PseudoPod dips into "Bitter Perfume"

As if it weren't honor enough for "Bitter Perfume" to appear in the gorgeous and award-winning She Walks in Shadows, now it's an audio recording at the deliciously unsettling PseudoPod.

Narrator Emily Smith carefully balanced this story's smothering homeyness and its Lovecraftian creepiness, and Alasdair Stuart's ending comments left me with a lump in my throat. PseudoPod's producers noted the story's ties to Christmas and the Epiphany and made sure that it's available as an auditory antidote to holiday cheer.

That said, I wish you a restful and happy holiday season, whatever your holidays are.

"Porcelain Skin" in Hardened Hearts

"Porcelain Skin" is that rare story that came together easily. When Unnerving editor Eddie Generous put out a call for an anthology of dark stories of difficult love, I was intrigued. Eddie was looking for not only stories of love between humans and other humans, but humans and monsters and even humans and objects.

I immediately thought of a music-box ballerina as a potential love interest, and having the music box be a portal to her world. But who would step through that portal? Whose life would be so compartmentalized that they had to literally keep their romantic love in a box?

My husband pointed out that the elderly are underrepresented in love stories, and something clicked. I thought of a beloved relative who passed away years ago, a kind and quiet woman who lived alone. Her little North Georgia mountain house was full of Faulkner novels, volumes of poetry by American female poets, and books about art and ballet. That kind relative died before we could converse as adults, so I know things about Ruth, the main character of "Porcelain Skin," that I can only wonder about for her. I hope that she knew how much her family loved her.

"Porcelain Skin" is a melancholy, sometimes dreamlike story of unspoken love. It keeps company with a vast variety of stories, from sexy to scary to sweet (and a few combinations thereof), from writers such as Tom Deady, Meg Elison, and Gwendolyn Kiste. You can find these 17 stories in Hardened Hearts, edited by Eddie Generous. This book is available as a paperback and as an Ebook.


Year-end awards eligibility post

Hey, I had some stuff published in 2017! It is eligible for awards!

"The One Thing I Can Never Tell Julie" appeared in Strange California, edited by Jaym Gates and J. Daniel Batt (Falstaff Books, August 2017). Horror short story, 4000 words. Goodreads reviewer Michael Burnham-Fink called this story out as a favorite

"Porcelain Skin" will appear in Hardened Hearts, edited by Eddie Generous (Unnerving, December 2017). Fantasy short story, 2100 words. Reviewer Maria Haskins called this story "a fabulous tale about a box, friendship and love, and the regrets of things not said and done in time."

I have the extraordinary delight of copyediting Shimmerwhich is eligible as a fiction periodical in semi-pro categories. 2017 was a remarkable year full of shimmery stories, each of which is online to read for free.

Something Strange is going on...

Strange California has shipped! Look for it to pop up in mailboxes and bookstores at any moment. Beyond Galen Dara's cover lie 25 tales of strangeness in the Golden State, edited by Jaym Gates and J. Daniel Batt. It is a gorgeous book with stories by Seanan McGuire, Tim Pratt, Nick Mamatas, and other favorites (and me). Each of the stories includes distinctive artwork by J. Daniel Batt as well.

If you missed the Kickstarter, you can still get a copy of Strange California from the publisher or from Amazon...or you can ask your favorite independent bookstore to get it in. San Francisco favorite Borderlands Books is planning to get some copies. The fine staff there told me so when I read from my Strange California story, "The One Thing I Can Never Tell Julie."

Interview at The Centropic Oracle

Charly Thompson of The Centropic Oracle and I had a lovely chat about the writer-editor relationship, among other things. The good folks of TCO also transcribed the interview for those who would rather read a chat than listen to it. Working with Charly and Larissa Thompson on the audio of The Posthumous Novel of Edward L. Heard was delightful, and talking with Charly was the icing on the cake.

Podcast reading, live reading

My story "The Posthumous Novel of Edward L. Heard" is now available for your ears at iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you find your podcasts. I'm honored to have this story, as read by Larissa Thompson, in the premier issue of The Centropic Oracle. On the air and free as air!

Come to FOGcon in Walnut Creek, California on March 10-12! I'll be reading my own work at 9:30 on Friday night and participating in the "Is Editors Necessary?" panel on 10:30 on Saturday morning. Hope to see you there!

STRANGE CALIFORNIA Kickstarter in its final week!

The Strange California anthology is home to my San Francisco story "The One Thing I Can Never Tell Julie." Right now, that home is floating in the ether. Strange California depends on crowdfunding, so to bring this creepy tale out of the fog and into the cold daylight, its Kickstarter must fund.

