My story "Starlight and the Dire Child," appears alongside great short stories featuring evil cats, apprehensive unicorns, and Good Boys who just want to dig a hole. Oh, and a satyr x goblin meet-cute.
Monday, January 16, 2023
A round-up of my favorite stories in 2022!
Quite an enjoyable, cozy science fiction romance, a perfect treat for yourself or a friend for the holidays, or any time of the year. Southwick writes both Croft and Maria's perspective with equal fervor and empathy, with each character's thoughts unraveling like their own sweet mysteries. Science Fiction lovers will be endeared to not only to the romance, but to the hard-scifi feel of the space dock setting and the AI themes, with a dash of space adventure and ancient mystery thrown in. Everything fits together so naturally, from the character dialogue, to the cleaner robots who love Croft, to Maria's relationship talk with a true AI. I would hand this book to my teen to read, as it is fairly family friendly while also displaying a mature level of emotional IQ. Looking forward to reading more by Ryan Southwick!
"Lucas Hale and the Founder's Key" is a promising start for this break-out fantasy series. While fans of Harry Potter will find much to love in the magic school with competing houses, Ratliff's writing has its own unique flavor. Great characterization draws readers in from page one, and a unique multi-world backstory enhances the comfortable backdrop of familiar genre tropes. This coming-of-age story is solid entertainment. While sometimes I wished that 13yos were smarter, I also found their decisions distressingly realistic and in character, without making the protagonists out to be morons. Somebody put a tracker on my tweens, stat! Seriously, though. Ratliff does a good job showing how powerless young teens can be in a world of adults, while still showcasing Lucas' agency and growth.
Literally Dead anthology: "The Ghost Lake Mermaid" brings Alethea Kontis' unique flair to this anthology. Great characters, engaging visuals, and solid storytelling. A fierce narrative exploring the unfairness of life, and the hope that the living might yet address the wrongs of the past--and thereby the present, and the future.
"It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences: A Writer's Guide to Crafting Killer Sentences" by June Casagrande.
Maybe you look at a passage of your work and you know it's a little boring, and you want to understand why. Maybe you get comments from readers saying that sentences are "too long," which is code for clunky, confusing, or full of filler words. For me, I have always enjoyed grammar, but it had been a while and I had never read an entire book about grammar aimed at writers. This book addresses some of the common advice you will hear and explains it more in-depth. I found the book entertaining, so I still enjoyed the sections that covered issues I already knew. I appreciated the moderate opinion, the understanding that these rules are not absolutes. I also enjoyed the sample sentences with sample edits. I'm calling it a refresher on grammar because I feel that if you don't already know many of these terms, the use of them will be overwhelming.
Monday, April 19, 2021
This uplifting tale of found family will restore your faith in humanity, and in your own power to work good in an imperfect world.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
One thing I found wonderfully unique compared to other found-family stories is how it follows the perspective of a parent-figure protecting children. While a coming-of-age story where young adults connect with peers can be wonderful, as a mother with children of a certain age, I found much more in common with middle-aged Linus and his sense of inviolate responsibility for the children in the orphanages he inspects.
Ah, Linus. Before we even get a hint of the found family, we're sold on our wonderful main character. T.J. Klune starts readers with Linus on the job, inspecting an orphanage for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, watching a child levitate bricks. Immediately, we see that the Department itself has its bureaucratic, soul-crushing flaws, flaws that Linus dare not recognize because that would question his entire purpose in life, but that Linus himself cares deeply for the children. This makes him perfectly suited to his job, yet at the same time, also causes him to clash with his boss and workmates.
Linus' position at work is ultimately untenable, despite the fact that he thrives on rules. When the Department hands him a top-secret assignment above his paygrade, perhaps his worst fear will come to fruition, and the mission will end with the termination of his employment--or, perhaps he will discover that the loss of his job is not his worst fear after all. For someone who cares so deeply about the children, it can't be.
