My solarpunk western story "The Spiral Ranch" is part of the Founders Issue of DreamForge Magazine, a new pro-level science fiction and fantasy market devoted to optimistic speculative fiction. They even commissioned original illustrations for my story! DreamForge launches on February 14, 2019, and they're currently running a Kickstarter to fund their next several issues. The Founders Issue also includes new stories from Steven Brust, Jane Lindskold, Lauren C. Teffeau, and more.
About the Story
My story, "The Spiral Ranch," is a science fiction western that takes place in a futuristic Austin, TX. In order to combat climate change, massive swaths of agricultural land were replaced with Carbon Sequestration Forests, and food production shifted into cities. Vertical farms grow produce, and the Spiral Ranch is a pasture within a skyscraper, housing several herds of cattle for dairy and meat. And one day, the cattle start disappearing…
It's based on a bit of bizarre conceptual architecture called the "Circular Symbiosis Tower" that applies the idea of vertical farming to livestock. Check it out here.
"At DreamForge, we are about hope in an age of dystopia. Our goal is to encourage the abandonment of the dystopian mindset and promote the ascendency of reason and humane values, civility, community, and scientific advancement. We see the human challenge through an optimistic lens."
I enjoyed the film Halloween (2018) far more than I expected to, but one aspect of it continued to bother me after I left the theater: the film’s focus on guns. Many films and TV shows use guns, but they're usually either just props/tools, or they're presented as glorified extensions of the action hero. Something about this presentation felt different than either of those. “It’s kind of NRA propaganda,” I joked to my husband on the drive home, and we talked about how Laurie was a model conservative, using guns to protect her family and fighting back against the faceless government man—referring to the fact that the doctor calls Michael Myers “property of the state.” I’ve read a couple of articles that claim this film as an affirmation of right-wing, pro-gun values. And honestly, sure, the film can be interpreted that way. There are even a few ancillary details that support that reading. But I think the film’s focus on guns is actually doing something much more subtle and interesting. The reason that both the original 1978 Halloween and the 2018 Halloween films are so successful is because they both acutely synthesize the horrors of their historical moment. And the contextual horror relevant to the 2018 Halloween is actually not the political divide. Not directly, anyway.
Let’s go back to the 1978 Halloween for a moment, and consider what was happening in America in the 1970s that made films like Halloween and Friday the 13th resonate so strongly with viewers: serial killers. Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy each killed more than 30 victims between approximately 1972 and 1978. They weren't the first serial killers in America, but they were some of the worst, and they killed mostly teens and young adults. Michael Myers is not a direct analog to either one of these real life killers, but “The Shape” represents not a single real-life serial killer, but the idea of serial killers in general, and the fear that was gripping the country in the 1970s that this type of evil could strike anywhere, at any time.
[TW: rape] But we know that serial killers like Bundy and Gacy did not only kill their victims, they also sexually assaulted them. Bundy, in fact, reportedly claimed that rape was his initial goal, and murder was a convenient way to keep from getting caught; it was only after several victims that murder became the goal. But Halloween’s Michael Myers is not a sexual predator. In fact, he appears to be punishing the promiscuity of teenagers. The fact that the sex in Halloween is consensual has the side effect of shifting blame onto the victim in conventional rape-culture style. And because we need stories to make more sense than real life, it also creates a rationalization for these characters’ death, becoming a warning in the way that fairy tales are warnings: Don’t go into the woods alone, or Baba Yaga will eat you. Don’t walk down by the river, or La Llorona will get you. Don’t screw around with your boyfriend while you’re supposed to be babysitting, or Michael Myers will get you. He’s the Boogeyman, right? It’s certainly an imperfect system, though, since the virginal Laurie Strode still gets attacked. I argue that the common horror film trope of “death by sex,” in which fornicating teenagers are then subsequently killed, is a way for filmmakers to associate sex with murder, thereby depicting a metaphorical rape, rather than a literal one.
Let’s shift back to the 2018 Halloween now. Note that there is actually no sex in this film. We still have a couple of teenagers messing around while they’re supposed to be babysitting, but they never get naked. And while Michael Myers has a higher body count in this film, the victims are far more random, varying in gender and age. Is this just an arbitrary narrative choice, or an attempt to avoid a trope that has become a cliché? Or is it an intentional choice that creates a very different sort of metaphor than the original? (And, yes, I’m aware that several of his victims mirror victims from the other now non-canonical Halloween films. That doesn’t affect my theory.) Serial killers still exist, for sure, but there hasn’t been one that has really gripped the American public imagination for a couple of decades now. But what type of senseless violence do we deal with in the 2010s? What creates that fear of “it could happen anywhere at any time” now? What’s in the news every couple of days?
The guns in Halloween 2018 aren’t just in Laurie Strode’s prepper-style compound. They’re everywhere in the film, in the hands of many different characters. During their walk to school, the kids talk about how “by today’s standards” the fact that Michael Myers killed five people doesn’t really sound that awful. One of our first bodies in this film is a kid who would rather be at dance class than out hunting, who accidentally shoots the doctor who has survived the bus crash. Even Allyson and her boyfriend choosing to dress as (gender-swapped) Bonnie and Clyde evokes the idea of gun violence, as does the bizarre prediction by Allyson’s father that she’ll grow up to “get fat and clean guns.”
In the same way that the 1978 film portrays consensual sex as a way to depict a metaphorical rape, I argue that the 2018 Halloween’s focus on guns creates a similar subconscious association as a way to invoke metaphorical gun violence. By depicting consensual sex in the original, the association between death and sex becomes more palatable. The oblique angle allows viewers to grapple with the real life horrors of what happens to serial killers’ victims without facing it directly. By putting the guns in the hands of heroes and victims, rather than in the hands of the killer, it complicates the issue and prevents the knee-jerk reaction many viewers would certainly have if mass shootings were being portrayed directly. In the same way that “The Shape” represented the threat posed by serial killers in the 1970s, “The Shape” represents the threat posed by mass shooters in the 2010s.
