Fabulous News on a Monday: Sci-FI & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: January 2018

Sci-FI & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup: January 2018

Cover art from Clarkesworld Magazine, January 2018. Artist: Arthur Saldos

Short fiction is the lifeblood of sci-fi and fantasy. It’s where we first encountered many authors who have gone on to win awards and write some of our favorite novels. This new monthly column will highlight some of the most notable short SFF published in the prior month, and hopefully introduce you to your next favorite author.

There’s a staggering amount of fabulous speculative short fiction being published every month—online, in print, and in audio—introducing the world to exciting new voices in the genre. This roundup can only capture a tiny fraction of it, of course (at least until I acquire a horde of clones that can do the reading and writing for me), but I hope to offer a tasty sample of the range, depth, and variety of it that is available out there. Here are 10 stories that stood out in January 2018.

Black Fanged Thing,” by Sam Rebelein in Shimmer
This story, about a seemingly ordinary small town and its seemingly ordinary inhabitants, is eerie and unsettling from the first paragraph. It masterfully captures the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a place, in a life, that isn’t quite what you wanted…except that the characters in this story aren’t quite sure what else they did want, once upon a time. I love the chilling sense of an unseeable, unknowable darkness lurking beneath the surface of everyday life. To me, this story brings to mind both Ray Bradbury and The Twilight Zone.

The Glow-in-the-Dark Girls,” by Senaa Ahmad in Strange Horizons
A mesmerizing blend of history (it was partly inspired by the real events that befell the so-called Radium Girls), fantasy, politics, science, and science fiction, this story is heartbreaking, fierce, and moving. I especially love how Ahmad explores and intertwines the complex relationship between the girls — all chosen for their rather frightening super power — and the brutal politics of war in which a government is using them as weapons.

A World to Die For,” by Tobias S. Buckell in Clarkesworld
Buckell’s post-apocalyptic tale pops off the page, vivid and visceral, with the texture and fury of a Mad Maxmovie (and I mean that as a sincere compliment). There’s a blighted but still recognizable U.S. landscape, there are gangs of road-warriors, there are weapons galore, there is dust and death; reading it, I could almost feel the road grit between my teeth and hear the roar of the engines. And then, then, Buckell fishtails the whole thing around into something else, somewhereelse. I won’t reveal the twist, but this is a story with both nerve and heart.

Bondye Bon,” by Monique L. Desir in Fiyah
Fiyah has been around for just over a year now, publishing great speculative fiction by black writers, and it has quickly become one of my must-read zines. Like many of the stories in Fiyah, Desir’s latest does not pull any punches. It has zombies, alternate history, magic, religion, a black woman getting revenge on a slave owner, and a young girl facing the monster in her mother’s room. It crackles with fire and purpose, and one moment in particular, a scene of a slave uprising during which a desperate prayer is suddenly heard, that gave me goosebumps all over.

In Her Bones,” by Lindiwe Rooney in The Dark
Harsh realities of crime, corruption, abuse, and sexual assault (though it’s mostly dealt with “off-screen”) gives this horror story a real darkness, because let’s face it, few things are scarier than the things human beings do to each other. But the deeper, soul-shaking power of the tale is what happens after the abuse, and after the victim, Ayanda, exacts her own justice on the perpetrator. Rooney’s descriptions of the power of family ties, and the power of magic, intertwine in a stunning scene of transformation when Ayanda has to pay the price for what she did. It’s a fierce story that doesn’t go where you might think, and gives you an ending that is simultaneously crushing and hopeful.

Shadows and Bells,” by Mari Ness in Kaleidotrope
In exquisitely beautiful prose, Ness weaves a tale about what happens in the realm of the dead when the Queen of Death hears the bells ring. Every sentence is gorgeously shaped and polished. Myth and fantasy, fairy tale and reality, combine to create a deeply moving story about death and life, love and longing, and making choices that change everything—even who and what you are. A dark, gleaming gem of a story.

To Blight a Fig Tree Before It Bears Fruit,” by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley in Apex
Some stories, like this one, hit so hard they’re like a gut-punch, so hard you think they might leave a bruise. Kingsley paints a scene that is phantasmagoric in its detailed, visceral horror, with pregnant women hanging from the gallows, people buying and selling human lives, and unborn children used to fuel a horrific, scientific ritual. But even in this terrible place there is resistance, and maybe even a sliver of hope.

When the Bough Breaks,” by Jaymee Goh in Mythic Delirium
I love a good ghost story, and this is a really good ghost story. It’s set in a brand new, modern condominium complex in Malaysia. After moving in, the children (though not the adults) living in the building soon realize that something is stalking them, haunting them, and even killing them. Goh expertly builds the tension throughout the story, all the way to the spine-chilling ending.

Those We Feed,” by Layla Al-Bedawi in Fireside Fiction
A powerful and deeply unsettling flash fiction story about a mother and child. The imagery is raw and evocative enough to make you wince at times, but the story is also a piercing and perceptive look at the darker side of parenthood (and maybe other relationships as well), and at how much of ourselves we sometimes give up to care for those we love.

Mother’s Rules for a Burned Girl,” by Rebecca Mix in Flash Fiction Online
I have a weak spot for fantasy, dragons, and strong-willed girls. (I mean, who doesn’t?) This flash fiction story by Rebecca Mix features all of these things, and I love it for its sense of humor, its verve and fire, its vivid prose, and its perfect ending. A delectable slice of excellent flash.

What short stories have you loved this month?

