hands_2015_xpk1In anticipation of the release of my Steampunk Weird Western, Vermilion, my dear friend and steampunk expert S.J. Chambers introduced me to the lovely Kevin D. Steil. Kevin is the creator/editor of Airship Ambassador, which hosts a yearly event called Steampunk Hands Around the World. This year’s theme is Steampunk: Our Playground, Our Classroom, Our Workshop. I’m a little late to the party (it’s the last week of the event) as my copy edits for Vermilion took quite a bit out of me, but better late than never! And if you’re interested in what other participants have been doing as I agonized over commas, you can check that out here.

Though I’m just writing about all this now, the theme “Our Playground, Our Classroom, Our Workshop” had me thinking as I poured over Vermilion, re-checking various historical details and knowing that in spite of my best efforts, I would inevitably miss something. And I’m not just talking about a clunky sentence or a dropped word… I mean something more akin to an anachronism, an incorrect detail, a bit of “common knowledge” I never questioned. I loved researching Vermilion, but it was an experience as intense and humbling as it was rewarding, and today I’m going to blog about why.

Vermilion is set in 1870, in an alt-historical America where ghosts, monsters, and talking bears are as much a part of the landscape as people, trains, guns, and purveyors of quack remedies. That said, certain familiar elements remain—the Transcontinental links the West with back East, road agents hunt down and terrorize travelers, diseases like tuberculosis are as dangerous as they are difficult to cure, and it’s hard to get a fair shake if you’re not white, wealthy, and male.

Lou Merriwether is none of those things. She’s half-Chinese, works for a living, and she’s a woman, even if she usually passes as a man while she tramps all over San Francisco, exorcising the restless dead. Lou does well for herself, but that doesn’t mean things are easy for her; in fact, where the novel opens, anti-Chinese sentiment in San Francisco affects her personally and professionally on a daily basis. In spite of this, she tries to maintain a sense of humor, but that doesn’t mean she’s not aware of how annoying (and dangerous) being different can sometimes be.

When I first began to draft Vermilion, then a very different novel with a very different title, I knew I wanted a protagonist who lived on the margins, and whose identity (and sense of that identity) would create difficulties for her as much as it allowed her to access interesting opportunities. Vermilion is very much about the marginalized—19th century racial and sexual politics are reflected in the action as much as discussions about sickness versus health, insider versus outsider status, martial prowess versus strength of a different sort—and I wanted the novel’s point of view to be someone flexible enough to negotiate with everything with… let’s call it “a varying degree of success.”

For Steampunk Hands Around the World, the theme of “Our Playground, Our Classroom, Our Workshop,” inspired me to blog about a little about some of the historical and cultural research I did for Vermilion. As with all of us, Lou’s childhood experiences inform her personality, her lived experience, her work, and her decisions, so I wanted to read and learn as much as I could in order to bring her (and her world) to life. One of the reasons I enjoy the challenge of writing historical fiction is I love to research! It’s exciting to lose myself in the past, whether it’s picking up a work of fiction from a different time and place, or looking up what are considered to be the best nonfiction books on a certain subject. While I might jot down random notes or ideas during the drafting process, reading is how I know I’ve really and truly begun a new project.

When I began in earnest to work on Vermilion, several books in particular were extremely helpful to me:

Iris Chang’s wonderful and detailed accounts provided much of the backdrop I needed to create my alt-history Chinatown, and The Children of Chinatown was a fantastic study that helped me imagine what someone like Lou’s early life might have been like. Given that Lou must do some detective work, supernatural and more traditional, the tales of Judge Dee gave me some insight into the specifically Chinese detective novel, and Yutang Lin’s treatment of the Tao Te Ching, which pairs the original insights of Laotse with commentary by his follower Chuangtse, was most informative when it came to developing Lou’s personal philosophy toward life, death, and undeath.

While I love reading, and curling up with a history book is one of my favorite things in the world, I also wanted to do some more “hands-on” research. To that end, my husband and I took an anniversary trip out to San Francisco a few years ago, to relax and hang out, but also so I could walk the streets Lou would have walked. We had a great time visiting landmarks and poking around in shops, and he was very patient as I spent several hours taking notes at the Chinese Historical Society of America‘s wonderful museum. I also consulted with an apothecary and got a TCM prescription filled at the Great China Herb Company.

