Poem: Ephyra

EPHYRA

Dressed in darkness, I tumble into dawn
To run salt-scented, empty asphalt
Space my neighbors have abandoned
Since streetlamps, transfigured
Hatched airborne jellies, now
Untethered, slowly drifting past
Sporadic bioluminscence:
An ocean’s liberated dream

Close to these shy miracles, I
Regret my awkward novice stride
And that I slept while they were born
Now icy puddles splash bare feet
Knees ache carrying my weight
Skin sweats, chaps, and chafes –
But above me, floating free,
Those silent creatures light my way.

– Carrie Cuinn

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First reviews of my latest story, “That Lucky Old Sun”

In January, Apex Magazine published my short story, “That Lucky Old Sun”, to my great delight. You can read it online for free, here. (You can also buy the whole issue for Kindle here.) If you haven’t read it yet, be warned that there are minor spoilers below.

I was nervous before “That Lucky Old Sun” came out; it’s the longest short story I’ve published to date, and it plays with an old SF trope in a way that readers might either love, or hate, or not notice at all. You can never tell until a story ends up in the world and out of your hands. I was more nervous because this story is important to me. They all are, of course, though some of what I write is fun, some is dark, some is about projecting the future – I’m usually pushing at the edges of what I can do in a story, but the boundaries I’m pushing aren’t always the same.

In classic, golden age SF, we have these grand stories about building rockets, escaping doomed worlds, blasting off into space with limitless potential in front of us. I could write that again a hundred times, and who would question it? We know that tale. We’ve all read it. With this story, I wanted to talk about the people who get left behind. Not the rocket scientists or astronauts or the child looking out the porthole at a dwindling blue marble that used to be his home. Just regular, everyday people. Families. Neighbors. Small town folks, faced with things much bigger than themselves.

I am so happy with how it’s been received.

Amelia Crowly said:

This really gave me chills.
I love the way it *seems* to set the scene at once, only to become darker and more intriguing as the story progressed.

On Twitter, @robertired said:

It’s amazing. Subverting old school sci-fi is something that should be done more. Congratulations.

@ScottMBeggs said:

Beautiful short story from (via ). Uses the familiar to deliver the unexpected.

@MariaHaskins called it:

Wonderful, creeping-up-on-you #scifi

And @LaurenLykke said:

Just read and LOVED your story in !! Got me all teary-eyed!

Over at Tangent Online, Kevin P. Halett said:

Carrie’s “end of the world” science fiction story is time and world ambiguous, telling this often-told story from a new perspective. The protagonist is a small girl, innocuously spending what could be her last day with her loving mother, who knows what’s coming. The author touchingly portrays the mother’s loving patience and the girl’s innocence in this easy to read tale.

Telling the story from the little girl’s perspective made it darker and more compelling. I found the writing engaging from the very beginning and it continued to hold me even though I could guess where it might end; a pleasing new variation on an old theme.

Lastly, and with the most spoilers… At Quick Sip Reviews, Charles Payseur said:

………….okay then. Yeah, this story is a bit dark, a bit…well, a bit very dark, about a child, Melanie, and her mother as they sort-of wait for the end of the world. The setting is vaguely futuristic and also rather dystopian, a place where people are judged based on their skin but not exactly the way that they are now. Here it’s not exactly race it seems but something in the blood that changes the skin’s color and might do other things to it. Whatever the case, it means that there are vast systems in place to try and “contain” it, mostly by reporting on neighbors and living in a police state and it’s an all around not-good scene. And yet the “problem” persists and so the government decided to just bomb everything. Bomb it all and then return to reclaim the wiped slate. And that the story follows a mother and her daughter on this day is bleak as fuck, but also I rather enjoyed it. There is something to be said about this, that this is where fascism leads, that this is where intolerance and bigotry lead. That there are “understanding” people who are just part of the problem and that everything is built on hate without reason, hate because that’s all it is, and in the end it tears everything apart, tears families apart and lets the central lie of the story fester and burn like the fires of the bombs being dropped. Because a large part of the story is the absence of the father, who is “pure” and who has the chance to survive. It’s a wrenching story and a sad one, very much worth reading but maybe prepare some cat videos for the aftermath. Indeed.

New Lakeside, New Publication, and Readercon

We launched the second issue of Lakeside Circus over the weekend with a brief Letter From The Editor, followed by the outstanding short story by Fran Wilde, “The Naturalist Composes His Rebuttal”. We paired it with a podcast — our first — read by Don Pizarro, who’s not only contributed a story to this issue but has been working tirelessly with me as our audio producer.

