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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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Summer Book Love 2016

Summer is upon us. With the exception of the occasional minor drop in temperature, the days are full of warm weather and sunshine, at least in these parts. Since it stays light so much longer, there are extra hours to sit outside and read. Whether you’re on a porch swing, sipping a cool drink while the bees bumble lazily by, or stretched out on a beach towel listening to the surf crash, summer is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Of course, to be fair, any season is a glorious time to get lost in a book. Anyway, regardless of season, here are a few recent books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and perhaps you might enjoy them, too.

Kraken SeaSince 2004, E. Catherine Tobler has been spinning incredible tales of Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. Now, with The Kraken Sea, published by Apex Books, readers can go back to the beginning and see where it all began. As an infant, Jackson was left in a daffodil box at the steps of an orphanage. As a young man, he boards a train, bound for Chicago and a new life, along with several other orphans. Jackson isn’t like the other children, however. There’s something inside him, something terrible and powerful and wonderful. He struggles to keep it hidden, but sometimes he can’t help himself. He unfolds, and scales and tentacles burst forth from human skin. As he struggles to control his nature, Jackson is thrust into his new life as an errand boy at Macquarie’s  working for Cressida, an imposing woman who runs a good portion of the town. There are shadows at Macquarie’s, things Jackson may or may not be meant to see, and questions he certainly shouldn’t ask. He’s mean to do his job, keep his head down, and stay out of the neighboring territory run by the Bell family. Of course, he does none of those things, particularly after he meets Mae, the youngest of the Bell children, a lion tamer in a burlesque show that is at once fantastic, terrifying, and brutal. Jackson finds himself drawn deeper into the intrigue between the rivals who run the city, and the darkness that runs under it. Like Jackson himself, there are things hidden beneath the city’s skin, waiting to burst free, and nothing is what it seems. The Kraken Sea is a gorgeous novel, alive with sensory detail, and imagery that will steal your breath away. There is darkness under every glittering surface, but a darkness that begs to be explored. While the Kraken Sea stands alone, it hints at a larger world, at Jackson’s future, and the many dimensions of his character and his story. It’s a novel about love and family, loss and pain, and finding a place in the world. And, of course, binding everything, Tobler offers up the first tantalizing glimpses of her circus, calling you to run away and partake of its wonders.

