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Every Winter

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Francesa Woodman

What is creativity? What is the thing that sets off that spark? I often think of it as the Big Bang — we don’t exactly know, but there is something that set events in motion. A collision, one idea striking another. Sometimes, in order to preserve the resulting spark, a writer or artist needs to go away from the world they know; they need to step into the unknown, where new thoughts can thrive.

In 1819, Francisco Goya moved into a villa, where he would complete a series of artworks that would come to be known as the Black Paintings. He painted them on the very walls of the villa, and before the house was demolished, they were cut out and carried away. (Indeed, one of these paintings was shown at Paris’s Exposition Universelle in 1878, eleven years prior to the Exposition Universelle I visit in Rings of Anubis!) Goya’s works were amazingly dark and likely not meant for public consumption — there’s even a theory they might not have been made by him.

After reading about the Black Paintings, this idea stuck with me. A woman, an artist, going away to a villa to work. But something about the villa wasn’t right — she knows it’s not quite right, but she keeps going, and keeps forgetting to bring canvas with her, even though she means to paint while she’s there. So what better canvas than the walls? What better brush than her hands? Did she paint the resulting works or did something else?

Every night, something awakens in the villa, something that uses our artist as a canvas, something that opens her and paints her and closes her up come morning. Something that plants a spark within her to continue the work the following day. Sometimes she creates new paintings; sometimes she destroys the old. She is drawn to a long and empty road that leads to a rotting windmill. She believes she never goes there, but some part of her knows otherwise.

My thanks to Molly Tanzer who read this story when it was new and tender and said she loved it. Sometimes (often) you write a thing and think okay, does this make sense to anyone else or just me.

Sometimes, you spread a lot of paint on villa walls looking for an idea; sometimes you actually find one. Sometimes you find a strength you didn’t know you had: to get up, to keep moving, to keep putting paint on the walls despite the horrible things that open you every single night.

“Every Winter” can be found in Apex Magazine #90.

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Strange California

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(c) Farhan Zaidi, https://www.instagram.com/fzaidi13/

Is the photo of the door in the rock at Big Sur real or Photoshopped? This is the question that will plague you about California: did I just see what I think I saw…? That couldn’t have possibly been real…

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Josie said she saw one under the rotting length of Manhattan Pier, trailing bright through the mussels and up the pilings, but Cassie said no, they only went to Big Sur. Lola promised they had called to her at our very own Black’s Beach—thrown up into the shallows from the underwater canyon—but Nicole said no way no way, it was only Santa Cruz. Didn’t we know about Santa Cruz? Vampires, she hissed and we pelted her with sand-crusted tar balls. Cassie came closest—somewhere near Big Sur—because she went and never came back. Josie, Lola, and Nic and me were all still looking, but Cassie never came back.

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I was tiny the first time I went to California — an “air force brat” coming back from Guam with her parents. I was tiny when we took in Disneyland, but I remember Small World, and I remember whirling on the teacups until I thought I would never walk straight again, the thin clouds in the sky like cotton candy as I went round and round and round. I was less tiny when I sank my feet into the Pacific, a boy holding my sweaty hand.

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Shadows lit by moonlight—that was all it was—but beyond the sound of my own feet hitting the wet sand, there were others. Swift and fleet, these shadowed bodies loped up the beach and I with them, and we ran so fast my heart was like a fist in my throat. I caught the eyes of one—impossible, glowing like lightning—but it looked at me, its mouth split in a wide, toothy grin. Not a mermaid. Not a fox. Something el—

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I haven’t written a lot about California — but “Salt in Her Hollows” takes you to Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, and skims past Black’s Beach, too. “Salt in Her Hollows” concerns a surfer girl named Kit, a classic California beauty who wants to be seen for what she truly is, who wants to be understood beyond her blonde locks and blue eyes.

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I grabbed two cold beers and hip-bumped my girls before leaving them to join him. By that time, he’d turned his back to the fire, but I still found him, illuminated around the edges as if he were the sun in eclipse. I offered him the beer and he took it, giving me a swift smile in return. His silver-blue eyes lingered and I didn’t mind because the way I looked — all sand-scrubbed and salt-tossed — I knew he’d never see the actual me. They never did.

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california1“Salt in Her Hollows” is part of Strange California, an anthology that collects a good many stories that explore, you guessed it, the stranger aspects of California. Half Moon Bay, Tahoe, Anaheim, San Francisco, Big Sur, Hollywood. Jaym Gates and J. Daniel Batt have assembled twenty-six stories spanning the entire state — and well, beyond, because this is strange territory, and California spills beyond the lines drawn on a map. Galen Dara is crafting the cover art, and tentacle bear is totally along for the ride (click that link to join in the tentacle bear madness! Win totally rad tentacle bear gear! If you’re asking yourself “what the hell is tentacle bear”…you’d better click to find out!).

