Tag Archives: livia llewellyn

Queer Collections

In among shiny novels, novellas, and even multi-author anthologies, single author short story collections often get overlooked. I’m admittedly biased since they published my two collections, but Lethe Press, publishes some really standout collections, and there are a few recent releases I want to highlight.

Forget the Sleepless ShoresForget the Sleepless Shores by Sonya Taaffe is hot off the presses this month. It’s a gorgeous collection, echoing with themes of loss, longing, and separation. Many of the stories either draw from mythology and history, or create their own, giving them a timeless, fairy tale feel. As a result, the characters have a sense of lives extending far beyond the page, as though the reader is merely peeking in on a slice of their lives. They feel familiar and strange all at once, giving the stories a haunted, and unsettling feel, in the best of ways. Another common thread tying the collection together is Taaffe’s meticulous use of language. Not only is the imagery striking, but sentences are constructed with a unique sense of rhythm that shakes the reader out of complacency and makes them carefully consider each word, its placement, and what Taaffe is saying. There’s a poetic quality and a flow to the language that only increases the dreamy, magical feel saturating the collection.

His scream shocked silence into his mouth, brought him scrambling upright in bed as though he could climb out of his flame-ridden flesh: plaster cool against his sweating spine, late moonlight in watery bars across the wicker-backed chair draped with his pants and Niko’s socks and somebody’s under-shirt, and Niko in the darkness beside him, slow with sleep and sharp with worry, saying “Blake? Blake, love. What’s wrong?”

–Little Fix of Friction

There are ghost stories, a father trying to reconcile with a daughter born of the sea, a dybbuk carried inside a lover’s skin, restless spirits, bodies buried in peat, and a monster born from the weight of history and science and the atomic bomb. Each story is unique, but again connected by that timeless feel and a beauty of language. In an overall strong collection, the stories that stood out as my favorites were “Little Fix of Friction”, “On the Blindside”, “The Boatman’s Cure”, “The Dybbuk in Love”, “Like Milkweed”, “The Salt House”, and “The Creeping Influences”.

Not Here Not NowNot Here. Not Now. was published earlier this year, and contains both short stories and novellas. The settings are far-ranging in both geographical location and time period, from historical to contemporary, and from the Greek isles, to the streets of New York, from a desert island, to the canals and opera houses of Venice. Jeffers adapts the voice of each piece to suit the setting, and does an impressive job of it. In the introduction to “A Handbook for the Castaway”, the author admits to inventing a “faux-seventeenth-century dialect”, however it feels authentic, perfectly suited to the piece, making the characters’ words come alive so the reader hears the cadence of them as they go along. Some of the same themes encountered in Taaffe’s collection are here as well, in particular myth and history, but they play out very differently. There’s less of a fairy tale feel to Jeffers’ pieces, but again, the language employed for each makes them feel grounded, imbuing them with a sense of place and history.

Hunger drove me out at dusk. I followed the trail my brother had made dragging what was left of our sister. I began to smell fresher blood and to hear noises, horrible noises, chuckles and coughs and chirps. Peering between a rock and a leafy bush, I saw a wake of black vultures squabbling over the corpse of my small brother and our sister’s few disjointed bones.

— The Hyena’s Blessing

While there are ghouls and sirens to be found in the collection’s pages, many stories do away with the fantastical element altogether, or touch on it very lightly. Alongside the fantastical creatures, there is also a castrato singer, and a young boy suffering terrible migraines and obsessed with the Harry Clarke illustrations of the work of Edgar Allan Poe. There is love, both unrequited and reciprocated, lust and sex, hearts broken and hearts mended. It’s a deeply human collection, one that elegantly straddles worlds real and unreal. The stories that stood out to me in particular were “You Deserve”, “Seb and Duncan and the Sirens”, “A Handbook for the Castaway”, “The Hyena’s Blessing”, “Captain of the World”, and “The New People”.

