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An Interview with the Sword and Sonnet Editors

Sword and SonnetToday, I’m delighted to welcome the editors of the upcoming anthology, Sword and Sonnet, currently running a Kickstarter that you can support right now! (And you really do want to, because it’s going to be amazing.)

Welcome! To start things off, could you please each briefly introduce yourself and talk a bit about your vision for Sword and Sonnet.

Rachael: I’m Rachael K. Jones, former editor of PodCastle, award-nominated author, professional Tyrannosaur, Nicolas Cage enthusiast, and secret android. (Wait, did I said that aloud?) When I think of an anthology of battle-poets, I think of all the ways people have used their words as weapons, in powerful and creative ways that have shaped the world. I’m thinking of the pioneers of hip hop. I’m thinking of Sappho writing in exile. I’m thinking of all the people in history whose pen was their sword, and especially people from marginalized genders whose work has been lost or forgotten. My hope is that our anthology can gather up a little bit of that spirit in one place, and have fun with it to boot.

Aidan: I’m Aidan Doyle, associate editor of PodCastle, short story writer, and frequent traveler. Like Rachael, I want to see stories of people using their words as weapons – fantastical sonnet-slinging spellbinders and brave bards.

Elise: I’m Elise Tobler and I am the senior editor at Shimmer Magazine, cupcake connoisseur, and trebuchet enthusiast. When Aidan proposed the anthology, I was pretty excited over what it could mean and humbled that he thought to invite me. Shimmer has published a few things that would fit my “vision,” but I hope all of our protagonists will be active, curious, and filled with a kind of poetry that overwhelms the reader when they reach the end of the story.

An anthology of battle poets, sonnet slingers, and Haiku-wielding heroines definitely sounds like a concept with a story behind it, possibly one involving shenanigans. How did the idea for this anthology come about?

Rachael: I blame Aidan. Picture me standing behind him jabbing both fingers at him. He instigated the shenanigans and press-ganged invited me along for the samurai-stuffed ride.

Aidan: I read Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book and fell in love with her writing. She was known for intimidating the men of Heian-era Japan with her knowledge of poetry. Fablecroft Publishing announced a call for stories for Cranky Ladies of History and I wrote a story featuring Shonagon using her knowledge of poetry to defeat demons. The story was rejected (a revised version later appeared in PodCastle) but SL Huang remarked that she would love to read a story about a badass battle poet and I had the idea for an anthology of battle poet stories. Elise and Rachael have a lot more editorial experience than I do and I was thrilled they wanted to be involved in the project.

Elise: I completely blame Aidan, too, but appreciate his invitation to play on this amazing battlefield.

As editors, I know it’s sometimes hard to pin down exactly what you’re looking for in a story, and sometimes the best stories are the ones you never knew you wanted to read until you’ve read them. That said, do you have any particular soft spots in fiction? Are there are any subjects, styles, themes, or anything else you’re hoping to see in the submission pile?

Rachael: I’m a complete sucker for stories with a strong sense of voice, and that will be doubly true in an anthology with a poetry motif. I want stories that make me care about the characters and take me into their lives. For a thematic anthology, we’ll also be looking for stories that harmonize and contrast nicely to one another. I am also always on the look out for stories by authors just entering the short fiction world. If you’re looking for your first publication, please submit! Speaking personally, I’m also secretly a huge Old English poetry nerd, and might actually die of joy if I ran across a feminist Beowulf riff somewhere in our submissions. Tyrannosaurs are optional, but always encouraged.

Aidan: I have a soft spot for dark humor and for intricate settings. Like most editors I want characters I care about and stories with a strong voice. I also have a weakness for bears.

Elise: I love to experiment. I love to jump off a cliff and dare the reader to follow. I hope we see some risk taking! I’ve always found poetry to be powerful. When I’m stuck in my own work, reading poetry can often get my brain back into gear and motion. I am hopeful we’ll see stories that show and explore that power. Poetry can so often be looked down on, but I think it’s just as vital to this world as fiction. Poetry can be quiet, but so can a punch to the gut.

Since you’re editing an anthology themed around fighting and poetry, I think it’s only fair to ask each of you to provide an inspiring battle cry in limerick form. Haikus are also acceptable. (Yes I’m aware this isn’t actually a question.)

Rachael:

There once was a lass in a bonnet

whose sword had strange writing upon it.

She translated the verse

into this lovely curse:

“Ye aught go to back Sword & Sonnet!”

Aidan:

There once was a poet whose love of words,

Transformed her sonnets into birds,

She fought her enemies with poems and puns,

They laid down their swords and guns,

And praised the power of her words.

Elise:

There once was a girl who did battle

With her sword, her book, and her…hey are those cattle?

She took to the sky

With a furious cry:

“Oh shit I’ve misplaced my saddle!”

Bravo! Now, if you yourself were going into battle, what would your weapon of choice be?

Rachael: The word Hospitality in sixteen languages, a dappled pink scarf, and my rebellious youth. I would ride behind my battle-poet army on a beat-boxing mastodon and pointedly refuse to smile when asked. It would be terrifying.

Aidan: A dancing Christopher Walken riding atop a giant sandworm.

Elise: The trebuchet, filled with a thousand thousand volumes of Good Poems for Hard Times, ed. Garrison Keillor.

I would follow all of you into battle without hesitation! Any closing thoughts you’d like to share about Sword and Sonnet, or other upcoming projects you’re working on you’d like people to know about?

Rachael: While many anthology Kickstarters offer story critiques as a backer reward, ours is offering a special round table-style crit from all three of us. This is a good opportunity to get a peek at the editorial process in a way you almost never get to see when you’re just starting out. We say all the time that editors aren’t a monolith, and different readers can have very different opinions on the same story, which means that often submitting your stories is really a game of finding your ideal reader. Otherwise there’s a tendency to thinking we need to flatten ourselves as writers to fit, to aim for a good generic blandness instead of embracing what makes our voices unique, powerful, and sometimes divisive. But the truth is that every battle poet causes conflict, right?

Aidan: We’d love the chance to see what stories writers can create about battle poets and hope that people are excited about the idea as much as we are.

Elise: I hope that we have the opportunity to bring you this anthology because the concept is truly unlike anything I’ve seen out there.

Thank you all for dropping by! I can’t wait for Sword and Sonnet to be out in the world!

Rachael: Thank you so much for having us!

Aidan: Thanks Alison!

Elise: Thanks for having us, Alison. I’m delighted you’re going to be part of this anthology!

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An Interview with Cassandra Khaw

Cassandra Khaw was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novella, A Song for Quiet. To get things started, I’ll make introductions by shamelessly stealing from Cassandra’s author bio…

Cassandra Khaw is a London-based writer with roots buried deep in Southeast Asia where there are sometimes more ghosts than people. Her work tends to revolve around intersectional cultures, mythological mash-ups, and bizarre urban architecture. When not embroiled in fiction, she writes about technology and video games for a variety of places including Eurogamer and Ars Technica UK.

Welcome, Cassandra, and congratulations on the publication of A Song for Quiet! As I understand it, this novella brings back John Persons, but is not a direct sequel to Hammers on Bone. Without giving too much away, can you give readers a taste of what to expect in A Song for Quiet?

A Song for QuietSouthern Gothic Lovecraftian with a heavy note of the blues.

Man, I wish I thought of that logline before this. Um. Anyway. A taste of what to expect? If you’re coming straight from the epilogue of Hammers on Bone, I’d say: expect the unexpected. In that A Song for Quiet is a drastically different book from its predecessor. Hammers on Bone laid on the neo-noir thick; it growled, it grumbled, and it smelled of neon-lit rain and cigarettes.

A Song for Quiet, on the other hand, is a hush. It’s a quiet book written to the meter of some old blues classics. It’s a book on grief, a book about helplessness, a book about finding hope in dark places. It isn’t a book about the people history remember, but a book about the heroes that time forgets. More than anything else, A Song for Quiet is a book of my grief and if you’ve wondered why it was like to hear someone’s heart breaking in half, this book’s for you.

I love the cover art for both of your Tor novellas. Did you have any input in the process, or did they come as a complete surprise?