If you want to read my story, and twenty-five others from such authors as Nick Mamatas, Seanan McGuire, Christie Yant, James Van Pelt, Laura Blackwell, Nancy Holder, Tim Pratt, I hope you’ll come join the Kickstarter. There are some sweet rewards to be had, the biggest being the publication of the book! We’ve got thirteen lucky days to make it possible for us to share Strange California with you.

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“Did you know her?” I asked.

            He frowned, his focus on me alone, but then he shook his head. “Nah, dude.” He laughed, a startling sound in the night. “They’re just legends, right? Girls vanish all the time — it’s always a monster in the water, ain’t it?” He squeezed my thigh and slid his hand a little higher. “You are so goddamn beau—”  He broke off, startled, his board knocking into mine again.

            “What is it?”

            I hadn’t heard the sound and wondered if he had, but then— Something sleek and silver and glowing moved beneath our boards, and from the nearby rocks, that scream. Talon’s hand tightened on my leg, but he didn’t move it higher or pull me close.

            “What are you doing?” I asked. “What is that?” Together, we peered below our boards, the water brightening as if someone had turned on a dozen lamps.

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Octoblerfest 2016

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There is a ridiculous tradition on Twitter where, upon the arrival of Halloween month, nearly everyone changes their name to something spooky. Last year I realized my name had some built in awesome when it came to the month of October. How easy to make that Octobler, and thus another ridiculous tradition was born!

This year, however, Alexis Hunter surprised me with a wonderful thing. All month long, she’s doing giveaways for my books, and reviews of my works by her and others, and I am feeling foolishly happy over it.

Here’s what we’ve had so far:

My Octoblerfest offer to you: if you already own a copy of Rings of Anubis (you’re awesome) and would like a signed bookplate and some stickers, please drop me a note via my contact form here. I will happily make this happen. International readers are welcome!

Happy Octoblerfest to you and yours! Be sure to follow Alexis for all the happenings!

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I Loved Star Trek Beyond

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I did not watch original Trek during its original run, being that I wasn’t yet upon this earth. Growing up geek, I always caught a few episodes when they ran on whatever channel in whatever syndication, but I never invested.

Until The Next Generation showed up.

TNG nabbed my interest right away — ridiculous space jelly fish and all. It turned into appointment television. After TNG, I watched TOS, and fell deeper in love. I was wary about DS9, but it soon reeled me in (darker Trek? IN.), and by the time Voyager debuted, friends and I were getting together for episodes, ordering in food, staying long after the show ended to talk about it.

I started a fanzine because of Star Trek, and wrote my first fanfic because of Star Trek. It was a Tasha Yar story, of course it was. The first fiction I sold to a professional venue was in the Strange New Worlds anthology series. Friends and I went to conventions. We collected autographs. We rubbed shoulders with actors and oh god they were all gracious and kind and… Leonard Nimoy was at the first convention I attended, and when he sits down and talks to you about whales, well. Fangirl for life.

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I was wary of a reboot, a retool, a a re-whatever, because Trek, in my mind, was always fine. Dudes having space adventures! Why mess with it? WHY. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I do.

Star Trek Beyond holds to Trek traditions and still pushes into the future. I love that in movie three, we’re still blowing up the Enterprise, because that’s how it went down before. I love the idea that here are people we know, but here’s a slightly different path they’re on. It’s the Trek we have always loved, but it’s striving to be better. Can they escape the paths their other selves have been down? Time will tell.

Are there things that still need improving? This is Earth and we who build our entertainment are human, so absolutely. Would I love to see a stronger Uhura who isn’t shunted into the role of the girlfriend? Yes. Do I wish the Carol Marcus undressing scene in Darkness didn’t exist? Oh yes. Do I wish they’d cast someone else as the rebooted Khan? YEP.

It’s Trek as it ever was — it’s Bones being a butt and yet loving everyone impossibly well. It’s Kirk playing the hero, but being weary deep down inside. It’s Spock struggling to bridge two worlds (not necessarily Vulcan/Earth this time, but his verse with the alt verse). It’s losing your home and discovering oh, you didn’t lose it at all because home isn’t a ship.

(And the Leonard Nimoy tribute.)

(And Anton.)

Fangirl for life.

