Uncanny 14B Podcast: “To Budapest, With Love” by Theodora Goss

janfeb17_issue14_coverlarge-340x510The second half of Uncanny issue 14 is up now, and includes Theodora Goss’ “To Budapest, With Love” in among all the other fine, brave offerings.

I single this one out because I read it for the podcast, and it was very hard to do for new-to-me reasons. There was the usual technical side of it — I couldn’t have read it without Bogi Takács‘ generous help with Hungarian pronunciation — but also the emotional side of reading a story about being hyphenated, alienated, that was not my own story but kissing-close to it, reversed, aslant. It was difficult to read such a personal, vulnerable, intimate account without the usual patina of fiction between it and me — it was very hard not to feel like I was usurping Dora’s voice as I read some of myself into it.

I hope you’ll read it, or listen to it, or both. Any errors in pronouncing the Hungarian (and there are definitely at least 2 obvious ones I couldn’t fix) are of course my own.

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I’ve fallen behind on sharing these, so here’s a round-up of my last few reviews for NPR Books.

iraq-100_custom-ddd5f3feec30bac4c8978e2b6d329ead7a1c9642-s600-c85Iraq + 100edited by Hasan Blasim

In a just world, every single person who was in favor of invading Iraq would have to read this book. It would be tattooed on the eyes of the invasion’s architects, force them to see everything through these writers’ words. Tony Blair would see himself in the invading aliens of Hassan Abdulrazzak’s “Kuszib;” George W. Bush’s thoughts would be invaded in turn by Zhraa Alhaboby’s mutilated Scheherazade.


9781101885932_custom-b54c56a8e5b827f839e9dbc59bd95334489504b2-s600-c85The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

There was a great deal to love in this book. Arden’s weaving of folklore and fairy tale with a very solid evocation of feudal Russia is beautiful and deft. As Nicola Griffith does in Hild, Arden fills in the gaps of the historical record by drawing on a very tactile experience of the present-day landscape — we may not know everything about the day to day life of a medieval Russian farmer, but we do know the bite of cold in the fingertips, or the way snow settles on pine. Arden’s prose, especially in the first third of the book, has the breathtaking insight of poetry: “The years slipped by like leaves,” she writes, and “the clouds lay like wet wool above the trees.”

9780765393111_custom-63885f50d7099193e965b837beea3ba59aa0d5ee-s600-c85Binti: Home
by Nnedi Okorafor

A year after her cataclysmic arrival at Oomza University, Binti finds herself struggling to make friends or focus on her studies. Her attempts at understanding her edan, the ancient artifact that saved her life and allowed her to communicate with the jellyfish-like aliens called the Meduse, are often stymied by violent mood swings she can’t control or understand. She feels powerfully the need to return home and undergo the pilgrimage customary for young women of her tribe, and Okwu, her agender Meduse captor-turned-friend, offers to accompany her as ambassador to humanity — the first Meduse to set tentacle on Earth.


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2016 in Creative Work

Merry Imbolc, Candlemas, Groundhog Day. This is a season of signs, of waiting watchfulness, of trusting that the light and heat of candles will bloom into spring and summer, that the year will turn out of the dark. Last year at this time I was saying “January was a sack of hammers to the face” — this year I find myself turning from metaphor. But I haven’t written here since December, and when one’s an author one ought to strive to keep communications regular, perhaps especially when the world’s terrible and terrifying. One reaches for one’s people, wherever they are.

Last year, then.

Last year I taught a short fiction workshop for the second year in a row. Last year my sister made me an aunt. Last year I made a landed immigrant of my husband and reunited with him after a separation of 18 months. Last year I went to ConFusion, ICFA, Fourth Street, and CONvergence for the first time, was Guest of Honour at a convention for the first time, taught at Alpha for the first time, and went on a very productive writing retreat for the first time. Last year I moved back into Ottawa for the first time in ten years. Towards the end of last year I signed with an agent I feel every day more privileged to work with, and took part in a performance of mythic imaginary organised by the magnificent C.S.E. Cooney.

But what did I write?

