Category Archives: Author Interviews

Ferrett Steinmetz, Flex

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

 

fin

Shimmer #23: Angela Ambroz

Tell us a little about how “Monsters in Space” came to be.

Angela Ambroz
Angela Ambroz

I’m an economist — specifically, I work in international development. So I try to incorporate the issues I see at work into spec fic. Things like poverty, crazy inequality, behavioral manipulation/the power of marketing, consumerism, social structures, power dynamics.

With “Monsters in Space,” I wanted to write something about the financial crisis of 2008, something sort of satirical, dystopian, and capitalist. And in space! Watching Neil Tyson’s “Cosmos” earlier this year really inspired me on the setting – there’s a bit when the Ship of Imagination flies around Titan, and he talks about it being mysterious and full of mine-able gas/oil/stuff. That was great: it was dark and beautiful and very promising.

The rest just tumbled out: I’m a big fan of teen angst protagonists, especially girls whose names could be “Sparky”; Baruch is Mandy Patinkin in a giant beard; “Doctor Who Bombshell” is just 2048 Doctor Who edition (beware: addictive); I grew up in Pittsburgh; I love labor rights history, blah blah. It was one of those stories that just wrote itself!

My favorite part of this story is the voice. How did you develop it?

It’s a pretty big rip-off of George Saunders, who is a genius (a GENIUS, I tell you! it’s even been made official). In fact, it’s such a big rip-off that I feel like I should be sending him money or something? Maybe this advertisement can count: BUY HIS BOOKS, PEOPLE. Anyway, he’s the master at this: the post-1980s/post-Reagan upbeat American voice of late capitalism, especially via a first-person unreliable narrator. The only thing I did was put it in space and make it a girl.

If you had to fight monsters in space, which weapon would you choose? Which weapon would you absolutely not choose, even if it would be effective?

My chosen weapon would be some sort of programming/hacking thing from a trashy 1990s cyberpunk movie. “I’ve got to hack into the system!” and so forth. Bashing at the keyboard while staring intently at scrolling 0s and 1s, sucking down neon soda and wearing smudged bottlecap glasses. I’d also want an opportunity to say, “You’re going to get us both killed!”, since I love that line.

Weapon I wouldn’t choose: the Death Star.

Have you read anything great recently? 

Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet was soooo good.

It’s almost a new year! Do you have any resolutions?

No! I am actively not resolving! In fact, this whole resolution business is just part of that mentality that I’m taking a bit of a satirical shot at (a mentality that I am very, very much a slave to, to be fair): the constant quest to improve yourself, to be better, to do more, etc. To take all the online courses, learn all the things, read all the books, run all the miles, and so on. I’ll consider it an achievement if I *don’t* fetishize accomplishment or productivity in 2015.

 

 Read “Monsters in Space” | Shimmer #23 | Subscribe to Shimmer!

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise

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

 

fin

Shimmer #23: Alexis A. Hunter

Tell us a little about how “Be Not Unequally Yoked” came to be.

Alexis A. Hunter
Alexis A. Hunter

“Be Not Unequally Yoked” was born from a healthy dose of fear, a heap of nostalgia, and from my ever-present sense of wonder. I feared writing a character from a culture that was not my own — despite some of the similarities between Amish faith and rural Christianity. I was afraid to write a character in conflict with their own gender and sexuality, when I’m so certain of my own. Yet through the process, I found a lot of myself in Joash and really connected with him in a way I found quite illuminating. Steeping the story in my hometown allowed me to slip more comfortably into unfamiliar shoes. And as for the wonder–it motivates so many of my sci-fi/fantasy stories.  I love pushing my mind, wondering what could happen and what the boundaries of my imagination are. I haven’t found those limits yet — I hope they’re as vast and limitless as space.

Did growing up around animals influence your work at all? Do you have any favorite short stories or novels about farms and their associated work that seem particularly accurate/compelling?

Growing up on a farm in rural Michigan, surrounded by goats and cows and horses (oh my!), certainly had a profound effect on this story in particular — and on a lot of my stories in some ways. I have a particular love of horses and I hope that familiarity gives my stories some sense of authenticity.