Learning about language was also part of my research. A large portion of the Chinese immigrants who lived in San Francisco and worked on the Transcontinental came over from Toisan, called Taishan in Mandarin, and Hoisan by native speakers. I initially hoped to use Toisanese when I needed to use a Chinese word, but after a few conversations with a native Toisanese speaker, on his advice I ended up using mainly romanized Cantonese pronunciations. Negotiating with Cantonese was fascinating if frustrating, as I neither speak nor read any Chinese, but my Toisanese contact as well as my very patient friend-cum-scholar of Asian languages Raechel Dumas got me through it in the end.

I cannot conclude this essay without mentioning several wonderful films that not only initially inspired the project, but actually helped me in my research into what would become Lou’s profession. The truth is, my interest in Taoist necromancy and geung si began with a film: Mr. Vampire. It’s an awesome flick, and I followed it up with watching many more in the Hong Kong vampire genre. Here’s an incomplete list for any curious cinemaphiles out there:

  • Mr. Vampire

The Hollywood picture Big Trouble in Little China is also worth a watch, if you’ve never seen it. I once pitched Vermilion as being set in the historical past of that film. It made sense to me, at least!

Writing historical fiction requires all kinds of research, but as much as I wish I could share everything, I want to keep my focus in this essay. And on that note, I’ll conclude. Many thanks to Kevin for hosting and promoting Steampunk Hands Around the World, this was a fun opportunity and I’m so glad I got to participate!

Oh, and if any of this sounds intriguing… well, Vermilion drops on April 15th, and can be pre-ordered now. There’s even a fancy bundle offer going on right now!

I have a longish essay about The Bride up at Pornokitsch.com. It’s first entry in my new series, Pygmalia, which is all about Pygmalion stories as you might guess:

The Wiki for The Bride describes it as “an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” but that is a completely ridiculous claim. It is more accurately described as “a film starring Sting as Baron Charles Frankenstein and the girl from Flashdance.” While The Bride generously nods at Frankenstein as well as various cinematic adaptations of the tale, it is entirely it’s own thing. A glorious thing, to my mind, and one that makes few concessions to viewers who come to it without at least a passing understanding of Frankenstein, but its own thing just the same. For the uninitiated… imagine a fanfic of Frankenstein that picks up in Frankenstein’s lab before he destroys the mate for the creature, but a dark, inverted fanfic where the writer had an axe to grind with My Fair Lady, including deciding that in their version of Frankenstein, Clerval survives to play a sexed-up Colonel Pickering to Baron Frankenstein’s Professor Higgins.

It’s a great film in a lot of ways, but a dark one too. Read the whole thing at the link above, and feel free to leave a comment. Even if you have nothing to say about The Bride, while I have the first few months of this figured out but I’m taking recommendations for Pygmalion treatments to write about, especially comics and short stories. Cheers!

lazy-fascist-review-2_coverCall for Submissions

Lazy Fascist Review #4: Lovecraftiana

Below you will find the details for the forthcoming (November 2015) issue of the Lazy Fascist Review. This issue’s theme is Lovecraftiana. Please read all the submission guidelines carefully before submitting!

Basic details: I will be looking for stories set in any time period, 2-7k in length. Payment will be $75 per story.

IF YOU ALREADY SUBMITTED: Do not worry; do not resubmit. Your submissions will be considered even if they’re not within the above parameters.

No poetry.

No reprints.

No multiple submissions, no simultaneous submissions.*

Title your submissions LOVECRAFTIAN ISSUE: [Story Title], and send them to lazyfascistreview at gmail dot com.

The reading window is from the moment this appears on the Internet until July 1st, 2015. Anything arriving after that date will be deleted unread. Final selection will be announced by mid-September, though rejections may arrive earlier.

During the reading period, all submissions must be sent as a Word document in Standard Manuscript Format, double spaced, blah blah blah.

IF YOU ALREADY SUBMITTED: Do not worry; do not resubmit. Your submissions will be considered even if they’re not correctly formatted.

Now for the good stuff. What am I looking for?

This is the Lovecraftiana issue of Lazy Fascist Review. That means stories submitted should seek to explore some combination of Bizarro with the themes typically found in Mythos fiction. This could mean just about anything, so do not be daunted or put off by this. That said, for those of you unfamiliar with Bizarro, consider familiarizing yourself with the genre before submitting. This is not to say anyone should worry whether their submission “is” or “isn’t” Bizarro enough, or Bizarro at all… this is just a prompt to get interested writers to think in a slightly different mode than usual. There are an astounding number of titles out there, including compendiums like The Best Bizarro Fiction of the Decade. Read a little, have fun, and see where it takes you.

