Through the Portal Door

Hello, friends! Here’s a secret I’ve been keeping a while: my last host spot as co-editor of PodCastle has just gone live. I hope you’ll give it a listen, because Merc Rustad’s “This Is Not A Wardrobe Door” captures my feelings so perfectly of what PodCastle has meant to me, and what I hope it will continue to be in the future.

Fiction always says it so much more perfectly than a blog post, but this is one of those times where a blog post is probably necessary too.

I got involved with Escape Artists almost by accident. PodCastle was my first podcast ever, downloaded on a whim one Christmas afternoon after I got my first iPod. One of my favorite stories from those early days was Tim Pratt’s “Hart and Boot”, which I loved so much I immediately played it again.

Years later, I started dabbling in fiction-writing myself, inspired by all the stories I’d heard. I made a forum account to participate in PodCastle’s flash fiction contest, and for the first time I got to chat directly with the Escape Artists staffers, people whose names and voices had long been familiar to me. Eventually, I started volunteering too, first for Escape Pod as slusher and submissions editor, and last year for PodCastle as the co-editor. It’s a strange feeling, to go from admiring an organization for years to becoming one of the people who run it. It’s an even stranger thing, considering how PodCastle so directly influenced my exposure to the world of speculative short fiction.

Last April, when Graeme and I began our editorial reign of terror after Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind’s tenure, we knew there was a strong chance I wouldn’t be able to stay in the position for more than a few months. I was just about to enter an intensive clinical graduate school program, the sort of thing where they tell you up front that you probably shouldn’t try to work part-time. And since I had my own writing career to tend to, the odds were good that editing a pro podcast might be an over-commitment, to put it mildly.

In the end, I stayed much longer than I ever anticipated, because I discovered that I absolutely loved the work. From the outside, I always thought it would be fun to be an editor because you got to pick which stories to buy, but the truth is, the real fun is all about the people. I loved working with my co-editor Graeme. I loved learning from our audio producer, Peter Wood. I loved working with our slush team: Arun, Sarah, Troy, Cristi, Setsu, and Aidan. And I adored teaming up with our assistant editors, Khaalidah and Jen.  Not to mention Wilson Fowlie, MK Hobson, Talia, Ocicat, and all the folks at our sister ‘casts.

I’m very happy I helped bring our listeners a full year of audio magic, and that I got to continue the legacy of a podcast that was so personally meaningful to me. And it was such a full year! We raised PodCastle’s pay rates for authors, and we’re now counting down to becoming a SFWA qualifying market. We’ve begun paying our narrators. We’ve brought new names and old ones to the podcast, carried on some long-running traditions and begun some new ones, and most importantly, we’ve kept it a place where diversity matters, where marginalized voices are heard and celebrated.

So what comes next? Well, Jen Albert is succeeding me as Graeme’s co-editor. She’s been training under us since February, and knows the job inside out. Also, she’s a pretty awesome person, and loves PodCastle at least as much as I do. I already know she’s going to be one hell of a fine editor. (Also, I have a theory that she might actually be a secret unicorn, but that’s a story for another day…)

I’ll be at PodCastle through the end of May, helping wrap up the stories submitted under my tenure, and finishing a few other projects behind the scenes before my time here completely ends. After that, I’m sure I’ll still show up at Escape Artists via the occasional narration or guest host spot. Perhaps you’ll even see me involved in a few special things later this year. I’ll be putting a lot more time into my own writing–maybe even finally tackling that novel I keep promising my fans.

My time at PodCastle was an unexpected, wonderful, and unforgettable gift, an actual dream come true for a superfan like me. It’s brought me lifelong friendships. It’s challenged me to be a better person. It’s pushed me to do difficult things and expand my skill set, and find I even enjoyed them. I’ve had the privilege to work with so many talented authors and narrators, and I’ve (mostly) managed not to gush, at least to their faces.

Thank you to all of you who made my time at PodCastle so wonderful. Thank you to the staffers, the authors, the narrators, and the listeners. Our doors don’t have locks around this flying castle, not on either side of these portal doors. Stop on by anytime. I’m always just a portal door away.

