Ferrett Steinmetz, Flex

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Ferrett appeared in Shimmer #13 with a story involving, of all things, a unicorn. And a magical mirror. He’s always been turning tropes on their head, and does so again in his debut novel from Angry Robot, Flex.


Flex-400Tell us how and where Flex began for you.

True fact: When I sent this to Seanan McGuire to see if she’d blurb it, she called me up and asked, “So how much Mage: the Ascension did you play before you came up with this?”  And I said, “Ya got me.”

But yes, my group was roleplaying, and someone joked about the idea of brewing magical drugs.  I was hugely into Breaking Bad at the time, and I thought, “Wow, how much weirder would that be if it wasn’t just drug dealers, but magical drug dealers?” So the wheels started turning.

But the problem was that I generally don’t like magic.  It’s got what I call “Doctor Strange syndrome” – what can’t Doctor Strange do?  What are his limitations?  All the guy has to do is wave his hands and chant about Agamotto and he can turn back time, he can erase the world’s memories, he teleport to other dimensions.  And that’s fun for a while, but eventually you start struggling to find challenges that the audience can understand – it’s more fun if the audience knows when the hero’s about to crack.

So I thought a lot about what I thought magical drugs could do that no other drug could, and decided to explore the ramifications of Harry Potter’s luck potion.  Seriously, why is anyone learning any other kind of magic?  I know it’s difficult, but if you devote your life to brewing up batches of Felix Felicis, what else do you need to do?  So I thought, “Well, if you get good luck for a while… you must get bad luck.”  And then I started tying that into Unknown Armies’ obsession-based magic system, and the next thing you know I had a guy who was so devoted to getting his insurance paperwork right that he’s become this magical champion of the insurance company.

“That guy seems the least qualified person to make drugs,” said I, and a story was born.

Does Flex have a soundtrack? (If not, why not! Get cracking!)

It does!  Sorta.  I listen to one song over and over again when I write – it’s how I keep centered on the heart of the novel.  When I’m stuck for what to do next, I just listen to The Song and everything unravels.

In this case? The Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House.”  (The live version off of Stop Making Sense.)

Interestingly, Stephen King lied to me.  If you read Christine or any of his other early novels, you’d think it’d be super-easy to quote lyrics in your book.  But these days you have to fill out forms and go through ASCAP, and it costs a fortune.  I’m told by the publishers that Fleetwood Mac once wanted $4,000 to quote lyrics.  That’s more than many advances, man.  So you won’t find the lyrics quoted in the book, though I may scribble them in there at a signing if you ask me nicely.

Flex plays with a lot of tropes, but is notable for its use of video games, and their environments–literally plunging characters into the midst of games most SFF readers should be familiar with. If you could be thrust into any game, which would you choose?

I’d actually go with Mass Effect.  I love Bioware games, but Dragon Age is such a crapsack world. Between mages and demon infestations, I would not want to go there.  Mass Effect has the Reapers, natch, but large segments of it look pretty nice.  And given that I’d rather chat than fight, there’s a lot of talking to be done.

(Fun fact: In any RPG, I’m the guy maxing out his speaking skills.  If I can talk my way out of the final battle – *cough cough* Fallout *cough* – then I automatically love the game.

Paul’s magic stems from paperwork; where does your magic come from?

I think the reason I had a magic system based on obsession is because really, obsession is my writing superpower.  I wasn’t the most talented writer in my Clarion class; I wasn’t the most charming.  But I think I was the most dedicated, and so when Neil Gaiman told me that I wasn’t good enough yet and “You just have to write,” well, dammit, I wrote.  Every day.  Sick or well.  Psychologically healthy, or in the throes of seasonal depression.  I honed my knife as best I could, and now if Flex isn’t good enough, I’ll keep writing more.

The theme keeps turning up in my stories, though.  “The Sturdy Bookshelves of Pawel Oliszewski” is about obsession-based magic.  And my story for Shimmer, “A Window, Clear As A Mirror” is entirely about a man who can’t let go.  So I kind of deal with that a lot.

ferretsSpeaking of Magic, you work for Star City Games — what is your favorite Magic the Gathering card (or set) and why?

