Writer Wednesday: Stark Holborn

Stark Holborn is the author of Nunslinger – the first ever digital serial published by Hodder & Stoughton – as well as the Triggernometry series and new space opera, Ten Low. As well as writing about westerns for Pornokitsch and Screen Queens, Stark works as a games writer and is currently a lead writer on the SF-noir detective game Shadows of Doubt.

Stark Holborn. Photo courtesy of the author.

I was lucky enough to have Holborn stop by the site today for a chat about Ten Low, that new space opera (I love space operas!) recently published by Titan Books.

First, the blurb…

Ten Low (her name is her sentence) is an ex-army medic, one of many convicts eking out a living at the universe’s edge. She’s desperate to escape her memories of the interstellar war, and the crimes she committed. Trouble, however, seems to follow wherever she goes. One night, attempting to atone for her sins, she pulls a teenage girl – the sole survivor – from the wreck of a spaceship. But Gabriella Ortiz is no ordinary girl. The result of a military genetics programme, she is a decorated Army General from the opposing side of the war to Ten. Worse, Ten realises the crash was an assassination attempt, and that someone wants Ortiz dead…

Although at odds in every way, the pair strike an uneasy deal to smuggle the General offworld. Their road won’t be easy: they must cross the moon’s lawless wastes, facing military hit squads, bandits and the one-eyed leader of an all-female road gang, in a frantic race to get the General to safety. But something else waits in the darkness at the universe’s edge. Something that threatens to reveal Ten’s worst nightmare: the truth of who she really is and what she is running from.

Cover art by Julia Lloyd at Titan.

And now, the questions…

I love to know about the places in a story, the ways that setting isn’t just a location but a character in its own right, influencing the rest of the story. Tell me about the world of Ten Low?

Ten Low is in many ways a space-western, and so includes a mash-up of high and low tech. The book is set on the desert moon of Factus at the very edge of a star system. Factus is a wind-swept, hardscrabble place neglected by the system’s authorities, and so the objects, foods and vehicles had to reflect that. For example, it made sense that people would try to grow things that thrive in arid climates – like agave – and so forms of mescal are popular. Wildlife, too: instead of cattle, people farm snakes and use vultures and buzzards as work animals. Insects are prized as both entertainment and food; in a place where there’s little amusement, a beetle fight can be an exciting thing.

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Writer Wednesday: A.C. Wise

A.C. Wise is one of my first writer buddies here on the East Coast, and I’m delighted to have her here to talk for a quick chat about her debut novel, Wendy, Darling! Her fiction has appeared in publications such as Clarkesworld, Apex, and several Year’s Best anthologies, among other places. Her work has won the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic, as well as twice more being a finalist for the Sunburst Award, twice being a finalist for the Nebula Award, and being a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She has two collections published with Lethe Press, and a novella published with Broken Eye Books. Her debut novel, Wendy, Darling, was published by Titan Books in June 2021, and a new collection, The Ghost Sequences, will be published by Undertow Books in Fall 2021.

A.C. Wise, holding a book
A.C. Wise, photo courtesy of the author

First, the blurb…

Wendy, Darling is a feminist take on Peter Pan, following a grown-up Wendy Darling as she returns to Neverland after Peter kidnaps her daughter, forcing her to confront her past, the traumas she endured, the broken relationships, and the hidden darkness at the heart of her childhood paradise.

cover for "Wendy, Darling" novel
Wendy, Darling, by A.C. Wise. Cover design by Julia Lloyd.

So, A.C., tell me a little more about your world…

The novel moves between London in the early 1900s and Neverland. For the most part, I tried to stick relatively close to actual London, whereas with Neverland, I took a fair number of liberties. At the same time, I tried to capture the spirit of Neverland. There are elements that fans of the original Peter Pan, and subsequent adaptations, may recognize and hopefully appreciate, but I also took it as a setting I could shape to suit the whims of my story. Time, geography, and physical features are tricksy and subject to shifting around. Sometimes the sun doesn’t set for days. Sometimes mountains and streams pop up where there were none before. It’s a world designed to be one particular boy’s ideal, and tends to shape itself to his will, whatever that may be at the moment. If Peter wants the perfect tree for climbing, it will appear. If he wants a band of inexperienced children to be able to regularly go up against a pirate ship full of seasoned, grown men, and never lose a fight, then so be it! If he says a thing is so, whether or not it comports at all with our understanding of reality, that’s the way it is and there’s no arguing it.

