What does one call these things? Is this a 2019 award eligibility post, since it’s the stuff I published in 2019? Is it a 2020 eligibility post, since the awards come out in 2020? Am I, possibly, a writer who has forgotten what words are?
Don’t answer that last one.
My major work in 2019 was Sisters of the Vast Black from Tor.com Publishing. It fits snugly into the novella category at 35,000 words (not a novel! Alas, I am still working on one of those).
Sisters is very special to me. It is the longest project I have ever finished, writing it worked out some of my complicated feelings on Catholicism, and most importantly, I stuffed it full of my favorite tropes: living spaceships, embedded letters, and anxious lesbians. It also has all of the following to pique your interest:
As of this post, Sisters is over half-off on Amazon, and I’d be honored if you picked up a copy or considered it for your award ballots this year.
What is it they say about the best-laid plans?
In the past half year I’ve: applied to grad school and turned it down, moved halfway across the country sight-unseen with three-weeks notice, sold some stories and thrown away a mostly-completed novel. I left Ann Arbor, where I grew up, for DC, a place I saw once for five days in the eighth grade. I have worked in libraries or museums continuously since I was eleven years old, and I left it for corporate America doing nothing remotely related to books and culture.
These are not choices I expected to make at all. And yet, it all feels right. I already feel like I belong to this place, more than I have with anywhere else I’ve lived. (And it doesn’t hurt that all the museums are free!) What strange turns we take.
It’s been awhile since my last post, so here’s what’s been happening writing-wise:
2017 has been weird.
Politically, the world is on fire, and I am constantly unable to tell whether or not headlines are satire or real life.
Personally, I’ve been doing really well. This marks the first time in six years that I’ve lived in a particular place for more than nine months. I’ve got a job in a field that I love (archives). I’m pursuing a lifelong dream and started applying to grad school, and it looks like I will be moving again this year, which was a big goal I was working towards. I submitted stories 49 times, which is up from last year, and got a lot of encouraging rejections as well as four sales. I wrote several things I love and several things that I do not love but which taught me something.
Speaking of stories, I also had six short stories come out this year that are award-eligible, and I’m eligible for the Campbell Award if you are so inclined. The complete list is on my Publications page above, but I would to draw your attention to my two favorites of the year.
“Extinctions” came out in the March/April issue of Shimmer and is very close to my heart. This story is about mothers and daughters and the weight of family history, and coming back to the place you grew up long after both you and it have changed. It’s also about hunting monsters.
“Last Long Night” is a flash fiction story that came out in April in Daily Science Fiction, about the horror of space, astronomical coincidences, and having hope when all hope seems lost. This is one of those stories that took me a long time to write (usually I draft things in one go, but this I picked away at over 2+ years) but now I love it.
I have some new goals for 2018, but I will probably write another post about those later. For now, happy New Year’s.
My near future flash fiction story “BABY SHOES-HALF PRICE-NEVER WORN!” is out now at The Arcanist. Read it here for free.
This is one of those stories where I can pin down a singular inspiration. It was an article I read in the New York Times, “The Internet Thinks I’m Still Pregnant”, about a woman who was being haunted. Not by a ghost, by the spectre of her miscarried child, who followed her through life thanks to the internet and targeted advertising. I’d been noticing changes in ads targeted to me, too–ads following me from website to website, and things I’d googled showing up instantaneously in sidebars.
I don’t really think we will see a future where we are living in an entire ecology of drones. If we were going to see such a world, we’d already be seeing its emergence, and it would require a timeline without our current paranoia about national security. You can’t have competing fleets of battle-robots flying around public airspace in the same world where you have to take your shoes off to get on a plane.
(^Watch me eat my words on this in ten years)
My branching timelines story “Seven Permutations of My Daughter” is live today at Lightspeed. You can read it (or listen to it!) for free here or buy the whole issue for $3.99. I have some more comments on this story in the author spotlight as well.
