understand what they’re doing. They don’t have a sensory experience of the things they are writing about; it’s just patterns in letters to them. There are ways to make inroads on this problem, but the only way to fully solve it is by inventing strong AI. The computer in “Caesura” is a strong AI, but we’re not anywhere close to that in real life, and we don’t even have a solid idea of how we’d get there or what it will look like when we do.

In the near future, we’re going to have a lot of cute silly bots like the My Little Pony one, a lot of pastiche machines that make convincing Muzak, and some really cool, really out-there art projects that are the result of humans and computers working together in novel ways. But I don’t believe computers will become better than humans at the kind of art humans are already doing – that’s a job for our wildly speculative, SFnal robot overlords.

Now that Monsters in My Mind is out in the world, what’s next for you?

I need to finish my PhD thesis, and I need to write more short stories and poetry – a few of those are already scheduled to come out in 2018. I have a book of dinosaur poems, “Million-Year Elegies,” that has been stalled out at about 75 or 80% complete for at least half a year now, and I need to get back on that. I also have a completed space opera novel that my agent is shopping around, but no idea if anyone will actually buy it or not. Anything could happen. Who knows?

“Million-Year Elegies” sounds amazing. Good luck with the PhD thesis, and thanks for dropping by!

You’re welcome! It was a pleasure.

2 Comments

Filed under Author Interview

Non-Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part 11

We’ve ticked over to 2018, and what better way to kick of a new year than with another installment of Non-Binary Authors to Read! For those unfamiliar with the series, you can catch up here. Onward to the recommendations!

CapriciousB.R. Sanders is a genderqueer writer who has also worked as a research psychologist and labor organizer. My recommended starting place for their work is The Music of the Spheres published in Capricious Issue Seven. Wren is a young musician stationed with a group of scientists on the planet Polyphemus. Even though she has no scientific background, Wren is uniquely positioned to be valuable on the planet, as the planet is uniquely suited to her. Polyphemus is largely dark, but thanks to medical implants, Wren sees via sonar, having been born blind. Her musical ability also ties her to the planet; when she plays her flute, Polyphemus responds. The indigenous life is neither plant nor animal, but both. Grass insects flutter their wings and dance in response to Wren’s music, but only when she improvises her compositions. A young doctor on the planet, Razza, is the only one who doesn’t treat Wren merely as a curiosity or a problem to be solved. Ze proposes a research project with Wren to determine why the planet responds to her the way it does.

Wren and Razza drove out to a lush valley, one of the strange spots on the planet where life abounded. Wren couldn’t see it, but she could feel it. There was a density in that valley unlike anything around Research Station Three. Her sonar pinged close, pinged softly. Noises rolled off the trunks of trees, off the smooth skins of the bulbous plant life that detached from the vines and bounded through the grass like puppies. The plurality of forms there in the valley came back to Wren. It beat against her body like soft rain.

Wren tries different instruments, and as she does, a pattern emerges, a rhythm that seems to point to a greater whole. With the recordings they make, Razza and Wren work together to learn more about the planet, deepening their friendship, and leading Wren to learn more about herself in the process. The Music of the Sphere is a gorgeous story, one which recognizes music as a form of math, but also as something magical beyond simple numbers. Throughout the story, Sanders draws parallels between Wren and the planet. Music connects Wren to the world around her, allowing her to communicate in a way that feels more natural that words. Polyphemus communicates in the same way, and Wren and the planet share other similarities as well. Wren hates that people see her as a riddle, and she alone sees the planet as more than a mystery to be solved. Polyphemus and Wren are the same in a way, and she finds a home there unlike any other, making a place for herself on an alien world. The story touches on friendship, the intersection between science and art, and the value of seeing the world in different ways, all of which makes it an excellent starting place for B.R. Sanders’ work.

Tender Feet of Cretan Girls by Sarah WebbJulian K. Jarboe is a writer and a sound designer, and my recommended starting place for their work is As Tender Feet of Cretan Girls Danced Once Around an Altar of Love. Isadora is the last of the snake women, constantly reborn over the years and thus essentially immortal. She lives in the Azores now, but remembers Knossos in the time of King Minos, the bull, and the labyrinth. Much of her time is consumed by memories of Ariadne, and seeking out and recording various versions of her story. As part of her obsession with her past, she joins a dig to unearth the labyrinth.