Originally published at B&N Sci-FI & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup

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What Do Recurring Themes Say About You as a Writer?

recurring dreams

According to HowStuffWorks.com,

Many people have the same or a similar dream many times, over either a short period of time or their lifetime. Recurring dreams usually mean there is something in your life you’ve not acknowledged that is causing stress of some sort. … In this case, the dreams tend to lessen with time.

I’ve had recurring dreams, but the main point of this post is to discuss recurring themes in writing. I think that the themes we express creatively, like dreams, often reveal a lot about us.

A little while ago, I needed to go back and look at some work I did over a decade ago. I ended up pulling out floppy disks (yup), flash drives, and paper copies of work.

floppy neckchain

Ahhh. Floppy disks — as retro as Flavor Flav.

flavor flav

You see, there’s a grant that I’m really interested in winning (finalists won’t be announced for quite some time) and when I attended the workshop to learn more, the facilitator shared that applying artist were encouraged to reflect upon past work (none could be older than 15 years) and analyze it critically in order to improve the work.

I found short stories, novellas, poems, flash fiction from when I was a teenager. I also noticed a trend in writing themes I’ve maintained over a decade late. Here’s a taste:

Death

Family — blessing or curse

Love Conquerors All

Immortality

Oppression of women

Words have power

Evils of racism

All those years ago, I didn’t know that these stories fell into the speculative fiction category. Heck, I didn’t even know that I was genre writing. I just wrote because it made me feel better. I wrote in order to channel my passions and sometimes despair in an artistic manner. The themes I write about often transcend what’s happening in our current world. In other words, the settings I create don’t exist based on the world as we know it now. At times, it’s comforting to speculate. And at times, it’s downright terrifying too.

Speculative Fiction Diagram_Annie Neugebauer

This diagram (thanks to Annie Neugebauer) for this great visual of how far-reaching speculative fiction is. And the possibilities seem endless.

I’m actively looking for an agent that will help me to reach my next goal: a home with a traditional publishing house. Some of my friends and families say, “Hey, just write a memoir. Or write in a hot niche category that will get you published quickly. Once you get your foot in the door, then, you can write whatever you want.”

I considered this route. Sucked on it like candy, before spitting it out. I realized if I write something I don’t love, or something that isn’t a part of me, I’m not being true to who I am.

It’d be like one of those cringe-worthy romance-comedy (less on the comedy part) movies where The Girl (me) changes who she is so the School Hunk (publisher/agent) notices her and takes her to the prom (publishing contract). And heck, maybe a year or so later they’ll get married and have a bunch of kids (royalty check + sequels and New York Times Bestseller List).

Reaching my goal as a successful Indie author has been hard. I’m a face-to-face kind of gal. I sometimes kiss with my eyes wide open, break out into random songs, or dance in the rain, and marketing from behind a keyboard isn’t my idea of a “good time”.

So, back to the recurring themes . . .

My first PAID short story, “Bondye Bon” will be published in Fiyah Lit Magazine’s Ahistorical Blackness (January Edition). I remained who I am. The story includes themes such as death, family, oppression of women, the evils of racism, and so much more.

Writers, what themes often appear in your writing? What do you think they say about you and your craft? Readers, what kind of themes do you especially enjoy appearing in the stories you read? Please share in the comments!

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Racism? You Don’t Say

A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.

Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.

Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is  half-Black and half-Hispanic.

spider-man-miles-morales-peter-parker

I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)

Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.

Two main “no-no’s” are:

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.

My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”

I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year.  Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!

A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”

we need diverse books3

BINGO!

And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.

Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. 🙂

The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.

Now, back to the main topic.

In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes.  A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.

Uh, no. Just no.

weneeddiversebooksbecause

Yes, indeed. 🙂

When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)

We Need Diverse Authors

About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:

monk-logo

Back then, there were no cross-genres.

mixedupauthor

Dear heart, weep not. Tis 2017 and we live and breathe for literary mashups such as yours. 🙂

No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.

So books like this:

black romance

 

 

 

or this . . . romance_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.

A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!

libraryintegration

A Japanese author, a Black author, a White author, and even a Native American author all on one shelf! 😀 And all different genres! Ha! Impressive.

Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.

In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:

  • Executive Level
  • Editorial Dept.
  • Sales Dept.
  • Marketing & Publicity Dept.
  • Book Reviewers

Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?

While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American — experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:

  • Mira Jacob, young author of the critically acclaimed novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, shared a powerful speech about her struggles as an (East) Indian woman dealing with ignorance and prejudice in the publishing industry. A MUST READ!
  • Jenny Zhang shares how a white poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, used a Chinese pen name, Yi Fen Chou.
  • Paul Langan, a white novelist writes popular series about Black students growing up in an Urban setting.
  • Brandon Tensley discusses America’s Problem With Writers of Color.
  • PP Wong, author and editor shares how many times her novel was rejected. One of the reasons is really, really, really stupid. And clandestinely racist.
  • Phenderson Clark, speculative fiction writer of Afro-Caribbean descent draws back the curtain regarding racism against fellow Black authors (and the lack of characters) in the science fiction and fantasy community.

To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?

Like I said before, I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.

I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves. In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.

This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:

So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is “always trying to diversify our staff,” he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were “excellent” in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? “There’s no room for tokenism at [our press].”

Dude, there’s no need for tokenism! What a cop out!

There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.

It only takes one to turn the tide.

The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.

I'mnotatrend

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

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Quotes to Write By – Day 3

I read and write fantasy of many different flavors. I relish in the strange worlds, the diverse characters, and the possibilities.

However, just because I write fantasy doesn’t mean that I can break the rules of my own world. Here’s a great quote for fantasy, horror, and science-fiction fantasy writers!

Quote 3

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

Tom Clancy

Write it! Live it! Love it! Share it!

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