First, a reminder of some Steampunk fairy tales and (at least) one dieselpunk folk tale. Gaslight and Grimm is available now. Grimm Machinations and Greasemonkeys will be available around April 1st and can be pre-ordered now (scroll down past new releases on that page). I’ve read samples of each of the latter two and I’m eagerly awaiting the full anthologies. You can read more about them in my interview with Bernie Mojzes, one of the authors.
Next, Hutra by Aud Supplee is available now: not a fairy tale exactly, but a fine fantasy with animal communication and portals to other worlds – and let’s not forget the “wizard!” I read this book in its infancy, and I’m excited that it’s making its debut. You can read about it on Aud’s blog.
And VT Dorchester’s short story, “Ain’t No Cat” also just came out this month. Though it takes place in the American West, it’s haunted by a creature of Celtic fairy tales: the banshee. I’ve been hearing a bit about this tale for awhile now, and I’m very happy it’s out in print (and pdf). You can read a bit about it on VT’s blog.
Bernie Mojzes is a member of my critique community who has some upcoming releases related to fairy tales and folk tales, two things very close to my heart. I’m pleased to invite Bernie to my blog to discuss them and other writerly matters. Welcome, Bernie! Please share something about your approaching releases.
Bernie: Thank you, Gemma. I have two stories coming out right around April Fools’ Day, which I’m sure we all agree shares the honor of being Best Day of the Year with Halloween.
“Hyena Brings Death” is set in North Africa during World War I (1914-18), and draws from two sources. The first is an old Taureg tale of how death came into the world. (Interesting fact that I only became aware of now, but works well for the story—”Taureg” is Arabic for “abandoned by God,” while the nomads’ own name for themselves, “Imohag,” means “free men.”). The second involves the use of airplanes as weapons of war. This was a new technology, and the first time anyone had dropped bombs from above was only a couple years earlier, during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. For the first time—as a soldier, as a civilian in a war zone—you not only had to look out for danger, you had to look up. In this story, Hyena scavenges far across the Sahara, looking for parts to build her own aeroplane, to wage her own war. “Hyena Brings Death” was written a long time ago, and has finally found a home in the dieselpunk anthology, Grease Monkeys.
Gemma: I’ve read the excerpt of that story, and I’m very glad it’s found a home. And your other imminent release?
Bernie: “Three Days of the Cuckoo” appears in Grimm Machinations, an anthology of steampunk interpretations of Grimm Fairytales. This story is a loose mashup of the first two Elves stories in the Grimm collections (“The Shoemaker for Whom They Did Work” and “The Servant Girl Who Stood In as Godmother for Them”), set on a background of an industrializing world where exploitation and brutal poverty was more the rule than the exception, and the legal framework that protect workers did not yet exist. This was fun to write, especially trying to figure out what a steam-powered helicopter might look like.
Gemma: In our critique group, I had the pleasure of reading the first draft. Despite the rather dark circumstances at first, the brilliance and resilience of your heroine really captivated me, and I felt very rewarded at the end.
Gemma: So when are these coming out?
Bernie: Grease Monkeys and Grimm Machinations are both coming out in late March or beginning of April this year. They’re launching April 1 at the Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival in Baltimore, and are also available through the current Kickstarter campaign (along with a bunch of extra bonuses as stretch goals are unlocked!). The Kickstarter ends February 21st, so if you like steampunk, dieselpunk, or Poe, don’t dawdle.
Gemma: Not to mention if you like fairy tale retellings for adults!
Bernie: How can you not? The magic of old folk tales is that the telling changes with the teller. What the Grimm brothers recorded was more of a summary, a template, upon which a storyteller would improvise and elaborate. It was the storyteller’s job to make the story live and breathe.
The folk tales aren’t just entertainment; they serve other functions. They can be cautionary tales (don’t wander into the woods alone, don’t trust strangers, don’t go swimming in the river by yourself) or morality tales (don’t be mean, share your toys, don’t be too greedy). They can be all about the virtue of respecting authority and knowing your station in life, or about resisting authority and overcoming your station in life. The templates of the stories themselves are full of empty spaces crying out to be filled, and as such contain multitudes, at least potentially.
One thing I’ve noticed about them is that there’s often one little fact that, if you think about it, just doesn’t make sense. In “The Goose Girl,” for instance, the princess and her maid are sent travelling to a distant kingdom, where she’s to marry the king, with a wagon full of treasure that is her dowry. Alone. To me, that’s the piece that doesn’t make sense, and that’s the place to dig in to find a version of the story that makes that anomalous fact makes sense. That’s where the real story is.
