2015 in Creative Work

February 1 2016I started writing this on Twelfth Night. It’s now February 1st. But I treat Imbolc as my own personal New Year, so with the agony that was January firmly in the past, I want to take a good long look at 2015.

I don’t know if I’ve ever worked as hard as I worked this past year: teaching creative writing at one university while TA-ing at another, pursuing multiple freelance gigs, taking on a full graduate course load while working on immigration applications and wedding preparation and short fiction, attending conventions, reading for podcasts, serving on the programming committee for Readercon — not to mention operating around a round-trip commute of about 2 hours a day. For the first half of the year my days began at 5:30 am and ended at 11:00 pm, which wasn’t precisely what one might call sustainable.

I wrote and sold two new short stories; one of them, “Madeleine,” appeared in 2015, while the other, “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” will appear in Navah Wolfe and Dominik Parisien’s The Starlit Wood anthology in October. I had two other short stories appear in 2015: “Pockets,” in issue 2 of Uncanny, one full year ago, and “W is for Weialalaleia” in the limited ebook release of Ann VanderMeer’s Bestiary anthology in December.

Non-fiction-wise, I wrote 23 full-length reviews and 9 mini Concierge reviews for NPR, 1 for the LA Times, 4 review columns for Lightspeed, 1 hand-wringing essay about The Hobbit for Uncanny (that got linked to in The Toast, which, yeah, that happened), and reviewed a few dazzling short stories for Rich and Strange, the Tor.com column I absolutely intend to revive when things are less upheaved. Most of my blogging last year was to announce things, but I also wrote this essay about queer responses to The Traitor Baru Cormorantand still have strong feelings on the subject, and profound gratitude for the conversations it provoked, so I’m counting it as work done too. I also interviewed Celeste Rita Baker for Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Media-wise: I joined two podcasts as a regular: narrating fiction and poems for Uncanny, and experiencing the wonder that is Blake’s 7 with Scott Lynch, Liz Myles and Michael Damian Thomas on Down and Safe. I was also on Justin Landon’s Rocket Talk a few times, and enjoyed fantastic conversations with him, Natalie Luhrs and Kameron Hurley. Also the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours made our first ever music video in honour of Rose Lemberg’s An Alphabet of Embers anthology, and Max Gladstone and I had a real duel with swords in support of Uncanny.

Event-wise, I had a video Q&A session with students at The Brainery, which I hugely enjoyed. I took part in a Queers Destroy Science Fiction reading in Boston, where I’d never been before (and as part of the same trip, visited New York City for the first time, which, oof). I’d committed to attending more Canadian cons, and went to Ad Astra, Boréal, and Can-Con, all of which I enjoyed; I also attended Readercon and World Fantasy, and, well, my wedding, which my geeky friends dubbed AmalCon, making them AmalContents, which is appropriate, as they’re all firmly inscribed in my heart.

Right. I got married. My sister got pregnant. A lot of things happened last year. But this is a work review. But still.

In terms of honours earned, I still can’t quite keep in my head that “The Truth About Owlswon the Locus Award. I keep forgetting, because it seems so impossible, and then remembering, and then the delight sort of short-circuits everything and I forget again. It’s not a bad problem to have. The story was also included in Jonathan Strahan’s Year’s Best, and made it on to the Hugo Long List, which matters to me, and was subsequently also included in David Steffen’s valiantly undertaken Long List anthology along with several stupendous stories I love.

And, for the first time, I was invited to be a Guest of Honour at a convention. That’s happening this year! CONvergence, in Minneapolis, where I hope to see many of you, and talk about Hamilton and Steven Universe and books so many books always books.

So that was 2015: a very full year, where I said yes to almost everything and slept less than 6 hours a night for half the year and worked on things I’m proud of. It behooves me to recognize that in the last three months of the year I faltered a lot, had to give up on and shift obligations, mostly because the world’s shitty geopolitics are disproportionately affecting me and my family right now. But so it goes.

I hope that in 2016 — January’s own face-hammers notwithstanding — I take on less and do it better, allow myself more room to breathe, build a household with my husband on the same side of the ocean, become a better friend and a good aunt, and finish three short stories, one novelette, one novella, and one novel.

That’s enough to be getting on with.

