Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

Author Archive

In today’s “Sunday Shorts,” we’ll take a look at a couple of the stories from:

TITLE: Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction

EDITOR: K.M. Szpara

195 pages, Lethe Press, paperback and e-book formats, ISBN 9781590216170

DESCRIPTION (from the back cover):  There are fantastical stories with actual transgender characters, some for whom that is central and others for whom that isn’t. And there are stories without transgender characters, but with metaphors and symbolism in their place, genuine expressions of self through such speculative fiction tropes as shapeshifting and programming. Transgender individuals see themselves in transformative characters, those outsiders, before seeing themselves as human protagonists. Those feelings are still valid. But though the stories involve transformation and outsiders, sometimes the change is one of self-realization. This anthology will be a welcome read for those who are ready to transcend gender through the lens of science fiction, fantasy, and other works of imaginative fiction.

MY RATING: Five out of five stars

MY THOUGHTS: There are sixteen stories in the inaugural edition of Transcendent (the sophomore volume will be out later in 2017, edited by Bogi Takács). They are all roundly wonderful, entertaining and instructive in so many ways. But the purpose of “Sunday Shorts” is to focus on a story or two rather than reviewing the entire book. So:

“The Shape of my Name” by Nino Cipri starts the collection. It’s a time-travel story in which the ability to time-travel follows essentially the matrilineal lines of a family, But what happens to that process when a child born female identifies as male? The main character navigates his relationship with his mother, father, distant uncle and distant cousin, all complicated by the vagaries of the way time-travel works for this particular family. Cipri’s use of sensory detail at the start of each main section (“2076 smells like antiseptic gauze,” “1954 tastes like Kellogg’s Rice Krispies in fresh milk”) helps ground the reader in familiarity before spinning off into details of time-travel and cause-and-effect. I enjoyed the story so much that I read it twice through back-to-back, and then again when I was done with the anthology. I can safely say the time-travel rules are clearly consistent and intriguingly parceled out to the reader. You may not understand how they work at the start of the story, but you will at the end. The voice of the main character is assured and confident but still recovering from old wounds and slights, especially in relation to his mother. That relationship motivates all of the time-travel the main character does, in search of answers and closure – something I’m sure all of us who travel in linear time are also always looking for. This is a fantastic start to a great anthology.

“The Need For Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Takács takes place in a science fiction universe of political intrigue and space-travel driven by the energy generated by intense emotion. (If the author has other stories set in this same universe, I haven’t read them but would gladly do so. I really need to seek them out.) While the world-building is immersive (surrounding the gone-awry negotiations of the planet Ohander to join the Alliance), it’s the character interactions that pulled me in and kept me reading. The story, to me, drives home the point that even the most open-minded and accepting of us have our blind-spots and walls. In this case, it’s the unwillingness of a politician named Miran Anyuwe (pronoun: they), who clearly has no problem with trans* and gender-fluid fellow space travelers, to accept the relationship of the Master and crew-member of the ship which Anyuwe is trying to escape danger on. The interaction between Miran Anyuwe, Master Sanre, and the narrator comes to a head at a pivotal moment over the way in which the narrator generates the necessary energy to power their ship, plunging them all into increasing danger as the story builds to its conclusion. I don’t want to spoil the twists and turns of the story any more than that – but I was engaged in the story from first word to last.

“Treasure Acre” by Everett Maroon is one of the shortest pieces in the book, and hangs on the classic question: If you could go back and change your past to make it easier to be the person you want to be in the present, would you? The man and young girl in the story are digging in her mother’s backyard for a treasure box the girl buried when even younger, the box holding a key to the girl’s future and the man’s past. The story is wistful, nostalgic and full of questions and answers in a scant four pages, and put a smile on my face at the end, while making me wonder how I’d handle the same situation if it was presented to me.

Those are just three out of the sixteen stories in TRANSCENDENT. The rest run the gamut of speculative fiction, from SF to fantasy to horror, by authors I was familiar with (Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, E. Catherine Tobler (one of her Circus stories), A. Merc Rustad, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and Molly Tanzer (a wonderful Lovecraftian story), and authors to whom this was my first exposure (Holly Heisy, Jack Hollis Marr, B R Sanders, E. Saxey, Margarita Tenser, Alexis A. Hunter and Penny Stirling). An anthology well worth seeking out if you haven’t already, and to which I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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TITLE: Forever and a Death

AUTHOR: Donald E. Westlake

463 pages, Hard Case Crime, trade paperback format, ISBN 9781785654237

Publication Date: June 13, 2017. (I received an uncorrected proof advanced review copy from the publisher)

DESCRIPTION: (from the back cover): Two decades ago, the producers of the James Bond movies hired legendary crime novelist Donald E. Westlake to come up with a story for the next Bond film. The plot Westlake dreamed up – about a Western businessman seeking revenge after being kicked out of Hong Kong when the island was returned to Chinese rule – had all the elements of a classic Bond adventure, but political concerns kept it from being made. Never one to let a good story go to waste, Westlake wrote an original novel based on the premise instead – a novel he never published while he was alive.

Now, nearly a decade after Westlake’s death, Hard Case Crime is proud to give that novel its first publication ever, together with a brand new afterword by one of the movie producers describing the project’s genesis, and to give fans their first taste of the Westlake-scripted Bond that might have been.

 

MY RATING: Four out of five stars

 

MY THOUGHTS: Anyone diving into this book expecting a straight up Bond pastiche based on the back cover copy might feel a bit disappointed at first. Based on Westlake’s script treatments, the book does have many of the classic Bond tropes: international locales (the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Outback, Singapore, Hong Kong), dangerous technology (the “soliton wave”) in the hands of a ruthless megalomaniacal businessman (Richard Curtis) out for revenge on the city and nation that wronged him (Hong Kong, during the transfer of control from Great Britain to China). But what the book doesn’t have is a highly-trained, snappily-dressed, quip-tossing super-spy as the central figure. Instead, Westlake gives us an ensemble of would-be heroes (none of them government spies, most of them not even trained hand-to-hand combatants) who slowly come together, and each make a valuable contribution, to stop Richard Curtis from destroying Hong Kong.

