- J. M. McDermott, Straggletaggle
- Rich Horton, ed., Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2015 edition
- Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, No. 33
- Ginn Hale, Champion of the Scarlet Wolf
- Locus July 2015 (#654)
Nicole Kornher-Stace, Archivist Wasp
- New York Review of Science Fiction
- Galaxy’s Edge Magazine
- Uncanny Magazine
- Clarkesworld Magazine
- Lackington’s Subscription
- Uncanny Magazine
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- When we reach a total of 50 new/renewing subscribers we’ll unlock an ebook of Issue One for *every* new/renewing subscriber. Plus, we’ll randomly draw 2 winners for Uncanny swag packs: postcards, a sticker, and a Space Unicorn Ranger Corps patch!
- At 100 new/renewing subscribers, every new subscriber will receive an ebook of Issue One and Two. Plus, we’ll draw for a set of signed cover-art posters and a Space Unicorn Ranger Corps patch!
- At 150 new/renewing subscribers, all new/renewing subscribers will receive ebooks of Issue One, Two, and Three (all caught up!), and we’ll draw 2 winners for signed books: The Republic of Thieves MMPB by Scott Lynch and Karen Memory hardcover by Elizabeth Bear, plus a Space Unicorn Ranger Corps patch for each winner!
- At 200 new/renewing subscribers, we’ll draw for a mega-swag pack that includes postcards, a sticker, a patch, signed cover art, and both signed books!
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and we use a four-column layout. But I agree with this writer’s puzzlement: why do all the websites have a huge picture on the top and then text?
Ok: I know one answer: if there’s a huge image at the top and you have to use the space bar to page down to get to the writing, they you’re engaged with the website and once you’re pushing keys and interacting with the site, won’t you stay, click around, and maybe buy a t-shirt, app, or electric car or something? Hmmm,
Agent Keith Curry only ever had to use his mage pistol once, and that was against some goblin butchers. Curry never says if they were legitimate butchers or the bloodthirsty kind. Just assume they were murderous and magical because Curry works for the NATO Irregular Affairs Division (the Irregulars). Once a carnivore, Curry turned to vegetarianism after seeing the after-effects of too many homicides.
Being a chef is Curry’s special skill. He uses it on the job to root out murder. “Portland’s art, music, and food scenes made it the perfect place to hide a blood orgy.” If that thought makes you laugh before you cringe, then your humor’s in just the right place for Nicole Kimberling’s Cherries Worth Getting. It’s not cannibalism if it’s not your own species, but it’s still murder.
“Rumpled old magicians, witches in business suits, and faerie lawyers” fill the Irregulars, but humans like Curry do most of the work. Perpetrators infesting Portland span the fantastical realm, too. With the right glasses, even a human like Curry can spot hidden magical signs and “vulgar Gaelic epithets left by leprechaun gangs.”
Curry doesn’t need magic glasses to see Gunther Heartman, an old flame and a new Irregulars partner. They’re investigating why human protein keeps turning up in different goblin venues around Portland. Against a backdrop of grilled cheese sandwiches, Curry and Heartman follow a well fleshed-out trail of vampires, pixies and sadistic restaurant owners.
Nicole Kimberling lives in Bellingham, Washington with her wife, Dawn Kimberling, two bad cats as well as a wide and diverse variety of invasive and noxious weeds. Her first novel, Turnskin, won the Lambda Literary Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. She is also the author of the Bellingham Mystery Series.
“All of Our Past Places” by Kat Howard, published in Unlikely Story #9: The Journal of Unlikely Cartography, June 2014.
“Careful Magic” by Karen Healey published in Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press, August 2014.
“Cookie Cutter Superhero” by Tansy Rayner Roberts, published in Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press, August 2014.
“Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon, published in Apex Magazine, Issue 56, January 2014.
“The Lesser Evil” by Day Al-Mohamed, in Sword & Laser, edited by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt, April 29, 2014.
“The Magician and Laplace’s Demon” by Tom Crosshill, published in Clarkesworld Magazine, December 2014.
“N is for Nanomachine” by C.S. MacCath in A is for Apocalypse, edited by Rhonda Parrish, Niteblade, August 2014.
“Qasida” by Rosaleen Love in Secret Lives of Books, edited by Alisa Krasnostein , Twelfth Planet Press, June 2014.
“Vanilla” by Dirk Flinthart in Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press, August 2014.
