It’s ironic that I’ve published a Christmas book because… I don’t like Christmas. Or at least, I didn’t. For years, I would put my head down and suffer through the season, every festive jingle from retail speakers triggering negative associations. A few years ago, I worked through the roots of that negativity, some of which came from my own life, and some from generational trauma that has trickled down from my grandparents. I decided the best remedy would be to overwrite those negative memories with positive ones. To develop new traditions, rather than hold onto old ones I did not feel connected to.
One of those new traditions, for me, has been The Nutcracker. If I saw it as a child, I have no memory of it, but my husband did, and he wants to see it every year. Our compromise was this: I would go with him every year, but we needed to see a different production each year, so the repetition wouldn’t become boring. We’ve seen some creative interpretations, including Nutcracker in the Land of Enchantment, which places the story in New Mexico and replaces the “Spanish Chocolate” ballet segment with authentic Flamenco dancers, and Nutcracker on the Rocks, which retells the story in a modern setting with rock music and hip-hop dance.
It was during one of the more traditional shows, though, that I was struck with the idea for Steel Tree. When the inventor Drosselmeyer arrives at the Stahlbaum’s party, he first brings two life-sized dolls that dance stiffly before being carried off-stage. They’re robots, I realized! Or rather, automata, those windup predecessors from the 19th century, like from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman,” which I had read in grad school. As it turns out, the original story of The Nutcracker and Mouse King was also written by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and it is far more bizarre than the (already pretty weird) ballet. I searched for any versions which portrayed the Nutcracker as a robot who awakens to sentience. I found stories like Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, about a cyborg Cinderella, and Claire Legrand’s Winterspell, a dark steampunk take on The Nutcracker, but nothing that quite fit the story that I sketched out after that performance, which I unceremoniously titled “Nutcracker in Space.”
Most of the positive memories I have of Christmas take place in Hawai’i. My grandparents lived there, and I was lucky enough to spend several winter breaks trading in a snowsuit for a swimsuit, and decorated pine trees for light-strung palm trees. The last time I visited before my grandmother passed, we toured of several coffee plantations. One of them had a huge processing factory, and the guide explained that smaller farms in the area brought their coffee beans there, and they all got mixed together and packaged under the larger farm’s label. This dynamic struck me as a good conflict for a story, and I held onto it, the way writers collect moments and images and names in a mental drawer like spare buttons.
It was a couple of years later that I decided to put these two concepts together. What if instead of coffee, it was nuts, and in addition to the modern factory equipment, the farm had an agricultural android they called a “nutcracker”? The final piece that brought this story to life was Elon Musk’s absurd plan to offer “loans” to people who can’t afford to go to Mars, which would be worked off once they were on the red planet—a system that is indentured servitude in everything but name. These three ideas coalesced to become Steel Tree.
Klara is one of those indentured servants—not on Mars, but on a pair of fictional double planets: Eta (named after E.T.A. Hoffmann, of course), and Petipa (named after Marius Petipa, the choreographer who first adapted The Nutcracker into a ballet). Klara runs the factory where the farmers bring their harvest, and the nutcracker androids package everything to be sent from Eta to Petipa—an arrangement that some think privileges Klara’s family over the rest of the farmers. In the ballet, her brother Fritz accidentally breaks the Nutcracker by playing too rough; in my version, her neighbor Fritz sabotages one of the nutcracker androids, accidentally causing the robot to “wake up” and gain self-awareness.
I placed each of the familiar elements into this science fictional setting, borrowing from the structure of both the ballet and Hoffmann’s original, adding plenty of embellishments of my own. I hope that, whether you love or loathe the holidays, Steel Tree can bring a fresh perspective to an old tradition.
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Samuel Peralta's "Future Chronicles" anthologies are always fantastic collections, and I was thrilled to be invited to participate in this one, especially after I leaned I would be sharing a table of contents with authors such as Ken Liu, Seanan McGuire, and Jake Kerr. It's actually my second one with Jake—we were in the same issue of Lightspeed years ago. I've never been much of a video gamer, but I've long been obsessed with virtual reality, and that's the type of game I wrote about in "Sick and Tired."
In a world of nearly instant cures and ubiquitous good health, Sick and Tired Disease Simulation Agency offers virtual reality games that allow people to experience illness without the physical toll. After Jacob’s easy, fifteen-minute procedure zaps his cancer away, he becomes obsessed with the blog his grandmother wrote while dying of the same affliction fifty years before, and decides to visit Sick and Tired to understand what he was spared from. But the deeper Jacob gets into the game, the looser his grip becomes on which of these realities is true and which is illusion.
I think eventually this will be available in print, but right now you can only get it in ebook. It's been a very popular ebook, though We even spent some time as a #1 New Release in Science Fiction Anthologies!
Get the book here:
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."
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.
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.
My story, "Cocktails at the Mad Scientist's House" is in the Spring 2018 issue of Mad Scientist Journal, out now! Makes sense that this is where this story would end up, doesn't it? I didn't initially write the story with Mad Scientist Journal in mind, but it turned out to be a perfect fit.
My story is classified as an "essay," but it's still definitely fiction (I should hope that would be fairly obvious). One of the quirky, fun things about Mad Scientist Journal is that they publish these first person "essays" as though the character were a real person who just dictated their experience to the author. That's why below, you'll see the byline says "An essay by Tina Eikenboom, as provided by Sarena Ulibarri." I even had to come up with a brief bio for my character. Here's what I said about her:
Tina Eikenboom is a real nobody. You've never heard of her, or met her. Unless maybe you went to high school with her. Or community college. If you ever lived next door, you might know her as that girl who plays music too loud. Tina's not her real name, but it does start with a T, and if she has too much to drink, she might accidentally tell you what it is.
I'm grateful to Dawn Vogel and Jeremy Zimmerman for giving Tina's frantic story of murder and mad science a home in this issue. I was also thrilled to recognize a couple of other names in the table of contents, including Holly Schofield, who has a story forthcoming in my Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers anthology. This story of hers is a lot darker than the solarpunk one, of course. Those feral clowns mentioned on the cover? Yeah, that's Holly's story. (And it's awesome.)
I hope you'll check out a copy, and let me know what you think of the stories!