by Alethea Eason

Kingsgate Arch

Graham Ó Síodhacháin via Creative Commons

An angel of light came to the night woods, searching for what was unobtainable in his Heaven. He had never ventured to my paradise before and arrived with guardians, though his brothers must have told him not to be afraid. His three holy wolves bared their alabaster fangs as I approached, my Nereid shell opening to woman form. But when I spread my own ribbed wings and beckoned, they whimpered and lay at my feet.

“You are far from home,” I whispered, and kissed his rigid jaw. “How sad there is no sex in your heaven, no fertile soil, no animal flesh.”

The wolves cried for they too were made of light. I sensed their sad longing for the pack, earthly memories of pups licking their faces and the taste of prey on their tongues.

My wings touched his and he sighed. We mated in the aqua sky; starlight shining upon virgin trees, amid a thousand fireflies burning through the ecstasy of their short lives. He now carries my child—angels are like seahorses that way—and has returned to his paradise. I descend to roots and the sweet decay of matter bearing life in a much different way.


Alethea EasonAlethea Eason is a writer, artist, and teacher who lives in Northern California. She has written the young-adult novels Hungry (HarperCollins) and Heron’s Path (Spectacle MPG).

SirensToday we’re going to dive into a new ironSoap feature meant to help spread the word about new or upcoming books by digging in a little with the authors or contributors on some key storytelling aspects: world-building, character, and editing. Since this is the first such feature—for fantasy anthology Sirens—we have all three being discussed by different contributors to the project.

So what is Sirens? It’s part of Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menageries anthology series, which also includes Corvidae, Fae, and Scarecrow. She sums it up thusly:

Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.

Sounds great, right? Now let’s check in with a few of the contributors to hear their thoughts on some of those elements of storycraft.

Continue reading

Who Fears Death
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I mentioned a little while ago that I was making a conscious effort to read work from a more diverse sampling of authors. Particularly I noted that my personal literary canon over the past couple of years has been rather lily white. The thing about that kind of sampling is that the cultural underpinnings that inform North American/European white authors gets reflected in their settings and characters as a default. For example, most fantasy novels authored by white writers are set in some riff on medieval Europe, presumably because that’s where the fairy tales and other genre standards originated, but also I think because that period gets a lot of attention in white-majority primary schools.

So when you read a novel like Nnedi Okorafor‘s Who Fears Death, the cultural sameness of a lot of white-authored books becomes very plain. This is a book set in a sort of post-apocalyptic, magical realism Africa. Even though it’s probably not all that divergent from modern Africa (in the sense, for example, that The Road is not that divergent from modern America), just that fact alone makes it feel like this very remote, fascinating place to someone, like me, with limited literary horizons. Ms Okorafor crafts this world with a tender but unflinching hand. The world building is deft, typifying the novel as a whole being, by turns, lush and raw and gorgeous and devastating and ugly and remarkable.

This is not an easy book. There are no light, fluffy sections, no gentle fades to black when the ghastly truths of the setting come about. It follows the tale of Onyesonwu, a child born from the rape of her mother. Her mother’s attackers are Nuru; she is Okeke; the results of such violent couplings are distinctive, lighter of skin, freckled, and many superstitions surround those like her. But Onyesonwu is a survivor. She has strange abilities and she longs to find a sense of purpose for those talents such as shapeshifting and healing powers, as much as she longs to find a place in the world that does not accept her.

The fact that Onyesonwu is an outcast both from her parentage and her abilities, the violent assault on her mother, the local coming-of-age custom that involves female circumcision, the oppressive brutality of the setting and the antagonist, even the darkness inside Onyesonwu herself, these things make for grim reading. But what really worked about Who Fears Death is that Ms Okorafor never quite lets it feel bleak. Onyesonwu is fiery, sharp, stubborn. She is rarely self-pitying or whiny, despite having to deal with a great deal of angst. The supporting cast are wonderful foils for the protagonist, the pacing of the action is perfectly pitched to give Onyesonwu and the Okeke the right amount of triumphs amid the setbacks and tragedies to make the ending a genuine question. In most fantasy or hero’s quest tales the victoriousness of the ending is basically pre-ordained. But because the world in Who Fears Death is so grim and unsentimental, there is a genuine tension regarding the outcome.