Magic has repeatedly disappointed me by failing to produce a viable ferret. Joven’s Ferrets and Repopulate?  NOT GOOD ENOUGH, WIZARDS OF THE COAST.

That said, my favorite card is still probably Pernicious Deed.  It’s in my favorite colors (black and green), it is a distinct Rattlesnake card in multiplayer to warn people off elsewhere, and it’s super-fun.  For me.  Not you.  But hey, who wanted you to have a good time?

You attended both Viable Paradise and Clarion; did one workshop teach you something the other didn’t? How do you think both have changed your writing?

Clarion was what got my eyes pried open.  My six weeks at that writer-intensive broke me down and reforged me, but the number-one lesson is that I Was Not Shooting High Enough.  I thought my stories were pretty good, going into Clarion, and I came out thinking my stories were pretty good; the difference was that I had realized that pretty good wasn’t enough.

I had to knock the reader so far on her ass that she’d have to crawl back to the page.

So Clarion was where I really went, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of lazy habits that you thought you could get away with,” but man, I could not.  If there’s anything you’re aware of in your story that’s not polished to a diamond-like shine, fix that.  Because your story’s going to fall short in a hundred other areas that you’re not good enough to even see yet, so the smartest thing you can do is to amplify the stuff you know is good.

And if Clarion got me thinking about the guts of a story, Viable Paradise got me working on my prose.

Here’s a hint if you ever go to Viable Paradise: Ask Teresa Nielsen-Hayden to do her trick.  She’ll say she doesn’t know what that trick is.  “Edit me,” you tell her.

And she will sit down with your story, and begin to edit it.  She will cross out whole sentences.  She will eviscerate your words.  She will show you just how flabby and redundant and awful your prose is, and eventually what’s left will be the barest minimum of words – so few you won’t be able to believe what’s left standing.  And you’ll see how much quicker and bolder your story reads, and you’ll be enlightened.

Tell us about a fabulous book you recently finished reading.

I am currently reading Jo Walton’s The Just City, which is a fantastic hook: the Greek Gods, who are still alive today, have recreated Plato’s Republic, using everyone who ever prayed to Athene that it existed.  It’s an amazing thought experiment, and considering that I’ve loved everything Jo’s written, I’m positive I’ll love it in all of its weirdness.  She’s amazing.  I’m so stoked every day to sit in my bathtub and read it.

What’s next for you? When can we expect FLUX?

I’m finishing up a new draft of Flux as we speak (literally, I’m switching back to answer a question between each chapter), and while I have no absolute date, I expect it’ll be out sometime in 2016.  I’m also working on an as-yet-untitled science-fiction manuscript about a boy coming of age in the greatest restaurant in the universe – yes, yes, make your Douglas Adams joke now – and I have my sci-fi dystopia The Upterlife out on submission from my agent.  So I’ve got lots coming up.

But seriously.  Buy my book now, or I might not get to publish all these others!

Want to have Ferrett sign YOUR copy of Flex? Get thee to a bookstore:


Flex @Angry Robot | Flex @Goodreads | Flex @Amazon



EliseFerrett Steinmetz, Flex

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise

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signalSilvia Moreno-Garcia has appeared in Shimmer three times and this winter, her debut novel, Signal to Noise arrives. Silvia was awesome enough to sit down with us to talk about books, Easy Bake Ovens, and the wonder that is “Take on Me” by a-ha.


Tell us how and when Signal to Noise began for you.

Not sure when. I’m terrible with dates. Probably three years ago. It started only with one scene, which is how I start everything. Adult Meche and Sebastian see each other across the street and it is raining. I know it sounds rather prosaic but I thought it was a very weighty moment and it lingered in my head. The rest of the book was an attempt to answer what they were doing there.

Let’s get the most obvious question out of the way first: does Signal to Noise have a mix tape? soundtrack? Do we have to wear our Vans to listen to it?

