It’s Hugo Award season, so we’re happy to present you with a list of everything Shimmer published in 2017. Shimmer only publishes short stories–we do not traffic in the tastiness of novelettes or novellas.
Last year around this time, we were getting psyched for Hunger Makes the Wolf, the debut novel from Alex Wells (whom you might know from Shimmer pages as Alex Acks). THIS year, we’re psyched for the sequel, Blood Binds the Pack, wherein everything is turned up to at least eleven.
Blood Binds the Pack is out today from Angry Robot (well today in the UK, in the US it’s February 8th!), and Alex was awesome enough to share some thoughts with us about writing, workers’ unions, and hey, video games!
Blood Binds the Pack is the sequel to 2017’s Hunger Makes the Wolf; how is writing a book two different from writing a book one? What was easier? What was made more challenging?
Writing a second book was actually very intimidating. I’ve written a lot of first books before. This is the first time I’ve ever written a second book—discounting the novella series I did, which feels like a different thing since it was supposed to sort of episodic anyway. I was afraid that I’d have lost the voice, for example, because I wrote most of Hunger Makes the Wolf over five years ago. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the second book as cool or fun as the first book. I was so intimidated by this that I put off writing for way longer than I should have, and all that kicked me into gear was my agent gently but implacably reminding me that I needed to have this thing ready to turn in by a due date. (I do work better to due dates, though. There’s a point where I know I have to stop procrastinating, and I calculate it out fairly precisely.) Once I got over the psychological hump, actually writing the book was a lot easier than I expected. I got my outline done first so all of the major plot mechanics issues were already hammered out, so then I could just write, and I knew exactly what I needed to be writing when. I finished the rough draft in about three months, which is the fastest I’ve ever completed a book.
Blood Binds the Pack deals heavily with workers’ rights, with the idea that workers are people and are entitled to, gasp, certain protections in the course of their work. Where/when did your interest in labor politics begin?
It’s something that’s always been with me, though largely dormant until I hit my late twenties or early thirties. I grew up in a union household—my dad was the Chief Steward for the CWA local 7750 for a while—and we went through one strike while I was pretty young. Then I was actually part of the CWA while I worked for AT&T, right after high school. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have—it was later, once I’d been through several jobs and started really noticing shady labor practices (my favorite bit of subtle ick: the way everyone is discouraged from discussing how much they’re paid with coworkers), that I began to realize how much power workers had lost because most don’t have access to unions. That personal experience and Colorado’s local labor history (see: Ludlow Massacre) were really the foundation that all this grew on.
For readers who might be interested in learning more about such topics, can you point them to any good non-fiction reads?
Here, let me just give you the bibliography that will be at the back of Blood Binds the Pack:
Andrews, Thomas G. Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Harvard University Press, 2010.
Clyne, Rick J. Coal People: Life in Southern Colorado’s Company Towns, 1890-1930. Colorado Historical Society, 2000.
Green, James. Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movements and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America. Anchor, 2007.
Jones, Mary Harris. The Autobiography of Mother Jones. Dover Publications, 2012.
Martelle, Scott. Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West. Rutgers University Press, 2008.
Papanikolas, Zeese. Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre. University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
Was there anything fascinating you discovered in the course of research, but it still didn’t fit into the book?
Pretty much every real detail of the Colorado Coal Field War isn’t included, since I used the history as inspiration but didn’t want to get too precious about it. Some of the stories that Mary Harris Jones tells in her biography will simultaneously make you laugh and curl your hair. I think the book that made the biggest impression on me was actually the one about Louis Tikas, though. Since there isn’t that much information about Tikas in the records, a lot of the book is a history that examines more the general lives of the Greek immigrant miners, and the way they went from outsiders to the backbone of labor resistance.
What was the most fun scene to write in Blood Binds the Pack?
Definitely the heist scene. I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing all the dialog for that, particularly Dambala’s. (Also, the chapters leading up to the heist when the plan is conceived.) I don’t want to get into more detail than that because it’s major spoiler territory, but the whole thing was so fun and easy to write!
How the hell do you keep writing when the world is on metaphorical and literal fire, and have these fires changed the way you approach and continue your work?