And that, to me, is what makes this an excellent adventure novel accessible to anyone instead of just another James Bond adventure, of which there are dozens readily available. The closest we get to “Bond” is engineer George Manville, who creates (that’s not the right word, given he’s taking work others have done in a lab and putting to practical test in the real world) the “soliton wave” without knowing the nefarious use to which Curtis intends to put it. He spends the first third of the novel clearly as The Hero, discovering the villain is up to no good, rescuing the female lead and learning how to be a hero from a paperback book he’s reading … but then the author takes Manville out of the action for most of the middle third of the book. So even though he’s perhaps the most Bond-like (rugged good looks, handy with a gun, figuring out Curtis’ intentions), he’s not the only focal point of the book.

Female led Kim Baldur isn’t quite a classic Bond femme fatale. She’s beautiful, knows how to scuba dive, and is dedicated to the cause to which she volunteers (the Planetwatch environmental group), but she’s also a bit innocent and a bit impetuous, which puts her in danger in a way most “Bond girls” aren’t. She does, however, manage to hold her own in several fight scenes and contributes equally to the story’s resolution.

The “good guy” team is rounded out by Kim’s boss at Planetwatch, Jerry Deidrich and his boyfriend Luther Rickendorf. Jerry’s hatred for and distrust of Richard Curtis pulls the couple into the action when evidence mounts that Kim is not as dead as she seems to be at the start of the story (remember that impetuousness putting her in danger thing). Jerry feels like a bit of a one-note obsessive character, but Luther is very well-rounded. I honestly love that Westlake had no problem spreading what would mostly have been Bond’s role equally among a straight guy, a straight woman, and a gay couple. I have no idea when Westlake actually wrote this novel (sometime after the treatment was passed on by MGM in the mid-90s and the author’s death, a good span of years) but even with all the strides genre fiction has made over the past several years, it still feels a bit daring and unusual to have the female lead and a pair of gay guys be as much of a focus as the straight guy (especially in that middle third of the book, when George is virtually unseen and all of the plot movement depends on Kim, Jerry and Luther). I do have one quibble with the way Jerry and Luther are handled, but discussing it would be too much of a spoiler for this review (but it is partially the reason I’m giving the book four stars instead of five).

Another great thing about the way Westlake has crafted the book is that even the secondary characters (the Australian, Singapore, and Hong Kong cops the heroes deal with, and Curtis’ henchmen) all have distinct personalities and backgrounds that influence the proceedings. None of them are “just” cops or henchmen, “just” plot devices.

But the most compelling character in the book is Richard Curtis. His history, his motivations, his narcissistic personality, drive the book from start to end. Literally, as the first and last scenes hold him as the focal character. Curtis is a villain worthy of Bond, no doubt, both in personality and in the plan he’s so determined to enact.

The fight scenes are dynamic as well, full of little details that immerse the reader in each fistfight, gun battle, and foot chase. The description of the first, legal, activation of the soliton wave, and an early cat-and-mouse chase aboard a dark yacht were my favorite action sequences.

Full of interesting characters, engrossing action scenes, and a solid tie to an actual recent historical event, Forever and a Death is definitely worth seeking out when it hits the stands on  June 13, 2017, whether you’re a Bond fan or not.

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I’m taking a page and title from my friend ‘Nathan Burgione’s blog, and will be posting reviews of short fiction (novellas, novelettes and stories) on Sundays here on the blog. Reviews of novels and non-fiction will appear on Tuesdays, and other types of posts (interviews, updates on my own writing, etc) will appear on Thursdays. At least, that’s the plan going forward.

This week’s Short fiction review is:

 

TITLE: Buffalo Soldier

AUTHOR: Maurice Broaddus

144 pages, Tor.com Publishing, paperback and e-book formats, ISBN 978-0765394293

 

DESCRIPTION: Having stumbled onto a plot within his homeland of Jamaica, former espionage agent Desmond Coke finds himself caught between warring religious and political factions, all vying for control of a mysterious boy named Lij Tafari. Wanting the boy to have a chance to live a free life, Desmond assumes responsibility for him and they flee. But a dogged enemy agent remains ever on their heels, desperate to obtain the secrets held within Lij for her employer alone. Assassins, intrigue, and steammen stand between Desmond and Lij as they search for a place to call home in a North America that could have been.

 

MY RATING: Five out of five stars

 

MY THOUGHTS: It’s no secret I’m a fan of Maurice Broaddus’ work. I loved his “Knights of Breton Court” modern-day-urban take on the Arthurian mythos. I loved most of the stories in his recent short story collection “Voices of the Martyrs,” and even the stories I didn’t love I at least liked. I suppose eventually he’ll write something I don’t enjoy, but this novella is not that time.

 

In novellas, as with short stories, the author cannot spend a great deal of time describing the setting and history: the action needs to grip the reader and propel us along just as quickly as in a short story. But it is clear Broaddus’ world-building for Buffalo Soldier is complete and massively detailed. The reader gets just enough historical detail to glean that the American Revolution failed while Jamaican independence was successful, and that what we know as the United States is divided into three main regions: Albion, ruled over by Regents of the British government; Tejas (Texas and environs); and the Six Civilized Nations (various native tribes, occupying fortified holdings in the west after being forced out of the east).  The novella is set in what feels like the present day, or close to it. The politics and history that led to these divisions is hinted at with carefully placed familiar names and locations from our own history. The technological world-building is equally hinted at throughout the book, quick glimpses of steam-based weaponry and transportation tiding us over until a key reveal.

