Free Short Story: “Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day”

I admit right now that this is not “flash” fiction. At 1727 words, it’s definitely a short story. Clarissa Ryan asked for one that included a lot of cute and happiness-inducing things, and when I’d finished drafting it, there was nothing I wanted to cut out. So, a short story it is, and I hope you enjoy it.

Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day

Jana stroked the kitten’s soft, calico fur as the elevator rose slowly. She left it cling to her shirt, held tight to her chest, as its tiny claws extended and retracted happily. The elevator stopped at the 7th floor, and Jana carefully reached down for her bags with her free hand.

“Time for you to go to your new home, honey,” Jana said to the kitten as she searched the recipient’s apartment. Spotting the right number on the door, she stopped, and set her bags down to one side. She pulled out square pink box large enough to hold the kitten, gently unhooked its little paws from her shirt, and placed it inside. “Now, shh,” she whispered. “You’re a surprise.” She grabbed a shiny bow from the bag, set it atop the box (careful not to cover up any of the air holes) and knocked on the door.

Just as Jana was about to knock again, the door finally opened a crack. An older woman, her graying hair up in a loose bun, clutched her bathrobe tightly with wrinkled pink hands. Her sandy blue eyes were red and her eyelids were puffy.

“Mrs. Margorie Hanta? Happiness Delivery Service,” Jana said in her bubbliest voice.

“I don’t want whatever it is,” Mrs. Hanta said softly. “Thanks anyway.” She started to close the door.

“Oh, but wait,” Jana said. “You’re the only one who can take this.” She held the box up.

The other woman sighed, but let the door stay open.

The kitten in the box mewed softly.

“No,” Mrs. Hanta said to the box, shaking her head. “I am not ready.” Continue reading

You Can Now Preorder My Mythos Collection for $2

Many of you know that I’m raising money to put out a new short collection of Mythos- and HP Lovecraft-inspired fiction. This collection will have 5 stories; two were previously published by Chaosium, and the other three have never been seen before. If you donate through my GoFundMe Page, you get access to reward levels like podcasts, original art, naming a dead body, and more.

If you want to simply preorder the book via PayPal, you can do that too! I will keep a running total of ebooks purchased this way, and add it to the total fundraiser amount, so preordering the book still goes toward my total goal. Once that number is reached, the books and rewards will be released to everyone.

Oh, and the name of my collection? I’m calling it “Black Mud Sun, Blood Red Sea”.

Preorder it here:

Pay with PayPal, PayPal Credit or any major credit card

Mythos Collection Fundraiser Update: Podcasts!

GoFundMe Page Here

I’ve raised almost 1/3 of my goal, but still need $1100 to pay off my two college classes. In addition to the collection of Lovecraft-inspired fiction I’m offering up in exchange, I’ve also got reward levels for backers: beta read for short fiction, original art, even a chance to name a body in one of these stories.

Now I’ve added another perk, and everyone who’s contributed $5 or more gets it! I’ll be recording me reading at least one story from the collection – the closer we get to the goal, the more I’ll commit to doing. If we meet the entire goal of $1500, through GoFundMe or through PayPal donations (which I’ve been adding to the GFM page so everyone can see the total raised), I’ll read the entire set of stories.

You can contribute at higher levels to get those rewards and still get the podcasts, too. It’s my gift to everyone who so generously gave to me.

As I said in my original post, you can contribute because I’m a good person going through a hard time. You can contribute because you like my writing and want to see more of it. You can contribute because you haven’t had to roll a SAN check recently. No matter why you lend a hand, I appreciate you.

Thank you.

Carrie Cuinn

PS. If you’d rather contribute by PayPal, which doesn’t charge as much as GoFundMe, you can send money using this link . If you do, I’ll add it manually here, so the total amount needed goes down.

Review: Clarkesworld 101 (Feb 2015)

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LADY AND THE SHIP, by Atilgan Asikuzun

 

The Last Surviving Gondola Widow, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

5/5 *

A properly steampunk story, in that the time period fits, it contained Victorian Super Technology, and actually used steam/coal to fuel the machines. Nicely researched alt-history focusing on Chicago after the Civil War; bonus points for including a magic system that makes sense, and a female main character that fit well within the context of the story. Good steampunk is hard to find, since it requires that the alt-tech is actually necessary for the world, and isn’t just gears slapped onto a story. Rusch’s characters, setting, and plot all work together into something extraordinary, and I’m delighted to have read it.