As far as stories or novels about farms, I read the works of James Herriot when I was a kid and, while those stories take place in England, I found their depictions of the grime and the blood and the beauty of working with animals particularly accurate. You see a lot of death in that world, but you really get to see some wonderful moments of life as well.  On that note — in the story, Katie tells Joash about the time she helped a cow give birth by tying twine to the calf’s legs and pulling with the contractions. That’s actually a true story — when I was around ten years old, one of our cows was having trouble delivering, so my dad enlisted the aid of our Amish neighbor to help deliver the calf just like it happened in the story.

You have SEVEN SIBLINGS. Do any of you have magical powers?

Unfortunately, none of us shapeshift into draft horses — but I’d like to think we have our fair share of magical powers: natural-born storytellers, artists, and I swear my little sister is a dog-whisperer.

Have you read anything great recently?

I recently devoured Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor — it has to be one of my all-time favorite books. In the short story world, I’m particularly excited any time I find a new story by Natalia Theodoridou or Vajra Chandrasekera. Natalia’s “The Eleven Holy Numbers of the Mechanical Soul” is a particular favorite of mine.

It’s almost a new year! Are you going to make any resolutions?

I can’t believe the new year is almost upon us!  If I make any resolutions this year, I’m certain they’ll be writing related. In 2014, I actually achieved a few of my goals — including having a story published with Shimmer! — so next on my list is to write better and better stories and hopefully work on a novella.

 

Read “Be Not Unequally Yoked” | Shimmer #23 | Subscribe to Shimmer

 end_of_story

Shimmer #23: Megan O’Keefe

Tell us a little about how Of Blood and Brine came to be.

Megan O'Keefe
Megan O’Keefe

“Of Blood and Brine” was, in some ways, an accident. I had gone to a friend’s house for a write-in and forgotten to transfer the most recent version of the novel I was working on to my laptop. So, I thought, no worries – I’ll just write a new short story. And then I proceeded to stare out of the window for awhile, watching the wind whip through the leaves that crowded the park across the street. The image was so strong that, being a perfumer, I wondered what it might smell like. The rest of the story flowed from there.

This story hinges upon how intimate scent can be — did you do a lot of research for this? What do most people not realize about scent?

I’ve been a professional perfumer for six years so, in a lot of ways I’ve been doing years of research for this story. But when it came time to actually write it, the information was already tucked away in my mind.

When it comes to scent, I think a lot of people realize how tied to memory certain aromas are – but not, necessarily, how evocative of emotion they can be. The olfactory bulb has access to the amygdala which is key in processing both memories and emotions. A given smell can spark fear or joy in a person without them ever being aware of the direct correlation.

Why is a bar of soap like a writing desk?

Neither of them taste as good as they look.

Have you read anything great lately?

So many wonderful things! Though my favorite for the year thus far is Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs. It’s such a lovely story told in a rich, refreshing setting. I highly recommend it for – well, just about anyone.

It’s almost a new year! Do you have any resolutions?

November-December is my busy season, so usually by the time the new year rolls around my only resolution is to take a nice, long nap. Or, you know, find a new bottle of scotch to try out.

Buy Shimmer #23 and read “Of Blood and Brine”

 

Shimmer #23: Malon Edwards

Tell us a bit about how “The Half-Dark Promise” came to be.

Malon Edwards
Malon Edwards

Back in 2011, Lincoln Crisler asked me if I wanted to be part of a four-novella anthology he and two of his buddies, Tim Marquitz and Ed Erdelac, were putting together. Lincoln had recently published my short story, “G-Child”, in his meta-human Corrupts Absolutely? anthology, so he was familiar with my work.

I was flattered that Lincoln had asked me to be part of the anthology, but I was also a bit hesitant. Lincoln wanted each novella to be about 20,000 words. At the time, I hadn’t written a short story more than 3,500 words — if that — and I’m a notoriously slow writer. I didn’t want to be the one who screwed up the anthology because I didn’t make deadline or the word count.

Also, those three guys love horror. They play in the dark. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to bring enough dark in my story to match theirs.

I almost told Lincoln I didn’t want to be part of the anthology, but I was very much intrigued by its theme. Each novella would feature a character during a different stage of life: youth, middle age and old age. Lincoln was doing old age, Tim middle age, and Ed youth. Lincoln thought Ed and I could split youth; I would do childhood, and Ed would do those wonderful teenage years.