J. M. McDermott’s new steampunk opus Straggletaggle hit number one this month while the first of the annual year’s best volumes came close at #2. I’m very happy to see the latest issue of LCRW in the top 5. It’s the first guest-edited issue — you can read an interview with one of the contributors, Giselle Leeb, on editor Michael J. DeLuca’s Mossy Skull. Perennial fave Ginn Hale takes the #4 spot and there’s a tie for #5: the July issue of Locus includes the Locus Awards and poll results, which always make for interesting reading and Archivist Wasp has all the buzz in the world!
In the subscription list, it’s fascinating to see the ups and downsand it is always great to see a lively upstart such as Lackington’s pop up. Yay!
Capitalism is an odd beast. In the short run, capitalism rewards the hardy, the stubborn, and those clever entrepreneurs who find their way through the harsh rapids of today’s economy. In the long run, the little guys are shoved aside while the most successful, such as Amazon, Apple, Walmart, and countless mega-corps go on to rule the world.
This isn’t an indictment of capitalism. I live in ‘Merica, after all. Capitalism is the American way, and for that, I am happy. But it does place the small business owner in a tough position. Do you fight the powerful, many-headed hydra, or do you hitch a ride on its back waiting for one of the heads to reach around and swallow you whole?
In my new book, For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher, I outline my troubles with the publishing distribution system. Because the returns system is archaic and unnecessary (and certainly not environmentally friendly for a greenie like myself), I elected to turn away from the IPGs and DBDs of the world and opted for the print-on-demand business (POD) model. The POD model is viable due to the force of nature known as Amazon.com.
If you’re not familiar with the POD model, let me give you a brief description. POD allows a publisher to keep very little inventory while maintaining the ability to reach customers via 3rd party vendors such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Chapters. Because digital publishing has become an integral part of small press revenues, I lump it into the overall POD model as a subset. Basically, the model has two arms: trade paperback and digital.
And guess who has the easiest POD service to use for trade paperbacks? Createspace (owned by Amazon). And guess who has one of the easiest and the highest royalty rates for eBooks? The Amazon Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP) program.
Both are wonderful services, and I praise Amazon for making them user friendly. Both have enabled the tidal wave of self-publishing to occur which has benefited of many, many authors. But…
What if the hydra wants more? We’ve seen the power Amazon has exerted over the Big 5 publishers by removing various publishers’ books from their online store when they want a better contract. What happens should the hydra want to pay less royalty to the small publishers and authors who used KDP and/or Createspace? If KDP drops the royalty rate from 70% to 35%, then what can we do?
I see a lot of Amazon evangelicals stating with certainty that this will never happen. I sincerely hope they’re right, and perhaps they are, but having the health of your business reliant on the whims of one megacorp strikes me as a dangerous game, toeing a dangerous imaginary line that flickers back and forth.
Two weeks ago, I did some quick analysis on Apex sales figures by all vendors so far in 2015. For all digital sales, the percentages broke down like this:
Direct Sales 5%
Weightless Books 4%
Even though Apex provides product links to the Amazon, Nook, Weightless, iTunes, and Kobo editions on every product page, a huge majority (a whopping 79%!) still buy our books and Apex Magazine from the hydra.
It’s been pointed out to me by my well-meaning accountant that if Apex focused strictly on Amazon, we would probably increase our revenues. Perhaps that is true, but the thought horrifies me. It would place Apex firmly on the wrong side of “don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution” equation.
I always tell our customers to buy from whichever vendor they like the best. If pressed, I will suggest buying from an independent vendor, like Weightless Books, or directly from Apex. I realize that Amazon pays the bills, but in a capitalist economy, competition provides a better shopping experience for both businesses and consumers.
As Apex has done, many small press publishers have embraced the multiple independent vendors (though quite a few small publishers are Amazon exclusive). The Big 5 think only in volume and that leaves a lot of quality indie vendors in the cold. Making all titles available over multiple indie market places would be a good start, but not the only answer. Readers need to seek out sites like Weightless Books and, instead of giving their money to a megacorp, consider supporting the hardworking indie folks.
Other than continuing to carry the banner for indie stores like Weightless Books and Drivethru Fiction and choosing to turn to B&N and Kobo for megacorp purchases, I’m not sure what else Apex can do. It is possible that small press and self-publishers have reached the point of no return. We’ve engineered this hydra. At this point, with 79% of our eBook sales going to Amazon, is our only option is to continue to feed it?