New Publication Sampler!

By an amazing coincidence, I’ve got three new stories published and out in the wild today spanning all three speculative fiction genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror).  Since I’m about to be cooped up in a building with no internet for the work day, I’ve collected the links below for convenience’s sake:

  • “Charlotte Incorporated” – a weird posthuman science fiction piece about upwardly mobile brains in jars. It’s at Lightspeed Magazine, and it’s also the cover story (that is, the cover illustration goes with my story)! It’ll be available online tomorrow (2/2), but you can purchase the whole issue today at this link. There’s even an author interview about the origins and inspirations for this one.

Hope you enjoy, and happy February, my friends!

My Zombie Apocalypse Survival Plan

Trigger warning for stalking and violence against women.

Today my short story “When First He Laid Eyes” has been published at Fireside Magazine! I hope you’ll check it out.

Many authors have a story that scared them to write. This was one was mine. I sat at my laptop and wrung it from myself sentence by shuddering sentence, breaking between each line to breathe, walk around the room, and brace myself for the next line. It’s a deeply personal story, and a difficult one. Given that, I’ve written up a post about the story’s origins and inspirations.


I’m 30 years old, and running by his house again in the summer heat. Reflexively I remember to forget. On the way home, exhausted, I remember again, and take the shortcut through the woods. He doesn’t live there anymore, but I cannot convince my brain it’s true. He’s gone, but that house is still his. Guilt by association.

He drives a beat-up dark green Nissan Sentra. Sometimes I think it’s gray, if it’s early and the light is dim. A long, white scratch crosses the driver’s side door. A big white G takes up the rear windshield. I would know it anywhere. I cannot stop looking for it.

I always feel him staring. I see him like I see his car, in snatches. Look, and look away. If eyes are weapons, mine are machine guns. His are tractor beams.

I’m 26, and I wave to him as I run past his house. It’s raining. I’ve never run in the rain before, and it’s spring, and the air tastes wet and green. It’s a good day. He is at his mailbox. He stares a little too long. The stare is physical; it has weight and heat, like an iron brand. I steal backwards glances, and he hasn’t stopped watching me. Something inside me shatters, and my joy spills out of the cracks. I’m not happy anymore. It’s the memory I return to the most, save one.

I’m 19, and horror movies annoy me, because everyone mocks the screaming girl who loses her shit in the second act. Shut up. Stop screaming. He’ll hear you. The camera lingers on her wet mascara, her choking sobs. We despise her for her stuttering heart, her hitching breath. She dies because she didn’t use her brain. We’d know what to do.

I’m 27, and I’ve just run the farthest I’ve ever run in my whole life one Sunday morning. I’m footsore and proud, plodding my way home past his house, and he’s there in his car with the engine running. The Nissan slowly follows me, drifts past, turns left toward my house at the T intersection. I am so, so weary. I want to go home. I veer right. After 100 meters, I turn around and head back. The Nissan passes me again before I reach the intersection, then doubles back. This is the third-most important moment in our relationship. My friends tell me to call the police, but I don’t, because I don’t know what to say. It sounds like nothing, even to myself.

I’m 25, and my friends and I swap zombie apocalypse survival plans. One thing is consistent: we always survive. Nobody ever plans on being one of the zombies. But if that’s true, if we all survive, why are there so many of them? Where did they all come from?

I’m 28, and people are so full of advice. Get a gun. Learn karate. Adopt a Saint Bernard. Everyone’s got an ironclad survival plan they’re all willing to share. For this, I forgive them.

The day after it happens, I want to check the mail, but I freeze at the door knob. What if he’s out there, driving past my house? What if he learns where I live? Silly me. Zombies can’t open doors. I stay inside the house.

Two weeks later, I go running. I make it past his house. I think I’ll leave the fear behind me after that, but I cannot stop watching the cars. It’s amazing how many different cars can look like his. How all the colors collapse into one. The worst part is heading home again, drawing near his house, his driveway, the engine forever idling in my mind.