This interpretation also helps to make sense of the useless “podcasters” who show up at the very beginning. These characters serve very little purpose to the actual plot—sure, we get some exposition from them, but it’s nothing that the filmmakers couldn’t have revealed through interactions between other characters. But every time a mass shooting happens, it’s the media that holds up the killers’ faces to us and demands we say something about it. That scene at the very beginning, when the journalist holds up Michael’s mask to him and yells at him to say something is utter abelist nonsense if I try to think about it literally, but as part of this metaphorical interpretation, it fits perfectly.
Consider also the kid who gets “friend-zoned” by Allyson (Laurie’s granddaughter). There were a lot of different ways the filmmakers could have gotten Allyson separated from the pack, so to speak, but they chose to do it by having her walk away from a boy who tried to kiss her against her will. This kid then proceeds to have a several minute long (one-sided) conversation with a lurking Michael Myers, asking if he’s ever wanted a girl he couldn’t have. The lamentations of this character echo the motivations of several recent shooters, who had been rejected by a girl and retaliated by going after her with a gun, also shooting anyone who got in his way. Really, although Michael seems not to care who he kills, ultimately he is going after Laurie, “the one who got away,” and many of his other victims are incidental on his quest to get her.
So what, then, does Halloween 2018 say about gun violence? Is it, as some of the right-wing bloggers have claimed, supporting that belief that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun? I’m not sure it’s that simple. Horror may provide warnings, but it doesn’t necessarily offer solutions. The central theme of the film is that one monster has created another monster. It’s also very much about the power the victimizer continues to hold over the victim even many years after the trauma, and the way cycles of trauma repeat themselves over generations. Laurie’s obsession with Michael, the numerous role reversals and homages to the original, and the fact that she’s hunting him as much as he’s hunting her remind me of what sometimes happens with people who start to carry guns: they start looking for, hoping for, the chance to use them. (And studies have shown that violent crime actually increases in states with conceal carry laws, by the way.) Laurie even says at one point that she’s been praying for Michael to escape so that she has the chance to kill him. Though Myers gets shot multiple times, it’s not actually the guns that finish him off. And he can’t truly be killed anyway. “The Shape” may change, but the evil he represents will likely always be with us.
From January 1, 2019 to March 1, 2019, I will be accepting submissions for an anthology of optimistic science fiction stories set in winter—specifically, solarpunk stories, which means stories that engage with climate change, renewable energies, or other environmental issues through an optimistic lens. This will be a followup to my anthology Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers, which took the same approach for stories set in summer.
To break it down, the story must be:
Beyond those criteria, I'm open to a wide range of interpretations of the prompt. The Solarpunk Summers anthology was quite varied, and I want this one to be as well. If you have an idea that might fit, then I hope you'll let me see it, However, if you want some insight into specifically what I'm looking for, or need some prompts to get rolling with an idea, check out my wish list below.
To submit a story to Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters, send it as an attachment, with a brief cover letter in the body of the email, to solarpunk[at]worldweaverpress[dot]com. Stories up to 8,000 words will be considered, and we will pay $0.01 per word. Please submit only between January 1 and March 1, 2019 unless an extension has been posted on the World Weaver Press website and social media. The full guidelines may be found here: www.worldweaverpress.com/submit-anthologies.html
A couple of my cousins recently decided to sell their home, quit their jobs, homeschool their kids, and travel the country in their RV full time, working a few seasonal jobs to support themselves. They made this radical lifestyle change because they recognized the absurdity of working long hours at a job you hate to pay for a house you hardly stay in and to support a family you never see. This strikes me as a very solarpunk thing to do (though it would be more so if the RV were fully electric), and possibly even a precursor to the "walkaway" culture depicted in Cory Doctorow's cyberpunk/solarpunk novel. Imagine a world where this kind of migratory lifestyle was more common, perhaps even necessary, where cities are uprooted and the roads become the real communities. Imagine fleets of solar-powered RVs, caravans sharing a portable wind turbine, highways built to both maximize travel and minimize damage to the land and wildlife.
That's one type of migration, but maybe in a solarpunk future people will migrate the way animals do, going north in the summer to escape intense heat and south in the summer to escape extreme cold. (Or vice versa for the southern hemisphere.) What can we learn about the migration patterns of animals that can make our own living circumstances more adaptable to the changing planet?
Consider also the Kasita concept: a "portable, stackable studio apartment" that can be slid out of its apartment "rack" and moved as a whole to a different "rack" in a different location. (See what I'm babbling about here.) Who might live in this kind of a place, and where would they be moving to?
Sometimes people assume that "global warming" will mean there is no more snow and ice, but in some locations, it's likely to have the opposite effect, leading to more extreme blizzards. Higher global temperatures mean more water vapor in the air, which can lead to heavier snowfall. Warmer lakes may not freeze as early as they used to, leading to more lake effect snow as cold air blows across their surface. The loss of arctic sea ice may actually be making winters longer, because of the weakening of the polar vortex that used to keep arctic air trapped northwards. So do your research about what the future of winter might actually look like. I don't need every story to look like a snow globe, but I will look skeptically at ones that just assume snow is a thing of the past.
Wet Season/Dry Season
I'm well aware that many places in the world don't have "winter" and "summer" per se, but rather a wet season and a dry season, and the timing of those seasons varies immensely depending on the local climate. I'm interested in seeing interpretations of "winter" that correspond to local climates and investigate the unique challenges those particular locations will face under climate change. If your story is set in the northern hemisphere between November and March, or in the southern hemisphere between May and September, and the weather or climate plays a role in your story, then that counts as winter as far as I'm concerned.
