AWW2015: Insert Title Here, edited by Tehani Wessley

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On the [date redacted] of the [year redacted], [names redacted] of the [organisation redacted] discovered a hidden text that documented realities other than our own.

Dark, weird realities.

Within these pages they discovered monuments to a dying alien race, sentient islands caught like fish, a tree that grows pencils, a baby transformed into a hummingbird, and a steampunk Maori whaling crew.

They were afraid, as you should be afraid. They saw life, death and the space between; metamorphosis, terrible choices and bitter regrets.

[Names redacted] looked into the abyss, and what they saw within was nameless and terrible.

This is that book.

Enter if you dare.


 

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.  I purchased this copy.


Insert Title Here is an unthemed anthology from Australian small press Fablecroft Publishing, said by editor Tehani Wessley to be their darkest offering yet.  Of note is the fact that the call for submissions for this anthology actually resulted in Fablecroft publishing two separate anthologies: Insert Title Here and Phantazein.

It is always a different experience reading an unthemed anthology.  I find it harder to read more than one story in a row, since there are no connecting threads between stories, and as such, it took me longer than usual to finish this book.  This is absolutely no comment on the quality of the book, of course, which is, as to be expected from Fablecroft, extremely high.

I’m not going to discuss every story in this anthology, but I will point out some of my favourites.  I’ll note that I loved the darkness of this anthology (you can take the girl out of horror, but you can’t take the horror out of the girl), and all of the stories were worthwhile reading.

The book opens with a story from Jo Anderton, 2B.  And holy hell, what an opening this is.  I was drawn in immediately by the vivid imagery of this world: a place where things grow in strange ways, tyres growing from trees, pencils which can be planted to grow trees which fruit more pencils.  If you’ve never read any of Anderton’s work, this could be a good place to start, as this story highlights her grasp of imagery and strangeness, while still being able to wring deep emotion out of only a handful of words.  Dreamlike and haunting, this is one of my favourites in the anthology.

D.K. Mok’s Almost Days is another story which tends towards the dreamlike, this time taking the reader into a place called the Wings.  This is definitely a story where you want to go in without being spoiled, but suffice to say that this is an incredible story.  Read it, then read it again.  Then go and devour everything Mok had written.  You’ll thank me.

Her Face Like Lightning by David McDonald takes us deeper into human darkness: of ritual magic and sorcery and grasping for power.  I feel very much like this story only begins to skim the surface of a fascinating world, and I hope that McDonald will come back to it at some point in the future (I’d happily read a novel set in this world, hint, hint, David ;)).

Sara Larner’s Living in the Light begins with one of the best first lines I think I have ever read: “My child turned into a hummingbird.”.  How could you not read on after that?  There is something almost feverish about this story, but in the sheer strangeness of it, there is also heartbreaking emotion.  Highly recommended.

Reflections by Tamlyn Dreaver takes us to the terraformed (and failing) moon, where Hana lives with her mothers.  This is a gorgeous story, short but filled with sadness, but a sorrow tinged with hope.  I’ve found myself thinking of this story often since finishing it, which is always a sign of a good short story.

My last favourite, and the concluding story in the anthology, is Stephanie Burgis’ The Art of Deception.  I need to make note here that Burgis is a friend, and someone who I have beta read for, but this does not influence the fact that I would have loved this story, no matter who had written it.  Pure epic fantasy, which is extremely hard to make work well in the short form, with a fascinating world and characters, I kind of really hope that Burgis will expand upon this world more at some stage in the future.

Overall, this is an extremely strong collection.  The stories are varied, and I suspect that most readers will find at least one or two which speaks to them.  Highly recommended.

 

Writing every day for a year, a summary

For the last year, I have written every day.

For most of that time, I was tracking wordcount on the Magic Spreadsheet.  For the last few months, I’ve stopped using the Magic Spreadsheet, but have been tracking my word counts on my own Google spreadsheet.

For the last two days, I did not write.

It felt very strange not to be getting in word count for those two days, but it also felt kind of awesome.  I was feeling very, very burned out, and just generally exhausted.  It’s the end of school holidays, and I’ve been sick on and off for months, and the cold weather has not been fun to the arthritis and fibromyalgia.

