Monthly Archives: December 2016

Evil Cats and Bewitched History: Interview with Jill Hand

Welcome back! For our final interview of 2016, I’m pleased to feature author Jill Hand. Jill’s fiction has appeared widely in publications including The Wild Hunt, The Literary Hatchet, and The Sirens Call, among other outlets.

Recently, Jill and I discussed her inspiration as a writer as well as her process behind crafting her longer works.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Jill HandI first became a writer when I was about five and decided I needed a pony. I wrote a lavishly illustrated little book, setting out the many reasons why I not only needed a pony, but deserved one, and presented it to my parents. The pony wasn’t forthcoming, but I got so much enjoyment out of the project that I kept on writing. (The book is long gone, unfortunately, but as I recall I pledged to be good forever if I were given a pony, and — rather cleverly, I think — proposed that I would probably be able to earn enough money to pay for the pony’s upkeep by renting it out to other children for their birthday parties.)

All writers first must learn how to read.  I taught myself to read when I was three, reading Little Golden Books with the aid of a flashlight under the covers at night when I was supposed to be asleep. That’s probably one of the reasons why my eyesight is so terrible.

Interestingly, my mother attempted to prevent me from reading when she found out from a neighbor that the teacher in our local kindergarten preferred to get her students as completely blank slates, untutored in anything except our first and last names and possibly, our addresses. She wanted to teach them the alphabet and eventually, the basics of reading, herself.

Like the oppressive fundamentalist Christian patriarchs in The Handmaid’s Tale, my mother set about preventing me from reading by removing all of my books and even taking away the cereal boxes when she found me reading what was written on the back of them. She eventually gave in and let me read again, worn out by my whining and pleading, thank goodness.

My favorite authors are, in no particular order: M.R. James, Shirley Jackson, Donna Tartt, Michael McDowell, William Thackeray, P.G. Wodehouse, H.P. Lovecraft (horrid old racist and misogynist that he was), Kage Baker, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, and Frank Baker, author of Miss Hargreaves, one of the best speculative fiction novels ever written, IMO.

There are lots of other authors whose work I like, too many to list them all. I read about one book a week. I LOVE to read.

Your story, “Home Improvements,” recently appeared at The Wild Hunt. What was your process for this piece, and what inspired you to create the protagonist’s cat Evil George?

It developed out of something I read online about a house being swallowed up by a sinkhole. It made me wonder what would happen to someone in that situation (assuming they weren’t home at the time and got swallowed up, too.)

The protagonist has a cat named Evil George who is, as she admits, a terrible cat, but she keeps him because no one else would want him. I have no idea where that came from. The cats I’ve owned were all very sweet. It just seemed funny to create an awful cat who is always biting and clawing people.

Evil George gets loose and attacks two men in the woods behind his owner’s new home, who happen to be dressed as eighteenth-century fops. After that, hijinks ensue. Again, I have no idea why fops were involved, unless I was thinking of the actor Hugh Laurie in his role as Prince George IV in Blackadder. Hugh Laurie made an absolutely hilarious fop, with his powdered wig and silk stockings and gormless expressions.

The Blue HorseMany of your stories featured speculative elements. Do you remember the first speculative fiction story you read as a child, and what in particular draws you to the fantasy genre?

Usually what I write has some element of speculative fiction, although some are horror stories, and some are fantasy and some are science fiction. The first speculative fiction I ever read was probably something by Ray Bradbury, although the argument can be made that The Cat in the Hat is speculative fiction.

Tell me about a couple of your favorite published works.

I like history, and if I can work some long-forgotten weird thing or person into a plot, so much the better. My first book, Rosina and the Travel Agency, is about time travel and mentions in passing an actual barometer that was powered by leeches. It also has an adventure in 1947 San Francisco, complete with forties slang and an attempt to run a private detective agency based on one of the characters’ admiration for Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.

The sequel, The Blue Horse, from Kellan Publishing, features a bachelor party in two very weird nineteenth-century Paris nightclubs, and a batty English lord who scandalized society by marrying a circus bareback rider. The nightclubs, the lord and his wife, as well as the one-of-a-kind blue horse were all real. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Where can we find you online?

I can be found online on Facebook as Jill Hand, and on Twitter, @jillhand1_gef. There are bonus points for anyone who knows who (or what) the original Gef was.

Big thanks to Jill Hand for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

Deck the Halls with Literature: 10 Last-Minute Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers

December is winding down, and in my little nook of the world, ’tis the season for gift giving and festive revelry! And if you’re like me, you might not have done all your shopping for those friends and family you adore so much. Fear not! I have the perfect list for you! And even if you’re personally not celebrating any holidays this December, a new book is a reason to rejoice any day of the year! So check out these ten great titles, and consider giving the gift of literature this December. After all, there’s nothing better!