Indelible, by Gwendolyn Clare

2/5*

Eh. I can’t remember a worse story in Clarkesworld, which is usually home to the best of the best of SFF short fiction. It’s not terribly bad, it just isn’t good, isn’t unique, isn’t much different from work I reject on a regular basis. I’m tired of the Western/English predisposition to using ze/zer/mx for genderless pronouns; it’s not the only way to express “them” even in human languages, so why is it the only way we see it written in SFF? Especially considering that the main character has an Asian name — they have words in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and several other Asian languages for this exact situation that don’t translate into English as “zer”. (Much more likely to be “this person” or “that person”.) Beyond that, the story is nothing special. The twist at the end isn’t well-supported, and doesn’t answer the essential “question” that the opening evokes. Two stars only because it’s okay enough that if you were completely unfamiliar with this sort of tale, you might enjoy it somewhat.

(TW for rape, violence) The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, by Kelly Robson

4/5*

Having it be 9/11 doesn’t add anything to the story for me, and sets the reader up looking for a connection which never quite materializes (and for me, wasn’t at all necessary to make the rest of the story work). And, I questioned the suddenness of the big decision at the very end, but not so much that I couldn’t buy it. Otherwise, it’s great! Visceral, moving, dark SF bordering on horror. I easily connected with the character — a teenage girl, sexually abused, neglected by her parents — but I don’t think you need to have been any of those things to be well and truly creeped out.

Meshed, by Rich Larson

5/5*

Ah, so good! Intelligent extrapolation from current events/cultural mores to a not-so-distant future, giving us a glimpse of crisp SF from the perspective of an everyday guy. It’s fun, quickly worded, completely plausible, and yet also emotionally solid. There is nothing in this story that I didn’t think, “Yes, sure, that could happen,” about.

The Osteomancer’s Son, by Greg van Eeekhout (First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2006.)

4/5*

I’m a fan of van Eeekhout’s work, but if you’re not, this story is a good introduction. It’s self-contained, but relates to his bone-magic tales, and gives the reader a sense of van Eeekhout’s casual, conversational style: the way he turns big reveals in side comments, and ends a sentence before the surprise has leaked all the way out of it. He’s a fun author, even when he’s telling a dark story, and this is an enjoyable read.

It Takes Two, by Nicola Griffith (First published in Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan.)

3/5*

I was thrown immediately by the opening line: “It began, as these things often do, at a bar—” which immediately distances the reader by telling you that you’re not watching the scene unfold, you’re being told about the story after it’s already over. That particular story structure removes the immediacy of this tale, which already involves so much required belief in what one character is telling another at different points in the story. For me, that takes away from what should be the reader’s experience parallel to the narrator’s. As the story develops, it gets more interesting, if not very original, at least in being a newer (GLBT) presentation on a common theme. It’s a strong story, though, and if you like those “hooker with a heart of gold” stories, or the “it’s real love this time, I promise” trope, then you’ll enjoy Griffith’s telling of it.

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Book Review: Dial M for Monkey

3 of 5*

Only 60+ pages; this quick read can be started and finished in well under an hour, and that alone makes it not a waste of time. The stories are a mix of “high impact” and “needs an editor” – I kept wanting to revise or strike his last lines, over and over.

Maxwell sticks to a format of “Here’s the story, wait, no there’s a twist coming up, TWIST”, expanding it sometimes to “Here’s the story, wait, no there’s a twist coming up, wait for it, wait for it, really I mean it, keep waiting, TWIST, he he he” for most of the collection. Most of the characters are middle-aged, blue collar, London-area blokes, and a lot of the humor is crude (“He got hit in the balls with a block, lol” type of stuff.)

Probably the best are “I Almost Spanked A Monkey”, “Sprouts” (which is one of the few near-genre stories in the book), and “Is That To Go?”. All use Maxwell’s preferred format successfully, and none go on too long.

The longer pieces aren’t quite as good as the flash, IMO, but at the same time Maxwell brings in an earthy, working class, feel to his fiction that I don’t often see in lit flash. It’s an important perspective because it’s not often published, and some of the pieces do work very well. Don’t read it because it’s the best ever (it’s not) but it is a valuable use of an hour, even if you’re only learning what not to do yourself.

What I’ve Been Reading: Rickert, Burstein, Sharma, Tobler

This week’s reading was a collection of stories I randomly discovered online, either because someone recommended it, or because I stumbled it across it while looking for something else.

The Mothers of Voorhisvill”  by Mary Rickert, Tor.com (novella)

5 out of 5 stars

There is a grandeur to Rickert’s work which is almost immediately obvious but not overwhelming. You begin to read the tale she’s written, sentences unfolding simply, with hints of strangeness, until a few paragraphs in you start to see the edges of the world she’s created — and it hits you. It’s never “let me tell you about every aspect of this setting for three pages before anything happens”. It’s not “this happened and then this happened and then this happened”. She understands her characters, where they live and how they move about in that place, so well that when she writes the story, it’s just you (the reader) and them (the fictional characters), having a dialogue.