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Free Fiction! “Settling In” (1127 words)

This isn’t actually the story I planned to post today. That story, after some revising, ended up too long to be flash fiction. I wrote this story from scratch, tonight, just for you. I hope you like it, and as always, thank you for reading.


Time slips past a house in different ways, different when a house is a home than when it lays empty in the middle of an overgrown lot. A home can expect to pass its days one after another in a peaceful kind of slumber. The old yellow house out on Country Road No. 2 hasn’t slept well in a long, long… longer than it could remember. It shifts uncomfortably when rain falls in huge, heavy drops, or when frost chases across its windows, barely held in by rotting frames. Its pipes moan when the ground freezes hard. Small animals scurry through its walls, build nests in forgotten piles of unclaimed mail. The house hasn’t gotten used to these sounds yet.

When the afternoons are warm and a slight breeze blows across its faded shutters, it might remember better days. Mr. Malone coming to watch the house being built, wearing dark slacks and a pressed white shirt under his army jacket. Mr. Malone planting rose bushes under the kitchen window. Pouring drinks in the living room for his friends, other men in pressed shirts and slacks, or barbecuing in the backyard. Soft music from the old record player, drifting out through open windows into the night.

Now the house is both thinner and heavier, its joints too dry to fight against the downward pull of gravity. It tries to sleep to pass the time but every noise startles it awake.

One day, Mr. Malone was taken away, and he never came back. The house had hoped his ghost would walk through what remains of his home, a flicker of old moments like the curling photographs in the hallway, though it doesn’t know where the thought came from. It isn’t a comfort.

The newspapers keep coming, though. Some times it’s a child riding a bicycle, with a sack slung across their chest, who throws without looking and only by accident manages to hit the front porch. Other times, it’s a team in a pickup truck, with one person sitting in the bed, tossing out newspapers with bored precision, while another drives. They might not be the same child or the same truck, not after all this time, but none of them come up to the house so it isn’t sure.

It takes time and repetition for a house to learn about its people, after all.

The house is falling apart. The ghost of Mr. Malone is just a memory, the house’s memory. Snapshots of different moments in time, that’s all. The house doesn’t have a person anymore. It doesn’t even have a ghost to haunt it.

Maybe this is how it’s supposed to go, the house begins to think. Let gravity pull down its rafters. The porch swing already lost one of the hooks that kept it suspended. It scraped against the porch floor when the wind was up. Time and the elements should finish the job. Let the heat strip the rest of the yellow paint from its siding, the house thought. Let the steel rust and the wood turn to dust and just settle into the earth, at first a mound of debris but over time, a place for creeping vines and crawling things to roost.

Maybe then, the house could rest.

One afternoon, a young man wanders into the yard. Hello? he calls out. Anybody home? He doesn’t have a newspaper in his hand.

The house’s screen door slaps softly against its wooden frame. The latch fell out a few winters before, and the hinges are rusted.

All right then, the man says, his voice softer now, warmer. I didn’t really expect anyone to be here but I don’t want to startle you if you are. My dad lives next door, you might have seen him? We’re neighbors.

The house couldn’t remember what neighbors were, or if neighbors were a thing a house should have.

Well, I haven’t been around in a while, the man was saying aloud and he walked slowly around the front of the empty house, peering at it from different angles. I’ve been stuck at home for months. Honestly I’ve started talking to myself and I should probably stop but who knows, because there’s no one listening to this anyway.

The young man comes back the next day. At first, he clears the newspaper from the porch, raking it into plastic bags before carting it away. A fire hazard, he says out loud. Sorry, he says also. I don’t even know who I’m talking to. My dad lives next door, you know? I can’t have you catching fire with him so close. The man laughs at himself for talking to the house.