They come as a complete surprise! Well. Sort of. Jeffrey Alan Love, who I’d just been a fanatical fan of, is basically the artist associated with the series. So long as Tor.com keeps publishing the Persons non Grata series, he’d be cover artist. (At least until whatever arrangement they’ve got going change. I don’t know how it works.) In that sense, the cover for A Song For Quiet wasn’t a surprise. I knew it’d be Jeffrey. I just didn’t know what would be going down.

That said, it’s Tor. I’d trust them with any of my covers any year. Like, wow.

Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet mash-up the genres of noir and Lovecraftian fiction. You’ve also drawn on Lovecraftian fiction in your short stories, specifically An Ocean of Eyes, which I loved. What appeals to you about playing in those worlds, or in the broader genre of dark fiction and horror generally? Is there an sense of subverting or reclaiming spaces and tropes that have historically been male-dominated, and in some cases outright misogynistic and racist?

I keep hearing this question and I keep revising my answers. There are layers to it. Like, to begin with, Lovecraft felt utterly impenetrable the first time I read his work as a teen. English’s my third language and the lexicon of words he used, the structure of his prose. It felt … inscrutable. Alien.

Of course, that meant I just wanted to beat my head against the challenge until it all made sense. So, that’s one reason for my fascination with Lovecraft. One of the other reasons, curiously, is a sense of empathy. More than anything else, Lovecraft felt absolutely terrified of everything. The world, the people who inhabited the world, the nature of his own skin, the flesh, the grim inevitability of the void. Every time I think about him, he always seems so scared. Not cowardly, per se. But just so very aware of how terrible the world is.

And I get that. I look up into the sky and there are days, especially now, when I see nothing but the hungry void. I read the news and it’s nothing but stories of powerful, inhuman creatures tearing apart the world. It scares me too.

But where Lovecraft was resigned to accepting his world of monsters, of seeing everything foreign as terrifying, I’m, like a lot of people who are messing around in the toolbox, not. I wouldn’t call myself optimistic, however.I think the world is a terrible place. But I think it is one that needs people reminding children that they can fight their monsters, that incremental improvements are worth fighting for, that the future’s worth a legacy of pain. That the moment that you give up, that’s the moment that the monsters win.

Every second before that, though? You’re still fighting to bring a light into the dark.
… I have no idea if that answered the question. I hope it did.

Now that you have a few novellas under your belt, do you have any interest in moving to novel length work? How does your writing process differ tackling longer versus shorter fiction?

Yes. I’d just submitted A Language of Doors, which is a sequel to my story in Shimmer, ‘In the Rustle of Pages.’ I think that’s my last novella for a good long while; my post-apocalyptic fairy tale mermaid novel is next. My writing process? It feels almost entirely the same, to be honest. I’m a pantser in the sense that outlines mostly just confuse me. My work tends towards being atmospheric because the process of writing them inevitably feels like a sustained delirium. I’m chasing snatches of dream towards its ending. With longer work, these waking nightmares just last longer.

With your non-fiction writing, do you ever get sent cool pieces of technology or get previews of video games to review? Does your non-fiction writing ever inform your fiction writing in any way, or do they live in two totally separate compartments of your brain?

I got a PS Vita as part of a job once. And I’ve been sent a Kindle Fire. I’ve lost track of the number of games I’ve received ahead of the release date. Won’t lie. It’s swell. My non-fiction brain has absolutely influenced my fiction writing and in the worst possible way! It took me almost a year to stop trying to abbreviate everything in a way that would be acceptable to my media training. (My fiction brain has done some beautiful things to my non-fiction brain, however My non-fiction now emerge as sumptuous, shameless things full of defiant word-beauty.)

Completely switching gears for a bit, one of my favorite questions to ask authors is about their non-writing related work. Authors are notorious for working strange jobs, for example J.D. Salinger’s stint as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I spent a week selling fish in a supermarket. It didn’t inspire any stories. But I was nineteen and my mother had gotten confused in regards to what an internship meant. We’d expected me to be plunked down in someone’s office, settled in behind a desk. Instead, I ended up spending a week in a supermarket, loudly encouraging housewives to check out our imported meats. My life’s been weird.

Now that A Song for Quiet is out in the world, what’s next for you?

I’m head down in my day job, which is the COOLEST DAMN THING BUT I CANNOT TELL ANYONE WHAT IT IS YET. AGH. And I’m pecking away at my mermaid novel because I promised my agent I would and it’s been forever.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for having me!

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An Interview with Kat Howard

Kat Howard was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novel, An Unkindness of Magicians, among other things. To get started, I’ll make introductions by way of shamelessly stealing from Kat’s author bio…

Kat Howard is a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror who lives and writes in New Hampshire. Her short fiction has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, performed on NPR, and anthologized in year’s best and best of volumes. In the past, she’s been a competitive fencer and a college professor. Her debut novel, Roses and Rot was released from Saga Press in May of 2016, and will be followed by An Unkindness of Magicians in September 2017, and a short fiction collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, in 2018, both also from Saga. You can find her on twitter, and on tumblr.

An Unkindness of MagiciansWelcome and congratulations on the publication of An Unkindness of Magicians! Without giving too much away, care to give readers a taste of what it’s about?

Thanks so much! To continue the trend of shameless stealing, here’s the back cover copy:

There is a dark secret that is hiding at the heart of New York City, diminishing the city’s magicians’ power…

In New York City, magic controls everything, but the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney—a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney doesn’t want to help the system, she wants to destroy it.

This is a book about sacrifice and family and making yourself who you want to be. Oh, and there are magical duels.

I have admit that sometimes I’m shallow, and I do judge books by their cover, by which I mean impulse buying things that are pretty. This cover is a particularly striking one – did you have any input on the artistic process?

I had absolutely nothing to do with the artistic process, so I feel perfectly comfortable in saying that I love how gorgeous this cover is. The cover design is by Lizzy Bromley, and the illustration done by Vault 49, and I’m so grateful for their genius. It’s based on what is one of my favorite scenes in the book, where a piece of magic goes very, very wrong.

I also wanted to ask about your first novel, Roses and Rot, which I adored. I love the themes of family, fairy tales, and artistic inspiration woven throughout. Speaking of artistic inspiration, what sparked this story for you?

Thank you! Roses and Rot is a very loose retelling of Tam Lin (Child Ballad 39A). So in a way it was sparked back when I read Pamela Dean’s gorgeous novel, Tam Lin, and first learned about the story. The question that eventually became the book for me was, “What would you be willing to give up?”

The artist’s colony of Melete that you describe in the novel sounds amazing. If you were invited, would you go, even knowing what lies behind the colony? If you were offered the deal that the most promising Melete residents are offered, would you accept that invitation?

I’d go, and I’d make the bargain. I’m not sure I’m exactly comfortable with that piece of self-knowledge, but there you go.

In addition to your two novels, you’ve also written quite a bit of short fiction. Were there any challenges in transitioning between the two lengths? Do you have different processes for writing short versus long fiction?

The biggest challenge for me was to let the novel open up and breathe. My short fiction tends to be very focused (or at least it feels that way in my head when I’m writing it), and so allowing myself to open up to the possibilities that something novel-length offered as a bit of a transition.

Switching gears completely, I have to ask about your competitive fencing. How did you get into competitive fencing, and do you still fence for fun? Are you an extra harsh critic of works (movies, books, etc.) featuring swordplay? Are there any works out there that really get it right? On the other side of things, is there a particular thing that people who don’t do their research get wrong about swords that causes you to shout at a book/movie in frustration?

I’ve been obsessed with fencing since I first saw a Zorro cartoon and went around drawing Z’s everywhere. Seeing Star Wars and lightsabers only increased this obsession. My parents found me lessons, and I started training seriously in college. Injury meant that I stopped competing, but I’m moving in a few months, and one of the first things I did was look up fencing clubs, so I hope to get back into it. I love the sport.

And because I love the sport, while I do wince at certain depictions, I’m also generally glad to see fencing in movies and books. Anything that gets people to love it! Ellen Kushner writes great fencing, and Molly Tanzer has a forthcoming book, Creatures of Will and Temper, that I love, and also has terrific fencing in.

Oh, and there may be a fencing scene in An Unkindness of Magicians, too.
(NB: I wrote an article about fencing for Lightspeed a few years ago, if you want more info)

Now that An Unkindness of Magicians is out in the world, what’s next for you? Any projects you’re working on you want folks to know about?