For the fantasy devotee:

The Lilies of Dawn

The Lilies of Dawn by Vanessa Fogg

This gorgeous novelette from rising star Vanessa Fogg is a poignant tale of love, lilies, and family. And that beautiful cover by artist Likhain only makes this unforgettable book even more perfect. Vanessa is rapidly proving herself to be one of the strongest new voices in speculative fiction, so check out this book today and keep an eye out for her forthcoming works. If you love truly original fantasy as much as I do, then you will not be disappointed.

For the nostalgic mystery lover:

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew Anthology: Writing & Art Featuring Everybody’s Favorite Female Sleuth by Various Authors

This Nancy Drew anthology is a perfect throwback to the fun mystery stories of yore. Nearly 100 contributors from around the world united to make this book possible, and one of those writers includes the incredible Geosi Gyasi, an awesome author and interviewer who I previously featured on this blog. Suffice it to say, this sweet and loving tribute anthology to one of literature’s coolest sleuths is most certainly a book you don’t want to miss.

For the fan of creepy anthologies:

Killing It Softly

Killing It Softly by Various Authors

Women in Horror Month is just around the corner, so why not get a head start with this anthology featuring a litany of talented female authors? This beautifully creepy tome includes tales from Elaine Cunningham, Jess Landry, Rose Blackthorn, Nancy Holder, and others, and is sure to make your holidays a little bit scarier. And who wouldn’t want that?

For that pal of yours who adores all things bizarre:

Hate from the Sky

Hate from the Sky by Sean M. Thompson

Eraserhead Press is the gold standard for fabulously strange fiction, and its New Bizarro Author Series gives you a taste of all the best up-and-comers in the industry. Case in point: Sean M. Thompson’s newest work about a man who is battling the very sky above him. This is most definitely a book to read and an author to watch.

For that special someone who likes nightmares with their eggnog:

100 Nightmares

100 Nightmares by K.Z. Morano

This acclaimed horror book from author K.Z. Morano is a breathtakingly unique creation. Included are 100 stories, each told in 100-word drabbles, and these frightful tales are inspired by ghosts, fairy tales, and the creatures of Japanese folklore. If all that wasn’t enough to draw you in, there are also fifty haunting illustrations to accompany these bite-sized morsels of terror. A wonderful horror collection penned by a truly fantastic author.

For the romance fan:

Love Under the Harvest Moon

Love Under the Harvest Moon by Various Authors

Not everything on this list is creepy and crawly. Love Under the Harvest Moon is a charming anthology for the romantic at heart. In addition to a number of other great authors, the table of contents includes a story by the awesome Nemma Wollenfang who appeared recently on this blog. A great gift for anyone who needs a little more love in their life (and really, who doesn’t?).

For the on-the-go reader:

Trick or DeathAny of the awesome Kindle short stories by Calvin Demmer

In our insanely busy world, sometimes there isn’t nearly enough time to chill with a good book. But that doesn’t mean awesome literature should fall to the wayside. For that busy book lover on your list, consider the gift of a perfectly terrifying short story from rising star Calvin Demmer. For less than a dollar (seriously!), you can delve into worlds of hungry ghosts, disturbing trick or treat festivities, and other holidays gone horrifically awry. An ideal gift for any busy horror lover.

For the YA Fan in your life:


Doll by Miracle Austin

First off, Miracle Austin is awesome. She is a fantastically imaginative writer and a fantastically wonderful person. In her first standalone novel, Miracle puts her incredible imagination to use as she crafts a tale of high school revenge that at once feels familiar and completely original. With the perfect amount of scares and the proverbial high school angst, you won’t find a cooler young adult horror novel this season.

For that person who can’t get enough ghost stories:

Shadows at the Door

Shadows at the Door by Various Authors

There’s something about the wintry holidays and ghost stories that just go together too perfectly, like devilish peanut butter and jelly. And if ghosts stories are what someone on your shopping list loves, then look no further than Shadows at the Door. With beautifully unnerving illustrations and a roster of talented artists, this is one gorgeously fearsome anthology sure to make anyone’s winter a little bit more shiver-inducing.

