Short Story Recommendations at io9

I’ve recommended three of my favorite summer 2015 short stories over at io9, with additional recommendations by K. Tempest Bradford, Charles Payseur, and Terry Weyna. Head on over there to check out which stories I chose. (One of them will make you look at pumpkins in a whole new, unsettling light.)

Best Short Fiction of 2014

Brand new magazine Mothership Zeta aims to publish fun stories, and they released their Issue 0 today, which includes my article on my favorite short fiction from 2014. Fairy tales, magic staircases, uncomfortable airplane conversations, and geometric shapes are all represented, and most you can read online for free. Check out my recommendations here.

Short Story Interview: Rachel Swirsky

Rachel Swirsky’s “All That Fairy Tale Crap” is one of my favorite short stories; if I had read it when I compiled my list of Top 10 Fairy Tale Short Stories, I would have included it. Her story “If You Were a Dinosaur My Love,” which appeared in the March 2013 issue of Apex, has been nominated for this year’s Nebula and Hugo awards. Her short fiction has also appeared in magazines such as Tor, Subterranean Magazine, and Clarkesworld, as well as reprinted in year’s best anthologies edited by Strahan, Horton, Dozois, and the VanderMeers. She holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers Workshop, and graduated from Clarion West in 2005.

Q: What is one of your favorite stories you have written and why?