Gemma: I know what you mean. It may be a case of not making sense on a gut level. When I was younger, I was charmed by the story “Kari Woodengown.” When I read it more recently, I was indignant and incredulous about how the story ended – I really liked Kari, but the choice she made at the end just made zero sense to me. I was moved to write a retelling. Do you remember when you realized – or decided – that you wanted to be a writer? And what moved you to that?
Bernie: Oh, it feels like it’s something I’ve always wanted, ever since I learned that books were written by people, and not just generated ex nihilo by the library. I think discovering the Earthsea books (by Ursula K. Le Guin) cemented it. I was a voracious reader as a child, and loved nothing more than to lose myself in these worlds. More than that, I wanted to discover new worlds myself and wander through their cities and forests, and maybe find a way to bring those worlds to life for other people. And I still can’t think of anything better to spend my life doing, if only it paid the bills.
Gemma: Nor can I. Can you trace some of your writing history?
Bernie: My first potential publication was in high school, when my English teacher submitted a crappy poem (all my poetry is crappy) I wrote to a poetry contest where it apparently placed high enough to win something more than a certificate of participation and was to be published in the newspaper that held it. Sadly, immediately upon notice, said newspaper (The Philadelphia Bulletin) went out of business, and I don’t remember whether my piece ever went to print. Certainly an auspicious beginning.
Gemma: Well, that’s simultaneously encouraging and frustrating. I’m glad you didn’t give up.
Bernie: I wrote constantly in high school and college, but by the time I’d gotten to grad school, the time I had to give to fiction dwindled, as did the brainspace available for the stories to percolate. I didn’t get back to it until the company I worked for was disastrously acquired by another company, and in the aftermath I found myself shell-shocked and unemployed. I decided then to take that time and rediscover how to write. I worked on a novel or three, wrote some short stories, joined some online critique groups.
In 2006 I went to FaerieCon in Philadelphia and just as we were leaving, I saw a vendor with a lovely little anthology called Bad-Ass Faeries, and spent the last $12 dollars in my wallet to buy it as a gift for a crit partner who had sent me a short story of cantankerous leprechauns. She, in turn, posted a review of it in her blog, which the editor saw, and subsequently invited both of us to submit stories to her second anthology. Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad came out in March 2007, with not one but two of my stories in it, which is probably bad for the ego of any debut author.
Bernie: True, and as a result, my first published story (which contains a paragraph that embarrassingly has more point-of-view changes than it does sentences) is still in print. Since then I’ve had short stories published in the genres of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Adult-rated fiction, and even the dreaded “Mainstream.” I owned/edited the online zine Unlikely Story (which went on hiatus back in 2014-ish due to work/life imbalance and whose website (www.unlikely-story.com) has become weirdly broken and needs some attention), as well as anthologies, including Clowns: The Unlikely Coulrophobia Remix.
Gemma: What are some pieces you’re particularly proud of?
Bernie: I’m usually (though not always, in retrospect) proud of the stories I write, often for very different reasons. I am very interested in playing with narrative, form and style. For example, in “From the Horse’s Mouth,” another Grimm retelling (of “The Goose Girl,” which I mentioned earlier), there are multiple narratives nested inside a framing narrative. The framing narrative is in second person, where the “you” in the story could be one of a number of people, and left to the reader to resolve the ambiguity (or not).
Gemma: And readers who want to ponder that ambiguity can find the story in Gaslight & Grimm.
Bernie: In “Reinventing the Wheel,” neither of the two primary characters of the central plot made for good point-of-view characters, so I needed someone more personable to tell the tale. That ended up being a character I’d planned for something else, Wheel-Leg Malloy, who’s happy to interrupt the plot to… Well, maybe I should just let ‘ol Wheel-Leg himself ‘splain it:
That was what they call a rhetorical question. I heard you just fine the first time. “Who in tarnation is she, Malloy?” Well, first of all, them’s mighty strong words, Mr. Ward, for a boy ain’t had cause to pick up a razor yet. Me? ’Course I cuss like a rabid badger. You earn one cuss word for every gray hair, and I got so many I can clear out a church in five minutes flat and get it struck by lightning to boot.
Second, I’m working up to it, building what you call narrative tension. Storytelling ain’t just a regurgitation of the facts. It’s putting those facts into an order, telling them with the right flow, the right cadence, the right rhythm to build to an emotional impact. It’s character development, and plot, and world-building. And most of all, it’s a-weaving all them things together, careful-like, like a spider, and all’a you my precious little flies.
