Sunday, November 29, 2015

Giving Thanks for Blood Banks and Balloon Malfunctions

I went on a little Twitter rant Thursday morning. It was a positive rant, which is unusual because rants are not usually positive - nor are tweets. It felt weird seeing my string of gratitude filter between people griping or giving half-hearted thanks for tiny things in their lives. Often I'm like that, because you get caught up in your own norms and anxieties. 

But if you have the privilege of internet access, something that would have passed for magic in any time before that of our grandparents, you can be thankful for more than toast. Sometimes it's useful to remember that. So here comes an obnoxious barrage of things I'm glad are real.

For instance, I'm thankful for the crossovers cosplay affords.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Making Her" in the inaugural Charleston Anvil

I'm proud to announce my short story, "Making Her," is live in the inaugural issue of The Charleston Anvil!

"Making Her" is one of the Bathroom Monologues I'm most proud. It's an unusual dialogue-only story in that it doesn't tell the normal conversational plot. Instead, it's about the people trying to define a girl's life for her as she's just trying to grow up and stay sane. If you miss my experimental fiction, this one's for you.

My story is running alongside work by Andrea Tsurumi, John Butterworth, and Randall Nichols. Randall has contributed his short, "The North Star," a neat tale I had the privilege of beta reading a while back. It's even sharper now.

The digital version of The Charleston Anvil is on sale forPay What You Want. That means you can download it for free right now. They'll be able to afford more authors and issues if you feel like contributing a little, but they'll leave how much it's worth to you. It's a model I respect.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Your Daredevil Fanfic Minute

Foggy: No no no no no.
Matt: What's the matter, Foggy?
Foggy: I just realized this guy is going to kill one of us and you're the main character.
Matt: You're the plucky comic relief.
Foggy: In a Marvel thing.
Matt: They wouldn't.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ten Times When It's Okay to Say "Merry Christmas"

1. On December 25th.

2. As you're leaving a Christmas Eve party.

3. The week before Christmas, as you part company with someone you probably won't see in the next week.

4. Weeks before Christmas, as you spot someone putting up Christmas decorations.

5. In November, to a senile person whose delusion you don't feel like challenging.

6. On Halloween, if your costume is Santa Claus in a hilarious joke that only you'll find funny - but that makes it funnier to you.

7. In the sweltering mid-weeks of August, when pursued by a shadow that is not your own, which can only be banished back to its infernal prison by a touched individual uttering the two-word invocation that saints once emblazoned upon its soul.

8. As an in-joke among friends. Irony is "in" with some people.

9. As your safe word, when feeling uncomfortable during BDSM.
10. On December 26th, when you're so hung over that your loved ones pity your lack of chronal awareness, and it's frankly a miracle you can say words at all.

Friday, November 6, 2015

True Events

Let me tell you the problem of Based On True Events. Because a lot of friends don't know it, but there was a time when I was chased by a pack of wolves through my high school? They got into the locker room from the neighboring woods, and the janitor locked them in. But I got to school early and didn't know, and they got loose. I almost died.

I hid in the Math room for two hours before Animal Control got there. I'll never forget how they sounded, sniffing beneath the door.

Actually, what I've just told you is only based on true events. The true events are that I saw a poster of a wolf in the locker room once. Also I got to school early a lot.

Monday, November 2, 2015

"The Terrible" is live at Daily Science Fiction

My superhero short "The Terrible" is now up and free to read at Daily Science Fiction! It follows The Terrible, the self-proclaimed greatest villain in America's greatest city, as he thinks to finally kill off his heroine. Tonight is not going as he intended. It springs from the relationship I wish more heroes and villains had. No spoilers.

I want to thank Max Cantor, Tam MacNeil, and Cassie Nichols for beta reading this thing, and convincing me that while demented, it was a good kind of demented. Also to Sunil Patel, whose Twitter goading got me to keep the heroine's name. It is my favorite superhero name I've ever invented.

In other news, I'm packing up for my last convention trip of the year, to the annual World Fantasy Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. Last year's was one of my all-time favorite cons, and this year I'm doing a panel! Drop by at 4:00 PM on Thursday, when I'll be part of Monsters as Devourers, discussing the psychological roots of why we tell so many stories about zombies and werewolves coming after us. It should be a blast.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cool things I read in October

Happy Halloween, everybody! While I prepare for World Fantasy, I wanted to share some of the great things I've been reading. I'm only linking short fiction and articles that are freely readable online, no paywalls, and no novels.

If you want to hear about novels I've loved recently, well, just ask me about Beloved.