Toward the end of that wretched year, I begin to write a story in my head. It’s not happy, or very original, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We keep telling this stupid story. We keep living it. I’m thoroughly sick of zombie movies.

At 30, I’m driving past his house with a relative. Which one was his? she asks. Where did he live? She is smiling like it’s a sightseeing trip, and I’m her friendly tour guide. I’m 28 again, and I’m about to die, and it hits me how they’ll write the headline tomorrow. Nobody expects to become the news. That’s why she dies. That’s why most of them are zombies. These things were never fictions, because most of us do not survive.

You want to know what happened at 28, right? You’ve been waiting to hear how I got bitten. Does it really matter?

This is my zombie apocalypse survival plan:

I don’t survive. I get bitten.

After I join the shambling dead, I write stories about about my future. Sometimes I live, and sometimes I die. Sometimes I run, and sometimes I fight. Despair and and anger collide on the page and produce something that looks like hope. We measure the protagonist’s worth by her perseverance. The truth is, I don’t know how my story will end. I love that ambiguity. This is how I’ll survive.

I make new survival plans. I give myself permission to trust my gut. I mail letters to strangers around the world, and nothing bad happens. I still reflexively look for his car sometimes. At the gas station. On my running route. When I fly across the country one summer, I wonder if I’ll keep looking there too. If that’s how far he’ll follow me. But I don’t. I forget.

He doesn’t live in that house anymore. I never predicted that in any of my stories, that I would outlast him, that I would run past his yard again someday, and sometimes I would forget.

Maybe we are more than the sum of the worst things that happen to us.

Advent Ghosts 2015: Their Painted Eyes

Every year, my friend Loren Eaton invites writers and bloggers to write a creepy 100-word story in December, which we post to our blogs on the same day. It’s a nod to the old tradition of people passing the winter dark telling scary tales by firelight. This is my third year participating, and it’s a tradition I’ve come to look forward to. Many thanks, Loren, for putting this together every year!

My 2015 story is presented below. If you’d like to read the other stories written for this year’s event, click on over here and enjoy the ghostly goodness. You can also read my 2013 and 2014 Advent Ghosts stories by clicking on the hyperlinks. Hope you enjoy!

Their Painted Eyes
by Rachael K. Jones

When rigor mortis sets in, you envy the dolls the most. The lolling, cackling nutcracker. The slow blinking baby doll with the swiveling neck. The X-men action figures with sixteen poseable joints fill you with incoherent rage.

Outside the icy windows, carolers crunch snow up your driveway, rap on the door, and begin to sing. The tree’s twinkling lights paint your cooling flesh in glittering white. The crimson tree skirt shows no blood.

As you lie prone with your frozen dead joints, the little tin soldier with his little tin musket that shoots real bullets raises his arm, and salutes.

 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Awards Eligible in 2015

I’ve not had much time for blogging this year (hopefully I can change that in 2016!), but I wanted to take a moment and round up my 2015 publications in time for awards season. It’s also a great time to sit back and reflect on 2015, and see what it brought me.

Overall, it ended up being a great second year. I received 16 acceptances, and published 7 new stories. Going into 2016, so far I’ve got 5 original stories slated to appear at various zines.

My reprints appeared in many of my favorite audio venues, including PodCastle, the Drabblecast, and Cast of Wonders, as well as Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Flametree Press’s Science Fiction Stories. In December, I’ll have a story in the Long List Anthology.

I won 2nd place in Writers of the Future’s first quarter, and my story “Makeisha In Time” was named Notable in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015. Finally, the PodCastle audio production of “Makeisha In Time” was chosen from a pool of 6,000 recommended podcasts to be featured on NPR’s new earbud.fm guide to podcasts.

Since this is my second year publishing, it’s my final year for Campbell Award eligibility. If you’ve enjoyed my work over the last two years, please consider nominating me.