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ConFusion Schedule – All the Panels

January has thus far been a sack of hammers to the face. I am behind on everything and can’t stop anything. So here, in lieu of anything thoughtful or reflecting, is the lengthy list of panels I’ll be on at ConFusion in Detroit this weekend.

In addition to what’s below, I am 1 million percent committed to the idea of some kind of HAMILTON sing-along / re-enactment. I’m not sure how to do this in a way that would be most fun for everyone interested in taking part; I know a lot of people would love to do this but are shy of singing in front of others. I’m open to suggestions! I personally enjoy performing a great deal, so my ideal would be performing a bunch of the songs with people who are comfortable doing so off-book, and anyone around could chime in or be chorus or read the lyrics, participate up to their own comfort level. Kind of hoping this could happen late on Friday night in an empty panel room or something.

Anyway here’s the actual schedule!

Friday 5:00:00 PM Reacting to Fiction in Public
Book discussion today, predominantly online, has created a new phenomenon of public reaction. Whether it’s love of a work or the opposite, this public reaction has become a performance all its own. Does this new paradigm create a culture where perspectives that deviate from those with the most social capital are no longer valid?
Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Susan Dennard, Andrea Johnson (M), Amal El-Mohtar, Greg van Eekhout

Saturday 10:00:00 AM The Fiction of Political SFF
Most “political” science fiction doesn’t really deal with politics, it deals with the setting out of ideologies. In other words, it tells stories that have little to do with running a government. The result is a debate of ideas where the political is described by greed and corruption, but never the merely bureaucratic. Why are these tropes recycled time and again? How can politics be approached in a more authentic way and remain compelling?
Kameron Hurley, Patrick Tomlinson, Justin Landon (M), Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

Saturday 12:00:00 PM Awards: A Race to Excellence or the Bottom?
Science fiction and fantasy have more awards than Robert Heinlein had Hugo Nominations. How do these various awards fit into the narrative of the field? Do they represent what is best and brightest in the genres or are they merely a flawed snapshot of insular communities?
Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Amal El-Mohtar (M), Annalee Flower Horne, Scott H. Andrews, Saladin Ahmed

Saturday 2:00:00 PM The Art of the Review
What makes the difference between a workmanlike review that tells us what we need to know, and a review which becomes a text worth studying in its own right? Under what circumstances does a review transcend its immediate subject, and become part of the wider conversation about genre? Who are reviews for: readers, authors, industry, other reviewers? How do authors go about getting more of them?
Andrea Johnson, Justin Landon (M), Amal El-Mohtar, Jenny Thurman, Sarah Gibbons

Saturday 4:00:00 PM Nominating for the 2016 Hugo Awards
The Puppy Wars of 2015 got a lot more people interested in nominating and voting for the Hugo Awards. The 2016 Nominating season has begun, so come share your recommendations for works and people you’d like to see as finalists on the 2016 Hugo Ballot and the 1940 Retro Hugo Ballot.
Jeff Beeler, Amal El-Mohtar, Justin Landon, Mur Lafferty, Jim Mann (M)

Saturday 5:00:00 PM Autograph Session 2

Sunday 11:00:00 AM The Vocabulary of Criticism
Prose Style, Voice, and Narrative Structure: does anyone care? These terms are often thrown around, but what do they really mean? And more importantly how should a reader translate them in to something useful for evaluating what they read
Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Scott H. Andrews, Amal El-Mohtar, Carl Engle-Laird (M), Lynne M. Thomas


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Bewitching Bios in THE BESTIARY

the_bestiary_cover_finalSo I have a story in Ann VanderMeer’s Bestiary anthology, about invisible grief-eating leeches called Weialalaleia. That’s not the important thing.

In addition to writing stories, the contributors of the anthology were asked to write semi-fictional bios to accompany them. Those bios are now all posted on Tor.com. That’s still not the important thing, though it is super freaking cool.

The important thing is that I outsourced the writing of my bio to my then-fiancé, now-husband, Stu West, and he wrote me not one, but four imaginary bios, and they are all stunningly beautiful.

The one that made it into the book, because it best suited the tone of the project, is on Tor.com with the others; but I want to share the rest of them here, because they move me so much and because they’re charming and gorgeous and because when I’m feeling unhappy or upset I sometimes pull them up in my email to remind myself of how my husband sees me and it helps.