Fran said, “Bravo, Don BRAVO. This sounds exactly as I’d imagined it,” so take a moment and listen to it here.

You can see the full issue Table of Contents and publishing schedule here, along with links to subscription options. Please do consider subscribing if you haven’t yet; the more readers we have, the more podcasts and stories I’ll be able to fund.

My story, “How to Recover a Relative Lost During Transmitter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps“, is now online at Unlikely Story, for their Cartography special issue. Though it is technically about a map, for me the story is more about the idea of a map as a description of the places you’ve been along the way to where you’re going. The map you draw for others isn’t always accurate, even though you may think it is. The path is bent as you react to obstacles along the way, or filled in from hazy memories and half-guesses. Looking back, you’re tempted to see the past as the whole of the map, when it’s only your perspective on display. It may be true. It might not.

“How to Recover a Relative Lost During Transmitter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps” is told as an interview with a woman who accidentally became part of something enormous, when she thought she’d lost someone whose impact was only enormous to her. Here’s an excerpt:

Interviewer’s note: Amrita Chakrabarty agreed to this meeting only after several concessions were agreed to. First, that we wouldn’t discuss the contentious court battle she and her family had only recently settled; second, that we wouldn’t discuss the theoretical science in more than a passing way, as it applied to the events themselves; and third, that I didn’t ask about her relationship with her younger brother, Shikhar, beyond what she was willing to disclose on her own. The reader, no doubt already familiar with the hundreds of other articles on what’s now called “The Chakrabarty Wormhole Map,” can piece together for themselves why that might be the case.

Q: Let’s go back to the very beginning. What was your first hint that your brother and his friends had done something monumental?

AC: Nothing feels monumental until after it’s over and you realize what’s happened. This thing, which is so huge and impossible to escape now, was annoying to begin with. Frustrating, and then scary, but looking back, I can see why it’s been painted as something of an adventure. That sounds fun, right? A grand escapade.

The title of your book, which comes from the first set of instructions you wrote, makes it sound simple.

Yeah, that was a marketing thing. It wasn’t simple at all.

You can read the rest of the issue here. It also includes work from Sarah Pinsker, Rhonda Eikamp, Kat Howard, James Van Pelt, and Shira Lipkin.

I don’t have the schedule yet, but I’ll be on a panel at Readercon discussing imaginary cities and invented cartography, along with other folks from the Unlikely Story issue. Last version of the description I read was:

This summer, Unlikely Story will publish their Unlikely Cartography issue, featuring stories by Shira Lipkin, Kat Howard, Sarah Pinsker, Carrie Cuinn, and others. Together with editor A.C. Wise, these authors will discuss their stories, and other authors (historical and modern) who similarly explored the cartography of the fantastic. Influences and discussion topics may include Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Eco’s Legendary Lands, Post’s Atlas of Fantasy, Mieville’s The City and the City, and more.

I can’t wait!

Coming back around to Lakeside Circus again: I’ve update the website to include a main page button for podcasts (like we already had for short stories, flash fiction, and poetry), included the Issue Two information, and added rotating news posts to share important information on the front page. We’re keeping the design simple to translate well to your mobile devices, but still want it to be useful, easy to navigate, and aesthetically pleasing. Take a look?

#SFWAPro

My story, “On the Methods of Preserving and Dissecting Icthyo Sapiens” is now live at Mad Scientist Journal

My favorite bit of mad science fiction is free to read online, along with a perfect illustration by Shannon Legler. From my story:

Lab Notes, April 23, 1931. The subject has four limbs, but while its skin appears crocodilian, the limbs are not fixed under the body. Instead they appear to be jointed much as a man’s are, with longer back legs and a wide range of motion in the shorter front legs.

Water is everywhere. It is, always, since the earliest memories of my life. I feel it as a warm pressure on every part of my skin. It is an ever-moving source of air for my lungs and food for my belly. When the currents are strong it becomes thick enough to sit on, to grab a hold of and ride. The water is never still because it is never empty. I can taste the time of day.

Though it has a mouth and front facing eyes, it does not appear to breathe air, and instead has several gills hidden under heavy scales on its neck which are easy to miss. Kudos to Johnson for noticing them, or the thing might have drowned before we got its head and neck into a bucket of water.

