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.

Behold the "Slow Burn" cover!

Ebooks require covers, and that's a lucky thing for my upcoming novelette "Slow Burn." It gets a cover by the estimable Beth Kamoroff.

Cover art and design copyright Beth Kamoroff 2014.

Cover art and design copyright Beth Kamoroff 2014.

Beth hit the nail on the head. This is just the look I wanted for "Slow Burn": weathered, eerie, urban, and a little mysterious. It's both weird and Weird. Thank you, Beth!

"Slow Burn" will be available at various ebookstores, including Smashwords, on October 15.

You can download a free sample or preorder the $.99 story at Smashwords now.

Backmatter blog: in medias res

There's always more than one thing going on. I'm polishing up "Slow Burn" for publication, finishing up a picture book collaboration, holding on to a story that I think is done but hasn't hit its desired open-reading window, and writing and editing some stories I've been meaning to get down for a long time.

I've written features and fiction. I've reviewed books, movies, beauty products, hardware, and software. I even write letters in longhand from time to time. Of all the things I like to write, self-aggrandizing status updates on a blog are pretty much my least favorite.

I've edited reviews, charts, and collections. Every weekday, I edit columns and news. I copy-edit fiction for fun. I compile newsletters. If I were editing this post closely, a throat-clearing lede like the above would be blue-penciled out of existence.

My plan is to update this blog only when I have something to say that doesn't fit elsewhere. It might be a deleted scene from a story, notes about a particularly interesting edit, some thank-yous to the many lovely people who lend me their expertise about everything from art to editing to refrigeration systems, or something else about my writing or editing. That's why I'm calling this blog Backmatter.

To find out what I'm doing from day to day, follow me @pronouncedLAHra on Twitter.