I'm open to a solarpunk Christmas story—maybe something that addresses a more sustainable way of harvesting/disposing of Christmas trees?—or a solarpunk Hanukkah story—maybe a retelling about a solar array that should only be enough to power one city block, yet powers eight?—but I'm also very interested in stories that feature any or all the other winter holidays: Yule, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Shab-e Yalda, etc. The world is large, and there are many festivals that celebrate light in the darkest time of the year. Or perhaps your solarpunk society will create a new winter holiday?
When I think of solarpunk winters, I picture places like Pagosa Springs, a Colorado mountain town where food is grown year-round in geodesic domes that are heated by the same geothermal hot springs that allow you to float in 100 degree pools while snow falls around you. How can we safely and sustainably harness the Earth's own heat to keep ourselves warm? What kind of a story might take place in a futuristic wintry hot springs?
I saw a climate change map recently which predicted that when the world is 4 degrees warmer, the ice on Western Antarctica will be completely melted and that land will be covered in large cities. Similar ideas were proposed way back in the early 20th century, imagining domed cities in Antarctica. Either of these seems like a fascinating setting for a solarpunk story. What are cities like in a future Antarctica? And even if conditions are pleasant during the summer, how do the people there deal with the long nights of winter?
Then, of course, there's the issue of what gets revealed when the ice melts. Cities of ancient monsters (a la At the Mountains of Madness); buried alien ships (a la The Thing); the lost city of Atlantis. All of these ideas have been done before, but you can put a fresh spin on them by considering them through a solarpunk lens.
In Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, energy wars leave the country vulnerable and a massive earthquake splits the continent in half, but this apocalypse is actually a rebirth for the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona, partly because they wall themselves in, partly because they already know how to survive without modern conveniences, and partly because "the Diné had already suffered their apocalypse over a century before." In Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, a Himba girl's desire to go to space clashes with her duties to her family and her tribe's culture, but it's that very culture that makes her the best person to negotiate with the aliens who attack her spaceship. In "Xibalba Dreams of the West," Brazilian author André S. Silva imagines the Americas as a network of high tech and sustainable Indigenous societies that were never colonized by Europe, and who are now confronting the end of the Mayan calendar. Indigenous futurisms often show typical science fiction tropes through the lens of traditional beliefs and folklores, and push back against the colonialism that sci-fi often just takes for granted. Indigenous futurism, Afrofuturism, and other similar movements center the experiences of people of color and bring fresh perspectives to a genre that can sometimes tend toward homogeneous or white-washed views of the future. I would love to see some of these perspectives in the Solarpunk Winters slush pile. If your story references a particular cultural practice or traditional story, please feel free to mention that in the cover letter so I can consider it within the correct context.
One of the few negative reviews that Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers received said that in some of the stories, "homosexuality felt thrown into the story, not to benefit the story or enhance the character, but more, it seemed, as a cheap ploy to get more people to read." In another location, this same reviewer rants for an entire paragraph about why bisexuality shouldn't even be mentioned if the female character ends up with a "guy" instead of a "woman." In the story being referenced there, the character actually ends up with a nonbinary person, but that was clearly so far beyond the reader's comprehension they couldn't even process it. I'm fairly certain this reader gave up on the book in the middle of another story that featured a nonbinary character with zie/zir pronouns.
I hold strong to the belief that queer characters can simply exist in a story without being there as a teaching tool for cishet readers or as some kind of metaphor. A story doesn't have to be about queerness to include queer characters. Queerness in science fiction can "benefit the story" simply by depicting a future where queer people can live lives not entirely defined by their queerness, where they are not marginalized or presented as "other". A solarpunk future, especially, must be inclusive, and mentioning a character's bisexuality or transness just as a passing fact can help normalize queerness for readers and lead us toward that more inclusive future.
I'm proud of the subtle queerness of Solarpunk Summers (which, incidentally, I never tried to use as a marketing angle), and I'd like to repeat that in Solarpunk Winters. I'm fine with the depiction of cishet characters and relationships as well--Solarpunk Summers featured a number of them. It's not a romance anthology, so I don't explicitly need to know the preferences of all of your characters. But please do feel free to send me stories with gay characters, trans characters, asexual characters, characters who use neo pronouns, etc., and let these characters be as overt or as subtle about those queer traits as the story demands.
Additional Recommended Resources
This book was originally being marketed as cyberpunk, but the publishers, Angry Robot, switched over to calling it solarpunk just a couple of weeks before release. It is definitely both: it has the cyberpunk technology of the neural implant, which is sort of like an instant messenger in your brain, controlled by eye movements, that also allows you to feel the emotions of the people you're connected to. It also has the fast-paced race-against-the-clock feel of cyberpunk, and the focus on information and data as the ultimate key to power. To keep sensitive data from being hacked, they encrypt it into a courier's blood cells. So, yeah, it's totally cyberpunk.
But Implanted doesn't take place in the same dark, polluted, brutalist type of setting usually featured in cyberpunk. New Worth is a domed city—one of many that people have retreated into to survive a massive climate crash. The city itself is stratified, based on the anatomy of a forest: the rich live up in the Canopy or the Echelon, the middle class in the Understory, etc. Many of the descriptions we get of the city show it as green, beautiful, with plants and fountains and attempts to simulate the nature they're yearning to get back to. Much of the plot revolves around the idea of Emergence from the dome—when it will happen, who does the work, who gets to benefit. New Worth is certainly not a utopia, but it's not a straightforward dystopia either, and our narrator learns there's a lot more going on than she realized at both the highest and lowest levels of this complex society. It's ultimately very optimistic and "punk" in unexpected ways. So, yeah, it's totally solarpunk.