I had come to Crete and joined the Evans excavation in order to lord my expertise over him, and pocket sacred objects before they could be whisked off to the Ashmolean. Instead, I spent half a lifetime wiping sweat from my forehead and rubbing the sting of dust from my eyes with my monstrous hands. I watched as this man redesigned the rubble he found into impossible, triple story complexes of poured concrete and “restored” frescoes—really images entirely of his own direction with the modern hand of a father and son painting team.

Having found no satisfaction in literally unearthing her past, Isadora plans to leave her current life behind and reincarnate once more. As she’s making her preparations, she meets an elderly man named Dimas who seems determined to befriend her. She is suspicious of his motives at first, and eventually discovers he wants her to be his confessor for what he sees as his past sins – marrying his wife despite not loving her while carrying on an affair with her brother. A friendship grows between them, one that leads them both to be able to shed the weight of their pasts and move on. Jarboe weaves themes of memory, history, and story itself throughout the tale. Who owns history? Those who who lived it, or those who retell it and make it their own? The story explores the way narratives are built, and how each person shapes legends and even history to their own needs and preconceptions. The story also explores the way people use narratives to make sense of the world, how received narratives can erode authenticity and truth, and the way desire makes memory unreliable. It is a liminal and beautiful story, and an excellent starting place for Jarboe’s work.

TranscendentHolly Heisey is a book cover designer and an author. My recommended starting place for their work is Contents of Care Package to Etsath-tachri, formerly Ryan Andrew Curran published at EGM Shorts and reprinted in Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction. The story is short, but effective, opening with a list of the contents of the titular care package being sent to Etsath-tachri who has recently transitioned from human to Sedrayin.

In this package:
1. Three letters. (With our instructions on opening order, per Human dating system.)
2. One musical instrument, harmonica.
3. One plastic package containing three toothbrushes.
4. One tube of toothpaste.
5. One cloth Earth mammal, bear (unsure of further classification), filled with synthetic material. (We are sorry for the lack of symmetry, the cloth mammal was obviously damaged and repaired at some point. We were told not to modify it.)

The first letter is from Etsath-tachri’s former wife, Sophie, who is not taking the transition well, feeling betrayed. The second is from Etsath-tachri’s brother Gabe, who is far more supportive, and over the course of writing the letter comes to realize that his brother was never human but always Sedrayin, and the transition simply corrected things. The final letter is from Etsath-tachri’s mother, who is trying her best, though still occasionally makes mistakes, like calling Etsath-tachri Andrew. The story works as an effective metaphor for gender transition, but shown from an outsider’s perspective. We don’t get Etsath-tachri’s point of view, merely Sophie, Gabe, and Mom’s, with a sweet postscript about Etsath-tachri’s daughter Jenna. On the balance, the reactions of those who knew Etsath-tachri as Andrew are positive, with the exception of Sophie whose hurt is understandable from her point of view of having her marriage recently broken. Gabe’s supportive stance is heartening, as is Etsath-tachri’s mother’s response, ultimately making this a sweet and uplifting story. Even though Etsath-tachri has lost Sophie, there is the possibility she will come around to acceptance, and on the whole the relationships are supportive and happy ones. Heisey accomplishes a lot in just a few words, which is impressive, showing off the effectiveness of flash fiction as a form. It’s an excellent story, and an excellent staring place for Heisey’s work.

That’s it for this installment. As always, I’d love to see your own recommendations for work by non-binary authors in the comments. Happy reading, and I’ll be back with more recommendations soon.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

My Favorite Novels and Novellas of 2017

Last week I posted a big ole list of my favorite short stories and novelettes of 2017. This week, it’s time for my favorite novels and novellas of the year, because you can never have too much recommended reading, right?