The emotional depth of this story makes me thrilled to call it a slow-burn romance (M/M). The way both men put the kids absolutely first speaks volumes to their character. They have a job to do, one more prescient than the romantic attraction of two strangers who have just met. Both men protect their hearts, needing to check, first, that the other is a trustworthy partner. This is especially true for Arthur, the master of the top-secret orphanage Linus inspects. I don't want to give too much away about Arthur because remains a bit of a mystery for most of the book. And for Linus, even as he hopes that Arthur's intentions for the children are good, it's the results that matter, results that can be difficult to measure when dealing with magically powerful children from troubled backgrounds.
And did I mention that one of the children is the son of Satan? This wholesome fantasy, with its perfect touch of oddball humor, will have readers begging for more.
Check out T. J. Klune's upcoming release for Fall 2021, Under the Whispering Door
Monday, March 1, 2021
When I first saw Time's Children come out, I snatched that baby up, and I'm glad I did. Time travel and demons with an epic fantasy adventure feel? Yes, please! Angry Robot publishes a lot of great stuff, and I see D.B. Jackson (pen name of David Coe) on a lot of people's shelves alongside my favorite books. Now I see why.
Time's Children (book one) hooked me with its drastic magic costs, the inclusion of small children, and demons that are truly "other." D. B. Jackson takes time travel to the next level by exacting daunting costs for those who Walk through time, giving his magic system a unique feel, and keeping his human characters grounded, relatable in their struggle to outwit high odds with limited resources.
And did I mention that there's a baby? Children are naturally left out of most adventure fantasy because they're fragile and can't stick it to the antagonist. With Islevale's themes of maturity, love, and family, including a child works excellently. In book two, Time's Demon, time demon Droë brings her own layer of complexity to these themes with her child-like appearance and her almost-love fascination with human Walker Tobias, who is actually 15 but now appears older and finds himself taking care of a baby.
In following these themes, the Islevale Cycle includes NSFW scenes of nakedness, and scenes portraying sex, without delving into explicit erotica. Genre-wise, characters become couples or wish to become so, but the series starts with a heavy dose of adventure that drives the plot apart from romance. Sex and violence are all handled well and definitely not just for shock value. It's an adult-audience series with complex, adult views on humanity and love.
Book 1: Time's Children
Book 2: Time's Demon
Another interview talks about time travel and how it's handled differently for an anthology David B. Coe edited, Temporarily Deactivated.
Book 3: Time's Assassin
Once you've read the books, give them some love on Amazon and Goodreads!
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Oh, how I wish I could read every SFF short story published in 2020! If you missed these excellent stories, they're worth going back for (yes, even into 2020).
“We’re Here, We’re Here” by K.M. Szpara (@KMSzpara) is an unapologetically sweet narrative where music executives attempt to keep transgender singer Tyler and the rest of the boy band in line by removing Tyler’s voice when he goes off-script. Szpara constructs a compellingly intricate social setting where Tyler’s transgender status is openly accepted and well-known, but his affection for another bandmate pits him against unwritten rules and the unbalanced power differential between band members and their record label. Tyler’s simple need to be himself plucks the universal cord of human rights, while the tender friendship of he and his bandmates calls to our need for tribalistic support against any who abuse their power over us. Szpara’s accessible characters and solid story structure plunges readers into a compelling narrative of empathy and self-actualization.
In “Two Truths and a Lie” by Sarah Pinsker (@SarahPinsker), Stella’s help cleaning out the house of a deceased childhood friend unearths reality-shifting evidence of a past that should only exist in her web of compulsive lies. When Stella blurts out the name of a childhood show she believes she’s invented for a lark, she soon learns that not only does the ultra-creepy “Uncle Bob” show exist on VHS tapes, but that she herself has ties to the show that she has no recollection of. Stella’s memories of her dead friend Denny take on new significance as she learns more about the show that nearly every kid in town took part in. Pinsker cultivates the traditional theme of prophecy and fate into her own brand of horror, blending folk-tale elements with modern knowledge of hoarding and compulsive lying. Stella’s own tenuous grip on reality keeps readers guessing which way she’ll go until the very end.