Here's the official description:
When college student Emery Driscoll is blackmailed into being a courier for a clandestine organisation, she's cut off from the neural implant community which binds the domed city of New Worth together. Her new employers exploit her rare condition which allows her to carry encoded data in her blood, and train her to transport secrets throughout the troubled city. New Worth is on the brink of Emergence - freedom from the dome - but not everyone wants to leave. Then a data drop goes bad, and Emery is caught between factions: those who want her blood, and those who just want her dead.
Lauren C. Teffeau is a fellow New Mexico writer, and I read pieces of this book in a much earlier draft. I loved it back then, but I was blown away with how tight and exciting the story became in this final version. I asked Lauren to chat with me about her path to publication and her approach to worldbuilding.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for IMPLANTED?
Lauren C. Teffeau: Some of my projects have longer gestation periods than others. I was building the world IMPLANTED is set in well before I had an agent or a professional sale under my belt, so we’re talking many years here. I like to think that time was crucial in thinking through all the moving pieces and bringing it to life in vivid detail. We’ll see! I went through many drafts with my crit groups until I felt like I had a strong enough project to bring to my agent. I revised it again based on her feedback, and the manuscript sold to Angry Robot after approximately six months on submission.
SU: The early drafts of IMPLANTED were written as Young Adult, but it’s being published now as Adult. What changes did you need to make to “age it up” in the final version?
LCT: This is an issue I have run into before with my novel projects. I’m drawn to that time in characters’ lives when they face their “first test” in the real world. While that’s often part and parcel of coming-of-age stories which we often see in YA, I seem to always come up with scenarios where it’s harder to justify how these young teens are doing all these amazing things to save the world on such a grand scale, when it’s far more realistic for someone a bit older to have the life experience and, more importantly, the access necessary to drive the plot. Plus as a recovering romance writer, I sometimes include adult themes in my stories that are more appropriate for Adult books. As far as IMPLANTED goes, when my agent and I decided to treat it as an Adult project, it actually made some of the setup a lot easier to pull off because I didn’t have to explain all the reasons why my teenaged main character had the skills/background needed to make her role in the story more convincing. Instead of being a high school student, she’s now a recent college grad and has four more years under her belt to contribute to suspending readers’ disbelief.
SU: Could you talk a little about the worldbuilding of New Worth? What tools did you use to imagine and create this fascinating domed city?
LCT: I wanted to explore what happens after the coming climate apocalypse, a time where people have had to retreat from the natural world. The traumatic upheaval would be felt for generations and affect the city’s design and development as living memory fades and approximations and reinterpretations become all that’s left over. In a domed city where people are kept at far remove from nature, I figured access to the sun would become a new commodity of sorts. That led me to modeling my city’s structure off of the rainforest: canopy, understory, and ground level, each distinct ecosystem defined in part by the amount of sunlight they receive. And in my domed city of New Worth, those sections roughly correspond to different socio-economic groups, with the rich and well-connected living in the upper levels with the most access to sunlight. Population ecology, survivor bias, even fractals all contributed in some way to the city’s design as well.
SU: What books, authors, or films influenced you while writing IMPLANTED?
LCT: When I’m drafting, I try to keep my mind uncluttered of other media until the story I’m trying to write has firmed up and can stand on its own. That said, I’ve always loved espionage-tinged media—James Bond, Jason Bourne, even Sterling Archer—romance, YA, and most action/adventure properties, and those interests often come out in my work in both subconscious and conscious ways. At some point I was descripting IMPLANTED thusly: Take Johnny Mnemonic, add a dash of Person of Interest, mix with Logan’s Run, and wrap it all up in a Blade Runner-meets-solarpunk aesthetic.
SU: What advice do you have for beginning writers who are struggling through the first draft of a science fiction novel?
LCT: Finish your shit. And it will feel like shit. It will feel like you’re a fool for wanting to write and for wanting to share your stories with the world. But you have to push through all that to get to THE END. Then, take a break. When you return to your project, you’ll discover that maybe it isn’t as bad as you thought it was. Or that you are in a better position to see the story’s flaws and how to fix them. Either way, you cannot submit something that is incomplete. And it is only once a draft is complete that you can get a sense for how to revise. If nothing else, remember there are no shortcuts and try to enjoy the journey along the way.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
August 3-5 ArmadilloCon in Austin, Texas
August 10 Reading and Q&A at the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society
August 16-19 Worldcon in San Jose, California
August 24-26 Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico
September 6 Reddit/Fantasy Ask Me Anything
September 8 Reading and Signing at the Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Series
September 15 Reading and Signing at Page1 Books Albuquerque, New Mexico
October 7 Reading and Signing at Bookworks Albuquerque, New Mexico
October 19-21 MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado
My website laurencteffeau.com is the best way to stay up-to-date with what’s going on with me.
Lauren C. Teffeau was born and raised on the East Coast, educated in the South, employed in the Midwest, and now lives and dreams in the Southwest. When she was younger, she poked around in the back of wardrobes, tried to walk through mirrors, and always kept an eye out for secret passages, fairy rings, and messages from aliens. She was disappointed. Now, she writes to cope with her ordinary existence. Follow her on Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon.com, and Pinterest.
"Chrysalis in Sunlight" is about two survivors of an alien invasion—one a veteran and one a civilian—who have to road trip from Denver to San Diego for treatment for a condition caused by exposure to alien microbes. I called this my "solarpunk Don Quixote" story while I was writing early drafts, though I don't know if it's actually the best example of solarpunk, and the homage to The War of the Worlds is probably more obvious than the Don Quixote connection. The story is ambiguously hopeful, and part of the plot revolves around a solar-powered electric car and a wind farm. There isn't an overt environmental theme, though maybe there are some metaphorical ones. It's not really the focus though, so much as the relationship between these two characters, and living with the aftermath of trauma.