And so, on Saturday and Sunday, I did not write.  And I’m thinking that I might go back to only writing on weekdays.  Treating writing as a “real” job again.

This year has actually been a really useful experiment for me.  I’ve proved that I can write every day if I need to (though probably not indefinitely).  In this time, I’ve managed a draft and a half of a novel, two short stories that have been sold, and a novella that I’ve sent out.  Those two short stories were actually really hard to write and took a long time (as short works tend to for me, I’m slowly accepting the fact that I’m a slow writer in terms of getting stuff to the finished stage).

But should I keep doing it just because I can?  I don’t think so.  At some point, I may come back to it, and I will probably end up writing some weekends, but for now, I need some time off.

June in review

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Books acquired in June

Um, I actually thought this would be a light month for books (oops).  I did manage to pick up a few bargains, and two of them (Hear Me Roar) are contributor’s copies, so it’s not that bad.  And Afterparty was bought to counteract the “let’s all boycott” Tor day.

Needless to say, I haven’t made that much of a dent in Mount To-Be-Read this month.

Writing

  • I am in serious novel writing mode, and have just cruised past the 40k mark of this draft of Never.  My wonderful critique partner has looked over the first 35k or so, and I’m feeling good about this draft.  I feel in general like I’ve levelled up with novel writing, but I guess we’ll see once I start shopping it around (after some more editing, of course).
  • The table of contents of Bloodlines was announced, including my story The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth.

Reading and Reviewing

  • Hugo reading (pauses to shudder).  I made it through the novel category without getting too disheartened – there are three good best novel candidates (The Goblin Emperor just squeaks in above The Three-Body Problem and Ancillary Sword for me, but only just, and I may change my mind before the end of voting).  As for the short fiction categories, let’s just say that I have exercised my right to vote No Award a lot.  And yes, I read (or attempted to read) everything.  Thankfully, the graphic novels were also mostly awesome.  I’m trying to psych myself up to read the packet entries for the other categories.
  • One review written for the Australian Women Writers Challenge: Cranky Ladies of History (spoiler: I loved it).
  • One Netgalley review: Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (spoiler again: I also loved this).

Miscellaneous

  • Healthwise, this has been a month of wins and losses.  Win: the new medication I’m on is working with minimal side effects (which never happens) and I’m starting to have more energy.  Loss: both my husband and myself have had the head cold from hell, resulting in a lot of sinus headaches.  Unfun.
  • The cat has not tried to escape from the house again.  She seems very happy to be back home, and doesn’t even linger at doors much now.  I think she learned a big lesson.
  • School holidays start at the end of this week.  I’m looking forward to not having to rush around in the mornings for a few weeks, even if it will probably mean reduced word counts.

 

AWW2015: Cranky Ladies of History

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Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

 


This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.   I was a contributor to the Pozible campaign that partially funded the production of this book.


Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessley, published by Fablecroft Publishing.  Publication of the anthology was supported by a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible and by a Tasmanian Arts Crowbar Grant.

When I first heard about the crowdfunding campaign for Cranky Ladies of History, I rushed to fund it.  Not only was I going to be on board with any anthology edited by Roberts and Wessley, but the theme had me at “cranky ladies”.  I opted to fund at the level which gave me the hardcover edition, which is a truly beautiful book.  Kathleen Jennings has created yet another utterly gorgeous cover, not to mention the internal illustrations in the book, which are all amazing.

I have to admit upfront that I am not the most thoroughly read in terms of history or historical fiction, and as such, many of the cranky ladies depicted in the stories were unknown to me.  As I started to read, I found myself wishing that each story had been prefaced by a small biography of the woman in question, but as I read more, I found myself glad that none had been provided.  There was a small thrill of recognition in seeing the women I recognised, and it was quite lovely to come to the ones I wasn’t familiar with without any prior assumptions.  Every one of the women was fascinating, and I suspect that there is going to be a lot of reading about their histories in my future.