Read the rest here.

Little Bits

For a variety of reasons, I’ve written several tiny stories in the last two months. Mostly they’re nothing I’m going to use, but a few are seeds from which I will (or have) revised into longer works. Here are a few of them:

From the poetry workshop at Readercon
(assignment, write a poem in 10 minutes)

Don’t dress me in a frock of finest lace
Don’t lock me in a tower far from here
Don’t cover me with veils to hide my face
Don’t burn me at the stake to quench your fear

Don’t wed me to the wizard from the East
Don’t wed me to the knight who makes the quest
Don’t feed to the monster like a feast.
Don’t think that you can write my story best.

This too is my land, now bleak and barren.
These too are my people, tired and sore.

Give me your leave to ride out with the men
I’m not your little princess any more.

(I like sonnets.)

From Codex, a two-line story

Each night she wrote out her fears, watching gruesome shapes coalesce into existence as she typed the words describing their attributes and evils. Then, that monster nearly flesh, she deleted the whole thing: story, words, letters, monster, fears… and finally felt safe enough to sleep.

From my writing workshop, samples to show my students

Valentine stole this day from the werewolves, so I stole it back. Ignore the pain and blood–February’s full moon will wash that bite away.

(140 character fiction)

She made it snow for a week, until her anger subsided. Guilt set in, and she retreated to bed, crawled under blankets, and cried as snow turned to rain. Ice melted slowly, dripping down houses into snow-crusted gutters. Tears dried on her cheeks as the clouds faded from black to grey. The town breathed again, and peaked outside. The sun, missing for weeks, gently brushed the clouds aside for a better look. The town glistened, flooded streets dried, and the people ventured out for food and fresh air.

Showered, dressed, she shook off her loss, went outside, and walked away.

(written at 150 words, cut 50 & revised slightly, to get a 100 word story)

Free Fiction: “Notes On My Recent Job Interview With Your Firm”

Excerpt:

Dear Nancy from HR,

I am writing to reply to the survey I found attached to the letter informing me that, “we have determined that other applicants’ skills and experience more closely meet our company’s needs”. I realize your letter was mailed several weeks ago, but I was unavoidably detained during that time, and was unable to respond earlier. I have been advised that answering the questions in depth may relieve some lingering feelings of unease I have been experiencing since my interview. Please bear with me, as your form has limited space for additional notes. Some answers continue on the back.

1. How clear was the information you were given before the interview?

C. Moderately clear

After a pleasant phone call asking me to appear for an interview with your firm, I was emailed an itinerary which included the names of staff members I would be meeting, as well as a schedule of events. While I admit that a few of the items seemed strange, I assumed this was your department’s attempt at job-related humor. In hindsight, the schedule was extremely accurate, and I accept the blame for not realizing “enter Applicant Tracking System” meant I’d be injected with a radioactive tracer. (The bruise has mostly faded.)

Download a PDF of the whole story here!

#sfwapro

I’m part of “Women In Genre”? Yay! Have some free fiction.

Several people are writing about their favorite “Women in Genre” this month. There’s even a hastag for it on Twitter if you’d like to see more of the discussion. Haralambi Markov (a Bulgarian writer, editor, pop culture geek, and avid reader) is writing a blog post each day, featuring his favorite women working in speculative fiction.

Today is Day 9 on his blog. Today, he wrote about me.

It basically says that I edit as well as write, and that with both of those together I’m putting out short fiction he thinks people need to read. He also recommends my blog, since I post about being a writer and editor in the midst of a change in how genre – and women in genre – is perceived Plus, you know, trying to balance my career with everything else.

Markov says that when you read my work, you can tell that:

Cuinn lives for genre and Dagan Books is a direct reflection of her passion and love.

That’s true, and I’m tickled that other people can see it. I know I’m at the beginning of my career. I have only put out a handle of books as a publisher, and have maybe twice that number in fiction sales myself. But – I do love what I do. I love spec fic. I love reading it, and I love being a part of where it’s going.

Markov mentions that he hasn’t read very many of my stories, coming to me instead as a reader of the anthologies I’ve edited, so here are links to where you can find a couple of my favorites online:

Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” published by Red Penny Papers in their Summer 2012 issue.

Call Center Blues” published at Daily Science Fiction. Sent to subscribers Nov 2, 2011; posted to site Nov 9, 2011

Monsters, Monsters, Everywhere”, published by Crossed Genres Magazine in issue #34 (MONSTERS), October 1, 2011.