I'm proud of this story, but I've been nervous about sharing it. The narrator has chronic pain, which is something I struggle with too, but rarely ever talk about, which makes this story feel a little more personal than most. I also used a trope you're not really supposed to use. I knew it, and I did it anyway, and while I tried to handle it with nuance and awareness, my intentions don't matter as much as how it is received.
Below are some images from my Pinterest board for the story, with a few quotes from the story. Below that is a longer excerpt. See the whole Pinterest board here: www.pinterest.com/sarenaulibarri/chrysalis-in-sunlight/
When I was younger, Aunt Melissa used to show up twice a year, always stirring my otherwise mild-mannered family into a party, defeating my father in arm wrestling matches, challenging my grandfather to whiskey shots. She’d once driven all the way to Denver from the base in Missouri where she was stationed so she could beat the crap out of my ex-boyfriend who had given me a bruise.
"Chrysalis in Sunlight" was published by GigaNotoSaurus. You can read it online, or you can download a free ebook directly from their website. Find the story here: giganotosaurus.org/2018/08/01/chrysalis-in-sunlight/
Marian Womack was one of the amazing authors I had the privilege of spending six weeks with at the Clarion Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Workshop in 2014. I first met her about a month before Clarion started, while my husband and I were visiting Spain. It was great to get off the regular tourist routes in Madrid, and also to get to know one of my classmates a bit better before the craziness of Clarion began. During the workshop, I was always impressed with her lush prose and gothic-influenced style, and I was thrilled to hear that a couple of her Clarion stories would be published in a collection—after making the rounds at places like Apex, Weird Fiction Review, and Year's Best Weird Fiction, of course. Just look at this gorgeous cover:
These stories explore place and landscape at different stages of decay, positioning them as fighting grounds for death and renewal. From dystopian Andalusia to Scotland or the Norfolk countryside, they bring together monstrous insects, ghostly lovers, soon-to-be extinct species, unexpected birds, and interstellar explorers, to form a coherent narrative about loss and absence.
Marian's stories can often be considered climate fiction or eco-weird, and I think this cover perfectly captures the beauty and strangeness you'll find inside. I asked Marian to talk about her path to publication and her experience at the Clarion Workshop.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for LOST OBJECTS?
Marian Womack: I was finding it a bit difficult to find venues where my writing could be a good fit. It wasn’t about getting rejections: I was lucky enough to get a story included in The Year’s Best Weird Fiction anthology series the first year I started publishing in English. But I was also getting a bit overwhelmed with the vast amount of possibility out there. In a way, I felt that the stories fitted together better as a group than on their own, so I decided I didn’t want to break them, and instead of trying to get them published in different venues, I put together the book I had had in mind from my first story in English, a coherent narrative with a meaning of its own. I am very fortunate that the reviews of the book so far have noticed and appreciated this.
SU: What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling to get their first short stories published?
MW: One of the hardest things to navigate for an author is to keep believing that you are not wasting your time, or other’s time; that what you do is valuable. You need to do that, you need to find the strength to invest hours and months and years in your writing without knowing if it will ever be read by others. Keeping that faith is paramount. We all go through periods of self-doubt, but it is important not to give up.
SUL How has writing in English or living in the UK affected the way you tell stories? Are the stories you've written in Spanish different in tone or theme than the stories you've written in English?
MW: This is an interesting question. In a way, that is partly the reason why I write weird and uncanny fiction. I spent many of my formative years in the UK, and that made me cultivate a sense of the strangeness in the world around me. I was, and still am in a way—depending on the circumstances—looked upon as an outsider. That sense of never really having fitted has been invaluable in helping me find the stories I want to tell. After so many years away from my native Andalusia, I also feel disconnected in some ways from the everyday when I am back there. It is a curious feeling, but again I can’t deny that it helps a writer to gain some distance, and to develop a different way of looking at the world that is particularly suited for writing weird, uncanny and speculative fiction. I have written and published many stories in Spanish, and I have also published two full-length books. And, ironically, some reviews said that my writing sounded as if it was ‘translated’ from English. I always took it as a compliment! I had been brought up on Dickens and Emily Bronte, long before I read Cervantes or Borges, so it made absolute perfect sense to me.
SU: What’s your favorite memory from the Clarion Workshop?
It’s so difficult to choose! Ann and Jeff VanderMeer in class, with silly hats on, making us feel more confident about our writing. Catherynne Valente declaring that the closing sentence of my story was the best sentence of the whole week (it was ‘Reader, I shot her’, I think!). The sense of being in a family, of having found a family, of like-minded people.
SU: How many stories did you write at Clarion, and what became of them?
MW: I was very productive, I think. I wrote five stories in total and a couple of flash fictions. Two of the stories were published shortly afterwards in Apex and Weird Fiction Review, and are reprinted in this collection. Another was published in the anthology EcoPunk! The story I considered my most successful of the workshop, the one I wrote in Catherynne Valente’s week, I have been developing into a full-length novel over the past four years. I am very fond of that story, very humbled that two of my favorite Clarion classmates, Nino Cipri and Kristen Rupenian, wrote fanfics based on it…
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you, online or off?
MW: I am a tentative and introverted user of twitter, where I am @beekeepermadrid. And my webpage is marianwomack.com. I try to keep the links up-to-date, but it is hard sometimes with a full-time job, a young family and two very demanding cats! I will be launching Lost Objects in FantasyCon in October. And I hope there will be some more readings in the near future. I am planning to travel to the US next year, fulfilling a long-held dream of attending ReaderCon at last. Who knows? Perhaps I will manage to do something while I am in the US as well. I am a very shy person, but I have never had problems reading my work. It is such a privilege to share your writing with others in real time, such a gift. After so many hours toiling on your own, sharing your writing and getting to know your readers is the nicest reward possible. I can only hope this will happen with Lost Objects.