 

But it’s the characters that draw the readers into this world and keep us there; Desmond Coke, Lij Tafari, and the mysterious Cayt Siringo. Coke’s world-weariness is palpable in the early pages and deepens as the story progresses: he knows he’s doing the right thing for Lij, even though it has meant leaving behind everything he knows, and yet he still questions whether he’s doing the right thing. The questioning and the willingness to do what’s right despite the danger it puts him in makes Desmond Coke our point of view into the history and the ensuing action. He finds some, if not all, of the answers he’s seeking as things progress. And while he’s the main point of view character, he’s not the character who pulls the majority of the reader’s attention.

 

That character would be the quiet, if not always controlled, Lij Tafari. Lij’s innocence is the counterpoint to Coke’s not-quite cynicism. Coke understands the way the political world affects where he can travel with Lij; Lij has no understanding of, or interest in, how the world works outside of his immediate interactions with it. Coke’s (and later, Cayt’s) handling of Lij hinges on their understanding of where this innocence comes from. While the word itself is never used, it is clear from his dialogue and his actions that Lij is autistic. Lij’s autism is as much a story point as Coke’s depression or Cayt’s cunning or the parental protectiveness of supporting characters Inteus and Kajika: that is to say, it’s important when it’s important, and not belabored when it’s not. It’s so easy for authors to portray autism as a character deficit, to have other characters talk down to the autistic character or treat them as less than human, or to treat it as a series of disconnected tics. Broaddus spectacularly fails to fall into any of these traps: his portrayal of Lij and of how Coke and others interact with him, perfectly matches the functional autistic kids, and parents of same, that I know.

 

Ultimately, “Buffalo Soldier” is about stories: the stories we tell others, the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we draw on to survive and move on. Early on, the stories are all in bits of dialogue: Coke bending the truth of his and Lij’s identity in order to survive crossing Tejas, for instance. Near the half-way point, we are dropped wholesale into the tales and legends the characters tell Lij to keep him moving or to keep him calm. Here, Broaddus’ skill as a teller of tales-within-stories really shines: the rhythm and level of detail changes with each teller.

 

This novella could be a done-in-one: all of the major plot and sub-plots are resolved (some bloodily so, but then again, there’s no shortage of violence throughout). But I’m really hoping we’ve not seen the end of Desmond Coke, Lij Tafari, their friends and their enemies. There’s so much more to explore.

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A few days ago I posted about my writing accomplishments in February. Today’s post is about my reading.

I set myself several reading challenges each year, (and at some point I’ll write about this year’s unique challenges in an upcoming post. For now, here’s a look at the two I do every year, and how I’m progressing as the second month of the year has come to an end:

BOOKS

I set myself an annual goal over on Goodreads of 100 books. I track books the same way GR does, so self-published short stories in ebook format count, as do magazines if I read the entire issue and not just a story or two. January’s books read were:

  1. Black Knight: The Fall of Dane Whitman Volume 1, by Frank Tieri, Luca Pizzari and Kev Walker.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Marvel Comics’ Black Knight character, but this latest graphic novel collection felt like it just repeated story beats for the character we’ve already seen when he was an active member of The Avengers and Excalibur.
  2. Lightspeed Magazine #81 (February, 2017), edited by John Joseph Adams. Another fine selection of original and reprint SF and fantasy shorts. This month’s favorites for me were A. Merc Rustad’s “Later, Let’s Tear Up The Inner Sanctum,” Seanan McGuire’s “Lady Antheia’s Guide to Horticultural Warfare,” Brian Stableford’s “The Elixir of Youth,” and Ashok Banker’s “The Six-Gun Vixen and the Dead Coon Trashgang.”
  3. Full of Briars, by Seanan McGuire. Another novella in McGuire’s October Daye urban fantasy series, this one narrated by Quentin Sollys, Toby’s squire, who harbors a few secrets of his own. I loved that this was a quiet, “day in the life” type story, something rare in the Daye-verse, and I loved Quentin’s voice — totally his own but with hints of Toby’s influence.
  4. Ghost Girl in the Corner (A Shadowshaper novella), by Daniel Jose Older.  Focusing on a few of the supporting characters from the Shadowshaper novel, Older gives us a missing girl / dead girl pair of mysteries (with satisfactory “fair play” solutions) and further insight into how the Shadowshaper world works.
  5. Sinner Man, by Lawrence Block. Block’s first crime novel, long out of print since it was first published under a pseudonym, is classic noir Block: the main characters may be unlikeable, but you have to find out how it all comes out. (Reviewed Here on my Blog)
  6. Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Matthew David Goodwin.  An excellent collection of genre stories by writers of Latin descent or from Latin American countries, including Daniel Jose Older, Junot Diaz, and Sabrina Vourvoulias. (Reviewed Here on my Blog)
  7. Locke and Key Volume 2: Head Games, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. The second installment of the graphic novel series expands the mythology and ups the stakes for the characters in intriguing and disturbing ways.
  8. Undertow, by Jordan L. Hawk. This novella set in Hawk’s “Whyborne and Griffin” Lovecraftian universe shifts the focus to two supporting characters: secretary Maggie Parkhurst and Whyborne’s Ketoi twin sister. Still the same fun adventure, Lovecraftian worldbuilding and same-sex romance Hawk always expertly delivers.
  9. Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman solidly and smoothly retells the Norse myths that influenced him, often with the voice one would expect to hear if the tale were being told around a campfire on a cold winter’s night.
  10. The Prisoner of Hell Gate, by Dana I. Wolff.  I picked this up because as a kid born in Queens NY and growing up just north, the Hell Gate bridge scared the hell out of me, and the idea of that part of the river combined with the story of Typhoid Mary into a kind of literary slasher-flick intrigued me. It didn’t really work for me though, despite some interesting character moments and the tying-in of other East River tragedies.

So: ten books read in February, and Goodreads tells me I’m still on track for the year.