It’s hard as hell. The only reason I got Blood Binds the Pack done in good time was that I had a deadline, and flogging myself through deadlines is what got me through both undergrad and graduate school so I’m still in the habit. But the amount of time I’ve wasted angrily reading Twitter is downright shameful, and sometimes it’s hard to focus after all that. So I’ve had to just set times where I have to write, and set myself pretty stringent goals just to keep from getting distracted. I’ve noticed that everything I’ve written lately has been a lot angrier, though, even when I don’t want it to be. And it’s made me more determined to write about workers saving themselves, and rich people being shitty, and queer people being everywhere.
I hear you’re good at trivia; what’s one fun bit of trivia you learned while writing Blood Binds the Pack?
The current fastest helicopter in the world is the CH-47F Chinook, which looks like something out of an Avengers film, can fly 315 kilometers per hour.
I also happen to know that you enjoy a good game, be it tabletop or video. What’ve you played lately that you think your readers might dig?
Video game-wise, I’m still eternally stuck on Destiny, since that’s the game of my heart. Titan for life, basically. For tabletop, I’m now in two different D&D Fifth Edition campaigns, and this is a big deal for me… I’ve never actually liked D&D until this edition. And now suddenly, I can understand the rules! It’s glorious. It also doesn’t hurt that I have two great DMs that I play under. I’ve also loved playing Mysterium, which is by the same people who made Dixit, and you can play using Dixit cards if you want. It’s a semi-cooperative sort-of board game, where someone playing a “ghost” tries to communicate with you using very abstract cards. It’s easy to enjoy because it gets silly, and the cards are beautiful.
What’s next for you?
I’ve done some work for Six to Start’s Racelink, so hopefully those will be out in the world soon! And I just finished writing a scifi novel (not related to Hob’s world) so I think something fantasy is definitely next on my list. Oh, and I owe this really cool anthology about Battle Bards a short story…
HEY, that’s probably Sword & Sonnet, which readers should also check out. But first, go grab a copy of Blood Binds the Pack, and if you aren’t already on the Hob and Mag train to Wonderland, get Hunger Makes the Wolf while you’re at it! Alex, thanks for coming by, and thanks too for an AWESOME book!
In 2015, Fran Wilde’s Updraft hit shelves and went on to win the Andre Norton Award and the Crompton Crook Award, as well as be nominated for the Nebula. Next week, the series concludes with Horizon (and don’t let us forget the middle volume, Cloudbound, on the Locus Recommended Reading list!).
Announcer’s Voice: I thought I knew where the story was going, but I didn’t really, until I wrote it: The Writing of A Trilogy By Fran Wilde.
Seriously, though, a trilogy is an opportunity to really explore the evolution of issues – it’s a great chance to play in the world you’ve built. And – especially for me – it’s a chance to layer and expand and develop plotlines that I started in Updraft in the background. I really enjoyed that part.
Updraft was your first novel so does Horizon encompass the initial vision you had for the series and its world, or did it change as you wrote Updraft and Cloudbound?
It does, I believe! The progression of many things within the three books – including who gets to speak, who gets to lead, and what community means, was really important to me from the start. Also the progression of songs being inherited things turning into something one makes anew also was an initial theme. The progression of the skymouths and the bone eaters took me by surprise, as did some of the characters’ decisions. But I knew where I was going with the cities from the very beginning.
Did Kirit go where you expected, or were there surprises on the ground for you?
Writing Kirit – hah. There were a lot of surprises with her character! I liked that enormously, actually. I think when you build a character, and then they push back against the outline (ahem, for me that’s when the writing goes a lot slower) and kind of start deciding what they want to do in the narrative (I gave Kirit a free-form writing day-off to see what she’d do if she could do anything and she totally surprised me), then you may have a character with agency. It’s not convenient sometimes from a plot perspective, but it results in a lot of interesting turns.
Which came first: Kirit or the bone towers?
The towers! And Djonn (the artifex in Cloudbound), believe it or not! He’s in the very first story. And in the story that started everything, which was more of a world building document. Kirit and Nat came later.
Related, where do you begin when it comes to world building?
I begin with what fascinates and scares me most. In the case of the Bone Universe, I began with falling, and flying – which is sort of like failing to fall. Once I know what’s caught me up, I start researching and making lists of things I don’t know, and then I continue researching those things while I write.
You shared some of the research you did for this series on your blog–you flew in a wind tunnel! What was the most unexpected thing you learned in the course of your research for the trilogy?
The most unexpected things I learned were probably that echolocation works, but not exactly the way people outside the blind community think it does. The weirdest were the facts about lammergeiers – they rub their faces with clay to look fiercer, and they’re already huge and fierce. Also the different ways bone can smell. That was pretty weird. And cephalopods. So much weird there. And…
Yeah, I like weird.