I tend to like the stories that people tell me have affected them deeply. A reader once told me that a story of mine helped them process some childhood trauma, and that was a huge moment for me.
My husband loves “A Memory of Wind” and “Eros, Philia, Agape.” That kind of love is a great gift, sometimes because I get so overexposed to  my own work, that I lose the sense of freedom or wonder in it, so seeing that in him is lovely. Last summer, he had Sam Weber’s illustrations for those two pieces tattooed on his upper arms. I think those are my two favorite stories right now, because of Weber’s beautiful art that I get to see every day, and how much Mike loves them.
Q: Are there stories you’ve published, perhaps earlier in your career, that you would change, if you could? Why?
I try to let that stuff go because otherwise I’d want to change everything all the time.
There are some stories that just don’t feel like they’re by me anymore. I wrote the short story “Heartstrung” when I was 21. It’s been ten years since then, and I have grown a lot as a writer, and hopefully, I’ve grown a lot emotionally. If I were writing it now, I would write it very differently. It had something I don’t think I could do now, though, a certain exposed rawness that isn’t the way I write anymore, and I know that it’s moved a lot of people which I am intensely grateful for. So I try to let that story be what it is, a story by someone who isn’t-quite-me.
Q: How do you write stories? Do you edit extensively? Do you write so much per day?
I’m a very inconsistent writer, which I don’t recommend. I try to write a hundred words a day (on anything, even non-fiction, just words), but I don’t always make that count. I’ve always envied writers who can just sit down and say, “There. That was a thousand words. Now I can go do other things without feeling massively pressured by my own incompetence, and tomorrow, I will write another thousand words, and they will also be lovely.” I’m a total binge-write-100,000-words-in-an-hour then write dead-nothing-for-weeks writer, and it’s ridiculous.
I edit very heavily. I retype my stories because I find that it forces me to reevaluate each of my word choices. This is very time consuming and contributes to my problems with speed.
For longer stories, I plan out and outline, although my outlines tend to be very rough jots of, like, a sentence per thousand words. For instance, I might write, “Lisane/Renn affair,” and then that would just be there to remind me where I wanted to put that sequence, especially if I’m working in non-linear order. I do sometimes outline in more detail, usually if I’m up at night and can’t go to sleep and I end up playing the whole story in my head and then want to just write it down so the work’s not wasted, but don’t actually want to get up and write the ting in the hopes that I can get some sleep. (I probably can’t, though, because insomnia sucks.)
Q: What themes and subjects do you find yourself drawn to? Why do you think you’re drawn to these subjects?
I have a thing about bodily integrity and I’m not exactly sure why. It’s not one of the themes I introduce intentionally. Horror stories about mutilation tend to get to me, and that Doctor Who episode where the spreading plague turns everyone’s faces into gas masks. Plagues, in general. I’m sure there’s a lot of psychological exploration that could go into why I have this particular uneasiness about health and flesh, but in my writing it tends to turn up as people falling apart, or being reduced to component parts, things like that. I have more than one story that rests on the image of a character turning into literally nothing. Dissolution of self may or may not parallel the bodily disintegration, but its’ definitely in there, too. I started a story once with the line, “Mara replaced her eyes with amethysts,” and then stared at the line, and said to myself, “Of course I just wrote that. Of course.”
For a while, I noticed I was writing in a really angry way about the idea of omnibenevolence. On an intellectual idea, the idea frustrates me greatly. I think it just doesn’t work in the world in which we live. But then it started springing up in my stories—a retelling of Harry Potter, a retelling of Cinderella—and I realized that I was writing with a great deal of anger about the ideas of good wizards who won’t try to help stop the Holocaust, and fairy godmothers who don’t bother to show up to help their charges when they’re abused little girls–and that really, taken from a long view, I was writing about how much I hate the idea that some being could exist who has the power to interfere in the great evil and pain of the world, and just doesn’t bother, who I’m supposed to _like anyway_. No, thanks.
More consciously, I write about feminism, politics, stories that are underrepresented or ignored or run counter to mainstream expectations, queerness. I write about things I find amusing.
Sometimes things just emerge for a while and then sink away again. In Iowa, I wrote about snow. For a while, Jewish history and ballet kept appearing, often together.
Q: What do you have coming out, and what can you tell us about these stories?
I have a story coming out in an anthology by Neil Clarke about cyborgs. The anthology idea came from his heart surgery; now he feels as if he is part machine. Since that prompt was so deeply personal, I wanted to match with something equally personal, although I am writing through an obfuscatory fictional lens, so the emotion is real but the content isn’t a direct equation with my actual life or anything. It’s about a mad scientist who keeps trying to mechanize his wife more and more in order to keep her safe from committing suicide. It’s metafictional and odd in a way that I’m into right now.
Q: What are your favorite short story magazines?