From my end, that may just be Apex’s only option, but it isn’t the only option open to the readers. Money, in our society, speaks louder than words. Therefore, might I suggest buying an Apex book or For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher from Weightless today! That will be a great first step toward helping create a fair market…
ABOUT THE BOOK:
For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (a real school with its own vampire legend) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2005, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, who can usually be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review):
“In his first collection, Harper gives us a gallery of 20-somethings, many with older lovers or husbands, trying to reconcile inchoate ambitions with prosaic realities: a ne’er-do-well crashes at his brother’s house and descends into a feud with his scheming fiancee; a callow student undergoes an extreme body-piercing ritual as a seemingly supportive entree into a domestic household; a pastry chef reluctantly goes house hunting with his older lover but is drawn to the disheveled artist next door; an uncouth renter disrupts a couple’s staid lives; a grad student ponders the hidden exploitation lurking in his estranged father’s conservative church; a group of friends spends a weekend reliving their high school fantasy-gaming rituals as their leader slips into a breakdown; an older man’s offer of help to a young strip-club dancer turns rather dark; a young novelist becomes obsessed with the corpse of a woman that washes ashore in the fishing village where he is summering. Harper’s protagonists are sensitive, talented (but not too talented) youths with dreams of creative lives that they find difficult to square with their circumstances and relationships. Far from the glitter of New York and San Francisco, they are dependent on stable, boring partners, whom they often resent, and are immured in the sterile strip malls and bland apartment complexes of a downscale suburbia that has few beguiling, treacherous oases of bohemian grunge. Harper draws this landscape with a superb eye for detail and feel for atmosphere, writing with a limpid, pitch-perfect prose, suffused with a mordant humor and flashes of wistful lyricism. He perfectly captures the fecklessness of a certain age and mindset while investing it with real psychological depth and emotional resonance—and even with an air of mystery and possibility that belies the seeming banality of his characters’ lives. A fine debut collection from a gifted chronicler of contemporary queer discontents.”
And just before the end of the first half of the year (stop me if you’ve heard this one, but has time sped up again?) we sent out the latest issue of LCRW. And! We have a new one coming very soon — so soon it will seem almost more like a weekly than an occasional. But the one after that, it’s much further out. Don’t want too much of a good thing! What’s the new one got? A heartbreaker from Jade Sylvan, a surprise from Henry Lein; subscribe here.
Also today: new titles from Aqueduct Press and that’ll be it until tomorrow when we unleash a whole horde of new magazines. See you then!
Hey, we just added a new subscription: LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction. It is indeed the world’s “only biannual literary journal focusing on Southeast Asian speculative fiction.” Previous issues have presented speculative writing from and about Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia, and contributors have won major literary awards in Singapore, USA, the UK, Japan, and the Philippines.
Curious? Read a couple of interviews!
There’s nothing like a subscription drive to power a magazine to the top of the bestseller list. Uncanny Magazine‘s May 2015 drive pushed it past everything else on the site to sit comfortably in the number one position. Uncanny has quickly become a magazine to check out. The current May/June issue shows off their range and strength:
Featuring new fiction by Catherynne M. Valente, A. C. Wise, John Chu, Elizabeth Bear, and Lisa Bolekaja, classic fiction by Delia Sherman, essays by Mike Glyer, Christopher J Garcia, Steven H Silver, Julia Rios, and Kameron Hurley, poetry by Alyssa Wong, Ali Trotta, and Isabel Yap, interviews with Delia Sherman and John Chu by Deborah Stanish, a cover by Tran Nguyen, and an editorial by Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas.
Fantastic stories lurk in The Dark Magazine. You won’t find gore, but you will find a treasure chest of creepiness and strange perspectives.
“Welcome to Argentia” by Sandra McDonald tells of a real place with a real history. The vengeful spirit of Argentia feels real, too. The land haunts and is haunted. It takes the lives it wants, whether shipwreck victims clinging to rocks or pilots in crashed transports. Individuals see glimpses of the land’s haunting before and after the U.S. Navy abandons its World War II base. A young man “looked out his window to see dark horses pulling wooden coffins down the road. There are no horses on the station, and certainly no need for coffins.” Mundane events are made terrible in “Welcome to Argentia.” This story reminds the reader how little control she has if she’s part of a larger narrative. The difference between life and death is less than she likes to think.