For that flash-fiction-loving fiend on your list:

Dark Flash

Dark Flash by Maria Haskins

I’m personally a huge fan of flash fiction, and I truly believe that there aren’t nearly enough outlets for it. Fortunately, if you or someone on your Xmas list agrees with me, then author Maria Haskins has got you covered. This super cool new book includes eight short tales that run the gamut from dark fantasy and horror to science fiction. And honestly, where else are you going to find a single work that manages to blend cats, demons, and unicorns? A great gift for lovers of flash fiction, the bizarre, and well-written prose.

Those are my top ten picks for awesome fiction this year! And if you still can’t get enough cool literature, you could always give a gift subscription to a superb magazine! A few of my favorite publications include LampLight, Nightmare, and Shimmer!

Happy reading, and happy holidays!

Music, Magic, and the Macabre: Interview with Maria Haskins

Welcome back! Today I’m thrilled to spotlight author Maria Haskins! Maria’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Flash Fiction Online, Gamut, and Capricious, among other outlets. At her blog, she maintains a monthly roundup of her favorite short speculative fiction (which has featured this very humble blogger right here), and she is also an accomplished music journalist.

Recently, between her many wonderful projects, Maria and I discussed her most recent publications as well as her inspiration as a writer.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Maria HaskinsI’ve been writing stories as far back as I can remember, and becoming a writer was always something I wanted to do. In a way, I’ve decided to become a writer twice. I grew up in Sweden and debuted as a writer there when I was 20, and had several books published in Swedish. After doing many other things (including going to university, traveling, moving to Canada, and having kids), I ended up stuck in a long spell of terrible writer’s block. I wrote almost no fiction at all for over 10 years. Then, last year, I kind of decided again to become a writer, and to take the step to write in English, the language I’ve been living in and with for over 20 years. I’m hell bent on making it stick this time.

I have a lot of favourite authors. My “old standbys” – writers I’ve been reading since my tweens and teens and keep coming back to – include J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, Swedish writer Vibeke Olsson, Alan Garner, John Le Carré, and Umberto Eco. Newer favourites are Kai Ashante Wilson, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Angela Slatter, and N.K. Jemisin.

Your flash fiction piece, “Scent,” recently debuted in Flash Fiction Online. Quite a beautiful and haunting tale! What inspired you to weave together a story using a cache of perfumes and a highly complex mother-daughter relationship?

Thank you for the kind words about my story! The initial inspiration for “Scent” was the memory of my mom’s perfume collection. To be clear: my mother is nothing like the story-mother (thankfully!) but she has always had a lot of perfumes, and I can vividly remember being a child and looking at all those beautiful bottles with all these amazing scents. It was a very strong sensory memory of smell and touch and sight. From that, the story sort of spun itself, and it came to me with that image of a cabinet full of perfumes and a child reaching for a bottle. I did have the intention to write something fairy-tale-ish, because I believe that there is a lot of truth in the way that fairy tales describe childhood as perilous and often fraught with danger and fear. This was one of those stories that just seemed to arrive more or less fully formed: I wish that happened all the time!

In addition to your fiction, you are also a music journalist. How did you first become interested in writing about music, and do you often find music creeping its way into your fiction? Also, which songs are on your current playlist?

Dark FlashI started out writing about music a few years ago when Brian Basher of Hard Rock Nights (a great online radio show) asked me to write reviews for his website. Before that, I had been getting into a lot of new rock and roll, listening to new, often unsigned bands, and realizing how much great music was out there. I was still in the midst of my writer’s block and felt unable to write any fiction. Writing about music was a way for me to write (and have fun writing) even when I wasn’t writing, if that makes sense. A couple of years ago, I started up my own music blog, Rock And Roll, and I’ve just kept writing about bands and music I like as a way of sharing the love, I guess. Right now I have two wonderful writer friends (Maria Savva and Darcia Helle) who contribute to the site as well. I think it’s part of my personality to want to jump up and down and tell everyone about things I like (whether it’s music or stories), and blogging and sharing things on social media is a good place to do that.

It’s only more recently that music has crept into my fiction. One of my recent short stories called “Metal, Sex, Monsters” was accepted by the new magazine Gamut (I am deliriously excited about that), and it was inspired by rock and metal music in general, and Judas Priest’s music in particular.

My current playlist is extensive. I’m always listening to both old stuff and new stuff. Right now, it’s mostly a mix of tunes including Judas Priest, Black Star Riders, Thin Lizzy, Rival Sons, Ragdoll (a fantastic Australian band), the latest EP from Graham Greene called The Guitar Vinci Code. And some Crucified Barbara and Monster Truck and Trucker Diablo… Stop me now! It’s a long list and I will keep going on and on forever!

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: developing characters, writing dialogue, or establishing mood?