Since I like a challenge, especially when it comes to writing, and since I enjoy writing children, I agreed to be part of the anthology. It also helped that I went to high school with Ed and I wanted to be in another anthology with him, and that Tim was very welcoming. He’s one of the kindest writers I know, despite how he looks. Everyone should buy all of his books and friend him on Facebook. He’s funny as hell.

Anyway, it took me some time to get into my novella, The Half Dark — which ended up to be just over 10,000 words, so it’s more like a novelette—but by the time I was done, I’d laid some good ground work for what was to become my Half Dark world. That was about three years ago.

Unfortunately, the anthology didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. I’ve always liked The Half Dark and its world, though, and I’ve wanted to expand on it, so as weeks and months went by, I would add new and different world building elements to it. Eventually, I got to a point where I was ready to write “The Half Dark Promise.”

One of the most interesting parts of “The Half-Dark Promise” is your use of Creole. Were there any reasons that you used Creole in certain situations, and not others? (Coming from a multi-lingual family myself, we often use words or phrases in certain languages because it’s just better that way. Is something similar going on, here?)

This may come as a surprise, but I don’t know Haitian Creole. I very much wanted to include it in the “Half Dark Promise,” and in more than just a few instances, but I wanted to do it right. So I researched it.

Let me step back for a moment, though. When I wrote my Half Dark novella, the main character, eleven-year-old Bijou LaVoix, speaks Louisiana Creole. She and her mother are from New Orleans (like my mother), and I wanted to use a language to help make the world a bit more rich. From what I can tell, Louisiana Creole is a language not many people speak, and internet study aids are few. So, my novella had very little Louisiana Creole.

By the time I was ready to write “The Half Dark Promise,” the world of my alternate Chicago had expanded somewhat, and I wanted Haitian Creole to be the dominant language and culture. I also wanted to have it well researched.

It didn’t take me long to find Mandaly Louis-Charles’ website, http://sweetcoconuts.blogspot.ca/. She, and it, is a great resource. I’ve requested her help with Haitian Creole many times, and she’s even narrated another story of mine set in my alternate Chicago for Escape Pod.

Ultimately, though, my lack of knowledge of Haitian Creole limited its use. I definitely wanted the language to give the story and world flavor, but I also wanted it to add to Michaëlle-­Isabelle’s characterization. I think one of the most endearing terms in Haitian Creole is “ti chouchou,” which means little darling or little sweetie. I love that Michaëlle-­Isabelle’s father calls her that.

In an early draft, I had the Pogo speaking Haitian Creole, but I removed it. Even though the Pogo is of Chicago, them speaking Haitian Creole just didn’t feel right. I didn’t want the Pogo sharing that sort of intimacy with Michaëlle­Isabelle. They didn’t deserve that intimacy.

What does the setting of the story – the South Side of Chicago – do for this piece? You’ve written other pieces set in Chicago, too – for any particular reason?

Ever since I’d read Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, and Octavia Butler’s Parable series almost ten years ago, I’ve wanted to write short stories rich in world building and culture, but set in Chicago. At the time, I hadn’t read novels set in Toronto or Los Angeles, or even Chicago. I wanted to do for Chicago what William Gibson did for the Sprawl. I know; ambitious.

But I also wanted to put my experience — the black experience, as lived in Chicago during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s in my stories. Brown Girl in the Ring is so rich in West Indian/Caribbean culture, and I wanted a similar richness in my stories.

At first, I didn’t see cultural richness in my life and experiences. My wife is from Canada, so we decided to move back to the Toronto area to raise our family. Many of her friends are West Indian, and the black experience in Canada is quite different from the black experience in America. I made comparisons I shouldn’t have, and my cultural experiences seemed to come up short.

I knew that wasn’t the case, so I actually sat down and took notes about my life, my experiences, and Chicago. My mother is from Mississippi, but after she graduated high school she moved to New Orleans for a while, and then Chicago. The mother in my Half Dark novella, which is also set in my alternate Chicago, had a similar experience.