Gemma: Wheel-Leg Malloy sounds like quite a character! He also seems to have quite a grasp on storytelling; I think I’m caught in his web and I’d read that story just because of him. Which tends to come to you first – plot or character, or…?
Bernie: Honestly, I don’t know. Or more accurately, it depends on the story. Stories come from so many places—from dreams, from a fragment of a scene seen almost film-like, from gestures, from a misheard phrase or the feeling a song creates. Like: there’s a gesture, and a sigh, and a frown at someone across a table, and the scrape of a chair as they stand up. Then it becomes my job to figure out who the person is that did these things, and why, and so on. So maybe it’s neither plot nor character, sometimes? One phrase I’ve heard that makes sense to me is that “plot is what characters do,” and I’ve had plots take a hard left turn at Albuquerque because a character has grown into someone who would never do what’s needed to be done to move the plot forward as planned. The story is a thing, for me, to be discovered holistically, building from whatever fragment of it I can get my teeth into first, which maybe throws me off the spectrum entirely.
Gemma: It’s kind of an arbitrary spectrum to begin with. “Plot is what characters do” is an interesting take. Unexpected character growth can be a really excellent outcome.
Bernie: It’s true. Sometimes a character will do or say something that brings the story into a new focus, that really defines the whole meaning of it in a way that you didn’t expect, and then when you go back to make changes to the earlier parts of the manuscript to make it consistent with the new direction, you find that it’s been there all along. It just took that long for the characters to get tired of waiting for you to catch on.
Gemma: Along with characters and all these other influences, are there places that you’ve lived (or visited) that especially affect your writing?
Bernie: Having lived in Philadelphia is certainly an influence. Philly has its own flavor of dysfunctional functionality. I lived in an apartment complex in Mt. Airy that was deeply weird, and was interconnected with what we affectionately called “The David Lynch Memorial Basement.” Lets see, what else? 1980s San Francisco (moreso than its current incarnation). A lonely forest path somewhere in central Minnesota in winter. Novi Sad, back when it was still Yugoslavia, and also Mali Losinj, on the Adriatic Sea. Auschwitz, as a kid, where we found strange stones in the path, and the guard told us those were bone fragments, “more come up every time it rains.” Skopje, a few months after the war, where the pain was written in bullet holes in the walls and half-crumbled homes, still occupied, with the optimism of life pushing up through it as groups of young people walking past it all, excitedly talking about a new band they’d just seen.
Gemma: that is deeply haunting. I can’t even imagine the impact those last two places must have left.
Turning from the past to the future, what is your next project you hope to do?
Bernie: Oh, there are so many in flight. I really should finish one of them. Let’s see:
Ari & the Nicer Gang – Dieselpunk novel set in a world where the Mongol Empire still exists in the early 20th century. This is a sequel to a short story about a mind-control device, “The Power of Her Position.”
As-Yet-Untitled Pirate novel (affectionately called “Untitled Pirate Dreck”) – It’s tempting to say “a post-apocalyptic world,” except the apocalypse is ongoing, as insatiably ravenous demons seep up from fissures in the earth and are carried wherever the wind blows them, and the notorious Captain Deadbeef and his crew fight to save as much of civilization as they can.
Kudzu – an illustrated novel with talking raccoons and a possibly sentient giant kudzu plant. In space. This one is up in its unfinished form at http://spacekudzu.com . Artwork by Linda Saboe.
As-Yet-Untitled Faerie novella – Urban fantasy set during World War II. This one is a sequel to my first ever published story, “Moonshine,” and has the hero and the villain of the earlier story teaming up in unexpected ways to defeat the Nazis.
I think Ari gets my attention first, and then I need to figure out what’s next.
Gemma: Since I’m reading Ari & the Nicer Gang in our critique sessions, and I am on tenterhooks wondering what happens next, that definitely gets my vote. I took a glance at Kudzu – and promptly got sucked into reading more than I intended. The art is excellent, too.
Bernie: Linda’s a wonderful artist. She’s done illustrations for several books, but most of her work is more traditional media. She was also the art director of Unlikely Story, and contributed some of the illustrations there. You can see more of her work at https://croneswood.com/.
Gemma: I just visited her website and wow, that’s some beautiful natural and supernatural art! How can readers connect with you?