Marian Womack is a bilingual writer. She is the founder of indie press Nevsky Books and worked for nearly a decade in publishing before becoming a postgraduate researcher at the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her genre-bending fiction gained her a place in the Clarion Writers Workshop, and in the Creative Writing Master degree at Cambridge University. Marian’s writing is concerned with loss, nostalgia and nature, and her research explores the connections between the weird and ecological fiction. Other research interest are narrative theory, genre publishing and translation. Her fiction in English has appeared in LossLit, Weird Fiction Review, SuperSonic, Apex, or the anthologies The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, vol. 3 and EcoPunk! Speculative Tales of Radical Futures. She has also been translated into Italian and she has written for videogames. Lost Objects, a collection of tales about ghosts, loss and landscape, is now available from Luna Press Publishing.
Claudie Arseneault was actually the first person to introduce me to the term solarpunk (a genre I've been rambling non-stop about ever since), through the call for submissions to her solarpunk dragons anthology Wings of Renewal. I've been following her career ever since, and it turns out she's just an all-around good person and awesome writer whom I'm glad to have encountered.
Today, I've invited Claudie onto my blog to talk about her new fantasy novel Baker Thief.
Here's what the book is about:
Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.
In a nutshell, what was the path from idea to publication for BAKER THIEF?
I started Baker Thief as a project that would be as fun and tropy as I wanted it to be, a story in which I’d allow myself to write Whatever I Wanted. The first glimpse of the project involved an investigator looking for a thief at a masked ball and a f/f romance—that changed quite a bit, but I was already aiming for The Good Tropes.
I hadn’t even put the first word down before I knew one of the MCs would be bigender and aromantic, and that I didn’t want romance, but a queerplatonic relationship. These stories were near impossible to find (they still are hard, but it got better), and I felt drawn to them. Turns out that was because I was aromantic myself, but I didn’t know at the time. I also… jumped in with as much French as I wanted to, and to have my language in there quickly became incredibly meaningful and important to me.
It took me quite a few drafts to get the ending right, then it made the typical rounds of dev editing through writer friends, sensitivity readers, beta readers, and copyediting. I started the first draft in February 2016, and here we are, about a year and a half later.
What’s your typical writing routine? Do you write at a certain time of day, have word count goals, a particular playlist you listen to, etc.?
It really depends on what part of the process I’m at. If I’m creating new words, typically for first drafts, I will write nearly every day and set word count goals (usually around 700-1,000 for weekdays, and 1,500-2,000 for weekends). As a writer, I do a lot better if my progress is constant. My full-time job makes this rather difficult, however, which means that I will write whenever I can. At least half of Baker Thief has been written on my cellphone during transit, and a good chunk of the other half was over my lunch break.
I don’t have playlists as much as I have artists I’ll put on and listen on loop. And I don’t mean many of them. Most of my previous novels were written and edited on a background of Mumford and Sons. For Baker Thief, though, I stuck to artists from Québec, either Karkwa or Dumas. It felt right to listen to local music for a WIP that drew so intensely from my roots.
What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a fantasy novel?
The first and most important for me is… don’t give up. Get to the end. Writing the end will teach you so much about the craft, about your story. Even if you end up trashing the story, it will be worthwhile (and you will have finished a draft!). That doesn’t mean you have to power through unquestioningly, though. Different writers need different things to get to the end. I handle unclear drafts very well, so I write start to finish without ever revising what’s behind, even if I decided halfway through I need to make a major change. I just take a note, act like the change is done, and move on. I know writers who couldn’t do that—no chance in hell—so they revise as they go, and their first drafts take longer but are a lot cleaner.
So I guess my biggest piece of advice is experiment. Try things out! See what works for you, what allows you to progress and what just makes you hyper-anxious and unproductive. We all work differently, and sometimes our process even changes from one story to another. But if you find yourself never finishing anything? Find a way to get to that end; you’re limiting your growth otherwise.
You’re very invested in the topic of asexual/aromantic representation. Do you remember the first time you saw this type of character represented well in fiction? What are some other published books that get it right?
My first time was for a sex-repulsed asexual character, Nadin from Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari. Nadin struggles a lot with her sex-repulsion and there are scenes throughout the novel that felt like someone had spied on my life. One in particular made me set the book down, because I needed time to take it all in.
That was my first time, but by actively seeking representation over the course of the last 2-3 years, I’ve found so many more. I couldn’t even begin to list them all here. I recommend picking up the Chameleon Moon series, as it has an alloromantic asexual MC in the first book, and an aromantic asexual one in the second (and a whole lot more queer disabled diversity). If you’re more a contemporary person, then Let’s Talk About Love is about a biromantic asexual black girl. For aromantic characters, Darcie Little Badger has a wonderful short story, “Nkásht íí”, that is online for free and is all about friendship. I also thoroughly enjoyed A Promise Broken, from Lynn E. O’Connacht—a low-stakes fantasy of manners about a girl grieving and her aroace uncle.
As I said, there are many more out there! You can check out Penny Stirling’s list of aromantic or asexual fiction that’s free online, Queer Books for Teens recommendations for aromantic and asexual, or even access my database which has a record of all the aro or ace fiction I could find, with tags and filters to make it easier to narrow down on what you really want.
How have your own baking adventures informed the development of BAKER THIEF?
Not in major ways. I was already well into the novel by the time I got really into baking, and I’d done my fair share of research before. It did change the way I described it—the details, basically. It’s just not the same until you have both of your hands in the dough and your lower back kinda hurts from all the kneading and you got flour over your clothes again because you keep forgetting an apron.
Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you, online or off?
I don’t have a lot of in-person stuff coming up, but I attend Can*Con every year, and I expect to be at Sirens Con this year, too! October is my convention month, haha. I am much easier to find online, however. I tweet at ClH2OArs and my website is at claudiearseneault.com. You can also support me more directly on Patreon.
Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic spectrum writer hailfing from Quebec City. Her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders centered on aromantic and asexual characters. Her high fantasy series, City of Spires, started in February 2017. Her next book, Baker Thief, features a bigender aromantic baker and is full of delicious bread, French puns, and magic.
Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!
Like a lot of writers, I have many random notes for story ideas, most of which go nowhere or sit in a notebook for years before they actually become a story. "Under a Rock" started as one of those: I had the idea of an inexplicable gigantic tooth showing up in someone's backyard, and them charging admission to see it, a la "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings." I plucked the idea out of my notebook after seeing an anthology call that had something to do with sharks and dinosaurs; I decided the giant tooth I'd imagined could be a cosmic-sized version of either. After looking into the anthology a bit more, I discovered it was actually a revenge market, something put together to get back at/make fun of some other editor or author. These happen from time to time as manifestations of publishing world drama—the recent Cocktales and The Cocky Cockers anthologies which were reacting to the CockyGate "trademark" fiasco are prime examples. But considering I didn't know or have any stake in whatever this shark-related drama was, I decided to just be grateful for the prompt that helped me get this idea on paper, and submit it elsewhere.
I wrote this story just after I quit my "day job," which I'd been working at the same time I took over management of World Weaver Press, and I was feeling pretty stretched thin and out of touch with the rest of the world. This was one of the first stories I'd written in nearly a year. All of that exhaustion and disconnection got poured into this story, the sense that remarkable things were happening all around me and I couldn't even look up to witness them. I guess "Working Like a Dog" and "Brain Child" have similar themes—I'm just not a writer who deals well with the drudgery we so often need to pay our bills.
The character in this story ends up at home from her overbearing job because she's suffering from a cold. It was a convenient way to take her out of her element, but it was also an idea I'd been wanting to explore for a while. Protagonists are usually healthy and ready to run, or else they're suffering from some sort of severe trauma or disease. So much of my life has been spent in sniffles, or in not-great-but-not-fatal health, so I gave my character a cold to see how she'd face this adventure with a tissue in her hand.
Here's an excerpt of "Under a Rock":
A giant dinosaur tooth sat smack in the middle of our un-mowed back lawn. Truly giant: a good eight feet tall, and twelve or more from root to tip.
Read the rest of the story at Silver Blade Fantasy Magazine: www.silverblade.net/2018/06/under-a-rock/
Joanne Merriam is the publisher of Upper Rubber Boot Books, a fantastic independent publisher who has brought you amazing books such as Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation and Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good. Now Joanne is running a Kickstarter to get two new anthologies off the ground. Broad Knowledge features a story by my good friend and Clarion classmate Vida Cruz, as well as stories by Wendy Nikel and Aimee Ogden, two authors I've been lucky enough to work with through World Weaver Press. Sharp and Sugar Tooth looks pretty awesome too, featuring some familiar names that always deliver amazing stories: Catherynne M. Valente, Alyssa Wong, Damien Angelica Walters, Caroline M. Yoachim, and many others.
Check out my interview with Joanne Merriam, and then support the Kickstarter here:
Sarena Ulibarri: Your description for these anthologies says they focus “on ‘bad’ women, and ‘good’ women who just haven’t been caught yet.” This reminds me of that famous quote about “well-behaved women rarely make history.” What made you want to publish stories about this kind of character?
Joanne Merriam: That description is defining ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in reference to what we expect women to be, and I’m really fascinated by social expectations and how people structure their lives to adhere to or challenge them. The women in these anthologies appear to be doing everything ‘right’ while getting their own way, or decide they won’t be held back by others’ expectations, or, tragically, try to adhere to or challenge expectations and pay a terrible price for it.
I hope that the breadth of stories will collectively show different ways of being, and open up a mental space for thinking about their own options for our readers (whether or not they’re women), in addition to entertaining them.
SU: Can you give a couple of teasers about some of the stories we’ll find in BROAD KNOWLEDGE and SHARP & SUGAR TOOTH?
JM: Broad Knowledge includes a scientific paper written by a researcher who contracts Innsmouth Fish-man Syndrome, an article for biblical scholars on a seraph’s visit to Earth, an in-depth ethical discussion for journalists covering a woman who has been quarantined on a military base so her ideas don’t spread to the general population, and a series of newspaper headlines and excerpts covering the invention of time travel—but the story that’s probably the most fun, and also possibly the darkest, is “Mary in the Looking Glass,” about the legendary horror figure Mary Whales, and her ex-lover.
Sharp & Sugar Tooth features the ritual consumption of funerary meat, poison as a replacement for war, chefs who heal society one meal at a time, alien biomes which entirely consume their hosts, and women turning into chocolate, honey, pastry, fish food, and apple-bearing trees. I’m particularly taken with Jasmyne J. Harris’ “What the Bees Know About Discarded Girlish Organs,” in which part of romance is being eaten by your partner, and what happens when people split up before the process is completed. It’s really haunting.
SU: You are editing BROAD KNOWLEDGE, while SHARP & SUGAR TOOTH is being edited by Octavia Cade. Did the two of you take different approaches to curating these books?
JM: Yes, I think so. Octavia is quite brilliant! She struck me as very deliberate and careful and thoughtful about how she structured the book, both in selecting stories and in ordering them, to fit a kind of overall narrative arc. I took a more topic-oriented approach to ordering, and am perhaps not as smart, but I’m always saved by the amazing writers who send in their stories and make me look really good as an editor.
SU: How do these two anthologies differ from CHOOSE WISELY, the first anthology you did of “Women Up to No Good”?