I have a short fiction collection, A Cathedral of Myth and Bone, that will be out next fall from Saga. There will be reprints, but also some new pieces, including a new novella, “Once, Future.” That’s an Arthurian riff that I’m extremely excited for people to read. And I am working on some other things that I hope to be able to say more about soon!

All of that sounds wonderful, and I can’t wait to read it! Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much for having me.

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An Interview with Sam J. Miller

Sam J. Miller was kind enough to drop by today to talk about his debut novel, The Art of Starving. I’ll kick things off, as usual, by shamelessly stealing from Sam’s author bio to make introductions…

Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Apex, Strange Horizons and The Minnesota Review, among others. His debut novel The Art of Starving will be published by HarperCollins in 2017, followed by Blackfish City from Ecco Press in 2018. His stories have been nominated for the Nebula, World Fantasy, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, and he’s winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. He lives in New York City.

Art of StarvingWelcome, and congratulations on the publication of The Art of Starving! Without giving too much away, care to give readers a taste of the story?

Sure! THE ART OF STARVING is about a bullied small-town gay boy with an eating disorder (all of which I was) who believes that starving himself awakens latent supernatural abilities (which mine did not), and uses them to embark on a Mission of Bloody Revenge against the bullies who make his life miserable (including Tariq, who he is hopelessly crushed out on), and to figure out why his sister ran away from home. It’s gotten starred reviews from Kirkus & Booklist & Publisher’s Weekly, and I’m scared as hell to have something so personal out in the world and OMG it’s all becoming super real super fast.

Lest anyone accuse you of not being prolific enough (they wouldn’t dare), you also have Blackfish City scheduled to come out next year. Can you talk a bit about that one as well?

BLACKFISH CITY takes place in a future where rising sea levels have transformed the globe, in an Arctic floating city called Qaanaaq – a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy, but ravaged by organized crime and income inequality and a new disease called “the breaks.” Into this powder keg steps a strange new visitor—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side. The book follows four people from different walks of life who are all connected to her mysterious mission in Qaanaaq, who are slowly drawn into a complex web of intrigue and violence and rebellion and redemption.

You’re also an incredible short story writer, as attested by the multiple award nominations. Were there any challenges moving from short fiction to longer form writing? How does your process differ between the two?

Awwww, stop, you! I’ve been writing novels as long as I’ve been writing short stories, so there was no challenge transitioning… I am similarly inept in both departments. But, hopefully, getting better – the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy workshop really helped me get my shit together in that department, and then being part of the incredible Altered Fluid writers group in NYC… and just generally existing in community with fantastic fellow authors like yourself, whose work I devour and adore and learn from. Spoiler alert for all my fiction, and also my life – your community is your superpower. My process for novels and short stories is the same in that I have a whole bunch of ideas bubbling up in my brain all the time, and some will percolate for years without germinating, and then suddenly two or three of them will collide and I’ll say AH-HA and the story will take shape, whether it’s gonna be 5 pages long or 500.

Speaking of awards, do you remember where you were and how you heard when you learned about your very first award nomination? What did you do to celebrate?

I was sitting at my desk in the Bronx when I got the email that my short story “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” was a nominee for the Shirley Jackson Award. I literally howled. Well, maybe it was more of a wail-scream. First thing I did was call my BFF and sister-from-another-mister Lisa Bolekaja, who I know loves Shirley Jackson as much as I do. And then we both howled. And then I called my mom, who gave me “The Haunting of Hill House” when I was fourteen, and more howling ensued.

In addition to your writing, you’re also an artist. I particularly love your dinosaurs, and the way you combine them with photographs of people in unexpected places. Aside from the obvious answer (because they’re awesome) what attracts you to dinosaurs? For the pictures involving dinosaurs and people, do you pose the people with an end result in mind, or is the drawing ultimately inspired by the pose your subjects provide?

Dinosaurs are the most amazing monsters ever, AND THEY’RE REAL. For me, dinosaurs trigger the child part of my brain – I was super super obsessed as a kid – when I was five, people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said “a dinosaur.” My husband and I got married under a T Rex skeleton in a guerrilla wedding at the American Museum of Natural History. Some writer/readers get hyped on spaceships or swordfights – and I can get down with those sometimes – but my Kryptonite is dinosaurs. Thank you for the nice words about the drawings! Usually the illustration comes first – I’ll be practice-sketching some new challenge, a cool facial expression or a hot dude from a difficult angle, and then it kinda works, and I’ll scramble to find a photo background to go along with it. And maybe a monster. Basically because I don’t think any of those pieces are very good on their own, maybe I can overwhelm with Quantity until I get to Quality.

Totally topic switching away from writing and art, one of my favorite questions to ask authors is about strange non-writing related jobs. What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

My father was a butcher, as was his father, and he trained me as a butcher for several years before Wal-Mart came to town and our family business went belly up. There’s something very illuminating about being covered in blood all the time. It teaches you some valuable lessons about mortality and how our whole lives are structured around violence and suffering. So that’s helpful for a genre writer. Also, my father treated every single person who came in our store with incredible respect, and he really valued them and the stories they had to tell, and he was excellent at drawing them out of people. Like the man who lived in the woods and came in to buy hot sauce, which he put on the nightcrawlers that were his primary food (or so he told us; I think maybe he was trying to gross my mom out) or the elderly couple who bought dog food in bulk and nothing else – my father felt certain that they were eating the same thing as their dogs, since there were no other places in town to buy food. His spirit and his whole-hearted embrace of everyone he met have served me well in my life as a writer.

Let’s talk about your city of residence for a moment. Even if they’ve never been there, almost everyone has a picture of New York City in their heads. They’ve seen it in TV shows, movies, books, ads, iconic photographs, and so on. What do those media depictions overlook, or get wrong about the city? Or, on the other side of things, are there any that really get NYC right? What are your favorite places in the city to gather inspiration? Where would you point first time visitors if they want to go somewhere off the beaten tourist path?

To me the most important thing to understand about New York City is that it is a huge magnificent messy place full of tons and tons of wonderful people and countless powerful vibrant gorgeous communities – but it’s also a place where greed and skyrocketing rents and mass displacement are destroying everything that makes it awesome, from the quirky shops to the diversity to the amazing food to the spaces that incubated decades of important artists. This is true of most major cities, I think, but New York City is particularly heartless when it comes to crushing the old (and poor) to make way for the new (and rich). That’s why there’s sixty thousand homeless people living in shelters right now, and they’re overwhelmingly people of color who’ve been displaced out of their communities as those neighborhoods become increasingly appealing to wealthier, whiter, newer New Yorkers. It’s also why the NYPD is so committed to brutalizing and intimidating the communities who might object to the way they’re being eradicated. Not too many stories can get that degree of complexity correct. Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper; Zoraida Cordova’s Labyrinth Lost… I appreciate that the TV series Gotham (which isn’t technically New York City) understands the extent to which a corrupt and abusive police force is part and parcel of the city’s bigger-picture problems. For visitors to NYC who want to see the real city, I’d direct you to the small threatened magical spots that are struggling to survive – like the Punjab Deli on Houston Street, or Rainbow Falafel off of Union Square, or Junior’s in Brooklyn, or the thrift stores on East 23rd Street, or Books of Wonder on 18th. Get some vegan soul food at Uptown Veg on 125th. Come uptown to the Cloisters. Dance at the Ritz until stupid late and then get french fries and milk shakes at the Westway Diner. And walk around Chinatown and buy fruit from the vendors on Grand or Mulberry Streets. Get the best cheese danishes in the city at Moishe’s on 2nd Avenue. See an old movie at Film Forum, or a midnight classic screening at IFC. Or go to the New World food stalls in Queens. OH LORD I COULD GO ON AND ON. Go for a bike ride up the West Side Greenway. Bike riding through the city in general is a great way to see the city’s secret self, especially on a summer night… although, watch out, drivers are crazy.

Now I want to tour NYC with you. But for the moment, to wrap things up, now that The Art of Starving is out in the world, what’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works you want folks to know about?