Novels

AmberloughAmberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly – a truly stunning debut novel, set in a slick and decadent secondary world, full of politics, relationships and shifting alliances. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty – a locked room murder mystery in space, with clones. Need I say more? (Well, in case I do, the book is reviewed in more detail here.)

The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller – a lovely and painful story about a young man dealing with an eating disorder, a budding relationship, surviving high school, and unlocking superpowers.

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin – a brilliant ending to a brilliant trilogy. All three books are breathtaking in their worldbuilding, character building, and their scope. They’re the type of books that punch you in the gut and grab you by the throat all at once, and refuse to let go.

My Favorite Thing is MonstersThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – a beautiful story mixing Russian history and folklore, with fierce and wonderful characters at its heart. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden – another stunning debut novel about emergent gods, designer drugs, friendships, family, following your dreams, and of course, dik diks. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Horizon by Fran Wilde – another brilliant ending to a brilliant trilogy. All three books are full of stunning visuals, tense action, intricate worldbuilding, and wonderful characters. On top of that, Wilde pulls off the incredible trick of expanding the world and upping the stakes with each book, revealing her universe to be much darker, weirder, and more wonderful than ever imagined.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris – a breathtaking graphic novel dealing with violence, buried secrets, art, love, loss, and of course, monsters. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Novellas

Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin R. Kiernan – a dark and weird novella about suicide cults, zombie fungus, and secret agents specializing in the paranormal. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages – a gorgeous love letter to queer history, and the history of San Francisco, glazed with a touch of magic. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey – a heist gone wrong in an alternate version of the swamps of Louisiana that have been overrun by feral hippos. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw – a dark mash-up of Lovecraftian horror, noir, and music, full of loneliness and gorgeous poetic language.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy – a novella with a post-apocalyptic punk feel, laced with weird, dark magic, and mythology come to life.

Pretty Marys All in a RowPrime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – a near-future SF novella about Mars, movie magic, appearances versus reality, and longing for something that seems out of reach.

Pretty Marys All in a Row – urban legends, nursery rhymes, and old myths come to life (or afterlife) in a story about five ghosts trapped in a house, hunted by something dark and dangerous.

And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker – a murder mystery set in a world of parallel realities where multiple versions of the author converge on lonely and inaccessible island to ponder the variations on their lives and try to discover who would want to end one of them. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

A Portrait of the Desert in Personages of Power by Rose Lemberg – a gorgeous and poetic novella of fallen stars and magic, exploring power, consent, desire, and pain.

Honorable Mentions
(Being the novels and novellas I read this year and loved, but were published before 2017, but which I still really want to recommend.)

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson – a gorgeous novella moving fluidly through time and possible realities.

Aerie by Maria Dahvana Headley – a brilliant follow up to Magonia, which further complicates Aza Ray’s life as she’s caught between two worlds and coping with the fact that most people think she’s dead.

The DevourersThe Devourers by Indra Das – an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous novel about shifting forms and identities, desire, hunger, and power, which feels epic in scope while still being compact and tightly-woven. (Seriously, just drop whatever you’re doing and read it.)

The Fisherman by John Langan – an unsettling novel full of cosmic horror and deeply woven mythology.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt – another deeply unsettling novel with a mythology that feels embedded and real, concerning a witch haunting a particularly town, words that must never be listened to, and stitches that must never be undone.

Lexicon by Max Barry – a novel where words have incredible power, a secret society built around their use and protection, and an entire neighborhood quarantined and brought to its knees.

Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen – spies in space, a private pocket dimension, and one vacation on a interstellar cruise ship gone very, very wrong.

The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez – a unique vampire novel spanning decades and lifetimes, touching on found family, race, queerness, love, and women making space for themselves in the world.

1 Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

My Favorite Short Fiction of 2017

Wanna know a secret that isn’t really a secret? I really like short fiction. I read a lot of it. I think it’s awesome. I want other people to read it and think it’s awesome too. That  said, I know I can’t read everything and there’s a lot of fabulous stuff I’ve missed. However, in the spirit of sharing work I did read and love, and hopefully helping other people find things to read and love, here are my favorite short stories of 2017 (in no particular order).

