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.

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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”.

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“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.

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“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?

 

Short Fiction Extravaganza!

If you’d like to read some free science fiction, a few of my stories have appeared online over the last month at some great e-zines. If you check them out, let me know what you thought!

“Mamihlapinatapei” at Crossed Genres

“On Navarino Island off the coast of Chile, Marta mops outside the tyrannosaurus habitat as the tourists press in to see the dinosaurs.”

This is a near-future / alternate history story about dinosaurs, janitors, and language extinction. The Yaghan people and language really exist, although in real life, there is only one true native speaker left, Cristina Calderon (a native speaker is a person who grew up speaking a language instead of learning it later in life). When she dies, Yaghan will become a dead language, like Latin.

You can hear Cristina say a few words in Yaghan in this video, which directly inspired this story. The rather paternalistic and condescending men who interview her were almost as much of an influence as Cristina on the themes of my story.

“Ten Wretched Things About Influenza Siderius” at Daily Science Fiction

“Influenza siderius begins as a general malaise. That is always the first symptom”.

I wrote this story when everyone in my online writing group simultaneously got sick across the different states and countries we live in. I won’t spoil it by saying more, but check out my author comments at the end for some more notes on its genesis.

“Makeisha In Time” at Crossed Genres

“A woman unafraid to die can do anything she wants. A woman who can endure starvation and pain and deprivation can be her own boss, set her own agenda. The one thing she cannot do is to make them remember she did it.”

I wrote this story specifically for Crossed Genres after their Twitter feed mentioned they’d only received 25% woman-authored stories in slush so far for their Time Travel issue, an unusual gap. I’d recently read Kameron Hurley’s Hugo-nominated essay on the historical erasure of women, “We Have Always Fought”. (hear the author read it in audio here!). I’d also just discovered the Medieval PoC Tumblr, which is dedicated to counteracting the myth of a historically whitewashed Europe by sharing artwork that proves otherwise.

The result was this story, the tale of a woman, a person of color, who battles the forces of historical erasure, selective memory, and time itself for the right to her legacy. If you enjoy it, I highly recommend you check out Hurley’s essay and Medieval PoC, where you can read about the real people Makeisha is based on.

An open letter to all the other writers who, like me, panic at midnight about being failures

Some gorgeous thoughts from Sunny Moraine on the insecurities all writers (and really, all creative types) experience from time to time. I’m saving this for those days when the ol’ Imposter Syndrome flares up. Go read the whole thing!

A Trick of Light

time

The first thing you need to do is breathe.

Really, do that. Sit where you are and pull air into your lungs. Feel your body extracting what it needs and expelling the rest. Feel your blood collect it and carry it to all the other parts of you. Feel your pulse, feel the beat of your heart. Feel the firing of your synapses, if you can. Imagine all those little lightning flickers, and then imagine your brain lit up in brilliant rainbow colors as it goes about the endless process of making you who you are.

Reflect on how the myth that we only use ten percent of our brains is just that: a myth. Reflect on how you’re using most of your brain in some way most of the time. You are not a waste. You are not wasted. No part of you will ever be wasted. When you…

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Women Destroy Science Fiction: A Photo Blog

IT’S IN! IT’S IN! IT’S INNNNN! My print copy of Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! just arrived in the mail!

And wow, am I excited. It’s gorgeous. Gorrrrrrgeous! I mean, the pictures are IN COLOR! Just look how happy I am, I can’t even:

WDSFarrives

So what’s a girl to do with her WDSF? Welcome it to the family properly, of course! I present a brief photo blog of WDSF’s first day at my house. Special thanks to Jason for helping with the photos.

We kicked the morning off with tea with Mom and Grandma.

tea

Then we got to work doing what women do best: SCIENCE!!!!

doingscience

 

Jason managed to grab some quality reading time in all the fun…

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…as did I.

Reading

 

Finally, it’s off to bed! But first, a little Captain Marvel:

bedtime

Don’t Tread On Us: Thoughts on WDSF and Tangent

I want to talk about Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! and Tangent Online’s review yesterday–in particular, Dave Truesdale’s “Closing Thoughts” and why it bothered me. But first, let’s talk about the issue itself.