I consider this story the fraternal twin to “Extinctions,” which came out last week over at Shimmer. I tend to write this way, circling the same theme in sets of stories. Both of these stories are about mothers and daughters, about letting go of a life you imagined, about choosing to see people as they are. “Seven Permutations” is the more hopeful of the pair to me, because it is about the beginning of Sarah’s adult relationship with her daughter while “Extinctions” is about the end of a similar relationship.
I don’t have a soundtrack for this piece but I encourage you to read the poem “Superbly Situated” by Robert Hershon. It’s a piece I thought about a lot while writing “Seven Permutations.” It’s about being enough just as you are, I think. This line especially is something I try for in my own life and how I wanted Sarah and Dahlia’s marriage to feel:
Here in the cold reaches of Michigan, we’ve had nothing but rain, sleet and unhappy-looking clouds so far this year. Last weekend the weather finally broke and so I spent Sunday ignoring all my various WIPs and tramping around town.
We’ve got a 19th century graveyard here (possibly earlier–the earliest grave I saw was from 1812) and I spent a long time there. Old gravestones have so much artistry to them, from the variety of scripts to the individuality of the sculpture. I especially loved the one for a professor that had a book for the base stone. And then there are the simple, haunting ones, like the one that reads just “Mary and Baby.” Or the one that’s a rough boulder with a surname carved into the base. No first name, no dates.
I know a little bit about cemetery symbolism and time periods from a material history class in college, but I’ve always wanted to learn more. I’ve got a couple of books on the subject requested on interlibrary loan (Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography and Victorian Cemetery Art) and I’m going to take another field trip when they come in.
The graveyard was an accident–I was actually trying to find my way to Nichols Arboretum and ended up there by mistake. Eventually I made my way around and hiked down to the river. Back when we had a weird blip of nice weather in February, I bought a hammock on impulse, and though I didn’t use it then (even with global warming breathing down our necks, spring in Michigan in February was probably a little unlikely) it was great now. A Cherry Coke, a book (Alex Wells’ Hunger Makes the Wolf) and a hammock by the riverbank makes for an excellent afternoon.
I even found a snake friend:
My story “Last Long Night” is out at Daily Science Fiction today–you can read it for free here.
I’ve been fascinated by conspiracy theories ever since I was a kid. There’s the Philadelphia Experiment, an attempt at time travel (or invisibility, depending on who you ask) that caused an explosion on a US Navy destroyer escort. There’s MK Ultra, only really half a conspiracy at this point–we know it existed, but do we know everything they attempted? And there’s the stories of lost astronauts (or more commonly, cosmonauts), ghosts of failed space missions left to die in the vacuum, their bodies either trapped in orbit or buried in moondust or drifting somewhere beyond Earth’s gravity. The Lost Astronauts show up in science fiction over and over, from Star Trek to Apollo 18.
I started “Last Long Night” after reading about Vladimir Komarov, who died either a horrible death or a horrible and self-sacrificing death, depending on which version of history you believe. I kept coming back to the thought of his voice echoing out into space, those last transmissions back to Earth.
“Last Long Night” is about lost astronauts, both living and dead, and the terror of outer space. But it’s also about humanity’s ability to find connection in the most desperate situations.
My story “Extinctions” is out today in Shimmer! You can read it for free here, but if you purchase the issue ($2.99) you get all the other stories–including one about mermaid astronauts, which you know you want–along with interviews.
“I don’t honor old bargains,” you tell her, though you’ve never turned anyone away. There’s a stack of your mother’s cards tucked away under lacy bras you never wear, and another in the urn that your girlfriend thinks holds your grandmother’s ashes.
All of my stories have a little piece of my heart in them, but this one has a whole bloody chunk.
I originally wrote this for a workshop in college after returning from a summer where I realized my hometown had moved on without me, the landscape had rearranged itself, and I was a stranger in a place where I’d spent my entire life. Like the protagonist of “Extinctions,” I never had a great deal of love for my hometown. It was a place without a single out queer kid and nowhere to go without a car, a library that never bought brand-new books and a decaying Main Street. But that summer I realized that I’d forgotten how to drive to my old school, and that shook me. I never thought it would move on without me.