I went into this anthology expecting a particular kind of woman to be represented: the woman who fought for good, and perhaps broke social norms in order to do so.  I was pleasantly surprised that there was, in fact, a wide range of “cranky ladies” presented (and honestly, I shouldn’t have been, given the editors and authors involved).  The fighter for good and breaker of social norms was there, as well as the warrior, but there were also darker levels of “crankiness” presented, for example, Countess Bathory, who can in no terms be described as good, but was certainly a cranky lady of her time.

I’m not going to talk about all of the stories in depth, but don’t take this to mean that they’re not all worthy of your time.  These are simply the stories that have particular resonance for me in terms of my reading taste.

Partway through reading, I tweeted that Kirstyn McDermott’s “Mary, Mary” had instantly become one of my favourite short stories of all time.  Now, having finished reading the anthology, I stand by this.  Mary Woolstonecroft, feminist, writer, and mother of Mary Shelley (she died ten days after giving birth to the second Mary) is the focus of this story.  McDermott’s prose is gorgeous and lush as always, and there is a clear empathy for both Marys and for the plight of all women of the time.  I loved the inclusion of the possibly-supernatural Grey Lady in this, too.  I think this is possibly one of McDermott’s strongest short stories to date.

Deborah Biancotti’s “Look How Cold My Hands Are” concerns the aforementioned Countess Bathory.  Bathory is said to have been one of the most prolific serial killers in history, who tortured and abused hundreds of young women.  Her punishment was being immured in her castle, and she remained walled up for the last four years of her life.  Biancotti, as to be expected from her body of work, does not shy away from any of the horror of Bathory’s actions, and renders the Countess a very believeable and truly horrible figure.  There is no redemption for Bathory, and yet Biancotti manages to convey a sense of the Countess’ belief that her actions were just.

The third story I’m going to mention is Amanda Pillar’s “Neter, Nefer”.  A brief caveat: I’ve worked with Pillar as my editor, a role at which she is brilliant.  Here, we get to see that she’s also a brilliant writer.  I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt, so it’s little surprise that I was drawn to this story on that basis alone, but I utterly loved the way Pillar approached the story of the female pharaoh Hatshephut.  The story is told from the perspective of Hatshephut’s daughter Neferure, and reveals so much about women in Ancient Egypt, and describes a fascinating mother-daughter relationship at the same time.  I would throw great wads of money at Pillar to have this expanded into a full novel.

It would have been very easy for editors to fall into the trap of choosing stories and protagonists who came only from a Eurocentric background in developing an anthology like this.  Wessley and Roberts–as I would expect from them–do not fall into this trap.  The collection is cleverly bookmarked by stories that reference Anne Boleyn, but we travel much of the world in between these two.  We have stories about cranky women from Central Asia (Foz Meadows writing about Khutulan, warrior who challenged any man who wished to marry her to defeat her in wrestling; loss meant forfeiting horses to her.  She is said to have won 10,000 horses in this fashion), China (Joyce Chng writing about Leizu, the Chinese empress who discovered silk), Australia (Sylvia Kelso, writing about Lilian Cooper, first female doctor registered in Queensland) and Iceland (Lisa L. Hannett, writing about Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir, Viking woman who suffers from terrible luck), as well as many more, including a great many awesome female pirates (and I would also pay money for a Cranky Lady Pirates sequel!).

It bears repeating that all of the stories in this book are excellent, not just the ones I’ve singled out above.  Reading this anthology, it made me realise just how many of the female stories are left out of traditional history as its taught, women most often relegated to the margins as daughters and wives, their own stories forgotten.  I’d like to think that somewhere in the past, these women are looking up and thanking the authors and editors for shining a light on them in all of their glorious crankiness.

Highly recommended, even if you don’t usually enjoy historical fiction.

 

Bloodlines Table of Contents Announced

I’m happy to be able to announce that my story, The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth will be appearing in the anthology Bloodlines, edited by Amanda Pillar and forthcoming from Ticonderoga Publications.

I’m super excited that this story found a home.  It grew out of reading about spiritualism, and expanded into something strange and hopefully good.

I’ve copied the full announcement below, which you can also find at Ticonderoga Publications.