JM: The main difference is the theme, of course: Choose Wisely is all about choices, while Broad Knowledge is about (you guessed it) knowledge, and Sharp & Sugar Tooth about food and consumption. They are also more diverse: Choose Wisely has more white authors, and more Americans, than either of these anthologies, and that’s reflected in the stories in these anthologies being more varied and reflecting more of our world.
SU: You have some excellent writers lined up in these two anthologies. As an editor/anthologist, how do you go about reaching out to writers to ensure a diverse table of contents?
JM: I use social media extensively to reach communities I’m not a part of. For calls for submissions, I post, where appropriate, on the FB groups Call For Submissions; Calls for Submissions (Poetry, Fiction, Art); Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Markets; Open Submission Calls for Horror/Paranormal/Mystery/SciFi Writers; Call For Submissions : QUILTBAG; Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy; Feminist Science Fiction; The State of Black Science Fiction; Women of Color Writers' Community; and WOMPO (Women's Poetry Listserv). I also tag writers who I’m interested in seeing work from, and post using hashtags like #diversesff on Twitter and Tumblr, and note the call for submissions in my emailed newsletter, which goes out 2-3 times/year. I’m also on Duotrope, so people who use that to search for markets will find our listings.
When I’m selecting stories, I try to read blind by saving all of the stories under their titles and removing author identities. Of course, it’s never entirely blind because I can recognize some writers’ voices, but I make the attempt, which means that I have to address diversity in my submissions pool before I get to that largely-blind selection stage. Midway through my submissions period, I’ll go quickly through the submissions I’ve received to get a sense of who is submitting, just looking at names, and faces where gmail has included a photo, so I can see if I need to work harder to get the word out to certain communities. It’s necessarily an incomplete and uncertain process, so I try to err on the side of assuming I need to do more work. I try to do this at least a month and preferably longer before submissions close, so people have time to respond to renewed calls for submissions.
SU: What's the process a story goes through between the time it is accepted and the time it is published in an Upper Rubber Boot Books anthology?
JM: External editors have their own editorial processes, but for me there’s editing and proofreading with an outside proofreader, and then there’s all the stuff that goes into making the books themselves. So I go through any edits with the authors (reading closely, sending suggestions for changes), and possibly rewrites if they’re required, and then I figure out what order the stories should go in (usually I try a bunch of different orders until I settle on something that feels right), then create an html file of the stories, which will eventually be part of the ebook (I make the html file first then create the print book file from it so that any errors in the html will get caught). Then I do the formatting for the print files, then send those to the authors to double-check.
Check out some excerpts from these anthologies below, and support the Kickstarter until June 30, 2018 by clicking here.
Full disclosure: Jennifer Lee Rossman is one of the authors I work with through World Weaver Press. We've been lucky enough to snag short stories from her for Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers and Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say, and she'll have a science fiction novel that is fun and heartbreaking in all the right ways coming out with us in early 2019.
Then again, she's got stories all over the place these days, so other publishers are clearly catching onto her talent! I invited her onto my blog to tell us a bit more about her awesome time travel novella, out now from Kristell Ink.
Here's the description of Anachronism:
It's the same old story: Time traveler meets girl, time traveler tells girl she's the future president, time traveler and girl go on a road trip to prevent a war...
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for ANACHRONISM?
Jennifer Lee Rossman: When I wrote ANACHRONISM, I had never been published and, quite frankly, had no clue what I was doing as far as publishing was concerned. I wrote my query letter in about five minutes and proceeded to send it to every publisher that came up in my "sci-fi novella publishers" Google search (typos and all and, in one case, I managed to send two copies of my query letter in one email).
By some miracle, it worked, and Kristell Ink's amazing editor Kate Coe has helped me polish the manuscript and guide me through the confusing world of proof copies and promotion. It's been a long process, but holding an actual book full of my words is the best feeling.
SU: Without too many spoilers, how does time travel work in your novella? Are there limitations and constraints your time traveling characters have to work within?
JLR: Moses doesn't like to give a lot of information about the intricacies of the science involved in time travel, but he does say that paradoxes are possible. There is nothing stopping you from going back in time and killing your ancestor, but it might make your ancestor pretty mad.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you when writing ANACHRONISM?
JLR: The writing style has been compared to Douglas Adams, but that wasn't really a conscious decision. I was really inspired by roadtrip buddy movies. I love the dynamics (and hilarity) that arise when you stick two people in a car and force them to get along, and getting to add sci-fi and save-the-world elements made it really fun to write.
SU: What’s your typical writing routine? Do you write at a certain time of day, have word count goals, a particular playlist you listen to, etc.?
JLR: I write whenever I can, usually listening to 70s and 80s music. I try to write at least one page every time I'm on the computer, which sometimes results in short paragraphs and a lot of dialogue.
SU: What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a science fiction novel?
JLR: Find other writers in your genre, whether that means a critique group at your library or a couple nerdy people on Twitter who will laugh along with you when you realize you accidentally stole half of your plot from Star Wars.
SU: What are you working on now? And where can readers find you, online or off?
JLR: I'm trying to rewrite a series of novellas I wrote when I was nineteen. They are... not well written, but I think they're fixable. And a bunch of people on Twitter have somehow convinced me to write a book about werewolves in wheelchairs. Called Chairwolves.
I also have a novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow, coming out next year with World Weaver Press. The editor is a really nice lady named Sarena Ulibarri, and she definitely did not force me to say that.
I blog at jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com and Tweet @JenLRossman, and you can find my stories in these anthologies on my Amazon page: amazon.com/author/jenniferleerossman
About the Author
Jennifer Lee Rossman is a science fiction geek from Oneonta, New York. When she isn't writing, she cross stitches, watches Doctor Who, and threatens to run over people with her wheelchair. Her work has been featured in several anthologies and her novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow, will be published by World Weaver Press in 2019.