To the question of whether “Rumpelstiltskin” should be its own genre, “A Spoke in Fortune’s Wheels” keens yesssss. You remember the Rumplestiltskin story: years of modern retelling have mellowed the tale to something simply about a strange man spinning straw into gold and the price one woman pays for the favor. The story’s not so bad. Just a vehicle for a moral, right? Not the way Brooke Wonders tells it. Like so many other stories in The Dark Magazine, “A Spoke in Fortune’s Wheels” takes fairy tales back to their creepy roots. The girl in this story has a spinning wheel for a head. Nasty things happen to her after she meets the little man. This story disturbs, fascinates, and chills, which are all the right things to do in a horror story.
In “An Ocean of Eyes,” Sigrid (not her real name) tries to convince a brash stranger to leave town. He’s drawn to Ulthar because of a legend he doesn’t believe, and he’s a fool. A town with stories about cats devouring people alive should be avoided. Also, Lovecraft made this place. Cats and their toxoplasmosis victims are wily. Like whatever’s pulling victims into Newfoundland waters, hiding in a favor or lurking in a cat’s meow, the stories in The Dark Magazine sneak up on you. This is a great e-zine.
The Dark Magazine is available DRM-free from Weightless Books in single issues or as a 12-month subscription. “A Spoke in Fortune’s Wheels” by Brooke Wonders and “Welcome to Argentia” by Sandra McDonald are in Issue 7. Cassandra Khaw’s “An Ocean of Eyes” can be found in Issue 8.
Congratulations to everyone at Lethe Press and especially to Chaz Benchley (Bitter Waters) and Jeff Mann (Salvation) who both picked up a Lambda Awards this week at the big awards celebration in New York City:
GREGORY FEELEY writes fiction and about fiction. His first novel, The Oxygen Barons, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, and he has published essays in The Atlantic Monthly, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. His short fiction has twice been nominated for the Nebula Award and has appeared five times in year’s best anthologies. His most recent novel is Kentauros (2010).
On the tenth anniversary of its original publication, Arabian Wine is once again available from Temporary Culture in cooperation with Weightless Books. Arabian Wine is a short novel about the arrival of coffee and steam power in a Venice that has not quite entered the modern scientific era. John Crowley called it a “fine, funny trans-historical adventure, so well-furnished and well-wrought it seems more true than the more boring truth.” Temporary Culture publisher Henry Wessells asked Gregory Feeley a few questions about the book.
Several of your fictions unfold at the edges of modernity, when scientific developments start to shape the world we know. What are the origins of Arabian Wine?
Like many of my stories — The Oxygen Barons , “A Different Drumstick” , “Fancy Bread” , and my current novel in progress — Arabian Wine began with its title. A good title can demand that a story be written for it. I encountered the phrase in a pictorial history of coffee (a genuine coffee table book, left out in an upscale coffee shop for customers to browse) and immediately knew it was the title of a story I had to write. And obviously the story had to take place in the era when coffee was just beginning to appear in Europe. By the time I put the volume down I also knew that there would be a mishap involving some clanky mechanism releasing a jet of steam and the protagonists accidentally inventing espresso. I went home and began researching, and the novel developed from there.
I’m not sure why I am attracted to historical eras in which an important scientific theory or model of the cosmos begins to deform under the pressure of history, but after I published “The Weighing of Ayre”  and began writing “Animae Celestes”  (which is part of a still-incomplete longer work, Headwinds of the Heart), I noticed as much. Eventually I realized that this is why I like the work of James Blish, whose stories consistently involve belief systems, social organizations, or physical structures coming under pressure and imploding. And such stories necessarily combine both the abstract and the material, which is another attraction.
Why Venice in 1609?
Venice was a liminal zone — neither land nor sea, not particularly Christian though certainly not Muslim, and as Levantine as it was European — and it was the one realm in Christendom where commerce trumped faith. The Venetians would trade with anyone — Turks, Arabs, Byzantines — and their relentless push to make money (they were not interested in expanding their borders or the glory of God or the Church) helped drive the development of modern capitalism. As a system that combines both the abstract and material — and one that has immediate relevance to our own lives — global capitalism is hard to beat.
Traditionally, the introduction of coffee to the west is ascribed to the retreat of the Turks after the siege of Vienna. This is a myth, of course. History is much more porous, as are the boundaries between the Islamic and Christian worlds. How extensive were the commercial relations between Venice and the Ottomans in the decades after the battle of Lepanto (1579)?