As for Lovecraft, his creations (Cthulhu and other elder gods, settings such as R’lyeh, works like the Necronomicon) exist ambiguously within the public domain. This means authors can play in Lovecraft’s sandbox with a relatively clean conscience or fear of being sued. Not so for those who came after—the “Lovecraftian” stories of Howard, Campbell, and modern authors are the property of those authors alone. I’m too busy to deal with a lawsuit, so keep your stories firmly within Lovecraft’s Lovecraftiana. This means you can draw settings, characters, motifs, whatever from that which he wrote about. A good source to check would be H.P. Lovecraft.com.

As for some interesting examples of what a pairing of Bizarro and Lovecraftiana could look like, here are a few good examples…

  • The exploration of sex and torture in Makino Osamsu’s “Necrophallus”
  • The gleeful post-human world of Nick Mamatas’ “Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Nyarlathotep”
  • The brooding, futile insanity of the arms race in Charles Stross’ “A Colder War”
  • The fear of contamination and mutation featured in Tetsuo the Iron Man
  • The somber disquiet featured in Caitlin R. Kiernan stories like “Faces in Revolving Souls” and “Andromeda Among the Stones”

This is a scant handful of potential explorations. Show me what you think it means, I want to find out. One thing I’m not looking for: straight-up Lovecraftian pastiche. Save that for other markets, I’m more interested in seeing new takes on old themes than retreads of “oh, woe is me, I am so insane after I saw x, let me tell you about it before I kill myself.”

What else… I am not at all adverse to mature content, be it sexual, pharmacological, or violent in nature. That said, stories featuring rape will be a particularly tough sell.

Additionally, I will be actively seeking to represent a diverse array of voices and themes in this issue of Lazy Fascist Review. Women, LGTB individuals, people of color, and other traditionally “outsider” voices in the Mythos are particularly encouraged to submit. Lovecraftiana is evolving to be more accepting of “the other,” and this issue of LFR is committed to continuing that process. All authors are invited and encouraged to submit tales that expand Lovecraftiana while retaining its focus on cosmic horror, the grotesque, the fear of succumbing, weirdness in general, that beyond which man can (or should know), and so on.

Good luck, and send any questions to lazyfascistreview at gmail dot com with the subject heading LOVECRAFTIAN ISSUE: Question.

*If you submitted before these guidelines appeared, and wish to withdraw, or send one (1) additional story that you feel might be a better fit, you may do so. Also, if you submitted before these guidelines appeared and have submitted the story elsewhere, it WILL NOT be withdrawn from consideration. You get special dispensation. Lucky you!

I’m happy to announce that Films of High Adventure is back! That’s right, remember when Jesse and I used to watch turkeys like The Craft and then write up our thoughts and feelings in a vaguely amusing fashion? Or think we were in for a turkey, and then praise films that withstood the test of time? Like… I dunno, those were pretty few and far between actually.

Anywho, we’re back on it, doing it once a month for Pornokitch. The first installment is up: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Most enthralling, dude.

Next Thursday, keep your eyes peeled for the first in my new series, Pygmalia. I’ll deconstruct The Bride and rant about the patriarchy.

Mr VampireYikes! I wasn’t expecting this so soon in 2015, but Vermilion is… imminent here in ARC form,out in the world, digital and hard copy.

If you are a book reviewer, and would like to receive an uncorrected ARC for review, please contact Ross Lockhart at publicity[at]wordhorde.com. ARC!Also, if you know any book reviewers into some or all of the following, maybe send them this way, or at least spread the word: gender fluidity, weird westerns, steampunk-y things, sickness, death, and dying, sea lions, vampires, San Francisco, hiking, the Rocky Mountains, trains, bears, the Mr. Vampire franchise from the 1980s, ghosts, punching things, Big Trouble in Little China, friendship, sanatorium culture a la The Road to Wellville, hysteria, adventures, snow, mountains, sexual tension, mysteries, and… uh… I guess that’s enough to go on.

Thanks, and happy reading!

First: thank you, everyone who posted a new review of A Pretty Mouth yesterday. I’m at 25! Yay achievable goals!