Annabelle Tree“, published in the Southern Fried Weirdness: Reconstruction anthology to benefit tornado relief efforts, May 13, 2011.

Click on the story name to read it. “Mrs. Henderson” is playful fantasy bordering on horror without actually being scary. “Call Center” is science fiction, and short – a little less than a thousand words. “Monsters” is sci fi but much creepier than the others. “Annabelle” is magic realism, and is sad but – I hope – beautiful, too.

Please let me know what you think, or if there’s anything you want to see more of. And thank you for thinking of me when you think of Women in Genre.

Story Bits, Or How I Answered a Meme With Too Many Words

A few days ago I offered to write a sentence or so of any story you asked for. Three people (Kelly Stiles, A.C. Wise, and Mike Allen) took me up on the challenge, and in return I wrote a lot more than a sentence. Here are those pieces.

Kelly asked for “the story of a cat, his boy and how they saved the world together.” After pointing out that sounded like a friend’s comic book which is basically that story, I thought of a different take on the idea:

Earl surveyed the wreckage, several blocks of first flattened and then devastated but still standing buildings, radiating out from underneath that oddly pulsating ball of light which hung in the ashen sky.

“We have to get closer,” he said. “The device will only work if we’re within 1000 feet. Of course, at that range another pulse would vaporize us, but if we can shut this one down, the science geeks predict the rest will collapse too, in a cascade effect.” His voice was calm, his muscles tense but still. Only the tip of his ginger tail swished.

“You’re the boss,” the boy said, shouldering a gun nearly as big as he was. “Just tell me what to do.”

A.C. wanted “The one about the reverse astral projectionist who summoned distant places to her in her sleep, please.”

David knocked again, harder. “Elizabeth! Open the door! You have something …” He looked down at the wet carpet, smelled the faintly salty water spreading out from beneath his roommate’s bedroom door. “There’s something leaking in there. Did you get a fish tank?”

There was no answer. The wet carpet sucked at his toes. Behind him, the dampness was spreading into the hallway.

“I’m coming in,” he said loudly, turning her door knob slowly.

Inside, Elizabeth was sound asleep, lying on her side in her bed, one leg sticking out from underneath her blankets.

Next to her a palm tree had gouged out a piece of the ceiling and bent unnaturally to one side, too tall for the room. Sand piled up at its base, spilling into her closet and under her dresser. A small crab scuttled back and forth across the sand, confused.

“Oh, no,” David sighed. “Not again.”

And Mike, never to outdone in the slightly weird department, asked for “The one about the woman who finds the World Serpent beneath the subway system.”

At that moment, she blamed the shoes. There was more to it than that, another part of her brain screamed at her, and she felt, in a disconnected way, that she should do something other than stand there, staring at a scale the size of her head, and blaming her brand new $340 pumps, but she wasn’t sure what came next. She had been waiting for her train when her aching left heel made her lean down to adjust her ankle strap…

That made her purse spill open, and while she was frantically scooping up its contents, someone in the crowd kicked her smartphone, and then someone else, knocking it away from her like she was caught in a scene from a slapstick comedy. She chased after it, scraping a knee getting up, yelling at the sea of uncaring feet which kept her phone just out of reach, but no one stopped to help.

She remembered that it bounced down into a stairwell she’d never noticed before. The sound of the phone clacking against the stairs kept her rushing downward, downward, as the tile changed to cream and green and florescent overhead lights were replaced by bright globes set into the ceiling.

And still her phone tumbled downward.

At some point it must have stopped falling, because she was vaguely aware that she held it in her hand, but the thing in front of her, the enormous impossible creature filling the tunnel, that had her attention now. Her feet throbbed, and for one horrible moment she looked down at them, and at those heels – imported from Italy, cool grey, a sexy twist to her business suits, made from the finest snakeskin.

“Oh god,” she whispered, her head snapping up to stare again at the side of the giant serpent. “Listen, about the shoes …”

Thanks for playing!

A Podcast, Some Advice, and a Story (new places to find me online)

I’m going to skip my usual “things I did last month” roundup because I’ve actually talked about most of them (sick, Readercon, IN SITU, temp job, etc). I’m hard at work getting FISH finished up, and  other Dagan Books business like con planning, advertising, hiring, accounting and so on. It’s quickly becoming an actual 40-hour a week job (the weeks I can keep it to only 40 hours) and perhaps in another year or so it will start doing nifty things like paying me.