Acres of PerhapsAcres of Perhaps by Will Ludwigsen, also published earlier this year, just happens to be part of the special sale Lethe Press has going on right now, so it’s the perfect time to snag a copy. It’s a slender collection, but one with an interesting conceit. Many of the pieces are fragmentary, describing episodes of a non-existent, Twilight Zone-like TV show, called Acres of Perhaps. Like The Twilight Zone, Acres of Perhaps occasionally pushes boundaries to make both political points and artistic ones, while other episodes are straight up campy sci-fi. All of this is established in the opening story of the collection, appropriately titled “Acres of Perhaps”. The story focuses on the fictional show’s writers, each with their own vision for the series. The “tortured genius” of the bunch, David, believes he’s had an actual encounter with the supernatural, after falling through a hole in a massive stump in the woods, and emerging in a weird mirror-world where everyone is almost, but not quite like themselves, and where he is more creative and productive than he ever could have been in the reality where he belongs. The story plays with and deconstructs the idea of genius, and the creative muse, and what counts as an acceptable sacrifice in the name of art – health, family, friendship, love? The story blurs the line between reality and fiction, never fully answering the question “of whether anything supernatural is going on, and it’s all the stronger for it.

It was dark, just as David had described. There was a slight intimation of a breeze, breathing also like he’d said. My eyes couldn’t focus on the bottom, black and speckled with something like stars. It might have been night on the other side, where David Findley was still writing in an attic somewhere with a bottle of gin beside him.

–Acres of Perhaps

The story feels true – the rivalry and affection between the writers, the struggle against budget constraints and studio notes, David’s battle with alcoholism, and Barry and his lover having to live a closeted life due to the attitudes of the time, yet still being able to enjoy support and acceptance within their writers’ circle. The snippets of episodes interspersed with the other stories in the collection add richness to the opening story and vice versa. While the other stories are not directly connected to Acres of Perhaps, they do have the uncanny feel of stories that could take place within the series’ universe, with many exploring alternate timelines – particularly “Night Fever”, which places Charles Manson in the era of disco, and “Poe at Gettysburg”, which imagines Edgar Allan Poe as president – and asking the all important question at the heart of that type of science fiction show: “what if”.

To close things out, I’ll include a shout-out for two slightly older Lethe titles – A. Merc Rustad’s wonderful So You Want to Be a Robot, and  Livia Llewellyn’s Engines of Desire. Both contain stories that are simultaneously brutal and gorgeously written, delivering gut-punches and breathtaking prose in one go. Many of Rustad’s stories explore the complexities of gender and humanity through the lens of the fantastic, while Llewellyn turns that same lens on sexuality, desire, and violence. Llewellyn’s collection skirts the edge of horror, and indeed was twice-nominated for the Shirley Jackson award, while Rustad’s collection spans genres, from rich, secondary world fantasy, to contemporary science fiction, and all the interstitial spaces in-between.

I’d highly recommend browsing Lethe’s catalogue, especially now with the aforementioned sale going on. The press also publishes novels, novellas, and anthologies, all worth checking out. In addition to the content of the collections being top-notch, Lethe’s books look and feel good too, with striking covers and excellent layout and design. As always, I remain a firm believer in there being no such thing as too many books in a TBR pile. Happy reading!

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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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Delightful Things for a Winter’s Eve

Being A Round-Up of Randomness Under a Different Name

Michael Swanwick writes a short story on a Jarful of Keys.

Sad and beautiful: An abandoned book warehouse in England.

Kyle Cassidy takes beautiful photographs. Just in general. Seriously, spend some time poking around his site. He’s got some wonderful pictures of the Philadelphia Poe reading (linked from his journal) and a very cool series of pictures of fantasy and science fiction authors in their creative spaces at whereiwrite. Authors writing and/or surrounded by books – if it isn’t a fetish, it should be.

And some recommended reading top it off.

Dreams of Elephants and Ice by Mari Ness

Keepity Keep by Carole Lanham

Invasive Species by Janni Lee Simner

The Four Hundred Thousand by Livia Llewellyn

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