For me, Clarkesworld has the highest hit rate for short fiction. I went through one year and rated all the stories in all the magazines I was reading, and the only really strong deviation from the average was Clarkesworld. From that year’s average, that didn’t seem to be because their average story was necessarily better than one that would appear in another magazine. Rather, a huge chunk of the year’s absolutely top stories (the ones I rated 4.5 or 5 on my scale of five stars) appeared in Clarkesworld, and they pulled up the average. So, if I’m looking for a quick route to finding the very best, I tend to go to Clarkesworld for stories like “Fade to White” by Cat Valente.
I also find really strong work in Asimovs. The work there is less edgy or experimental than the work in Clarkesworld, but it’s usually intelligent and throught-provoking, and it’s probably my second favorite magazine at the moment. A recent Asimovs story that I would have loved to see get more attention was “The Mating Habits of the Cretaceous” by Dale Bailey.
I also like to give a shout out to Beneath Ceaseless Skies because I think Scott Andrews has done an amazing job of creating a magazine himself and bringing it to a level where it can compete with the other pro magazines. I don’t love every story in the magazine by any means, but he publishes some very unusually beautiful and interesting things, and is particularly good at picking up work by new writers. This year, for pure lovely oddness, you can’t beat “Boats in Shadows, Crossing” by Tori Truslow.
There are a couple of magazines that fly under the radar, I think, that I’d really love to see people paying more attention to. Both Unstuck and The New Haven Review exist at the intersection of literary and speculative fiction, and maybe because of that, they fall into the gaps a bit.
Unstuck publishes really, really beautiful work with genre flavor and literary packaging. One of their editors is Meghan McCarron whose writing and taste I find really interesting. I am reprinting a story from the magazine in the Lightspeed issue of Women Destroy Science Fiction, “The Great Loneliness” by Maria Morasco Moore.
The New Haven Review is edited by Tor author, Brian Slattery. It did have a story on the Nebula ballot a couple of years ago, though, “The Axiom of Choice.”
A quick run-down of some others:
Strange Horizons is uneven for me. It hits hard when it hits, and misses by a city block when it’s off. This year, I really loved Carmen Maria Machado’s “Inventory.” also has high-powered stories, although I’m more likely to go there to seek out authors I already know are powerhouses, rather than to be reading for a particular editor’s taste. That said, I’m really excited that some of the major editors who lost their magazines in the past few years – like Ellen Datlow and Ann VanderMeer – are there now. They’ve had gorgeous stories on the awards ballots in the past years by authors like Veronica Shanoes, Andy Duncan, Ellen Klages, Kij Johnson, Meghan McCarron and Brit Mandelo.
Subterranean Magazine mostly works or fails for me depending on who the authors involved are. Some of the writers in their stable I like, and some I don’t.
Lightspeed Magazine tends to run solid stories, and then a few a year that I get really excited about, like Maria Dahvana Headley’s “The Traditional.”
I really love Interzone and, again, I wish more people read it. I think they put themselves at some disadvantage by not being easily available to subscribe to electronically. Also, I’m sure there are some weird national politics thing going on, where the British writers end up mostly isolated, although I know a lot of Americans whose main selling market is Interzone. I found British writer Nina Allan there for the first time and I really want more eyes on her work.
I’ve liked Apex Magazine and Giganotosaurus, but they’re both in editorial transition, so I’m not sure where they’ll end up for me.
I’ve probably left some out because there are so many venues!
Q: Who are your favorite short story writers?
You do not ask easy questions. There are so many. Here are the first four really smart, talented writers who randomly came to mind. I’m going to avoid the writers whose stories I’m listing as my favorites below because they’re obviously some of my favorites, too.
Charlie Jane Anders is an unusual humorist who writes strange characters and their strange romances and their strange relationships with strange phenomena with a warm but sharp voice.
Chris Barzak writes about colliding worlds—one class with another, one culture with another, queerness entering spaces where it isn’t expected—in tender, poetic language.
For me, Deb Coates’ stories always create a sense of deep sense of immersion—in snow, in water, or just in some mind that isn’t my own. In PodCastle, I reprinted, “Magic in a Certain Slant of Light.”
Sandra MacDonald writes about feminism and queerness from a quirky angle that’s very much hers and hers alone. See “Seven Sexy Cowboy Robots” or “Searching for Slave Leia”
For the 2014 Campbell, I’m particularly excited about Sofia Samatar, Maria Dahvana Headley, Brooke Bolander, and Carmen Maria Machado. I wrote about them on my blog recently.
And yes, yes, of course, Ken Liu and Ted Chiang and Eileen Gunn and Theodora Goss and Andy Duncan and all those other people whose writing identities have been founded on amazing repertories of short fiction.
Q: What are five of your favorite short stories (by other writers)?
I’m doing ten. Because I feel like it.
“Magic for Beginners” by Kelly Link
“The Evolution of Trickster Stories among the Dogs of North Park after the Change” by Kij Johnson
“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler
“Knapsack Poems” by Eleanor Arnason
“Little Faces” by Vonda McIntyre
“In the House of the Seven Librarians” by Ellen Klages
“Nekropolis” by Maureen McHugh
“Fade to White” by Cat Valente
“Immersion” by Aliette deBodard
“Like Daughter” by Tananarive Due
And you should all drop everything right now and go read them.