You have an MFA in poetry; how has poetry influenced your work, and do you have favorite poets we should look up after we finish this interview?
I think poetry has always influenced my writing – mostly the sounds of words hitting together and weaving together. I get very caught up in sounds. I still write poems, but they’re quick things that I post on Instagram now and then.
Favorite poets – oh gosh I have so many. Rita Dove (one of my teachers), Larry Levis (another teacher – basically all of my teachers go on this list), Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Bishop, Wyslawa Szymborska, Pablo Neruda, Mary Szybist, Tracy K. Smith (the newest US Poet Laureate), John Berryman, Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney, Christina Rosetti, Sofia Samatar, Lynda Hull, Whitman… not to mention Amal El-Motar, Valya Dudycz Lupescu, CSE Cooney, Rose Lemberg, and more.
What is the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
“This isn’t good enough. You should stop working on this and start something new instead.” – from Past Me.
I am learning to not listen.
You have an affinity for fountain pens and ink. Do you have a favorite pen? A favorite ink?
YES I DO. I love TWSBI demonstrators. Except now I have more pens because people are lovely and are trying to educate me about them. My new favorite favorites are a Jinhao and a Boerer 8 Horses. Both fine nib.
My favorite inks right now are the really moody Sailors and iroshizukus, and the J. Herbin 1670s.
I’m not sure that ‘affinity’ is the most accurate word…. What’s the level up from that?
What came first, sketching or writing?
Writing was fir—no wait, it was sketchi—hmm. I’m not sure. I’ve always done both, usually together. I think it’s a pretty natural thing to draw and write at the same time… something we’ve lost due to the keyboard effect.
Cooking the Books is your blog about food in works of speculative fiction; do you have a favorite speculative food, a perhaps-fictional food that made you think “oh I want to go to there”?
I’m always interested in the coffee analogs – and the things people are willing to do for coffee and spices. So many foods in Aliette de Bodard’s worlds (she’s my Cooking the Books co-host, so maybe sometime we’ll get to cook together). I remember wondering what the foods in Alice and Wonderland tasted like, and how it felt to eat words in the Phantom Tollbooth, so it started pretty early.
While reading Updraft, I had a memory of reading the Pern books; for me, they share a sense of wonder and newness and strangeness and scope. And yes, flying! What authors/books do you remember loving in your childhood?
McCaffrey, for sure was a favorite, so that’s an honor you thought of Pern! The Ship Who Sang especially – Helva was my first and best ship. Natalie Babbitt (Tuck Everlasting), Norm Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth), Richard Adams (Watership Down). I had a copy of The Annotated Alice that I loved very much. And some very early science fiction…mostly out of Gardner Dozois’ Best Of collections. Ursula K. Le Guinn’s Earthsea. Madeline L’Engle.
Has the world of 2016/2017 changed the way you approach writing, or the kind of content you’re creating?
I have discovered I write better and more honestly when I allow myself to be angry. 2016 & 2017 have provided plenty of opportunities for writing better.
Are Kirit’s stories concluded?
I think so…. Maybe not everyone in the Bone Universe is ready to settle down yet, but I think Kirit’s pretty happy where she landed.
What’s next for you?
I’ve finished a middle grade novel that took me completely by surprise, and am working on the next two Gem Universe novellas for Tor.com as well as a number of short stories!
Fran, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us! Readers, grab Horizon if you haven’t already, and also be sure to check out Fran’s own interview with her cover artist Tommy Arnold — it contains sketches for the covers, and shows how author and artist work together to show you what you’re reading! Fran is also over at Scalzi’s The Big Idea today, so check that out, too.
Fran will be at Powell’s (Cedar Hills Crossing) to read and sign on October 18th.
Shimmer author Kristi DeMeester’s debut novel, Beneath, is out on April 30th from Word Horde. Kristi was kind enough to spend some time with us, pondering scary things and the nature of snakes…
Tell us how Beneath came to be.