 

We’re excited to announce the contents for Bloodlines, the new non-traditional dark urban fantasy anthology edited by the award-winning Amanda Pillar. These 16 incredible stories are:

  • Joanne Anderton “Unnamed Children”
  • Alan Baxter “Old Promise New Blood”
  • Nathan Burrage “The Ties of Blood, Hair and Bone”
  • Dirk Flinthart “In The Blood”
  • Rebecca Fung “In the Heart of the City”
  • Stephanie Gunn “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth”
  • Kelly Hoolihan “The Stone and the Sheath”
  • Kathleen Jennings “The Tangled Streets”
  • Pete Kempshall “Azimuth”
  • Martin Livings “A Red Mist”
  • Seanan McGuire “Into the Green”
  • Anthony Panegyres “Lady Killer”
  • Jane Percival “The Mysterious Mr Montague”
  • Paul Starkey “The Tenderness of Monsters”
  • Lyn Thorne-Adder “Lifeblood of the City”
  • S. Zanne “Seeing Red”

We’ll have more details soon, such as information on pre-ordering. Bloodlines will be available in October, in hardcover, tradepaperback and ebook formats.

– See more at: http://ticonderogapublications.com/web/#sthash.uAd43mUg.dpuf

May in review

May books

May books

This has been a month where it really feels as though I haven’t accomplished much.  I’ve been adjusting to a new medication (the joys of chronic illness) and have been dealing with more brain fog than usual as a result.  The good news is that that particular side effect has started to ease, so I hope to get back into being more productive again soon.

Not many books this month, mostly because I’ve been trying to limit how many I buy, just to keep the to-be-read mountain from getting even more out of control.

Writing

  • Finally finished the short story that I’ve been working on for far too long, and submitted it yesterday.  No idea if it’ll end up fitting the anthology, but I won’t know unless I submit it.  This particular story took eight drafts.  Yes, you read that right.
  • I am now turning back to novel writing, namely working on what I hope is going to be submittable draft of Never.
  • I’ve actually stopped using the Magic Spreadsheet this month, and started keeping a personal spreadsheet instead.  I feel like the MS really helped me in developing writing as a daily habit, but it’s not giving me that I want right now, which is to start looking at things in more detail.  I don’t plan on giving up my daily habit, though I may ease back a little on what I do on the weekends.

Reviewing

Miscellaneous

  • It’s been a generally stressful month around here.  Among other things, our cat did a runner from the house and was missing for several days.  Intrepid and awesome husband was out for hours searching every night, we posted flyers, and we eventually managed to find her and bring her back home.  Not an experience that I want to repeat.
  • Apart from that, it’s been a quietish month.  I celebrated my birthday, and we celebrated Mother’s Day.

AWW2015: Stormbringer by Alis Franklin

Stormbringer

Ragnarok—aka the end of the world—was supposed to doom the gods as well. Instead, it was a cosmic rebooting. Now low-level IT tech and comic-book geek Sigmund Sussman finds himself an avatar of a Norse goddess. His boyfriend, the wealthy entrepreneur Lain Laufeyjarson, is channeling none other than Loki, the trickster god. His best friends, Em and Wayne, harbor the spirits of slain Valkyries. Cool, right?

The problem is, the gods who survived the apocalypse are still around—and they don’t exactly make a great welcoming committee. The children of Thor are hellbent on reclaiming their scattered birthright: the gloves, belt, and hammer of the Thunder God. Meanwhile, the dwarves are scheming, the giants are pissed, and the goddess of the dead is demanding sanctuary for herself and her entire realm.

Caught in the coils of the Wyrd, the ancient force that governs gods and mortals alike, Sigmund and his crew are suddenly facing a second Ragnarok that threatens to finish what the first one started. And all that stands in the way are four nerds bound by courage, love, divine powers, and an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming lore.


 

An eARC of this book was received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015.

 


Stormbringer is the sequel to Alis Franklin’s debut novel, Liesmith (which I reviewed here), and the second book in the urban fantasy series The Wyrd.