Short Story Interview: Zachary Jernigan


The stories, poems, and visual works for the 2014 Art & Words Show have been chosen, and I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with for the final show; view the selected visual works and the authors involved here. Here’s a sneak peak of some of the previously published written works:

My short story “Old Boys” was also posted yesterday for free reading at The Colored Lens. The magazine issue is also available as an ebook for $2.99.

Today’s featured interview is with Zachary Jernigan, whose collection At the Bottom of the Sea I reviewed a while backand who is coming out with another mini-collection of short stories, which I cannot wait to read.
Here is his bio:

Zachary Jernigan is a 33-year-old, quarter-Hungarian, bald male. He has lived in Northern Arizona, with occasional forays into the wetter and colder world, since 1990. His favorite activities include: listening to 70s-00s punk and post-punk music, cooking delicious and often unhealthy foods, riding human-powered vehicles, talking and/or arguing about religion, and watching sitcoms.

During his rare periods of productivity, he writes science fiction and fantasy. NO RETURN, his first novel, comes out March 5th, 2013 from Night Shade Books. His short stories have appeared in a variety of places, including ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION, CROSSED GENRES, and ESCAPE POD.

Visit him at

Q: Tell me about your short stories.
I tend to write narratives about love, I think, both romantic and familial — though to say that they are love stories might not be appropriate. Oftentimes, my characters don’t achieve what they want, or can’t even see what they want. Still, love fascinates me, and never more so than when it occurs between unusual people in alien — or simply unusual — places. I very rarely ever write outside the speculative genres of science fiction and fantasy, because they allow me so many interesting possibilities.
The real world is great to live in, sure; I mean, it’s got elephants and stuff; but for fiction I can’t see how it gets better than having the whole universe as your sounding board for ideas.
Q: What is one of your favorite stories you have written and why?
Oy. Y’know, I hate ’em all!
       Nah. Not really. But I do think most of my stories are pretty far short of where they should be. (This is where my agent, should he be reading this, starts pulling his hair out and saying, “No! Jernigan! You don’t tell potential readers that!“) I look at the short stories I admire, and then at mine, and go, “Well. One of those is definitely crap.”
That being said, I’m fairly pleased with my short story, “Fear of Drowning,” which I put in my collection, The Bottom of the Sea. It ended up being better than I’d thought when I wrote it. You can read it here for free, if ya like! 
Q: Are there stories you’ve published, perhaps earlier in your career, that you would change, if you could?
Oh, yeah. Definitely. I think my first published story, in fact, is a real crapper of a thing. It’s called “Only For Myself: Japan, 2043,” and it was published by the awesome Circlet Press in one of the anthologies.
The problem with it is this: Japan. I’ve never been to Japan, and I know not too much about the country. Why — why, oh why — would I write a story set there? It comes across as a total fail of a reach, and I regret it.
I did that later, in another story set in Dubai. Again — Dubai?
I’m not saying a writer can’t set a story in a place she or he has never been, but I’d advise against it without massive amounts of research.
Q: How do you write stories? Do you edit extensively? Do you write so much per day? 
I do what (nearly) everyone says you shouldn’t do: I edit as I go along. Thus, the process is usually pretty damn slow, but in the end I don’t do too much editing, per se. Typically, I add content, as opposed to taking away. (There are writers who write overlong. I’m the opposite.) I generally, nowadays, have a somewhat rough outline.
As for words per day, I’m lucky to hit five hundred, and super-duper lucky to hit a thousand. I usually quit when the rage starts turning my hands into fists and I can’t type any more.
Q: What themes and subjects do you find yourself drawn to? Why do you think you’re drawn to these subjects?
I tend to write a lot about the far future, though this might not be explicitly said. A lot of my characters are immensely powerful, often altered in horrible ways by that power. In that setting with these characters, as I said previously, I write a lot about love. Attendant to that are always questions of morality: What does it mean to be a good person? How does someone become a good person? Also, and perhaps most importantly, how actions contributing to or detracting from the lives of others?
I think I’m drawn to these situations because of my upbringing as a Mormon. I’m no longer Mormon — haven’t been for most of my adult life — but I can’t deny that being raised that way has had a considerable impact on me. I think a lot about perfection and purity, and carry unreasonable guilt for things I should not. I am consumed by the desire to be a better person, to live a worthy life and not repeat mistakes, and this carries over into my writing.
Q: What do you have coming out, and what can you tell us about these stories?
Well, the one big one I can’t really talk about because the project hasn’t been announced, but it’ll be about a robot. A BIG ROBOT. Beyond that, I’ll be releasing another mini collection of short stories later this year, focusing on my more explicitly erotic writing.
Q: What are your favorite short story magazines?
I like Crossed Genres a lot. Clarkesworld is consistently fantastic. Beneath Ceaseless Skies often brings the amazing. It’s tough, these days, though, isn’t it? So often you end up reading from an individual author, following their pathways to publication, and so the rest of the magazine is left sadly unexamined. 
Q: Who are your favorite short story writers?
Here goes, in no order of preference, really:
  1. James Tiptree, Jr. / Raccoona Sheldon / Alice Sheldon
  2. Cordwainer Smith
  3. Carol Emshwiller
  4. Edward Bryant
  5. Ian McDonald
  6. Joanna Russ
  7. Elizabeth Hand
  8. Samuel Delany
  9. Roger Zelazny
  10. J.G. Ballard
Q: What are five of your favorite short stories (by other writers)?
Again, in no order of preference:
Thanks for having me, Bonnie!

