New story up! Reading and interview upcoming!

My story “An Accidental Coven” found a home at Syntax & Salt, a lovely magazine with a distinctive vision. This peculiar modern fable is part of the September 2018 issue. It’s a very short story, and one close to my heart, and I’d be delighted if you read it.

Another story of mine, the horror story “Nonpareil,” will appear in Tales from The Lake, Vol. 5 in November. I’m going to appear on Madame Perry’s Salon podcast to read an excerpt and chat with the hilarious Jennifer Perry Wednesday, September 24. Tune in for a sneak preview!

A Fairy Penny, Shimmering in My Hand

I’m not sure who first showed me the fairy pennies. It was a childhood game: Shine a flashlight beam on the ground and try to catch the bright circle. A fairy penny meant passage into Fairyland, so of course I wanted one. Alas, that shining penny, being a fairy thing, always eluded my grasping human hands.

When I read Shimmer the first time, I had that same feeling of something real but elusive, something I couldn’t put in a pocket. Shimmer’s stories settled into my mind and my sinews. I kept reading, and occasionally I pinged publisher Beth Wodzinski (a college friend; yes, I am a lucky person) and asked if she needed another set of grubby human hands on the magazine. One day in 2014, she wrote to me and asked how I felt about copyediting two stories a month.

You might think that copyediting Shimmer’s ever-changing voices would be difficult—and sometimes it was—but it was always a joy. Each story had its own sounds, its own weight, its own way of touching the senses and the soul. The hard work of selecting and developing the shimmeriest stories was already done by the time they reached me. I was the first person to read them in their nearly-final form.

Often my part as copy editor was little more than deleting stray punctuation marks or tweaking the spelling of homophones, but that didn’t stop me from diving into each story, researching the languages and the worlds they presented. Most of the authors were very kind when I suggested a different species of plant for that climate or a different spelling of that name. I think they could tell that all the questions and suggestions and clumsy human thumbprints came out of love for their stories and a desire to make the stories as much themselves as they could be.

Over time, I started copyediting all four or five stories in an issue. At one point, Senior Editor E. Catherine Tobler asked if I’d like to go back to doing two again. I don’t remember exactly how I answered, just that I wanted to keep copyediting all of Shimmer every issue. It was a source of delight and a point of pride.

I have loved this work, and I will always love it.

Beth has written about Shimmer’s closure and the plans for its last two issues. The Shimmerzine.com website will remain for the foreseeable future. Most Shimmer staff members (“badgers” for short) are involved in speculative fiction in other ways as well. I will miss working with them on Shimmer, and I hope to work with them again someday.

I still play the fairy penny game sometimes. When I close my hand, the fairy penny jumps away, leery of my grasp. But if I shine the beam at the palm of my hand and close my eyes just a little, sharing that sliver of sight with memory and my other senses, the fairy penny stays on my open hand. I can barely see it, but I know it’s there.

Shimmering.

Spoiler-filled post about what spoiled (as in ruined) Avengers: Infinity War for me

I never used to go to movies on opening weekend. I'd rather wait a few weeks to see a movie in a quieter theater. Social media has changed that: Now it's all about seeing the movie before spoilers ruin the surprise. Yesterday, I sat in the second row of a packed theater to see Avengers: Infinity War.

I wish I'd read those spoilers and done some yardwork instead.

Through a lot of the movie, I was engaged and often happy. The dialogue was funny. There was a lot going on, but all the juggling plot-balls stayed in the air. Lots of great characters appeared, and despite their number, most of them wedged in a few good lines and a fabulous display of superpowers.  Sure, there was more Thanos than I wanted, but I was looking forward to seeing Thor and Nebula and Drax and all the many, many surviving persons he'd wronged defeat him and keeping him from hurting anyone again.

Then the movie ended, neatly erasing many beloved characters. Many, many very deeply beloved characters. Erased right out of the ravaged and burning Wakandan landscape. There were gasps of "no!" and some of them were mine.

There's obviously going to be another movie, because we saw Captain Marvel's symbol on an outdated pager. We know there are more movies scheduled with some of the many missing characters. In case anybody missed that, though, we also got the words on a black screen: THANOS WILL RETURN.

"And so will everybody else! Marvel is famous for killing heroes and bringing them back!" I said in a deliberately bright and over-loud voice, hoping it would give some comfort to the sobbing child one seat over.

It bugs me a lot, though, that for the next Avengers movie, we're back down to the original Marvel Cinematic Universe Avengers, which consists of a bunch of white guys and Scarlett Johansson. That team literally has as many space aliens as it does women, and literally has more of either than it has people of color. I like a lot of those characters, but I don't like them more than Black Panther and Groot and Mantis. Even adding Wasp doesn't make me excited for this movie. Characters don't balance out through simple addition and subtraction.

I had been griping that this wasn't a real end, that it's just a fraction of a movie, and then ran across the argument that the arc of this movie is complete if you accept that Thanos is the protagonist. And that's true. I can sometimes accept a movie that changes my idea of who the protagonist is partway through. In the first Pitch Black movie, I really enjoyed it. So part of the problem for me is just that the movie was really Thanos: Infinity War, Starring the Avengers and a Lot of Other Interesting Characters.

I like looking at characters different ways. I have been known to launch into Defying Gravity (never in public, not to worry). Although anti-heroes aren't really my thing, I thought after seeing the trailers for Venom and Deadpool 2 that I'd probably watch both of those movies. But Thanos isn't an anti-hero. He's a villain. He kills literally half the sentient life in the universe. He has an interesting reason, and I'm all for well-developed villains, but I'm tired of being asked to sympathize with them.

It comes down to timing. The news has been full of "The Golden State Killer's Sad Heartbreak" and "How a Lonely Man Decided It Was a Good Idea to Drive a Vehicle on a Crowded Sidewalk." I've had my fill of being told how sad the backstory of someone who did something horrible is. Getting a cinematic I Was Sad to Kill My Daughter, But It Helped My Noble Goal of Killing Trillions More People bothers me more now than it would have a few weeks ago.

As a character, Thanos neither ennobles nor entertains. He's not a type of protagonist I want to see, either in fiction or in life. I do not want Thanos to return.

So...uh...I said a long time ago that this blog would always be about my writing, and I just proved myself wrong. Not sure I'm sorry.

See you at FOGcon March 8, 9, & 11!

FOGcon is returning to the Walnut Creek Marriott in downtown Walnut Creek, CA on March, 8, and 11!  This year's theme is "Performance," and the Honored Guests are Andrea Hairson and Ada Palmer.

I'll be putting the "amateur" in "Art! Amateur Sketchfest" on Friday afternoon at 3:00, wielding my markers to draw...something. What does it look like? Yeah, that's what I meant it to be. Probably. Join Micah Joel and me for this doodle-rama!

The Strange California anthology has its own reading and panel at 1:30 on Saturday! Hear Marion Deeds, K.A. Rochnik, Juliette Wade and me read from our stories (and perhaps another one or two we admire) and get the inside scoop from co-editor and illustrator J. Daniel Batt.

The rest of FOGcon, I'll be attending panels and readings and just hanging out. It's a cozy little con, a great size for excellent conversations. Hope to see you there!

 

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.