In “Exile’s End” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (http://www.carolynivesgilman.com/), museum curator Rue finds herself at odds with a representative from a culture long persecuted for destroying their possessions. When Traversed Bridge and his people insist that burning a famous painting will release the ghost inside, Rue and the museum must decide who truly owns art, and if ownership includes the right to destroy. Gilman’s timely dive into cultural reparations brings us skillfully into the worlds of both the dominant and persecuted cultures, through the eyes of a protagonist whose wish to preserve both runs aground on the rocky shores of liberty. Sympathetic characters and gentle pacing elevate this story above a prescriptive guilt trip of dominant culture; like Rue and Traversed Bridge, Gilman leaves us to interpret the art of “Exile’s End” for ourselves.
“Flight” by Claire Wrenwood (https://clairewrenwood.com/) lays out the vivid bones of its social commentary from the start, opening with a winged mother’s decision to finally address her five-year-old son’s micro-aggressions against women. Scenes then unfold in reverse chronological order, prying back to the origin of the mother’s wings and beyond, bringing the narrative full-circle to her wingless childhood. From its brave opening to the punch at the end, Wrenwood’s delicate depiction of trauma provides readers with moving, powerful insight into cycles of victimization against women. Content warning: sexual abuse.
“What Comes Before” by John Nadas (@John Nadas), psychologist Dr. Brosz attempts to refuse the implementation of new magic-tech that claims to photograph the condition of a person’s soul, showing halos around those destined for heaven. When his patients, all violent criminals in prison, are photographed against his wishes, his superiors then expect to condemn the supposedly lost souls to a solitary confinement where there will be no rehabilitation, and therefore no danger to the public. While Dr. Bosz and his colleagues question who—or what—can possibly be trusted to sort irredeemable criminals from those who might yet be saved, the narrative poses a question of determinism, from subtle details like Dr. Bosz’ inability to quit smoking, to an inmate’s claim of undeniable impulses, to the government forcing Dr. Bosz to use the thaumatic cameras he declined. Nada’s voice is both efficient and compelling, balancing a philosophic exploration of Calvinism with a passionate, earnest character surrounded by high stakes. A haunting tale that reveals even more on the second read.
“After Me, The Flood” Elizabeth Zuckerman (@LizCanTweet) draws readers into an immersive first-person narrative of a selkie-child’s attempts to distance herself from a king who sees her as a replacement for the selkie wife who abandoned them. Unhappy on land and at the constant beck-and-call of her father, Princess Dahut promises to keep a room ready for him if he’ll build her a city on the sea, and he agrees, expending a fortune on an enchanted wall to keep out the ocean waters. Yet, this measure of freedom proves insufficient, as glimpses of private conversations with her father build on the subtle picture of familial abuse hinted at in little, casual moments from the start. It’s no accident that Zuckerman opens “After Me, The Flood” with Dahut asking her father for a story: her father’s been telling her the story of her captivity all her life. Can the brainwashing of an over-controlling father keep his half-selkie daughter from answering the call of the ocean? Zuckerman’s clever use of structure and detail transforms a classic selkie’s quest for freedom into the profound tale of a daughter discovering her magic and her Self under the suffocating oppression of those who should be her protectors. Content warning: sexual abuse.
“And The Ones Who Walk In” Sarah Avery (@SarahAveryBooks), readers follow our young protagonist beyond the charmed borders of her city’s luck spell, a journey driven by the conviction that no amount of magic safety is worth the misery of another. The inhospitable outer lands will immediately test not only her moral mettle, but her ability to survive—and her ability to empathize with those who chose to walk back into her city of misery-powered prosperity. Astute readers will recognize the reference to “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin, yet knowledge of Le Guin’s story is not strictly required to plumb the depths of Avery’s subversive piece, which stands on its own. In a story with no easy answers, Avery pits her protagonist’s untested conviction against the down-trodden acceptance of those who walk back into the luckbringer’s unwilling blessing, for no one knows a more foolproof way to protect the frail loved ones that the world consumes in fire and bloodshed.