I wrote stories that were very long or very short and nothing in between. I wrote a novelette-length guest episode called “Fire and Ice” for Serial Box’ Bookburners, helmed by Max Gladstone, and saw it appear; I wrote half of a novella with this same Max, which, dear gods, I am so excited to share with everyone but what is this THING where the longer a work is the longer you have to wait for the world to see it? Surely that’s a design flaw.

On the short side, I wrote a story called “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” for Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin’s forthcoming The Djinn Falls in Love anthology. I’ve thus far managed to read it out loud all of once without choking up, but that says more about me and the state of the world than it does about the story, I think. (There are Hamilton references in it, but only one that’s egregious.)

In terms of stories that got published last year, there are only three, a novelette and two short stories respectively: “Fire and Ice” for Bookburners, “Weialalaleia” in The Bestiaryand “Seasons of Glass and Iron” in The Starlit Wood. I’m proudest of the latter, and was honoured to see, yesterday, that it made the Locus Recommended Reading List in fine company. But that’s this year’s news.

Non-fiction-wise I wrote 12 full-length reviews for NPR and 9 bite-sized ones, 4 review columns for Lightspeed (of which one is a long review of Fran Wilde’s Cloudbound), an essay on Sofia Samatar’s work, and … gosh. That’s it? I think? I guess I was successful in last year’s resolution to say “No” to more stuff. I did, however, start a thing on Twitter called the Oracle of Buses, where, whenever I get on a bus and the mood settles on me, I whimsically answer questions for the duration of the journey.

Honours earned: I was delighted that “Madeleine” was a finalist for both the Nebula and Locus awards, while “Pockets” was a finalist for the World Fantasy award (my first nomination there!), both sharing ballots with so many other works that I genuinely loved and admired.

Last year, I ended a similar post to this by saying

I hope that in 2016…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.

I want to continue in the same vein this year. My husband, cats and I are reunited; I’m aunt to a beautiful child turning one whole year old later this month, and who dazzles me every day; the better friend thing is always a work in progress, never a work I want to set down and think concluded. In the midst of that I managed 1 short story, 1 novelette, and 1 novella.

This year I want to pour into a novel; that’s the only writing demand I’ll make of myself. Well — that, and keeping on top of my academic work. So by the end of 2017 I hope to be a novelist, ABD, and in good health; if I can manage that I’ll be very proud of myself.


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Live from NYC

Friends! Hello!

A more organised person less accustomed to doing things by the seat of her pants and more skilled at keeping her friends apprised of her plans and movements would have written this post weeks ago. That person, however, would not have been me, so probably you would not be reading that post in this space, unless there were a Body Swap scenario in play, and I hate those with the hate of hell, but I love your beauty passing well, O the Earl was fair to see, etc, etc, I ramble, this is how you know it is me and not my alien double, it is a CODE.

AS IT IS, I write from Hamilton Heights in NYC! Here I am! With Stu! This evening I am going to set up shop at Cafe Select for a few hours so that anyone so inclined can come visit with us! Here is more info. Please do come! It would be great to see you! I will never be able to see all the people I love in NYC in the same trip, so am trying to at least see the people I haven’t seen the last two trips, and go on from there.

“But Amal,” you’d be within your rights to ask, “what brings you to NYC this winter?”

“Well, friend,” I would reply, “A bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence–”

“Amal can you please stop quoting Hamilton long enough to answer a simple question”

But that is the answer, friend.

I am in town to see Hamilton.

On my birthday.

Which is tomorrow.

It’s a dream and it’s a bit of a dance.

But we’re here, and I just can’t wait.


I need to run around the neighbourhood now but more on this miracle later!

And I do hope you can make it to Cafe Select!

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People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy!

It’s December. This is my birthday month, and many things beside: end of term, with all the work that entails; earnestly gearing up for the holidays, with all the travel that entails; letting myself get mesmerised by slow-falling snow to the detriment of all.