Well, I’m currently hard at work on my second YA novel, tentatively titled THE STORIES ON OUR SKIN, which is contemporary fantasy with tattoos that grant magical powers, and a gay boy artist whose crush offers him his body as his canvas, and they fall in love, but they both have Secret Agendas and Their Own Shit they’re working out, and stuff gets messy, and there’s deranged fundamentalist villains and shadow dragons and a complex magic system and lots of cursing and gay sex. I’m also working on a second non-YA novel, which is shaping up to be a ghost story about small-town gentrification that draws heavily on experience of growing up in my father’s butcher shop…

It sounds amazing! Thanks so much for stopping by!

THANK YOU SO SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME!!

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An Interview with Desirina Boskovich

Desirina Boskovich was kind enough to drop by to talk about her new novella, Never Now Always, published by Broken Eye Books (out on June 27, available for pre-order now!). To start things off, I’ll make introductions by cribbing from Desirina’s author bio…

Desirina Boskovich’s short fiction has been published in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Nightmare, F&SF, Kaleidotrope, PodCastle, Drabblecast, and anthologies such as The Apocalypse Triptych, Tomorrow’s Cthulhu and What the #@&% Is That?. She is also the editor of It Came From the North: An Anthology of Finnish Speculative Fiction (Cheeky Frawg, 2013), and together with Jeff VanderMeer, co-author of The Steampunk User’s Manual (Abrams Image, 2014). Her next project is a collaboration with Jason Heller — Starships & Sorcerers: A Secret History of Science Fiction, forthcoming from Abrams Image.

Never Now AlwaysWelcome and congratulations on the publication of Never Now Always! Without giving too much away, would you care to give a taste of what the novella’s about?

Thank you! The story centers on Lolo, who finds herself trapped in a futuristic labyrinth, surrounded by children like herself, and their alien Caretakers. She can’t remember how she came to be here or what came before; worse, her memories fade and fragment from day to day, so even much of her time in this place is a blur. The Caretakers appear to be experimenting on the children’s memory, but to what purpose, no one knows.

Together with her best friend Gor, Lolo embarks on a desperate search for her lost memories, and then her lost sister, who she is convinced is also somewhere near.

Hopefully this isn’t too spoilery, but I’m fascinated by the parallels you draw in Never Now Always between the nightmarish scenario Lolo finds herself in, and the idea of children being powerless in a world of adults. I’m also interested in your recurring themes of memory, time, and the power of stories. Were these themes you consciously set out to work with, or ones you found emerging as the story unfolded?

I think these themes have always been at the center of much of my work. I don’t know that I ever consciously set out to work with them, but they seem to be what preoccupies me, and they keep emerging again and again.

I know I am not one of those adults who thinks longingly of childhood or feels nostalgia for those days of “carefree innocence.” None of the hardships I’ve experienced as an adult can come close to the constant terror and dread of my childhood with an abusive parent: spending every waking moment trying to navigate a complex set of rules that can change at any time; never knowing when things will go wrong; never feeling safe, never knowing refuge, never having anywhere to hide. And always sensing vaguely that this isn’t right, this isn’t how things are supposed to be, but not really knowing anything else.

I guess, in that sense, Lolo’s predicament is an embarrassingly literal exploration of my own trauma. And those few beautiful and blissful memories she recalls mean so much to me, probably too much — an excavation or an echo of that pure and perfect childhood that could never really be.

(My brother just gave his therapist a copy of the novella with the instructions, “Read this, you’ll understand.” I’m not sure how that makes me feel.)

But anyway. Moving past that childhood and building a life that feels safe has been the greatest undertaking of my life so far, and “memory, time and the power of stories” — as you phrased it — feel central to that. And all the stories that feel most personal to me explore these ideas one way or another.

Up until now, you’ve primarily written and published short fiction. Is Never Now Always the first step in a new direction, perhaps a novelish direction, or is more a case of the story being the length it needs to be?

Heh. I’ve primarily published short fiction. I also have more than a dozen incomplete novels on my hard drive, which is my excuse for not being more prolific in the short fiction department. Idk. Writing a novel is hard.

But I hope Never Now Always is the first step in a new direction of actually publishing longer stuff.

The novel I’m working on now is Weird science fiction (with a touch of the mystical) about three young people in a cyberpunk-esque surveillance city, surrounded by an eco-apocalypse of unknown origins. I’m in the revising stage and hope to have a final draft this year.

Shifting gears a bit, how did It Came from the North come about? Were you working with translated fiction, Finnish work written in English, or both? What was your strategy in selecting works? Was there an overarching thesis, or did you take a ‘best of’ approach?

At the time I was a consulting editor for Cheeky Frawg, helping review submissions and pitching in on copyediting and proofreading, stuff like that. The Finnish anthology was a project that Ann and Jeff VanderMeer had been wanting to do for a while. They asked me if I was interested in serving as editor for the project and I said “Definitely!”.

At that point my main exposure to Finnish speculative fiction was through Leena Krohn, the utterly brilliant author of Tainaron (which I wrote about in Weird Fiction Review) and Datura (one of the Cheeky Frawg books I helped copyedit, which meant I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to read the English translation). Since then, Cheeky Frawg has released Leena Krohn: The Collected Fiction (2015), which includes several new English translations, and is a truly impressive volume.

Anyway, being new to Finnish speculative fiction, I dove into the project and read as much as I could. I read works that were originally written in English, as well as works in translation. I read previously published works, solicited additional work from a number of authors and also read original work in an open submissions period.

I don’t think there was an overarching thesis; I chose works that resonated with me, that I felt were memorable and vivid, that I connected with emotionally. At the same time, I did want to select stories that would come together as a coherent whole. What emerged was an aesthetic of weird, quirky and surreal stories with a strong emotional core.

By the way, It Came from the North includes an excerpt from Johanna Sinisalo’s Not Before Sundown (published under the title Troll: A Love Story in the U.S.), which I found a very engaging and immediately captivating entry to her work. But I also absolutely freaking adore her novel Birdbrain, which is so weird, disturbing and subtly terrifying. It’s really a masterful work and I want everyone to read it, too.

A question I like to ask my fellow Canadians is whether they feel there’s a national character to Canadian speculative fiction. After working on this anthology, do you think there’s a particular national character to Finnish speculative fiction? Are there certain themes, tropes, settings that you don’t see as often elsewhere, or that make a work particularly Finnish?

I hesitate to make any pronouncements on what makes a work particularly Finnish — such an insight is probably better left to one of the many amazing Finnish writers working today.

But one theme that did particularly emerge for me is the uncanniness of nature, how big and deep and fantastic and strange it really is. This idea that the weirdness of the natural world is in its own way kind of speculative and kind of magical. I think that really comes through in the Sinisalo novel I mentioned above, Birdbrain, where the landscape is both its own character and a reflection of the human characters, radiating tension and dread. And then on the other hand, Krohn’s Tainaron uses the framework of a city of insects to build this beautiful and powerful meditation on life and death, metamorphosis and transformation.

I would venture to say that this fascination and exploration of nature and what it means stems from the territory of Finland itself… a country that’s 3/4 forest, home to nearly 200,000 lakes, and positioned partly above the Arctic Circle, with extremely dark winters and extremely bright summers.

Incidentally, I will be visiting Finland for the first time this summer to attend WorldCon in Helsinki. I couldn’t be more excited. I hope to spend at least a couple days exploring nature too.

In general, one of my favorite questions to ask authors is about their non-writing related work. Authors are notorious for working strange jobs, for example J.D. Salinger’s stint as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

This is a wonderful question. I regret to admit, though, that I’ve worked very few unlikely jobs. In high school and college, I worked as a restaurant hostess, a library worker and then an administrative assistant.

My first real job out of college was as a copywriter at an allergy products company. I wrote lengthy and enthusiastic reviews of allergy-proof bedding, air purifiers, vacuum cleaners. I have forgotten more about the dust mite than most people will ever know. It was a strange time.

But honestly my most formative job was as a fledgling freelance copywriter in the heady days of 2006-2008. Because I was a baby freelancer and my whole portfolio was basically glowing copy about allergy products, I spent some time taking whatever work I could get, little one-off projects, through those online find-a-freelancer sites. The economy was so different then; looking back it feels like they were pretty much just giving away money. And everyone seemed to have some kind of get-rich-quick scheme, some internet side-hustle, some scam they were running.

So those were the kind of projects I worked on (I had to eat). Churning out content for hypnotherapy and diet fads and dot.com ventures and pyramid schemes. (So many pyramid schemes.) I was very young then and my perspective was limited but I could feel it, that something was coming. There was this sense of living on borrowed money, borrowed time. Everyone was talking about how we could all will our deepest desires into being if we just believed hard enough. I formed this idea of America as a naive, exuberant, delusional place, distinctly fueled by our fantastical optimism.

