Now Available at Strange Horizons: “Monsters Never Leave You”

First, a quick note: RL is very much A Lot right now, so I may or may not end up taking a small step back from the blog in the following weeks. If I end up doing so, never fear! The movie reviews, TOS recaps, and possibly even the Jell-O shots will return!

Today’s business: I have a new story out! “Monsters Never Leave You” is available to read for free here at Strange Horizons as a part of their Chosen Family special issue. Anyone who knows me and my fanfic tropes of choice can probably guess how ecstatic I am to be included in this particular issue.

This story was not an easy one to write. It has gone through many, many revisions. But I’ve become very fond of it, and if you end up reading this one, I hope you are too. “Monsters Never Leave You” is especially recommended for people who like contemporary witches, retold fairy tales, undead magic children, living houses, and sibling stories. Also, for anyone who’s ever found trees just a little bit creepy.

Also, the artwork by Sam Guay? GORGEOUS.

The official Radiohead pairing for “Monsters Will Never Leave You” is “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” The music video in my head goes something like this: a grainy, old school home video capturing a series of moments, starting out properly domestic (cups of cocoa, studying at the kitchen table, etc.), then growing more wondrous and magical (speaking to animals, levitating household items), then growing steadily creepier and creepier (pulling back to reveal the cabin’s location in a dark forest and all the undead people just outside the windows, watching).

Once again, you’re all lucky that I don’t know how to properly make fanvids, or I might be tempted to do so for my own work and thus become the most obnoxious person alive.

Best of 2019: BOOKS

Normally, I enjoy celebrating the books I’ve read with some silly and–inevitably–lengthy superlative lists, including awards like Favorite Villain, Best Booyah Moment, and Super Ability I’d Most Like To Steal. This year, however, that just sounds kind of daunting? And not terribly fun, which is obviously antithetical to the whole point. So instead, I present you with my only sorta-lengthy Best Of list, i.e., a list of my favorite books in various genres and sub-genres. (From any year. I read all of these in 2019, but one of them was written in 1937, so, yeah. I wouldn’t exactly characterize these recommendations as super current. If you’d like the full list of everything I read, go ahead and click on the link.)

No spoilers were produced in the making of this post.

FAVORITE FAIRY TALE STORY

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher

Bluebeard is one of my favorite fairy tales, specifically Mr. Fox–like, I’m the weirdo who actually adds Post-Its with be bold, be bold . . . but not too bold to bedroom doors and the like. So, when I realized that Ursula Vernon (a.k.a. T. Kingfisher), one of my very favorite writers, had published her own Mr. Fox retelling*, well, obviously, I was ecstatic. Like nearly every T. Kingfisher book I’ve ever read, The Seventh Bride features a compelling heroine, a cool animal sidekick, and a lot of humor, weirdness, and heart. Also, some truly creepy shit. Also, a fantastic supporting cast: Maria is my absolute favorite. I really enjoyed the hell out of this–it also wins for FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY–and I’m looking forward to reading T. Kingfisher’s other fairy tale retellings, namely Byrony and Roses and The Raven and the Reindeer.

*In nearly every review I’ve seen, this book is described as a Bluebeard retelling, but personally, it strikes me more as a Mr. Fox/Rumpelstiltskin mashup. I know it doesn’t have some of the bigger earmarks of the latter–no naming game, no “I’m gonna steal your baby” stuff–but Rhea is literally a miller’s daughter, and her parents play an arguably significant role in why she’s in this mess in the first place. Plus, “do this impossible thing, or I’ll do something horrible to you” is a plot structure from Rumpelstiltskin, not Bluebeard/Mr. Fox. Also, let’s be real here: the King in Rumpelstiltskin is totally a villain. Like, make me gold or I’ll kill you; make me more gold and I’ll marry you?” Fuck this guy.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: The Black God’s Drums; Clockwork Boys; The Killing Moon; The House of Shattered Wings

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Oh, this was a delightful book. I loved so much about it: the voice, the dialogue, all the humor and Feels. Undead Girl Gang is laugh out loud funny, but it also handles grief in a very real way, and I enjoyed that. The characters are all great; Mila, in particular, is a wonderful protagonist, and I related so hard to how she finds hope and laughter and a certain measure of control in Wicca. (Oh, you don’t even know the middle school flashbacks I was having while reading this one.) The fat positivity in this book was also really refreshing, especially in a year where I managed to stumble across even more fat shaming than normal.

This was easily my FAVORITE YA BOOK I read all year, something I’d happily give my teenage kids if I, you know, had any. As is, I’m just gonna have to keep enjoying Lily Anderson’s writing for myself.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Contemporary Fantasy: A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark; Magic for Liars

FAVORITE HORROR

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay

What’s interesting about this, to me, is that I don’t generally consider myself a big fan of psychological horror, but I absolutely love this novel. It’s occurring to me, finally, that it’s not the entire sub-genre I dislike, just stories where the narrative tension is largely drawn from the majority of characters (plus the reader) questioning the MC’s sanity. That’s just not really my thing; thankfully, it’s also not quite what’s happening here.