Reading Rickert is like listening to the chatty neighbors you’d never noticed until they happened to be the most fascinating people you’ve ever met. You’ll find everything you’re looking for by the time it’s done.

The shape of this story is as a series of interviews conducted with various women who’ve, they admit at the beginning, done something terrible, or wonderful, and now they’re explaining why. There’s contrast between the things they’re admitting, the events they’re saying didn’t happen quite that way, and and the moments of “well, sure, it did happen, but she’s completely wrong about the way she describes it”. We read how the women see not only the events of the story but their own worlds so differently from one another. All the pieces of “Mothers”, not disparate but simply not the same, weave together until what you finally have is so large, so monstrous and beautiful and greater than you’d imagined, that “grandeur” is the best word to describe it.

There are definite hints of Witches of Eastwick, and Nightvale, but there are sensual details — the hundred scents, the beauty of light, of women, of creative arts — which swell as the women do, breaking free from other influences. Those details carry on as the story changes, gets darker and more desperate, breathing life into individual moments with the names of board games, the color of jam. It’s real without being weighted down; terrible in the way that it makes perfect sense. I continue to be in awe of Rickert’s ability to tell a complete story, full without going on for too long, like a ripe peach on the last day before it’s plucked and eaten.

Kaddish for the Last Survivor” by Michael A. Burstein, Apex Magazine.

2 out of 5 stars

A SF tale about Holocaust deniers? You might think it would be preachy, pointed, too invested in its message, and Burstein’s story is all of those things. It was also nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2001, and it’s worth figuring out why. Continue reading

Reviews of “CL3ANS3”, my cyber/Mythos story in Chaosium’s ELDRITCH CHROME

From Amazon:

Coming towards the end now, bear with me. “CL3ANS3” is a beautiful story from Carrie Cuinn. Ms. Cuinn’s voice and the picture she was able to weave inside my mind was absolutely amazing, her prose was top-notch.

By Brian Murphy (Texas)

“CL3ANS3” by Carrie Cuinn: This story has a really cool concept about a future where all data has to be organized and that organization is done through a kind of virtual reality (it is cyberpunk after all). Carrie Cuinn does a great job of building a great world of CHARACTERS here, like Orson Scott Card did in Ender’s Game (yeah, the guy’s politics suck but he can write some amazing characters). I bring up ‘Ender’ because there are scenes in the story where the protagonist sits down and interacts with other ‘sorters’ in a kind of cafeteria and it just has this realistic feeling to it. The writing is very solid and when the virtual world starts to become tainted by Eldritch happenings the story delivers.

By D. Anderson (Arizona)

The anthology had been described to me as ‘Cyberpunk Cthulhu’, which threw me off originally, until I sneaked a peek at Carrie Cuinn’s CL3ANS3, which is, in my opinion, the pivotal point in this anthology and its biggest sell.

By Konstantine Paradias

Paradias wrote a full review elsewhere online, which says in part:

CL3ANS3 took me by surprise. Primarily, because this is one of those stories that make excellent material for experimental animation short films that have this rarely-seen alienating feeling to them. The world outlined by Carrie Cuinn in this short story is clinical, sterilized and strange beyond belief. Its main character might be an antisocial, objective narrator but the rest of the people occupying the setting aren’t all that better off.

This story forced me to do a double-take to pinpoint exactly what bothered me about it so much and guess what: it’s not the Lovecraftian Horrors, not in and of themselves. I think that this was perhaps the point that Cuinn was trying to make: the scary, strange future that waits just around the corner, its people distant and antisocial, scared more of each other than the things lurking just beyond the world.

Read the rest here.

Want to buy the book? Amazon has it on sale for only $14.32 with free Prime shipping. Get it here!

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SF Signal/Carl V. Anderson called 3 of my stories “Favorite of 2013”

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I missed this when it came out* but in December 2013 Carl V. Anderson wrote a list of his favorite short stories of 2013. He reviews short fiction at SF Signal, and he’s been kind about my work in the past — including putting me on his 2014 Hugo nominations list — but discovering this list floored me. In the midst of a list of stories that include the greatest hits of Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Asimov’s, and some amazing collections, he put me. Not just one, but three of the stories in my little self-published collection.

Three.

He says:

“Mrs. Henderson’s Cemetery Dance” by Carrie Cuinn (Woman and Other Constructs)

On a nice Spring day a stray dog sets in motion a series of unexpected events when he digs up and runs off with the forearm of Mr. Liu, a resident of the village’s old cemetery. In his pursuit of the purloined appendage, something he is too attached to (or was until recently) to easily part with, he brings the dead in contact with the living in a manner that is far too familiar and discomforting for those still imbued with their mortal coil. As the villagers and the deceased meet to come to terms that will return the dead to their proper place, events unfold that demonstrate that a lot can be learned from those who have gone before.