In short: it’s amazing. I got to read it cover-to-cover ahead of time as part of the proofreading team (which I affectionately refer to as “Women Destroy Typos!”), and I think it’s one of the most outstanding anthologies I’ve read in years. It’s an important work made up of important works, a monumental achievement–not the least because Lightspeed went the extra mile and turned the whole project over to 109 very capable women. Women wrote, edited, illustrated, and created the issue at every level.

My personal favorite original story from WDSF is Amal El-Mohtar’s “The Lonely Sea in the Sky,” the tale of the discovery of an ocean of liquid diamonds on Neptune and how scientists harness its unique properties to create a teleportation device. The story traces what follows when people discover the sea is sentient and that the invention causes it to suffer. The story is exquisite in construction and execution, and thematically it sums up what’s at stake for women who write science fiction and some of the historical problems in the genre.

Take, for example, the words of the man who first demonstrates the teleportation device:

“One small step for man,” said Moor, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

Obviously it’s a reference to the moon landing, but in the story, El-Mohtar develops the earth as a symbol of the female body, alive and screaming as it is trod upon:

Hala, imagine if when we were children, we had seen a girl splayed out on the floor, spread-eagled, her every bone broken beneath the feet of boys jumping up and down on her as if she were solid ground. Imagine we could hear her screaming, begging them to stop, to let her go, but the boys could not, because she was nothing, she was the earth, she could not feel. But we could see her. We could hear her.

Taken together, these two quotes evoke images of fiction written during the Golden Age of SF, where men traipsed about accomplishing Big Things in a universe depopulated of women, making one giant leap for man upon the face of a sentient moon and ignoring her screams as something that could not possibly exist. The problem of these authors writing women out of stories reflects to some degree how female authors and readers have also been marginalized, treated as if they are part of the landscape and can be safely ignored underfoot as the men go on with their Important Work.

WDSF, as a project, aims to reverse that. Not only are women important, but they are vital. They are necessary as authors, editors, illustrators, and more. Look at what we are capable of, if given the chance!, we say on every page. The quality speaks for itself. SF as a genre is poorer when we are underrepresented or excluded.

Which brings me around to Dave Truesdale’s editorial “Closing Thoughts”. Instead of reviewing the actual WDSF issue as a whole and discussing the merits of how its constituent pieces come together, he spends several thousand words explaining why its very existence was unnecessary and wrong-headed to begin with. Says Truesdale:

Not once have I personally seen a smidgeon of racism or sexism at a convention, whether it be a local or regional con, a worldcon, a World Fantasy convention, a Campbell/Sturgeon awards banquet, or a Nebula Awards weekend. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but one might think that if racism or sexism is as deeply rooted in SF as some would like you to think, that after 40 years I would have seen or heard something personally.

Wiser minds than mine have done a great job taking apart why Truesdale’s comments are factually wrong and problematic, so I won’t get into the unfortunately abundant evidence contradicting his statements. I recommend you read what Natalie Luhrs, Amal El-Mohtar, Rachael Acks, and E. Catherine Tobler have to say in this area.

But I do want to point out what’s at stake here, and how Truesdale misses the point of the whole WDSF conversation. Instead of engaging with the work presented, he gaslights. He claims to understand our experiences better than we do. “There is no woman beneath my feet,” says Truesdale as he jumps and jumps on her broken body. She screams from the pages of WDSF, and he calls it “shrill,” and claims she’s exaggerating, and besides anything that happened to her was probably an accident or just the result of a random individual. He has not seen it, and therefore it doesn’t exist.

Does he really, genuinely not see her there, despite all 109 of us pointing our fingers and telling him so? Or does he hear her, and choose to ignore her anyway?

Amal El-Mohtar’s story deserves the last word on the subject of Truesdale:

“Imagine, Hala , that in the eye of one of these boys you see satisfaction. You see knowledge. You see that he knows he is making someone scream but it doesn’t bother him, it doesn’t matter, because he can get away with it. What would you do?”

What should we do?