"The One Thing I Can Never Tell Julie" is one of 26 tales of California as it never was, as it might someday be, or as it might be unbeknownst to us. Editors Jaym Gates and J. Daniel Batt have selected stories from Seanan McGuire, Nick Mamatas, Christie Yant, E. Catherine Tobler, Tim Pratt, Nancy Holder, Marion Deeds, Juliette Wade, K.A. Rochnik, and more.  

Beautifully illustrated and with a cover by noted artist Galen Dara, the book looks gorgeous. Kickstarter rewards such as a custom blend of tea add a haunting note for all the senses. You can even become part of the book by buying a Tuckerization, making your name part of the ink and pixels that make up Strange California.

Secure your own copy of Strange California by backing the Kickstarter today, before your chance disappears into the fog.

Bringing a writer back from the dead

In a Facebook post lost in the mists of very frequent posting, Ian Harac mused something like, "What would happen if a fan raised a writer from the dead to finish a series they didn't finish?" Ian gave me his blessing to run with the idea, and I took off with it. What fascinated me wasn't the deal itself—in such games, the house always wins—but why the fan would be willing to pay what could only be a staggeringly steep price.

Although it's a short story and not a novel, and it's written not by the fictional Edward L. Heard but by me, "The Posthumous Novel of Edward L. Heard" came together with surprising ease. I'm pleased that it found a home at the excellent Triptych Tales, where it received a thoughtful edit from Melanie Fogel and insightful art from Wendy Quirt.

And if Ian ever writes a story about a fan raising a writer from the dead, I'll read it as soon as I can get my hands on it. It will be funny and clever and very, very different from "The Posthumous Novel of Edward L. Heard."



It's FOGcon weekend!

Come to drizzly downtown Walnut Creek this weekend for FOGcon, a delightful convention of just-right size! This year's theme is Transformation, which is appropriate for drought-ridden Northern California as we hope for more rain. Honored guests are Ted Chiang, Jo Walton, and Donna Haraway. I'll be hanging out, possibly in a pair of ridiculously cheerful rain boots. Come say hi!

My 2015 and beyond

New Year's resolutions are all very well and good, but the current thinking is that it takes 21 days to make a habit, so here we are on January 21. I've been working on my habit of doing my own writing. With dedication, I can make this year more successful than last year.

2015 saw two of my short stories published, both firsts. "The Eternal Goodnight" is my first published flash fiction; "Bitter Perfume" appeared in She Walks in Shadows, the first Lovecraftian anthology by female creators. She Walks in Shadows received overall favorable reviews, some of them naming "Bitter Perfume" as a standout.

Shimmer editor E. Catherine Tobler asked me to copyedit more stories, not just a few per issue. Working on Shimmer stories is fascinating and rewarding—has been since the first story I copyedited for the publication—so of course I said "yes." Shimmer's stories sparked a lot of buzz last year, and having read some of the 2016 stories, I think that trend will continue.

I spent several months contracted to boutique content-marketing firm Tendo Communications, where I wrote and edited everything from tweets to white papers. The good people there let me write about subjects near to my heart—the business necessity of a style guide and voice-and-tone guide—for the Tendo View blog.

Most of my freelance edits are for nonfiction, but I started the new year with a novel-writing client, who has been delightful; the work has been delightful, too. Every story, and every kind of writing, has its own editing challenges. I haven't found one yet that I didn't enjoy.

Last year, I met a number of wonderful people—writers, editors, and readers—at cons, workshops, classes, and freelance gigs. That's another trend I'd like to continue.

So the plan for 2016: more writing, more editing, more reading. More human connections, more learning. More wonder, more delight. These habits will build my work, and me, into something better.

Catching the scent of "Bitter Perfume"

In February 2014, Silvia Moreno-Garcia announced that she and Paula R. Stiles would edit She Walks in Shadows, the first-ever anthology of Lovecraftian fiction with only female creators and concentrating on female characters. "The first?" I thought. Lovecraft himself worked with Hazel Heald and Zealia Brown Reed Bishop. The idea that female writers hadn't kept spinning the thread of Lovecraftian fiction seemed strange—not in an eldritch way, but just odd.

Assertions that women didn't write Lovecraftian are wrong not in the way of non-Euclidean geometry, but in the factually incorrect way. At Innsmouth Free Press, Silvia had edited and published no small amount of Lovecraftian fiction, much of it by women. Ellen Datlow's Lovecraft's Monsters anthology, just a few months from publication at that time, featured stories by Caitlín R. Kiernan, Gemma Files, and Elizabeth Bear, among others. This is hardly a complete list.

The problem wasn't that women weren't writing Lovecraftian. The problem was that the fact was slipping past the public consciousness.

As a writer who wanted to contribute to the anthology, I had another problem: By the time I learned of the anthology—only a day or so in, possibly less—all the famous female characters penned by Lovecraft were taken. I flipped through my favorite stories, trying to find some small character who could support a story of her own. "The Music of Erich Zann"? No women. "Pickman's Model"? No women. Then...wait, wasn't there a landlady in "Cool Air"?