There’s also a horribly out-of-date website at http://www.kappamaki.com (like, 8 years out of date). I really need to get that fixed up, if I can remember the password… Or maybe I should just start from scratch. I guess it’s time to re-learn WordPress. And maybe fix the Unlikely Story site while I’m at it.
Gemma: Thanks for joining me on my blog, Bernie. I’m looking forward to reading your new stories!
I post this today for those who celebrate Christmas, and who have a little leisure at this busy time – which may be a very select few! But I hope it will be of interest at other times of the year as well.
More than just a collection of stories on a theme, this is a collaboration between editors and authors to create a small English village, complete with a map and people whose paths cross and intertwine. The book was good for my soul, and warmed and cheered the long winter nights.
The collaboration continues with Whitstead Harvestide (which I quite enjoyed this past this autumn), and Whitstead Summertide, which I’m hoping will come out next summer.
I was intrigued with how this creation came about, and had many questions. So I asked my good friend Laura Selinsky, who has stories residing in all three volumes.
Laura: The Whitstead Christmastide idea was proposed by Abigail Falanga, a wonderful speculative fiction author whom I “met” via social media. We share associations with Realmmakers, an organization for Christian speculative fiction authors, and have both written for Havok Publishing, which produces daily flash. Abigail, who became Whitstead’s first editor, suggested developing a Christmas anthology of short stories set in an English village in Dickens’ era. I immediately offered to write a Christmas Carol-inspired piece for Whitstead. I’m a high school British Literature teacher, so that’s a world I enter comfortably.
Gemma: How did you go about becoming one of its authors?
Laura: Waving my arms and shouting “Pick me!” on Facebook was my foremost method of getting into the initial anthology, which is independently published. The project attracted an interesting mix of aspiring prepublication authors and accomplished ones. I volunteered my Christmas Carol for consideration before the first Whitstead book had a title, and I followed up consistently with every hint that the anthology would become a reality. My diligence doesn’t mean that the editors couldn’t have decided to reject my stories. Jane Yolan has 400 books published, but she still gets rejections!
Gemma: How did the collaboration work? For example, how was the map decided on? Did you communicate with other authors, or only the editors?
Laura: The Whitstead collaboration has run largely through a Facebook Group that allows us to share characters and ideas with both the editors and the other authors. That’s where the map developed and where people share information about stories. We also answer each other’s questions about the era, both its social and writing practices. You never know what obscure information you may need for a story or who may have the answers you need. I recently answered questions about the trees in Victorian cemeteries, information I had acquired while preparing to teach Dracula for the umpteenth time.
Gemma: Your stories largely center around Whitwillow Farm. Where is that on the map?
Laura: The map has been -uhm- flexible, as authors and plot lines came and went. Whitwillow Farm has theoretically been at number 26 in Books 1, 2 & 3. Last week, I saw the map for Book 3. On the newest map, my farm remains at number 26 between two other country farms. Keeping Whitwillow Farm outside of the village has been crucial to the plot of all three of my stories.
Gemma: How was the writing, submission, and collaboration different for the second and third books?
Laura: As an author, I felt less terror that my work would be rejected once Book 1 went to print. For Book 3, my rejection terror level has subsided from “hysterical” to “moderate.” One very positive feature of writing a series has been the increase in collaboration and encouragement as the books have continued. In Whitstead Harvestide and the upcoming Whitstead Summertide, I made reference to a character having been lured away by a fossegrim, a Norwegian fiddle-playing demon that is the focus of another author’s stories. The fossegrim is only in my stories with the other author’s permission.
Gemma: Can the books be read in any order?
Laura: Certainly, the Whitstead stories can be read in any order. Our anthologies are planned for stand-alone speculative fiction stories. I wrote characters and subplots that connect from book to book, but reading all three books or reading them in publication order is not essential. When I drafted the third story, my critique group graciously read for consistency and development of character between it and the two previous stories. So if someone read my Whitwillow Farm stories in publication order, they won’t be disappointed.
Gemma: I have read the first two in order, and was delighted to see how many of the stories and characters progressed. (Some stories in the second anthology are independent of the tales in the first book, but still integrally woven into Whitstead.)
Laura: If you are interested in our adventures in Whitstead, my author page links to the first two Whitstead books, and a link for Whitstead Summertide will appear on that page when the book is released! https://www.amazon.com/author/laura-nelson-selinsky
Gemma: thank you for taking part in my blog and answering my questions, Laura!
Readers: if you are looking for some warm-hearted Christmas reading, or perhaps a very last-minute gift, I recommend Whitstead Christmastide. The e-book is available instantly on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and you can find Whitstead Harvestide both places as well.