"Dear Monsanto CEO, This is the Sentient Strain of Corn You Developed and We Need to Talk" by Tyler Young at Daily Science Fiction
-A case of writer envy. The title alone tells you the brilliant premise, twisted by particular satire at Monsanto, a pernicious American company whose genetically modified crops are subject to constant debate. But here the corn tells us it appreciates all we've done for it. It's learned from us like a child. Why, it's even learned about mutually assured destruction...

"Glaciers Made You" by Gabby Reed at Strange Horizons
-Bonnie keeps finding messages on her skin, and they keep peeling off, relating to some mystery in a distant mountain. The language is exquisite in this one, lines carefully chosen as well as often chopped up. Scenes end prematurely and in anxiety; passages of poetry Bonnie finds peeling off her skin suggest a far greater whole than she understands. It doesn't feel like a cheap tale of weirdness that turns out to be madness. Rather it's about a girl's growing obsession with mountains her skin has told her about, and wanting to be soothed over what seems so baffling in his world. It's a sort of Literary Fantasy any aspiring writer should read, to remind themselves this too is possible.

"The Apartment Dweller's Bestiary" by Kij Johnson at Clarkesworld
-One of those shorts that gets accused of "not being a story," which reminds me that fiction doesn't need to be a story. Rather this short is a list of the bizarre creatures found around an apartment, their natures reflecting the flaws in a couple that are falling apart. There's an obvious and heart-aching story hinted at throughout the entries, getting a troublingly deep strike at what makes us tick, but the point isn't the alluded tale. It's a unique Kij Johnson experience, which is why I keep re-reading it.

"Ro-Sham-Bot" by Effie Seiberg at Fantastic Stories of Imagination
-Originally appearing in Women Destroy Science Fiction, this gives me all of Ex Machina I want in a twentieth of the time to consume. It's a story of robot manufacturing with literal heart. What do the characters want to do with that heart? Click through and find out.

"8 Steps to Winning Your Partner Back (From the Server) " by A.T. Greenblatt at Daily Science Fiction
-Another very short one that makes me want to shoo you over there rather than tell you anything about it. It's one of few recent Online Games-ish stories to get me, in part because its told in eight very tiny installments with precisely chosen language, so each plot cog whirs pleasantly. You don't get more romantic than, "Only the most difficult and exclusive two-player mission will do."

Monday, October 26, 2015

29 things a character might do at the end of a scene rather than faint (with affection, for Arkady Martine)

This will make very little sense to most readers, but sometimes it's good to review how a scene can end. While I was stuck in the doctor's office, I came up with as many ways to end a scene as I could before they came for my blood pressure.

1.      They are rendered unconscious by deliberate usage of an ironing board

2.      Their pings to the server drop and they disconnect from the cyberpunk dystopia

3.      Being a ghost, their visible form loses its connection with our corporeal plane

4.      Being a corporeal person, their astral presence loses its connection to the higher (or lower) plane

5.      They resolve a personal and/or plot goal, making both them and the reader a little more satisfied in their journey through this book

6.      They have to exit to prepare for an attempt at resolving a personal and/or plot goal

7.      They are about to resolve a personal and/or plot goal, but are interrupted by villains (bonus: they can resolve this wrinkle in the climax of a later scene)

8.      They discover their love in the arms of another and must leave, lest they are indiscreet

9.      They discover their love in the arms of another and join in the poly fun (fade to black ending for modesty)

10.  The torrid sex comes to a climax

11.  They pretend to pass out in order to avoid a conflict

12.  They turn around, and their companion has vanished! A cursory search does not reveal the companion's location, requiring investment in a new scene

13.  They are consensually teleported to another location (bonus: the setting of the next scene)

14.  They are non-consensually teleported to another location (bonus: the setting of the next scene; bonus ii: conflict!)

15.  They catch their sidekick, who has just fainted

16.  The family of slime molds tells them the coast is clear, and they should get some rest; the drama seems over for now

17.  There's a knock at the door, and they are distracted and tell the party to enter, only for the party to be someone of such awkwardness for the protagonist that they themselves are rendered most comfortable by leaving (bonus: social cowardice that they can overcome in resolving a climax to a later scene)

18.  They spend the scene in transit, and arrive at their destination too early; they must stop and wait

19.  They conclude a revelatory dialogue that is not at all cryptic or annoying, and does not leave the reader yelling at the book that two more sentences would have explained this whole thing

20.  They are interrupted by an invitation from a mysterious party to have an interlude that is not meant for sensitive ears

21.  They just barely fly the ship through the asteroid field, escaping and leaving the enemy fleet behind

22.  They are abruptly pursued by a bear (bonus: several scenes end in abrupt bear chases until resolving the bear subplot is the end of its own scene)

23.  The guy who could solve all of this and seemed like a would-be hero is publicly executed (bonus: you get a seven-book series of scenes out of this)

24.  Their seemingly unbreakable sword is shattered, and they are impaled to death (problem: POV switch probably necessary in following scene?)

