Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Story Notes: "The Goddess of the Highway" / New Flash Story!

So now that the magazine it's printed in is almost off the shelves, I figured I'd blather a little bit about my novelette "The Goddess of the Highway." It appears in the September/October issue of Interzone, and it's the longest story I've ever had published aside from Stay Crazy. The beginning:

Sixteen hours, four minutes, seven seconds. 
He’s tired and wired all at once. His shoulders ache with the tension brought on by the bennies, and his teeth have worn down to nubs. He can hear them grind even through the soothing tones of the in-cab entertainment system, which is currently broadcasting soft piano paired with roundish blue-green shapes. 
Sixteen hours, eight minutes, forty-nine seconds.

Like a lot of my stories, "Goddess" was inspired by something I hate, specifically the movie Idiocracy. If you haven't seen it, Idiocracy is about a dysgenic future where only the stupid have bred, so people water their lawns with Gatorade and elect a pro wrestler as President. (Hey, our President only guest starred on wrestling!) Of course, as everyone knows intelligence is impacted very little by genetics, and environment is by far a larger factor.

In "Goddess," intelligence-destroying bombs ruin people's brains, requiring prosthetics to replace the lost functions. And of course, the prosthetics are coded by color and material, running from Plastic (the lowest caste) to Platinum (people as smart or smarter than today's geniuses). A Plastic-plated truck driver named Harp meets up with a Platinum rebel with an unclear cause named Spike, and together they might just figure out the secret behind the bombs, and a way to fix everything. Oh, and there's a metaphysical being that appears whenever you've taken way too many amphetamines, because yeah.

Under the influence of the neurobombs, society has become static. Like in Brave New World, humanity has been strictly corralled into castes, but their limitations are not inborn. Desperate to get their old brains back, lower-caste humans gobble up smart drugs, but those are only a temporary reprieve from the cruel system. What's needed is revolution, but what kind of revolution can you have in a world where most of the citizens can't even remember how to tie their shoes? Well, you'll see.

This is also a commentary on artificial scarcity and how it's used to control working-class people. There's nothing keeping everyone from having the best prosthetics, just as there's nothing keeping us from socialized medicine or a better public education system or luxury gay space communism. Nothing, that is, except our own need to control other people. Of course, once the society of "Goddess" is set up, it's hard to break out of it. Even if the limitations are not inborn, they're still there. Most of the people in the story are only vaguely aware they're being oppressed, which makes the task of toppling the social order even harder. And then there's the ontological mystery of the Goddess herself, who might be real or just a figment of Harp's shattered mind, or maybe it's some kind of Schrodinger's Cat thing. So it's a lot of my favorite themes all wrapped up in one super-sized piece of fiction.

It's not online, but you can buy the issue here, and also on Amazon if you so wish. I'm immensely proud of this story, and super stoked to have made a sale to Interzone.


Also, I had a flash story out yesterday! "Bitter Medicine" in Daily Science Fiction is the story of an alien hunter/medical researcher who does what humans do best. If you didn't already know I was a huge misanthrope, well, now you do. Go and read if you wanna.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The SFWA Fantasy StoryBundle!

Good news, everybody! My British Fantasy Award-winning novel Stay Crazy is included in this StoryBundle, comprised of books written by members of SFWA and curated by president Cat Rambo. Five bucks will get you four books, but $15 will get you all twelve, including mine! Some selected reviews:

"She writes the scenes of madness with pure poetic fire. The kind of writing that slinks in and settles into you, and makes you keep reading and reading onward. The moments when she was off her medications and her schizophrenia is taking hold feel so true and so right and so on point." --Paul Jessup, The Unsung Letter #12

"[T]he greatest strength of Stay Crazy is its incredible depiction of paranoid delusions and the way those delusions mix with the sci-fi element to keep both Em and the reader off their game." --N.S. Dolkart, author of Silent Hall

Get the bundle here, and help support an organization that advocates for professional science fiction and fantasy writers, as well as fill you up on reading material for the rest of the year!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Fantasycon 2017: A Jolly Good Surprise!

I am pleased glad deliriously ecstatic to report that Stay Crazy has won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer!

I did have a speech prepared, but I promptly forgot all of it once I got to the podium and I'm not even quite sure what I said once I was up there. (If it was embarrassing, please don't ever let me know.) So in case I didn't say it then, I want to thank my publishers Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner at Apex, my writing mentor and biggest supporter Nick Mamatas, all the short fiction editors who have bought my work over the years, my spouse/in-house editor Rob, and most of all the British Fantasy Society. I could not be happier that my little small press book has been so greatly honored. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Fantasycon itself was wonderful, as was the week in London preceding it. I was especially happy to meet some of my UK-based writer friends, including Eliza Chan, G.V. Anderson, and Georgina Bruce (who won the BFA for Best Short Story, yeah!). I spent a little bit of time hanging out with the Interzone crew (psst, you can buy new the new issue now, which I am in!) and awkwardly barconning. I'm not sure if I'll ever make it back to Fantasycon as it's a bit of a hike, but I hope to see some of the folks I met there at the Dublin Worldcon in 2018, because that's definitely a thing we're planning to do.

Been back home for a week now, and just getting back into the writing swing of things. Some people write on their vacations, but I'm not one of them. Hope to have some new sales and progress reports soon, but until then, you can buy a copy of Stay Crazy directly from Apex here. And keep listening for the signals!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

My Fantasycon 2017 Schedule!