Like the last twoyears, I want to post some ideas for mid-winter gifts. This year, to do my personal utmost to fight the pandemic and still support bricks-and-mortar and small businesses, I’ve mostly avoided crowded shops and post offices and instead ordered online. As always, my favorite gifts to give are books, and I ordered all these from my local indie bookstore.
But Christmas is fast approaching. If you have a local indie, check with them to see if they have time to get your books by Christmas. Or you can use Barnes & Noble – their website notes if you order by Dec. 20th you can get books shipped just in time with express shipping.
These are the books I’ve gotten for my loved ones – and some for myself!
For picture-book lovers of all ages: The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper. The text is a poem from the Christmas Revels, and celebrates the return of light into the darkest of times. I love this poem so much I bought a copy of the book for myself.
For young middle-schoolers: Stuntboy by Jason Reynolds. Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book, but I was greatly impressed by the book Stamped Jason Reynolds co-wrote with Ibram X. Kendi, and by hearing Jason talk at a book-signing. Also, his description of the book was so charming, I knew I wanted to get it for my nephew. Here’s Jason’s description of Stuntboy aka Portico Reeves: “he’s awesome. He’s got a hightop fade, a cape, a cat, a grandmother, a best friend (which has been hard for me to get used to because I thought I was his best friend) and lives in a castle. Most importantly, he has a super power.”
For young adults and older:For All Time by Shanna Miles. This is a great story of star-crossed lovers meeting and being parted across time, with vivid glimpses into times past and some excellent twists. I feel honored to have gotten an advance reader’s copy, and hope to post a more full review in the new year.
For adults young and old: Whitstead Christmastide edited by Abigail and Sara Falanga. A collection of short stories set in a Dickensian village where the veil between worlds is thin, and wondrous things can happen. I read one of the stories as my friend Laura Selinsky was polishing it, and that inspired me to buy three copies, one for myself. I am reading it presently, and it is warming my heart.
For animal lovers:All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The wonderful stories from the life of a Yorkshire veterinarian; if you’ve seen the excellent adaptation on PBS, know that the stories are even richer.
For more ideas, I invite you to see my blogposts from 2019 and 2020.
My favorite gifts to give are books. If you’re like me (and also haven’t finished your gift buying yet), I have some books to recommend. Many of these I have already given as gifts, or would happily give, and some are current favorites of mine.* Of course, you can always give them to yourself anytime of year!
As a gift to your community, buy books from your local bookstore if you can! If you can’t visit a store in person, you can order online from many independent bookstores as well as Barnes & Noble.
For picture book lovers and readers: Imagine! by Raúl Colón. A story told in the luminous illustrations of Raúl Colón, about a boy who goes to a museum where people from the artwork leap out to interact with him.
A Time Traveler’s Theory of Relativity by Nicole Valentine. The poignant story of a boy who discovers the mind-boggling fact that his family are time-travelers, while dealing with the loss of family members. It’s about family, friends, adventure, grief, and the love that changes everything; it truly touched me.
For fans of fantasy, young adult and older:
Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine. A captivating take on Romeo and Juliet’s story, as seen from the characters in the shadows, with magical underpinnings.
Running Wild Novella Anthology Volume 3 edited by Lisa Diane Kastner. I’d buy this for the story “Broken Soul to Broken Soul” alone; a story about ‘Two souls, two traumas, one path to healing … love.’ [Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the other stories yet – it just came out this month!]
Season of Hope by Laura Nelson Selinsky. Can two new adults with big responsibilities find holiday happiness at the end of their struggles? Find out in this heartwarming Romance novella.
Strife and Harmony ed. by Dixianne Hallaj and D.J. Stevenson. Strife, doubt, & suspicion — heroic (and not-so-heroic) characters search for harmony in this international anthology. Especially read the exploits of Sippy and Algernon Moynihan, two characters I’ve met and am quite fond of.
Legendary by Amelia Kibbie. I fell in love with the short story that predates this novel – about two boys in England, struggling with bullies and the perils of WWII England; Kirkus Review calls the novel (set years after the short story) “A rousing story of love and sacrifice.”
And in honor of the very soul and heart of Christmas, A Vine-Ripened Life by Stanly D. Gale, a thoughtful and thought-provoking meditation on and exploration of the great fruits of grace.
However you observe this season, may you celebrate the light, and share it.
* where the picture quality is questionable, it’s because it’s of my own treasured copies.