Spells of Blood and KinI first encountered Claire Humphrey’s Spells of Blood and Kin by hearing her read an excerpt at Readercon, and I was immediately hooked. Spells of Blood and Kin is a werewolf novel, except it isn’t at all, and it’s so much more. The word werewolf is never once mentioned, leaving room for everything else Humphrey weaves into the story. There’s Russian folklore, magic, and witches, but in its deepest heart of hearts, it’s a story about family – the one you find, the one you make, and the one you’re born into. As the story opens, Lissa is dealing with the sudden death of her grandmother. Lissa’s grandmother provided spells, cures, and healing for the local Russian community, and now Lissa must take on her role, while trying to maintain the semblance of a normal life and not let anyone know she’s a witch. This complicated by her stepsister, Julia, showing up out of the blue, determined to help Lissa because family – no matter how distant – needs to stick together. Even further complicating things, a man named Maksim comes to Lissa, claiming her grandmother knew him and owed him a debt. He says he is kin, but explains very little other than that he needs very powerful magic to control a dark and violent aspect of himself that her grandmother’s magic helped keep dormant. The their stories run in parallel  – Lissa working to find a magic strong enough to put the wolf in Maksim back to sleep, while Maksim works to track down, tame, and train Nick, a young man he bit and accidentally turned – and of course, they eventually collide. As the title implies, the themes of kinship and blood echo throughout the novel. In Maksim’s case, family is those with whom he shares the horror of an existence tied to violence and pain. Before accidentally turned Nick, he purposely turned Gus, a young woman who would have died without his his intervention. They are pack, a family, dealing with their violent nature by turning their brutality against each other, rather than hurting someone they could actually break. Rather than romanticizing the animal nature of the kin, in Maksim Humphrey gives us a character who is truly haunted by his past actions, physically pained by his drive to hurt others, and desperate to shed that part of himself. In fact, all the characters in Spells of Blood and Kin have aspects of themselves they would rather keep hidden, from what they see as necessity, but they must learn to trust each other – something which is not easy for any of them. Humphrey flips several tropes in her characterization, which is another of the novel’s strengths. Despite her role as a healer, Lissa is one of the most closed off characters. Instead of being nurturing and drawn to others, she does her best to isolate herself. Maksim, a former soldier and a boxer, wants nothing more than to shed the violence of his past, while Gus embraces the freedom that comes with being kin. She tempers it with alcohol and fighting, she knows her limits and how to exercise self-control, but she has no interest in denying or burying the animal part of her. Nick starts as seemingly harmless, a slacker, but once he’s bitten he embraces the wrong parts of being kin. He tries to control those around him using his new superior strength. His life before being bitten was stagnant; as change is forced upon him, and he uses that change to try to resist the larger forward progress of his life so he never has to grow up and start acting like a responsible adult. Overall, Spells of Blood and Kin is a fantastic novel. It’s also Humphrey’s debut, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Sword and StarSword and Star is the third and final book in Sunny Moraine’s Root Code trilogy. I’ve raved about the others – Line and Orbit, Fall and Rising, and the related-yet-stand-alone book, Labyrinthian – in various places before. Sword and Star is no exception. In addition to be a satisfying wrap-up to the series, the final book in the trilogy builds on the first two in a way that expands the universe in which they’re written. Everything feels bigger in Sword and Star – the stakes are higher, the world larger, and every decision carries more weight. Taken together, the three books can be compared to a single camera shot, continuously pulling back so more and more of the world fills the frame. Line and Orbit was a fairly personal story, focused primarily on Adam and Lochlan, their budding relationship, and the immediate danger to both their lives. Fall and Rising broadened the focus, showing the way Adam and Lochlan’s decisions in the first book impacted those around them, their friends and loved ones, as well as people they barely knew, but who they would come to call allies. Fall and Rising also deepened and matured Lochlan and Adam’s relationship, taking it from the heat of battle and passion to a more complicated and contemplative level as they learned to live with each other, and learned who each of them were alone and together, in battle and outside of it. Now, in Sword and Star, the camera is zoomed all the way out, showing the larger consequences of the actions begun in Line and Orbit as they ripple across the galaxy to touch alien planets, shake the foundation of the government back on earth, and threaten to tear the fleet apart. Lochlan and Adam’s relationship has expanded as well, encompassing the possibility of loss in a new way as they both change and grow, and deal with their own pain and challenges. The emphasis is less on the immediacy of sex and romance, and more on the consequences of love, how it makes people vulnerable and stronger all at the same time. This idea is echoed in multiple relationships across the novel – Kae and Leila, Rachel and Aarons, Kyle and Eva. Friendships are tested, limits are pushed, and worlds both personal and all-encompassing hang in the balance. As usual, it’s all wrapped in Moraine’s gorgeous prose, and while I’m sad to see this series ending, I can’t wait to see what they move onto next.

