Cover and Interior Art from NOWA FANTASTYKA, Apr 2015

NFApr2015cover

Earlier this year, Polish SFF magazine NOWA FANTASTYKA translated and published my story, “Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance”. The cover is above (click on it to see a larger version). It’s my first translation and my first international publication; I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.

I don’t have the right to scan/post the entire story, but I did want to share this bit:

NFApr2015int

That’s original art, drawn for my story, by Maciej Zaganczyk. It shows a disgruntled Mr. Liu chasing after the dog who stole his arm. It’s the impetus for the rest of the tale: this risen corpse, this bad dog. (And we can all agree, it was a very bad dog.)

“Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” was originally published at Red Penny Papers, in their Summer 2012 issue, and is no longer available to read online. However, you can still get it as a part of my short collection, Women and Other Constructs, here (including free downloads).

Where to Start When You Want to Start Reading My Work (Fiction)

Non-fiction is here, and a chronological list of my fiction publications is here.

If you’re new to me as a writer (hi there!) or you’ve read a story you loved and want to read more in the same vein, this sorted list might help you choose what to read next…

If you like fiction with female main characters:

LGBTQ and/or genderqueer characters in your fiction? Start here:

If you like fiction about love, sex, and relationships set in SFF worlds:

If you want your stories set at the end of the world:

If you like HPL-inspired/Mythos fiction:

If you like stories with strong Cold War Era themes:

If you like horror:

If you like fiction about robots:

If you like fiction about zombies:

  • “Mitch’s Girl” Edge Publishing’s Rigor Amortis anthology. October 1, 2010. (TW: zombie sex!)
  • “Dear Mom, This is Serious” Livingdead Press’s Emails of the Dead anthology. September 2010.

If you like mad science:

If you like noir:

  • A Different LeagueMondays are Murder web series, Akashic Books. August 26, 2013.

If you like (sometimes dark) humorous stories:

If you want to be sad when you’re finished:

If you like stories with fighting, hunting, or soldiers:

If you like stories about books and maps:

If you like flash fiction of any stripe:

If you like Twitter Fiction:

If you like poetry:

And, if you want to read a bunch of these stories all together, please check out my first collection, Women and Other Constructs (published June 2013). Get it from me (print, epub or mobi), or from Amazon (print or Kindle).

Note: This list is presented with the most recent sales/publications first. When the story name is hyperlinked, click to read it for free online; if the title of the publication is linked, you can buy it online as well.

#SFWAPro

What Makes A Thriller?

This was originally posted at Jenn’s Bookshelves on October 26, 2010. You can read the post there at What Makes a Thriller. Since we’re in the nearly-to-Halloween period, I thought I’d re-post it here, and get your take on it. Comments encouraged!

What Makes A Thriller?

To describe a story or novel as being a thriller means to relegate it to a category of writing that is overwhelmed with expectation. A “good” thriller meets these expectations, while a “bad” thriller does not. Somewhere near the beginning, we need to be introduced to a main character who will be our avatar for the story. For the purposes of this example, we’ll pick an accountant from upstate New York, and we’ll call him Jack. Jack will live through the whole story, and possibly even through the ending, though that remains to be seen. It will be Jack’s story that we’re reading, and Jack who we identify with. In caring about Jack, in eventually fearing for his safety, we will expose those emotions in our own chests, and the book will rub them raw.

Which is the point of reading a thriller, anyway.

But let’s get back to Jack. Perhaps we meet him at the funeral for his wife, or a friend, or the family dog. Perhaps he’s been fired under mysterious circumstances, or his car’s tires have been slashed. These events, when they happen in the first chapter of the book, tell us that something bad is already after Jack, and gives us insight into his predicament that he himself probably doesn’t have yet. Depending on the author, the bad thing hiding in the shadows of Jack’s life hasn’t noticed him when the tale begins. We might get to see his life the way it was before all the pain and terror and loss begins to rain down upon him like snow falls during a New England winter storm. His happy life, then, will be shown as safe and cozy, in a comfortably lived-in house with a warm fireplace and double-paned windows insulating his perfect family and their lovely afghan (because you know that these winter scenes always include a couch that no one sits on, decorated with an afghan that no one uses, probably crocheted by a lonely aunt).

One day, that will change for Jack – one day he’ll cut someone off in traffic, who will then blame Jack for their lateness to a crucial job interview, and because they didn’t get the job, the loss of their already disaffected wife. Maybe it isn’t even Jack’s actions which begin the bad things soon to happen to him; out in the shadows, Jack’s daughter has a new boyfriend she doesn’t want to bring home. The daughter will be a little afraid of this boy, and use her father as an excuse to break things off with him, and Jack will spend 18 chapters trying to figure out why someone he has never met wants to set his afghan on fire.

Poor afghan. Poor Jack.

