My Surprising Experience with #PlasticFreeJuly

When I started my #PlasticFreeJuly, I was shocked at how much single-use plastic had insinuated itself into my life. It was wrapped around practically everything. But when I looked for alternatives, I found many surprisingly easy to come across.

I documented my plastic-free month on my Twitter account, @pronouncedlaura. Not every bit of single-use plastic could be replaced, but there were plastic-free packaging alternatives for foodstuffs, cleaning supplies, shampoo…pretty much everything but medicines. In many cases, the “replacements” were more pleasing. I plan to stick with milk in glass bottles, for instance, and pick up the artisan bread in paper every chance I get.

One thing I enjoyed about #PlasticFreeJuly was the way it made me look outside my routine. How had I kept walking past that pastry case? Why didn’t I just carry a few reusable utensils in a pouch? Had soba noodles and those excellent peanut-butter malted milk balls always been right there in the bulk bins? Why had I been picking up meat at the grocery store when the local butcher was just as easy to reach, and rather nicer? Wasn’t it neat that the local ice cream shop didn’t have to shrink-wrap its hand-packed pints?

There were a few other positive side effects. By using less packaging, we created less waste, putting out less recycling and less garbage (also a savings in plastic, since our garbage utility requires plastic bags). Once candy started coming home in one of my reusable bags, I realized I could wash a beautiful glass canister that had been languishing in a cabinet and have a proper candy jar instead of a manufacturer’s bag. And I enjoyed the encouragement and ideas from others trying a #PlasticFreeJuly.

Where I Failed

I made a few choices that ended up in single-use plastics. When a smiling relative showed up with bubble tea, I didn’t turn them away. When a friend had a death in the family, I knew they’d need help with dinner and that I didn’t have time to cook them a meal. I got them takeout and didn’t think to ask about the plastics. When I ordered some clothes online, and every single item arrived in a plastic bag. I should have tried the thrift store first.

There were things I couldn’t avoid buying, notably medicines, that come in nothing but plastic. Most of the bottles are at least theoretically recyclable, but when they’re not…? I still need eyedrops and ibuprofen. Ever since the 1982 Tylenol murders, the U.S. has put a lot of safety seals on medicines and foods. Safety is good! I am a fan! I just wonder if there are better ways to do this, and I can’t do them alone.

Where We Can Do Better

We need research, both by companies and by independent researchers, to find out how to make what plastics we do need more sustainable. Maybe compostable, plant-based plastics could be loosely timed to the expiration date of the medicines, for instance. It doesn’t make sense that the packaging will outlive the product by a few centuries.

We need cleaner, more efficient transportation for goods. It didn’t escape my notice that most of the foods in glass were local. Glass is heavier than plastic, so it only makes sense that a company that’s trying to go national will switch to a lighter packing material to save on shipping costs. Cleaner, more efficient transportation would certainly take research, but I don’t think we’ll see a lot on that in the U.S. without regulations.

More regulation in general would be a good thing. Sometimes I couldn’t get away from a product in plastic, because there just wasn’t an alternative. So we need to let companies know what we’d rather buy. We need to let our electeds know, from the town hall to Congress, that this is important to us. And we may have to work at it with them at more places than just point-of-sale.

Where I Stand Now

Going (almost) without single-use plastics for a month wasn’t very hard for me. I enjoyed the way it made me notice the single-use plastics and the fact that I almost always found a workaround. That said, I’m fortunate in good health, transportation access, kitchen and storage space, adequate income, a flexible schedule, and a long growing season for food. For someone who has health needs requiring medicines or aids in plastic, or is sharing a small kitchen with three roommates, or doesn’t have the time and flexibility—let alone the money—to shop around, reducing plastic gets much more difficult.

I’m going to keep on doing what I can, but I think it’s important to work past our mistakes instead of beating ourselves up for them. I don’t regret getting food for grieving friends. Now I know I should keep an emergency casserole in the freezer, that’s all. I’m not going to pick on somebody who doesn’t have the wherewithal to make their own yogurt, and it’s not up to me to police who can do what. We need to make it easier for everybody to use less single-use plastic, and to make the single-use plastics we need safer for the environment.

Green goods shouldn’t be luxury goods. A life with fewer single-use plastics needs to be available to everyone.