But meantime, there is new fiction!

fantasy_issue_60_december_2016I was reprints editor for Lightspeed‘s People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy issue, and am so excited to share the stories I picked; each of them plays with narrative in fantastic, destabilizing ways that I think are important. I’m especially excited to bring Leanne Betasamosake Simpson‘s “gezhizhwazh,” from her gorgeous collection Islands of Decolonial Love, to a genre readership; I was introduced to her work in the context of a CanLit course focused on settler-colonialism, and it cracked me open and let the light in. And while you’re discovering her work, check out this stop-motion video by Amanda Strong illustrating Simpson’s “How to Steal a Canoe” from her new album of story-songs called f(l)ight.

Today, the editorial round-table I took part in with Daniel José Older and Tobias Buckell went live online. “I wanted to start with the idea of the origin story,” says Daniel, and we all go on to talk about our origins as readers and writers of colour. I loved talking with them, having this opportunity to articulate things I’ve long felt but not put into the words. I hope you’ll read it, and enjoy the issue.


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When I Think of Winter

It’s been unseasonably warm this autumn; on Saturday I was still wearing light jackets over summer dresses in the balmy 14 degree days, surreal when there’s so little daylight left to go around.

This is not, typically, what November looks like.

But winter arrived Sunday morning, and the dogs stood sentinel to greet it.

I love the first proper snow of the season, the one that sticks, that muffles the shape of the world.

Look closely and you can almost see writing in the understory, a letter the season’s scripting even as it covers the world in the quiet of a blank page.

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“Seasons of Glass and Iron” reprinted in UNCANNY Issue 13

issue13coverv2_large-340x510I’m back from the World Fantasy Convention, and have loads I want to say about it, but first — it’s a new month, so there’s new Uncanny!

Issue 13 is wholly available in ebook form, and the first half of it is live online today, including “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” my story in The Starlit Wood anthology. It’s a fairy tale mash-up written at the request of my niece (to whom the story is dedicated): she asked for a fairy tale, and I wanted to give her one that didn’t sour my tongue where girls and women were concerned. Obviously there are tons of those — but on a long stretch of country road between The Scottish Owl Centre and Glasgow, this is (mostly) what came out. So thanks are due to Lara and her keen, questioning eyes that made it impossible for me to countenance telling her a story where women don’t rescue each other.

Here’s a taste of it:

Tabitha walks, and thinks of shoes.

She has been thinking about shoes for a very long time: the length of three and a half pairs, to be precise, though it’s hard to reckon in iron. Easier to reckon how many pairs are left: of the seven she set out with, three remain, strapped securely against the outside of the pack she carries, weighing it down. The seasons won’t keep still, slip past her with the landscape, so she can’t say for certain whether a year of walking wears out a sole, but it seems about right. She always means to count the steps, starting with the next pair, but it’s easy to get distracted.

She thinks about shoes because she cannot move forward otherwise: each iron strap cuts, rubs, bruises, blisters, and her pain fuels their ability to cross rivers, mountains, airy breaches between cliffs. She must move forward, or the shoes will never be worn down. The shoes must be worn down.

It’s always hard to strap on a new pair.

The Starlit Wood coverRead the rest here — and if you enjoy it, consider picking up the anthology! I’m halfway through reading it myself, and it’s amazing, with stories that run the gamut from funny and whimsical to harrowing and fulfilling. I’m so honoured to be in it, and so happy that Uncanny has chosen to reprint it in this issue that is — so far as I have read — full of fierce love between women.


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the-djinn-falls-in-loveLast week, on Tor.com, Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin revealed the cover and Table of Contents for the anthology they’re editing for Solaris, due out in March 2017. It looks AMAZING, and I’m profoundly happy to have a story in it. From Tor.com:

Editors Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have teamed up for The Djinn Falls in Love, and Other Stories, bringing together over 20 new and classic tales of Djinn from amazing authors from all around the world. The anthology publishes in March 2017 with Solaris, and we’re excited to share the full table of contents—including works from K.J. Parker, Nnedi Okorafor, and Neil Gaiman—below!

