Altered Fluid: Home of the Altered Fluid writers group

“Allosaurus Burgers” is out now from Shimmer

Issue #20 of the phenomenal speculative fiction magazine Shimmer is out, and I’m so proud and excited because it contains my short story “Allosaurus Burgers.”

I wrote this story during week five of Clarion 2012. It benefited immensely from the insights and critiques of my Brother and Sister Robots, as well as anchor team extraordinaire Holly Black and Cassandra Clare…. and after that it made the rounds for a little while, racking up rejections and getting some good notes from editors that helped me make it extra awesome. Also my mom and dad and sister and husband read it. And they made it awesome too.

There’s an interview with me here, about the story.

I’m happy this one is out in the world. Mostly because I love dinosaurs. But also because I really like this story.

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space camp: the final frontier

LaunchPad_MeA couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to participate in one of the most exciting and memorable things I’ve ever done: the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop. Dubbed a “space camp for writers,” it brings together established writers, editors, and creators for an intensive, week-long crash course in astronomy: basically a semester’s worth of Astronomy 101 classes in  seven days. It was breathtaking (literally—it takes place in Laramie, Wyoming, about 7,100 feet above sea level), mind-blowing, and, most of all, inspiring.

It was inspiring not only because of all the story ideas it generated and the opportunity to learn more about our incredible, mysterious universe, but because there’s nothing like meeting and spending time with other writers and creative professionals…

Read more at Pub(lishing) Crawl


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Some Good News

2014_2_cover_1-reklThe good news this week is that one of my favorite publications, Clarkesworld Magazine, will be publishing a new story of mine called “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs.” Editor Neil Clarke says the story will likely appear this fall. “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs” is in some ways my most ambitious story. I wanted to tell a story without pausing for the usual infodumps and backstories. I take it for granted that the reader is with me, even though she may not be. The world my characters inhabit is complex, ever-shifting. Bewilderment is part of what I want the reader to experience. I’m really excited to see how this one is received as it’s definitely one of my favorites.

The other good piece of news I received this morning is from Belarus. The Belarusian magazine Kosmoport will be publishing my Nebula-nominated short story “The Sounds of Old Earth” in Russian, translated by Togrul Safarov. They have great covers, and they’ve published translated work by Ken Liu.

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“Subduction” Interview

C.C. Finlay has posted an interview promoting my F&SF story “Subduction” on the Fantasy & Science Fiction blog.   It has a comic!

And remember, there’s a free Kindle version of the story available here.   Fantasy & Science Fiction, Free Exclusive Digest

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“57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” Wins the Shirley Jackson Award!!

Last weekend was ReaderCon, the annual conference dedicated to “imaginative” literature, which includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, and everything in between. Essentially it’s an opportunity to spend four days having wonderful conversations with wonderful people who like lots of the same things you do. Meaning it’s amazing. Except for the fact that it’s in a horrible hotel in the middle of nowhere where they charge you for wifi and there are no restaurants within walking distance and rrrrrrrrrrr it just generally sucks but that’s the subject of another blog post. ReaderCon is also where they give out the Shirley Jackson Awards, and I was nominated in the short fiction category for “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides.”

I won.

This was my second ReaderCon. When I went last year I was in a pretty miserable state of mind. I had one pro sale under my belt, but it hadn’t been published yet, and anyway the story was super weird and super gay and I didn’t think people would like it. I spent the whole con in a haze of inferiority complex and hunger (literal hunger… then, as now, the hotel restaurant sported a grand total of ONE vegetarian item… and it wasn’t worth the paper it was fashioned out of). I had lots of wonderful friends at the con, including my Clarion and Altered Fluid families, but it’s hard not to feel like a nobody when surrounded by so many amazing writers—some of whom I’d been reading my whole adult life. On top of all that,  I had a novel out on submission, racking up rejections.

This year felt better. It wasn’t just the nomination, although that did put a spring in my step (but also fill me with a lot of anxiety). I’d had a good year, with awesome sales to awesome places, some of which got highly spoken of in excellent places. One of them, “The Beasts We Want to Be,” got listed as an “Honorable Mention” in two separate “Best of the Year” anthologies, and will be included in the star-studded forthcoming collection Best of Electric Velocipede.