Clarkesworld June 2017The Ways Out by Sam J. Miller (Clarkesworld) – told as a series of reports by an agent assigned to watch a young girl with superpowers, the story touches on prejudice and fear of the other. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Monster Girls Don’t Cry by A. Merc Rustad (Uncanny) – a disturbing story about who is considered monstrous and why, and the violence done against those who don’t fit within a certain narrow “norm”.

A Human Stain by Kelly Robson (Tor.com) – an unsettling Gothic novelette about hunger and the natural and unnatural world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Police Magic by Brent Lambert (Fiyah) – a painful story of police brutality and attempting to heal and move forward in the face of racial violence. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Microbiota and the Masses: A Love Story by S.B. Divya (Tor.com) – an isolated scientist copes with lust, lies, and cleaning up the environment. (More detailed review here.)

Nine-Tenths of the Law by Molly Tanzer (Lightspeed) – a story about a unique mode of alien contact and experiencing life among a different species, with bonus sexy times.

BlueBellow by Alexis Pauline Gumbs (Strange Horizons) – a fluid and shifting narrative that calls to mind the horrors of slavery and forced migration while drawing on myth and fairy tale. (More detailed review here.)

Chesirah by L.D. Lewis (Fiyah) – a novelette with steampunk stylings about a mythical creature fighting back against those who would fetishize her and make her into a collectible object. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Black Like Them by Troy L. Wiggins (Fireside) – a powerful story about a designer drug that lets white people appear black, and what that does and does not mean for them and their life experience. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Probably Still the Chosen One by Kelly Barnhill (Lightspeed) – a slightly tongue-in-cheek, yet practical take on portal fantasies and the trope of saviors in fantasy narratives.

The Whalebone Parrot by Darcie Little Badger (The Dark) – a gothic tale of two sisters isolated on an island, faced with a chilling supernatural threat. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Wretched and the Beautiful by E. Lily Yu (Terraform) – a short and effective story about the plight of refugees in the form of an alien “invasion”. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

If We Survive the Night by Carlie St. George (The Dark) – a violent story tackling the final girl trope. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Fiyah 2Talking to Cancer by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Fiyah) – an excellent story about a woman whose supernatural ability to cure cancer is complicated by her husband’s infidelity.

Come See the Living Dryad by Theodora Goss (Tor.com) – a woman uncovers her ancestor’s dark past, and reclaims her story. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Auspicium Melioris Aevi by JY Yang (Uncanny) – a story of clones, fate, and free will. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Meat by Sandra M. Odell (Pseudopod) – a truly unsettling story about the lengths a woman goes to in order to stand out.

You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych by Kathleen Kayembe (Nightmare) – a dark and unsettling novelette about family, betrayal, and love. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Shimmer March 2017The Cold, Lonely Waters by Aimee Ogden (Shimmer) – a beautifully-written story of mermaids in space. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Aqua Mirablis by Stephanie Chan (Anathema) – a gorgeous story about scent, memory, and travel between worlds. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Infinite Love Engine by Joseph Allen Hill (Lightspeed) – a slick and stylish story of cosmic travel and alien beings with a funkadelic feel.

Say, She Toy by Chesya Burke (Apex) – a brutal and disturbing story about androids designed to take on the physical and emotional violence directed at black women.

The Ache of Home by Maurice Broaddus (Uncanny) – a story of community and neighbors coming together to protect each other in the face of a supernatural threat.

Cooking with Closed Mouths by Kerry Truong (GlitterShip) – a gorgeous and painful story about being far from home and the power of sharing food. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Three-Tongued Mummy by E. Catherine Tobler (Apex) – a wonderfully atmospheric and evocative story about fate and ancient curses, set in the world of Jackson’s Circus.

They Will Take You from You by Brandon O’Brien (Strange Horizons) – an unsettling story about muses and the cost of genius.

A Place to Grow by A.T. Greenblatt (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a magical story about family, coping with loss, and characters finding their place in the world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a story of wind-up automata that deals with issues of emotional labor and packs a punch.