Here they are.

The Amal is a colourful toucan-like bird that nests in the cloud forests of New Caledonia. Travellers’ accounts of the area are filled with tales of distantly-overheard treetop discussions on modern architecture, philosophies of cooking, and current fashions in Patagonia, but when there are strangers in their midst the birds maintain a strict silence and an air of mild annoyance at all times.


All that is known of the Amal is its noted fondness for playing pranks by moving large stone objects under cover of darkness. In ancient times its propensity for rearranging obelisks made a mockery of attempts to tell sun time; more recently a Scottish cafe which has become a particular favourite of the Amal has not been located on the same street for two consecutive weeks since 1967.


“Light a fire, meet an Amal,” the old saying goes, and indeed reports persist of a creature of pure flame who emerges from stoves and hearths and demands to be told a story. Some accounts indicate that if your story makes the Amal cry she will allow you to live in the fire in her stead while she takes your place in the “extinguished world” but that can’t possibly be true. No.

The Bestiary
is at present only available through this fantastic-looking Storybundle; there are only 16 more days in which to get it in cheap convenient e-book form! After that it’ll be a super-limited-edition hardcover from Centipede Press, lavishly illustrated and due out in February.


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th_a0580aaeccec739569f2502c0aa86498_cover86My Lightspeed column for the December issue is now online! I take a look at Catherynne M. Valente’s Radiance, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, and CSE Cooney’s debut collection Bone Swans. 

My rationale for reviewing these wonderfully varied books together is the strong fairy tale through-line connecting them; winter’s a fairy tale season to me, for all that the weather seems stuck in a wet late autumn. Mid-December and the geese still haven’t left the river, and the squirrels are fat enough to keep a family of bald eagles hanging around.

I hope you’ll check out these books! If you enjoyed the review, I recommend picking up the issue, or even better, subscribing to Lightspeed. It’s (rather obviously) one of my favourite magazines.


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NPR Books Concierge: Best Books of 2015

Behold this magnificent enterprise!


This is NPR’s guide to the Best Books of 2015. You can search by tag for something you’d like, or just browse aimlessly and gaze at the pretty covers. I do both.

Below are the recs I contributed — I want to single out Jennifer Larsen’s Future Perfect in particular since I didn’t get a chance to review it fully when it came out in October, but it was definitely moving and remarkable enough to make my list. Note that this isn’t my own personal complete list of the year’s Best Books — some of those got taken on by other reviewers, some had to be trimmed for logistics, some I hadn’t yet read by the time these were due — but it’s a good starting point!

Collected Fiction by Hannu Rajaniemi

Future Perfect by Jennifer Larsen

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth J. Dickinson

Iremonger Trilogy by Edward Carey

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

The Just City by Jo Walton




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The Starlit Wood Anthology

The Starlit Wood cover
Just about a year ago, my now-husband, then-fiancé’s niece asked me to tell her a fairy tale. I made one up, liberally mashing “The Black Bull of Norroway” with “The Glass Mountain” in order to tell her a story about girls rescuing each other and going off to have adventures together.

Having told her the story over the course of a car journey (back to Glasgow from the Scottish Owl Centre that inspired “The Truth About Owls” — Polkemmet’s a storyful place!), I found the idea kept niggling at me to be written and expanded. So when Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe approached me to write a last-minute addition to their first anthology together, The Starlit Wood, I knew what I wanted to do.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron” is the result, and I’m over the moon to see the gobsmackingly amazing Table of Contents in which it’s nestled.


Once upon a time in the desert, in a tower, on a spaceship, in the Other Country…

For centuries, storytellers have crafted timeless tales that have always found a place in our hearts. Here, a new generation of critically acclaimed, award-winning writers have taken up their mantle and shaped traditional and extraordinary fairy tales into something startling and electrifying.

From castles to canyons, a post-human landscape to a pixelated dungeon, from the far future to fantastical realms, The Starlit Wood transforms seventeen stories you thought you knew and takes you on a journey at once unexpected and familiar across time, space, and amazing new worlds.

Cover art is by Benjamin Carré, and the book will include interior art by Stella Björg.

The table of contents is below.