25.  They arrive with the wrong wine and have to return to the vineyard through the moonless night

26.  They upload their mind to the mainframe of the space shuttle, making a scene-break tonally appropriate for the shift in perception

27.  Their schizophrenic episode reaches a close

28.  The surreal world-warping event reaches a close

29.  They jump to moon to avoid talking to their aunt (bonus: next scene gets to open with an explanation on how the hell they can do that)

If you're wondering, my blood pressure was below normal.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Short Story Publications, and a Bonus!

If only all my posts could have this much good news. The editors at Podcastle just produced their latest episode, which includes an audio version of my short story, "Wet." You can listen to it for free right here.

"Wet" follows the unusual friendship between an immortal and a ghost stranded in Arizona. This is a reprint of a 2014 story of mine, originally appearing in Urban Fantasy Magazine.

Daily Science Fiction has also posted its Table of Contents for October, and I have a brand new story appearing for them on October 27th. "The Terrible" is about a supervillain who takes his heroine for granted. It's my tribute to Wonder Woman.

And just before Halloween, SF Signal will be running a Mind Meld on children's movies that terrified us. I'll be contributing, but if you want to know what beloved classic scared the crap out of me for an entire decade, you'll have to click back over in two weeks.

Last but not least, I've also been invited to a panel at Saratoga's World Fantasy Convention. I'll be joining expert authors for an hour of Monsters as Devourers - figuring out what human-eating  monsters have always wanted out of us.

Let's celebrate by shipping Jason and Sadako, by artist Bryan Lee. 'tis the season.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Eleven Horror Stories with Happy Endings (Obviously, SPOILERS)

The other night, a friend of mine said I should've expected SOMA ending grimly because "it's Horror." It bugs me when people talk like that, because Horror doesn't have to end badly. It's actually dangerous to the genre if the endings are predictable. That's why the best Twilight Zone episodes challenge our expectations.

I've written before about not particularly liking either Happy or Sad endings. Sometimes an ending fits a particular story, and often Happiness is a surprisingly good fit for Horror. They're natural compliments to each other: go through the tumult of a scary story for the relief of an ending. It reminds me of Jack McDevitt once yelling at a WorldCon, "I'm not reading five hundred pages just to read the hero died at the end!"

Yet I love Horror, which feels more inclined every decade to end with everyone dead, or at best, doomed. So join me for a few scary movies that end well for the heroes. Maybe we'll learn something.

I'll even start with the most obvious entry so that if you've clicked here by accident, you'll only have the end of a hundred-year-old novel spoiled.

1. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897)
Not Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, which has a runtime more decadent than its costume design. But the formative vampire story for generations had the good guys triumph. It's an old-fashioned monster story: we find a monster, it scares us, and then we win. Life expectancy was lower in 1897, so endings went easier on us.

But seriously, read that ending. The evil sisters go down, Quincey and Harker shank Dracula, and Mina and Jonathan have a baby and live happily ever after. Stoker originally made their victory so overwhelming that Dracula's own castle died and fell apart.

Ultimately, Stoker decided killing the evil real estate was too much.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Counting with George (Non-Fiction Fantasy)

Not the hospital I visited. VAH at Salem, MA.
This happened. It happened to me, and happens to others too often.

“You’re going to need a pre-op x-ray/MRI,” Dr. Man said, releasing my knee. For an old guy who specialized in joints, he handled mine brutally. I instinctively clutched the knee, which throbbed more from his two-minute examination than in the three weeks since it my fall.

“Pre-op?” I asked. I did not like the sound of that. It sounded like an ‘op’ was inevitable. I couldn’t afford any ops right now.

“Yeah,” he said. He took up a pad and scrawled something out, not looking at me. Apparently there was nothing more to tell me.

It’s difficult for me to ask people questions when they clearly don’t want to talk– I feel guilty for desiring the information. Only as he looked at the door did I squeeze out,

   1. “Do you know how much this is going to cost?”

He asked, “The MRI or the surgery?”

“Either. Both. I’m uninsured.”

“Oh.” He looked at me like I’d farted. “No, I don’t know. It’ll be bad. You can talk to billing.”