SHORT STORIES

I also set myself a goal each year of reading 365 short stories: 1 per day, theoretically, although it doesn’t always work out quite that way. (366 in leap years, of course)

I didn’t quite hit the “one per day” goal in January, but I more than made up for it in February. here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too (with some short notes for stories that really stood out to me). If no source is noted, the story is from the same magazine or book as the story(ies) that precede(s) it:

  1. “Optimistic People” by Chris Drangle, from One Story magazine for December 31, 2016. Two teens get caught up with a drifter when they rescue him from being buried alive. Really great character work.
  2. “We Blazed” by David Farland, from an ebook perk via a Kickstarter reward. Cool world-building mixes fantasy and SF.
  3. “Starship Day” by Ian R. MacLeod, from Lightspeed Magazine #31. Hearbreaking.
  4. “Later, Let’s Tear Up The Inner Sanctum” by A. Merc Rustad. Fantastic super-hero world-building.
  5. “Lady Antheia’s Guide To Horitcultural Warfare” by Seanan McGuire. Disturbing and Victorian and also a bit funny.
  6. “The Last Garden” by Jack Skillingstead
  7. “Probably Still The Chosen One” by Kelly Barnhill
  8. “The Memorial Page” by K.J. Bishop
  9. “Six-Gun Vixen and the Dead Coon Trashgang” by Ashok Banker. Violent and creative mix of SF, westerns and bible-thumping.
  10. “The Elixir of Youth” by Brian Stableford. A retelling of The Prodigal Son takes a very dark turn.
  11. “Taklamakan” by Bruce Sterling.
  12. “Mortensen’s Muse” by Orrin Grey, from Children of Lovecraft.
  13. “Oblivion Mode” by Laird Barron, from Children of Lovecraft.
  14. “The Devil’s Apprentice” by Premee Mohamed, from No Shit, There I Was!
  15. “Blush Response” by E. Catherine Tobler, from No Shit, There I Was! Loved the noir-ish world-building of this story of enforcers and “shine girls.”
  16.  “Full of Briars” by Seanan McGuire. The above-reviewed Quentin Sollys novella.
  17. “Ghost Girl in the Corner” by Daniel Jose Older. The above-reviewed Shadowshaper novella.
  18. “The Road to Nyer” by Kathleen Alcala, from Latin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Speculative Fiction. A wonderful, ethereal, haunting ghost story.
  19. “Code 51” by Pablo Brescia.
  20. “Uninformed” by Pedro Zagitt.
  21. “Circular Photography” by Pedro Zagitt. Amazing detail that stayed with me long after this bit of flash fiction was over.
  22. “Sin Embargo” by Sabrina Vourvoulias. Words, and translations, mean everything.
  23. “Accursed Lineage” by Daina Chaviano.
  24. “Coconauts in Space” by Adal.
  25. “Cowboy Medium” by Ana Castillo.
  26. “Flying Under the Texas Radar with Paco and Los Freetails” by Ernest Hogan. Music-infused prose.
  27. “Monstro” by Junot Diaz.
  28. “Room For Rent” by Richie Narvaez.
  29. “Artificial” by Edmundo Paz Soldan.
  30. “Through the Right Ventricle” by Steve Castro.
  31. “Two Unique Souls” by Steve Castro
  32. “Caridad” by Alex Hernandez
  33. “Difficult At Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado. Hearbreaking.
  34. “Death of a Businessman” by Giannina Braschi
  35. “Burial of the Sardine” by Giannina Braschi
  36. “Entanglements” by Carlos Hernandez
  37. “The Drain” by Alejandra Sanchez.
  38. “Red Feather and Bone” by Daniel Jose Older
  39. “A Science Fiction” by Carl Marcum
  40. “Scifi-Kill” by Carl Marcum
  41. “Traditions” by Marcos S. Gonsalez
  42. “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes” by Lucas Schaefer, from One Story magazine for February 21, 2017. Told entirely in quoted interviews from those who saw or were part of the title boxing match between a stellar woman boxer and an obvious male patsy.

So: forty-two short stories for February, which was more than one-per-day and which put me ahead of target (February 28th was the 59th day of the year).

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Dear Friends and Frequent Readers,

Milena Govich

I’m helping my friend (and practically sister-in-law) Milena Govich with her new Indiegogo campaign. As an actress, she’s worked a lot on TV (you may have seen her on Law & Order starring opposite Jesse L. Green for one season, among many other places), but now she has started directing. Her first short film was accepted into a number of festivals and also got her into the prestigious Directing Workshop For Women at the American Film Institute (AFI). They receive hundreds of submissions each year and only accept 8 women, so it’s very competitive and a really big deal. Each filmmaker is required to raise the budget for the short film they’ll complete within the program, under the mentorship of director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, Freaks and Geeks, Ghostbusters).

The Indiegogo campaign is launching today, Tuesday March 14th at 10am PT. I really want to help Milena get momentum going right out of the gate, so I’m reaching out to those who ready my blog to ask you to do two things today: (It’ll only take 5 minutes)

1. Click on the Indiegogo link and check out Milena’s campaign, then make a donation. Truly, no amount is too small (or too big). 🙂

2. Share the campaign link on your social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn) and encourage your friends to check it out and support.

That’s it. There are lots of great donation “perks” on the campaign page, and supporters will be the first to see her film when it’s completed. The script (written by Milena’s husband, my brother-from-another-mother David Cornue) also helped get her into the program, and the concept is really cool.

Here’s the link!

https://igg.me/at/UnspeakableFilm

Thanks for helping out if you can!

 

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February 2017 By The Numbers

Posted by admin under writing

I did a horrible job of posting to my own blog in 2016. My intent is to do better this year, by at the very least tracking my own writing and reading. Hopefully some of these posts will inspire folks to comment and chat a bit. Today’s post is basically a “by-the-numbers” accounting of my writing, editing, submitting and sales in February.