Finally, back in April I became co-editor of PodCastle, along with Graeme Dunlop. This makes us eligible for the Best Editor, Short Form category of the Hugos. Our wonderful predecessors, Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind, are also eligible for that category for their work editing PodCastle January through April. PodCastle itself is eligible for Best Fancast this year. At the year’s end, we’ll also put out a list of individual stories that ran on PodCastle that are awards-eligible.

What were your favorite stories of 2015? What should I read for my own ballot? Feel free to recommend your own work! I’ll be nominating for both the Hugo and Nebula this year, and would love any recommendations you can send my way.

Original Short Stories Published in 2015:

  • “Who Binds and Looses the World With Her Hands” – PodCastle (February 2015) {text | audio}
    • Featured for Escape Artists’ Artemis Rising event
  • “Traveling Mercies” – Strange Horizons (February 2015) {text | audio}
  • “Voidrunner” – Daily Science Fiction (June 2015) {text}
  • “Courting the Silent Sun” – Accessing the Future Anthology (July 2015) {print | ebook} (contact me for a review copy if you’re nominating)
  • “The Law of the Conservation of Hair” – Shimmer (September 2015) {ezine}
  • “The 1st Annual Lunar Biathlon” – Crossed Genres (October 2015) {text}
  • “St. Roomba’s Gospel” – December, Diabolical Plots {text | audio}

Additionally, I also published an original poem in 2015 as part of Stone Telling’s Joke issue:

  • “Do Mermippos Dream of Electric Sharks?” – Stone Telling (April 2015) {text | audio}

In My End Is My Beginning

Big news! My short story “Makeisha In Time”, first published at Crossed Genres in August 2014, appeared yesterday in audio at PodCastle with an outstanding narration by K. Tempest Bradford (seriously, it’s one of those incredible, blood-stirring narrations that makes you want to go have adventures RIGHT NOW!).

Even more than that, this PodCastle episode marks the announcement that Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind are stepping down as coeditors after 5 years at the helm. You can read more about it on Dave’s blog.

As a longtime PodCastle fan, I have a lot of strong feelings about this. I’ve been listening longer than I’ve been writing. Getting into short fiction podcasts is in many ways responsible for the fact I’m writing at all now. There’s something unreal about seeing anything I wrote become a full episode in turn. And it’s even more surreal, knowing it’s the first and last time Dave and Anna will host a full story of mine. In my beginning is their end.

It’s the mark of the very best stories that you never want them to end. I think I can speak for all PodCastle fans when I say that Dave and Anna’s editorial stint was one of those stories. I would’ve loved another sequel. Hell, another page or two. But nothing can go on forever, and anyway, nothing good is truly lost.

Truly fantastic editing is an underappreciated art form, especially from the outside. Over the years, Dave and Anna created a unique space through their story curation and hosting: a place of escapism and great stories, where their listeners–especially those who belonged to marginalized groups–always felt safe, important, and relevant. They treated all of us with dignity and love. When they thought about their audience, ALL of us were included in that picture. Women. People of color. LGBTQIA people. People from around the world. People with disabilities. The neuro-atypical. Survivors of violence and assault. None of us irrelevant. All of us deserving a safe space, if Anna and Dave had anything to say about it.

So I’d like to encourage everyone who’s enjoyed Dave and Anna’s run on PodCastle to take a moment and let them know what their work has meant to you. Consider dropping them some proper fan mail at their Escape Artists email (dave {at} escapeartists {dot} net and anna {at} escapeartists {dot} net). I’ve already done so myself. I know they’d love to hear from you, too. Let’s flood them with love.

Dave, Anna: go chase those dreams. We’ll all be here for you, cheering you along.🙂

As the weeks turn to months to years, it all runs into one smooth stream, and amid the worst there was still good, because we did it all together. We got through it with our greatswords and glaives, and with kind words and clever plans. We learned not to worship Agani. We learned to see ghosts in the gallery, and little gods in the cinnamon.