Ouch, that’s a very tough choice! If you twist my rubber arm I’d probably pick establishing mood. I love that part of writing: thinking about how to describe things and places and people in a way that conveys the mood I want to capture in the story. The mood of a story is probably one of the first things I have to make clear to myself before I can really write, because it influences everything: the characters, the POV, and the voice I use within the story.

Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?

Hopefully able to write and sell a lot of short fiction. Hopefully also hard at work on novellas or even a novel. Just… still writing, I guess. After not being able to write for so long it’s an amazing feeling to be writing again, and I don’t want to lose that.

What projects are you currently working on?

Lots of short stories! It’s really my passion right now and the ideas are flowing for me in a way that hasn’t happened in…probably forever. I love short stories: reading them, writing them… My main project right now as I’m doing this interview, is a short story that does involve music. It’s a story that’s been giving me some trouble, but I think I’ve finally cracked it.

Big thanks to Maria Haskins for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and her official website!

Happy reading!

The Ace of Prose: Interview with Tonya Liburd

Welcome back! For this week’s author interview, I’m pleased to spotlight the talented Tonya Liburd. Tonya is the author of numerous short stories, essays, and poems. Her work has appeared in Postscripts to Darkness 6, Expanded Horizons, and Grievous Angel, among other publications, and she also serves as the Associate Editor at Abyss & Apex.

Recently, Tonya and I discussed her inspiration as a writer as well as her plans for the future.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Tonya LiburdI don’t recall a moment when I decided I was going to be a writer, because I’ve always been good at English. I had a saying I could do English class blindfolded upside down with my hands tied behind my back, and if I ever failed English, something was WRONG.  Music was my first love, and still is, but writing has come to the forefront. In Trinidad, where I grew up (I’m Canadian by birth though), there was a main focus on postcolonial literature, so I grew up on a diet of books like The Year in San Fernando, A House for Mr Biswas, Crick Crack Monkey and so on.

Around my 20th birthday, and I was in Canada by this time, someone handed me something to read. It was book two of the Twins’ trilogy from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I fell in love with it, and sought out the other two in the trilogy, and sought out Weis’ other work. From then on, I gorged myself on a diet of Dragonlance books. Raistlin is still my favourite character.

As I have settled into being a serious writer, I have made sure to try and do my homework. I haven’t gotten around to reading everything the black writers and the people of colour have written, but I have read quite a few short stories. I LOVE Malon Edwards’ work; I’ve read Tade Thompson’s stories on Expanded Horizons magazine; Eden Royce’s First book of short stories, Spook Lights, is well worth the read. I have recently finished Lucy Snyder’s While The Black Stars Burn and Mike Russell’s Strange Medicine, both excellent reads. I’m working my way through M. Lopes da Silva’s The Dog Next Door And Other Disturbances. The title story made me stop and percolate for quite a while after I finished it! [Also,] Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and I love Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

Your horror story, “The Ace of Knives,” which appeared in Postscripts to Darkness 6, has been met with widespread acclaim. What was the inspiration behind this work?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. I had a kernel of an idea of a story where someone would manipulate metal, etc. but writing prompts can come from anywhere. I have like 50 plus possibly short story ideas. The writing prompt for this came from two main things: a creative name someone was using playing Team Fortress 2 (I’m an avid video gamer; I told you, it comes from anywhere!) naming themselves The Ace of knaves and me at first seeing it as The Ace of Knives. That sounded like something worth writing. So that was bouncing around in my head. And then… I read Amal El-Mohtar’s wonderful “Wing” over at Strange Horizons. I went, I want to do that when I grow up! The thing that unpopped the cork though, was when someone at a crisis centre (I have cPTSD and a couple of other diagnoses, and I needed a break and some support) told me “Don’t apologize for what you have to write. Ever. Because if you don’t do that you won’t get to what you have to write.” I wrote “The Ace of Knives” in a weekend; it was the fastest thing I had ever written, and the shortest. I’m really happy Nisi Shawl uses it in her workshops as an example of code switching; there’s so much to this story.

Postscripts to Darkness“Shoe Man,” your wonderful fantasy story, recently appeared in Expanded Horizons. In addition to the superb language and fantastic character development, I in particular loved the ending, which was filled with profound hope. Do you usually know in advance how you will end a story, or do you allow a piece to develop organically? Or is it a bit of both—some planning as well as organic growth?

Sometimes; I’m a pantser, or in other words I let things grow organically. I have a general idea of what is going to happen, but not how I’ll get there, with the novels I’ve started.  The ending I tend to know in shorter fiction and how I’ll get there.