All the Birds in the Sky
All the Birds in the Skyby Charlie Jane Anders perfectly captures what it’s like to be an awkward kid precisely at the age when everyone is doing their best to fit in, be liked, and present some kind of face to the world that will allow them to be accepted. Patricia is a witch who discovered her power at a young age after rescuing a bird and hearing it talk. Laurence is a computer and science whiz who followed schematics he found online to build a two-second time machine. Both of these incidents early in their lives set them on paths that will having far-reaching consequences for their own futures, and the future of humanity as a whole. Patricia and Laurence are special, and that sets them apart, but as is often the case, their specialness sets them too far apart. Laurence’s parents want him to keep his head down, not rock the boat, and be normal. Patricia’s parents think she’s a little hooligan. None of the other kids at school like them, and by the time they reach middle school, this social ostricization throws them together and they become friends. Anders perfectly captures the cruelty of kids towards each other, and the vicious things they’ll do to those they perceive as weak in order to secure their own status in the pack. However it isn’t just kids who are cruel in Anders’ world; adults are willfully clueless, if not outright hostile at times, further isolating Patricia and Laurence. The story resists the usual chosen one narrative. While Patricia does get accepted into a magical school, the invitation only comes after weeks of being tormented on all sides, and by accepting the invitation, she essentially has to cut all ties with her family. For all this though, All the Birds in the Sky isn’t a bleak novel. The future is laced with hope to counterbalance the despair. After middle school, Laurence and Patricia find their way back into each others’ lives as adults. Patricia is struggling with her powers, constantly being told by the other witches around her to avoid Aggrandizing herself, overreaching her powers and causing something terrible to happen. Laurence is working for a billionaire, building secret super science projects and trying to access other dimensions. At the same time, he’s struggling to maintain a budding relationship with his new girlfriend who he’s terrified of losing. Anders repeatedly teases the possibility of several catastrophic outcomes from either Laurence or Patricia’s particular talents. There are world-changing events in the offing, apocalyptic even, but even as these events come to the fore, the story never loses sight of the characters. It’s the little moments of interaction, and the humor Anders laces throughout, that make the novel shine. Patricia and Laurence aren’t always kind to each other. Their relationship is complex, and it evolves over time, and it feels all the more real and human because of it. Anders manages to balance charm, quirkiness, and dark moments as deftly as she blends the magic and science within the book so none of it ever feels out of place. All the Birds in the Sky is a kind of tapestry, one woven from wool and silk, hemp and ribbon, artificial intelligence and spells, feathers and electrical wires. Taken separately, the elements seem like they’ll never form a picture, but when you step back, the result is glorious. It’s a fun book, but one full of genuine emotion as well. As with Humphrey, this is Anders’ debut novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Spring Book Love 2016

Here we are. It’s already spring somehow, although the weather seems somewhat confused about just what that means at the moment. Can you blame it? Didn’t the year just start? Time is flying, and unlike last year, I haven’t been quite as good at keeping up with recent publications. However, I have managed to read a few things published in 2016 thus far. I really dug them, and I think you might too, so please allow me to gush about them in your general direction.

Honey MummyThe Honey Mummy by E. Catherine Tobler is either the third or the fourth book in the most excellent Folley & Mallory series, depending on how you’re counting. I want to say this is my favorite in the series thus far, but they’re all brilliant, and it doesn’t seem fair to play favorites. This book sees Eleanor Folley and Virgil Mallory return to Egypt, along with Cleo and Auberon, to unravel the mystery of a whole new set of rings. The story kicks off with a break in at Mistral, the secretive agency where Folley, Mallory, Cleo, and Auberon work. A fire in the archives at first appears to be cover for a theft, but Eleanor quickly discovers something has been left behind rather than taken. A ring, to be precise, left exactly where she will find it, made of strange material she can’t quite identify. It’s enough to intrigue her, as is an invitation to an auction taking place in Alexandria, Egypt. As with any proper adventure, things do not go as planned. The group from Mistral soon find themselves faced with a theatrical and slightly unhinged collector, a sarcophagus full of honey, a member of an elite ancient order sworn protector Egypt, and that’s just the beginning of their troubles. The discovery of the sarcophagus brings up a host of memories for Cleo, just as she was beginning to come to terms with the loss of her arms during an archaeological dig two years ago. The doctors believe that the only thing that saved her then was honey, mysteriously present in the collapsed tomb as it is in the sarcophagus here and now. As Cleo’s past and present collide, the psychological wounds of her trauma prove to be as raw as ever. The Honey Mummy is as much her story as Eleanor and Virgil’s. History is a major theme throughout the novel –  the ancient sort, the personal kind, and the intersection between the two. Tobler deftly weaves the story’s threads, the larger mysteries of the plot informing and strengthening the characters as individuals and as they relate to each other as the story unfolds. Time is cyclical here, echoing the first books in the series, and the physical circularity of the rings themselves. Past and present bleed into each other, and Tobler explores the consequences of that, along with the weight of power, and the potential horror true magic can hold. History and mythology flow into each other and, as always, the whole story is soaked in gorgeous sensory detail and haunting imagery. On top of all that, it’s a kissing book, and an adventure book; a book with dastardly villainy, and tender moments. It’s  a joy spending time with these characters and watching them grow, and I can’t wait for their next adventure!