A thriller is a story where a basically innocent person endures increasingly terrible events until they can’t take it anymore, and in a fit of fight-or-flight syndrome, they choose to run. The dark and disturbing pieces of Jack’s life swirl around him (and us, the readers) in an external way, while his heart races and his fear grows and he loses sleep and we feel his panic setting in. One day, he can’t take it any more, and he rabbits, grabbing the wife and the daughter and the family station wagon and heading for his family cabin in the woods, which surely the bastard ex-boyfriend won’t know about. Will he? Probably not. At the cabin, Jack will be safe, certainly, and by the time the family arrives there we should be about 2/3 of the way through the story, and in dire need of an emotional break. We need a happy scene to brighten our spirits, and to remind us again that Jack still has something to lose.

Let’s give Jack the day off. Let him take the daughter fishing, roast s’mores over a campfire, tuck the daughter into bed (under the afghan, which finally has a use, and is feeling pretty pleased with itself at that moment), and then, finally, let Jack make gentle and only slightly awkward love to his wife. Let them all go to sleep, finally safe, finally alone.

It’s just one day, and we can give it to him.

He’ll need it to be refreshed for what comes next: the climatic ending. A thriller always have to have one, and Jack’s in for a surprise when he wakes the next morning to find his daughter gone. Thinking that maybe she went for a walk – perhaps the romp with the wife tired Jack out a bit more than usual, and he overslept – Jack goes outside to find a tiny scrap of brightly colored acrylic yarn resting gently on the dew-moistened grass. It’s a bit of his aunt’s afghan, the one which last covered his sleeping child …

Oh dear.

Whatever happens next, Jack’s going to go through something life-changing. If he survives, he’ll probably have to choose between his daughter’s life and his wife’s, or endure a cat-and-mouse game of terror, running through the woods at night without a flashlight while the ex-boyfriend chases after him. The boy has youth on his side, and insanity-fueled adrenaline, and Jack will be regretting letting his gym membership lapse. Escaping this madness will give Jack a better understanding of how precious his life is, and he’ll be a stronger man for it, at the end of the book. It’s just as likely that he and his whole family will die, and leave someone else to finish telling his story, one that won’t be completely revealed until the last page. We’ll read it, and fall back spent, being both awed at the author’s ability to drag us along for Jack’s hellish ride, and at our own realization of how precious our lives really are.

A thriller exposes your fears to you by showing them reflected on a fictional character’s life, so we can experience them in a safely controlled environment – after all, you can put the book down whenever you want to. It’s fear in small doses, in manageable amounts. It’s a roller-coaster ride that you control. Knowing this, we can appreciate a thriller for what it is and what it gives us. We’ll go to bed, happily snuggled up under the brightly-colored afghan we found at that yard sale last month, the one with the tiny piece missing from the corner, and we won’t think twice about how Jack’s own afghan was never found …

You Should Read: J. P. Moore’s TOOTHLESS

Summary: Toothless is an epic tale of war and redemption set in 12th century Europe. An ancient evil is on the march. An army of demons and undead rampages across the countryside, spreading death and destruction. Judgment has come. The world of the living teeters on the edge of ruin. One knight, a failed Templar, returns to the battlefield to avenge his wife and daughter. The dice are cast against him, and he is slain only to rise in service to the very evil that he hoped to destroy. He is a gifted minion. But life is not done with him yet. (From DragonMoon Press)

Toothless is the story of a zombie hero, if there can be such a thing, set in a medieval Europe devastated by the advance of a demonic army. Riding ahead of this unstoppable mass of death is a plague which strikes any living creature. Behind the plague comes the army of risen undead, pulled from the recently killed soldiers who died trying to defeat it. Toothless is told by an omniscient narrator who gives us the stories of two outcasts: Martin, the dead Templar who’s second life as a zombie with no lower jaw is the subject of most of the book, and Lil, the deformed psychic teen girl who just happens to be protected by the church.

Part of what I love about Moore’s work is that he took a story which, on its surface, seems a little ridiculous, and made it not only believable but gripping. His world is darker and gets darker still with the introduction of a main character that you slowly realize is never going to become a better person. Toothless is a monster. That he may also save world is beside the point. As an exploration of humanity, Toothless is terribly exciting because, freed from the living Martin’s responsibilities, he devolves into a creature who does remarkably bad things, over and over again. At some point the not-yet-dead around him realize his potential as a saviour, and rally around him on his journey to defeat the source of the desolation, but that doesn’t make Toothless a good guy. He still kills, still thrives on the blood and energy he’s washed in with the death of every victim, and is still an unabashed drunk.

He simply aims his talent for murder in the direction of the bad guys for a while.

Moore’s book, which began life as a podcast, is not cheerful, and only barely hopeful. It exists in an alternate history of our own Earth, in a dark age we very nearly can’t climb out of.

I loved reading this book.