There’s an ‘official’ playlist that I made with about a dozen songs but a reviewer compiled all of the songs that appear in the novel. There’s a surprising amount of jazz in there. Also, that reviewer deserves major thanks for putting it together.

How did the structure of the novel develop? Was it always two interlaced timeframes?

Yeah, it always jumped back and forth in time. I think originally I was attempting to write a Young Adult novel but that didn’t work out. I don’t think I know what YA means. Or I’m not good with categories.

Why Mexico City?

Write what you know, I say.

You write both short stories and novels; does one appeal to you more than the other?

I would rather write shorter than longer. I have a hard time focusing on a single project. I hate the fact that the 50,000 word novel is not so popular these days. I have a lot of old books which clock at around that point. I’m also not a series person. I cannot imagine reading book 9 of the 15 volume series A Very European Medieval Imaginary Land, much less writing it. With that said I write whatever length works best.

If we were to come visit you in British Colombia, what’s the most 80s place you could take us to?

The Movieland Arcade on Granville. It has only machines from the 80s and it feels like a dingy time capsule that was left behind, forgotten, between the shiny new glass buildings of Vancouver. This is also the home of the last of the 8mm peep shows. Pretty much the last place in North America where you can throw a quarter and see a few minutes of vintage, celluloid pornography. It’s one of my favourite places in Vancouver, though I’m sure they’ll bulldoze it and build a giant condo tower on top one day or the other. That’s what happens here.

1980sIf Meche had to choose between the hair of anyone from the Thompson Twins, Whitney “How Will I Know” Houston, or Mike Score of Flock of Seagulls, who would she style herself after?

She’s probably too cool to imitate any popular hairstyles of the time period.

What would a Signal to Noise music video look like? Would it be styled like “Take On Me,” or maybe “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” or maybe even “How Will I Know.”

Good God. Maybe “Take On Me,” just because it’s the most awesome music video ever? But my memo to the artist when they asked about inspiration for the cover said to sit back and listen to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Duncan Dhu’s “En Algun Lugar,” so I guess I had “Total” on my head.

Favorite movies from the 80s, go.

Too many to name. Many did not age well though I was watching the 1980s version of Flash Gordon with my children the other night and they had a lot of fun. More super hero movies need a Queen-like soundtrack. I guarantee you the shitty Transformers franchise would benefit greatly if you played it with no dialogue, only Queen songs playing. It might become avant garde, even.

StrangeWayDyingYou have published and written a good many Lovecraft-themed stories and anthologies. What is it about Lovecraft that interests you, and does that influence your own work?

It varies. Right now his biological determinism but it’s not a constant state of affairs.

Tell us about a fabulous book you’ve read recently.

I’m not a good person to make recommendations. I liked Kraken Bake by Karen Dudley, which is the second book in a funny series set in Ancient Greece where gods and magical creatures are real. I call it Princess Bride meets Greek Mythology.

What do you have against Easy Bake Ovens? Will this hostility be resolved in a Signal to Noise sequel? If not, what’s next for you?

I can guarantee there will never be a Signal to Noise sequel. I hope we can sell Young Blood, my novel with Mexican vampire drug dealers. But that’s for my agent to figure out. I was working on a 1920s novel set in the Mexican northern border but I got to the point where I hate it and kicked it away to start work on something new that is called, for now, The Beautiful Ones, and takes place in a sort of alternate Belle Epoque.

As a postscript, I owned an Easy Bake Oven. It was the best toy a child can have. Now they make them with some kind of special lightbulb that takes forever to cook the cake, for safety reasons. But I say live a little.

Signal to Noise @Goodreads | Signal to Noise @Amazon



EliseSilvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise

Hugo Eligible

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Shimmer published five issues last year, so here’s what we have for your consideration when it comes to Hugos, Nebulas, and Academ– Er.