We met angels in the shower. We balanced tiny assassins on our fingertips and fed them our blood. We held hearts in hands and pumped them, lub-dub, the lives of our friends resting in our palms, and at night we slept and dreamed. We called down foxes and furious suns. We caught paper tigers which were letters from our dead mothers. We were sorcerous puppets and apprentice dragons and we did not speak of our dreams. Our memories bled away into wind, and we got drunk in the human fashion with dead Jane Austens. Our brothers were bad gods. Our sisters spoke to crickets. On Easter, we became werewolves and on Christmas, Tim Pratt. All of us slept with Karnun Nameless Dae.

In our end is our beginning.

A Faulty Camera In Our Minds

I was talking with a friend of mine about memory, and asked him if he ever had those moments where you think, “I’m going to remember this forever.” And as he’s one of those people with a propensity for saying wise things, he answered, “Mostly I think, ‘I hope I never forget this.'”

You know what? He’s right about that.

I’ve sat down to write a 2014 retrospective half a dozen times in the last two weeks, and each time I’ve come up short. Partially it’s because 2014 was a really good year for me, and it just feels weird to go on and on about my personal victories. But partially it’s because the whole tapestry of experiences, friendships, joy, and tears that make up the last year of my life is already blurring at its farthest edges.

I think about a favorite song of mine, “What Sarah Said” by Death Cab for Cutie, whose lyricist is another one of those with a propensity for saying wise things:

“It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds.”

You know what? He is right, too.

It’s a tragedy of human existence that this is so, all our memories running out like sand in a sieve, with only a few pebbles remaining to us, and not always the ones we would’ve liked or chosen. It’s also a great blessing: trauma fades with time. So does anger. It makes radical healing possible, and radical forgiveness.

So I think I need to record what I want to remember, if only to stash away a few pebbles that I hope won’t dissolve away with time. My first impulse was to catalogue all the writer-benchmarks I hit this year: first sale, first ten sales, reprints, reviews, Codex and SFWA memberships, seeing strangers discuss my work critically. And these things were all hugely important and exciting experiences, to be sure.

But instead, I can’t stop thinking about my last published story of 2014, “The Mercy of Theseus”. The one that, in so many ways, sums it all up for me. How a year ago, I met this group of guys who liked to write, and how we became friends. How we shared ups and downs, both professionally and personally. How a few of them made it to my living room and had beers with me as we swapped jokes and stories. How months ago, while I was in a pretty low place, they came through for me.

So I wrote this story for them, because their friendship inspired me. And then the zine which brought us together bought it. And one of these guys narrated it. And then they all turned their brilliant minds on the story and discussed it, and told me some things I didn’t even know about it. And I think, What kind of world do I live in, where such things are possible? Where friendship and art can exist as a call-and-answer, and that our purpose can be to inspire each other?

This is to say nothing of the many, many other people whose love and friendship profoundly moved me this year, and who inspire me to do better. I hope some of you are reading this. You’re what made 2014 nothing short of outstanding for me, and I’m grateful to have you in my life.

I hope I never forget this.

Awards Eligible Stories for 2014

With a just week left in the year, my last original stories for 2014 have hit the presses. That means it’s time to make my first-ever awards eligibility list!

As a new author, writing this list was full of good memories: of the writing buddies who critted these stories, the editors and publishers who took a chance on me and improved the stories further during copyediting, and most of all the readers who took the time to enjoy the end product. To all of you, I want to thank you for sharing this journey with me.

I’m currently reading for the short story category of the Nebulas and Hugos. If you’re an author, which short story of yours from 2014 should I be sure to catch? If you’re a reader, what caught your eye? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll add it to my reading list.

If you’d like to consider some of my work for an award, I’ve listed my awards-eligible stories below. This is also my first year of Campbell Award eligibility. If you are voting this year, please feel free to contact me for a review copy of anything not freely available online. And if your time is limited, I might suggest you check out “Makeisha In Time” and “The Mercy of Theseus” as a starting point.

Original Short Stories Published in 2014:

Advent Ghosts 2014: Attic Ghosts

This is part of the annual Advent Ghosts tradition, hosted by Loren Eaton of “I Saw Lightning Fall“. Participants write a holiday ghost story of exactly 100 words. You can read more of them here. Enjoy!