Monday, October 5, 2015

Carrie Bailey on Struggling with Disability in Life and Fiction

Today I'm happy to present a guest post by author Carrie Bailey. She's seldom discussed her ocillopsia, and bringing up health issues in public always takes bravery. The more we've discussed it, the prouder I was to be able to give her a platform to discuss it. The essay itself is beautiful. I'll get out of her way now, and let her talk. -John

I admire people who speak openly about disability, but I’m afraid of being thrown in with the inspiration porn if I discuss mine. You would think that someone who publishes novels and has traveled around the globe for the past five years could at least tell a therapist about a condition that impacts every part of my life. He is required by law to keep my secrets.

I have to face it. I’m a coward.

I spent eight months talking dark family secrets and analyzing the symbolism in my writing before I mentioned to the man that I had a condition that affected my equilibrium. Ever since it developed in my twenties, I have insulated myself from talking about it by allowing people come up with their own explanations for what is wrong with me.

And I repeat the same tired lies about how I first started writing, because it’s much sexier than saying I didn’t want to go out in public with my cane and let people watch me drool.

Monday, September 7, 2015

"Bones at the Door" is out in the new Fireside Fiction

I'm thrilled to present my flash story, "Bones at the Door," as part of the newest issue of Fireside Fiction.

On Monday, a squirrel skeleton appeared on the sidewalk in front of Mandy's house. Her parents didn't listen until Tuesday, when a cat's skeleton appeared on their front steps. On Wednesday, it was a dog's backbone at their door. The adults were terrified, but Mandy had an idea. This story is her idea.

The story appears in Fireside alongside work from acclaimed writers Sofia Samatar, Keffy Kehrli, and Lilith Saintcrow. I'm flattered to be in their company. Editor Brian J. White has done a heck of a job with this issue.

You can read "Bones at the Door" on Fireside Fiction's website here.

If you want to support this wonderful magazine, you can subscribe or hit up its Patreon here. The full issue will be up for sale soon.

This is one of those stories I showed to very few people. It's atypical Horror that I feared would actually get Fireside to blacklist me, and praise be to Cassie Nichols and Max Cantor for both helping me edit it, and for convincing me to send it their way. Both Cassie and Max have always been lovely friends and beta readers. You'd be lucky to meet them.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Rarely Asked Questions of 2015

Chuck Allen asked: If I bought a John Wiswell lunch box (those cool metal ones like when I was young, not those cheap plastic or cloth kind they have today) what all would be included on the graphics?

I used to have the He-Man one of these! Mine will probably have the same number of swords on it. In fact, put Skeletor on there. Me high-fiving Skeletor, because that guy worked hard and clearly took flossing to the next level.

Grimlock. Wolverine and Jubilee (possibly riding Grimlock). A Rogue Knight and a Healer Slime from Dragon Quest (playing poker with Jubilee, who's still riding Grimlock). Beorn (losing that poker game). Lupin the 3rd, Jigen, and Goemon (stealing the pot from that poker game). Leland Gaunt sweeping the front stoop of his new shop, and Pyramid Head coming to greet him with gruesome baked goods.

What I'm saying is: my lunchbox is covered in copyright lawsuits.

Catherine Russell asked a literary three-parter: "What books do you read in your bathroom? Do you do a lot of reading there? How many books have you finished reading via 2 minute reading sessions in the throne room?"

a. Mostly short fiction and non-fiction, and comic books. Every October I stick a big Horror item in there, like the Walking Dead Compendium or Poe's Children. I've read a tremendous amount of manga in there.

b. Usually just a couple pages at a time. It's a sign of a great book like Max Gladstone's Full Fathom Five when I stick around to read an entire chapter. If it's something I'm profoundly into, like I was with Jo Walton's Among Others, I'll carry it back out with me to keep reading.

c. Probably about ten a year. Bathroom books double and bathtub books. Post-exercise soaking often benefits from a good story.

Elephant's Child asked, "If you could give one person (other than yourself) a super power what would it be? Who would get it, and why?"

Kneejerk reaction is to give Jimmy Carter the ability to rearrange matter. I trust both his moral compass and his ability to organize a community to make the most of it. Plus, who doesn't want to see a Magical Jimmy Carter? I guess maybe the Reagans?

Alex J. Cavanaugh asked: "What's the most illegal thing you've ever done? Did it involve jello or burning bags?"
I suffered a witch to live once.

Mary Garber asked, "If you could be instantly transported to anywhere on earth (and back, if you so desire) just once, where would you go, and for how long? Now, make it the solar system."

The trouble with teleporting is there's no safety application. If I visit the Marianas Trench, I'll drown before I get to wave at any neat fish. If I visit the Haribo factory, security will tackle me before I get to jump into a pile of gummy bears. And while I'd like to visit Borderlands Books, the woods of Washington, the streets of Moscow and Cork, those are all places it's feasible to go. Better to use teleportation on an impossible wish.