DatesDates! An Anthology of Queer Historical Fiction is just what it says on the label – a comics/graphic anthology of queer historical fiction. This is a project that first caught my eye on Kickstarter. The cover alone was enough to make me rush to back it, and the spirit in which the anthology was assembled only made it better. In their introduction to the anthology, editors Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra state their mission for the collection – to gather queer stories from across time and around the world, with one important rule: they couldn’t be queer tragedy. They had to show queer people living happy lives, having adventures, and being active players in their own stories. The pieces in the anthology more than deliver, though most of them fall more into the realm of vignette or slice of life than full story. Proving the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, the art speaks volumes and is worth the price of admission alone. There are a wide range of styles on offer here, from whimsical to art-deco and everything in-between. This type of project is important and worth supporting. We need more happy queer stories, and stories where queer folks are front and center, living their own lives rather than sidelined, killed off, or erased. As another bonus, according to their bios, most of the creators are young artists and writers at the beginning of their careers, which is another thing worth supporting and celebrating. Dates! is definitely an anthology worth getting your hands on.

Paper TigersPaper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is a novel about healing, about feeling broken, and what people will do to feel whole again. Years ago, Alison was caught in a terrible fire. Roughly half her body is covered in scars. She lost an eye, two fingers, and sees a physiotherapist regularly to manage her pain. She rarely goes out, and when she does, it’s at night, when no one else is around. She covers herself with a scarf and glasses, and hardly speaks to anyone except her doctors and her mother, and even then, they are the ones to initiate the conversation. However, on one of her nighttime walks, Alison happens on an antique shop that keeps hours as odd as hers, and is drawn in by a photo album in the window. She purchases the album and quickly discovers an entire world within its pages – a house she can literally visit, populated by ghosts who seem real. While she’s in the album, and for a brief time after she emerges, she’s whole. The healing doesn’t last, and her scars return, but Alison ventures into the album again and again, despite the feeling that something is terribly wrong. The album’s primary ghost, George, gives off an air of malevolence, and in the real world, she’s wasting away, neglecting to eat, and wanting nothing but to sleep. Paper Tigers could easily have been a straightforward story – hapless character finds a spooky item in a mysterious antique shop and bad things happen, but it’s so much more. The idea of a haunted photo album is a fascinating concept on its own, but on top of that, there are the hauntings within hauntings, in multiple senses of the word. The character of Alison takes the book beyond a straightforward ghost story. Her pain is real, the trauma she’s suffered coloring her entire life. Her desire to feel normal is palpable, and it makes her need for the world inside the album completely understandable. Walters doesn’t succumb to an easy, hand-waving solution where magic makes everything better. This isn’t a ‘cure narrative’, but it is one of acceptance as Alison moves toward an understanding that there are different ways to be whole. The ghosts are presented both as a genuine haunting, and a kind of addiction. Alison goes through withdrawal, she fights, she backslides. Nothing is easy or pat, and the book is stronger for it. There is some genuinely creepy imagery here, as is often found in Walters’ work, along with a thoughtful examination of pain, recovery, acceptance, and the stages of grief.