2019 Nebula Conference

I’m headed to Los Angeles for the Nebula Conference May 16-19! Nebula Award nominee Alix E. Harrow (nominated for short story “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies”) has asked me to represent her at the awards events. If you see me at those, just picture someone more eloquent, gracious, and delightful in my place!

The awards aren’t the only reason I’ll be there. I’m going to pull a volunteer shift at registration, and I plan to attend several panels and talks. That said, meeting other writers and editors is a lot of the fun. I’ll be available to chat whenever I’m not occupied. I hope to see you at the Nebulas!

2018: The Awards Eligibility Postening*

Awards nomination season is upon us, so here’s a list of my stories published in 2018.

“An Accidental Coven” (fantasy; 1,500 words) in Syntax & Salt, September 2018. Three women arrive at a party in identical dresses. Their reaction combines with everyone’s expectations of them to create a storm front of unintentional spellcasting. Judging by the extremely heartening reviews and recommendations, this one hit home for a lot of readers.

“Nonpareil” (horror; 4,500 words) in Tales from the Lake, Vol. 5, ed. Kenneth W. Cain, November 2018. Maisie will make a wedding cake for anybody who can pay…even mysterious clients getting married for mysterious reasons. A traditional horror story with modern sensibilities.

As copy editor for Shimmer, I had the tremendous honor of working on other writers’ fabulous stories. 2018 is Shimmer’s final year, and this established semi-pro magazine yielded a bumper crop of the weird and the wondrous. A few of my favorites follow. I limited myself to one per issue, which was really difficult.

“Black Fanged Thing” by Sam Rebelein, Shimmer, January 2018. An all-too-perfect little American town hides a sad secret. I coined the term “mid-century sinister” to describe the story. Jerome Bixby would have been proud of this one.

“The Imitation Sea” by Lora Gray, Shimmer, March 2018. The dead angel is probably the weirdest part, but working through the relationship with a departed friend is what brings this story home.

“Gone to Earth” by Octavia Cade, Shimmer, May 2018. An astronaut returns from Mars and finds himself changed in ways no one had anticipated. A sharp-edged meditation on identity and home.

“Rapture” by Meg Elison, Shimmer, July 2018. The life of writings becomes the writer’s afterlife in this crisply written story. Lovely.

“Lighthouse Waiting” by Gwendolyn Clare, Shimmer, September 2018. Much in the spirit of Murderbot, the Lighthouse is a constructed entity that is very human in its behaviors and emotions.

“Ghosts of Bari” by Wren Wallis, Shimmer, November 2018. Because the final issue of Shimmer is a long issue (triple the usual length for less than half the usual price), this last story is currently available only as part of the $4.99 issue. This story won’t post for free reading until April 2019, and I would love to see it get the reads and the nominations it deserves. “Ghosts of Bari” is about a crew of scavengers who find a peculiar relic. Sad, sweet, sometimes harshly real, this tale tells more than one story.

Shimmer’s final year of publication is its final year of eligibility for everything (the Best Semiprozine Hugo, for instance). I also think it’s high time the doughty E. Catherine Tobler got some recognition for her long time at the editing helm. For founding editor Beth Wodzinski, there are no awards but our thanks.

* I know “postening” isn’t a word. My use of this non-word in no way reflects on my copy editing skills. Honest.

"Nonpareil" is in Tales from the Lake, Vol. 5!

Maisie has been eking out a living selling jams and jellies at the local farmers’ markets, but an old colleague of her deceased husband has recommended her for a big commission: baking an elaborate wedding cake. The bride is unconventional, the match hard to fathom, and the cake a true original.

In many ways, “Nonpareil” is the closest thing to an old-fashioned horror story I’ve ever written. An increasing sense of unease ratchets up to full-bore YIKES! near the end. I’m delighted that Tales from the Lake, Vol. 5 editor Kenneth W. Cain placed it in the anthology alongside creepy tales from the likes of Gemma Files, Allison Pang, and other masters of horror.

I wanted to set this in British Columbia, so I got some background from the patient and admirable Charly Thompson of fiction podcast The Centropic Oracle. Any mistakes are mine, not hers.

Tales from the Lake, Vol. 5 is available in paperback and Kindle editions. Go ahead, dip a toe in. You’ll almost certainly get it back.

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 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.


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!