· The Super Ultra Duchess of Fedora Forest by Charlie Jane Anders

· Pearl by Aliette de Bodard

· Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

· The Thousand Eyes by Jeffrey Ford

· Giants in the Sky by Max Gladstone

· The Other Thea by Theodora Goss

· Even the Crumbs Were Delicious by Daryl Gregory

· Reflected by Kat Howard

· Some Wait by Stephen Graham Jones

· When I Lay Frozen by Margo Lanagan

· The Briar and the Rose by Marjorie M. Liu

· In the Desert Like a Bone by Seanan McGuire

· Penny For a Match, Mister? by Garth Nix

· Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

· The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle by Sofia Samatar

· Underground by Karin Tidbeck

· Badgirl, the Deadman, and the Wheel of Fortune by Catherynne M. Valente

· Familiaris by Genevieve Valentine

The anthology’s being launched a the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio next year. It’s a long while away, but in the words of a former US Vice-President,

wait for it


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End-of-Year Reviews, SF Mind Meld and a Beast of a StoryBundle


Art by Oliver Hunter

We made it to December. I get a bit breathless thinking of how much work there’s still to do before the end of the year — but it’s also a great time to pause and reflect on the year’s reading.

As evidenced by Tor.com’s Reviewers’ Choice Round-Up! I’m so happy to see very little overlap in these recs — it means we hopefully, time and resources allowing, will get to cross-pollinate each others’ reading.

I was asked to pick my top 3 books and stick to around 200 words, so decided my rationale would be as follows:

  • Novels
  • Not part of a series
  • That I’d want to return to or read more than once

This meant cutting out Updraft, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Last First Snow, Touch, Archivist Wasp and The Grace of Kings from my Tor.com Top 3, but hopefully my reviews of each of those stand on their own!

In other news, there’s a new Mind Meld up on SF Signal today, titled “The Influential Roots of Genre Fiction” and curated by Shana DuBois. I (sort of) answer the question “What genre roots have you found to be most influential and inspiring for you and your own writing?” alongside responses from Usman T. Malik, SL Huang, Nicole Kornher-Stace, Ferrett Steinmetz, Wendy N. Wagner, Kat Howard, Daryl Gregory, Lesley Connor and Jennifer Marie Brissett.

(It was very late at night when I answered. It may be a bit loopy.)

the_bestiary_cover_finalAnd, finally — though I’m sure I’ll post more about this later — I’m delighted to announce that I have a story in The Bestiary, a super exciting anthology edited by Ann VanderMeer. It’s coming out in a limited edition hardcover from Centipede Press a bit later in the month, but if you want it NOW in ebook form, it’s exclusively available in this Storybundle, full of several other amazing things!  I hope you’ll enjoy it — my contribution is the letter W, a creature called the Weialalaleia, an invisible grief-eating leech.


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VIDEO: Uncanny Duel with Max Gladstone

We bit our thumbs. We bit them at each other. We put up our swords, and today, we put up also our videos.

Some months ago during Uncanny Magazine‘s Year Two Kickstarter, Max Gladstone and I pledged to make duelling silly videos. There was a possibility of involving Shakespeare. But this idea sort of grew in the telling and culminated in me challenging Max to an actual duel with swords during World Fantasy over a Delicate Personal Matter,  and consequently — well, you’ll have to watch and see. (Do make sure to read the credits, they’re delightful.)

But fun as it was, I confess to actually loving the gag reel even more. Marvel at Gladstone’s Uncanny Editing Skills!

This was absolutely the highlight of WFC 2015 for me. Enjoy! And do subscribe to Uncanny!


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NPR Review – LUNGDON by Edward Carey

First there was Heap House. Then there was Foulsham. Now the final volume of Edward Carey’s exceptional Iremonger trilogy has been released, and I’ve reviewed it for NPR Books.

9781468309553_custom-794c62e4aa5b1891ab1e92ee4b8fb46519626776-s400-c85Lungdon is relentless. Peril piles on peril, points of view tilt and whirl, and the whole would be dizzying were it not anchored in familiar characters and their splendid voices — not to mention Carey’s wonderful drawings, which sometimes introduce or illuminate a chapter. Lungdon is that rare thing, the final volume in a trilogy that sticks its landing, ambitiously swelling the cast of characters and story beats before tying the action off as neatly as twist ties on a garbage bag.

Reading the final volume made me want to go back to the beginning and read it all over again. I think my favourite of the three is still Heap House, but I genuinely can’t recommend the whole enough.