It is surprising how little the wars between Christendom and the Ottomans impeded Venice’s trade with the Islamic world. The nations of Europe, to say nothing of the Pope, deeply mistrusted Venice for this, but they also bought what Venice had to sell.
The eastern Mediterranean circa 1609
Leonhart Rauwolf and Prosper Alpini visited the Islamic world in the late 1570s and early 1580s and soon published accounts of the flora. Alpini was a physician and his writings on the plants of Egypt emphasize medicinal properties. How quickly did knowledge of coffee spread in scientific circles?
As near as I could work out, coffee became known in Europe after Alpini and other travelers began to publish accounts of what they had seen during their time in the land of “the Turk” — the travel books they published became a popular genre. It’s hard to know how quickly word of “chaube” or “caofa” (as they called it) spread in “scientific circles,” since these circles did not yet have a journal in which to publish their discoveries. (The first, the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions, I wrote about in “The Weighing of Ayre.”) My guess is that coffee was sold as a costly medicine before it became inexpensive enough for people to drink recreationally, but it was enough for my story to know that by 1609 this had not yet happened.
And how about accounts of drinking coffee?
I don’t recall a description of coffee that included a first-hand account of the experience of drinking it. Quite possibly Alpini and the rest never actually tasted it — or if they did, they recoiled at its bitterness, as one does the first time. Rauwolf called it “a very good drink,” but he seemed have been reporting its salutary qualities (he declared it “very good in illness, especially of the stomach”).
David Liss’ The Coffee Trader, which came out while my novel was searching for a publisher, also contains a “You’ve got to taste this” moment, a description of the exhilaration of feeling caffeine’s first effects. I have to assume that Liss, like me, was using his imagination here; I don’t know of any actual early account.
There are brief passages where I see you allude to earlier counterfactual science fiction, such as De Camp’s introduction of bookkeeping to the late Roman empire in Lest Darkness Fall, but Arabian Wine has a different thrust and flavor. Was the Serene Republic a proto-police state?
Blish once said that he was writing a novel set during in Venice during the Borgia pontificate, which I discovered when I was reading his letters in the Bodleian Library many years ago. He wrote that “if I am going to write about the crucial ideas in the history of science, I ought not to rule out the malign ones; in this case, what I’ll be talking about is the invention of the security system for technical information, which our charming Venetian friends were inaugurating during the same period that they invented the ghetto.” I did a good deal of research while writing Arabian Wine, and I decided that Blish was right.
My novel was finished in the summer of 2001, before the convulsions of 9-11 (to say nothing of the subsequent developments that Edward Snowden helped disclose), but the relevance of Venice’s policies, with its covert surveillance, anonymous denunciation, and apparatus of secret arrests, trials, and executions, to our own government’s was clear even then.
Do you wish to mention other work, long or short, that is complete or forthcoming?
For the past ten years I have been working on a long novel, set a century earlier, that also ranges over the European and Islamic worlds. It deals with end of the period when Renaissance magic — “white magic,” specifically the Neoplatonism of Marsilio Ficino and Avicenna — was taken seriously by theologians and scholars. Another story — my most ambitious yet — about an epistemology crumbling under the pressures of science and history.
Greg, how do you take your coffee?
With milk. I wish I knew when people started doing that, but the historical record seems to be silent.
Uncanny Magazine is recruiting new members for its Space Unicorn Ranger Corps! We named the Uncanny Kickstarter backers the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps after our amazing Space Unicorn mascot. Now, you can become a member of the Corps by subscribing here at Weightless Books!
This is the perfect time to join because Uncanny is going on sale! From May 5-19, a year’s subscription to Uncanny Magazine is $2 less than the typical current cover price (only $21.88)! It’s the least expensive way to subscribe we’ve ever offered.
Each bimonthly issue of Uncanny contains new and classic speculative fiction, poetry, essays, art, and interviews. We seek out and share pieces we can’t stop thinking and talking about, because of how they make us feel. We’re also deeply committed to finding and showcasing fantastic works by writers from every possible point of view and background.
We debuted Issue One of Uncanny in November 2014 and we’re thrilled with Year One. We’ve included contributions from phenomenal authors such as Neil Gaiman, Jim C. Hines, Maria Dahvana Headley, Max Gladstone, Ken Liu, Christopher Barzak, Sam J. Miller, Sofia Samatar, Sarah Pinsker, Catherynne M. Valente, Elizabeth Bear, John Chu, Kameron Hurley, and Amal El-Mohtar, plus many newer voices. We can’t wait for you to read what’s coming next.