I tried to write a novel about it, anchored by the characters I encountered through those freelance gigs, but the story was too big. It’s an idea I keep coming back to. But as more time passes the story just keeps getting bigger too.

I will write that novel one day, though. I promise.

What are you working on next? Anything else you want folks to know about or keep an eye on?

The big exciting news is that I’m collaborating on an illustrated nonfiction book with Jason Heller: Starships & Sorcerers: The Secret History of Science Fiction, which will be published by Abrams Books. This book will feature lots of beautiful imagery and tell the stories of unsung creators, forgotten tales, books and films that were imagined and never made, shows that were canceled too soon. It’s a very fun project and I’ll be talking a lot about it over the next year.

On the short fiction front, I have two stories forthcoming. “Here Comes the Flood” will be in the anthology 2084 from Unsung Stories. “Cargo” will be in the anthology Ride the Star Wind from Broken Eye Books.

And of course, there’s that novel I’m working on.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me, and for your thoughtful and interesting questions! It was a delight to talk about Finnish fiction again… and I hope I will see some of your readers in Helsinki this summer.

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An Interview with Curtis C. Chen

Kangaroo TooCurtis C. Chen was kind enough to drop by today to talk about his new novel, Kangaroo Too, the sequel to his Locus Awards Finalist novel Waypoint Kangaroo. To start things off, I’ll make introduction by shamelessly stealing from Curtis’ author bio…

Once a Silicon Valley software engineer, Curtis C. Chen now writes fiction and runs puzzle game near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo is a science fiction thriller about a superpowered spy facing his toughest mission yet: vacation. A sequel, Kangaroo Too, is forthcoming in 2017.

Welcome, Curtis, and congratulations on the publication of your second novel! Without giving too much away, can you give folks unfamiliar with the series a little taste of Kangaroo’s world?

Thanks, Alison! I imagine Kangaroo’s world as pretty much our current one, projected a couple of centuries forward. I’m not trying to predict the future at all; I just wanted interplanetary travel to be reliable and affordable for civilians in this world, because I’m a big space nerd and I would love to go touring around the Solar System, myself. There’s also other advanced technology, like Kangaroo’s bionic implants, but nothing always works perfectly, because engineering is hard.

There’s something very evocative about the title of your first novel. Waypoint Kangaroo seems like a combination of words begging for story, so I have to ask (only semi seriously) – which came first, the concept or the title? And on a more serious note, what did spark your desire to write a sci-fi spy thriller?

The title of the first book hasn’t changed since I came up with the basic plot. But before finding that specific story, I first came up with the superpower (the pocket) and then the character. Kangaroo became a spy because it seemed like a perfect job for someone who could smuggle anything anywhere, but I also made him a very atypical secret agent for comedy reasons. And the thriller aspect grew out of that, when I decided it would be funnier for Kangaroo to be dealing with more mundane problems in a science fictional world.

Keeping with the spy theme, across any medium – tv, movies, books, games, or even reality – do you have a favorite spy? Have you ever fantasized about being a spy yourself, and do you think you’d make a good one?

If I had to pick just one, it would be Tara Chace from Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country series. I’ve never actually wanted to be a spy, though I was fascinated by Cold War history and tradecraft when I was younger. (Related to that: the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC is full of fascinating stuff, and their “Operation Spy” interactive experience was the first time I encountered anything like an escape room. Highly recommended if you’re in the area.)

Switching gears a bit, since Waypoint Kangaroo is a finalist, do you plan on attending the Locus Awards this year? Or will you be wearing your Hawaiian shirt at home, eagerly awaiting the results? (I hear they’re mandatory.)

Yes, I’ll be at the Locus Awards! A friend is even custom-sewing me a Hawaiian shirt using a unique patterned fabric. I don’t expect to win either the First Novel award or the Hawaiian shirt contest, but I plan to have fun regardless.

Hopefully you will at least share pictures of said shirt far and wide! In addition to your two novels, you’ve also written quite a bit of short fiction. How hard was it to make the transition between the two for you? Do you have different processes for writing for one length versus the other?

I’ve been trying to write novels since the early 2000s, so it wasn’t so much a transition as finally figuring it out. For the longest time I was a pure “pantser,” depending on discovery writing to drive the first draft of any story, but at some point I realized I needed to work on structure. Looking at screenwriting turned out to be really good for that. In the 2010s I started outlining and breaking down my short fiction, and then I was able to apply those same skills to longer works. I’ve definitely moved toward the “plotter” end of the spectrum now.

Now to topic switch entirely, I want to ask about the Portland area, since you’re a resident. I have an image of Portland (mostly drawn from Portlandia, I’ll admit) of a quirky city that fosters creativity and is home to a lot of makers, artists, and musicians. Do you find that to be true? Do you have a favorite spot in the Portland area where you go to get inspired, or a favorite place you like to take people visiting for the first time?

Yeah, the first few seasons of Portlandia were pretty much a documentary. There are a lot of people here doing really interesting, independent creative work, and I’ve been able to get to know quite a few of them through local tech conferences, writing meetups, puzzling events, and the co-working space of which I’m a member. My wife and I always take visitors to see Powell’s Books, waterfalls and the Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge, and usually at least one of the local gardens (Rose, Rhododendron, Chinese, or Japanese).

Waypoint KangarooNow I want to visit Portland even more than I did before! Back to writing to wrap things up, now that Kangaroo Too is out in the world, what’s next for you? Any projects you’re working on you want folks to know about?

I’m working on a new standalone novel (not Kangaroo), some short fiction, and generally figuring out how to balance ongoing promotional stuff–especially travel–with writing. As a wise author once said, it’s part of the job, but it’s not the work. Hobby-wise, I help organize Puzzled Pint every month; that’s a free puzzling event that happens at bars in over forty cities around the world. Our July content theme is Game of Thrones, if that entices anyone to check us out: www.puzzledpint.com

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for the invitation!

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An Interview with Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new short story collection, Wicked Wonders, out now from Tachyon Publication. As always, I’ll start things off making introductions by shamelessly stealing from Ellen’s author bio…

ELLEN KLAGES is the author of two acclaimed historical novels: The Green Glass Sea, which won the Scott O’Dell Award, and the New Mexico Book Award; and White Sands, Red Menace, which won the California and New Mexico Book awards. Her story, “Basement Magic,” won a Nebula Award and  “Wakulla Springs,” co-authored with Andy Duncan, was nominated for the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards, and won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novella. Her most recent books are Passing Strange (tor.com, 2017), a queer/noir/pulp novella set in San Francisco in 1940; and Wicked Wonders (Tachyon, 2017), her second collection of short fiction. Ellen lives in San Francisco, in a small house full of strange and wondrous things.

Wicked WondersCongratulations on the publication of Wicked Wonders! Can you give readers a taste of the type of stories they’ll find in its pages?

It’s a stew. The stories are a mixture of straight out science fiction, fantasy, some mainstream, and one non-fiction piece. Most of the stories in the collection have one foot in the fantastic, and one in the mainstream world.

What was your process like for putting the collection together? Were you going for a certain theme or tone with the stories you selected, or any overarching thesis?

Wicked Wonders contains every short story I’ve written from the last ten years, with the exception of Wakulla Springs, co-written with Andy Duncan. In speaking with my editor for the collection, we decided since it was a two-author story, and almost twice as long as anything already in the book, it would be best left out. The collection does include one new story, which is the longest and the last in the book.

You’ve written novels, but much of your writing seems focused on short fiction. Do you have a preference for one form over another? How does your writing process differ between the two lengths?

I love short fiction, but I also love the novels I’ve written. I’ve written two novellas as well, which is a lovely length. Short fiction is my first love however. There’s an essay in Wicked Wonders which explains my writing process, and my frustration before I’d written any novels with constantly being asked “when are you going to write a novel”, as if it’s a natural progression from short fiction. My process for the two lengths is roughly the same, though a novel takes longer, but I treat each novel chapter like a short story.