Shimmer 19

Shimmer #19

Original Short Stories:


  • Sandro Castelli
  • Kurt Huggins
  • Zelda Devon

Editors (short form):

  • E. Catherine Tobler
  • Ann VanderMeer

And indeed, Shimmer Magazine is eligible in the Semiprozine category.

adminHugo Eligible

Shimmer #23: Editorial

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The Half Dark Promise, by Sandro Castelli

The Half Dark Promise, by Sandro Castelli

People often ask me, “what makes a story Shimmery,” and it’s not always easily answered — sometimes, you don’t know a story is Shimmery until you hit the end, and you realize there is a change inside you.

Sometimes, it’s more easily answered, as the shimmer is distinct from the point of entry. A confident voice that knows where it’s going from the first line, even if I, as a reader, don’t know. The immediate delivery of an image that is unusual, arresting; an image that makes you pause and want to see more. The stories in Shimmer #23 accomplish both things for me as editor and reader both.

Something moves in the half dark two gas lamps ahead of me.

Gas lamps! Something? In the half dark? I’m already intrigued, even if we don’t yet know what the something is. Does our narrator know? Indeed she knows, and will show us everything soon.

Child’s mistress was out when the scentless woman entered the shop and laid a strip of severed cloth upon the counter.

A scentless woman, a severed cloth. A character named Child? Where is this going? There are a few things to unpack, beautiful threads that foreshadow much to come.

When I think oil rig, I think big metal Viking onslaught in the night.

Immediate hook — pounding metal music exploding through a winter night. Hammer of the gods! Ships to new lands! You are on that ship, holding on.

Things used to be pure inside me.

How Shimmery is that opening line? So Shimmery. Seven words that convey a huge image, a big idea the story will unpack piece by piece. What things, why are they no longer pure, what changed?

Something inside you may change as you read this quartet of stories. My thanks to Sarah Pinsker and Madison Bell for their help in proofing the Haitian Creole herein.


Read or Buy Shimmer #23


EliseShimmer #23: Editorial

2014: In Review

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Holy badgers, Shimmer had an amazing year! It kinda looked like this:

300_Shimmer18cover300_shimmer19cover   300_Shimmer20cover

300_Shimmer-21-Cover  300_Shimmer-22-Cover

Shimmer went digital this year, and published twenty-eight stories! Of those, twenty-four authors were new to Shimmer, and of those, I believe three authors made their debuts with us. Ann VanderMeer guest edited issue #18 for us; when we went digital with issue #19, we welcomed Robert N. Lee as our creative director. Laura Blackwell joined us as a copy editor, while Sandro Castelli remained as art director.

Overwhelmingly, Shimmer was well received. Lois Tilton of Locus Magazine recommended “A Whisper in the Weld,” “Cantor’s Dragon,” and “The Earth and Everything Under,” and readers seemed to love…everything? What a delight to see stories from Seth Dickinson, Vajra Chandrasekera, Kelly Sandoval, and Alix E. Harrow blow up in social media circles.

Early estimates say that Shimmer badgers wrangled 4500 submissions over the course of 2014. And who are those Shimmer badgers anyhow? A huge shout out to them, because we couldn’t do anything without their paws: Sophie Wereley, Joy Marchand, Nicola Belte, Pam Wallace, and Stacey Janssen. Keffy Kehrli, Cory Skerry, and Gra Linnaea also saw us through 2014, some more dragon than badger.

We are looking ahead to 2015, and whatever it may bring — so far, January 1st brings a kick-ass issue filled with four more new-to-Shimmer authors. Want to be one of those? We reopen to submissions on January 12th.





Elise2014: In Review

Best Horror, 2013

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Issue 16

Issue 16

Yesterday, Ellen Datlow posted her long list of Honorable Mentions for her 2013 Best Horror of the Year, and six Shimmer stories are among the mentions:

From Issue #16:

The Revelation of Morgan Stern, by Christie Yant
The Binding of Memories, by Cate Gardner
Word and Flesh, by Dennis Ginoza
The Life and Death of Bob, by William Jablonsky

From Issue #17:

Out They Come, by Alex Dally MacFarlane
Love in the Time of Vivisection, by Sunny Moraine

And Shimmer badgers?