One of the things I remember Chicago Public Schools proudly teaching us is Chicago was founded by a black man, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. There’s even a high school and a museum named after him.

Not much is known about Du Sable, but many historians believe he was Haitian. I thought it would be pretty cool to have an alternate Chicago whose founder and first mayor is a black man, and whose first language is Haitian Creole.

But again, I wanted my experience to be part of the Half Dark world, which is very much a scary place for children, so I tried to recall some scary experiences I had as a child in Chicago. And even though I grew up on the South Side of Chicago as a child of the eighties, my life hadn’t really been difficult or scary. My mom provided a good life for me.

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns either, though. For a significant portion of my childhood, my mom was a single mother. She worked, and I was latch-key kid. I took two CTA buses from Jeffrey Manor, where I lived, to my school, John T. Pirie.  I did this from about second grade to fifth grade before my mom re-married and we moved to the suburbs. Sometimes, I took the bus by myself, but often it was with my god brother and my god sister, who were one and two years older than me, respectively.

I was a bit of an anxious child, so I remember being a bit scared to take the bus by myself, but I got used to it. It was my every day routine. After a while, taking the Jeffrey 6 and the 14 bus to school wasn’t scary.

The only thing I really remember being scared of in real life as a child in Chicago, was the clown.

I can’t remember how old I was when my mom told me this, and it might have even been teachers at school who said it. Either way, they’d told me if I ever saw a clown holding balloons to run away and go fund an adult. Back then, I was quite young when they told me this, and my memory now is a bit hazy, but they’d been referring to serial killer John Wayne Gacy who had dressed up as a clown he called Pogo. I do remember adults being afraid of him, and afraid for the children who walked home alone.

And there was my main piece for my Half Dark world and my alternate Chicago.

I’ve added a few more touches, like the Tell It Like It Is chant Michaëlle­Isabelle says in “The Half Dark Promise,” which seems to be very much a Chicago thing, and the promise itself, which elementary schools and high schools make with students for various reasons, including sober proms.

I didn’t want to depict Chicago as entirely negative, though. Chicago is messed up. Big time. There’s some bad shit going on there. It’s a scary place. So, I’ve given my Chicago a truly shit-your-pants boogeyman. I’ve given it a monster that scares both children and adults–the Pogo creature. It’s sinister, it’s Lovecraftian.

But I also wanted to show a South Side of Chicago that has hope. I wanted to populate my Chicago with hardworking people who, even when gazing up at its underbelly, try to make it a better place.. And I believe that’s happening right there, right now.

Have you read anything great recently?

Not too long ago, I read The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. It’s so outside of my comfort zone as a novel. It went way over my head, the first read, and blew my mind at the same time. I was so confused by it, but I loved it all the same. I’m reading it again, slowly this time, to get a better understanding of what I missed the first time. It’s such a cool book.

Finally, it’s a new year! Any resolutions?

To write more. Plain and simple. Oh, and to write faster.

 

 Read “The Half Dark Promise” | Buy Shimmer #23

Shimmer #22: Kelly Sandoval

Kelly Sandoval
Kelly Sandoval
Tell us how “The One They Took Before” came to be.

In modern fantasy, magical beings are always trying to disguise themselves. Angels wear trench coats, demons hide their burning eyes behind dark glasses. But I live in Seattle, where people make a point of not noticing. You could walk down the street with goat hooves and antlers and the most anyone would say is, “Well, that’s a new look. Wonder where she got the horns made.”

In the city, magic could leak in around the edges of the real, unnoticed. So, who would recognize it? And why would they care?

Can you tell us anything about your current writing project?

It’s a fantasy novel that explores different forms of power. I struggle with the the “strong, female character” who is admirable because she’s just like her male counterparts. She even shares their disdain for all things considered traditionally feminine.

I know so many strong women, and they’re strong in so many different ways. That’s what I want to write about. One of my heroines is deadly with a blade. The other has been trained from childhood as a priestess of hospitality. Neither respects the other’s strength at first, and the novel is about how they grow past that.

You’ve said, “I can’t seem to write anything without a dash of heartbreak.” Can you tell us more about what drives your work?