Everyone’s writing process is different, and I wouldn’t recommend mine to anyone else. It’s messy, but in the end, the important thing is whether it works for readers. On the other side of that, if I’m not happy with a story, I assume no one else will be. If I’m happy with the result, I figure at least half of the readers will like it. With Wicked Wonders, almost every reviewer differs on their favorite story in the collection, which is a good thing. It means I ended up with a balanced collection, and something to appeal to everyone.

I wanted to ask about your novella, Passing Strange, which I adored. I love the way your home city of San Francisco is another character in the novella. What kind of research did you do to capture the history of the city and the feel of the 1940s? What drew you to setting the story in that particular era?

I started writing Passing Strange in 1977. I was just out of college, and I’d just moved to San Francisco. I was completely and totally smitten with the city and all its layers. It’s a romantic city, not in the lovey-dovey sense, but in the sense of old film noir movies. I originally wrote four scenes with Emily and Haskel on a typewriter, and I kept adding more over the years. I also did a lot of research in 1977, which I kept it all in a file folder and added to over the years. Then I did an additional four to five months of research in 2015 before I started writing the novella.

In order to capture a sense of the historic setting, I used a combination of things, including View Master images and old photographs of the World’s Fair, Google Maps to show me what it would look like sitting on the Greenwich Steps and looking toward Treasure Island, and library books. I also walked around in the present day locales and took photographs and compared them to the old images. Google is immensely useful for visualizing a setting, and for little details like knowing what the top song was in a particular year. If you do your research well as an author, it’s like giving your readers a backstage tour of history. Of course, as with most research, I only ended up using about 2% of what I gathered for Passing Strange.

To me, research is the most fun part of the writing process, but also the trickiest. I want people to feel like they’ve been to San Francisco in the 1940s without overwhelming them with details. Having a hard upper word limit on the novella helped me strike that balance. The original draft was about 46,000 words, which I winnowed down. As a result, I think Passing Strange is the best thing I’ve ever written. Everything is distilled down to its essence, and there’s nothing extraneous.

However, if people do want to know more about the world of the novella, Wicked Wonders contains two stories featuring the characters and settings of Passing Strange.

On a related note, San Francisco strikes me as the ideal setting for speculative story telling. As a resident, are there any especially fantastical elements to the city that inspire you? Overall, do have favorite places to visit to recharge your writing batteries, or places you’d recommend to first time visitors?

I don’t think there’s anything that’s not fantastical about San Francisco! I love looking out my window at the old buildings and the landscape. I grew up in Ohio, which is very flat. In San Francisco, everywhere you go there’s a view of the water, or the sky, or colorful buildings. You don’t get views like that in flat cities. Also the food in San Francisco is really good. The first thing I like to do with visitors is find a good place to eat. Then I like to drive them around to things they wouldn’t see elsewhere, like a unique view of the ocean, or a little alleyway with one building that survived the great 1906 earthquake.

When my editor, Jonathan Strahan, visited San Francisco, I gave him the Passing Strange tour. Treasure Island is a naval base now, but I showed him where it was, and pointed out Haskel’s studio, and the house I based Franny’s house on. I even took him to the bakery to get raspberry rings. For those who can’t visit San Francisco in person, I put together a kind of virtual tour based on my research, which is available on YouTube.

A lot of my fiction, probably most of my fiction, involves real things and real places with my imaginary friends walking around in it.

One of my favorite questions to ask authors is about their non-writing related work. Authors are notorious for working strange jobs, for example J.D. Salinger’s stint as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I have a degree in Philosophy, so when I got out of college, I looked in the Want Ads under P, and there were no jobs in Philosophy. But I did manage a pinball arcade, worked as a proofreader, and as a painter. Most jobs I’ve had involved writing of some kind, including working for the Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art, and Human Perception. It was the best job I ever had, and it led to me writing three science books for kids. My boss at the Exploratorium also happened to be science fiction author Pat Murphy. When I was thirteen, I was certain I was going to be the youngest Pulitzer Prize winning novelist. That didn’t happen. In college, I wrote stories, sent them out, got rejected, and started to doubt myself, but Pat encouraged me to keep writing, and keep trying, and keep sending my stories out into the world.

Now that Wicked Wonders is out in the world, what’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you want folks to know about?

I’m currently working on a middle grade novel called Out of Left Field, which is set in 1957 and is about a girl who wants to play Little League. It’s an examination of the history of women in baseball, which is largely unknown to most people, outside of A League of Their Own. It’s due out in summer 2018. A few characters from Passing Strange and from my first novel, Green Glass Sea, make an appearance. I think it’s nice when all my imaginary friends know each other.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

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An Interview with Angela Slatter

Angela Slatter was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novel, Corpselight, the sequel to Vigil, which will be published this July. To get things started, I’ll make introductions by shamelessly stealing from Angela’s author bio…

Specialising in dark fantasy and horror, Angela Slatter is the author of The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, the Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Winter Children and Other Chilly Tales, A Feast of Sorrows: Stories and Black-Winged Angels, as well as Midnight and Moonshine and The Female Factory (both with Lisa L. Hannett). She has won a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, a Ditmar, and five Aurealis Awards, as well as being a finalist for the Norma K. Hemming Award.

CorpselightWelcome, Angela, and congratulations on the upcoming publication of Corpselight. For those who may not be familiar, and without giving too much away, what can you tell readers about Corpselight and the series as a whole?

Thanks for having me over! Corpselight is the second book in the Verity Fassbinder series, which is an urban fantasy trilogy set in Brisbane, Australia. It’s a mix of fantasy and crime and a bit of kitchen sink drama that follows the investigator for the Weyrd Council, Verity Fassbinder, who tries to keep the Normal and Weyrd worlds from clashing, assisted (sometimes ably, sometimes not so much) by her ex-Bela and her colleague Ziggy Hassman. Vigil introduced us to Verity and her life, battling garbage golems, rebel angels, a witch who made wine from the tears of children, arguing with grumpy sirens and an even grumpier police inspector, and generally eating a lot of cake.

In addition to your novels, you’re also a prolific short story writer, and you’ve written novellas as well. Do you have a different process for short fiction versus long fiction? Does one come more naturally to you, or are you equally comfortable with both?

The basic rule for short stories is: CUT BACK! The basic rule for novels is: ADD MORE WORDS! The basic rule for the novella is: JUST FIND A HAPPY MEDIUM!

Learning the difference between writing the three forms was a challenge. I started as a short story writer and I hone the editing skills needed to make something nice and short and tight. Then I started to work on novels and OMG there were so many more words required. So, my secret now is planning the structure, knowing what points I need to hit, so I work things out on a spreadsheet, and set minimum chapter word counts for novellas and novels – that helps keep me on track.

Short stories are a lot more free form for me, but I keep a basic three act structure in mind. The first draft is always ugly, ugly brain-vomit. The editing process is when I tidy things up and impose a more solid structure over the top. And yes, it does take a mindset readjustment every time I start a new project. Initially I’d have said the short story comes more naturally, but this far down the track I’m kind of used to both now.

On a somewhat related note, you’ve also co-written work with Lisa L. Hannett. What was the collaborative process like between you?

We’ve written a short story (“The February Dragon”), and two collections (“Midnight and Moonshine” and “The Female Factory”). At first we brainstorm what we think the story/collection is about, then we do some overall very loose plotting. When it comes to something like the collections, we generally start at the beginning (i.e. the first story) and if one of us has a particular spark of an idea, then she starts that story, writes until the brain is empty (generally a chunk of about 2000-2500 words), then sends it back to the other. Then that one reads and edits what’s there, then writes another chunk of new words, then sends it back; so it’s a process of back and forth, editing and new writing until the story is finished, then we go onto the next story in the collection. When all the stories are done, then we do a mega edit to check on overarching storylines, etc, to make sure everything is moving towards the same big story conclusion. By that time there’s basically voice that sounds like neither of us, but also both of us.

At this point in your career, you’re a multiple award winner and nominee, but do you remember how you learned about your first ever award nomination, and what you did to celebrate?

I *think* it was for “Dresses, Three” (Shimmer Art Issue, edited by Mary Robinette Kowal – Hello, Mary!). I suspect I was at work, and as I worked in the Creative Writing School at QUT, so I think my MA supervisor might have shouted it down the corridor. It was exciting, it was my first nomination and I’d only been publishing for a year, I think.