FurnaceFurnace is Livia Llewellyn’s second collection, and it is every bit as dark and weird as her first (Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, which I also highly, highly recommend). A sense of cosmic horror underlies Llewellyn’s tales, even when they aren’t overtly Lovecraftian. They capture the spirit of the Weird in the classic sense, and update it, injecting overt sexuality and horror in new ways. For example, In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982, a story original to the collection, hearkens back Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows with the idea of nature as a malevolent force. Unlike Blackwood, however, Llewellyn’s vision of nature isn’t a passive, lurking horror, but an active one, one her characters can either choose to embrace (literally) or refuse. There is an erotic edge to many of the tales, and like her first collection, desire plays dangerously close to the edge of pain and terror, often slipping over that edge. Love and want are kinds of violence, after all, with the power to tear people inside out. There is a dream-like (nightmare-like) quality to many of the stories. Haunting imagery flows throughout the collection, carrying the reader along with its power, making them willing to accept things that would be irrational in the real world, but perfectly logical in the world of the tales. Women buzz like lawn mowers, and sisters swap body parts to merge into one terrible and beautiful creature. Massive spiders occupy the penthouse floors of an impossibly tall apartment building. The subway system is a living, wanting thing. Giants rise out of the ocean and birth horrors upon the world. Many of the stories in the collection were new to me, but even in those I had read before I found myself discovering new things – previously hiddden sharp angles ready to draw blood and strange mirrors displaying warped visions of the world. It’s an incredibly strong collection, and if you’re a fan of weird fiction, horror, erotica, or just damn good stories, it’s one you should definitely read.

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Coming Attractions 2: Still Attracted

Or should that be Coming Attractions 2: The Re-Attractioning? I don’t know what the hip kids say these days…

Anyhoo. Back in December, I wrote a post highlighting several 2015 releases I was anticipating. A few of them have come out, and I promptly devoured and adored them  (hi, Signal to Noise, hi, Karen Memory). A few I am still eagerly anticipating (hi, Updraft, hi, Against a Brightening Sky, why aren’t you out yet?!?). In the meantime, while I continue to eagerly await those releases, a whole new crop of books have found their way onto me radar. I’m excited about them, and you probably should be, too.

Exerpimental FilmExperimental Film by Gemma Files will officially come out December 3, 2015, and is currently available for pre-order. As a general rule, I’m a fan of Files’ work. As a general rule, I’m also a sucker for fiction about movies, in particular old movies, silent films, and/or obscure, mysterious pieces of cinema that may or may not actually exist. When you combine these – Files writing about film – it’s pure magic. each thing i show you is a piece of my death (co-written with Stephen J. Barringer), remains one of my favorite pieces of short fiction by Files, and is among my favorite short stories period. So a whole novel about early 20th century film, the uncovering of lost footage, and mysteriously a disappearing socialite/filmmaker? Sign me the fuck up! The subtle, creeping dread Files infuses throughout so much of her work is sure to be present here as Experimental Film also promises to be a ghost story. Needless to say (though I did kind of say it already), I’m very much looking forward to this one.

Inheritance of AshesAn Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet is due out in October, and is also currently available for pre-order. I have been looking forward to this book since July 2014 when I first heard Bobet read an excerpt at Readercon. I heard her read a second excerpt this year, and I’m certainly not waiting another whole year for the rest of it. Hints of Lovecraftian monstrosities against the backdrop of a Dust Bowl/Depression setting? Yes, please! The novel centers around two sisters struggling to survive and hold on to their family farm in the wake of a war against supernatural beings. There are twisty things; very bad bird-spider things that generally tend to flock, and were supposedly all wiped out when the dark god died, but things are rarely that clean and easy, are they? From the two excerpts I’ve heard, the voice in this novel is amazing, and the characters are ones I will happily follow on their journey. I’ll just be over here making vague grabby hands until the novel is released.

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Summer Book Love

Let’s leave aside that here in the Philadelphia region, as soon as the calendar flipped over to June, the temperature dropped and people went scrambling for their jackets. It is in fact summer. And summer is the time to head down the shore (as they say), and stretch out with a novel on the beach. It’s a time to climb into the branches of your favorite tree, curl up with a good book, and disappear. It’s a time to find a rare patch of shade, or cling desperately to the air conditioner and enjoy some good fiction. Are you sensing a theme? In order to help you find that perfect book to stretch out or curl up with, allow me to squee at you about some fiction I’ve loved recently. (Warning, spoilers ahead.)