Beneath started while I was in grad school as a very different book. I’d been reading far too much Pat Conroy and was trying to write a bastardization of The Prince of Tides. In order to graduate, you had to submit 150 pages of a novel to selected advisors, go through the critique and revision process, and then do a formal presentation. I got about fifty pages into that first book, when I realized I wasn’t telling the right story. The mother in that first book was Ruth McDowell, and her story—filled with snake handling and delusion—was infinitely more fun than the one I was writing, so I turned tail right then and started writing of the night Ruth gave birth to her daughter with the fleck of red in her eye. After that, I dutifully wrote 100 more pages, submitted it in dead exhaustion, and then didn’t touch it for another two years. It was only when an agent reached out to me, asking if I had a novel, that I dusted off Beneath and realized it wasn’t as terrible as I remembered. I made a pledge to myself that I would spend that summer finishing it, and so, slowly but surely, I added 1,000 words and then 2,000 words a day until it was finished. By that time, it had become something completely different: the story of a journalist facing what seems to be demonic possession but is actually the awakening of something much older. After that, it went through rounds and rounds of revisions until Ross Lockhart asked to take a peak, and he was kind enough to see something in it and agreed to publish it. Four years after I started it.
Do you have a favorite snake?
NOPE. I don’t like snakes. At all. I realize the irony in that, but I’m terrified of them.
What kind of research did Beneath entail? Was there anything fascinating you discovered in the course of research, but it still didn’t fit into the book?
I pulled quite a bit from my own background with fundamentalist religion, but I did research on the practicalities of snake handling. How the preachers will keep the snakes close to starving in order to keep them docile, which seems like the opposite of what you would want, but is true. A lethargic snake is less likely to bite or feel threatened than a lively one. Research about the flora and fauna of Appalachia itself was something I had to pare back but wasn’t that interesting. There’s a detail in there about how to siphon gasoline out of a car without using your mouth, which I thought was cool. It’s still in there. I don’t think anything fascinating didn’t make it in. I wish I did have a little nugget to share!
Beneath deals a lot with ritual, with belief. Do you have rituals when it comes to the writing process?
Right now, my ritual is firmly grounded in being flexible. I write most often upstairs, in my bedroom, in a little nook that has a chair. If I have quiet, I need ambient music, but usually the television is on in the background and someone is trying to talk to me. In the summer, when I have hours that belong only to me, the ritual is coffee, stare at the screen, type a little, check my email, more coffee, type some more. Minimum of 500 words a day. If I get more, great. If I don’t, that’s okay. Slow and steady.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
I came to writing later than a lot of people, and for that I have some regrets, but I also think those years formed and shaped the fiction I was going to create. In 2008 I started writing semi-seriously. I had just gotten married, and I was going through some old folders when I found a story I’d written while I was student teaching. I remembered how I’d written it only for me, for the sheer enjoyment of doing it, and I thought yes, this is something I want to do. I applied for grad school and got in and then spent two and a half years writing terrible workshop pieces, but I learned a lot and find the experience invaluable. In 2010 I started submitting in earnest.
What is it about dark fiction that draws your interest? Was there a certain moment that you remember saying “oh yes, this is for me”?
I’ve always liked spooky stuff. I was the kid who got into trouble for the books I brought to school. I tried for a long time to write things that were not dark, but everything felt forced and stilted and when I finally came back to it, it was like coming home. The very first story I remember reading and wanting to emulate was Charlotte Perkins Gilman “The Yellow Wallpaper.” There was something that disturbed me so much about that story. Later, I realized it was the true horror of that quiet, little story. How things in our lives can morph and change into things we don’t understand, and I wanted my fiction to be like that.
Related to that, what’s the moment in a horror movie or book where you were really and truly scared? Whose work made you feel that?
That’s the hardest question ever for a horror fan. Because after a time, you aren’t really scared anymore. Perhaps unsettled or disturbed or uneasy, and, for me anyway, those emotions are more powerful than the jump scare. Stephen Graham Jones has been one whose writing has left me feeling that way lately. Laird Barron. Robert Shearman. Livia Llewellyn. Joyce Carol Oates. Michael Wehunt. For films it’s even narrower. Stoker left me both fascinated and terrified. I like my horror quiet and gentle. The kind that sneaks up behind you and whispers poison into your ear. Picnic at Hanging Rock and Lake Mungo did that for me.
You write both short stories and novels; how is the process different for you? How is it the same?
Novels can feel more defeating because the pay off of the end is so far away. The process is largely the same because I don’t outline, but I have to allow myself to stretch out and breathe, which is hard for me sometimes because I’m such a fan of ambiguity and brevity.
Do you have a favorite story among your own?
As of now it’s a tie between “The Language of Endings” which appeared in the April 2017 issue of The Dark and “Saints in Gold” which is forthcoming in a Ramsey Campbell tribute anthology titled Darker Companions.