Bear Language by Martin Cahill (Fireside Fiction) – two young children cope with a father who is more monstrous than the wild animal that moves into their house.

Red by Ramsey Shehadeh (Tor.com) – a clever take on a Clue-type game that deals with family, loss, and grief.

Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara (Uncanny) – a wonderful novelette about a trans man being turned into a vampire against his will, and the complications that ensue. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Bois by R.S.A. Garcia (Truancy Magazine) – a bittersweet story about alien life, and a character living on the margins of society. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam (The Book Smugglers) – a lovely story that slowly unfolds the relationship between a thief and a program who believe she’s a god. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

We Laugh in Its Face by Barbara L.W. Myers (Fiyah) – an excellent story about the cost of immortality. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

A Question of Faith by Tonya Liburd (The Book Smugglers) – a story that explores the capacity of the human mind, and the intersection between faith and science. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Graverobbing Negress Seeks Employment by Eden Royce (Fiyah) – a dark story about violence, community, loss, and healing. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Skin Smooth as Plantains, Hearts Soft as Mango by Ian Muneshwar (The Dark) – a dark story about hunger, isolation, and being caught between two worlds. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Apex August 2017If a Bird Can Be a Ghost by Allison Mills (Apex Magazine) – a lovely and bittersweet story about grief, coping, and learning to let go. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

These Constellations Will Be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng (Strange Horizons) – a gorgeous story soaked in poetic imagery, touching on power, control, and colonialism.

Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience TM by Rebecca Roanhorse (Apex Magazine) – a chilling story about identity, authenticity, received narratives, and appropriation.

Everything You Left Behind by Wen Ma (Anathema) – a story about the isolating nature of grief and pain in a world where time is frozen and nothing changes. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

In Search of Stars by Matthew Bright (GlitterShip) – a story of longing and shame with a dark edge as a man makes his problems literally float away. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Lamentation of Their Women by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com) – a violent and bloody story about a deal with the devil in the face of generations of injustice. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde (Uncanny) – a haunting story about appearances, assumptions, and true selves, set amidst the trappings of a cabinet of curiosities. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Creeping Influences by Sonya Taaffe (Shimmer) – the uncovering of a bog mummy reveals intertwined stories of desire, secrecy, and sacrifice. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Taiya by Vanessa Fogg (The Future Fire) – an eerie story of depression and grief manifesting as an implacable ghost. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Uncanny September October 2017Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad – an utterly charming story about the joyful side of fandom and finding community through shared enthusiasm for a fictional world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Ouroboros Bakery by Octavia Cade (Kaleidotrope) – a story about the ups and downs of immortality achieved through the magic of baked goods. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Airswimming by Aisha Phoenix – a lovely and painful story about overcoming the literal weight of grief and guilt. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Last Exorcist by Danny Lore (Fiyah Magazine) – a story about racism, deals with demons, and fighting back against oppression. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Cracks by Xen (Fiyah Magazine) – a powerful novelette about parallel worlds, responsibility, and longing for what seems unobtainable.

Presque Vu by Nino Cipri (Liminal Stories) – a story of coping with ghosts, loneliness, and regret.

Aground, Upon the Sand by Jennifer R. Donohue (Syntax & Salt) – an effective piece of flash fiction that uses the selkie trope to parallel the experience of being a stranger in a new land. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Other Names by Chloe N. Clarke (Cosmonauts Avenue) – a slowly unfolding story about coping with grief and guilt. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Sound of His Voice Like the Colour of Salt by L. Chan (The Dark) – an effective story about ghosts, and longing for more from the world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Them Boys by Nora Anthony (Strange Horizons) – a story about the power and danger of sexuality that flips traditional the mermaid story on its head. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Caesura by Hayley Stone (Fireside Fiction) – a story about loss, AI, poetry, and what it means to be human. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics by Jess Barber and Sara Saab (Clarkesworld) – a novelette about rebuilding in a world of scarcity and the complicated nature of human relationships.

Rivers Run Free by Charles Payseur (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) – a story of personified rivers fighting back against humanity’s desire to control and cage them for their own needs.