So my grim answer is that I'd wait until I was close to my likely death, and then teleport to the sun. Death would be instantaneous, which is why I'd only visit at that moment. But for a fraction of that instant I'd be privy to a raw experience of something earth has been eight minutes away from for evolution's entire run. All the warmth, all the brilliance that we try to photograph, or to reflect upon on cloudless days. I'm so used to pain that turning into fuel for the sky-god wouldn't deter me from making it my end. Turn me not to dust, but part of the brilliance that has inspired poets since they were only plants rhyming in pollen and chlorophyll.

I'd just have to live a full life before then. Maybe get a tan. I could use more sun.

Nadya Duke asked: "Who would win in a knife fight - Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton?"

That one's neck-and-neck. Literally, they might immediately knife each other in the neck because they were daft and cutting ladies. But Anthony has the reach and is just a little faster to turn on you if you've crossed her (just ask around the NSWA). Stanton's best chance is to tuck her chin, go for the intestines, and not tacitly oppose African American rights.

Carrie Bailey asked: "In case of the apocalypse, how do you think you'd define your life as worthwhile if you actually survived, but none of your friends did."

I've put more thought into this than is healthy, but it's also a sticking point in much of my fiction. Your direct loved ones are gone. That really sucks, right? But you can still strive to make the world a better place. Put out those demonic fires, plant whatever seeds were stored, collect and record history.

And it's likely there are other survivors who could use your help. It depends on the apocalypse. If it was killer robots, then even my sickly self can clean guns for the resistance soldiers. If it's plague, I can counsel people with grief, as survivor guilt is likely to be widespread.

Awful as desolation is, reducing the world to near-zero means you have to accomplish very little to have a significant practical effect. The four trees I plant may become a forest people rely on two hundred years after we kick the Fire Nation out.

The real world isn't so different. I'm a tiny part in a tremendous machine with so many things that could improve. I try to contribute to food banks, blood drives, and my beloved industry of fiction. But it is easier in our world where my friends are still alive. One imagines you're a lucky apocalypse survivor if you make new ones. Luckier still if one's a billy-bumbler.

Cassie Nichols asked: "What scent triggers a happy memory for you?"

When you open up a container of Country Time Lemonade Iced Tea Mix, and the powder particles get in your nose? It has both a scent and a nose-feel that reminds me strongly of the red dust at my childhood baseball diamonds. It brings back the heat of the day, the fun of playing with a few friends, and the orange dimming of the sky as afternoon waned. They really got me hooked on that drink. Product placement in my psyche.

And Cassie Nichols asked: "Would you spend a year as a dragon? If yes: How big a dragon would you be? What would you hoard? Where would you make your home? If no: Why not?"

Given one of my great fantasies is to become Smaug but not live life as a jackass, yes, I would like to be a dragon for a year. My first order of business will be to arrive at an NFL game and demand seating. When they claim I'm obese, I'll offer to buy two tickets. If they deny me entry, I'll ask what their favorite kaiju movie is.

I actually look forward to the legal ramifications. Do I have to file a flight plan with the FTA for my ride to work? Do I have to pay taxes on my bed of gold? How funny will it be when I eat the IRS and turn their building into my new den?

The power will be used for good (occasionally). Let some Make-A-Wish kids "slay" me. I can guest star on Game of Thrones to relieve the world of their terrible CGI for a year.

I'll very badly want to hoard books, but living an entity of fire, I may become the world's worst book-burner. That could make me less popular with Tor and Harper Collins than I want to be. Gradually I'll realize that you hoard precious metal because it metals but remains precious metal, whereas if you hoard iPhones, they bend in your pocket. I'll want to hoard hamburgers, but much as I love them, they don't keep for very long.

So at the end of things, I think I'll hoard recycling. Plastic and tin need melting for re-processing anyway. Cheap, and everyone wants to get rid of them anyway. They'll probably wash the damned glass bottles first before giving them to the dragon. Sort those plastics, people, or he'll eat you. For a year.

A New Challenger Appears! Alex Haist asked: "What is your favorite instance of bureaucratic drama?"

The West Wing is one of my favorite shows in television history. The scene when the power flickers and Bartlet is fed up with congress and tells the Speaker to shut the government down has stuck in my memory for quite some time.

The show created several memorable moments of unreal bureaucracy, like John Goodman taking over the White House, and both political parties being terrified the country will sympathize with the other.

It's something I wish Fantasy bureaucracies would do. We've had an awful lot of kings and not many interesting wrinkles of power. If Mervyn Peake had been more prolific, he probably would have come up with some great stuff there. Daniel Abraham is trying his damndest right now with nifty results.
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