There are so many little details about this book that made it gripping for me to read. The relationships, the fascinating blend of science fiction and fantasy, the characterizations, the breadth of the plot without having to resort to being “epic” (in the pejorative sense), the raw humanity on display at all times; it was all just so tightly woven. The book exhausted me somewhat, emotionally. I don’t know that I finished it thinking, “I’d love a sequel to this.” But I did finish it wanting to know more about the world Ms Okorafor had created, even if it meant having to make the harrowing trip back.

View all my reviews

Fireside

(OvO) via Creative Commons

For more information about this feature, check out the original post.

Fireside
Issue 16, October 2014
Edited by: Brian J. White
Cost: Free to read online

Because my traipsing through short fiction venues is designed to be one-stop, it’s necessary to note that I won’t be bothering with serialized content. I say necessary in the case of Fireside’s October 2014 issue, because the bulk of the issue seems to be devoted to Lilith Saintcrow’s serialized She Wolf And Cub, including a prologue, and then Chapter One. Which is fine because it makes this inaugural edition of The Short List a rather breezy one, consisting of just three stories to read and a short note from editor Brian J. White. That is absolutely not an indictment of She Wolf And Cub—but if I get hooked on every serialized piece I stumble across, I’ll end up doing nothing but catching up on those by the third or fourth Short List. I’m intentionally avoiding it. And that’s actually something worthwhile to note about reading short fiction publications: feel free to skip over anything that doesn’t grab you right away or that just doesn’t sound interesting. With so many other stories to choose from, there’s no sense getting stuck on one that you won’t finish or that isn’t working out for you.

Anyway. Fireside.

Continue reading

Undersea Landscape

Danielle Strle via Creative Commons

No matter how long Huang stayed above the waves, he could not get used to the sharpness of everything. Below, the infinite blue blanketed the smooth, living edges of every surface. Even debris that came from above quickly had its sharpness coated with comforting moss and rounding lichen.

Up here, it was all angles and hardness: concrete upon glass upon jagged metal forged into squares and boxes. They stacked them and lined them in rows, lacking any serenity of open space or collective clustering. Huang kept his eyes down in the city. He’d asked for this life, begged the whalelord to grant his wish. If only he’d anticipated how grotesque he would find the deliberate order these air-breathers insisted upon.

The reflective cliffs looming over the street crowded him. The sun burned his flesh. He missed the colors of his kin, even the dull grays of slick-skinned murkers would be preferable to the ceaseless shades of brown and pink, masked by skins from other creatures, draped by plants processed into more order and shapes.

It was repulsive and Huang lived in regret. He tried to fight another shudder, and turned his eyes down, dreaming again of the sea.

The distance between the Altar of Recompense, where the Troll-Lord Kinevel prepared his apocalyptic sorcery, and Tishara’s cozy cottage, where Yuro warmed her bed, was a journey of one hundred days. Dawn stalked the forest on the twenty-fourth morning, and Tishara rested her cheek on her shield, reluctant to rise.

Dawn

Kotchka Images via Creative Commons

Groundling’s Mother had been insistent, persuasive. Her talk of destiny and glory, of a reprieve from disgrace, so inflammable to Tishara’s long depression a month ago, had faded. The stinging Will-o-the-Wisp bites and the festering infection on her shield arm from absorbing the Dreadjiant’s mighty club helped dull the sense of pre-ordained purpose. Seventy-six more days through unforgiving, hostile country to face, alone, a foe capable of felling armies. She scoffed and sat up.

It was a day of decision. If she pressed on, Mother’s prophecy might be fulfilled. Tishara could be a Swordmistress once more. Yet if she turned back, her total travel time would be no greater than even the halfway point on Mother’s suicidal quest. Kinevel might destroy the world, but she would have two months of Yuro’s hot kisses to console her, at least.

She stood and started toward home.

Today we have a thematic Aspiring Voices as I chat with horror writer Sam Witt about making a real living as a working writer, genre writing, and a great dissection of the horror genre’s past, present, and future.

Haunted House

Barbara via Creative Commons

Paul: You were, at one point, a working writer, correct? What were you doing at the time and how was that different from what you’re trying to do now?