Do check out the full ToC, which also includes Kamila Shamsie — of whom I’ve been in awe since I read this article — Claire North, Maria Dahvahna Headley, Usman T. Malik, J. Y. Yang, and many more fantastic authors.

My own story is called “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds,” and it’s part fable, part slantwise recollection of the wizard-djinn battle from  The Thousand and One Nights, and all anger about things I can only speak of sideways.


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World Fantasy Convention Schedule

come-fly-with-meI’ll be at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio this coming weekend, arriving Thursday afternoon and leaving Monday morning. Below is my schedule! Very much looking forward to conversations with splendid people.

A note on my reading: it’s possible the pocket program may say something different, as there have been a lot of last-minute changes to the schedule. So far as I know it’s Sunday at 10:00 AM, but I’ll update here and on Twitter as possible.

A note on signing stuff: there’s a mass autographing session from 8:00-11:oo PM on Friday, but feel free to bring stuff to my reading as well, if you’re so moved!

I’m considering a few possibilities reading-wise — something from “Seasons of Glass and Iron,” since there should be copies of The Starlit Wood in the dealers’ room?  “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds,” forthcoming from The Djinn Falls in Love, because it’s very short and I could read the whole thing? Or… Something secret and SUPER COMPLETELY NEW and possibly involving another person? Hmm.

At any rate, here’s the schedule!

Long Tail of the Tall Tale
Tall tales, like their fairy tale cousins, are reinvented in every culture around the world. These tales, handed down through generations, provide an amazing context for how humans relate to one another and to story. How have these oral traditions influenced today’s fiction? Is there such a thing as a modern tall tale?
Max Gladstone, Anatoly Belilovsky, Mimi Mondal, Amal El-Mohtar, Kit Reed, Andy Duncan (m)

A Golden Age of Contemporary Asian Fantasy
This panel explores the growing body of work by writers from Asia and the diaspora, who interrogate, reinterpret, and develop the literary traditions of their countries and cultures of origin (among other literary traditions and cultures, including the “West”) in a globalized context.
Brenda Clough, Mary Soon Lee, Rajan Khanna, Amal El-Mohtar, Don Pizarro, Mimi Mondal

Old Stories, New Twists

In YA literature, retellings of fairy tales, myths, and literary works by authors including Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and CS Lewis are increasingly popular. What pleasure is there for readers and authors in these retellings and what do they tell us about changes within the genre? The panel will discuss the work of Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale, Julie Kagawa, Malindo Lo, Gregory Maguire, and other authors working this fruitful vein of fantasy.
Navah Wolfe, Jane Yolen, Cinda Williams Chima (m), Amal El-Mohtar, Juliet Marillier, Rani Graff

UNION C: Reading

Hope to see you there!

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NPR Reviews: CROSSTALK by Connie Willis and WALL OF STORMS by Ken Liu

A couple of reviews of mine went up at NPR recently! Here are tastes of them.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

If Crosstalk were a farce, I might be able to excuse the exhaustingly irritating representations of Irishness, throwaway lines about Moroccan sheikhs and their wives, and pummelling overwhelm of incident. If I were seeing Crosstalk as a staged pantomime I might, possibly, forgive the fact that Briddey has no agency, that her personality and motivations consist entirely of making up excuses to avoid annoying conversations. But Crosstalk is trying to be something different, to have its farce-cake and eat it too, and the result is a half-baked mess.

Wall of Storms by Ken Liu


The Wall of Storms is an 852 page sequel to a 640 page book, so let me cut to the chase: It surpasses The Grace of Kings in every way, by every conceivable metric, and is — astonishingly — perfectly readable as a standalone. I loved it so much that I’d go so far as to say if you were intimidated by the size and scope of The Grace of Kings, you needn’t wait on reading it to dive into this one. Beginning several years after The Grace of Kings concludes, the focus is chiefly on a new generation of characters and how they deal with a fierce invading force from across the ocean, beyond the fabled Wall of Storms.

I just learned that there’s a possibility that Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty may become a film franchise, which is super exciting! Fingers crossed not only that these films will happen, but that they’ll do justice do the brilliant diversity of the characters.


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