“Attic Ghosts”

On Christmas Eve, the ghosts in the attic flowed downstairs at midnight to possess the toys. A good selection: teddy bears, rocking horses, little tin soldiers– almost enough for all the ghosts to claim one for their own and play.

Almost.

Little Agatha, the youngest ghost, dead not one year yet, sat on the stairs and wept. While the others cavorted through shredded wrapping paper, she’d been too slow, and missed her chance.

A bulb crashed. Agatha hadn’t noticed the Christmas tree. Unoccupied. She flowed into its trunk.

The tree took a tentative step forward, and then began to waltz.

New Fiction and A Special Treat

So, it’s December, and that means writers everywhere are slumped dead-eyed on the couch while whatever horrors they brought to life during National Novel Writing Month slowly stew in their own literary juices. This was my 5th year in a row doing NaNoWriMo, and the first year I didn’t hit the 50,000-word mark. Still, I’m very happy with the words I did write, and as always, it was a fun and challenging experience.

Additionally, a couple new stories of mine published the last week of November which you might enjoy. For the podcast-oriented, go listen to Cat Rambo’s lovely reading of my flash piece “Days of Rain”, a mood piece about magic soup and sisterhood, up at PodCastle. If you’re craving something a little longer, there’s “Wine for Witches, Milk for Saints” at InterGalactic Medicine Show. This is a Christmas tale about the Italian legend of La Befana, the Epiphany Witch, set in the region of Italy where I lived as a child. Also, it’s the cover story, so you can enjoy the lovely artwork inspired by the piece!

Now for the special treat! In honor of a very successful 2014 winding down, I’ve decided to release one of my earliest novels for all my readers to enjoy, for free, right here on my website. Even better, it’s fully illustrated, in color, by yours truly. I present for your reading pleasure: The Kitten That never went to scool.

Kitten1

Yeah, I know. It’s awesome. As a pro author with 13 sales and an Active SFWA membership, you know I could’ve sold this to Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, PodCastle… pretty much anywhere. But instead you get to read it for free.

Kitten2

“Mew the Kitten never went to scool. He told his mom that the lunches there were ten dollers. One day He got dirty and got in troble at home.”

We establish early on that Mew is the Walter White of the parental scool lunch money racket. The dirt acts as both a plot point, and a symbolic indicator of the state of Mew’s filthy, filthy soul.

Kitten3

“His mother siad, ‘You now have to go to scool every day.’ But a fiar came to town and mew used his lunch money to go. But his mother never new.”

Interestingly, I still start a lot of sentences with the word “But”.

Kitten4

“When he got home, his mother asked him what he did at scool. He siad, ‘I made a bee. And He showed a picher of a bee.”

Another masterful bit of foreshadowing. Honey is sweet, but the bees always sting you in the end. Clear influences of Greek tragedy here, perhaps “Antigone”.

Kitten5

“Then one day when the kitten was at the park, His mother came by and guess what, She saw him!”

I don’t know how she saw through his fake glasses and mustache disguise.

Kitten6

“And when Mew got home His mother told him that he was going to start to have scool at home. So, He never missed scool agan.”

It would be a mistake to assume this is over, especially when he is actually saying “Sob Sob Sob” instead of crying.

Kitten7

“Intill one day, He ran away, and he missed agen. But he was very hungry. and very thristy.”

Okay, drinking out of the puddle is pretty pathetic.

Kitten8

“So, He went home and he knew that running away because you don’t want to go to scool, it is better to go then to starve.”

Wow. And there you have it, my friends: going to scool is better than starvation! I really can’t argue with the logic, but wow. Harsh.

Kitten9

“and when mew got back, his mom gave dinner. the end”

I know I always like it when my mom leaves on the head, feet, and feathers, too!


What’d you think? Let’s hear your literary analysis below! Next time, we’ll delve into the dark, Oedipal world of “Flippy the Dolfin”. What if I said it only gets better from here?