I think I’m drawn to broken things. There’s beauty in overcoming. There’s even beauty in failing to overcome. My stories follow characters who are struggling, because I’m struggling. Everyone is. And that hurts. But there’s something healing in fiction about characters who fail, and make bad decisions, and keep going.

It’s clear that Clarion West had a tremendous impact on your writing. Can you give us a before-and-after with respect to how you approach your fiction?

It’s a hard thing to quantify. I take fiction more seriously now, in the sense that I push myself harder. I try to write daily, and I make myself finish things. At the same time, I have more fun. I don’t wait for a single perfect idea. When you have to write six stories in six weeks, there’s no time for a single perfect idea. And I needed that push, I needed to learn that even my stranger ideas could be polished and strengthened with effort. Rewriting is a big part of my process now. Before, if a story was broken, I just gave up on it.

What films are in your Netflix / Hulu / Google Play queue? What’s the one film you’re not sure we’ve seen but are sure we should watch?

Maybe I should be embarrassed, but most my favorite movies are kid’s shows. Right now, I’m excited about Big Hero 6. The cast is diverse, the animation looks excellent, and I want a giant cuddly marshmallow robot of my own.

I think more people need to see From Up on Poppy Hill. It’s a Studio Ghibli movie but there’s no magic in it. And I understand why someone might be disappointed about not getting another Spirited Away. But From Up on Poppy Hill has the same beauty and wonder. It’s such a lovely, gentle story.

 

The One They Took Before Shimmer #22 | Subscribe to Shimmer

end_of_story

Shimmer #22: Craig DeLancey

Craig DeLancey
Craig DeLancey

Shimmer Issue 22 Final Exam Questions for Professor DeLancey: an Interview

 

 Tell us how “Cantor’s Dragon” came to be. (1 point)

Cantor’s accomplishment is very strange—perhaps we should say, awesome. He’s the person who taught us that we could reason about infinity. He proved many strange results about infinity, such as that there are different sized infinities. This stuff is mind-boggling, and yet we can understand it and work with it. And that is very beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to tell stories about that? He was an interesting person, also. Complex and sensitive.

I cannot recall where the idea of the dragon came from. Then again, maybe the dragon gave the idea to me.

“Cantor’s Dragon” is a companion piece to “Godel Apparition Fugue,” from issue 14. Please tell us about the connection between the two stories! (1 point)

Stretching over centuries, there is a community of people who ask shared questions. When you begin to study their work, you feel like they are side by side, sitting in the same room together, talking to each other. I was obsessed for a while with trying to tell stories about the logician Kurt Godel. (Godel is most famous for the Incompleteness Theorem: it shows that for logical or mathematical systems of sufficient strength, such as arithmetic, the system is either incomplete or inconsistent.) I wrote a one-act play about Godel, a full-length play about him, and finally “Godel Apparition Fugue.” But Godel’s work depends on Cantor’s work. And Cantor’s work asks questions that Godel answers. They’re having a dialogue that few people hear. One wants to capture some of the mystery and beauty of it, in another form. Hopefully there’s a kind of dialogue between the stories, if only implicitly.

I’d like to write more like this. Perhaps Hypatia is next.

So, fiction writing, play writing, and philosophy! How did all this start? (2 points)

I have the great fortune of having known what I wanted to do since I was young. After an intense desire to be an astronaut and astrophysicist (circa age 0-15), I found that I needed to be a philosopher and fiction writer. Playwright seems a natural extension to those goals. Not to mention that the theatre is sacred, so one must pay obeisance.

What’s the weirdest and/or the most wonderful thing that has happened in connection with the staged readings of your plays? (3 points)

Me not passing out from fear. Writing fiction is a cocooned process. Fiction writers think their writing group critiques are hard. They have no idea. Playwriting gets you direct and very inescapable feedback. If people in the audience don’t like it, first they’re going to fidget in their seats, and then they’re going to be really mad because you made them sit there, trapped in the dark, for a long time. That said, audiences have been very nice to me; but they still scare me.

In all seriousness, I find all the theatre wonderful. There’s something about a dark theatre that is like nothing else: a space of hushed and numinous possibility. Let’s all go out and support our local theaters now. We need them to thrive.