Indeed there is. Though saddled with an overly phonetic Spanish accent and described as "slatternly" and "almost bearded," Mrs. Herrero made an impression on me. An immigrant and a widow with a young son, she ran a boarding house. It couldn't have been easy work, cooking and cleaning for a house full of strangers—at least one of them disdainful—but she got by. I admired her grit, and I asked Silvia if I could write about Mrs. Herrero.

Silvia agreed to read the story, but she suggested that a different setting would be welcome. It needn't be a she-said version of "Cool Air." I started thinking about Mrs. Herrero and her young son, and what they'd be like in later decades. I thought of the coldest place I've ever lived, and the smells in Dr. Muñoz's room,  and the story came together.

In addition to my usual beta readers, I had some extra help. Alex Cocilova gave useful advice on refrigeration technology, and Darin Kerr checked the vernacular and the setting. I thank them all.

"Bitter Perfume" is in She Walks in Shadows, available as an eBook ($6) and a printed volume $15) from Innsmouth Free Press.



"She Walks in Shadows" (with apologies to the ghost of Lord Byron)

The title of Lovecraftian fiction anthology She Walks in Shadows made me think of the Byron poem "She Walks in Beauty." While the Indiegogo campaign was running, I wrote a revised version of Lord Byron's poem and received She Walks in Shadows editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia's permission to tweet it line by line.

Perhaps this is what Byron and Lovecraft would have written as a collaboration; more likely it's not, but it was amusing to write. Here it is all in one place, for your amusement as well.

All the good lines are Byron's, of course.

She Walks in Shadows

(with apologies to the ghost of Lord Byron)

She walks in shadows, like the night

   Of cloudy climes and strange-starred skies;

And all that’s best of dark and fright

   Meet in her pen and in her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that eldritch light

   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.


One shade the more, one ray the less,

   Had half impaired the hue from space

Which waves in every raven tress,

   Or softly swirls within her face;

Where thoughts unknowable express,

   How well their evils interlace.


And from that pen, that furrowed brow,

   Her Mythos-laden fiction streams,

With smiles that win, and inks that flow,

   But drive me yet to helpless screams,

Her soul dwells in the dark below,

The house where dead Cthulhu dreams!


She Walks in Shadows will be released October 13 from Innsmouth Free Press.

The long road to a very short story: "The Eternal Goodnight"

It's appropriate that "The Eternal Goodnight" is about a child's bedtime story, because this slippery short employed some impressive delaying tactics.  

Editors reacted with kindly bemusement; some of them liked it, but it never fit anywhere. Even I found it hard to identify a genre—fantasy? interstitial? parody?—and I was pleased when it received the label "surreal."

A gauntlet of readers looked at various phases of the story's development. Tahmi took time away from weaving glass and metal together to offer encouragement. Miriam Oudin suggested some useful cuts. Tracy Yee-Vaught, copy editor extraordinaire, identified the direct-address comma for me. My long-suffering husband read every draft.

What finally made the difference for "The Eternal Goodnight" was the realization that it worked best as flash fiction. It's an odd little story, and it's not one that improves with lingering. Rewriting it in less than a thousand words made every word count.

I'm delighted to have "The Eternal Goodnight" live at Every Day Fiction. The fast feedback and community discussion have been delicious. A writer could get addicted to this.

Bonus: Deleted scene

The not-so-distant future San Francisco of "The Distinct Mosaic of Marivel Parado" has plenty of room to explore. I still like many things about this deleted scene, which illustrates the fact that even with cameras everywhere, not everything is documented—and that no matter how shiny the future, somebody's always a jerk.

Roomy as the future is, the story had to stay short. This scene took place on Marivel's morning commute, sandwiched between two other uncomfortable incidents. Its presence made public transit look like a miserable experience, which is not the future I wanted to present. It also made the society seem a little too tattle-happy. I took it out before sending it to editor Paul Tuttle Starr, and it's still a bit rough.

Although I think this incident occurred—perhaps with a lighter touch on the tips database—it happened some other day when Marivel wore her artsy earrings.

The bus stopped, and the couple in the seats next to her rose and exited hand in hand. Marivel slid into the window seat. A tall woman sat down in the aisle seat, still blatting into the headset that protruded from her floppy sun hat.

"I'm on a bus, can you believe that? It's _so_ loud." The woman sighed dramatically. "I know. I know. I can't get any work done like this. Call me in fifteen. Bye." The woman turned to Marivel and regarded her through dark glasses. "You know, I don't belong here."

