Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Horror Extra: The Creature Recants by Dale Bailey

This is a special edition of my Halloween Horror series, which is running on my comics blog, Panel Patter. If you love horror, go visit! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

I am a huge short fiction fan, especially in the realm of speculative fiction. I even write stories myself, with a publication upcoming in 2014. Among those of us who read and write short spec fiction, Clarkesworld Magazine is held in very high regard.

Each month, Clarkesworld publishes free short fiction online, usually three new stories and two reprints. They range from haunting tales that will make you cry to raunchy, irreverent stories with sexual themes.

The "third" story this month (named because they are read week by week in podcast form, also free) is The Creature Recants, by Dale Bailey, and I can think of no more appropriate story to recommend here in the best Holiday season, Halloween.

In this story, the Creature from the Black Lagoon is real, and working in Hollywood, getting advice from Boris Karloff in a brilliant cameo, and dealing with how his life changed the day he was brought into the world of humans by Amazon poachers.

The life of the Creature is a tragic one, as portrayed by Bailey. He knows he will be forever typecast and no matter how refined, human society cannot--and will not--accept him. He tries to make it work, but ultimately, the reader and the protagonist know that it cannot. When the story reaches a climax that is restrained yet brutal, we know what the Creature must do.

Bailey has a long trail of short story sales, including stories published in Lightspeed and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, with a new story upcoming on It's easy to see how he's become so successful (including a few novels and a short story collection), as his prose flows off the page easily, each paragraph building upon the other to craft a full and complete story that leaves the reader satisfied.

Filled with nifty asides about being part of the Universal Horror machine towards the end of its life, the gimmicks of the movie industry, and the idea of identity, place, and perception The Creature Recants is not only a great Halloween-themed tale, it's an amazing short story that is one of the best I've read this year.

Check in out in prose form, but if you're of a podcast mind, Kate Baker really outdoes herself in the audio version. Either way, read this story today, and you'll soon see not only why I like it, but why Clarkesworld should be a part of your regular online reading rotation.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Signal Boost: Support Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Fantasy

Those who know me know that I am a big supporter of projects that interest me on Kickstarter/Indie Go Go/what-have-you, especially ones that are working to fill a niche that larger publishers with working budgets aren't able to.

I've found another one that I'd like you to consider supporting, because it's a great idea and as of this writing is falling short of its goal with only four days to go.

The project is called Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Fantasy, and its goal is to create an anthology of YA-themed stories with protagonists who aren't seen with enough frequency in a publishing context. From the project page's description:
Too often popular culture and media defaults to a very narrow cross section of the world's populace. We believe that people of all kinds want to see themselves reflected in stories. We also believe that readers actively enjoy reading stories about people who aren't exactly like them. 
The main characters in Kaleidoscope stories will be part of the QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled, from non-Western cultures, people of color, or in some other way not the typical straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied characters we see all over the place.
Now that's not unusual as an effort in small publishing. However, if you don't do it right, the results are ham-fisted and don't tell a good story. What I liked about this project's plan--and the reason I chose to back it--was this additional comment:
 That said, these aren't going to be issue stories. The focus here is contemporary fantasy, and while the characters' backgrounds will necessarily affect how they engage with the world, we're not going to have a collection of "Very Special Episode" stories about kids coming to terms with their sexuality/disability/mental illness/cultural identity, etc. We want to see protagonists from all sorts of backgrounds being the heroes of their own journeys.
 That's extremely important. The key to a good story should always be the *story* not "Hey look, my characters are obviously gay!" or "See, I wrote this character as Black. Why are you asking about why she never faces any issues as a result of her race?"

It's a tricky balance, but I trust this one to work because of who is involved in the project. Julia Rios is a fiction editor at the highly regarded Strange Horizons weekly online fiction magazine. Strange Horizons regularly publishes fiction in which the characters fit the quiltbag designation. For example, a few weeks ago, the story was about two gay teens and how one lures in his paramours with a tale of a ghost who watches them make love. This past week's story features a girl who is picked on for being queer, even though she's not--she's just a tomboy. Given Rios' background, I fully trust her to be able to help select the stories that are the best, not just the ones with the best-fitting characters.