Also, this year I had a lot more friends. We did a lot of fun stuff. Room parties, pool parties. We even had a SHHHHHHHHHHHHH FORBIDDEN CLANDESTINE MIDNIGHT SPEAKEASY READING, MC’d by Marco Palmieri, in which I got to share a stage with great writers Greg Bechtel, Brooke Bolander, Ruby Katigbak, Valya Lupescu, Stephen H. Segal, Brian Staveley, and Shveta Thankar, It was tons of fun, in front of a packed house, and my story got a lot of love in the real world and on Twitter. Someone also said my nipples looked cute. Thanks, air conditioning!

So the award was icing on the cake of what a wonderful con it was.

Community organizer that I am, I spent much of the con begging people to come to the ceremony. Halfway through I realized that had been a terrible idea, because if I lost then they’d know I was a loser. By then it was too late, and I couldn’t stop inviting people.

By the morning of the ceremony, my nervousness had gotten so pronounced that I half-hoped I wouldn’t win, so I wouldn’t have to get up and give a speech. Luckily, my category was first, which meant I didn’t have to sit there smiling politely while trying not to puke while other people got their awards.

Here is a photo of me and fellow nervous nominee Maria Dahvana Headley, before the ceremony started.

Here is a photo of me and fellow nervous nominee Maria Dahvana Headley, before the ceremony started.

Possibly the best part was hearing the whoop that went up, when my story won. A bunch of the people in that room were happy for me. And then to stand between Kit Reed and Andrea Hairston, two writers I admire the hell out of, and accept my award, felt phenomenal.

Here is a video of my acceptance speech. I mostly kept my shit together on stage (you can’t see my legs shaking…. trust me when I say they were), but as soon as I sat down I started tearing up.

My thank-yous are on the video, but let me put them in print (padded with a tiny bit more eloquence now that I’m not stammering up on stage):

“57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” is the bastard love child of Ken Liu’s “The Man Who Ended History” and Carmen Maria Machado’s “Inventory,” two stories that showed me how a wacky formal conceit can help you reach a profound emotional truth. This was my audition story for the New York City-based writer’s group Altered Fluid, and they obviously made the story awesome, otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here today. Alaya Dawn Johnson and K. Tempest Bradford made especially crucial critique points that grasped where I was going with the story and really helped me get there. Lashawn Wanak fished it out of the slushpile at Lightspeed/Nightmare, and John Joseph Adams made the crazy call to publish it, and Wendy Wagner polished down the rough edges and made it shine. I want to thank the Shirley Jackson Award jury, who are all people I hugely admire, although obviously their taste in short stories is a little questionable, and my fellow nominees are all people I’m honored to be listed alongside – especially Maria Dahvana Headley, one of the best writers in the game these days. The Clarion class of 2012 is my everything in life, especially my roommates Lisa Bolekaja and Ruby Katigbak, who traveled really far to be here this weekend with me. Most of all I want to thank my family, my mom and dad and my sister Sarah and my husband Juancy, without whom living and writing wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

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Article up at

I’ve been away at Readercon (at which I had a superb time and will hopefully blog about soon), so I didn’t have much time for blogging, but I wanted to mention that I have a non-fiction article up at the website published this past weekend called “Overcoming Self-Doubt as a Writer.” Todd Vandermark, the web editor of the SFWA site told me that the Facebook crosspost of the article is already one of the most “liked” SFWA posts they’ve ever done. At first this made me happy, until I thought about all the writers out there doubting themselves. Hopefully my article will inspire them to doubt a bit less.

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s become a cliché, the tortured writer beset by periods of crippling self-doubt. But things become clichés simply because they have been true for so many. Writing, for most people I know, is an experience of few victories and many small defeats. The little victories can make all those defeats worthwhile, but when you’re in the writing mode, staring at the screen or paper, slogging away day after day, without feedback, you can often feel like you’ve wandered deep into the woods without a guide and now you’re lost and it’s getting dark and there are strange sounds coming from that grove of trees, and at this far out no one can hear you scream. (keep reading…)

Also some excellent news to be announced here soon, once the i’s are crossed and t’s dotted!

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The Good Kind of Anxiety

I’m beyond excited that my story “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award in the Short Story category!

Excited…. and anxious. Extremely anxious…
Shirley Jackson was one of the very first writers I read who opened my eyes to the true depth of what genre fiction can accomplish – when I graduated from the Stephen King/Dean Koontz school of horror into the idea that complex human characters are more bizarre than any space alien, and human emotions are more frightening than any monster. Things that go bump in the night are scary, but human loneliness is scarier.