Picture your own work as a compass; are there authors who make up north, south, east, and west for you? Authors who gave/give you guidance along the way?
Damien Angelica Walters. Michael Wehunt. These two always point north for me.
What challenges you?
The constant need to put out new work. To not settle for the same story I’ve always told.
What scares you?
Loss. Not living up to my own expectations. Failure.
Does Beneath have a soundtrack?
The Southern Gothic playlist on Spotify.
If we came to visit you in Georgia, where would you take us?
For a beer at one of our local breweries and then outside under the stars somewhere to experience what it smells like in Georgia when the sun sets.
What’s next for you?
My debut short fiction collection, Everything That’s Underneath, is forthcoming from Apex Publications this summer. My second novel, The Kingdom of Beasts, is out with agents currently. I’m at work on my third novel, currently titled Lessons in Vanishing.
Thanks, Kristi! Readers, you can get a signed copy of Beneath with the ebook directly from Word Horde when you buy the Beneath bundle! You can also find Beneath at the usual suspects, Amazon and B&N.
A new novel hits the shelves today — Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells. You might not know this name, but this is a Shimmer author in disguise. Alex took the time to tell me about their novel, and this world, both of which I hope you adore as much as we did. And yes, this interview contains those marvelous words, “the sequel.” Happy release day, Alex! –ect
Shimmer readers may know you best from your short fiction (as Rachael Acks); tell us how you turned your thoughts toward a novel length work, and this story specifically.
This is actually the fifth novel I’ve written—but the first one that’s been fit to see the light of day. I’ve been more comfortable in long form for a while; back in my fanfic day, I was Mr. Thirty-Plus Part Epic. Short fiction was more of a recent thing because I decided to try it as my entry point for writing original fiction and getting published. There’s a lot less time sunk into writing a short story (or novelette or novella, which is really my preferred length because my goodness I am long-winded) so it felt like a better shot at trying to find my way. I’m honestly still not sure if that was my smartest idea, because my constant struggle to try to come up with stories I can tell in less than 10,000 words is kind of hilarious. But then it turned into a challenge, because I still feel like I’m not great at short fiction, and gosh darnit, I want to be able to write consistently decent things.
Hunger Makes the Wolf actually started with the short story Fire in the Belly, which I finally sold to Mothership Zeta last year. Then I started writing more stories about Hob’s life, and my friends gently pointed out to me that these were really more chapters in a book. So fine, I wrote a book.
The book has a weird west feel to it; many reviews liken it to Dune and Fury Road, but I’d also dare to mention Firefly. Everything feels real and gritty and immediate. Were there other speculative worlds that helped inspire this one?
I think Firefly definitely deserves a seat at the influences table, if for no other reason than it showed me how wonderfully Wild West and Scifi can work together. I really wanted to take that aesthetic and combine it with the utter expansive feeling you get of living in the mountain west. I also watched a bit of Deadwood because my housemate around that time was into it. Not really my show, but I think that also got me thinking of grit and dirt and just how sweaty you get, running around in that much direct sunlight.
In the book, Hob hides part of her nature, as “witchyness” isn’t fully accepted by the world at large. At times this read as a metaphor for our own less-than-accepting world. Was that intentional, or something that developed along the way?
That was definitely something that developed along the way. It’s not an intentional allegory for any particular difference, though I know you could read nearly anything into it and I’m also not going to say any particular interpretation is wrong. I wanted to have a small group of people able to do some Really Weird Shit™ that was connected to the wider strangeness of the world. But of course, when you set up a minority group that can be picked out and used as a scapegoat (in this case by corporate interests who want to keep their workers divided), particularly a minority group which could exercise real power within a society if it weren’t consistently oppressed, we’re going to see parallels with the modern world. Because that stuff has happened and is still actively happening.
I found the relationship between Hob and Mags in Hunger Makes the Wolf delightful. Female friendships seem less common than male friendships in books. What other female friendships in speculative fiction (books/movies/games) have you enjoyed?
I recently finished Uprooted by Naomi Novik, and the friendship between Kasia and Nieshka is everything my heart has ever wanted. Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books are some of my favorite brain candy reads, and one thing I love about them is that they center on female characters and there are so many strong friendships to be seen. I wish I could think of a few more examples, but most of what I’ve read has had a lot of male characters, and some pretty solid male-female friendships (which are great in their own way), but not a whole lot centering female friendships. That’s part of why the Mag and Hob relationship is so important to me.