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WFC 2015 – Revisiting

Cask of Amontillado Party!

Photo by Stephen Segal, November 2007

In 2007, I took my first solo road trip: a five-hour jaunt from Ottawa to Saratoga Springs, there to attend the World Fantasy Convention and room with people I only knew from the internet. I was 22, had been publishing Goblin Fruit for a year, was only dimly acquainted with people from LJ, had very little notion of how I ought to behave or who to approach; I was profoundly starry-eyed, about as shy as I’ve ever been around other humans, recently returned from a year of living a very isolated life in the United Arab Emirates, awkward as anything. I left having had a wonderful time, having made friends, met heroes, made friends of heroes.

In 2015, I drove down to Saratoga Springs again, this time with the wonderful Kate Heartfield, and spent a weekend unable to keep up with all the friends in attendance, trying hard to make hugs in hallways count for all the things I wanted to say, all the gratitude I wanted to express.

There are people I met at WFC in 2007 who are now firmly woven into the fabric of my life, people I literally cannot imagine my life without. To return with those people to the same place in which I first met them, to sit in the same tea shops or walk the same lovely stretch of street, to make new memories with them and to be introduced through them to new people — how unbearably, unspeakably beautiful it all is, how wonderful.

A highlights reel: on Thursday I had just enough time to check in before scrambling into the panel I was on, titled “Magic is the essential ingredient of Epic Fantasy… except when it isn’t,” with Max Gladstone, Paul Di Filippo, and Kate Laity.

WFC panel

It went really well, I thought, and the audience was engaged and thoughtful and asked neat questions. And immediately thereafter I met Andrea Phillips, who offered me delicious fudge, and later I became acquainted with Maple 9, a lovely whiskey bar where I sampled a number of delicious scotches in good company.

I spent much of Friday morning and afternoon ensconced in my hotel room working (something I wasn’t alone in doing, dubious-hooray!), becoming increasingly acquainted with The Chair.

But in the evening there was a mass signing event, which was great fun — besides the loveliness of talking to people who want you to sign things for them, there were drinks and a truly impressive bit of catering (tuna tartare! What!). There was an Asimov’s party where I picked up a copy of the upcoming December issue, and a birthday party for Bo Bolander, and just a revolving dazzlement of shiny happy people. Here are some of those people, inexplicably having all chosen a Teal + Mustard colour scheme for the day with no prior planning (not even the two of us who were roommates)!

Mustard Teal Brigade

There were parties every night, and the usual ebb and flow of conversation from Party to FloorCon to LobbyCon and so forth. There were dinners, and lunches, and teas, and breakfasts, and drinks, and readings — I attended Max Gladstone’s reading from a non-Craft Sequence novel (!!!), as well as Tina Connolly and C. S. E. Cooney’s joint reading, all of which were tremendous.

My own reading was at 11:30 on Sunday, but there was some … Business to transact first.

Duelling Max

Photo by Marco Palmieri

For Reasons that will soon be made clear, I challenged Max to a duel. For the outcome, well… You’ll have to wait a little bit longer.

My reading went really well! I read “Pockets,” my story in Uncanny from the beginning of the year, and Scott Edelman was kind enough to record the whole thing.

(If you’d like to listen without watching you can do so in this podcast.)

Shortly thereafter it was time for the World Fantasy Award Ceremony, which the following photos have nothing to do with.

Scary MaxPunched Max

I was overjoyed to learn that this would be the last year that H. P. Lovecraft would be the face of the award, and look forward to seeing what it will be.

Elise PendantsEmerging from the awards ceremony, more than a little dazed by the experience, I found Elise Matthesen and had just enough time for a squeeze and acquaintance with some of her newborn shinies — two of which came home with me. That’s “Owl with Imaginary Moon” on the right, and a pendant in the “Writing” series on the left.

And then home, and I’m still, to my shame, recovering, because apparently that’s how it works now, I need a week to recover from a weekend — except the weekend before was Can-Con, and the week before that was Boston, and the week before that was NYC, so, OK, possibly I have slightly more reason to be exhausted than I’m allowing for, but I’m exhausted and there is so much to catch up on, so I will get back to doing that.

But it was a wonderful convention, and I’m so happy I went.

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