New or renewing subscribers to Uncanny Magazine from May 5-19, 2015 will be eligible for giveaways and a whole bunch of Uncanny swag!
There may also be random prize drawings throughout the subscription drive. You never know with the Space Unicorns . . .
Don’t miss out: subscribe now!
In conjunction with their new BCS theme anthology Ceaseless West: Weird Western Stories from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and its special early release here at Weightless Books, BCS is having an ebook sale!
Those other BCS anthologies eligible for this 30% off include all their Best of BCS annual anthologies, such as The Best of BCS, Year Five, featuring Richard Parks, Gemma Files, and Gregory Norman Bossert’s World Fantasy Award-winning story “The Telling.”
BCS ebook subscriptions eligible for this 30% off include not only new subscriptions but also renewing or extending your existing subscription, regardless of when it ends. Subscribers can get issues delivered directly to their Kindle, smart phone, or tablet (any device with an email address), and they get new issues early, a week before the website.
Q: What do you care about most when you write a story?
DAW: The characters, most definitely. Most of my stories start as what-ifs: What if there was a woman who was a composite of body parts and each part retained sentience? How would that feel to the dominant part? What if there was a man who was disappearing, one body part at a time, and what would it feel like to watch that happening, knowing there was nothing you could do to stop it?
I try to put my head firmly into the characters’ hearts and minds from the start, because unless I know how they feel, I won’t know how they’re going to react on their journey and their story won’t ring true.
Q: If all the main characters in Sing Me Your Scars met on the battlefield, which ones would emerge victorious?
DAW: I love this question! I suspect the characters would throw down their weapons and go off to have coffee and talk about scars, but if coffee wasn’t an option, I think it would ultimately come down to Olivia from “Girl, With Coin” and Isabel from “They Make of You a Monster.” In the end, though, Isabel would be victorious because although Olivia can’t physically feel pain, Isabel’s ability to kill with a touch trumps all.
In the alternate universe, they’ve switched from coffee to cocktails and wine and they’re no longer discussing scars, but have moved onto things like what constitutes the perfect origami elephant, black and white versus color photography, and whether or not artificial intelligence should be granted autonomy.
Q: You’ve published a phenomenal number of short stories in the past five years. What motivates you to do this?
DAW: I don’t know how to not write. Words and phrases and characters and the before-mentioned what-ifs pop into my head all the time. Some of them turn into stories, countless others become scribbles in my notebook that might eventually be stories or they might remain as is. When I first started to write short fiction, those disconnected bits and pieces were frustrating, but over time, I came to realize that those pieces, whether intro paragraphs, lines of dialogue, or even story titles, were just as important to the writing process as the finished work.
Q: Though it doesn’t seem to happen a lot, how do you handle the times when your writing is rejected?
DAW: I think there’s a misconception that once you publish X amount of stories in markets A, B, and C, rejections become a thing of the past. This isn’t true, at all. Rejection is part of the business. Sometimes a story simply doesn’t fit what an editor is looking for. It doesn’t always mean the story is bad or won’t find the right home.
Truthfully, I’m very hard on my stories. When a story is finished, I jot down three or four markets I think it would be a good fit for, but if the story is rejected by those markets, then I set it aside. But I don’t see this as giving up, because I revisit the story later (might be weeks, might be months), make changes or not, and send it back out. I have trunked stories that I feel are flawed, but I’ve also given a story one last ride on the submission train and had it sell.
Most of the time, I brush rejections off, but every once in a while, usually when it’s an editor I’d love to work with or a magazine that has previously published my work, there’s a definite sting, a bit of not good enough. But it doesn’t make me want to give up permanently, nor does it last very long. I’m too stubborn and too driven to allow that.
Q: How does reading affect your writing?
DAW: I still read a lot as a reader, but there are times I read as a writer. In particular, if I’m trying to find the right threads to stitch ideas together in a story in progress, I’ll step away and reread an anthology or a few of my favorite stories, not for the stories themselves, but for the glue that holds them together or the story arc or the underlying theme. Often, just seeing how another writer has crafted a piece will help the pieces of my own story puzzle fall into place.
I also like reading successful stories that don’t grab me personally for one reason or another; again, not for the stories, but to discern what makes them work. I think reading with that sort of critical eye has made me a better storyteller and has made me more willing to take risks in format, points of view, and story structure.