Forty Acres and a Mule by Stephanie Malia Morris (Fiyah Magazine) – a powerful story about a black family overcoming a history of violence turned against their ancestors to reclaim land and make space for themselves in the world. (Reviewed in more detail here.)

The Moon is Not a Battlefield by Indrapramit Das (Infinity Wars) – a beautifully told story about a war on the moon and the way human lives are used up by it.

Weather Girl by E.J. Swift (Infinity Wars) – an unconventional war fought through weather and suppressed information has unexpected costs.

The Old Dispensation by Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com) – a space opera novelette about Jewish law, artificial intelligence, and finding a new morality.

Anathema 3Learning to Swim by Mimi Mondal (Anathema Magazine) – a bittersweet story about found family, prejudice, and struggling to find your place in the world.

Neptune’s Trident by Nina Allan (Clarkesworld) – an alien invasion creates a world of scarcity where neighbors turn against each other, effectively interwoven with references to a classic M.R. James ghost story.

When Stars Are Scattered by Spencer Ellsworth (Tor.com) – a story of faith, suspicion, and the struggle for communication and understanding on an alien world.

Verweil Doch (But Linger) by Rich Larson (Omni Magazine) – a story about guilt and feeling powerless even with the ability to stop time.

The Rains on Mars by Natalia Theodoridou (Clarkesworld) – a miner on Mars copes with loss, guilt, and phantom rain.

Lost in the Dark by John Langan (Haunted Nights) – an effective and creepy novelette about a found footage horror movie and the line between reality and fiction.

There. I told you I read and loved a lot of short fiction in 2017, and even then I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of all the fantastic work out there. I’m also working on a post about my favorite novels and novellas of 2017, so stay turned. But in the meantime, give me your recs! What did you read and love in 2017?

5 Comments

Filed under Recommended Reading

Women to Read: Where to Start: December 2017

Welcome to December’s Women to Read. This month, I have four fabulous short stories to recommend to you. As 2017 comes to a close, I can only hope that 2018 is happier, gentler, and kinder. But if the new year does bring more of the same, I will continue to take solace in fiction – powerful stories that fight back and offer up hope, and wonderful, creative voices that refuse to be silent. So keep writing, keep reading, and keep resisting. We’ll get through this together.

Nora Anthony is a short fiction author and my recommended starting place for her work is Them Boys recently published at Strange Horizons. Right out of the gate, the story flips the traditional animal bride/selkie/mermaid trope on its head. All the mer-people in Anthony’s story are men, boys really, who come up onto the beach to flirt with girls, make out, gather the offerings they leave, and occasionally take them underwater. The girls who go underwater emerge shinning; everyone teases and hints and winks and nudges about what goes on, but no one openly talks about it.

I’m home now. I’m thinking of Aka and the girl and how she sparkled after they came out of the water together, like the ocean was stuck to her skin and lips. I am wondering what happened in the water when I walk into the kitchen.

So much of the story is familiar; even though there are mermen involved, the gatherings are still typical mating displays. It’s all about seeing and being seen, who is watching, who is jealous, who is being admired, who is being ignored. At its heart, Them Boys is a story about sexuality, and particularly the power and danger of female sexuality. Obviously there is the potential for girls who have sex to get pregnant, but beneath all their posturing the mermen seem to be the ones who are terrified. No matter how tough they act, the fighting they engage in, the innuendo and flirting, most mermen run scared from sex itself, afraid of how it will change them. Anthony plays with the imagery of surface and shore versus underwater to parallel expectation versus reality, and outward appearances versus inner life. What is expected of girls, of boys, what makes someone a “real man” or a “good girl”? The story explores the baggage that comes with sexuality, and wraps it all in gorgeous prose, making it an excellent starting place for Anthony’s work.