WRITING

At the end of 2016, I set myself a challenge for 2017: write at least 5 days a week, and write 1,000 words a day. I’m using a pretty simple spreadsheet to track “new words written” by day and week, with a column for notes (about projects worked on, totals for week/month, etc.). I’m tracking my writing week as Sunday to Saturday.

February started in the middle of a week, so:

February 1 – 4: I wrote on three days, and totaled 2,639 words.

The first full week of February: I wrote on five days, and totaled 4,696 words.

The second full week of February: I wrote on four days, and totaled 5,224 words.

The third full week of February: I wrote on six days, and totaled 5,358 words.

February 26 – 28: I wrote one day, and only 300 words.

I decided, after advice from various writer friends who weighed in, to give credit to some editing time as writing time: if I in fact, during edited, wrote new paragraphs into a story (regardless of how many words I may have deleted at the same time), then I count those paragraphs as writing time. For instance, the 300 words on February 28 were added to a story I was editing from the previous month.

Each month’s goal is roughly 20,000 words (1,000/day x 5 days/week). In February I wrote 18,217 words. That’s a few thousand up from January’s total, which is a good thing. In the process, I completed two stories that had stalled in 2016, wrote a brand new story from scratch, and started another brand new story (that I’m still working on in March).

 

EDITING

I did a much better job of working in editing time in February than I did in January. Part of that was because I allowed myself to count some of the editing time (when I found myself adding entirely new paragraphs or scenes) as writing time. And part of it was the realization that if I don’t go back and revise/edit my first drafts, then they’ll never be ready to send out to editors.

According to my notes, I did fairly heavy editing on two different stories, including the one I mentioned last month that had received detailed feedback as part of a rejection letter from a very busy editor.

 

SUBMISSIONS

On average, I had 6 stories out at any given time throughout the month of February, which was a step up from January. My goal by the end of March is to have 10 stories out making the rounds at any one time, reprints included. I have nine stories out on submission right now, including the two I spent part of February editing.

 

SALES

No sales made in February, although there were a few very nice personal rejection letters that make me think maybe I got close.

 

And that’s about it for February’s writing, editing, submissions and sales numbers.

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Book Review: Sinner Man

Posted by admin under book reviews

Book: Sinner Man

Author: Lawrence Block

ISBN: 9781785650017

Price: $9.95 (paperback) (also available in hardcover, e-book and audio)

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Synopsis: To escape punishment for a murder  he didn’t mean to commit, insurance man Don Barshter has to take on a new identity: Nathaniel Crowley, ferocious up-and-comer in the Buffalo, New York mob. But can he find safety in the skin of another man … a worse man … a sinner man?

My Rating: Four out of five stars

My Thoughts:  The story behind the novel is as interesting as the novel itself: this was the first crime novel Block wrote. It was published under a pseudonym and then forgotten for fifty years. The author conducted an extensive search for the book he vaguely remembered writing but not publishing, and now that it’s found Hard Case Crime has brought it out in a handsome hardcover as well as affordable paperback and ebook editions.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Block’s work, whether he’s writing hard-boiled crime / noir, as here or the more cozy mysteries featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr or anything in between. This book has everything the fans of Block’s noir work have come to expect: a lead character you want to like but can’t approve of; a female lead who is more than capable of holding her own despite, or perhaps because of, the men who use her; and dialogue that’s rich in patter and short on soliloquies.

Also as expected of Block when he’s written full-on noir like this: the book gets off to a hot, fast start (with the accidental murder the synopsis describes), slows down for some character building in the middle (as Barshter/Crowley becomes a part of the mob scene), then punches into high gear in the final pages with an intensity that really leaves you wondering who, if anyone, will come out of this thing alive.

I’ll be clear: Donald Barshter isn’t likeable even before he accidentally murders his wife and decides to go on the run rather than face justice. He’s even less likeable as he worms his way into a situation in which the reader knows, if not Don/Nate himself, that he’s in over his head. But that doesn’t stop you from wanting to know how it all turns out, wanting to know if in fact the law from back home will catch up to our “sinner man” or not. There were a few times throughout the book when I thought “Block could end it here, and I’d be satisfied.” But the author teases out the exact moment the other shoe will drop several times, and never in exactly the same way — building the suspense to a low rolling boil.

This is one of Block’s books that I could easily see Alfred Hitchcock adapting back in the day, if he’d been aware of the story. I pictured Tippi Hedren as Anne several times while reading.

And of course, because it’s a Hard Case Crime book, there’s a cover by Michael Koelsch that would be equally at home on Double Indemnity.

I’m definitely glad this lost early novel of Block’s was found and brought back into print. It’s a fun, suspenseful ride even if you don’t like the main character.

 

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As a way of perhaps easing myself back into blogging and doing interviews with creative folks again, I thought I’d start posting occasional book or short story reviews here that go into more depth than my planned monthly reports.

LATIN@ RISING: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction & Fantasy

ISBN: 978-609405243

Publisher: Wings Press

Edited by Matthew David Goodwin

Introduction by Frederick Luis Aldama

My Rating: Four out of five stars

My Thoughts: There are only so many books one can read in a year. My limit seems to be about 100, which barely scratches the surface of my “to be read” pile(s). So I rely on short story anthologies and magazines to introduce me to authors I’ve never heard of, to help expand the range, depth, and breadth of my reading experience. The Kickstarter for Latin@ Rising was brought to my attention through Twitter, by one of the authors involved whose work I was already familiar with. I’m glad I did.

I was familiar with the work of a relative handful of the authors between these covers (Junot Diaz, Daniel Jose Older, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Carmen Maria Machado — four out of twenty!). So the Table of Contents alone helped me to realize just how woefully under-read I am in the realm of Latin@ speculative fiction. There are a lot of authors in this anthology with whom I was not previously familiar, many of whom I suspect I *should* have at least heard of by name. Thankfully, this book came along to help me become a little bit more well-read in this realm.