Q: You’ve worked all along the editing spectrum — from associate editor at Electric Velocipede to freelance editing to being edited by senior staff at dozens of zines. If you could give yourself of ten years ago any kind of writing advice, what would it be?
DAW: It would be the same advice I’d give to anyone starting out: Take your time and don’t send your stories out too soon. Start with the top markets first and work down. Don’t be afraid to submit. Don’t give your work away for free. Rejections aren’t personal. And lastly, you are not in competition with anyone but yourself.
Q: Your second novel comes out in August. What can you tell us about it?
DAW: Yes, Paper Tigers is my second novel, although it’s the first to be published under the name Damien Angelica Walters. Paper Tigers is about a disfigured young woman and an old photo album she finds at a thrift store. At its heart, it’s a ghost story, but it’s as much about the things that haunt us personally as it’s about the external ghosts. It’s closer in tone to my short fiction than my previous novel—Ink, published as Damien Walters Grintalis.
Damien Angelica Walters’ short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various anthologies and magazines, including The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015, Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume One, Cassilda’s Song, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, and Apex. “The Floating Girls: A Documentary,” originally published in Jamais Vu, is on the 2014 Bram Stoker Award ballot for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction. Sing Me Your Scars, a collection of Damien Angelica Walters’ short fiction, is out now from Apex Publications and available from Weightless Books. Paper Tigers, a novel, is forthcoming from Dark House Press. Her other short fiction can be found here.
To celebrate the third issue of LONTAR, we have two things: 1) a special week-long promotion bundling issues #1 and #2 for free when you buy #3, and 2) an exclusive interview by editor Jason Lundberg with the husband-and-wife team of Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar, whom one could make the case are the current godparents of Filipino fiction of the fantastic. The Alfars have each edited (some together) many volumes of the landmark Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series, and can often be found on panel discussions about mythology, fantasy, and science fiction. Between them, they’ve won a slew of awards for their writing, including thirteen Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.
Q. Both of your stories in LONTAR #3 employ roadways as an essential trope: as a confusing and misdirecting force in Nikki’s story, and as beings with sentience in Dean’s story. How important are roads in the current Filipino literary psyche?
DEAN: Roads continue to function as spaces to be traversed from one point to another, permitting reflection en route to an epiphany, as markers on a personal journey, or as obstacles (sometimes small, sometimes vast) to be conquered. Roads bring us together, but also make our world smaller. Their duality is this: roads signify escape, but also bind us to specific paths. In my story, some of the famous roads in Manila gain thought and emotion and reflect the history of the people around them. There is an intimation of their own society within the context of Philippine society. The roads themselves cannot escape being part of something bigger.
NIKKI: When Filipinos visiting other countries receive apologies from the locals about “the terrible traffic,” we just smile at them indulgently, because you probably have no idea what traffic is until you’ve been to Manila. Once on a bad day, it took a car the better part of an hour to make it from one end of the street Dean and I live on to the other; I’m not kidding. So while I’m not sure about the Filipino literary psyche specifically, I can say that roads are pretty damn significant to the Manila-dweller’s psyche—sometimes roads simply fail to get you where you want to go, which more or less nails down what my story is all about.
Another way to look at it is through a lens I like to use in a lot of my other writing—from a folkloric point of view, Leaving the Path always has consequences, often dangerous ones, but sometimes also reveals unexpected avenues to growth and fortune. This is something ingrained in all of our psyches, virtually all across the world, I think, from childhood—and what is a road, if not a gussied-up path?
Q. The fantastic is used in each of your stories in different ways: in “A Field Guide to the Roads of Manila,” it is employed in the service of a revenge tale; in “An Unexpected Stop,” to heighten the sense of dread and unease during a domestic spat. Is the Philippines an inherently fantastical place, in that it is best represented using these non-realist techniques in literature?
DEAN: The fantastic is embedded in our bones. We exist day-to-day and cheek-by-jowl with the absurd—newspaper reports of supernatural occurrences and senseless slaughter. There is the magical and the mundane. Philippine literature deploys both realism (social and domestic) as well as the fantastical (speculative fiction) to help articulate how we negotiate our lives.