I am, admittedly, a zombie fangirl, and I’m always on the lookout for new takes on the decreasingly-original theme. J.P. Moore’s Toothless is startlingly original, with a breadth and depth unusual in a zombie novel, but one that only adds to the feeling of withering melancholy which rises up from this story the way Martin rose up and became Toothless.

Toothless is due out October 31, 2010.

J.P. Moore is @jpmoo on twitter, and the cover artist Scott Purdy is @scottpurdy on twitter

 

You Should Read: Stephen King’s THE STAND

Synopsis: One man escapes from a biological weapon facility after an accident, carrying with him the deadly virus known as Captain Tripps, a rapidly mutating flu that – in the ensuing weeks – wipes out most of the world’s population. In the aftermath, survivors choose between following an elderly black woman to Boulder or the dark man, Randall Flagg, who has set up his command post in Las Vegas. The two factions prepare for a confrontation between the forces of good and evil. (from StephenKing.com)

Obviously, the first question is: Why am I reviewing a book that came out in 1978?

The answer: I review what I read. My husband decided to read it this week, which means he and I are talking about it, and since I’ve read it dozens of times, I thought I should talk to you about it too. Good reason? Ok then.

Next question: What’s it about?

Normally I prefer to talk about my opinions instead of giving a more thorough overview, but The Stand is over 800 pages long, so the paragraph synopsis isn’t going to be quite enough. It begins with the setup, introducing you to the characters you’re going to be spending so much time with, a few that won’t stick around for very long, and the world itself, which as you can guess isn’t going to be with us for too long either. The Stand is told from the point of view of an omnipotent narrator, who sees all and knows all, so you get the thoughts and feelings of characters who don’t ever get to meet up with our hero, Stu Redmond. This book unfolds before you, no secrets held back, no stone left unturned. King can give you two sentences about a random girl, but in those two sentences you know something intimate about her character, making her a real person. Who’s about to die. Along with nearly everyone else on the planet.

You also get a New York charmer, smooth and a bit slimy, in Larry Underwood. He’s the underfoot, under-appreciated, underdog, that Larry Underwood, just trying to make a name for himself as a singer and guitar player. Of course, he “ain’t no good guy,” as his mother and just about every other woman in the book point out. It’s pretty obvious that Larry’s going to want to be Stu, since Stu’s the man that everyone is going to want to be. After all, he’s the guy that’s going to have the plan, save the girl, and lead his people out of the desert. He’s the Texan, the straightforward cowboy hero, and if he doesn’t have a horse to ride in on, well that’s ok, because King thoughtfully provides him with a motorcycle, which will do the trick. Hallelujah.

Thankfully, King doesn’t actually make Stu into someone quite so perfect, and even Stu ends up wanting to be more like the man everyone thinks he is. It just takes 500 pages to figure that out.

What’s the conflict?

You’d think the world as we know it dying in a fit of phlegm would be conflict enough, but it actually serves as the beginning of the story instead of the end. The real story is about the classic fight of good vs. evil. Larry isn’t the real bad guy, he’s just not a great guy to begin with, and has to struggle to learn how to be better. Stu isn’t the only good guy, either, he’s just trying to be the man everyone needs him to be. The bad guys of the story all have their reasons for being on the wrong side, making them complex characters who can’t easily be dismissed. Our Good Guy squad is rounded out by the Girl That Guys are in Love With, the Old Professor, the Disabled People, the Happy Hick, a few Doctors, and a Friendly Dog. On the other side of the story, the side with storm clouds, neon signs and hot rods, are a Slutty Teen, The Whore of Babylon, the Ex-Additcs, a Grumpy Cop, few Criminals, and some Wolves.

King needed truly bad and truly good to give all those other people flags to rally under. Good and Evil as archetypes are too simple to be human, since we have far too many flaws and hopes and guilty pleasures to ever be just one thing. King brings in the big guns, the angel and the demon, God and the Devil, and introduces their champions as the flag bearers for the darkness and the light.

The sheer number of characters in this novel is astounding – King’s population rivals that of a major metropolitan city.The Stand gives us old women, young women, mothers, new wives, children, and angry victims. It shows us a retarded man and a deaf-mute, who manage to find each other and, in their own ways, make useful contributions to their new society. It gives us bad guys, selfish guys, criminals, soldiers, stupid people, lost people, and Trashcan Man, who lives to burn. Each of them has a past, a present, a favorite thing. When you meet them in the story you see the color of their hair and the patterns on the soles of their shoes. It’s these details that make what was, otherwise, your average viral apocalypse into a story worth reading.

King’s power to tell a great story is in his willingness to go on, and on. And on. He’s not interested in getting to the end of the story as much as he wants to show you every excruciating detail along the way. If you’re looking for a book that will take you into the belly of a new world and carefully describe everything from the color of the dust beneath your feet to the feel of snow on your skin to the sound of wolves howling up on the mountain, I can’t recommend The Standstrongly enough.