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Rage Against the Machine

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I’ve been home from Launchpad Astronomy Workshop for more than a month now (!) and I keep meaning to write about the experience, but I keep not doing it. The world has been a little overwhelming since I got back and there’s been a book release and short stories aplenty– and let’s face it, 2016 in general is…what’s the word…is there a word for what 2016 is?

The more I think about writing about Launchpad and how amazing it was, the less I want to, because it was also, in the end, pretty personal. I learned a good deal about space, but also about other people and myself. And I didn’t want to put that out there. Because everything’s out there. And everything is getting a little overwhelming.

We used to worry about the government becoming Big Brother, but I think we have become a kind of Big Brother. We are each Person of Interest‘s Machine. Most of us carry a device that allows us instant and constant access to the world. All its glories, all its woes.

We know almost in real-time when a thing happens. When a friend sells a book. When a terrorist bomb explodes. The results of an election. When a plane goes missing. The fallout of a friend’s personal relationship. We know how someone’s surgery went, we know who’s on our porch and what they’re delivering. We know where our packages are from point to point to door. We see you when you’re sleeping, we know when you’re awake. (Even as I write this, a friend is waiting to board a plane, and we’re chatting.)

I don’t think the world is any worse than it’s ever been — crazy men have always run for president and have always connected with a larger segment of the population than most of us would like to acknowledge. But I think our access and interaction with the world has changed in a way that we can’t quite ever take back. It’s hard to close the eyes on the world once they’ve been opened. It cannot be unseen.

It’s important to try to reclaim some of our space though — going to Launchpad was, in a way, going away from the world at large. Even as we studied the unending universe, the world seemed smaller. I stood on a mountaintop with colleagues and teachers, in starlight alone, and could breathe easier than ever when I looked through a telescope’s lens, to watch Titan gleam off the rings of Saturn. I could see the bands of clouded color across Jupiter and count four of its moons. The world was big and small all at once.

Every summer, I’m very lucky to have access to the community pool, where I can go after the sun has long since set. Where I can cannonball into the deep end and listen to…nothing. Where I can swim endless laps and stare at the stars above (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, still keeping me company, though Jupiter sinks fast into the west these nights). Where I can think about precisely this rectangle of glowing blue light and for a little while else, nothing else. (This is the story generator, the percolator, the chlorine womb.)

We have forgotten those spaces. Even when we take to the mountains, the satellites slip across the skies, carrying calls to friends, depositing the freshest, hottest news into our inboxes and eyes. We know that books are coming out months before they do. We know when someone’s life is tragically taken. We know when someone is to speak, when a deal is to be closed, a bell to be rung. We watch death tolls creep upward in real-time. We smirk at everyone hunting wild Pokémon. We send emails that arrive instantly, but forget the joy of a handwritten letter we aren’t expecting. We fret over Scrivener releases when there remains a distinct pleasure in writing by hand in a notebook of smooth paper.

One of the strangest joys I remember is this: I was in the mall, wandering through Waldenbooks, when I spied Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon on the new releases wall. Outlander stood so well on its own, I had no idea a sequel was planned or due, and I remember telling myself to be calm, that maybe it wasn’t related at all, but gosh the cover did look related, and when I opened it up to read the flaps, my breath caught in my throat, because the story I loved so well was continuing. (This was about three years before I was regularly online.)

We have, to some extent, forgotten those experiences too. We hound authors for the next volume in the sagas we love — why are you online when you could be making this thing I want! We know exactly how much an author still has to write; we know the book has not been delivered and we know when it is.

As much joy as can be found in sharing the wonderful things that happen to the world and our friends, there’s an equal measure of sorrow when things fall apart. How do we balance that? How do we not sink into despair when the world appears so awful? Does Big Brother ever turn itself off? Do we, like Winston in Nineteen Eighty-Four, smile up at Big Brother in the end, because it is us and we are it?

We are part of the Machine, but the part that still has access to the off (or at least the pause) button.

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The Kraken Sea Giveaway

You found it washed up on the shell-shore and weren’t sure what it was, not even when you slid your hand under its surprising warmth and it curled around your wrist. Among the hollow shells, it alone was flush with life.

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Last week, The Kraken Sea (Apex Book Company) burst into the world, and this week, I’m giving you the opportunity to win a copy of the book as well as the beautiful tentacle pendant pictured above. This pendant is 4″ long and 1.5″ at its widest point, made of polymer clay.

300px-krakenIn the past, I’ve tried elaborate treasure hunts, puzzles, and games, but today, we’re going to make it easy. If you’d like to win a copy of The Kraken Sea and the pendant, all you have to do is leave a comment on this thread.