NIKKI: Oh my goodness, yes, the Philippines is an inherently fantastical place! Listen: there is a Philippine island called Siquijor, where lightning flashes in the sky on absolutely clear, storm-free nights; and we are modern people, so we know witches don’t really live there, except you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is 100% positively sure they don’t. My mother-in-law, who is as sophisticated an urbanite as you could possibly meet, will tell you with utter certainty about the time she saw tiny men, the height of her finger, moving around beneath her house. In fact, my story is dedicated to my friend Carlos Piocos, a Filipino writer currently taking postgraduate studies at the University of Hong Kong, because he told me the real-life tale that I built the piece around.
Q. Dean launched the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series ten years ago, and the two of you have collaborated on editing several of the volumes; you’re teaming up once again for this year’s tenth annual installment. What have been some of the most interesting, fulfilling, or surprising things you have seen within the Philippine speculative fiction scene in the last decade?
DEAN: First and biggest for me was the reception of the anthology by writers, readers, and critics. I was floored by the number of submissions at the beginning, which proved to me that there were writers—new as well as established—who felt the same way I did: that there were other stories to tell, and other ways to tell stories. That fantasy, horror, and science fiction mattered. Then the readers, who bought and read the books and shared them, and wrote back. They showed us there was a market that cared for these stories. Then the critics and educators, who wrestled with what was then new to them, and helped bring speculative fiction into the larger conversation in terms of Philippine literature. Speculative fiction is now studied and written about in universities.
NIKKI: Pretty much everything Dean has said, and additionally this: I’m constantly startled by the openness of readers and especially writers, by their willingness to learn and experiment, most especially the younger ones. When I was a young person, I was an arrogant shit who thought I knew everything I needed to know. (People who knew us then think this was true of Dean, not me—I was just more discreet about it.) So I’m humbled by people’s humility—and also somewhat troubled by it, because people often ask us why we don’t put together an anthology of speculative fiction in the Filipino language. The answer is that we are writers in English, and we are aware that our skills in Filipino are not sufficient to really evaluate literary execution. So we always say, “Please do it; we would love for someone to do it.” But no one has, so thanks for giving me an opportunity to say this again: Guys, you don’t need our permission. We don’t own spec-fic in the Philippines. Just go ahead and do it!
Q. Where can readers go to find other examples of Philippine speculative fiction? Which authors would you recommend?
DEAN: There are anthologies, collections, and novels from publishers such as Anvil, Visprint, and the university presses such as University of the Philippines Press. Eliza Victoria is one of the most prolific and gifted Filipino fictionists—check out Dwellers and Project 17 [ETA: her story “Fade” will appear in LONTAR #4]. Joseph Nacino has a number of anthologies out, such as Diaspora Ad Strata, Demons of the New Year, and The Farthest Shore, covering sci-fi, horror, and fantasy, respectively. Speculative fiction also appears in publications like Philippines Graphic, curated by Joel Pablo Salud and Alma Anonas Carpio.
NIKKI: LONTAR! You’re publishing my best friend, Kate Aton-Osias, in the next issue, did you know that? [ETA: indeed I did, a story called “The Tango”.] Also, Kuwento: Lost Things, an anthology of new Philippine myths edited by Melissa Sipin and Rachelle Cruz, is being published in the States this year, so that may be more accessible for international readers who want a physical book they can get ahold of. For the more digitally-inclined, Flipside Publishing is very active in publishing Filipino work online, much of it speculative fiction.
Q. Shameless self-promotion time: what is next on the publication horizon for Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar?
DEAN: My third collection of short fiction, A Field Guide to the Streets of Manila, is coming from Anvil later this year. Kenneth Yu and I will be publishing Science Fiction: Fiction for Young Adults, from UP Press. Sarge Lacuesta and I also have this year’s edition of Maximum Volume: Best New Philippine Fiction, from Anvil. And of course, Nikki and I are working on the tenth annual Philippine Speculative Fiction.
NIKKI: My second story collection, WonderLust,recently became available digitally at the Kobo ebook store: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/wonderlust-1. My first collection, Now, Then, and Elsewhen, isn’t online yet, which is sort of silly of me. (Writing- and publication-wise, I tend to have frenzied spurts of activity, followed by long periods of mindless iPad devotion.) So I’ll be working on that, as well as trying to eke out enough stories I don’t hate for a third collection. Dean and I are also due to put together our next Best of Speculative Fiction anthology, curating what we consider the top stories from Philippine Speculative Fiction volumes 6 to 10—although I’m always threatening to throw him off the title, because he’s so busy that he sometimes forgets what he’s working on with whom!