What is UP with the Bone Collector? So creepy, so fascinating. Where did this character begin?
He started as a statue sitting next to an underground lake in one of Hob’s earlier adventures, not included in Hunger Makes the Wolf. I wrote him as sort of the otherworldly, overly-mysterious guide character, and then he just developed from there, much to Hob’s annoyance. There is a lot more up with him than that, but if you want to know what it is, you’re going to have to wait for the next book. All of his secrets get revealed.
Do you have a favorite scene in the book? What was the most fun to write — what was the most challenging?
I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing the final combat scene, which I’m not going to spoil here, but I wanted to make it as gonzo ridiculous as I could. That’s a tie with the scene where Hob punches the Bone Collector in the face, because there has always been a part of me that wants to punch characters like him in the face, and that was my chance.
The most difficult scene to write was early on, when Mag deals with smiling Mr. Franklin. I felt so creeped out by everything involved in that, and genuinely scared for Mag as I was writing it.
Does this book have a soundtrack? Is “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran on it?
It does have a soundtrack, of course. While I was writing it, I actually listened to the soundtracks from the Transformers films. Because those movies are absolutely awful, but the theatrical scores for them are great writing fuel. I also built a playlist with songs that reminded me of the various characters–which sadly includes no Duran Duran, but a significant amount of Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys. There’s an incomplete version of it here if you’re curious: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCt4iTv8uk5S15hivnIm_a0ItbSdiMXKm
In that same vein, which member of Duran Duran would play the Bone Collector in the film adaptation of the book? Who would play Hob?
Nick Rhodes, if I’m allowed to import him from the 80s. Though to be honest, I always envisioned the Bone Collector as a bit more David Bowie, because of course the weird, mysterious dude is going to David Bowie. I’ve had a heck of a time trying to come up with an answer for the Hob question. When I look up actresses, it’s all publicity shots and it’s like… all of them look way too pretty and not nearly pissed off enough to be Hob. Maybe Olga Fedori? Or Milla Jovovich. She has a great angry face.
What’s next for you? More books? Scripts? Watching bad movies for good causes?
Well, I’m writing the rough draft for the sequel to this novel right now. I’ve got a lot of stuff in progress for once that’s put to bed—a couple novellas, a romcom script that I’m feeling really good about, and a few short stories that have been languishing while all my energy goes into the novel. And I’ve got a short story set to come out from Tor.com later this year!
Thanks, Alex! Readers, check out HUNGER MAKES THE WOLF from Angry Robot, and also go visit Alex on their site, katsudon.com! You can find Hunger Makes the Wolf at Angry Robot, B&N, and Amazon.
On its own, a badger may be a small thing, but en masse, badgers can do mighty things.
Simply put, we’re bringing you some quality badger goods, and every quarter, we’ll be donating profits to organizations intent on resistance and democracy for all.
Badger Josh Storey has contributed some amazing artwork for this project, beginning with a badger tribute to Rosie the Riveter. We can do it — with your help! We’ve got stickers, mugs, cards, tees, and MORE.
From time to time, we like to shake things up in the badger meadows at Shimmer HQ, and we are delighted that all this latest round of shaking has produced three new badgers. (We cannot say much about the process, but it involves thistles, bourbon, and shooting stars.)
We are delighted to introduce you to Suzan, Josh, and Lindsay, who will be helping us read your submissions and decide what’s Shimmery!
Suzan Palumbo lives in Ontario, Canada, where she is an ESL teacher and writer. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, her life is a fusion of Caribbean and Canadian culture. She grows tomatoes in the summer, sips warm drinks in the winter, and is always wrangling her two kids.
Josh Storey has only ever had three career ambitions: astronaut, Superman, and writer. Since he’s no good at math and (as far as his parents will admit) not from Krypton, he’s going with option three. Josh occasionally blathers about writing, comic books, and other geekery on Twitter @soless.
Lindsay Thomas is a writer based in Denver, Colorado. She can often be found playing trivia at her neighborhood brewery, competing in poetry slams, peering at the sky for funnel clouds, or serving as commissioner of her fantasy football league. Her work has appeared in The Skinny and The Fogdog Review. She tweets and retweets at @finstergrrrl.
Please give them a warm welcome! We think they’re going to fit right in…
Shimmer has had the pleasure of publishing Erica L. Satifka’s short fiction twice, “We Take the Long View” (Shimmer 21) and “States of Emergency” (Shimmer 26).