GlassFalconLast year, Masque Books published the first two volumes of E. Catherine Tobler’s Folley & Mallory Adventures in a combined paperback book as The Rings of Anubis. Think of The Mummy (the one with Brendan Fraser), and good the Indiana Jones movies. The books are adventures serials the way they should be – mix in steampunk and Egyptian gods, mystery and shape-changers, tense fights, lush settings, and a dash of romance, and you have the Folley & Mallory series. And yes, it is a true series now, because Folley & Mallory are back in The Glass Falcon, an excellent novella follow-up to the first two books (or book, depending on how you’re counting). This time around, Horus is added to the mix, along with a museum heist, and a journey through the Paris catacombs. Amidst all the turmoil, Folley & Mallory  get the chance to deepen their relationship and explore what they mean to each other. At the same time, Eleanor Folley spends some time figuring out her new place in the world. She’s a Mistral Agent now, a daughter of Anubis, and a shape-changing jackal. Through her connection with Anubis, she can hear the dead, but does that mean she now has to be at the beck-and-call of every restless spirit, and answer every whim of the jackal-headed god who can pop in and out of her thoughts at will? As with the first two installments in the series, there’s a deep sense of place (summer travel, all for the price of a book!), and a healthy dose of adventure. I’m still hoping someone will make a movie out of this series. The way Tobler describes the action and settings, the world is ripe for film! In the meantime, I’ll content myself with eagerly await the next book, which, rumor has it, it due out later this year.

Maria Dahvana Headley’s Magonia is the perfect book to curl up in a tree with and temporarily hide from the world. magonia Because this is a book that will rip your heart out, show it to you, stitch it back into your chest upside down, and gladly have you asking to have it ripped out again by then end. If you’ve encountered Headley’s prose before, you know it’s brilliant. In Magonia, it drips with gorgeous imagery, and trips along with a beautiful rhythm. There’s a girl, Aza, and her best friend, Jason, and Aza is dying of a strange disease that no one has ever seen before. But there’s also a city in the sky and strange ships and pirates and a world that needs saving and living sails that are bats and birds that nest in hearts and lungs and songs that remake the world. Magonia does several things that strike me as brilliant. It resists the sainted dying character narrative that seems popular in a lot of fiction. Aza is dying, but she’s still human. She’s angry sometimes, and she’s goofy in her own way, and she’s flawed, and she’s just trying to live her own life the way she wants to while the clock ticks down. Magonia also flips the traditional portal fantasy narrative. When Aza is swept away to another world, her first thought isn’t ‘finally’, it’s ‘how the fuck do I get home’. Because her home life is good. She has a loving and supportive family, a best friend, a budding relationship, and the world she’s swept into is magical, yes, but no one tells her the truth and she doesn’t know who to trust. Finally, I appreciate that Magonia doesn’t offer the reader a giant reset button. The world grows. It changes. As mentioned, the novel rips your heart out more than one, but it does it with a purpose – the changes that happen to the characters stick. The world is upended, and no one gets to go back to pretending that everything is fine, waving away all that magic and trauma. It’s real. Magonia closes with an ending that isn’t an ending, a story that extends beyond the page, but it is still completely satisfying whether there’s a sequel or not. Go read it. Just do that. Then we can talk.

NimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson started life as a webcomic, and was published as a trade paperback in May 2015. It’s dedicated to ‘all the girl monsters’, which just about tells you everything you need to know and why you need to read it. Well, maybe not everything. The story concerns a young shapeshifter, Nimona, who convinces the local villain to take her on as a sidekick. The story plays with high fantasy tropes, superhero tropes, mad scientist tropes, and subtly flips them on their heads. Archetypes are gently unfolded as the story goes along, revealing deeper characters. Nimona is an unreliable main character, but also a completely irresistible one. Like Aza in Magonia, she is flawed and human. Like Aza in Magonia, she is more than human. Nimona is destructive, and angry, but still a hero. You can’t help but get wrapped up in her story. Relationships lie at the heart of the tale – the relationship between villain and sidekick, villain and hero, citizens and government. On a more philosophical level, the relationships between self-perception and outside perception, and both of those perceptions versus who you want to be are also explored. The art is simple, but highly evocative. A point worth noting, since it’s unfortunately rare in mainstream comics, is Nimona’s appearance. Her head is dyed and mostly shaved, her body is pierced, and normally proportioned. As a shapeshifter, she could look like anything, but she chooses to look like an average human, rather than an idealized specimen. The story is cheeky and self-aware, keeping it from being obnoxious or checking off boxes in its trope flipping. Summer or otherwise, it is well worth reading.