Our Nicola Belte got a mention, with her story, “B,” from The Journal of Unlikely Entomology #5!

Both issues of Shimmer are available in our back issues if you missed out the first time around. Thanks, as always, to Ellen Datlow for the time and work she gives to this genre; what an amazing number of things she reads every year!

You can read the full listings on her site!

EliseBest Horror, 2013

Issue #22: Editorial

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Art by Sandro Castelli

This has been one of the most challenging years I’ve ever experienced, personally and professionally. 2014 has contained losses — some we expected and some we never saw coming. 2014 has contained reams of bad news dropped upon, oh look, reams of bad news.

I wonder: was the world always like this and we just never knew, but now we can’t not know, because we are constantly connected to a world larger than our neighborhoods; we are global now, “living in the future” we say, watching as events half the world away impact our daily lives.

We carry the world in our pockets — the news is always there, sought or not. No stumbling out to a newspaper box to get the headlines, they’re already stacked in your phone. The news is no longer a sound bite on television — you can watch in real time as life, terrible and glorious life, unfolds in streets across the world. And that world is huge and often terrible, and overwhelming.

Time and again, because of that, I come back to short fiction.

A short story allows me to narrow my focus and slow my breath — I did this as a kid in school, too, though only in looking back did I realize it for what it was. For a few precious pages, I don’t have to think about what is happening anywhere else; for half an hour, I can sink into a wholly new world — or a hidden aspect of our own — and vanish.

If you find yourself needing to pause and take a breath, I hope these four stories allow that. They explore loss and recovery in equal measure–all the thistles and dandelions growing up through Isa bloomed at once, out of season, in a riotous bouquet. These four stories close out an amazing Shimmer year, which means our printed annual is on the horizon. These four stories encompass a hope that we carry on the face of strange doings; that we keep taking the next step, even if we don’t know exactly where it leads.

As 2014 winds down, be excellent to each other, and remember to breathe.

E. Catherine Tobler
Senior Editor

Buy Issue #22 | Subscribe to Shimmer

E. Catherine Tobler’s fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her first novel, Rings of Anubis, is now available. Follow her on Twitter @ECthetwit or her website, http://www.ecatherine.com. ecatherinetobler


EliseIssue #22: Editorial

Shimmer Scares

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If you take the badgers to the movies…

They’re going to want popcorn (with Hot Tamales, thank you)…



…the closer the blue planet Melancholia comes to earth on a collision course, the more the just-married sister falls apart, and her depressed sister regains her peace and equilibrium…the dread in the film builds as the characters take turns using a wire loop to measure the increasing diameter of the approaching planet. This isn’t a traditional horror film, but it scared the heck out of me…

…I watched Chuckie when I was a kid and didn’t watch a movie scarier than that Halloween movie with Bette Midler for YEARS.

The original Psycho with Anthony Perkins scared me so badly, for a long time after, I wouldn’t take a shower if I was in the house alone. Good thing we also had a bathtub, or I would have been scaring a lot of people myself.

But…bathtubs, tablecloths, eyeballs, Diabolique… NOPE…

But House…House is like…crack on fire…with flooding and glitter…

And then I watched The Ring and couldn’t watch anything even remotely scary for years…


The French film Martyrs is the first one I thought of. Totally brutal and disturbing and strangely beautiful. I want to watch it again, but I can’t quite work myself up to it…

…I thought about Martyrs, then thought that might be….way too much. It’s one of my That Was a Really Good Movie But I’ll Never See It Again movies…

Eyes Without a Face — also file under “strangely beautiful,” all those dogs in the kennel…

The Shining…or Alien, though I haven’t seen that for eleventy billion years…

(Home Alone, because tarantula –why would anyone agree to let it crawl on their FACE?)

…seeing Chuckie as a kid is enough to terrify anybody…

I will probably pick The Congo because I was too young when I saw that…

…did you want a horror movie? I can name an actual horror movie…

Oh, heck no–doesn’t have to be straight up horror. I mean, even Gravity is scary on some level, right?