Sam: I was indeed a working writer in the early 90’s, primarily churning words in the adventure game industry for Dungeons & Dragons. I wrote a blog post about how that all fell apart, but one thing I didn’t mention was just how different that type of writing was from what I’m doing now.

Everything I produced back in the day was work-for-hire, which means that the millions of words I cranked out weren’t really mine. They belong to the publishers who hired them out, and while many of those words are still earning a decent sum for someone they aren’t providing me with any residual income.

The other downside to this otherwise high-paid work was its relative anonymity. Authors weren’t given front-page billing, but were consigned to the interior of the book. Work-for-hire publishers are interested in building loyalty to their brand, not yours, which gave them an incentive to obscure the work of authors.

By contrast, the writing I’m doing now is mine. The horror serial I’m writing over at Juke Pop Serials is helping me to drawn in new readers who are interested in what I have to say. My blog helps me to connect with other writers and build a stronger bond with fans interested in how and why I write. My forthcoming novels, Breaking Grace and Bad Education, will benefit from the groundwork I’m laying now and should provide me with a stream of cash for as long as folks keep buying them.

That’s the one thing writers need to be mindful of—if you don’t control the rights to your work, you don’t control the rights to your future. All you have are words, so make sure they belong to you and don’t get sold to someone else on the cheap.
Continue reading

Dragon and moon

Luis Alejandro Bernal via Creative Commons

Twice upon a time there lived a beautiful princess. As a baby she was stolen from her parents by a greedy dragon who hoarded treasures. The king and queen loved the princess so much, the dragon felt the young child must be the most precious treasure in all the land. So he locked her away in his cavern and she grew up playing in piles of gold, but lonely.

A brave knight set out to rescue the princess. He fought the dragon and though he was courageous, he could not withstand the might of the beast. He was near defeat and he called upon the pixie witch Kismeena to rescue him. Kismeena warned the knight that the price for her services would be steep. The knight did not heed the warning, so Kismeena granted him the strength to defeat the dragon.

The knight and the princess fell madly in love. But as they were married and began their life together, the princess didn’t age. The prince withered and their children grew old.

The princess stayed young. The princess stayed beautiful.

She outlived them all.

And once again she was lonely, without even the dragon to keep her company.

Evil Bird

Erich Alder via Creative Commons

Remember when Isla and I wandered around the promenade in the crystal rain?

Of course you don’t, we were the only ones alive that day.

We found a sliver of moss-covered glass,

Isla pretended it was a sword, whipping it through the tinkling droplets.

She danced in the empty fountain, engaged in other flights of fancy,

Wondering aloud if she were too old for such displays.

I set about to ease her mind, ended up convincing her to stop.

We ate fruit and laughed at birds,

Never expecting how personally those fowl would take our jests.

They swarmed and bobbed, eyes round and wide and attentive,

Hopping ever closer and we clutched at each other.

Fragile rose beads shattered into spun sugar granules on the black backs,

On the pink beaks, on the crests always moving, moving.

Is there anything worse than splashed crimson red over pink?

Bloody gums, sucking wounds, flecked and unblinking yellow eyes.

Tiny bones crackled under our fleeing feet, stamping songs,

Fans of tight wings battering future nightmares

And the pecks and claws sizzling with insistent rhythms

Saying, Get Away Get Away Get Away Get Away.

Back Pocket

Eryne via Creative Commons

Oliver Grady, Jr., age six and three-quarters, wears the same pair of pants every day. They are not his favorite pants nor his only pants, they are simply, as he puts it, the pants. Being a boy growing at the rate boys do, these trousers he has worn for nearly a whole year do not fit as well as they once did. His mother is faced with the onerous task of either washing them daily or sending him to school in filthy britches; the fight if she suggests he wear anything else is disastrous.

There is nothing to like about the too-small pants—off-color, falling apart, uncomfortable—except the back left pocket. That pocket is endless, and Oliver has filled it with interesting rocks, frogs, bits of string, toys, a ruler, hats, bugs, bouncy balls, firecrackers, comic books, crayons, scraps of paper, candy bars, two bent forks and one tarnished spoon, six pen-knives, an assortment of sticks, headphones, plastic bandages, two of his sister’s dolls and one kitten, among others. These things never get lost in the wash. They can easily be retrieved.

Oliver can never give up the pants, or he’d lose the pocket.