Today, Erica’s debut novel, STAY CRAZY, arrives from Apex Book Company, and it’s probably quite unlike anything you’ve ever read — exactly like her short fiction is.
Erica dropped by to talk about the book, mental illness, and badgers in books.
Tell us how Stay Crazy came to be.
I had just graduated from college and I was working in a certain big-box store, frozen food aisle, night shift. The work was extremely tedious and to pass the time I started making up stories in my head, and eventually I’d built the story that would become Stay Crazy and I spent the next year thinking about it until I finally started writing it down. I’d also just discovered Philip K. Dick, so a lot of my story ideas were pulled in the direction of alternate realities. The story went through numerous mental revisions, and the only constant was a being that spoke through RFID chips.
Anyway, in 2005 I actually wrote the book, and then I revised it a decade later, because my writing process is counterproductive and makes absolutely no sense. However, I became a much better writer in the time that elapsed between the two drafts, so it’s a lot better for that period of abeyance.
Stay Crazy tackles some big themes, namely mental illness. How did you approach research?
In the year before I wrote it and while I was working on the revision (these two things happened almost a decade apart), I read upwards of two dozen memoirs written by people with schizophrenia. I read a few clinical books, too, but for the most part I stuck strictly to first-person narratives. Among the best of these were The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks, The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut, and The Day the Voices Stopped by Ken Steele.
But even more than striving for authenticity, I was striving for empathy. Fictional characters with schizophrenia typically only fill one role, that of a killer. In reality, someone like Em would be vastly more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a perpetrator. I also didn’t want the novel to be about mental illness; Stay Crazy isn’t meant to inform but to entertain. If it does happen to change someone’s perspective on people with schizophrenia, though, so much the better.
One of the things I like best about Stay Crazy is that Emmeline gets to be the hero–where normally someone with a mental illness would not be thrust into that role. She’s almost a Cassandra at times–with people not believing her because her illness has caused them to doubt even her normal reactions. Was that a challenge to write–everyone in the book may think Em is unreliable, but she knows her own truth?
That’s actually my favorite thing about the book, the layering of different types of unreality. Even Em doesn’t really know her own truth at first, and she backs off from it several times. And not to get too far into spoilers, but she isn’t always right – I wanted to make her both reliable and unreliable, sort of a broken Cassandra. One coping mechanism used by most people with schizophrenia is reality testing, the constant checking of one’s internal sense of what is real with the way other people are reacting to a stimulus. So there are two conflicting realities; on the one hand there’s definitely something supernatural going on since Em’s coworkers are dying in droves, and her internal senses tell her that Escodex and the entity are real, but she’s been wrong so many times before. And the stakes for her are so high; a neurotypical protagonist who uncovers a sinister plot against the universe might get brushed off, but Em is in real danger of getting locked up in a mental hospital if the people around her discover what she’s doing. This is the kind of ontological quandary that I eat up with a spoon.
I quite enjoyed Escodex, an interdimensional investigator who must’ve been often frustrated by the limitations placed on him in this case. Any plans to explore Escodex’s world?
This is a standalone novel, so probably not. Although I guess if people really wanted a short story from his perspective…
The artwork for Stay Crazy is amazing; who’s the artist? Did you have input on the art?
Isn’t it so great? The art is by Nick Brokenshire. He’s the artist for Amelia Cole, a comic that just finished its run and is available from IDW in 5 volumes. I met him because my friend Adam Knave co-wrote the story with his frequent collaborator, DJ Kirkbride. It also features a young woman in a contemporary setting who stumbles across a supernatural realm.
It was really difficult to find pre-existing art that worked, because a store doesn’t usually make for exciting subject matter. A lot of the potential art just seemed way too dark when paired with the title, so I asked Apex if we could pay for original art instead of licensing something, and Nick came up with some sketches based on the synopsis. So far people seem to really like it! I think it really fits with the tone of the novel, plus it ties into Em’s interest in alternative comic books.
Was there a particular scene in Stay Crazy that was especially challenging or fun to write?
Em’s hallucination scenes were the part of the book that required the most research but also flowed the best once I actually started writing them. The challenge was to always keep two seemingly opposing truths in mind: Em knows her hallucinations are not real, but at the same time they feel so real that she gets swept up anyway. So they had to come across as both true and false, be something that readers can tell is too bizarre to be real yet have them understand how and why a person would still be taken in by them.
Do you think Em has sworn off TV dinners forever?