Short Story Interview: Rachael Acks


I admit it: I have not been reading many short stories lately. I am in the process of reading Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, writing a longer work, and choosing the participants for the 2014 Art & Words Show. Thus, I bring you another Short Story Interview. This series will likely continue for a few more months, peppered by the occasional review.


Today’s interview is with Rachael Acks. I’ve reviewed two of Rachael Acks’ stories; I included her “Comes the Huntsman” in my Top 10 Fairy Tale Short Stories guest post on SFSignal, and I reviewed her Captain Ramos novella, “The Ugly Tin Orrery” here on Short Story Review. She’s one of my favorite writers, as well as one of my favorite bloggers. Here is her bio:

Rachael Acks is a geologist and writer. In addition to her steampunk series from Musa Publishing, she’s had short stories in Penumbra, Waylines, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Rachael lives in Houston (where she bicycles at least 100 miles per week) with her husband and their two furry little bastards. More information can be found on her website.

Q: Tell me about your short stories.

A: That’s a cruelly open question. (Is it even a question? It doesn’t have a question mark. It’s a command!) I write both science fiction and fantasy. I’m kind of all over the map with things, though I think I gravitate more towards the contemporary when it comes to fantasy. I also write quite a bit of steampunk, though that tends to be novellas. A lot of my stories end up being written as a challenge to myself–that’s what’s gotten me to try writing flash fiction, for example. That’s actually what got me to write short stories to begin with, since I was very, very bad at them when I started out.

Q: What is one of your favorite stories you have written and why?

That’s a really mean question, because I have a lot of favorites. I really love stories where I feel like I just sat down at the keyboard and bled them out (“Comes the Huntsman,” “They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain” and “Breaking Orbit” are all stories like that.) But I think I’ll pick “Significant Figures” because it’s a funny story, and it isn’t supposed to be anything but funny, and I’m incredibly proud of myself for having written something that relentlessly silly. And it has a waffle iron as a character. You can’t beat the waffle iron.

Q: Are there stories you’ve published, perhaps earlier in your career, that you would change, if you could?

Not really. By the time something gets published, I’m more than happy to just let it be what it’s going to be.

Q: How do you write stories? Do you edit extensively? Do you write so much per day?

I tend to start out with an image (often inspired by a piece of music) and then I build the story around that. I’m a compulsive outliner, and short stories are no exception. Normally I’ll write 500-2000 words per day on a story depending on what else I have going. Once the rough draft is done, if I’m not up against a deadline I’ll let it marinate for at least a couple of weeks, ideally for a month, and then I start editing. I edit until I hit a wall and just can’t edit any more…sometimes that ends up being as few as 3 drafts, sometimes I’ll be at draft 7 or 8 before I even have someone beta it. And then I keep editing until I’m either satisfied with it or just can’t stand looking at it any longer. I think the most drafts I’ve ever done on a story was 16.

Q: Can you tell us about any specific pieces of music that have inspired you?

I can tell you about a couple. Comes the Huntsman was largely inspired by the Florence + the Machine song, “Shake It Out.” That was a song that hit me deeply from the first time I heard it, particularly the line “And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back / So shake him off.” That’s what inspired the use of dancing in that particular story. Another song that really inspired me was “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men. If you really listen to the lyrics it’s actually an incredibly sad song about a couple of people who are deeply in love trying to still speak to each other past the barrier of death. While I already had the idea for the story “Samsara” that Waylines bought last year, that song was the driving force behind the way the narrative unfolded.

Q: What themes and subjects do you find yourself drawn to? Why do you think you’re drawn to these subjects?