And this book, man. It’s a wildly clever and entertaining page-turner (which is why it also wins for FASTEST READ) with a solid conclusion and some absolutely brutal moments. This is my first Paul Tremblay book, and I can absolutely guarantee it will not be my last.

Honorable Mention for Favorite Horror: The Sundial; The Migration; The Twisted Ones

Honorable Mentions for Fastest Read: Undead Girl Gang; Magic for Liars; A Man Lay Dead; The Twisted Ones; From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World To Find The Good Death; The Seventh Bride

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
Artificial Condition – Martha Wells

I enjoyed the hell out of The Calculating Stars: it’s an equally fun and fascinating alternate history, and I really like our MC, Elma. I especially appreciated how this novel explored her anxiety, like, that was just phenomenal. I also enjoy Elma’s friendships with other women in the novel, particularly Nicole and Helen. Elma and Nate, too, were a joy to read: it was lovely to find such a healthy, supportive romantic relationship in this story. I’m very eager to continue with the Lady Astronaut series in 2020.

But no way could I choose between The Calculating Stars and Artificial Condition, which was an amazing follow-up to All Systems Red. (In fact, I actually liked it even more than All Systems Red, which is incredibly impressive.) It is the rare novella that feels like it’s exactly the right length–one of many reasons it’s also winning FAVORITE NOVELLA–and I just absolutely adore MurderBot’s somewhat antagonistic friendship with ART. People. I was invested. This series is so damn good.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite SF: Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; Record of a Spaceborn Few; To Be Taught, If Fortunate; An Unkindness of Ghosts

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: The Black God’s Drums; In an Absent Dream; Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; To Be Taught, If Fortunate

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans

I mean, just the whole concept of this: teenagers being sucked into a fantasy RPG, experiencing massive amounts of emotional (and in some cases, physical) trauma, and then having to return to the game years later as adults? It’s like It meets D&D. Or, as Kieron Gillen apparently describes it: “goth Jumanji.” People. You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to read goth Jumanji.

This one is such a creative and exciting comic, full of fun plot turns and great characters and just awesome magical abilities. Highly recommended.

Honorable Mentions: Young Avengers: Style > Substance, Vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie; Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia & Gabriel Picolo

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World to Find The Good Death – Caitlin Doughty

This is both an incredibly informative and fascinating look at how different cultures around the world handle death and death rituals, and while it is occasionally hard to read because of, well, death anxiety, it’s also just vastly neat. There were so many things I didn’t know. Learning more about Indonesian death customs or the ñatitas in Bolivia or the fertilization experiments in North Carolina . . . it’s all just so immensely interesting. I might actually have been most surprised by the open pyre ceremonies in Colorado; I honestly didn’t think that was a thing you could do in America.

I also didn’t know that family had the option of viewing cremations (the more standard kind), though I confess reluctance at the possibility of viewing any myself. Doughty brings up excellent points in its favor, especially as she discusses the idea of giving grieving family members meaningful tasks–but when I imagine going back and witnessing my own father’s cremation, my whole brain just balks in horror. I don’t know. It’s an obviously difficult subject. Regardless, this was a pretty great book, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in cultural anthropology, or books that frankly discuss death without looking down on readers for their own death anxiety. That’s big for me.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara

FAVORITE NOVEL

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers

I’ve been slowly making my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey novels for years, but to my very great surprise, it’s this final book in the series that’s been my absolute favorite–and not just of the series but also of the whole year. (Also, it wins for FAVORITE MYSTERY, in case that wasn’t already glaringly obvious.) Busman’s Honeymoon is regularly characterized as either a “detective story with love interruptions” or a “love story with detective interruptions,” and to my very great joy, I found the balance of murder mystery and established romance utterly delightful. (Many mysteries from this time period include a hasty and thoroughly underwhelming romance, but Busman’s Honeymoon has been building the Peter/Harriet ship for several books and literal years, and I am so thoroughly obsessed with them.)

The mix of witty banter, murder, and newlywed shenanigans are really the best, and I was both extremely surprised to see the novel actually come back to Peter’s PTSD in a surprisingly emotional way. So many Feels with this one. An instant comfort read.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Mystery: The Nine Tailors; Magic for Liars; The Song Is You; A Rising Man; Gaudy Night

Finally, here is the rest of my Top Ten of 2019, not in any particular order. (With links for the books that I didn’t already link above.)

2. The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
3. An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
4. The Seventh Bride – T.K. Kingfisher
5. Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
6. Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
7. The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
8. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
9. The Twisted Ones – T.K. Kingfisher
10. Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Happy New Year, everyone! I’d love to hear your favorite books of 2019 in the comments!

2019 Reading List – Novellas, Novels, Graphic Novels, and Non-Fiction

Well, it doesn’t look like I’m going to finish any more books before the New Year, so I’m updating my official list of everything I’ve read in 2019. Scroll down if you’d like to see a few unsurprising conclusions about my own personal reading trends. (Spoilers: this isn’t the year I finally started reading a bunch of travel memoirs.) You’ll also find some favorite quotes (these spoil nothing) because I just can’t help myself. I will be posting my 2019 Book Superlatives later, maybe even tomorrow if I get my shit together, but expect those to be considerably pared down from years past.