The stories range in length from flash fiction to almost novelette length, plus a few poems and something akin to a photo-essay, so there’s something for every attention span. The authors are male and female, straight and queer (various values thereof). There’s science fiction and fantasy and magical realism and some stories that don’t fit neatly into any one category. Many are rooted in our real world or variations of same, some take place farther afield.

Junot Diaz’s “Monstro” posits a fungal/viral outbreak on the Dominican/Haitian island, drawing a picture of the complicated relationship between not just the two nations but between lighter- and darker- skinned natives. And he manages to sandwich a tale of unrequited love in there, too, with language that is practical and lyrical at the same time.

I can’t review every story in the book in this post, so let me concentrate on the four authors I already knew and a few of those I’m interested in becoming more familiar with:

Daniel Jose Older fills in a bit of the back-story of his Bone Street Rhumba urban fantasy trilogy in “Red Feather and Bone,” sending Carlos Delacruz on a bird-watching mission with lasting repercussions. I’ve always found Daniel’s writing to be musical, each novel in the Bone Street Rhumba series a mash-up playlist of sonic influences, and this story is no exception.

In the almost novella-length “Sin Embargo,” Sabrina Vourvoulias takes the tricks of translation and uses all of them to comment on how easy it is to misunderstand someone’s history and intent when you don’t understand which meaning of a given word they intend. The story also touches heavily on the lingering impact of the Guatemalan “dirty wars” of the 1980s, and how those who grow up in war zones never really leave.

Carmen Maria Machado’s “Difficult At Parties” broke my heart a few dozen times. I loved the way she makes the reader feel intimately connected and yet distanced and removed through use of perspective and detail. My reading experience mirrored, I think, what the main character is feeling (or not feeling). The speculative element is very subtly woven in. (Perhaps a trigger warning is necessary for this one, as the main character is a rape survivor trying to find her way back to “normal.”)

Alex Hernandez’ “Caridad” explores a world where technology allows family members to be permanently “psychically” connected to a single member who has ability to processes everyone’s experiences and opinions into a cohesive whole. Family loyalty versus wanting to be your own person is always a potent theme, and Hernandez makes it real and raw without being cloying or simplistic.  I also loved Marcos Santiago Gonsalez’ “Traditions,” which treads some of the same ground as Hernandez, in terms of family loyalty and who will carry on magickal traditions in an advancing technological society. Both of these stories have endearing teen female lead characters.

The joys and pressures of family and history also inform Kathleen Alcala’s “The Road to Nyer” and Diana Chaviano’s “Accursed Lineage,” two very different and equally effective ghost stories. Each author explores how much we understand (or don’t) that our family history, traditions and interactions affect our view of the world around us. Alcala’s story has a bit of the wistful about it, with some amazing sensory detail. Chaviano’s is also full of very different sensory detail and very definitely the scarier of the two. Also impressive is how both authors manage to keep the heaviest violence in their stories “off-screen” and yet manage to make us feel every punch, kick or fall.

And I can’t end the review without mentioning the really unique bit of alternate history about the Moon Landing by ADAL, the “photo-essay” (for lack of a better term) I mentioned earlier. The story has a ton of impact, with a bit of humor, using very few words. Speculative fiction, after all, is not limited to the printed word, and ADAL shows us that the way a story is told can be as important as the story itself.

The stories that I enjoyed the most may not be the same ones you would enjoy most. That’s the great thing about multi-author anthologies: something for everyone, and your mileage may vary. But I highly recommend checking out Latin@ Rising. The variety of voices, all grounded in what is unique and shared about the Latin@ experience, is well worth listening to.

 

 

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A couple of folks have asked, so I’m finally putting together my wrap-up post for 2016: what I wrote, what was published, and what I read.

 

WRITING

Not much to report on this front. 2016 was not my most consistent year for creating new content. I didn’t blog much, and I didn’t really track how much writing I was doing, other than knowing that there were a majority of months where I didn’t write or edit at all. I finished a couple of stories, including “Chasing May” which sold to the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys from Hadrosaur Productions. I sent out a few attempts at getting reprints sold, as well, but not much came of that. (Admittedly, I didn’t make the strongest effort I could possibly have made.)

 

PUBLISHING

2016 saw the release of three anthologies with my work included:

  • “Threshold” appeared in One Thousand Words For War from CBAY Books
  • “Stress Cracks” appeared in Galactic Games from Baen (My first professional-rate story sale!)
  • “Yeti” appeared in Robbed of Sleep, Volume 4 from Troy Blackford.

I also sold one story, the aforementioned “Chasing May,” which releases in just a few weeks from this writing.

 

READING

I set myself a variety of reading challenges in 2016. I managed to complete a few of them.

On Goodreads, I challenged myself to read 100 books. I read 105.

Here’s the breakdown of what I read:

  • Fiction: 97 books
    • 4 anthologies
      • 1 noir
      • 2 horror
      • 1 fantasy
    • 1 single-author collection (1 urban fantasy)
    • 17 graphic novels
      • 11 super-hero
      • 4 YA adventure
      • 1 YA comedy
      • 1 comic strip collection
    • 12 magazines (all issues of Lightspeed magazine)
    • 43 novels
      • 1 crime
      • 1 mystery
      • 1 noir
      • 1  Fantasy
      • 1 historical fiction
      • 1  historical fantasy
      • 2  historical romance
      • 3  historical urban fantasy
      • 3  alternate history
      • 3 horror
      • 1 literary
      • 4  pulp adventure
      • 2 science fiction
      • 13 urban fantasy
      • 1 YA urban fantasy
      • 1 YA science fiction
    • 8 novellas
      • 2 horror
      • 3 fantasy
      • 1 science fiction
      • 1 urban fantasy
      • 1 mystery
    • 1 picture book
    • 1 playscript
    • 10 short stories published as stand-alone ebooks
      • 4 urban fantasy
      • 3 mystery
      • 1 modern romance
      • 1 thriller
      • 1 historical fantasy
  • Non-Fiction: 8 books
    • 5 Memoir/biography
    • 2 History
    • 1 Writing Advice

Other Book Stats:

# of Authors/Editors: 86 (including graphic novel artists); 34 of these were female authors. (I didn’t do a good job of tracking other sub-group metrics, such as writers of color, queer writers, etc. I’m going to make a better effort this year.)