 Instructions for problem 5: Posit an infinite list of additional self-written problems. (5 points)

Instructions for the answer to question 5: please rewrite question 5 and these instructions for the answer to question 5. Then follow the instructions.

 

Cantor’s DragonShimmer #22

Shimmer #22: Alix E. Harrow

Rosie the Riveter (Norman Rockwell)
Rosie the Riveter (Norman Rockwell)
Tell us how “A Whisper in the Weld” came to be.

I wish I could say the story-stork deposited this idea at my doorstep in a blinding flash of inspiration, but really it came out of my discovery of the digital LIFE Magazine photo archives and a mounting resentment towards Rosie the Riveter.

Don’t get me wrong — Rosie is part of our Big National Story, symbolic of everything from wartime grit to feminism to industrial might. And what a triumphal story it is. Rosie exchanged her apron for a pair of coveralls, saved the American economy, gave working women a public face, and never once smudged her perfect makeup.

But see, that’s not true. Rosie is a liar. Middle class white women didn’t happily whip off their aprons and work in factories — the real Rosies were overwhelmingly already working women from lower class backgrounds. They were the rural white poor, the recent immigrant, the African American women. And they weren’t seen as the first step in a new era of gender equality; they were temporary substitutes for men, supposed to happily return home once the war was over.

And perhaps most of all, their work wasn’t the kind of work that left you looking like a damn celebrity at the end of the day, with a cute little red kerchief around your hair. 1930s and 40s factory labor (especially in sectors like steel production) was brutal. The Progressive Era gains in terms of unionization and safety largely went out the window under the pressure of wartime production.

So then you’re left with a very different image: Poor, nonwhite women working because they desperately need the money, in dangerous conditions, with no real hope of advancement or permanence. Not so much a sign of progress as a sign of industrial capitalism’s increasingly long arm.

Anyway. Then I saw these pictures. And the story-stork made a visit.

 Can you tell us about your current writing project?

My working title for this current piece “Holy Baby Jesus Teaching is Time-Consuming,” because I’m teaching three African history courses for the first time this year. So non-curriculum types of writing have slowed to a trickle.

I do have a story coming out at the end of this year in Strange Horizons, though! “The Animal Women,” about race and the late sixties and eastern Kentucky and a little girl with a Polaroid camera.

The story I’m actually working on right now is a much odder bird — like the kind of bird that got stuck on an isolated island and had weird island-evolution things happen to it and is probably flightless now. It’s called “The Autobiography of a Traitor and a Half-Savage.” It has 28 footnotes and a completely fake bibliography (why???), and it’s about…American imperialism? And the process of culturally colonizing landscapes, rendering them legible, domestic, and profitable? Based on a long and too-cozy relationship with Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes and James Scott’s Seeing Like a State in grad school?

Or at least, it’s attempting to be about those things but, you know, it’s probably flightless.

You wrote a review of Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite that originally appeared on The Other Side of the Rain, and can be found currently at SF Mistressworks. How much does the idea that “Women are not aliens” figure into your own work?

Gee wilikers (wait, no one says that) you read my review! The Other Side of the Rain is my oft-neglected book review blog, for interested parties.

So, Nicola Griffith’s thesis in Ammonite — that a planet full of women would function suspiciously like a planet full of humans — is one of the most succinct and crucial lessons my early science fiction reading ever taught me. I’m not saying it’s the only or first book that ever did that, but it was the book my Mom handed me when I was fifteen that stuck.

Not at all coincidentally, the rest of the books my Mom handed me as a kid (Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robin McKinley) were precisely the kind of transformative, powerful fiction that will make a teenage girl not only believe that women aren’t aliens, but come to know it on some fierce, molecular level. And begin to see the vast constructions of power and privilege we all operate within, and the ways people make their lives beneath and between them, half-hidden and half-rebelling.

What I’m trying to say is that the women-aren’t-aliens-and-neither-is-anyone-else idea is too big, too formative, not to be in my writing. Also my Mom has great taste in books.

We want to know more! Tell us two true things about yourself and one lie.

I can probably beat you in ping-pong. I have never shown any other signs of hand-eye coordination.