Fiyah #4Stephanie Malia Morris is an author and a librarian, and my recommended starting place for her work is Forty Acres and a Mule from Fiyah #4: Roots. Erin brings her white boyfriend home for Thanksgiving, and from the start, it’s clear he’s uncomfortable. He’s never been an “outsider” before, or been anywhere where he was in the minority. Erin mentally contrasts her family gathering with a work gathering she attended with Caleb where his white coworkers commented on her hair and where he spent the evening constantly touching her like a possession or a trophy. At home, however Erin is fully at ease, reconnecting with her home by climbing the pear tree in the yard before going inside for the meal. Caleb spends the whole time fussing at her, worrying that she’ll fall, further showing a disconnect between them. While he’s concerned for her, he doesn’t seem to know her or trust her to know herself and her own limitations. The tree, however, knows Erin well, catching her when she slips and holding her up. The land is her family’s, earned through blood, and intimately connected to them in a way Caleb can’t understand. In her childhood Erin found a half buried rope by the tree, leading back to the space under the porch, and when she pulled on it, something heavy hit the latticework until her mother told her to leave it alone. This incident and Morris’ language choice throughout slowly reveals a history of violence and lynching on the land, but Erin and her family have reclaimed it.

“This place has always been ours,” I say. “Whether we lived on it willingly or not. Always been ours. Through every. Single. Thing.” I offer him the pear. My hand is steady. “Nothing will make the terrible things that happened here go away. But we claim it, and the land – this tree – it takes care of us. Always. Can you understand?”

The story is a chilling look at racism and violence, but also a story full of hope. It is a story about rebuilding, finding a place in the world, and the land recognizing a wrong that was done and setting it right again. It’s a powerful story, and an excellent starting place for Morris’ work.

Kate Marshall is a short fiction author with a YA novel forthcoming in summer 2018. My recommended starting place for her work is Red Bark and Ambergris published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Sarai is taken from her home as a child and sent to live on a bleak and colorless island to learn the scent maker’s art. Despite her natural talent, Sarai is instead determined to become a poison tamer so she can leave the island and go to court to guard the queen. Her mentor/teacher Jarad tries to dissuade her, telling her poison isn’t her talent, but Sarai sees no other way off the island, and no hope of ever seeing her home again.

“The scent has power to you because of your memories,” Jarad said. “Poison strikes us all the same, but scent is individual. A scent-maker must know the moments of their client’s life, must know what scents define them. And then they can summon any emotion, evoke any memory. That is where our power lies.”

She studies, poisoning herself and mastering each poison one by one. Eventually she seeks advice from Nissa, a former poison tamer who saved the queen’s life from an assassin’s blade, but was banished to the island when she was no longer useful. Sarai learns that Nissa is the queen’s sister, and she is presented with a final choice – make a perfume for the queen and obtain her Mastery, or continue to pursue the art of poison in hopes of killing the queen and very likely herself in the process. It’s a gorgeous story full of rich sensory detail, evoking the way the sense of smell can trigger memory, and how different scents mean different things to each person. It’s reminiscent of Aqua Mirablis by Stephanie Chan, but in a very different setting, a gorgeously rendered secondary world. Along with the sensory detail, there’s a real sense of growth for Sarai’s character, as she evolves from a singular obsession to a more measured view point, and learns to see herself and those around her more clearly. It’s a lovely story, and an excellent starting place for Marshall’s work.

Mythic DeliriumBringing things full circle back to water, my recommended starting place for Premee Mohamed is The Water and the World from this month’s Mythic Delirium. It’s hard to talk about this story without spoilers, so consider yourself warned. Coach Vinsky is attending the Olympics with his new protege, Auggie. As the story opens, Vinsky is trying to keep Auggie from reading the tabloids. Even with multiple wins, the records he’s broken, and the clean drug tests to prove he’s not cheating, the tabloid still find a way to be nasty, calling Auggie ugly. Fans, on the other hand, adore him, swarming him everywhere he goes, practically tearing him apart just for a glimpse of him. Vinsky knows there’s something different about Auggie, but how different is something he hasn’t fully admitted to himself. He keeps the press away, deflects questions about Auggie’s past – where he’s from, how he came out of nowhere to be an Olympic super star at the “ripe old age” of twenty-six, and so on. Readers of Lovecraft and weird fiction will recognize the hints Mohamed drops – Auggie’s surname of Inns, his appearance. If that isn’t enough, his origins become clear as Vinsky recalls how he first met Auggie, appearing out of the waves one day clutching a strange, monstrous figurine in his hand.