Shortest Book Read: 20 pages (Forbid the Sea by Seanan McGuire)

Longest Book Read: 496 (Feedback by Mira Grant)

(Interesting that the shortest and longest read were by the same author, albeit one under a pen-name.)

Total # of pages read: 24064

Average # of pages per book: 229

Format Summary:

  • 4 audiobooks
  • 28 ebooks (5 Nook, 23 Kindle)
  • 73 print
    • 17 hardcovers
    • 56 softcovers

 

On my Livejournal, I challenged myself to read 365 short stories (1 per day, basically), but I only managed 198 this year. I did not read as many anthologies or single-author collections cover-to-cover as I have in previous years.

Those 198 stories appeared in:

  • 5 Magazines
    • Asimov’s
    • Cemetary Dance
    • Daily Science Fiction
    • Disturbed Digest
    • Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
    • Lightspeed Magazine
    • One Story
    • One Teen Story
    • The Dark
    • The Strand
    • Three Slices
    • Unbound
  • 10 Anthologies
    • Candle in the Attic
    • Clockwork Phoenix 5
    • Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop
    • Dark and Dangerous Things III
    • Ghost in the Cogs
    • In Sunlight or in Shadow (Stories based on the paintings of Edward Hopper)
    • Robbed of Sleep Vol 4
    • Shattered Shields
  • 1 Single-Author Collection
    • Two Tales of the Iron Druid by Kevin Hearne
  • 8 Stand-alone (self-pubbed or publisher-pubbed in e-format)
    • Seanan McGuire (mostly from her website)
    • Jordan L. Hawk (email newsletter)
    • Lawrence Block (purchased in e-format via Amazon)

Those 198 stories were written by 166 different authors. 82 of those were women (again, didn’t do a good job of tracking any other author-identifying metrics). The work was published by 26 different editors, roughly (there were a few for whom I’m not sure who the editor was / who to credit).

 

So there you have it: my writing, publishing and reading, by the numbers, for 2016. (I was going to include other media consumed, like music, movies, and television, but I didn’t do as good of a job compiling those numbers in 2016. Oh well!)

 

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Yesterday I posted about my writing accomplishments in January. Today’s post is about my reading.

I set myself several reading challenges each year, and I’ll write about this year’s challenges in an upcoming post. (I also need to write up a post about how I did with my reading challenges for 2016, but first I have to find the word doc in which I crunched all those numbers…) For now, here’s a look at the two I do every year, and how I’m progressing:

BOOKS

I set myself an annual goal over on Goodreads of 100 books. I track books the same way GR does, so self-published short stories in ebook format count, as do magazines if I read the entire issue and not just a story or two. January’s books read were:

  1. Locke and Key Vol 1.: Welcome To Lovecraft, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I’ve been meaning to read this series for a while, and finally got around to it because my nephew Brandon forced it into my hands during a December visit. I’m glad he did. Really enjoyed the set-up, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series soon.
  2. Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rhumba #3) by Daniel Jose Older.  I love urban fantasy. If you love urban fantasy, and you’re not reading Older’s NYC-set story of ghosts, magic, and political machinations … well, why not? This third book closes out the Rhumba series, but I’m sure Older isn’t done with these characters or this world. And his writing has a musicality to it I can’t remember feeling with anything else I’ve read.
  3. Lily, by Michael Thomas Ford, with illustrations by Staven Andersen.  Classic fairy-tale tropes (Baba Yaga, hidden villages, a girl with a power she doesn’t understand, adults who try to suppress that power) come together in a modern setting. Some types of stories stay true no matter when they’re set, and Ford does a great job of balancing the fantastical with modern realities. And Andersen’s illustrations are disturbing and beautiful at the same time.
  4. Heaps of Pearls by Seanan McGuire. McGuire publishes a lot of stand-alone short stories from her various fictional series worlds on her website and her Patreon page. This one details how two secondary characters from the October Daye series, Patrick and Dianda, first met. It takes place prior to book one of the series but is probably best read after book 9. And what a meet-cute it is.
  5. Lightspeed Magazine #80 (January, 2017), edited by John Joseph Adams. I’m the proofreader for the Kindle ebook edition of Lightspeed, so it’s the one magazine I read front-to-back every month. The eight stories and one novella in each issue also account for 9 of the short stories I read every month. (See below for brief thoughts on those.)
  6. Lumberjanes Volume 5: Band Together, by Shannon Waters, Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen and Carolyn Nowak.  My good friends Kay Holt and Bart Leib introduced me to the Lumberjanes collected volumes on a visit to Boston last year, and I’ve eagerly awaited each new volume (since I don’t buy individual monthly comics anymore for a variety of reasons). I love the characters, the mystery, and the pacing. I have to admit that the change to the art in the run of issues collected here didn’t quite work for me: some of the characters barely looked like themselves for me. The art’s not bad, it just took some getting used to. But the story is a lot of fun.
  7. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire. Another short story in McGuire’s October Daye universe, this time telling a tale of romance and secrets involving everyone’s favorite sea-witch, The Luideag. I know, I know: “romance” and “the Luideag” are not words one expects to hear in the same sentence. Best read after book five of the October Daye series.
  8. Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire. A new novella from McGuire that doesn’t seem to connect to any of her other existing series (although I can see it connecting to her novel Sparrow Hill Road in some ways). There’s some great world-building around a main character whose voice clicked with me right away, making me want to know more about her and the characters around her. A very satisfying “done in one” story.

So: eight books read in January, and Goodreads tells me that means I’m “on track” for my yearly goal.