Liesmith focused very much as an introduction to the world of The Wyrd, seen through Sigmund’s eyes as a newcomer (of sorts) and human (of sorts) as well as those of Loki/Lain.  I loved this book.  I loved the relationship between Sigmund and Lain, I loved Franklin’s spin on the Norse sagas.  I actually went back and reread Liesmith before reading Stormbringer for review, and loved it just as damn much.

Which is to say, if you haven’t read Liesmith, you should.  And then you should make haste to pick up Stormbringer.

Liesmith was a book fairly tightly focused on the Sigmund/Lain relationship, as well as Sigmund coming to grips with the strange new world he finds himself part of (finding out that you’re basically the reincarnation of a Norse goddess will do that to you).  Stormbringer expands out from this focus – Sigmund and Lain spend much of the book apart, and each takes the reader into new parts of the world.

Major kudos are due to Franklin for how she deals with the whole reincarnated goddess bit, too.  Other writers would have chosen to go down a path of fate/instalove with Loki/Sigyn, but she always makes Sigmund and Lain their own people, much more than anything fate could manipulate.  It’s always clear that both of them are with the other because they choose to be, and their love for each other admirably never falters.  No fear of love triangles here (and thank the Gods, because that trope has been so, so overdone).  It’s very clear that the relationship between Sigmund and Lain is a new and unsteady thing, and all the more compelling because of that.  Seriously, I think I may have actually cheered when Lain and Sigmund met again near the end of the book.

The female characters that Franklin writes continue to be awesome.  Wayne and Em, both once-Valkyries, are unfortunately sidelined by events a little (but are, nonetheless, extremely important to how the events of this book unravel).  To make up for this, we have three (!) new female characters: the goddess Nanna, Hel (Loki’s daughter, ruled of Helheim, and oh, I am in love with how Franklin writes her) and more prominently, Thor’s daughter, Þrúðr.  All of these women are amazing, and even when they are squashed into more traditional female roles (such as being married off by others for their gain) they find a strength and power in it.  Each of the characters, male and female both, are complex and all are fascinating and unique enough to carry off a book on their own.  Which is to say, this is an awesome cast.

The nerd/geek/gaming humour and references continue through this book (as befitting the characters, especially Sigmund, Wayne and Em, who are all gamers and general awesome geeks).  There is also some fantastic interrogation over what it means to be monstrous (and just what defines being monstrous).

And here’s a little personal confession: rereading Liesmith and reading Stormbringer got me through a particularly awful week.  I am so, so glad that there is at least another book in this series coming.

If you’re burned out on urban fantasy, I can highly recommend Stormbringer (as I can also recommend Liesmith).  And even if you’re not, go and read these books now.  Franklin has pretty much cemented herself in my virtual buy-everything-they-release headspace.

April in review

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April books

This has been an odd month.  I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything – school holidays ate two weeks of the month, for one thing, and my health has been a bit wobblier than usual, meaning that the fatigue has been extra bad.  I’m glad that I’ve started writing this series of posts, since it’ll let me look objectively at what I’ve done.

And yes, there is a shiny stack of books (though I honestly thought I hadn’t bought many until I came to take the photo).  I’m especially chuffed with Rupetta, since I managed to chase down a second-hand copy of the lovely signed limited hardback.

Writing

  • This is where I feel like I haven’t accomplished much, mostly because I’ve been bashing my head against the same damn short story all month.  I am not a fast writer of short stories – it takes me a few drafts to figure out what the hell the story is about usually, and this one in particular is being quite evasive.  I’m having to write to a strict word count, too, which is a learning process in and of itself.  No idea if I’m going to have something that’ll sell at the end of it, but we’ll see.

Reviewing

Miscellaneous

  • I started listening to a brand new podcast – The Worried Writer, link via Stephanie Burgis (who is also interviewed on the second episode – I really, really enjoyed this interview and can recommend listening to it because Stephanie is gorgeous).  Really liking the podcast so far.
  • Swancon happened!  I happily sat on a short story writing panel (seriously, give me a place where I can spruik awesome publishers and writers and I am Happy) and bought some books and only caught up with a few of the people I’d wanted to, but that’s okay.