There you have it, three fantastic reads for all your beach, tree, and air-conditioned sanctuary needs. I suspect I’ll be squeeing about more new books in the fall, and in the winter. I already have my eye on a few anticipated reads, and I expect to stumble across more that I didn’t know I needed in my life, but will fall in love with immediate. To that end – what else has come out recently that I should be reading? What’s coming out in the second half of the year that you’re thrilled about and that I should add to my anticipated reads list? There’s always room for more on my tottering to be read piles…

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Watermark Sneak Preview

WatermarkE. Catherine Tobler’s new novel, Watermark, was officially released today. It’s a faerie story, the best kind, the dark kind, about goblins and kelpies and the unseelie court. To help celebrate her book-birthday, the author has kindly shared a sneak preview, and she’s even giving away a copy. Enjoy this exclusive sneak preview…

I joined Finn in the circle as he tore off small chunks of bread. He set one piece atop a mushroom and the cap turned itself inside out as the mushroom consumed the bread. A small sigh echoed through the chamber, even above the roar of the water. The other mushrooms leaned in, closer to Finn, the bread, and me.

I tore off a bite of bread and followed Finn’s actions, but was too slow. The mushroom sucked the bread down, but also caught the tips of my fingers. It suckled briefly then pulled away with another satisfied smack.

“They won’t hurt you,” Finn said. “They know you. You’re kin.”

I didn’t fear them, not even when I realized the mushrooms were growing to enclose us in a living, hungry cage. I fed those mouths more bread and stared as the mushrooms stretched over Finn’s back, caps and stems slithering across his shoulders. At the cold caress of rippling gills against my cheek, I reached for Finn. There was fear then.

“Breathe,” he said, and the world winked out.

My slick fingers slid against Finn’s arm and there came an answering squeeze from him. But his hand was not his hand at all, for his fingers were being swallowed by… Coffee? Ink? Oil? The fingers gleamed for a moment, then pressed firm into the hollow of my elbow. He held tight to me, even if I didn’t understand what I could both see and not see in the same instant.

When the world resolved itself, we were somewhere else. I could hear the pounding waterfalls, but that cavern was far distant. A quiet wood spread around us, grass rising in aquamarine spikes. I knew grass was not that color and as I watched, the color bled out of it until the grass hummed with a green color that remained unearthly.

But this wasn’t Earth.

And Finn wasn’t Finn.

Now that you’ve had a taste of the deliciousness in store, head over to the author’s webpage for a chance to win a copy. Or go straight to the source and pick up your very own copy at Masque Books!

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An Interview with E. Catherine Tobler

Gold and Glass
Hello and welcome! E. Catherine Tobler was kind enough to drop by to talk about, among other things, her new novel, which is available today(!). If you happen not to be familiar with Ms. Tobler, tsk tsk, but allow me to introduce you.

E. Catherine Tobler was born on the other side of the International Dateline, which either gives her an extra day in her life or an extraordinary affinity when it comes to inter-dimensional gateways. She is the senior editor of Shimmer Magazine and lives in Colorado, which has a distinct lack of inter-dimensional gateways, but an abundance of mountains, which may prove mad indeed. Her first novel, Gold & Glass: Rings of Anubis Book One will be published by Masque Books in July 2013.

As if you needed further proof of Ms. Tobler’s fabulousness, she even wants you to win things! Beautiful, mysterious, and wonderful things. The kind of things one can only find at the end of a treasure hunt. Click on the link to find out more.

And now, without further delay, I present E. Catherine Tobler…

Thank you for being here! First, congratulations on being a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Award for your wonderful story (To See Each Other) Whole Against the Sky. Where were you when you found out, and what did you do to celebrate?