Finally, a guide to font colors: novels are in black, novellas are in purple, comics are in green, and non-fiction is in blue.

THE 2019 READING LIST

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe – Alex White
“I thought it was best not to kill anyone, given the political ramifications. I see you’ve taken a different approach.”

A Rising Man – Abir Mukherjee
Death smells worse in the tropics. Most things do.

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand
“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

The Only Harmless Great Thing – Brooke Bolander
“We’re scientists,” Kat says. She stands. “All we do is teach people how the sausage is made.”

The Book of M – Peng Shepherd
Who are my people, Ory? The ones I’m with or the ones I want to be?

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark – Harry Connolly
“If I were forced to guess, I’d say they were professional killers hired to murder everyone in the house. What does that tell you?”
“You’re not as popular as I thought?”

Terminal Alliance – Jim C. Hines
“Kumar, any progress?”
“I’ve gotten through 4.5 percent of the A-ring tutorial without killing everyone.”
Mops swallowed her first three responses. “Technically, that qualifies as progress. Keep at it.”

In An Absent Dream – Seanan McGuire
Following the rules didn’t make you a good person, just like breaking them didn’t make you a bad one, but it could make you an invisible person and invisible people got to do as they liked.

The Mystery of The Yellow Room – Gaston Leroux
A week after the occurrence of the events I have just recounted—on the 2nd of November, to be exact—I received at my home in Paris the following telegraphic message: “Come to the Glandier by the earliest train. Bring revolvers. Friendly greetings. Rouletabille.”

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
Sabrina’s fingers and hands are pink with memories of blood.

Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
I phrased it as a question, because pretending you were asking for more information was the best way to try to get the humans to realize they were doing something stupid. “So do you think there’s another reason Tlacey wants you to do this exchange in person other than . . . killing you?”

Alice Payne Arrives – Kate Heartfield
Visit 2070: It’s Not an Apocalypse. Yet. This Time.

The Black God’s Drums – P. Djèlí Clark
The night in New Orleans always got something going on, ma maman used to say—like this city don’t know how to sleep.

All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda
Annaleise didn’t know—I always took the dare.

The Migration – Helen Marshall
Mary’s face is happy, a picture of delight. But the angel? The angel doesn’t look happy. The angel looks bored rigid by the whole mess, the angel has seen it all: the culling of firstborns, the slaughter of the innocents.
The angel doesn’t care. Mortality isn’t his bag.

Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner
“Black,” Alec said in tones of deep disgust. “Black is for grandmothers. Black is for stage villains.”

The Nine Tailors – Dorothy Sayers
“If the law had found him, the law would have hanged him, with loud applause from all good citizens. Why should we hang a perfectly decent chap for anticipating the law and doing our dirty work for us?”

The Family Plot – Cherie Priest
“Ghosts or no ghosts, we’re burning daylight. We can’t salvage ghosts. They don’t sell for shit.”

Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells
I didn’t want to see helpless humans. I’d rather see smart ones rescuing each other.

Clockwork Boys – T. Kingfisher
He had not actually been flipping a knife, because hardly anyone really did that, but he looked like the knife-flipping type.

White is For Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Lily was a bunch of crumpled pockets and Sylvie is a black dress, perfumed scarves, iron posture and whatever else turns a person into an atmosphere.

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson
“I didn’t need the spells to work. They never worked! Spells are just prayers with more steps and a name that scares people.”

Gaudy Night – Dorothy Sayers
“Are you fond of children, madam?”
“Oh, yes,” said Harriet. Actually, she did not care much about children, but one can scarcely so, bluntly, to those possessed of these blessings.

Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente
“HEY THERE! I’m Clippy, your computer assistant. It looks like you are trying to survive the night and not get slaughtered in the next five minutes like the miserably finite mortal organics you are. *Would you like some fucking help?*”

Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal
There is something about having your legs over your head that makes you need to pee. This makes it into none of the press releases, but every single astronaut talks about it.
The men have complicated condoms and catch pouches. I have a diaper.
Two hours into our three-hour wait, I use it, sure that the urine will overflow its confines and spread up the back of my suit. It does not, but I am once again enthralled by the glamour of being an astronaut.

Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
A king tells us a story about who we are and why we’re great, and that story is enough to make us go kill people who tell a different story.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey
A lot of words. I resolved to read them in depth later, when I could focus. When there wasn’t wine in between me and the letters.

The Killing Moon – N.K. Jemisin
“Devout men lie poorly.”

Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan
“Nobles are nobles,” she had said, waving a hand. “Regardless of where they come from. The pettiness of court transcends all cultural boundaries.”

The Song Is You – Megan Abbott
“Developed a conscience now, have we?”
“Well, let’s not get hysterical.”

The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner
All I wanted to do was lie in the dry grass with my feet in a ditch forever. I could be a convenient sort of milemarker, I thought. Get to the thief and you know you’re halfway to Methana.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
Viewed in this way, you can never again see a tree as a single entity, despite its visual dominance. It towers. It’s impressive. But in the end, it’s a fragile endeavor that can only stand thanks to the contributions of many. We celebrate the tree that stretches to the sky, but it is the ground we should ultimately thank.