We’re not there yet. In the meantime I’ve done a couple of non-Dagan Books things I’d like to share:

  • Last week I was on an episode of the Hugo award nominated podcast at SF Signal, “Readercon, Harassment and Making Positive Changes” with Stina Leicht, Mur Lafferty, Jaym Gates and Patrick Hester. It’s not the only podcast to have covered the topic or even the recent incident at Readercon, but it’s part of the ongoing conversation. I think we said some good things. You can listen to it here: Episode 143
  • My most recent Tech Nerd column is up at Functional Nerds: “Ten FREE Apps That Make My iPhone a Mobile Office
  • Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” was published by Red Penny Papers in their Summer 2012 issue. Click on the link to read it for free.
  • “No Hand to Turn the Key” (my clockwork erotica/librarian story) sold to the STEAMPUNK CTHULHU anthology forthcoming from Chaosium. I’ll post more details once I have them, but for now, check out the cover by Daniele Serra:

“Inevitable”, a One Sentence Story

I love Twitter writing challenges. Late at night, someone has an idea, makes an off-hand comment, and us writers, we think, “That’s a great idea!” Sure, we’ll write a sonnet about murderous robot fish, or a story that doesn’t have the letter “e” in it, or, in the case of the latest challenge, the longest sentence which tells a coherent story. We threw some ideas out about rules and organization and ultimately decided to post them on our blogs, and mention it on twitter with the #1ss hashtag. There’s still time for you to join in if you want – deadline, we did decide, is Wednesday at midnight EST.

Here’s mine:

Inevitable

Though that morning as she made her preparations she had suspected that she might, one day, break into the world above again, or be dragged there on the end of a fisherman’s line or caught unexpectedly by a rower’s oar, she didn’t think it would be so soon that what she looked like would matter to anyone but those with a morbid and prurient interest in the way a body decomposes in water, so she didn’t dress for beauty (not, she thought, that she ever really did) but for storage, having selected an outfit made mostly of pockets – faded, olive-colored cargo pants with pockets all down the legs, a gray sweatshirt with big pockets in the front, even a little pocket on the chest of her royal blue tank top – at that particular moment, pulled slowly downward in an oddly unfocused way, as if “slow” were no longer a word that meant anything, and “down” could have meant the direction that is the opposite of “up” but might just have meant that she was still traveling in the direction she had started out in and hadn’t yet floated back up to the surface, she didn’t think about the stones in her pockets, or the way she had started off carefully feeling the weight of each one in her hand, as if each were a gift, a lover’s kiss, a goodbye present, until she’d panicked a little and started to gather as many as she could and stuff them into whatever spaces she could find and couldn’t, just then, remember what color the final stone had been … instead, in that instant after all of her breath had worked its way out of her lungs and before she could no longer think or care or wonder about anything at all, she thought about the insects that crawled and buzzed and flitted around her as she had sat on her deck every afternoon, basking in the warm sun, watching the cars go by, the world go by, even the fat bumblebees and dagger-shaped wasps and big black ants and the birds that flew by without stopping (red cardinals, and blue jays and robins and a little gray bird with a long white tail that she didn’t know the name for), who all had places to go, and the deer and the little bunnies and the red and black chipmunks with their fat fuzzy faces, who could be seen from her vantage point on her deck that she shared with no one, in the apartment that she shared with no one, in the little town in the woods that she shared with ten thousand other people who didn’t know her name, who all had somewhere else to be, until she finally knew, deep inside, with no uncertainty, that she had no where else to go but down.

~

(If you’re counting, that’s 476 words)

So far, the others are:

Jake Kerr: The Bloodline Is Only As Strong as Its Last Generation (133 words)

Anatoly Belilovsky: De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est (289 words) and “Good Thing I Did Not Tell Them about the Dirty Knife” (242 words)

Matthew Bennardo: À Vos Souhaits (168 words)

Don Pizarro: Mr. Fix-it (350 words)

Silvia Wringley: Untitled (no wordcount listed; it’s handwritten so may be a little hard to read)

“Epic Win” by Anatoly Belilovsky (a slim 55 words – and yes, it’s his 3rd entry)

“One Thousand and First” by Alex Shvartsman (243 words… or is it?)

“The Ghost and the Machine” by Suzanne Palmer (534 words)

“Untitled” by Spencer Ellsworth

I’ll update the links once there are more.