I end up writing about relationships a lot, which isn’t something I ever expected of myself because I was a pretty dedicated angry loner up until the age of about 23. But relationships are fundamental to our existence as social animals, and they’re honestly very interesting. Relationships are also infinitely variable–there is no single right way to have any kind of relationship, and also no single wrong way. Relationships of any kind (friendship, love, family) are almost never just one thing–there’s always this mix of emotions that can be healthy or not, combinations of love and hate and anger and joy that I just never get tired of. Understanding that is a challenge and I know I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

And it’s not just interpersonal relationships. Our relationship with the world and with the universe as a whole fascinates me. When put against the scale of deep time, human life is so brief as to be almost meaningless, but simultaneously is hugely meaningful because of that brevity. And that’s part of the human experience that touches everyone in a different way. We all live and die, and I love those commonalities.

Q: What do you have coming out, and what can you tell us about these stories?

All right, so as I write this I have five stories soon to be published:

“They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain” will be coming out from Lightspeed Magazine. The origin of the story is kind of odd: I’m a bit of a fan of the actor Tom Hiddleston–I respect him a lot as an artist and as a genuinely nice human being. Three years ago I sort of kind of accidentally wrote an original piece for his birthday (that story is “Comes the Huntsman,” by the way) and ended up donating the sale money to UNICEF UK. So I guess I’ve made it a tradition at this point. I wanted to write a military SF piece after re-reading Coriolanus (Mr. Hiddleston was was in a production of that play this year) and I’d recently read some disturbing articles about drone warfare. The payment from Lightspeed for this one will be going to UNICEF UK as well.”

List of Items in Leather Valise Found on Welby Crescent” will be coming out from Shimmer in issue #19. It’s a flash piece, which is really weird for me since I don’t write much flash at all. It’s also a story that’s told entirely just using a list of items–what you see in the title is really what you get. I wrote it because I wanted to see if I could, and it worked out!

“Asleep in Zandalar” will be coming out from Abyss and Apex. It’s essentially a story about fate and problematic nature of interpreting omens, I suppose, but set during World War II so it has a bit of a Dirty Dozen vibe.

“The Heart-Beat Escapement” will be coming from Crossed Genres in issue #16. It’s a Steampunk story about a boy with mechanical arms and a clockwork heart…and also about families.

“What Purpose a Heart” will be coming out from Scigentasy. I felt like writing something space opera-y, so I did. But with lesbians, because I firmly believe space opera needs more lesbians.

I also have three more Captain Ramos steampunk mystery novellas coming out from Musa Publishing this year!

Q: We’ve reviewed one of your Captain Ramos novellas. Will you tell us a little bit about what inspired those?

In the most basic sense, Sherlock Holmes inspired me to write the Captain Ramos novellas. My mother read the complete Sherlock Holmes to my brother and I when we were children and I grew up watching the Jeremy Brett series. But it was really the first Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. that really got it going. The movies were just so much fun, and had a much more steampunk aesthetic than I’d ever seen before. So I wanted to make a great detective, but was already thoroughly disenchanted with the social order, class system, and imperialism of the Victorian era. I wanted a character that was still intellectually curious, but with no interest in defending the system–and in fact someone interested in causing chaos to that social system. From there, I ended up grabbing a handful of tropes that have always annoyed me greatly and consciously set myself to write counter to them. So for example, Captain Ramos is Latina, but she tends to be coldly intellectual instead of “fiery.” Her sidekick is a man and they have a very close, familial sort of friendship, because I am sick to death of this ridiculous notion that men and women are incapable of being platonic friends. And so on. That gave me the framework for the characters and their relationships, and then they came to life and started having adventures.

Q: What are your favorite short story magazines?

Strange Horizons is my favorite, hands down. I also always look forward to Lightspeed, and have recently started reading Shimmer faithfully. To this day, I also still miss Realms of Fantasy.

Q: Who are your favorite short story writers?

Oh god this sounds terrible, but I don’t actually like reading short stories that much! (Then why do you keep writing them, Rachael? Because I’m a jerk.) I do make sure to catch everything I can by Cat Rambo, Ken Liu, Ada Hoffmann, Nnedi Okorafor, NK Jemisin, Catheynne M Valente, and Neil Gaiman.

Q: What are five of your favorite short stories (by other writers)?

Cloud Dragon Skies – NK Jemisin
All God’s Children Can Dance – Murakami Haruki
The Winter Market – William Gibson
In a Grove – Akutagawa Ryuunosuke
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas – Ursula K Le Guin