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans
This isn’t a conversation. This is the sort of monologue you run in your head with lovers you’ll never speak to again.

The Crimes at Black Dudley – Margery Allingham
“You don’t mind, do you? I really couldn’t bring myself to put on my clothes at the hour I usually take them off.”

The Sundial – Shirley Jackson
Gloria sat alone for a minute or so, thinking that the sun was warm and the sky was blue, and wondering if they sky would be bluer if Aunt Fanny had never been born.

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas
Grace’s complaints reminded Ruby of her own feelings about university friends. People you’d once die for take appalling paths. It’s not that they become unrecognizable. They become more like themselves. Personality quirks grow more pronounced, and so do values, until you wonder how you ever ignored the differences between you.

Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye
Hereby do I avow that I, Jane Steele, in all my days working as a governess, never once heard ethereal cries carried to me upon the brawny shoulders of the north wind; and had I done, I should have kept silent for fear of being labelled eccentric.

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers
“When I’m investigating a murder, I hate to have too much sympathy with the corpse. Personal feelings cramp the style.”

A Man Lay Dead – Ngaio Marsh
The doctor performed the feat known in Victorian nursery books as “looking grave.”

An Unkindess of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
She expected a reprimand, but his criticism was far gentler than Giselle’s ever was. She tried not to give him too much credit for it. People were so often mean that when they weren’t there was a tendency to bestow sainthood upon them. Aster did not reward common decency with her affection.

The Invited – Jennifer McMahon
Helen did not believe in ghosts. But she believed in history.

The Twisted Ones – T. Kingfisher
This train of thought would end with me crouched in the bathroom with a shotgun aimed at the door. This would not help Bongo and also, I didn’t know how to use a shotgun.

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
“What does a child who has everything want?”
More, just like everybody else.

One Bloody Thing After Another – Joey Comeau
The broken-arm tree is wide above them, but Ann doesn’t know that. She thinks this is a straightforward fight to the death, without symbolism.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death – Caitlin Doughty
Women’s bodies are so often under the purview of men, whether it’s our reproductive organs, our sexuality, our weight, our manner of dress. There is a freedom found in decomposition, a body rendered messy, chaotic, and wild.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara
The story starts with an alien man from a planet called Metaluna appearing to Earth’s top scientists, inviting them all to come to his cool Earth mansion. He wants them to help him work on a supersecret alien project, which of course, no scientist can turn down. As far as I can tell, the main reason to become a scientist is so you can make yourself available for these types of cinematic situations.

I Remember You: A Ghost Story – Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Anyway, you couldn’t make demands of the sun this far north in the dead of winter; you simply took what little sunshine you were given and were grateful.

The Red House Mystery – A.A. Milne
Why, you could have knocked her over with a feather. Feathers, indeed, were a perpetual menace to Audrey.

Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
There is nothing more annoying, thinks Ruth, than someone who thinks they don’t have to introduce themselves on the phone, who assumes that you must recognize their voice because it is so wonderfully individual.

Murder in the Crooked House – Soji Shimada
The smile that had been on the face of these cherished dolls had transmuted, decomposed. There was no better way of putting it.
A deep-seated grudge. They’d been brought into the world by the whimsy of human beings, but then not permitted to die for a thousand years. If the same thing were inflicted on our bodies, the same look of madness would appear on our faces too.

A Necessary Evil – Abir Mukherjee
His parents had named him Surendranath: it meant king of the gods; and while I could make a fair stab at the correct Bengali pronunciation, I never could get it quite right. He’d told me it wasn’t my fault. He’d said the English language just didn’t possess the right consonants—it lacked a soft ‘d,’ apparently. According to him, the English language lacked a great many things.

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher
Still, none of it made any sense. If you were a murderer, would you really guard your home with birds saying, “Hi, I’m a murderer”? It lacked subtlety.

The House of Shattered Wings – Aliette de Bodard
“He’s only here because you imprisoned him. Even if he were guilty—which he’s not—it’s a horrible way to die.”
There were no good ways to die, though.

Nobody’s Sweetheart Now – Maggie Robinson
Addie was just getting used to her widowhood when Rupert inconveniently turned up six months after she had sealed him in the Compton family vault in the village churchyard.

Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia + Gabriel Picolo
“I belong to myself.”

Young Avengers: Style > Substance – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie
“Come with me if you want to be awesome.”

Going over this list . . . well, it’s definitely been the Year of Mystery. A lot of Golden Age novels, of course, including finishing up Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series, and also checking out books by other Queens of Crime, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Also: contemporary mysteries, historical mysteries, speculative mysteries, and speculative noir. Otherwise, I’ve primarily read my usuals: SF, fantasy, and horror. Nothing that’s going to shock anyone, I’m afraid–though much less YA than normal, for some reason or another.

2019 is an all time low for comics. I like them, but I also find I have a hard time keeping up with them. Possibly, I should buy multiple trades at once, or just wait for the inevitable omnibus? This is a problem I also have with novellas. I’m working on it.