I was quite upset after reading the review last night. I don’t think it’s right that this editor’s comments should steal the show and dominate this conversation, and just as we’re all celebrating its release. So I say let’s not let him do it. Read WDSF. Read it cover to cover. Talk about it. Read and engage in the conversation about Tangent, too, but don’t miss out on the really good stuff in the doing. No review is as important as the stories and essays in WDSF itself.

Don’t tread on us.

Guest Post at Penumbra: Linguistic Worldbuilding

Just a quick note for those who may be interested: I wrote a guest post over at Penumbra’s blog this week. It’s an overview on the topic of linguistic worldbuilding. I wrote it as an introduction for writers who perhaps haven’t given this much thought in the past.

I originally wrote a much more technical version getting into some more interesting and detailed linguistic aspects, but I think I’ll save that for another post. 🙂

All the Updates!

Yes, THAT Rachael K. Jones! (Photo credit: Penumbra)

Hello, hello, blogosphere! It’s been a couple months since my last update, and that’s because I’ve been busy with some exciting things!

The first big announcement: You probably guessed it from the photo above, but I made my first pro fiction sale a couple of weeks ago to Penumbra! My story, “Photon Girl Ascending,” is forthcoming in their May Superheroes-themed issue. I’m very excited about this, since it’s a big benchmark in my writing career, and I have been learning a lot in the process. I have also been invited to write a guest post for the Penumbra blog. I’ll be sure to link it for you when it goes live.

And if that wasn’t enough, a week later, I made my second pro sale to Daily Science Fiction! I haven’t yet gotten the scheduled release date for this story yet, but I’ll talk more about that when I have details. If you’d like, click over their site now and subscribe (it’s free!) to receive a story in your inbox every day.

I have much to say about both these stories, but I’ll say a few more words about them once they have been published, along with links so you can enjoy them firsthand.

I plan to do some more blogging in the near future, too, but probably won’t get back into a good schedule for another 3-4 weeks (because things are really busy right now). But when I return, it will be with a full blog tune-up, just in time for the one-year anniversary of this blog. I will be updating everything across the site and adding some new features (such as a bibliography!). I also have some interesting new stories to tell you, both fictional and factual.

What have you been up to in the past few weeks? What’s been happening on your blog?

Motley Microfiction: Happy Birthday

Today I congratulate you on another successful trip around the sun!

May your next trip be better

faster

wilder

so you have to dig your nails into the dirt as the orbit rolls on

all seven billion of us screaming

in harmony as the planets stream past…

one! two! eight!

…the trees torched by friction

the windowpanes shattered

the Rockies worn down to nubs

us huddled in our bomb shelters praying for mercy…

…and when you wake up on your birthday next year,

we’ll say

“My, how the year flew by

and anyway weren’t we just celebrating your birthday yesterday?”

——————————————————————————————–

Today is the birthday of my wonderful little sister, Kristin! I wrote this by way of celebration. Kristin, I hope your next trip around the sun is a wonderful one, and lasts longer than 24 hours, because otherwise we’re all going to need a landscaper to take care of all the damage from your wild, wild “year”!

Now go eat something shaped like a dinosaur. Now.

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Is Fear Pathological?

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Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Melburnian, October 2006.

2013 was a lousy year for running in my life. I kicked off the year with a persistent tendon injury in my foot which forced me off the road for a few months. Then, just as I started to ramp up my training again, things came to a head with my neighborhood stalker and completely ruined my running routine.

I still ran a lot despite the stalker, but it wasn’t quite the same as before. One major change was losing my favorite route, because it took me past his house.

Today I ran my old route alone for the first time since that day almost 9 months ago. It starts at my doorstep, takes me to a park that’s a couple miles away, and then back to my home. I always know I’m halfway done when I see the pink wooden turrets of the playground’s castle in the distance.

Today I ran that route, only in reverse. I drove to the park and ran the opposite way starting from the castle, and when I neared my own neighborhood, I turned away and ran back.

I’ve missed my old route. It has good landmarks to mark the distances, it’s scenic, and most importantly, it has gently rolling hills. I love running hills like these. There’s a rhythm to them that makes running uniquely pleasurable and somehow adventurous. You reach the base of the hill and attack it, quickening your stride, swinging your arms in short, tight arcs, breath accelerating, heart racing, calves aching until you’re at the top. Then instantly the rhythm reverses. You ease off and let gravity do the work as you float downhill, and I swear it feels like flying: easier and more natural than walking. Sometimes you feel like you could run forever.