The entire notion of being a Sturgeon finalist remains baffling and surprising and humbling! I was on Twitter when I found out, oddly enough, because Christie Yant posted “congratulations!” to me, and I had no idea what I had done to merit such. When I asked her, she said it appeared I was a Sturgeon finalist. I looked up the list on Locus and that’s when I fell over. Of course there was a cupcake to celebrate, chocolate with raspberry buttercream. Not homemade, alas, the cake was a little dry.

Social media is a wonderful thing. I often wondered whether authors ever found out about their award nominations there first. Now I know. Onto the second round of congratulations… Congratulations on the publication of your first novel! Could you tell us a little bit about Gold & Glass?

I predict the muse would like you to know Gold & Glass is an opium-drenched adventure that spans the steam-fogged skies from almost-turn-of-the-century Paris to Cairo and back again, parchment airships bearing howling wolves hither and yon, while ancient Egyptian gods survey every mortal folly with a sterling snarl! The muse would not be incorrect. It is a story about acceptance, redemption, and letting the past go even as you try to preserve it (ah, contradictions!).

What was your process like for writing Gold & Glass versus writing short stories?

Gold & Glass was a much slower process than working with short stories. A novel obviously gives you more room to sprawl out, to really get inside your characters and your setting and break each apart as needed. Other than speed, the process wasn’t too terribly different: open notebook, write something down, cross it out, write something else down, cross it out, ad infinitum. I find that every story is a puzzle.

Beyond writing beautifully lyrical stories that make me want to weep with envy, you also have a talent for coming up with incredible titles to go with said stories (not that I’m jealous). Do you usually write your stories first, then come up with a title to match, or come up with a perfect title, then eventually find a story to go with it, or some combination of the above?

Every work is also unique. Sometimes, I have the title in hand and have to wait for the proper story to show up. Lately, on the last handful of short stories I’ve written, the title has been last to come. Sometimes they come from a line in the story, sometimes I flip through quotation books looking for phrases that suit my theme. Titles also often change—sometimes if I start with a title, it doesn’t always suit the work once finished. Random titles litter my notebook.

In addition to your own writing, you’re also the Senior Editor for Shimmer Magazine. Has your editorial work informed your own writing at all? What is the best part of being an editor?

My work at Shimmer completely informs my own writing. You hear the advice (a lot) that if you want to write, you should read slush at some point, and I agree with that notion. The more stories you read, the more you start to process what works when it comes to storytelling. It’s amazing how much you can learn simply from reading, reading, reading.

The best part of being an editor is working with the writers. It’s gratifying to put together an issue of Shimmer, to find stories that balance and contrast each other, to seek out new voices, and new civ—Wait, that’s Star Trek! But working with the writers, that’s it. I love talking with them about their stories, sometimes clarifying the theme they were aiming for; I love getting to know them, where they come from, what pulled this specific story out of them.

Now, for the really hard-hitting question the people have been waiting for you to answer… What is your favorite flavor of cupcake? If it’s homemade, can you point us toward a recipe? If it’s store bought, where can we find it?

The story goes that when I was a kid and we would venture to Baskin Robins, I would make the person behind the counter read the entire menu of 32 ice cream flavors, before I chose, without fail, vanilla. For all the wonderful flavors in the world, there is something that brings me back to vanilla time and again. Vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream, fresh fruit on the side? Yes please.

My favorite basic cake recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen (http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/07/best-birthday-cake/) and I usually double the vanilla. Because!

What’s next for you? Is there any chance of a collection of your circus stories (the interviewer asks selfishly)?

I would really love such a collection, too. Silver & Steam, the sequel to G&G, will be out in August, and this fall I have a bunch of stories poised for release. It may also please you to know that I am working on a novel set in my circus universe.

Thank you for dropping by, Elise! And dear readers, thank you for dropping by as well. On a closing note, I leave you with the gorgeous cover art for the above mentioned sequel, Silver & Steam. Now, let’s all go get ourselves a cupcake to celebrate the release of Gold & Glass!

Silver and Steam

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