2019 also saw a slight dip in non-fiction, dropping from 3 to 2 books a year. Alas. I seek knowledge, and yet I’m so often distracted by MURDER.

Most Read Authors: Dorothy Sayers and T. Kingfisher (3 books each). I’ve mentioned this before on social media, but I definitely have a massive writer crush on T. Kingfisher. I’ve made significant steps this year in my quest to read ALL THE WORDS she’s written. Expect this to continue into 2020.

Favorite New-To-Me Authors: Paul Tremblay, P. Djèlí Clark, and Lily Anderson

And finally . . .

FAVORITE OPENING QUOTE:

After the funeral they came back to the house, now indisputably Mrs. Halloran’s. They stood uneasily, without any certainty, in the large lovely entrance hall, and watched Mrs. Halloran go into the right wing of the house to let Mr. Halloran know that Lionel’s last rites had gone off without melodrama. Young Mrs. Halloran, looking after her mother-in-law, said without hope, “Maybe she will drop dead on the doorstep. Fancy, dear, would you like to see Granny drop dead on the doorstep?”

The Sundial – Shirley Jackson

Because, dear God, Shirley Jackson knew how to begin a story. Every opening paragraph I’ve read by her is the best opening paragraph. Fucking legend.

Honorable Mentions:

“At least he was well dressed. Black tie, tux, the works. If you’re going to get yourself killed, you may as well look your best.” – A Rising Man

When I was younger, I used to play dead. – The Migration

The whistle isn’t jaunty, not Doris Day. It’s low and slow and the actor Bob Cummings would remember its hot zing for some time. – The Song is You

The problem with your best friend dying is that there’s no one to sit with you at funerals. – Undead Girl Gang

Ann’s mother isn’t feeling so good today. – One Bloody Thing After Another

2019: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Stories

It’s that time of the year again: Award Nomination Season is upon us.

My own list of award-eligible works could not accurately be described as a list so much as a solitary bullet point. Nevertheless, I’m very proud of that particular bullet point:

Can you call your own story heartwarming? Is that a writer faux pas? Because, honestly, that’s how I like to think of it: a heartwarming sequel to a slasher movie. If you like stories that feature deconstructed horror tropes, found families, ace protagonists, violence, humor, and Feels, well, please consider making my day and checking it out.

ETA: Apparently, I was incorrect before; I have two bullet points. My story “You Were Once Wild Here” in The Dark will also be eligible!

I’m pretty fond of this one, too. It’s, IDK. Brick meets Teen Wolf? Read if you like neo-noir, werewolves, ace-lesbian protagonists, second-person POV, weird magic, and psychic dreams.

Moving on: I am, as always, forever behind on my short story reading. Nevertheless, here are some of my favorites from 2019, in no particular order:

1. “We Are Here To Be Held” – Eugenia Triantafyllou (Strange Horizons)

This story is weird and gorgeous and I love it. Complicated maternal relationships and how the way you’re raised feeds into how you raise your children. What you learn, what you forgive, what you stand firm against. A lovely story with a perfect conclusion.

The first time your mother swallows you whole you don’t really see it coming.

2. “Away With the Wolves” – Sarah Gailey (Uncanny)

This is a lovely story about chronic pain and learning to let go of unearned guilt, about putting your needs, health, and happiness above what society unjustly demands. Bonus joy for shapeshifters and positive female friendships.

I’m still me when I’m a wolf, even if I’m missing some of the things that other people think of when they think of me. Even if I’m missing one of the biggest things I think of when I think of me.

3. “As The Last I May Know” – S.L. Huang (Tor)

Breathtaking. A story about war and propaganda and putting a human face on weapons of mass destruction, literally. What’s wonderful about this one is that it doesn’t condemn or glorify; it’s not so much about what decision is made but how it’s made. It’s not whether the ends justify the means. It’s that choosing to go through with those ends should never, ever be easy.

She didn’t know how, after so many people had read what was in her heart, she could feel so much like she had no voice.

4. “Where Gods Dance” – Ben Serna-Grey (Apex)

A swift gut punch of a story. Full of grief and dark wonders. A story about the inability to recreate what you’ve lost.

If he screamed, I never did hear it. They all spoke so softly. Abiram was his name. Marked but unburied.

5. “A Catalog of Storms” – Fran Wilde (Uncanny)

Oh, this is just lovely. Fascinating magic, strong family dynamics, and elegant prose throughout. A fantastic read.

While Mumma and I are gone, the Mayor comes by our house and puts a ribbon on our door. We get extra milk every Tuesday.

That doesn’t make things better, in the end. Milk isn’t a sister.

6. “This Is How” – Marie Brennan (Strange Horizons)

I am . . . I don’t want to say that I dislike redemption stories, exactly, but I can be a bit wary of them. Redemption, I think, can easily be handled poorly, even irresponsibly. Forgiveness, too. But this is a dark and beautiful fantasy about repentance and mercy and transformation, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

A cat may let her prey run for a time before she catches it again, but not a valravn. He keeps what he kills, and will not let the man’s soul go.