Gravity scared the hell out of me…

…the 1989 Woman In Black done for British TV. It’s the only movie that’s ever made me yell and hide my eyes as an adult, watching it…

And I think I’ve hard deleted all the scary movies I’ve watched since then.
House of Leaves was pretty freaky tho…


EliseShimmer Scares

Shimmer #21: The Drinking Game, Part 2

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Shimmer-21-CoverIn my editorial for issue #21, I played around with the notion of drinks for the stories, being that Shimmer was twenty-one and legal to drink. And then I thought “hey, drinks for stories.” Thus, we present to you drinks for each of the stories in Shimmer #21!

Our drinking game concludes with drinks from Andrew Romine, and Brooke Bolander!


Drink of the Fisherman’s Wife (for “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”)
by Andrew Penn Romine

1.5 oz Mezcal
.5 oz Campari
.5 oz Punt e Mes
careful pinch of sea salt
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir all ingredients over ice and strain into a rocks glass. Express swath of orange peel over drink to release the oils, then drop peel into glass for garnish.

A.C. Wise’s wonderfully evocative “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” conjured up intense imagery of the salty sea, the tang of smoke, and the passions of the blood. I like strong flavors, and I wanted to create a drink that honored these three visceral components of Wise’s story.

I chose mezcal for its smooth, resinous smokiness, and also because it pairs well with citrus. Campari is a favorite too, a strong, bitter citrus-flavored liqueur that adds bite to any drink. In this case, it also helps to give the cocktail a ruddy cast. Punt e Mes is a strongly flavored vermouth that balances the bitter components with a subtle sweetness.

Angostura bitters are a pretty standard way to round out any drink, but here I also added a small pinch of sea-salt to give an extra bite to the finish. A swath of orange peel is the perfect garnish, and the citrus helps brighten and clarify both the aroma and flavor.

I’d like to think both wife and husband would pass the interminable hours of longing between their waking dreams imbibing a few of these!




The Us-In-You (for “We Take the Long View”)
by Brooke Bolander

Between 1/2 and 3/4ths of an oz Laphroaig
1/2 oz Four Roses Single Batch Bourbon
1/2 oz Lapsang simple syrup  (a good recipe can be located here)
1/4 oz Root liqueur

Combine ingredients with ice in shaker. Shake for 10 seconds or until your hands are as cold as snow-covered branches. Strain over more ice, finish with a sprig of rosemary. Note the immediate burst of earth and peat from the scotch, the more subtle maple-sap flavour of the bourbon, and the distant pine smoke of the Lapsang. The sharp wintergreen sweetness of the Root liqueur rounds out the flavour profile. Drink one and you’ll feel the Forest’s love; two and you may experience some mild telepathy. Enjoy!

If you haven’t read Shimmer #21, get a copy and a drink and settle in!
Our bartenders:

Andrew Penn Romine lives in Los Angeles where he works in the visual effects and animation industry. A graduate of the 2010 Clarion West workshop, his fiction appears online at Lightspeed Magazine, Paizo and Crossed Genres as well as in the anthologies FungiWhat Fates Impose, By Faerie Light, Coins of Chaos, and Help Fund My Robot Army. You can find his full list of publications at the Bibliography link. He’s also contributed articles to Lightspeed/Fantasy Magazine and blogs at Inkpunks. He also blogs about cocktails as The Booze Nerd. You can also follow his day-to-day adventures on Twitter: @inkgorilla.

Brooke Bolander is a human in an ill-fitting person suit pretending to be a writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Nightmare, and many other fine publications. When not concocting potions for Shimmer, she enjoys kittens, long walks on the beach, and updating her website, brookebolander.com. You can reach her on Twitter at @BBolander, if so inclined.

E. Catherine Tobler likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain, she’s not much into health food, but is into champagne.

EliseShimmer #21: The Drinking Game, Part 2