In addition, I have great faith in two of the committed contributors, Ken Liu and Vylar Kaftan, to turn in amazing stories to anchor the anthology. Liu's popularity is well-founded, being nominated--and winning--awards left and right this year. Kaftan is not only a great writer, but she's also strongly supportive of the rights of those whose voices often go unheard. They're solid picks for this project.

I am less familiar with the publisher, Twelfth Planet press, but the fact that this project comes from a small press with an extensive back catalog should help ease the worries of those who fear projects that fund but never deliver. It would significantly harm the reputation of Twelfth Planet if this doesn't see print, should it make its goal. They are also paying authors pro rates, which is a sign of professionalism.

Kaleidoscope is a wonderful project that deserves a place on the bookshelf. If you are interested in YA fiction and have $5 (or more) budgeted for a new book, consider putting it towards this one. I really want to see this make it, but it won't if we don't help get it started. Take a moment if you agree and pledge.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Trip to the Baltimore Book Festival 2013

Baltimore Book Festival Entrance
This past weekend, Erica and I (along with friends Kelly, Sam, Sarah, Michael, and Nolina at various points) hung out for a bit at the 2013 Baltimore Book Festival. Despite living here for four years, this was my first time going, because honestly, I was usually too busy.

I made the time this year, and I am glad I did. It's really awesome to see a city like Baltimore, which has quite a few issues when it comes to its priorities, come together to celebrate the act of reading of all kinds.

And that was the thing I liked about this festival--whether it was romances, kids books, anarchy, or even cook books--the focus was on the printed/digital word. Even the vendors were primarily focused on books, with plenty of opportunities to grab used or new books for cheap, try out a indie author looking to break out into the next big thing, or even subscribe to a newspaper. Comics were sorted out into their own area, which is either good or bad, depending on your outlook, and of course the Pratt Library was out in full force, doing their "get carded" program.

The Short Fiction in Sci Fi Panel
Because of the variety, it seemed like the festival was serving a huge proportion of the Baltimore reading community, and I was pleased to see that it was a multi-racial affair. In fact, being blunt, it's about the most integrated I've ever seen Baltimore. (Readers are cool that way.) While walking around, I saw the tents containing the programming full to the brim almost everywhere, with the biggest crowds for the Romance and Science Fiction folks. (Fans of genres are nothing if not passionate.)

While I personally did not do a lot of panel-sitting--I'm notoriously bad at this if there's things to look at (see my visits to comic cons over at Panel Patter)--my friends did, and they came away very impressed with the quality of the presentations. One told me she'd learned a lot and was going to start putting certain ideas she got at the show into immediate practice to improve her writing craft. I realize I'm a bit biased because of the moderator, but Sarah Pinsker did another spectacular job running the short fiction panel, picking good questions and keeping all members of the panel on task and involved.

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society
I also appreciate that there's always a place for the more radical side of Baltimore to speak at the show, though I missed their stuff this time around. Another booth had a person talking frankly of the race issues in Baltimore and his experiences, which I thought was great.

For various reasons due mostly to jet lag, I didn't spend as much time at the Festival as I might have normally, but what I saw I thought was well run, with few hiccups or annoyances. The number of cops did give me pause (did they think there'd be a book riot or something?) and they need to turn the music down at the bandstand, but otherwise, I would recommend this little outdoor con without hesitation. It's free, pretty easy to get to by Baltimore transportation, and even worth the drive if you're just outside the area.

This will almost certainly be my own trip to the Baltimore Book Festival, but it was a good one, and I hope it continues for many years to come.

You can find a complete set of my pictures from the Baltimore Book Festival 2013 here.