7. “The Answer That You Are Seeking” – Jenny Rae Rappaport (Lightspeed)

This one hit me. Maybe because there was a school shooting the day before I read it, or because I live in one of the cities listed in this article, or because there have literally been more mass shootings than days of the year here in America. It hit me because the prose is concise and striking. It hit me because the desperation is real.

It’s the lollipops that break you.

8. “How The Trick Is Done” – A.C. Wise (Uncanny)

I mean, look, I’ve been an A.C. Wise fangirl for years. I love pretty much all of her work, and this story–with ghosts and resurrections and stage magicians and rabbit funerals and murder–is just a wonderful read, about people learning to let go of their toxic relationships, about learning to define themselves in new ways.

“I’m a Resurrectionist.” Angie’s mouth twists on the words, but she can’t think of a better way to explain. “Death and I have an understanding.”

9. “The Tailor And The Beast” – Aysha U. Farah (Uncanny)

A queer Beauty and the Beast where it’s the father who offers to trade places with his imprisoned daughter? I mean, yes, please. Lovely and sweet and romantic AF.

A beast dwelt in the castle on the hill.

There was nothing so very strange or unusual in this circumstance; recently it had been tremendously in fashion. A witch couldn’t really hope to make her debut in society without imprisoning at least one troublesome young man behind stone walls.

10. “The House Wins In The End” – L Chan (The Dark)

L Chan writes fantastic ghost stories. This is just fact. His hauntings are creepy and unusual, and they linger in your mind long after reading. This one is full of memory and trauma and the long, lonely struggle of learning to put your ghosts to rest. A wonderful read.

This is not a haunted house story. This is what happens after.

Happy reading, everyone! If anyone has any other short story recommendations of their own, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Clarion West Write-a-Thon 2017: Week 6 Update

Top Secret Code Name of Current Project: Fedoras and Trust Issues
Current Pitch: Hardboiled fairy tale noir!
Slightly More Detailed Pitch: In an alternate post-WWII America, a cranky, bisexual PI and his ace, teenage Girl Friday try to solve the disappearances and/or murders of three different women.

Number of Unexpected Arguments Between Characters: 1
Number of Big Reveals This Chapter: 1
Number of Secret Plans Involving Murder: Well, lots. But in this chapter? 1

Song From Current Project Playlist: “Elias” – Ramin Djawadi, Stephen Coleman, & Hollywood Studio Symphony

Goal Met: YES

Last week of the Write-a-Thon, and I have met my goal! I wish I could just slack off now and go indulge in some fanfiction, but unfortunately I really need to keep up the pace to meet my deadline. I did, however, reward myself by buying an unconscionable amount of books from Barnes & Noble. The multiple shipping notices I received from them yesterday made me downright giddy.

This latest chapter is a relatively short one. It’s a scene pretty much lifted straight from “The Price You Pay Is Red,” and I wasn’t really expecting any surprises . . . only to find myself writing a brief but surprisingly intense argument between one of my protagonists and his love interest. And it was Prince, for once, playing the role of the idealist, while mild-mannered Hank was the angry cynic during the fight. It’s kind of a role reversal for both of them, but (hopefully) not out of character in scene, and I found it kind of exciting. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about turning these stories into a novel is having more time to spend on the side characters, especially Jack (obvs, since she’s no longer a side character), Hank, and Mr. Nguyen.

On the other hand, giving Jack a POV meant I had to add even more side characters–because unlike what too many stories would have you believe, most ladies have lady friends of their own. I didn’t want Jack’s whole world to be populated by people who were only important to Prince. So, there may or may not still be a Battle Royale going on for screen time (so to speak), because, as anyone reading this probably knows, I can be a wordy motherfucker sometimes.

Finally, Your Last Random Line of the Week:

People here, we don’t revolt. We just step over the bodies.

Clarion West Write-a-Thon: Week 5 Update

Top Secret Code Name of Current Project: Fedoras and Trust Issues
Current Pitch: Hardboiled fairy tale noir!
Slightly More Detailed Pitch: In an alternate post-WWII America, a cranky, bisexual PI and his ace, teenage Girl Friday try to solve the disappearances and/or murders of three different women.

Number of Murder Weapons Discovered: 1
Number of Brief, Fever-Induced Hallucinations: 1
Number of Snow White references in this chapter alone: At least 5

Song From Current Project Playlist: “Sinnerman” – Nina Simone

Goal Met: Halfway there

Making some progress. Still slower than I’d like, but I’m actually on schedule. I have to keep reminding myself of that because my Writer Brain routinely waffles between “holy shit, maybe this could be great” and “Jesus Christ, this is the worst thing I’ve ever written, burn it, BURN IT NOW.” Lately, I’ve been feeling more the latter than the former, and the temptation to put the novel away and write basically anything else is very strong.

You’re stronger, I try to tell myself. You are mighty like Thor. This declaration is not deeply convincing, but it does make me smile.

This week’s chapter: Prince, still trying to wrap his head around the potential fallout from the Big Discovery he made two chapters ago, finally finds the Scene of the Crime and does some sleuthing. Couple more chapters, and we’ll hit the big, climactic showdown shit. And two short wrap-up chapters after that, we’ll finally be at Part III!