Marivel didn't respond. _Lovejoy, is she a creeper or a nutter?_

"I'm unable to determine her identity, madam. I'm afraid that her glasses and hat are confounding the cameras." Maybe on purpose, Marivel thought. The sun hadn't burned off the fog layer yet.

"I have to ask," the woman said in a confiding tone, "I saw you typing on your arm. Are you a hacker?"


"It's okay. I won't tell anybody. You see, I need a hacker. Something terrible has happened to me. I can pay well. _Very_ well."

"For what?" _Lovejoy, record audio._ If this woman was up to no good, Marivel could send in a tip.

"I knew you could help me. My car's been lockpounded. It's completely unfair. That's why I'm here on the bus."

"How did that happen?" The police didn't usually lock cars for one-time violations.

"There was a misunderstanding about parking." The woman shook her head quickly, as if she were rolling her eyes. "My office doesn't have enough, and sometimes I had to park in another lot. I have urgent appointments, lucrative appointments. Big business deals. Sometimes I just have to park where I can."

"Such as?"

"The hospital near my office. You'd think they'd be grateful for the money I bring in to the city."

_Lovejoy, how can someone get their car lockpounded for parking in a hospital lot?_

"It would require several offenses, madam, but it appears that would happen only if the offender parked in a no-parking zone or in emergency-room parking."

"I can't help you," Marivel said without looking at the woman.

"Of course you can. I can pay well."

"I can't, and even if I could, I wouldn't."

The woman snorted. "High and mighty, are you? I do more for this city than you, and I don't need to know _what_ you do to know that. I can tell by your cheap earrings." She stood up and flounced away as quickly as the crowded bus allowed.

Normally, Marivel would have Lovejoy upload the convo to the tip database. Being unpleasant was one thing, but antisocial behavior deserved to be part of the woman's mosaic. The dangers of a mismatch were too great in this case, though. Marivel shook her head and let it go.

You can read the entire story—and several others—in You Gotta Wear Shades, available for $2.99 from The Sockdolager and If you'd rather read it online for free, The Sockdolager has you covered there, too.

© Copyright 2015 Laura Blackwell

Piecing together "The Distinct Mosaic of Marivel Parado"

Several months ago, Paul Tuttle Starr sent out a call for submissions for an anthology of science fiction stories set in bright futures. At the time, I was working for PCWorld and GreenBiz, reading and editing a lot of stories about smart cities, Google Glass, and the quantified self. I decided to look at the things everybody was freaking out about (facial recognition software! big data! loss of online privacy!) through a rosy lens, imagining a future in which these things were used for good.

"The Distinct Mosaic of Marivel Parado" is set in a future San Francisco, and I imagined more Latino influence in the technology. Belem Zapata stepped up to help me with my rusty Spanish. Any errors are mine, not hers. It was especially hard working with the AIs called Ayudantes, since some characters assign gender to theirs and some don't, and some characters rely on English and other on Spanish. I learned from other sources that the genderless Spanish pronoun is "elle," which unfortunately looks too much like a gendered French word and the name of a magazine, so I decided to go with my own construction, "éle." If this doesn't work, it's completely my fault.

Miriam Oudin read early drafts of what became "The Distinct Mosaic of Marivel Parado," making wise comments that helped shape it. Miriam's charming and sagacious "Maslow's Howitzer" is also in Paul's latest anthology, and I couldn't be happier with the company. I would accept a hug from Howie any time.

Marivel's future is not perfect—wouldn't it be dull if it were?—but the conflicts have less to do with technology and sustainability than with the stuff of normal life: relationship problems, familial discomfort, workplace awkwardness. That's because although this future has different stuff, and although society has made improvements, people are still human.

"The Distinct Mosaic of Marivel Parado" is available as part of You Gotta Wear Shades: An Anthology of Short Fiction about Bright Future Problems. You can buy the anthology for $2.99 from The Sockdolager or Amazon, or you can read each of the seven stories online for free.

"Slow Burn" is made possible by the generous help of...

"Slow Burn" is a work of weird fiction, and that made it all the more important to have some grounding in reality. In addition to the usual Web research, I spent a fair amount of time memorizing BART signs and studying friends' San Francisco apartments.

Luckily, I had help. Robert Strohmeyer explained some of the ins and outs of police procedure, which let me simplify the story without sacrificing realism. Miriam Oudin provided online resources, thoughtful critique, and support. My family backed me up at every turn.

"Slow Burn" also benefited from a developmental edit and a line edit from paid editors. Beth Kamoroff added the cover to an already full slate of design work and created not just a cover, but an original design that's practically a logo.

Overkill for a novelette? Maybe. But I wanted the story to be as good as it could be, and published while it still figured into the bitter zeitgeist of San Francisco in 2014.

What's not overkill is acknowledging their contributions. Thank you all for helping me to make "Slow Burn" what I wanted it to be.