The house creaks a little, quietly.

The man clears the plants growing around the house, talking all the while. These roses can still come back, he says at least once. They just need a little care. And another time – I should oil the hinges on this screen door, since I’m here.

It’s too bad you aren’t lived in, he says later. To be lived in is to be loved, right?

In the middle of the night, when the bats flutter overhead, the house starts awake. Then it remembers there is such a thing as neighbors, not here at home but somewhere close, and it settles down again. Just… waiting.

The man comes back the next day, and fixes the porch swing. He starts to collect the more recent newspapers – which still come, but instead of thudding against the house’s walls, they land softly on the driveway a few steps from the garage door. The man piles them in a plastic crate near the front door.

The young man brings a cup of coffee over, early one morning, in time to catch the paper as it’s headed toward a rose bush. He sits on the porch swing, gently balances his cup on one knee while he pulls the elastic band from the paper, and flips it open. Then he takes a sip of coffee, leans back on the swing, and looks out over the yard.

I put in an offer yesterday, he says. I want to be near my dad, in case anything happens. And I want to fix you up, get you back to the house you used to be. So, I guess I’m saying I want to be here for you, too. If you’ll have me.

The sun is warm against the house’s walls. The porch swing squeaks a little as it moves under the man’s weight, a familiar sound. The young man drinks his coffee in silence, and the house can’t remember if this is happening for the first time, or the hundredth. It doesn’t matter. By the time the house figures it out, it’s already fast asleep.


Note: I decided to post a new story on June 20th before I realized that it would be Father’s Day here in the US. This story isn’t a Father’s Day story, not intentionally, but if you need a soft and comforting tale to end your day – especially one that hints at nice things about family and friendship, since not all Father’s Days and not all fathers are good for everyone – I hope reading this helped you.

Want more? You can read the rest of my free fiction here. Plus: A frequently-updated list of my professionally published work is collected on this page. Many of those stories are online too, and are often free to read at the publisher’s site.

Writer Wednesday: C.L. Clark

This week C.L. Clark (Cherae) was kind enough to stop by for a quick chat about her debut novel, The Unbroken. Cherae graduated from Indiana University’s creative writing MFA and was a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She’s been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she’s not writing or working, she’s learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in FIYAH, PodCastle, Uncanny and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Now she’s one of the co-editors at PodCastle, and the SFWA Blog editor.

C.L. Clark, photo courtesy of the author.

First, the blurb…

Every Empire Demands Revoultion. Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought. Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne. Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

And this cover! I adore it.

Without context, what’s one of your favorite sentences in the book?

“If you thought I’d be useful, I’d be free by now.”

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Writer Wednesday: Marie Vibbert

Writer Wednesday is back! Today we’re chatting with Marie Vibbert about her new novel, Galactic Hellcats

Marie Vibbert. Photo courtesy of the author.

Marie Vibbert has sold over 60 short stories to markets such as Analog, Amazing Stories, and F&SF. The Oxford Culture review called her work, “Everything science fiction should be.” Her stories have been translated by magazines in Vietnam and China! By day she is a computer programmer in Cleveland, Ohio, and has been a medieval reenactor and a professional football player. 

Vibbert’s novel is out now from Vernacular Books! What is Galactic Hellcats? The quick but enticing explanation is it’s a novel about a female biker gang in outer space rescuing a gay prince, and forming a family together. Yeah, you want to know more…

Cover art by I.L. Vinokur; Elf Elm Publishing did the design and layout. 

Where do you see yourself in this story? Or more accurately, where would your readers see you, between the lines?

I was a bit of a klepto as a kid. Growing up poor, all the things I wanted were on the other side of safety glass or security tie-downs. I’d go days without eating down the street from a store full of candy. Is it any wonder then, that all my heroes were cat thieves? I thrilled over Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” and thought Cat Woman should’ve beaten Batman every time. I got mad when the characters in my stories didn’t get to keep their treasures, which sure happened a lot.  

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