This is also a story about growing up.
That fall I was watching a lot of third-rate urban fantasy tv, including far more Supernatural than was healthy. I love the repressed monster hunter archetype, but those characters are rarely allowed to learn from their mistakes or mature. I wanted to see a story where the monster hunter grows up enough to reckon with her past and her responsibility. Where she is old enough and wise enough to view the place where she came from complexly, without anger or sadness or nostalgia washing out everything else, and to weigh the life she wants against the life that is expected of her.
The soundtrack to this piece actually came after the first draft was written. “Extinctions” was originally titled “The Ghosts in Your Bones” and when I was googling it to see if there was some famous piece I would be competing with, I found this song by Gerran Howell. It’s so perfect for this story, and I listened to it on repeat while I edited.
This time around, we have stories about endings, about conflict, and about hope in bleak situations.
“Beautiful White Bodies” by Alice Sola Kim (Strange Horizons December 2009)
God, this story.
Justine is a boomerang millennial working at a coffeeshop in the suburbs after she loses her newspaper job. She befriends an unpopular high school student, Pearl, right before something starts happening to the young girls in their town. The girls become beautiful, and strange, and deadly. Soon what was limited to the popular girls starts trickling down.
Kim works this delicate balance of quiet satire and horror that had me laughing even as my heart was pounding. Kim’s twenty-seven-year old Justine and sixteen-year-old Pearl are so spot on, they genuinely feel like real humans living now. Pearl is sarcastic and angst without being a Sassy Teen(TM) and Justine feels like one of my friends. Very rarely do story teenagers feel truly real.
“A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” by Amal El-Mohtar in The Djinn Falls in Love, and Other Stories
This story appears in The Djinn Falls in Love, a new anthology of djinn stories from Solaris, but I had the pleasure of hearing El-Mohtar read it at ConFusion this January.
Like “Beautiful White Bodies,” “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” is a careful balancing act. It is political yet sentimental, clearly a story and yet nearly a poem, strikingly original and yet instantly recognizable. An extended metaphor with bird ecology and personified nation-wizards standing in for the immigrant experience does not sound like a thing that should work, but it does, it does.
I’ve been reading a lot of El-Mohtar’s stories lately. I love the joy that is so often at the core of her stories (see “Pockets” in Uncanny, or “Madeline” in Lightspeed). “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” gets very dark indeed, but the joy still shines through in the cracks.
“The Shadow Collector” by Sveta Thakrar (Uncanny March/April 2016)
Rajesh grows girl-blossoms for the Queen, but in his spare time he collects shadows stolen from passersby and he covets the queen’s. When he has the chance to seize this most desirable of prizes, he thinks nothing of the destruction he will cause.
I love this story’s ambiguity. There is no explanation for the shadow-stealing or the girl-blossoms. It passes no judgement on Rajesh for his covetousness, his human fragility.
This is a story about…not redemption exactly, because Rajesh is not redeemed in the end, but about hindsight. About realizing how you have failed and seeing just too late the ramifications, and doing what you can to fix it anyway even if you can do very little.
Today my first story, “Marking the Witch,” was published at Flash Fiction Online!
Alina’s witch lived in a third-floor walkup downtown, and she preferred sunglasses to pointy hats. She had another name of course, but everyone knew what she was, and so in whispers and rumors, she was only The Witch.
You can read it for free online, or get an ebook of the issue for just 99 cents, or subscribe for a whole year for just $10.
This is the first flash piece I wrote, and it came about at a weird time in my life, when I was unemployed and directionless and unsure of myself. It’s about love and witches, an also about wanting to find yourself but not wanting to change. I’m very happy to see it at FFO, which has published a lot of my favorite strange and lovely flash fictions.