You serve as the associate editor at Abyss & Apex. How, if at all, has your work as an editor shaped your writing? Also, do you have any recommendations for authors submitting to the magazine?

Seeing the same subtle errors in the slush that I tend to do was instructive, and I learned a lot being coached on how to help an author rewrite a story to make it stronger.  Also, when Wendy and I check what we think of a story in 2nds with each other I learn from the comments of the other editors on staff.

In terms of recommendations? Read our editorials – many of them are ‘teaching’ editorials.

You’ve written short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and novels. Does your process differ from one form to another? Also, do you have a personal favorite of these writing forms?

I used to consider myself a person who writes long, as my stuff would be  in the 7-9k range. This year I’ve managed to not only get poetry published, but I’ve written flash… even microfiction! I would have thought that impossible for me a couple of years ago. I’ve been told the key was that since I came from writing novels first, I had way too many threads going for something to be short fiction, when I tried in vain to cut longer pieces back then. I’ve found this to be true.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

Right now I’m wrapping up a novel, and shopping around some short fiction.

Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?

Fame, fortune, millions in the bank account…  seriously though, the novel I’d have finished by then would have found a good home, and I’d have broken into some pro genre short fiction sales.

Big thanks to Tonya Liburd for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at her blog and website as well as on Twitter!

Happy reading!

‘Tis the Season for Prose: Submission Roundup for December 2016

Welcome back to this month’s Submission Roundup! As the end of the year draws near, December is a fabulous month for submission calls, and I’m so excited to be spotlighting a few of the very coolest places out there for you speculative-loving writers!

A couple disclaimers: as always, I am not a representative for any of these publications. I am merely spreading the word! If you have any specific questions about these anthologies and magazines, please refer your inquiries directly to the editors of said publications.

Secondly, a quick note: starting in 2017, the Submission Roundup will move from the first Friday of the month to the first Monday of the month. Likewise, author interviews will also move to Mondays starting in the new year. FYI!

Now onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission RoundupBracken Magazine
Payment: .02/word for fiction
Length: up to 2,500 words
Deadline: Ongoing
What They Want: Bracken is currently seeking short fiction and artwork inspired by wood-based myths and magic realism.
Find the details here.

Mithila Review
Payment: $50/flat for original fiction; $10/flat for flash, poetry, and nonfiction
Length: up to 2,500 words for poetry, essays, and flash; 4,000-8,000 words for short fiction
Deadline: Ongoing
What They Want: Open to a wide variety of speculative fiction and poetry from around the world, in particular stories that explore marginal experiences.
Find the details here.

Black Girl Magic Lit Mag
Payment: $50/flat for short stories; $25/flat for nonfiction
Length: 1,000-6,000 words
Deadline: December 15th, 2016
What They Want: Black Girl Magic is open to fiction about and by black women. The editors will also consider work from diverse authors and allies, provided the story features a black female main character. The January 2017 issue is themed around science fiction.
Find the details here.

Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath
Payment: $40/flat
Length: 3,000-5,000 words
Deadline: December 30th, 2016
What They Want: This anthology focuses on the nexus of two iconic women: Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey. Submitted work can choose one or both women as inspiration. Stories do not necessarily need a speculative element, although dreamlike and surrealistic stories are welcome, provided the plot is still logically cohesive.
Find the details here.

Book Smugglers, Gods and Monsters
Payment: .06/word (maximum $500)
Length: 1,500-17,500 words
Deadline: December 31st, 2016
What They Want: The current theme is Gods and Monsters. Writers are encouraged to play with this theme any way they choose, including gods without monsters, vice versa, or a combination of gods and monsters.
Find the details here.

Pantheon Magazine, Janus Issue
Payment: .01/word for original fiction; $5/flat for poetry
Length: up to 7,500 words
Deadline: December 31st, 2016
What They Want: The forthcoming issue from Pantheon Magazine focuses on Janus, the god of time and transitions. All stories should focus on some form of change. Pantheon Magazine accepts original fiction, reprints, and poetry.
Find the details here.

Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Volume 2
Payment: .01/word
Length: Short stories & novelettes
Deadline: December 31st, 2016
What They Want: Comet Press is seeking reprints from 2016 that fall within the extreme horror genre.
Find the details here.

Wild Musette
Payment: $50 for short stories; $15 for poetry and flash fiction
Length: 1,000-7,500 words for short stories; up to 1,000 words for poetry and flash fiction
Deadline: January 2nd, 2017
What They Want: Open to speculative fiction and poetry that focuses on themes of music and dance, character-driven fantasy, nature-based fiction, and the human condition at large.
Find the details here.

Happy Submitting!