Wouldn’t you? Of course, one can’t truly trust fresh foods either. Don’t trust anything!
Your fiction is often touching, but still always recognizable for the absolutely weird things going on: eyeballs in unexpected places, sentient forests, cyborg butlers, people selling actual pieces of themselves. Are there any specific writers who influenced your style?
Aside from the obvious influence of Philip K. Dick, I’m also a fan of James Tiptree, Jr., Cordwainer Smith, Samuel Delany, and J.G. Ballard. Among newer writers, Daryl Gregory and Kelly Link are two of my favorites. I’ve had a weird, uneven schooling in science fiction. Never read Asimov, only read one Heinlein and that was as an adult. So I don’t feel constrained at all by any Golden Age nostalgia. I think SF should be as weird as possible at all times.
Do you have a favorite short story among your own?
I’m pretty partial to “States of Emergency” (which appeared in Shimmer #26) just because it was an attempt to be as weird as possible without the hindrance of a cohesive plot. Down with plot! My current best story is still in a slush pile, and saying too much about the story will jinx it, but it may just have the strangest voice of anything I’ve ever written.
Will you put a badger in your next book?
No, but there’s a woodchuck that navigates the multiverse.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
When I figure it out you’ll be the first to know!
If Stay Crazy had a soundtrack, what would the first three tracks be?
I actually had a full soundtrack for the novel at one point, each song cued to a specific scene, but I don’t know where it is anymore. But the tracks that were most thematically apt (as opposed to just having the right tempo for the scene) were “Where Is My Mind?” by the Pixies, “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” by Of Montreal, and “Sick of Goodbyes” by Sparklehorse.
What’s next for you?
In January I finished an alien abduction/sinister terraforming novel currently called Human After All, and once Stay Crazy is released I hope to get into editing the thing. I also want to write more short fiction, I haven’t written a single short story in 2016 and that’s way too big of a gap. I’ll be honest, getting this book out was a lot more stressful than I thought it would be, so I’m also looking forward to just relaxing a bit and working on some projects that don’t come with a timeline. Although I hope it doesn’t take me ten years to revise the next book!
Erica L. Satifka is a writer and/or friendly artificial construct, forged in a heady mix of iced coffee and sarcasm. She enjoys rainy days, questioning reality, ignoring her to-do list, and adding to her collection of tattoos. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Shimmer, Lightspeed, and Intergalactic Medicine Show, and her debut novel Stay Crazy will be released in August 2016 by Apex Publications. Originally from Pittsburgh, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Rob and an indeterminate number of cats.
Maybe you find yourself thinking, I just don’t eat enough grubs.
Maybe you think your day could be improved by yes, more grubs, and lazy stretches in a wide meadow full of soft, long grass.
Deep down, you’ve always wanted to be a badger, haven’t you?
The good news is: Shimmer would love to add a couple more badgers to our dedicated team (why badgers?! ). Your dream of being a badger can come true.
Shimmer is a semiprozine, raised in the wild meadows and skies of a planet called Earth, hand-rolled and assembled by free-range badgers. If you would like to be a first reader for Shimmer (helping us read incoming fiction submissions), we would love to hear from you. The ideal badger will be able to:
Dedicate 5-6 hours per week to read incoming stories;
Advocate for the stories they love;
Come to understand what makes a story Shimmery.
If you want to be a reader for Shimmer, please send an email to email@example.com, with TEAM BADGER in your subject line. We’ll get back to you with details on How to Be a Badger. We’re taking emails from August 15 to August 20th. The following week, the 21st to the 27th, we’ll choose badgers.
Don’t self reject.
If you are a person of color, we would love to hear from you.
If you identify as non-binary or LBGTQIA, we would love to hear from you.
If you have ever wanted to read slush, we would love to hear from you.
If you are a writer who wants to read slush to improve their craft, we would love to hear from you.
Don’t self reject.
We would like to add at least two readers this time around; we will be taking applications this week (August 15th-20th), and making decisions next week (August 21st-27th). We reopen to submissions on September 3rd.
If we have published you, it’s still okay to apply, but once you’re a badger, you cannot submit stories to Shimmer for consideration.
Don’t self reject. If you want to read slush, we want to hear from you.
This is a volunteer gig for everyone, however readers will receive a subscription to Shimmer.
Wanna be a badger? You know what to do!
If you have questions, feel free to ask Elise (@ecthetwit) or Sophie (@sayitwhirly) on the Twitters!