In light of being nominated for the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer (!!! <--this is still deserving of multiple exclamation points), and it being my first award nomination, and having the ability to splurge on a major trip for which I am extremely grateful, I'm going to England! Rob and I will be in London for a week, followed by a few days in Peterborough for Fantasycon 2017. If you want to actually see pictures of and commentary on the trip I'll be dropping them on Twitter and Facebook. I'm also going to be on two panels at the con, and here they are! Both of them are on Saturday, September 30.

New Author Experiences (1:00 PM): Every writer has a different path towards getting their work published and finding an audience. Join a selection of new writers on this panel who are experiencing different parts of the process and listen as they compare their journeys. Phil Lunt (mod), Jeanette Ng, Anthony Laken, Erica L. Satifka, Kevin Elliott, Joseph E. Cole

Being BFA Nominees (4:00 PM): An award nomination can be a great confidence booster for a writer. It can also lead to all sorts of new opportunities. Our panel of BFA nominees will discuss what got them to this stage and what they hope their nominations will bring in the future. Ian Hunter (mod), Erica L. Satifka, Pete Sutton, Neil Williamson, Phil Sloman

I will also have copies of Stay Crazy for sale in the dealers' room and would like to make space in my luggage for books and touristy things, hint hint.

And finally, in short fiction news, my novelette "The Goddess of the Highway" is out in the current issue of Interzone (272), along with stories by Paul Jessup, T.R. Napper, and Aliya Whiteley. I'm waiting to talk about the story until people have gotten copies of the magazine and read it, but in the meantime check out the gorgeous story art below by Vincent Sammy, which pretty much nailed my own mental picture of the titular character.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Story Notes: "Lucky Girl"

It's a new story day! (Actually, a double-new story day, but I'm saving the other announcement for later.) This month in The Dark is "Lucky Girl," a little bit of parallel-dimension existential horror. A clip:

Mike’s sister Natalie had attempted suicide on eleven separate occasions, each time using a different method. Cutting her wrists, knocking back three family-size bottles of Tylenol, hanging herself with a hospital bed sheet, jumping into the Columbia River with a bag of stones around her waist. She’d even gone into the woods smeared with bacon fat and gotten herself mauled by a cougar, which only seemed ridiculous because Natalie had survived with barely a scratch. If she hadn’t, it would have been tragic.

The background: In the nineties, there was this really bad show called Sliders that I thought was very good, because I was a teenager. It was about a group of people who traveled to parallel worlds where a minor change in the past caused reality to branch out, and it blew my mind. Were parallel worlds real? What caused them to splinter off? Could my everyday actions cause a parallel world? If I were smart, I'd have gone into physics, but instead I became a science fiction writer.

A few years after I stopped paying attention to Sliders (the show having gotten too bad even for me), I discovered a band called The Eels, which happens to be fronted by the son of the man who created the many-worlds theory, Hugh Everett III. In case you don't want to click through that Wiki link, just know that the Everetts' story is interesting as fuck. The Eels' best album, 1998's Electro-Shock Blues, is about the frontman's sister Elizabeth, and this is the part where I start relating all this background information to the actual story.

Elizabeth Everett, like Natalie in "Lucky Girl," committed suicide in order to travel to a different parallel world. Hugh himself neglected his health after coming up with the many-worlds theorem, and died at the age of fifty-one from preventable causes. These things are tragedies, but it made me think about how thoroughly an idea can shatter someone's world... and this being science fiction, about what happens if that idea turns out to be true.

The thing about quantum immortality that makes it horrific is that it's deeply solipsistic. If you're the only constant in your universe, you can die over and over again without ever reaching what Natalie in the story (yes, most of these story notes are only tangentially about the story, I realize that now) calls the "zero point zero zero zero zero one universe," the one where you're least likely to be alive. After a time, it would wear on you, to have a "life track" where you're the only real inhabitant. Far from being something desirable, quantum immortality would kill your soul, and once you'd shunted yourself into more than a handful of "split-offs," it makes sense that you'd keep dying over and over again. Because what else is there to do? Might as well keep traveling now that you've gone this far. And if you die when you're old from natural causes? Then expect an infinity of parallel worlds, where your mind keeps flipping into a succession of nearly identical hospital rooms, trying to survive. Better hope you're not in any pain!

Basically, what I'm saying is that I desperately hope Hugh Everett III was full of shit.

So anyway, that's "Lucky Girl," or at least some rambling about things kinda relating to the story but not really. Physics are wacky, guys. Oh, and listen to The Eels. Here's the opener from the album, "Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor."

Monday, July 17, 2017

In Which I Am Nominated for an Award!

You know how it goes: You're sitting in a neurologist's waiting room running on a medically-mandated two hours of sleep. You're reading Twitter, because you're always reading Twitter, and you see that you've been nominated for a British Fantasy Award. And then the EEG tech comes and gets you, and you can't play with your phone anymore, and you mumble something like "I think I've just been nominated for an award" but the tech is all "oh dear, you are tired, aren't you?" You lay in a quiet room for an hour trying to take a medically-mandated nap but you can't because you're wondering: did it happen?

I am so thrilled and honored that my debut novel Stay Crazy has been nominated for a British Fantasy Award in the Best Newcomer category. My first shortlist! So incredibly stoked! This book is pretty important to me, and it means the world that some other folks liked it too. Thank you judges and readers, from the bottom of my heart.

Assuming we can get passports and a hotel, I'll be attending Fantasycon 2017, as well as spending a week in the UK because why not. My first trip overseas! Exciting! See you there!