After you do that, skip over to Apex and read an excerpt of The Kraken Sea, a novel set in my traveling circus universe. In this tale, the man who assembled the circus is but a boy, setting out on a cross coutnry journey that will forever change his life.

I’ll choose a winner with random.org on Monday July 4th!

The Kraken Sea is available through: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|iBook|Nook + Apex Book Company!

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The Indigo Mantis

Today, The Indigo Mantis kicks off The Book Smuggler’s Superhero Series. I am delighted to have a part in this adventure, and hope you’ll come by and read my inspirations behind the story, and the story itself!

Indi is on the trail of the insidious creature who killed her father — and is having some trouble accepting some things about her own nature, which might tie right in to who killed dear old dad… While she searches the mean streets, er branches, for the killer, she saves bugkind along the way, and tries not to fall in love with the dude she should rather be eating…

The Indigo Mantis looks like this:

by Melanie Cook

But, there are also blue mantises that look like this and each one makes me squee:

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Enchanting, no? You might even say, super!

So please hop over to The Book Smugglers for more mantis goodies (and of course to read the story!), and be sure to come back over the course of the summer, as they unleash more superheroes on the world! Authors Tansy Rayner Roberts, John Chu, Jessica Lack, Meredith Debonnaire, and Isabel Yap have so many SUPER things in store, I can hardly wait!

Thank you Ana and Thea, for taking a chance on a very different superhero.

Spring

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Beneath Ceaseless Skies

bcs-year5In 2009, I made my first submission to Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I had to take a deep breath as I clicked SEND, because I had been reading BCS for about a year, and loved both the fiction they published and their overall aesthetic.

They ran fiction from authors I already loved (Marie Brennan), and authors I was only just getting to know (Erin Cashier). There were Big Names in BCS, and the idea that the editors would ever consider a story of mine was folly.

And then in 2010, it suddenly wasn’t, when I sold them a story about ghosts and true love and pirates.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies has since become home to many of my traveling circus stories, with Scott being the first editor who usually sees them when they’re newly finished. He has a good sense of what works, what doesn’t, and has taken a chance on a few ideas I thought might’ve been too dark for BCS’s pages.

From the start, working with editor Scott H. Andrews has been a tremendous joy. He isn’t just interested in acquiring good fiction–he wants it to be the best it can absolutely be. Every story, down to its very commas, has been carefully considered and digested. Sometimes what one wrote on the page isn’t how it was read on the page; Scott has a keen eye for making writer intent and reader interaction align perfectly.

bcs199Even rejections from him are instructive and helpful; Scott is someone who is invested in good fiction, but also the speculative fiction community itself. There would be a vast hole in our community if BCS ceased to be. But now, here they are at issue #200! An extraordinary feat and one that I hope repeats.

They’re having a subscription drive–where more subscribers = more benefits. If you don’t already subscribe, consider supporting this tremendous publication.

Congrats Scott and the entire BCS team. Here’s to the next two hundred issues!

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Cloud Dweller

artist, Duy Huynh

artist, Duy Huynh

When it comes to my traveling circus, I don’t include a lot of “normal” circus tropes. My circus doesn’t have an elephant, for example. But there are a few tropes I want to play with, because I think they’ll fit well.

I also like writing about my home state, so when I realized I was going to write about a tightrope walker, I started wondering where in Colorado this person could walk. The Royal Gorge seemed daunting and perfect.

My ridiculous muse is largely responsible for what came next. I couldn’t get a handle on this character — I knew he was tall and thin and strange, but he refused to tell me where he’d come from. “He’s a Russian Jew,” my muse said, “running from the pogroms that destroyed all he knew and loved.” My muse can be painfully insightful.

And then, everything clicked.

Of course you would walk tightropes — you always had, though not as literally. Always running, never looking back, never looking down because down was doom. But what if you walked into something very strange, into a world of ghosts that only you could see?

I spent a lot of time reading about wire walkers, in circuses and out. I spent a lot of time with Philippe Petit and his charming story about walking between NYC’s twin towers while they were still under construction. I read about the Royal Gorge and its bridge, and how humanity thinks they can fill all empty spaces, even though some should possibly stay empty as a reminder of what was once there.

This story was born in those spaces, but doesn’t strive to fill them. It seeks, rather, to cross them and keep going. To walk the sky like Vasily does.

Read Cloud Dweller in Issue #199 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies

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F&M #5

I’ve started outlining Folley & Mallory #5, which does not have a working title. Here’s a peek…

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