SHORT STORIES

I also set myself a goal each year of reading 365 short stories: 1 per day, theoretically, although it doesn’t always work out quite that way. (366 in leap years, of course)

I didn’t quite hit the “one per day” goal in January, but here’s what I did read and where you can find them if you’re interested in reading them too:

The first 9 stories come from the January 2017 issue of Lightspeed Magazine. The first 8 are available to read for free on the magazine’s website, while the 9th story is only available as part of the ebook edition.

  1. Rate of Change by James S.A. Corey. A look at a future where brain/spinal transplants have become the norm — how does that affect our basic humanity.
  2. The Whole Crew Hates Me by Adam-Troy Castro. First person narrative about why the title of the story may be true. As soon as I finished reading it, I thought “man, this would make a fantastic acting monologue!” Great, is-he-paranoid-or-not voice.
  3. Tracker by Mary Rosenblum. Intriguing future (?) world where seeming gods control the weather, population, etc., and the title character is trapped in the middle of a power struggle.
  4. Nine-Tenths of the Law by Molly Tanzer. What happens when your husband is replaced by an alien intelligence just as you’re getting ready to divorce him. There’s a bit of comedy and tragedy mixed together here.
  5. Seven Salt Tears by Kat Howard. Another moving, very personal story from Howard, this one about how childhood stories involving the ocean impact a woman’s life.
  6. Daddy Long-Legs of the Evening by Jeffrey Ford. I read this one years ago, was completely creeped out by it, and am happy to say the reread was just as creepy. Urban legend about a boy whose brain is infested by a spider.
  7. The West Topeka Triangle by Jeremiah Tolbert. This one really brought back middle school memories, even though I didn’t grow up anywhere near Kansas nor in any urban setting. I love that lingering question as to whether anything supernatural is really happening, a tone Tolbert expertly keeps up throughout the story.
  8. Nine by Kima Jones. Fantasy trappings on a real-world setting: Tanner, Jessie and Flo run a motel for blacks moving west after the Civil War, but even the three proprietors are running from something that seems destined to catch up with them. Heart-breaking and full of love at the same time.
  9. Awakening by Judith Berman. Aleya wakes in a dungeon full of corpses, unsure how she got there. This story takes more twists than a D&D campaign, and each one is layered brilliantly onto the previous. It kept me guessing throughout as to how it would end.
  10. Heaps of Pearls by Seanan McGuire. (self-pubbed on the author’s website). As mentioned above, a really cute story about how Patrick and Dianda met. It has the feel of a screwball rom-com.
  11. Stage of Fools by Seanan McGuire. (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page) A story of Tybalt, the King of Cats, during his days in London, long before Toby Daye was even born. The first of three connected stories about how Tybalt re-opened his court after a long period of being alone.
  12. The Voice of Lions by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page) The second connected story about Tybalt reopening his court in London, with some interesting political intrigue thrown in.
  13. Lunching with the Sphinxes by Richard Bowes. (from Grendelsong magazine, issue #2). A story set in Bowes’ Big Arena (NYC) future-history. Political intrigue from the perspective of a person who never thought she’d be a politician. I’d not read this when it first came out, but it seems a bit prescient in light of recent political events here in the US.
  14. Singing Wings by Keffy R.M. Kehrli. (from Fireside magazine #27). Aduaa is about to go through her species’ natural transformation, which means saying goodbye to those she’ll no longer be able to interact with. Kehrli really sucker-punches you with a depth of emotion we all recognize when life forces us to move on.
  15. Bones at the Door by John Wiswell (from Fireside magazine #27). Mandy starts discovering animal bones left at her front door, which leads to life changes she never could have expected. Eerie and disturbing.
  16. The Closest Thing To Animals by Sofia Samatar (from Fireside magazine #27). The narrator discloses a history of  her failing relationships in a city closed off from the rest of the world due to a plague that doesn’t kill. Great world-building, interesting story structure.
  17. The Acts of Hares by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s Patreon page). The third of the connected Tybalt stories, this one about how he finally finds that last reason to re-open his court to other cats, putting him further on the road to being the Tybalt we know in the current Toby Daye books.
  18. Beks and the Second Note by Bruce Arthurs. (from the December 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock magazine). Appearances are deceiving and not every case is as simple as it seems, as Detective Beks discovers investing a case of a good gun-carrying citizen killing a bank robber.
  19. Whatever It Takes by Lawrence Block (from the December 2016 issue of Alfred Hitchcock magazine)  An old, previously-unpublished Block tale of a group of cops trying to get a man to turn informant against a big time, almost-untouchable gangster, and the lengths to which they’ll go. The dialogue-heavy story structure makes it an even more fun read.
  20. Through This House by Seanan McGuire (from the anthology Home Improvement: Undead Edition). Another story set in McGuire’s Toby Daye universe, but in modern times compared to the others read this month. Toby, May, Quentin and Danny must figure out how to reopen the sealed fairie Knowe of Goldengreen before it kills them. It’s  bit of a haunted house adventure, with all the creeping shadows and jump-scares one would expect.
  21. In Sea-Salt Tears by Seanan McGuire (self-pubbed on the author’s website). As mentioned above, this one is set prior to the first novel of the Toby Daye series and doesn’t involve Toby herself. But it’s a great love story, slowly and carefully told.

So: 21 stories read in January, which means I’m 10 stories behind on my “read 365 stories this year” goal. But I suspect I’ll be catching up soon. One of my problems is I keep buying short story anthologies and then setting them aside for when I have time to read “the whole thing.” Which rarely seems to happen. So I’m making a sub-challenge for myself that each time I buy a new anthology, I will read at least one story the day I buy it. That might help with this a bit.

 

Clearly, between books and stories this has been a Seanan McGuire heavy month. She is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve been working towards finally reading all of the stories connected to her main novel series. So there’ll be another batch of McGuire reviews in the wrap-up post for February’s reading as well.

 

 

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