Guess it’s time to go back to work. One more week of the Write-a-Thon to go!

Finally, your Random Line of the Week:

I understood money coming before blood.

Clarion West Write-a-Thon: Week Two Update

Top Secret Code Name of Current Project: Fedoras and Trust Issues
Current Pitch: Hardboiled fairy tale noir!
Slightly More Detailed Pitch: In an alternate post-WWII America, a cranky, bisexual PI and his ace, teenage Girl Friday try to solve the disappearances and/or murders of three different women.

Number of Dead Bodies On the Page Thus Far: 3
Number of Surreal Nightmare Scenes Just Because I Could: 2
Number of Secrets Our Heroes Are Keeping From One Another: LOTS

Song From Current Project Playlist: “Life in A Glass House” – Radiohead

Goal Met: Yes

This week’s chapter is a short one. It’s 1/3 plot advancement, 1/3 secret nighttime confessions, and 1/3, er, morning-time confessions. (An aside: why is nighttime a word but morningtime isn’t? In news shocking no one, the English language continues to make no sense.) Fair amount of Feels in this chap. That’s been an interesting challenge of the book so far, actually, trying to determine if my Plot to Feels ratio is working. I have a lot of characters and relationships to juggle. Since I’m basically obsessed with character dynamics, I obviously want to do justice to said dynamics. I also don’t want readers to think, “Jesus Christ, can we get back to the mystery yet?”

I’m a little worried about the word count, even though it’s kinda early for that. I don’t even have a completed draft yet, much less an edited down draft. Still, the nature of the story makes me uneasy about the length: mysteries tend to run shorter than SF/F because SF/F novels almost always have a lot more world-building and magic systems and shit to describe. My book might not have magic systems, but it is an alternate history with a quarantined city shaped by corruption and disease. I’m actually expanding the world-building quite a bit from the original stories, and while that’s kind of exciting for me, it’s also been something of a roadblock. I don’t come to world-building quite as naturally as I come to character work, I’m afraid.

Finally, your Random Line of the Week:

That’s life in Spindle, dear. If you can’t make the hard calls when you need to, well. You’ll never make it out at all.

Clarion West Write-A-Thon 2017: Week One Update

Top Secret Code Name of Current Project: Fedoras and Trust Issues
Current Pitch: Hardboiled fairy tale noir!
Slightly More Detailed Pitch: In an alternate post-WWII America, a cranky, bisexual PI and his ace, teenage Girl Friday try to solve the disappearances and/or murders of three different women.

Number of POV characters: 2
Number of important supporting characters: 80 billion
Number of supporting characters who are also assassins: 5

Song From Current Project Playlist: “Lady Sings The Blues” – Billie Holiday

Goal Met: Almost

Well, the first week of the Write-a-Thon is nearly over, and I’m close to completing my goal of two chapters! Considering I do the majority of my writing at night when everyone else is asleep, and I have the next two nights off, I’m not super worried about meeting my deadline.

I have discovered, however, multiple challenges when it comes to turning a trilogy of short stories into a novel. First you have to decide how you want to approach it: are you rewriting each scene into your novel, primarily focusing on expansion and development? Are you mixing up the timeline of your stories so that their plots run concurrently instead of sequentially? Or are you taking inspiration from the original stories but mostly writing a whole new thing?

Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, but–probably not to the shock of anyone who knows me–I’m mostly going with the first approach. One of the advantages of that is having a good chunk of my work done for me ahead of time (though less than you might think, which I’m sure we’ll get to in a later write-up). One of the disadvantages, however, is having to face The Scene From Hell again.

The Scene From Hell is a scene from “The Price You Pay Is Red,” which is the second story in the trilogy. In it, our heroes, Jimmy Prince and Jack, share an uncomfortable dinner with four other characters, most of whom are involved in some kind of illegal activity. Nearly everyone has some kind of secret they’re keeping from someone else at the table, and five of them are keeping something from the one dude who suspects nothing at all. I was very happy with the scene conceptually: I really enjoyed the idea of a dinner conversation where everyone has information they need to hear or say but can only use coded messages to do so. Writing the actual scene in question, however, took freaking years off my life. I must have rewritten that scene, like, twelve times before I got it right. I despised it from the very essence of my being. It took months. Literal months.

I’m not gonna lie: when I realized I’d have to rewrite this scene yet again, I very much wanted to curl into a ball and weep.

I’m happy to report, however, that I enjoyed it much more this time around, possibly because so much of it survived the transition from novelette to novel. I worked too hard on that bastard to totally start fresh. Now I’m working on the second chapter, which is all new material from Jack’s POV. In the original stories, Jack didn’t have a point of view, but adding it has reshaped this tale so much. Jack knows things that Prince doesn’t, and that knowledge changes the context of so many scenes. More on that, I’m sure, in future updates.

If you’re interested in donating to the Write-a-Thon and haven’t gotten around to it yet, here’s a link where you can do so.

Finally, your Random Line of the Week:

Hearts aren’t owned, Jack. Shared, sometimes, but you can’t own a person and love them too.