Oh yeah, and Joyce Carol Oates is up for the award as well. In a different category, luckily. Although the competition in my category is pretty steep too, with amazing work from two of the best folks working, Maria Dahvana Headley and Maureen McHugh, and stories from new-to-me writers Livia Llewellyn, Paul Park, and Robert Shearman.

The awards will be given out this weekend, at Readercon. Sunday morning at 11. In the meantime, I’m a tangled ball of nerves and sleeplessness. In a good way! I’m fine if one of these other excellent writers wins, but being a nominee is itself very exciting. Which is its own source of stress, especially when its 2AM and I can’t sleep because my mind won’t stop racing, but this can definitely be filed under VERY VERY VERY GOOD PROBLEMS TO HAVE.

If you’re going to be at Readercon, please consider coming to the awards ceremony to cheer me on/pray for me/offer a crying shoulder if I don’t win…

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Mentions in Dozois’ Year’s Best

Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Edition

Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Edition

In the The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection, my fiction received nice praise from editor Gardner Dozois, Gardner says:

“Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, had a good year, featuring strong work by Jake Kerr, Matthew Kressel, Carrie Vaughn, M. Bennardo, Matthew Hughes, and others.”

Later in the book my Nebula-nominated story, “The Sounds of Old Earth” receives an Honorable Mention. Gardner also lists my name among the acknowledgments.

So three mentions in one book! Now, if I can just get my name into the Table of Contents…

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That’s Subduction

I spotted the July/August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction featuring my story “Subduction” in my local Barnes & Noble this morning.  There it is, tucked between Tin House and Rosebud.

F&SF at B&N


And in a cool bit of synchronicity, today’s xkcd comic was called “Subduction Licence.”



So in case you were wondering, that’s subduction.



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Self-Deception and the Fiction Writer

This is not about Hemmingway.

This is not about Hemmingway.

So by now you’ve heard (and have probably read to death) how two Wisconsin girls conspired to kill their friend because of Slenderman, the fictional eater of children created by a user on the site Creepy Pasta. The most often refrain I read in the comments of those articles echoed something like this: “How could those girls believe this was real?” or “How did their parents not sense this?” People asked themselves, How could someone be so disconnected from reality that they not only believed a fictional character was real, but they decided to kill for him too, and go live with him in his secret castle in the woods?  There must have been some serious issues at home!

This took me back a bit. I was shocked because no one, not one site I read (and granted I did not read the entire Internet, though I tried) mentioned the obvious psychological parallel. I.e billions of people all over this planet believe a fictional character is real and kill in his name. That dude’s name is God.

Oh shit, you say. Here’s another atheist rant, gotta go, bye! But before you theists and deists run for the hills (and even there are you not safe from your omnipotent God) I would like to tell you that I’m agnostic on the God thing. This is not because I have chosen the safe position, but because it is my conclusion after careful consideration of the facts. We posit an all-knowing, all-loving, ineffable deity who ultimately has our best interests at heart. Yeah? Well, he’s got some things to answer for: the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Holocaust, the death of children in Africa from Ebola (or death of children anywhere, really), the earthquake in Haiti, the 20th century — the bloodiest century in history, the Black Plague, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, and well, a trillion other horrific things throughout human history. And before you weave your sophistry and wool over my eyes trying to convince me this is “All in God’s plan,” or “It’s human free will,” or “No one can know the mind of God,” I would reply with, “And yet you use God to justify so much of what you do.” Though even some atheists have an agenda, which is why I don’t necessarily side with them either.

But this post isn’t about religion. It’s about how we as humans self-deceive. How is it that most people get appalled that two young girls believe a horror fairy tale is real, i.e. Slenderman, and yet never connect that they themselves have been taught a horror fairy tale from a very young age, i.e. religion? The simple answer is that they’ve been trained not to see this.