Flats are the worst, though. I hate running long stretches of flat ground. It’s one of the reasons that I hate and despise treadmills and tracks–while they’re better than nothing, they take much of the joy out of running, the rhythm and flow, the alternating of fight and victory that convinces you to go just a little further than you thought you could.

Life’s like that, I think. We suffer on the climbs, and we exhilarate in the floating, flying descents, but somehow the flats are the worst. The stagnation, the parts of your life when you feel like you’re running parallel with your dearest goals which never seem to come any closer.

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Did I mention 2013 was a terrible year for running in my life? I spent most of it running flats. After I ceded my neighborhood route to my stalker, most of my runs took place at the track in a nearby park. It had a lot to offer safety-wise: set back off the main road, there was no way the creep could follow me in his car or even know I was running there. And I got to know the little community of people who frequent the track everyday, elderly retired folks and athletes and children, mostly. But running a flat 1k loop is torturous. It’s got nothing on the hills.

I realized something else today: how much my experience with the stalker has shaped my life. These days when I run, I watch passing cars reflexively, and if I see one that looks remotely like that gray Nissan Sentra that I’m oh-so-familiar with, the panic starts in the back of my brain. Suddenly I’m arguing with myself. “You’re okay,” I say, “you’ve got your cell–here, in your pocket–and besides, look, it’s a Honda, see?” Meanwhile the other voice jibbers about pain and death and panic and running away to hide, NOW, before it’s too late.

I mean, I get it. My brain’s trying to be helpful. All those months ago, in an instant my fear ran right up the scale until it hit with certainty: “I am about to die.” And when I didn’t, my brain made a few extra connections, turned up the volume on certain warnings, hoping to prevent a reoccurrence.

It used to be worse. There was a time shortly after that day when I was afraid to check my mail. That got better with time. And I was terrified of my old running route. Even today, I never fully forgot the panic.

I used to think this sort of fear was pathological, but I’ve discovered something: almost every woman has a story like this.

It happens at parties, when in a corner, we start sharing these tales. And instead of shock, the other women nod, eyes wide, and they understand. And I hear over and over again how many of us are afraid. Perhaps most of us, to some degree. We swap “safety” tips and compare notes and exchange sympathetic hugs before we go back into the world to run uphill against the fear.

In fact, I think that we consider it pathological for a woman not to be afraid.

This occurred to me while reading James Tiptree Jr.’s short story, “Your Faces, O My Sisters! Your Faces Filled Of Light!” The story revolves around a woman undergoing a psychotic break. She believes she lives in a future where for unexplained reasons, men no longer exist, and everyone in the world is friendly. This means she’s wandering around a big city alone at night, in high spirits, rejoicing in the health of her body and the beauty of the world. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, a group of men stalks her. At the end, they violently attack her.

The story is told in retrospect through interviews of people who saw her the night of the attack. These people fault her for her optimism, happiness, and lack of fear, and they universally perceive her demeanor as pathological. As a result they blame her for what is done to her, even though they all have the opportunity to intervene along the way.

This resonated with me: that we live in a world where women are supposed to be afraid, and for some reason we consider the fear a healthy thing, to the point where failure to be afraid all the time is held against us. And so we blame ourselves and obsess over how we “provoked” our harassers and attackers into targeting us, accepting without question that it is wrong to assume we can live without fear.

Every woman has a story like this, after all.

But I don’t want to run on the flats for the rest of my life. I love people. I love talking with strangers, finding shared interests and common ground, the blossoming of new friendships and deepening the roots of old ones. My life would be much less rich if I lived in fear all the time.

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I don’t want to be afraid of people. I don’t want to be afraid of you.

But how do I balance that against the fear? How do I fight back against the constant, exhausting barrage of threats masked as concern, the idea that it’s my job to hide myself, lest bad people choose to inflict harm upon me?

I don’t really know, honestly. But I’m going to keep running the hills. I hope you’ll run with me.

On the horizon, I see a castle.