The sun had been rising, just visible as a thick pink glow through the mist, and then we heard it, the familiar sound of a front crawl, a pleasant slap-slap-slap in time to that throbbing roar. As the fog lifted there he was, the hideous young man cutting through the water as if it simply were not there, his form so beautiful, his timing so precise, I felt my hand rise to my chest and stay there as if to hold my heart in.

What sets this story apart from most Lovecraftian fiction is its gentleness. Vinsky describes the unearthly grace around Auggie, and his compulsion to train him. Even in a relatively brief story, Mohamed does a wonderful job of portraying Auggie’s sweetness, his innocence, and his melancholy. The story shares a sensibility with Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide in that both reclaim the Deep Ones and inject them with humanity. There’s a gut punch at the end of the story, where the repeated mention of Auggie’s age finally comes together with the revelation of his true nature. Deep Ones must go to the sea as they age. Auggie’s first Olympics is his last. There’s a purity about Auggie, a gentleness to the way he accepts his fate, that is at once lovely and wrenching. The Water and the World is an excellent story for people who don’t like traditional Lovecraftian fiction and enjoy seeing its tropes upended, and it’s an excellent place to start with Mohamed’s work.

That wraps up 2017’s Women to Read. I’ll be back in the new year with more recommendations. In the meantime, I wish you happy reading and a wonderful start to 2018.

1 Comment

Filed under Recommended Reading

Award Eligible Work 2017

Awards season is upon us with the opening of the nomination period for the Nebula Awards. I’m still working on my Recommended Reading/Favorites of the Year post, but in the meantime, here’s what all I had published in 2017.

Novelette

Excerpts from a Film (1942-1987) published at Tor.com.

There are other dead girls, too, fitting themselves into the spaces between actors. As George fits the film back into the projector and runs it again, the ghosts are so obvious he can’t believe he missed them, spreading outward from the point that is Mary Evelyn Marshall. Like mushrooms, fruiting after a hard rain. Their skin soft, born on the edge of rot, and so easy to bruise. Once he’s seen them, he can’t un-see them, until the rest of the film blurs and they’re all he can see.

Short Stories

The Secret of Flight in Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales: An Anthology

Last night’s opening of The Secret of Flight at The Victory Theater will surely go down as one of the most memorable and most bizarre in history. Not for the play itself, but for the dramatic disappearance of leading lady Clara Hill during the play’s final scene.

The Paradox Collection in Tales from the Miskatonic University Library

There was a monster outside, and any minute, it would break the door down and come inside.

Harvest Song, Gathering Song in For Mortal Things Unsung

Captain Adams hand-picked us, brought us to the top of the world – a blue place all ice and snow and screaming wind – with only the vaguest idea of our mission. And none of us had cared.

Crossing in Lamplight Vol. 5 Issue III also available in audio format at PodCastle

Through the salt sting, the world blurs blue and grey. She lets a few bubbles escape to rise around her like pearls. Just as she’s about to turn her head to breathe, a face appears below her.

Wendy, Darling in Daily Science Fiction

He hovers just beyond the glass even though the window looks out from the second floor. Of course, she thinks. And no, no, please no. His shadow stretches long across the bedroom floor. He taps and the windows swing open. Once invited, always welcome–that’s his way.

A Catalogue of Sunlight at the End of the World in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation

In just over a week, the generation ship Arber will depart on its journey. The docking clamps will release, and it will go sailing off into space to find the future of humanity. This is my parting gift, a catalogue of sunlight from the world left behind.

The Stories We Tell About Ghosts in Looming Low

Growing up in Dieu-le-Sauveur, my friends and I told stories about ghosts – the Starving Man, the Sleeping Girl, and the House at the End of the Street. The summer I was twelve, I saw my first ghost for real. That was the summer my little brother Gen disappeared.

So that’s what I did this year. After I catch up on my reading a bit more, I’ll put up a post about my favorite reads from 2017.

1 Comment

Filed under Writing