Consider cat lovers. I’m one of them. I love cats, I think they’re cute and adorable and utterly alien creatures. Nothing is more comforting than having a fellow feline curl up on your lap for a nap. The Internet is half-cats. Some Google scientists set a computer brain loose on the Internet, and it learned to hunt for cat videos. Humans love cats. How many of those cat lovers, I wonder, eat meat? Seriously? I assure you, this is not a vegetarian or vegan screed against the evils of meat. I’m asking a simple question: How many of those cat lovers, who profess their undying devotion to the feline, thereafter eat their cheeseburger with a slice of bacon? Pigs certainly have higher intelligence than cats. Dogs too. Yet we are disgusted at the thought of ever eating our beloved cats or canine friends. (Some cultures do, and most Westerners think they’re sick.)

And why is this so? Because we’ve been inculcated to think this way. Cats are our friends. They warm themselves in the sun and find the most comfy spot in the entire house. Pigs and cows and birds are our food. Except perhaps cockatiels or parrots. To swap them is anathema. We believe what is culturally accepted and we reject what our culture tells us to abandon. Seldom do we think critically about these assumptions.

Another example: Love. Our culture tells us that love is heart-exploding, it is fate and destiny, it is magical and easy, and if you have to work at it, then woe be to you, because that’s not real love. But then you get a divorce rate in the United States at about 45%. For many people, the moment the relationship becomes difficult, the moment things slip from the Disney fairy tale fantasy of what we’ve been taught to expect, we assume the marriage is broken, the relationship bunk. We look for the next adventure, the next lover who will satisfy our (taught) belief that love should be easy and simple and predestined.  Don’t even get me started on how narcissistic this view of love is.

My point here in all of these examples is to hopefully make you realize how we walk through life with certain unexamined assumptions, and as a writer I find these assumptions immensely fascinating. We are walking contradictions. The politician who rails against prostitution, and yet pays top dollar for them in private. The homophobic politician or writer who openly gay-bashes and yet is discovered soliciting sex from another man in a gas station bathroom stall or has thinly veiled gay themes in his work. The narcissist who holds onto the illusion that one day she will be a famous actress, while her kids languish without a college fund. The person who feels as if she’s helped out children in need in some other country because she bought a watch that donates its proceeds to various charities, without realizing that all she’s done is feed the consumerist engine that is causing so much poverty and wealth-disparity to begin with.

We lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves stories to get through the day, and oftentimes these stories are utter falsehoods, and yet either we don’t notice, because everyone else avoids critically thinking about the same thing, or if we do notice, we bury it deep down in our psyche because it’s too painful to face.

People are contradictory. We are walking flesh bags of hypocrisy. This does not mean we are not capable of great, noble, profoundly moving things. But it means that, though we assume we are highly rational, present, moral beings in control of ourselves, we in actuality are far from all of those. Our cognitive faculties are like that little bit of iceberg that floats atop a great undersea mountain. We think we are in control, but vast portions of our psyche have been written for us by our culture and our environment, and they remain hidden from us by the simple fact that everyone else shares the same basic assumptions.

And this leads me back to fiction. When I write a character, I ask myself, What are his/her default assumptions about the world? How does she perceive her reality, and what holes might there be in her perception? In my Nebula-nominated story, “The Sounds of Old Earth,” Abner was unwilling to face an ugly truth: that his beloved Earth was gone, and he had to move or die. But he denies this ugly truth, and so creates the tension in the story.

In my story “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” the Meeker assumes the Eye is an all-knowing, benevolent dictator. A friend. But the Eye is actually a horrific monster. The Eye herself assumes that her own inner psyche is flawless, so she doesn’t even notice the rebellion occurring from within.

In my story “The Bricks of Gelecek,” the demon from beyond the wasteland deserts of the Jeen, like Midas, does not see that he destroys everything he touches, and he desperately tries to connect with the young girl, destroying her.

I’m not saying these are necessarily the best examples, but that by making your characters suppress, deny, ignore and otherwise be ignorant of entire aspects of their psyche, you are in effect making your characters real. Because nothing says “cardboard-cutout character” like a person who says exactly what she thinks, has her feelings on the surface for all to see, and is 100% sincere in all her actions. Instead, most people are guarded, quite protective of their true feelings, and reside on a broad spectrum of human insecurities.

So, if you want to make a character come alive, jump off the page, I believe you have to consider what it is they are not saying just as much as what they are. What are they hiding, even from themselves? As another example, this time from someone else, I suggest you check out the short story “Subduction” from Paul M. Berger in this month’s The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Free Digest. A rather perfect example, perhaps taken to the extreme, of a character suppressing elements of his being in order to survive.


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