The 2017 Clarion West Write-A-Thon

So, it’s summer. For some people that means bikinis and beach balls and–wait, do people still use beach balls? I’m obviously the wrong person to ask about summer activities: I’m a pale hermit who sleeps during the day and lives in Northern California where the rocky beaches are gorgeous if you don’t mind wearing a sweater to the oceanside. My summer activities generally include talking about going to the river instead of actually going to the river, and doing the Clarion West Write-a-Thon.

Yes, it’s that time again. Starting, well, yesterday, I’m going to spend the next six weeks working on my novel and trying to raise whatever money I can for Clarion West. What novel, you ask? (Well, you might have.) In 2015, I published three novelettes called, collectively, The Spindle City series at The Book Smugglers. (You can find links to them under the Works Published tab.) These stories are mashups of fairy tales and hardboiled noir, and now I’m turning them into a novel. I’ve actually been working on it all year, but recently I’ve hit what feels like a turning point and have finally been able to accelerate my pace. I’m hoping to use the Write-a-Thon as motivation to keep that  momentum going. By the end of 6 weeks, I’d like to complete at least 9 chapters.

Now, this is the part where I ask people for money, but I want to be clear: there are no guilt trips if you cannot afford (or just don’t want) to donate. That’s okay! My expectations for what I can raise aren’t actually all that high, TBH; I’m not a name in any way, shape, or form, and we’ve all got stuff we want and need to spend money on. But I figure it’s worth trying cause, like, anything you can do, right? Besides, it’s not like I wouldn’t be working on the novel anyway.

However, if you are interested in donating, I tried to come up with some fun rewards for doing so. Here’s what I’ve got (copy and pasted straight from my Sponsor Donor page):

Carlie’s Incentives For Giving Up Your Money

$15 – Five-Minute Cosplay
I will take five minutes, tear through my closet and honest-to-God costume box, and dress up as best I can as any character (fairy tale or otherwise) that you request, so long as we’re keeping these costumes at the PG level and not obviously offensive. (I reserve the right to do less-than-literal translations. For instance, if you ask for Daphne from Scooby Doo, I may very well do Noir Daphne.) Then I will take a picture, write up the experience, and post both here. The hilarity is in the inevitable failure.

$25 – Find Your Spindle City Character
For everyone who’s ever loved a personality quiz. I’ll send you a short survey. When you complete it and send it back to me, I’ll write you a short synopsis of your very own fairy tale inspired character living in Spindle City. Your character won’t actually be in the novel itself, but think of them like an extra in a deleted scene . . . or a red shirt in a deleted scene. Spindle City is a dangerous place, after all. Not everyone gets a happy ending.

$40 – TV Review/Spunky Analysis (Limit 2 shows per donor)
I will watch and review 3 episodes of any TV show, provided I can find said show on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Viki, or Drama Fever. Want someone to check out that amazing TV show that everyone refuses to try? Want someone to write in detail just how BAD this one show is? I am here for your pop culture needs. (Note: this will definitely happen sometime after the Write-a-Thon.)

$50 – Movie Review/Spunky Analysis (Limit 3 per donor)
I will watch and review any* movie of your choosing on my blog. My reviews, I believe, are best characterized as funny, profane, analytical, and long—like, at least 1,000 words, but honestly, probably much longer. (Note: this will definitely happen sometime after the Write-a-Thon.)

*Exceptions
A) I won’t review a movie I’ve already reviewed. Check out my Index of Movie Reviews to see what I’ve already written about before choosing this incentive.

B) Too many movies are way longer than they need to be. Please nothing over 2 hours and 15 minutes long.

C) No porn, please. It’s not my thing.

D) No inspirational sports movies, either. There’s only so much punishment I can take.

So, those are my incentives. I’m not gonna lie, people. What I like best about them is that I took approximately 1500 words longer than anyone else to write them out, as is my wont.

If you’re interested in sponsoring me, please click here. If you’re interested in checking other writers pages out instead of or in addition to myself, you can look here. If you can’t do either, again, no worries; just know that if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re gonna have to put up with weekly posts about how the novel’s coming along. And by “put up with,” I mean, dude. EXCLUSIVE BEHIND-THE-SCENES FOOTAGE. (I should figure out a way to do a hilarious blooper reel. I feel like it’d be a combination of WTF typos and footage of me cursing out my novel for not behaving. Bonus obscenities for realizing that I need to go back ten chapters and rewrite, like, all of it.)

I’ll see you all back here Friday with coverage of either my awesome progress or my super early defeat. Only time will tell!

“A Broken Clock Is Right Two Times A Day, But This Is Not One of Those Times.”

Last year, I re-watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time in ages. I picked at it, because that’s my thing, but I still loved it because I’ll always love it. I have massive little girl nostalgia for that movie.

My interest in seeing the live-action Beauty and the Beast, meanwhile, was always pretty mild, but I went to see it anyway, mostly because my sister and my buddy wanted to watch it, and anyway, I like going to the movies and eating Milk Duds, so I figured I’d have a pretty good time no matter what.

I did have a good time going out . . . but the movie itself? Yeah, not that great.

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