There’s a question I like to ask my fellow Canadian authors, but I’ll ask it to you as an Australian author. Do you think there’s a particular national flavor to Australia speculative fiction? A common set of themes, or a certain voice that makes something especially Australian? If so, do you think it has an influence on your own writing?

Well, as I co-write with a Canadian and can put away vast amounts of salmon, I’m given to understand I’m practically Canadian! Just joking, sorry, Canada – I’m just truly envious of your Prime Minister (I mean, seriously, have you seen ours???)

Wait, what was the question? I think the answer is yes and no – it depends on what you’re writing. I think if it’s dystopian spec-fic or urban fantasy, then yes, there’s a definite Australian flavour to it: if you’re reading anything by Cat Sparks or Thoraiya Dyer or Robert Hood or Sean Williams or Kaaron Warren (to name but a few), then you will absolutely notice something uniquely Australian about it (a lot of that stems from how much we use climate and landscape in our fiction, what with our box seat for the oncoming apocalypse). If you’re reading authors like Karen Miller or Karen Brooks or Sara Douglass or Rjurik Davidson, the epic-y fantasy writers, then it probably doesn’t come through quite as much because that kind of fantasy relies heavily on a faux medieval kind of feel – and we really didn’t have a Middle Ages in Oz.

You run your own interview series on your blog. Do you have a favorite question to ask authors, and if so, how would you answer it yourself?

I think the one that gets me in trouble most is telling people they have to choose only five books to take to a desert island. I would take: Jane Gaskell’s Atlan; Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master; Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice; John Connolly’s Dark Hollow; and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.

Personally, one of my favorite questions to ask authors is about their non-writing related work. Authors are notorious for working strange jobs, for example J.D. Salinger’s stint as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the most unusual job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

Oh, wow. I’ve been a full-time freelancer since 2011, and before then I worked at the Queensland Writers Centre for 3 years, and before that 3 years at the Creative Writing School, so I’ve kind of been in writing and publishing for a long while! My high school job was as a check-out chick at a supermarket, so I guess that taught me a lot about the creative ways people will try to shoplift – haven’t used that in a story yet!

Now that Corpselight is out in the world, what’s next for you? Is there anything in particular you have upcoming that you’d like folks to know about?

Corpselight! Then I’m working on the third and final Verity book. Then I’ll be working on turning The Briar Book of the Dead from a novella to a novel and selling it (it’s set in the world of the Sourdough and Bitterwood collections). Then I want to finish off the Scandalous Lady Detective novel. And then, and then, and then!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks so much for letting me come and play!

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An Interview with Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her new novella, River of Teeth, which is forthcoming from Tor. As always, I’ll start things off making introductions by shamelessly stealing from Sarah’s author bio…

Sarah Gailey is a Bay Area native and an unabashed bibliophile, living and working in beautiful Oakland, California. She enjoys painting, baking, vulgar embroidery, and writing stories about murder and monsters. Her fiction been published internationally; her most recent credits include Mothership Zeta, Fireside Fiction, the Colored Lens, and the Speculative Bookshop Anthology. Her nonfiction has been published by Mashable, Tor.com, and the Boston Globe. You can find links to her work at www.sarahgailey.com. She tweets about dogs and makes dad jokes @gaileyfrey.

Congratulations on the publication of your novella! Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about River of Teeth?

River of TeethRiver of Teeth is a the first book in a duology about hippos and the cowboys who love them. In River of Teeth, a team of hoppers (that’s the cowboys who ride hippos, if you weren’t aware) are hired by the federal government to rid the Mississippi River of an infestation of feral hippos. They’re up against a cold-blooded riverboat kingpin and a brace of bloodthirsty ferals who have developed a taste for human flesh.

Without giving away the plot, I can tell you about The Crew! Winslow Remington Houndstooth, The Brains, is a handsome Brit with a thirst for vengeance and an eye for lovely things (“things” ranging from clothes to knives to, ahem. Romantic conquests). Regina “Archie” Archambault, The Con, is a fat frenchwoman who is more than prepared to seduce your wallet right out of your pocket. Adelia Reyes, The Assassin, is a cool and collected woman who knows a thousand ways to kill a man and would like very much to use all of them on the next person who gets into her personal space. Hero Shackleby, The Tech, has come out of retirement for one last job, and they’re hoping that their explosives expertise and poisoning skills will make this gig run smoothly enough to sail them right back into retirement. Bringing up the rear is Calhoun Hotchkiss, the river rat — he knows the Mississippi like the back of his hand, but frankly, he’s in over his head.

I adore the idea of feral hippos in the Louisiana bayou, and the people who wrangle them – I have to ask, where did the seed of this fantastic concept originate?

This is a real thing that almost happened! In the early 1900’s, our country was going through a “meat crisis” — there wasn’t enough meat to feed our growing population. A guy named Robert Broussard proposed that we import hippos for meat: they’d eat the invasive water hyacinth that was choking off the Mississippi, we’d eat the hippos, everybody wins. (Well. Except the hippos. They don’t win). I knew that I wanted to write an ensemble cast — a heist-ish narrative — and the hippo plan was a perfect fit!

Given that this is alternate history, how much research did you have to do to make the world feel accurate? Is there anything you included that actually did happen that people are bound to think you made up? Are there any fun facts, historical or otherwise, that you learned but just couldn’t fit into the book?

I cheated a little bit with River of Teeth by pushing the whole narrative back by 50 years. I wanted to have cowboys riding my hippos, and I figured that if readers could deal with hippos in the waterways of the Mississippi, they could also handle cowboys.

That said, one of my favorite parts of writing River of Teeth was the research. I had to do a good amount of looking into types of knives and explosives that would have been used at that time. I think that readers will be skeptical of the explosives that are used in the book, but I can tell them with absolute certainty that they were around in the 1890’s!

I’d like to talk about Archie for a bit. She’s fat, and you were quite firm that she be shown as such, and not slimmed down or thin-washed for publication. Could you talk a bit about her, and why fat representation is important to you?

I will warn readers now: Archie is the best. Everyone who has read this book has got a crush on her, and you will too.

First, let me say: I have been so pleased with the amount of pushback I got from Tor.com on having a fat character in my book and on the book’s cover. That amount of pushback was absolutely zero. That said, going into conversations around publication, I was very explicit about having her on the cover as a fat woman.

My attitude toward Archie’s representation stems from the same place as my attitude toward the rest of the cast, which is diverse along several intersections. A lot of people who I know and love (and, obviously, a lot more people who I don’t know) have spoken publicly and privately about the pain and frustration that they feel when they see themselves misrepresented or unrepresented in stories and media. My friends who are fat frequently see themselves represented in harmful ways — or, they see themselves erased altogether. When I think of them reading my book, I don’t want them to read something that hurts them or makes them feel unseen. So, the answer to “why is X representation important to me” is really… I don’t want to harm people. While I’m not the right person to tell a story about what it’s like to be fat (or to experience any other oppression that’s not personally mine), I can put a fat character in my book, and I can sure as hell put in the time and effort to make sure her story isn’t a hurtful one.

Shifting gears a bit, I’d like to ask about your wonderful Women of Harry Potter series at Tor.com. Obviously you’re a fan, but how did the essay series come about? How do you feel about the movie depictions of your favorite female characters versus the way they’re written in the books? Are there nuances you feel my have been lost from page to screen, and conversely, were there any places you felt the movies improved upon the written work?

Oh man, that series was so much fun! I went in knowing that I wanted to write about women for Tor.com, and they specifically focus on SFF. I wrote the Hermione essay right after my Defense of Villainesses, and it felt so right to explore this character who I think often gets short shrift in the narrative of the book. I asked my editor how she would feel about me exploring some of the other women in the series, and she was totally on board. As I wrote the series, I started to understand some of what I think J.K. Rowling was trying to do with the female characters that she wrote. Many of them are fierce, courageous, and principled, and they have an enormous impact on the story. They fight for what’s right, and they fight against tyranny, and I think the movie depictions lose a lot, partly due to ~*Hollywood*~ and partly due to time constraints. For instance, I think that we lose out on Hermione’s awkward adolescence in the movies (largely because Emma Watson is just unrelentingly beautiful). Rowling makes a point of telling the reader over and over again that Hermione is not pretty, and furthermore, that she’s sometimes really bothered by that. I loved reading that, because so often we either get an ugly girl who is obsessed with becoming beautiful, or who doesn’t care about or notice her looks at all. Hermione, on the other hand, was written as a pretty well-fleshed-out adolescent girl who is unsatisfied with how she looks and occasionally makes attempts to change how she looks, but who isn’t constantly focused on her appearance.