Okay. Onward: I’m so excited to announce the existence of (and the imminent open reading period for) Swords v. Cthulhu, the followup to Stone Skin Press‘s Shotguns v. Cthulhu. Most exciting, for me, is that… I’ll be (co-)editing it with Jesse Bullington! My first anthology… aww… no, more like AWW YEAH!!

In short, we’re looking for adventure romps in which sinewy muscle and cold steel are pitted against the minions of the Great Old Ones, stories combining movement and violence with the existential despair at the heart of Lovecraft’s work; the cerebral cohabitating with rowdy action sequences. We’re also actively encouraging writers of color, women, GLBT writers, and other traditional outsiders to the Mythos to contribute. We want to have a Table of Contents as diverse as it is kick-ass, so please—if you want to submit, do, and if you know a writer who you think would be perfect for this, please tell them.

The full guidelines are here, on the Stone Skin Press site. Go forth—sally forth, even—and write us a tale of high adventure (and depressing weirdness)!

I have now officially completed and turned in the manuscripts for the two novels that will be coming out this year: my debut, Vermilion (in April), and The Pleasure Merchant (in November). But before that time, I’d really like to get A Pretty Mouth up to 25 reviews on Amazon. I learned last year that good things happen with Amazon’s algorithms when you have 25 reviews for a book, and as A Pretty Mouth is already at 18, I feel like this is… achievable.

If you’ve read A Pretty Mouth, whether you kinda liked it, or totally bazonkers loved it, I’d so appreciate it if you took a few minutes to put a review up on Amazon. (I assume if you hated it, you’re not reading this—but if you did hate it, and are reading this, go ‘head and review, I can take it.)

I am truly grateful for all the attention A Pretty Mouth has received since its publication back in 2012—new readers still seem to be reading and enjoying it, which is wonderful! I know books have an excitement life of six months to a year, so the fact that people are still discovering A Pretty Mouth is astounding to me. But, the sad truth is that while it’s always exciting and touching to hear personally from someone who enjoyed your work… it’s generally more helpful (if you’d like to see more from that author) if that praise is put into review form.

Anyways, I’ll keep this hat-in-hand begging short and sweet. Thanks in advance, no worries if you’re too busy or can’t even remember what A Pretty Mouth was about. Happy New Year, and watch this space for news about forthcoming projects!

The end of the year is fast approaching, and as usual it has inspired me to make a fruitcake and do fruitcake 2a little housekeeping, taking stock of what this year has meant for me as a writer, a reader, and just a person, too.

I confess that 2014 has been a difficult year for me. Sort of like Longfellow’s little girl with a curl right in the center of her forehead, when this year was good, it was very good indeed, and when it was bad it was horrid.

I struggled with personal relationships this year, with both friends and with my family, but I also reconnected with several old friends, and was privileged to witness a truly amazing event in my immediate family—my uncle surviving a bone marrow transplant from my mother.

After enjoying performing lion dance over Chinese New Year I decided to take a leave of absence from my kung fu studio for personal reasons both physical and mental. And while I felt less fit overall this year since 2011 (the year I committed myself to taking time for fitness) I ran my first triathlon and achieved the times I wanted.

I wrote a novel that is a total mess, that I may trunk forever, but I also wrote one that I believe may be my best yet.

As is apparent from that last point, I struggled with my writing this year, aesthetically and emotionally, but I also sold a handful more short stories than usual, ones that I like more than usual, even, and I also sold my first novel, my second novel, and a novella.

Though I struggled with feelings of career stagnation, I achieved some other firsts this year. I edited my first ever magazine edition (in spite of being Managing Editor/Assistant Editor of several magazines over the years, I was never invited to take part in actual fiction-selection), and was invited to edit two more projects, an issue of another magazine, due out next year, and another project which has not yet been announced.

Though I did not have a book come out this year, I saw seven short stories published, one of which earned me my first-ever mention in Publishers Weekly, and I sold seven more. I also began (and completed, more impressively for me) a blog series for Pornokitsch, where I am now a regular contributor.

For the first time since 2009 I did not attend a single con, but I was invited to be a guest—an actual guest, not just a participant—at a con next year, a first for me. I turned down cons for good and bad reasons this year, a learning experience, but I also traveled to Japan, which was an amazing experience.