The first three stories I’ve ever written all featured mysteriously speech-impaired protagonists (Isa’s impediment is…being dead?). It’s almost like I was compensating for my crippling fear of dialogue, or something.

I am an alien.

What’s in your CD player / iTunes / Spotify / 8-Track?

Well each story thus far has spawned a playlist, born out of procrastination mixed with genuine research, and “A Whisper in the Weld” has been by far the most awesome.

It sort of became a two-hour history of black pop from the 1940s-60s, falling heavily on the phenomenal-female-vocalist end of things. So I can whole-heartedly recommend: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Billie Holiday, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Dinah Washington, Sister Wynona Carr, and Nina Queen-of-My-Heart-and-the-Universe Simone. I mean, just look at her.

Other favorite things: Shovels & Rope, Brown Bird, Josh Ritter, The Felice Brothers, Old Crow, Gregory Alan Isakov, Anais Mitchell’s Hadestown (dudes, it’s a socialist folk-opera retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice), and this guy right here.

And maybe some 90s pop playlists whatever man don’t judge me.

 

 Read “A Whisper in the Weld” | Buy Shimmer #22 | Subscribe!

Shimmer #21: Erica Satifka

Tell us how “We Take the Long View” came to be.

Erica Satifka
Erica Satifka

I came up with the POV first and fit the story into it. I love playing with POV and story structure, and I’ve always wanted to write a story in first person plural. Of course, I had to come up with a good reason to write the story in first person plural, which led to the creation of the telepathic plants and the Community. This then developed into a story about resistance and the colonizer becoming the colonized. I think it came pretty far from an exercise in weird POV!

You’ve written more than one story that explores alien consciousness and alien perspectives. What draws you to explore these ideas?
For me, aliens are a way to explore the concept of a completely different kind of sentience. I love the idea of writing about beings whose mindset is so different from anything any human society has come up with, because it forces both the writer and the reader to re-examine what they mean by morality, by family, by aesthetics. I hate alien stories where they’re just humans in rubber masks (or worse, stand-ins for a real human culture). Aliens let me get my weird on in a major way, allowing for an outsider perspective on humanity.

You’ve lived in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Portland, moving most recently from the right-coast to the left. Have these places had an impact on your writing? How?
Pittsburgh was where I first started to write seriously, and Baltimore is where I started writing fiction again. In Baltimore I experienced quite a bit of cultural shock – you wouldn’t think it’s that different from the Rust Belt, but it really is, and a lot of the stories I started writing when I moved there came directly out of the feeling of being plunged into a place that I wasn’t prepared for. Although I was uncomfortable enough in Baltimore to move 2700 miles away from it, Baltimore has one of the best, most supportive speculative fiction writing communities in the country and they really helped me get over the things that were keeping me from writing fiction. I’m not quite sure yet how Portland will affect my writing, except that I know my next novel will be set here.

The 24 Hour Zine Challenge in Portland! What is it about the ‘zine scene in Portland, and how were you involved in the Challenge?
I’ve been involved with zines since 2000, and have always admired the Portland zine community from afar. People here are very much into DIY, and there’s no place that exemplifies that quite like the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC), where two dozen Portland zinesters met to work on their zines in the comfort of a slightly stuffy former warehouse in SE. My 24 hour zine this year (issue #6 of my Breakfast at Twilight series, and hell yes that is a Philip K. Dick shoutout) was a short one about my first three months in Portland. Unfortunately my computer broke while I was making it, so it wasn’t quite a 24 hour zine. I’m less involved with zines now that I’ve started writing fiction again, but I still like to keep up with it. Someday I’d like to publish a zine of my science fiction and somehow bring together these two very different types of writing I’m drawn to. Zines came out of science fiction, after all!

What’s in your CD player / iTunes / Spotify / 8-Track?
I am the worst with music. I still listen mostly to the same stuff I did a decade ago: Flaming Lips, the Mountain Goats, Elliott Smith, Daniel Johnston. There’s this new(ish) band Sleigh Bells that I think is really rad. Basically, I either like sad songs by amazing lyricists or upbeat dance songs with lots of keyboards in them. Nothing in between.

 

Visit Erica’s website! | Read “We Take the Long View” | Buy Shimmer #21 | Subscribe to Shimmer