Conversely, I think the movies did a much better job with Umbridge than the books did. Rowling has a lot of problematic narratives, and the fatphobic lens through which she wrote Umbridge is one of them. I think the films handled her characterization better than the books did, by making her evil unconnected to any physical characteristic, and by eliding the focus that Rowling placed on her body composition as a sign of her villainy.

Now that River of Teeth is out in the world, what’s next for you? Is there anything in particular you want folks to know about that you have upcoming or that you’re working on?

Right now I’m working on the sequel to River of Teeth, which is called Taste of Marrow. I can’t tell you much about it without spoiling the first book, but I can tell you this: there’s a kidnapping, some blood, a lot of fighting, several great outfits, and a lot of kissing. You won’t want to miss it.
Other stuff I’m working on: an unrelated novel which is not about hippos at all. Also, keep an eye on Tor.com for my upcoming essay series on iconic costumes of SFF!

Both of those sound fantastic. I can’t wait to read them. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Thank you so much for having me!

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An Interview with Merry Jones

Child's PlayMerry Jones was kind enough to join me today to talk about Child’s Play, the latest novel in her Elle Harrison thriller series. Before we get to the questions, I’ll kick things off with an introduction…

Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings mystery series, which includes Summer Session and Behind the Walls, and the Philadelphia-based Zoe Hayes series, which includes The Nanny Murders and The River Killings. Over the years, she has written a wide range of material in a variety of styles and for diverse media. In addition to her thrillers, she has written non-fiction, including Birthmothers, and the best-selling humor book I Love Him, But…, and has contributed articles to Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, and American Woman. Her books have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, French, German, Norwegian, Turkish, and Dutch.

Welcome, Merry! To start things off, could you talk a little bit about your latest book, Child’s Play?

Hi Alison, thanks for inviting me to be interviewed!

So, Child’s Play begins with a second grade teacher, our protagonist Elle Harrison, preparing for the first day of school. She finds out that a former student, Ty Evans, has turned twenty-one and been released from juvenile detention where he’d served eight years for killing his father. Almost immediately, people against whom Ty has had grudges begin to get murdered—starting with the school principal, whose disfigured corpse Elle finds on that first day back. Ty seeks Elle out and, before long, she is assaulted. As she recovers, she worries for her own safety and that of her colleagues, and she questions her assumptions about family, childhood, female friendships, justice and innocence.

Child’s Play is the third book in the Elle Harrison series, and you have two other thriller series with recurring characters. What appeals to you about writing series? Is there a long arc for your characters that spans their entire series, or do you tend to have complete arcs within each book that build on each other as the series progresses?

Writing a series is fun for lots of reasons. You build a readership who have their own relationships with the characters. And these readers have expectations which are fun to meet/surpass. Also, you get to know your characters better with each book, so writing another one is like spending time with old friends. And it’s comfortable to begin a novel with “givens” about the protagonist and some of the other characters, not to have to reinvent new people with each book.

The arcs, I think, do complete in each book, enough so that if you only read one, you’re fine. But they also span the entire series in that the characters’ lives change and develop across titles. A divorcee might remarry, or a married person get divorced. A child might be born. A father might die. The characters’ arcs proceed through life after they survive the arcs of the individual books.

Crime and thriller novels often require authors to know grisly details about the ways people can die, what happens to their bodies after death, and how crimes are solved. How do you go about your research? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to look up, or ask an expert? What’s the oddest or most unexpected thing you’ve learned while doing research? Do you ever get concerned looks from people while doing research, or when letting slip an obscure fact at a cocktail party?

I love this question. The concerned looks do happen. For example, I was in a bar with a friend, talking about a book-in-progress. “That effing rapist! I’m glad you killed him. He deserved to die.”

You can imagine the people in the next booth, overhearing this. So, yes, people do get uneasy with talk about murders and mayhem, but so far no one has called the police.

Research, though not always about cadavers and murder, provides some of the best fun of writing. In the course of a dozen suspense novels, I’ve had to learn about pre-Colombian religion, human trafficking, art smuggling, brain damage, sleep disorders, military secrets, Bible prophecy. Also about the juvenile detention system. Elective plastic surgery. Narcissistic personality disorder. Survivalists. I do a lot of research online, for sure. But I also interview experts like police detectives, surgeons, soldiers, prison guards. And I travel to relevant locations, for example, a sleep clinic, a museum, a national park, a funeral home. Getting details right is essential.

As to what I’ve learned during all this research, the list is long—Each book brings more information. Facts about rigor mortis, about how long it takes for bodies to start smelling. About the lack of an antidote for the puffer fish poison, and about its symptoms (which include sweating, hallucinations, a sense of flying, and horrible pain.) About the phase of sleep in which people are paralyzed but conscious, able to hear and see but not move or speak. I can list more examples, but you get the idea.

The research is important, but to me, the real terror in thrillers comes not from poisons or sleep paralysis or weapons of death, but from the characters who happily employ them.

A simple steak knife, for example, can be horrifying in the hands of a cheerfully sociopathic pre-teen. The tension and suspense about what she might do with that knife is far scarier than showing the hilt protruding from a victim’s chest.

Switching gears slightly, you’re a member of a group called the Liar’s Club in Philadelphia. Could you talk a bit about the group, how it came to be, and the work you and your fellow authors do to support those who are just starting their writing careers?

Sure, though this is my point of view, not an official mission statement. Loosely, Liars Club is an organization of writers of all genres who are committed to building and supporting their writing community. It was started by two Philly writers, Jonathan Maberry and Greg Frost, in a bar about a decade ago. Since then, we’ve spent a lot more time in bars, but we’ve also accomplished a number of projects, including touring and signing at Indie book stores, publishing an anthology, and holding monthly free Writers Coffeehouses to which anyone—new writers, longtime writers, or anyone else interested in writing–can come and talk about the business and craft of writing while bonding over coffee. Liars Club is growing, having already spread to several cities including San Diego, where Jonathan now lives. Philly Liars Club hopes to increase its impact, so we’re planning a podcast, workshops and other projects. It’s a group with great heart, and I’m proud to be part of it.

On a somewhat related note, there are quite a few authors in the Philadelphia area. Do you think there’s something particular about Philadelphia that draws creative types? Do you have a favorite spot in Philadelphia where you go to recharge your creative brain, or gather inspiration?

Honestly, I think there are creative people everywhere. Writers find stories no matter where we are. We can’t escape them. So, no, I don’t think Philadelphia in particular draws creative types. It has a lot of them, but so do other big cities.

When I want to recharge, I don’t have a particular place to go. I simply break my patterns for a while. Change my rhythm. I might travel, might not. Might clean the house. Might stop writing for a week or two. There’s no particular place or activity involved. It’s more about slowing down, letting go, changing perspective. Letting my mind breathe.

In addition to being a phenomenal and prolific author, you’re also a rower. Does rowing ever help you solve snarled plot points, or is it what you do when you need to completely get away from writing for a while? How did you get into rowing, and do you compete, or row just for fun?

Rowing, yes, is what I do to get away from writing and life. While I row I rarely think of anything but rowing—the condition of the water, the motion of the boat, the position of my oars, the fluidity of my strokes. What rowing might do is realign my brain so I can look at my work refreshed. But it doesn’t necessarily help me untangle plots.

As to how I started: It was eighteen years ago, when a community rowing program offered free lessons on the Schuylkill. My older daughter was then 12, and we signed up together. We both loved it and have been rowing ever since. I’m a member of Vesper Boat Club, but I race only rarely—most recently this fall with my daughter in a double. Mostly I row for the joy of being on the river. In fact, when my husband and I travel, we try to connect with local rowing clubs, so we’ve skulled on a bunch of rivers.

To finish things off, what are you working on next, now that Child’s Play is out? Are there any other projects in particular you want people to know about?

I think for writers, the next book is the most important one. I’m heavy into one but let’s talk about it when it’s finished. Not that I’m superstitious. Just that talking about it is bad luck.

Totally understandable! Thank you for joining me!

Thank you, Alison. This was fun!

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