I read more this year than I have in many, many years, in part due to a concerted effort to do so. I kept track of my adventures on Goodreads, which was enlightening. After beginning the year at a good clip I had hoped to read 75 books this year. I’m currently at 65 and I’m not sure I’ll be able to squeeze in ten before the new year, but I’ll try–and whatever I achieve will be extremely rewarding, I’m sure.

I also played video games for the first time in years—Dragon Age 2, and I just started Dragon Age: Origins. As this was also a rewarding experience, I hope to play more games in future, as I am woefully ignorant of the state of gaming, having never owned a video game system that wasn’t Nintendo. Onward to Skyrim, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect, and more!

2015 should be an exiting year. Having my first novel come out, and my second, is already a thrilling but intimidating prospect. I’ll be doing two other blog series for Pornokitch, which I hope to complete with the same or greater level of success as the last. I’m enthusiastic to do more races, to have new adventures (didn’t get to my annual 14er this year), and to begin new writing projects with more confidence and self-assuredness in what I do best, rather in what I wished I did better.

I hope you all had wonderful years, and if you didn’t I hope your 2015 is better. Cheers!

I won’t just have one novel out next year… I’ll have two!

Lazy Fascist, who did such a great job with A Pretty Mouth, will be putting out my second full-length novel, The Pleasure Merchant, in Fall 2015. The formal announcement is here, on Pornokitch. I’m really stoked. Here’s a short description:

wigsThe Pleasure Merchant;

Or, The Modern Pygmalion

“To truly know a man, you must know his pleasure…”

Tom Dawne is a modest boy with modest dreams that befit his modest station in life. An orphan, apprenticed to a respectable wigmaker, all Tom has ever wanted is to learn his trade, marry his master’s daughter, and become a full partner in the business.

Unfortunately, after a mysterious young gentleman calling himself Callow Bewit tampers with one of Tom’s most important commissions, Tom is summarily dismissed and turned out into the street. It’s as strange as it is unfair—Tom has no idea how the youth planted all those playing cards in the damn wig, causing its owner to be accused of cheating during a high-stakes game at a very fancy party. But he must have done it—Tom certainly had nothing to do with the affair.

Stranger still, in the wake of Tom’s disgrace, Callow Bewit’s father, the very rich and very unhappy Mr. Tiercel Bewit, offers Tom a new job… as his “cup-bearer,” whatever that means. Tom takes the position, even though it’s uncertain why Mr. Bewit feels any responsibility toward him at all—the boy in the wig shop was most definitely an impostor, for Mr. Bewit’s son Callow is away in Europe on his grand tour. Could it be the gentleman had something to do with the scandal? Or is he simply a kindly old man with a heart of gold?

Whatever the case might be, Mr. Bewit’s generosity initiates Tom’s meteoric rise in 18th century London society. But as Tom goes from disgraced apprentice to gentleman’s servant, and then from gentleman’s servant to gentleman-in-training, his desires change as much as his duties, and his pleasures even more than his station. Once, a small shop and an intelligent bride would have satisfied Tom’s every desire. Now all he can dream of is climbing the social ladder, even if he’s unsure what’s at the top.

When Tom meets a man who claims he can obtain Tom’s ultimate pleasure—for a price—what will Tom ask for? A secure life as an obscure tradesman? A fate more glittering and glorious? Or something darker, like revenge on those who have wronged him? Pleasure can take many forms, after all…

Aw man. Left it too late again…

October’s been a crazy month. In spite of two major deadlines looming, I went to Japan for two weeks, which was awesome! More on that when I have time to upload a thousand pictures of temples and deer and stuff.

As my deadlines seem a lot closer on this side of the trip (and my birthday—I’m 33 now, righteous), here’s a quick update of things I’ve been doing:

  • Speaking of Pornokitsch, I had a new short story go up over there. Co-authored with Jesse Bullington, it’s called “Four Seasons in the Floating World™“. You can also buy it for 99 whole cents and read it on your e-reader.
  • In other news, I’ll be editing the 4th issue of Lazy Fascist Review, which won’t come out until a year from now. Guidelines and stuff when I have them. It’ll be some kind of Lovecraft theme, but I’ll probably narrow the scope when I have a minute to think on it.
  • I blind submitted a short story for the first time in several… years? And it was accepted! More details as I can share them.

That’s about it. Except… am I forgetting something?

Oh! That’s right!

One week from tomorrow…

watch-this-space

What could it be??

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