Carrie Cuinn’s story mixes the humorous and grotesque with the manners, and the prejudices, of an earlier time. The treatment of the “outsider”, of those “not like us”, is both historical and fantastical in this tale but will be familiar to anyone who has lived long enough to understand this behavior is alive and flourishing today. The dead here are as charming as those in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride; the story appeals when read on a surface level though it contains something more for those willing to look a little closer.

“Monsters, Monsters Everywhere” by Carrie Cuinn (Woman and Other Constructs)

Culinary delights mix with grand adventure in this tale of a monster hunter traveling through remote Mexican villages, dealing with monster troubles big, and small. There is something of a Lost World feel to the jungle the unnamed protagonist finds herself in, and as she takes in her surroundings, providing description to the reader, the suspense builds towards the inevitable confrontation. The jungle touches off reminiscences of her youth and time spent with her grandmother and these are intertwined with the more intense moments of the story creating an even greater degree of tension. There are no wasted moments in this story, even its denouement surprises.

“About the Mirror and its Pieces” by Carrie Cuinn (Woman and Other Constructs)

If you have ever read fairy tales with their stock evil stepmothers, princesses or queens, or viewed film adaptations of the same, and found yourself wondering about the villain’s motivation, Carrie Cuinn provides a possible explanation. This story is the least obviously fantastical of the collection and it explores some difficult subject matter in regards to the treatment of children by parents who, in an ideal world, should know better. Concepts like “entertainment” and “pleasure” that play at least some part in the story choices of readers are misplaced inducements when it comes to stories of this nature. This is not the realm of fiction in general, let alone genre fiction, where most readers want to dwell consistently on their reading travels. Which is what makes issues like those raised in “About the Mirror and its Pieces” ideal for short fiction.

The story is powerful, visceral, and left me feeling quite raw. I work in the mental health field with broken families and stories like this, which remind me thematically of the work Charles de Lint does in his Newford stories, humble me. They take me to a place that I am grateful I have never experienced personally and they help me to develop a more tangible empathy with the people I come into contact with on a daily basis. Stories like this awe me in their ability to open readers’ eyes and they become a foundation upon which one can begin to build understanding and healing.

You can get the collection for free for the rest of this month, here.

* Unless I’m tagged in the post somehow (the author’s included @CarrieCuinn on Twitter, or tagged me on FB, etc) I don’t always know about reviews of my work or people talking about me online. I get Google Alerts but they don’t cover everything. If you ever write or see something positive about me online that you want to make sure I’m aware of, please let me know! Thank you.

Recommended Reading: Short Fiction by Waldrop, Kritzer, and Murakami (free to read online)

Three short stories for a Saturday:

First, Howard Waldrop has a new short up over at Tor.com. “The Wolf-Man of Alcatraz” is excerpted from his forthcoming Horse of a Different Color, out on Nov. 12 from Small Beer Press, and I will be buying it. (Oh, yes, I will.) I wish I knew whether “Wolf-Man” is also an excerpt; it feels incomplete, like the beginning of a tale that isn’t fully told, and Waldrop tends to finish what he starts. I think it’s only half the story, but it’s an interesting one. Where do you put a werewolf who doesn’t want to keep killing but doesn’t know how to stop? Behind bars, for the safety of himself and others, sure. And if it’s 1933? You put him in Alcatraz, because that’s The Rock, the most maximum-security prison of the day. Waldrop starts his story there, rolls it out in that slow, Southern, way he has, and hooks you in with the simple truth of it all.

On second reading, I think it’s definitely only a fragment, but worth the read.

Second, “Bits” by Naomi Kritzer is up at Clarkesworld Magazine. It’s a delightful story about sex toys and aliens, with lines like this:

Because really, there are two immutable laws of nature at work here: number one, love will find a way; and number two, if a sexual act can be conceived of, someone will pay money to watch it.

But “Bits” ends on an absolutely sweet note which genuinely made me smile.

Finally, a story from the future. “Samsa in Love” by Haruki Murakami (translated by Ted Goossen) , is up at The New Yorker, dated 10-28-2013 but readable now. It makes sense that you can read forward into time, with this story, since Murakami takes up a tale from the past, and carries on with the Gregor Samsa that Franz Kafka left behind. I don’t know if it’s a great story, if it would be better if you read it in the original language, or if it’s just going to be a slightly odd tale that you wonder over for a few days and then forget until you realize one day that it’s affected you in a way you couldn’t imagine.

Let’s hope it’s one of those.

* Thanks for Micheal J. DeLuca and E. Lily Yu for recommending the first two to me.