Anatomy of a Sequel

By Lesley Conner
on September 24, 2019

Guest post by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, author of Winterglass and Mirrorstrike

A few facts, to set the scene:

  1. Winterglass was originally written as a standalone (no, really!)
  2. Not just a standalone, it was conceived as a short story
  3. I thought it would write itself, because it’s a retelling of a well-known fairytale. Those are so done, nobody wants to read another one, right? It was going to be a funny length anyway so I thought, well, this goes into a folder and stays there; I had no intention of pursuing publication for it 
  4. I don’t outline because I don’t outline short stories, and Winterglass was going to be a short story, you see
  5. I knew I was in trouble when Winterglass started developing subplots but I still had faith that it was going to just be a longer short story, that which we call the novelette
  6. It was going to be, at most, 12,000–15,000 words and more closely follows the Andersen tale (the actual book is more than twice as long and deviates pretty far from the Andersen tale)
  7. Oops

Needless to say, when some people told me they were (pleasantly) surprised that there will be a sequel, I was surprised too. Not at the same time, obviously, that would be weird. I like to think my publisher, Jason, was surprised too (or maybe not; possibly he could sense all along that a sequel was inevitable). But when I wrote the last paragraphs of Winterglass, I was absolutely satisfied that the story was done: it was concluded, there needed be no further addition. Yes, it ends on a bleak note—not even pyrrhic, just self-destructive; yes, some people read it as a sequel hook (it truly wasn’t). Nevertheless, that was the ending. 

To explain, I started off with short fiction; publication-wise that was my background. And short fiction can have open endings, since typically they don’t have sequels (or at least aren’t expected to have any), so ending on this note would have been perfectly normal if Winterglass had been a short story (and I maintain that it’s fine to end longer-form work this way, but). An open ending implies rather than shows, and that’s what I wanted with Winterglass, to suggest what is to come (and what’s to come isn’t very pleasant). For short stories, ambiguous endings are not uncommon, you don’t necessarily expect to see a character’s entire life, past, present and future; you don’t even necessarily expect to see whether they succeed at what they set out to do in the story’s paragraph one. Closure is optional and not always the point. 

Novellas are interesting in that they’re expected to behave more like novels than short stories. I don’t think they should have to, but of course I’m not everyone; I think of novellas as its own format rather than some weird in-between hybrid (naturally I am biased). Being more compact, it has to arrive at a point; you can’t Robert Jordan your way through fourteen books where nothing happens and characters are described tugging their braids the same way approximately 5,000,000 times. There just isn’t any room. And, by nature of the format, it’s most practical for me to assume that you’ll get only one shot at the story. Novellas are standalones more often than not.

Regardless, I did wind up writing a sequel.

It went through several drafts; I think accounting for all drafts, it probably took me about a year to write, final draft, revise, and submit. This absolutely took longer than was strictly necessary, partly because my first go at it wasn’t serious: I thought, okay, maybe I’ll write a sequel but maybe I won’t, who knows? I wrote it halfway and let it lie for months, then went to write some short stories (one of which being ‘That Rough-Hewn Sun’). Several people convinced me that a sequel could be a good idea, so I came at the final draft with a bit more vigor and a more solid idea of what should be. This was a little aggravating in the sense that I believe in stories as self-contained.

On the other hand, I’ve always wanted to title sequels. That’s fun, though I went through a lot of iterations before I came to Mirrorstrike, whereas the first book’s title was decided pretty early on (and did me the favor of naming itself).

Much like the first book, the initial draft and the final one were radically different—originally, Mirrorstrike was going to take place in a city that’s sprung up beneath the Winter Queen’s palace, but after writing ‘That Rough-Hewn Sun’ (a prequel novelette dealing with Lussadh’s first contact with the queen) I felt there was more resonance in returning to Lussadh’s homeland and the site of her great treachery. This set off an interesting series of exercises, one of which was to recheck and cross-reference with the first book and the novelette for consistencies: new to me given that, prior, I’d only written connected short stories (and connection means the same setting, sometimes the same set of characters, but often set years or even centuries apart) and there wasn’t much cross-referencing to do. And, I had to tell a story that I’d earlier only implied.

However, what I originally implied with the ending of Winterglass is … well … exactly what it sounds like: I intended to suggest that Nuawa dies trying to bring down the Winter Queen, and her icy reign goes on and on, long past Nuawa’s lifespan. But readers take that kind of ending poorly, and in any case I came up with a different plot, a different set of ideas. One of those ideas is showing Lussadh’s political difficulties, how she handles the courtiers and soldiers that helped her revolt succeed, the promises she made to them and in some cases didn’t keep. And she’s got a compelling tale of her own, I like to think; at any rate many readers enjoyed her. (I was always surprised to see some people think of her as the antagonist—to me she was always Nuawa’s co-protagonist, and I’m hoping Mirrorstrike will bring that into clearer focus.)

Because I never do things according to plan, Mirrorstrike ended up being much longer than I thought, and also considerably longer than Winterglass, which gave me a bit more space to work with. It’s all very novel (pun intended) to me, and I hope readers will enjoy the end result as much as I did crafting it.

Pick up a copy of Winterglass and preorder Mirrorstrike now and save 25% with discount code SEPTEMBER.

Thoughts on "I Remember the Future"

By Lesley Conner
on September 19, 2019

Guest post by Michael A. Burstein, author of I Remember the Future

Back in 2007, I was hoping to publish a collection of my short stories. Many of my stories had been nominated for awards since my first story was published in 1995 and it seemed to me that there might be a market for a collection. Generally, though, publishers don’t publish short story collections unless the writer also has a novel in print, and that wasn’t my case. I had shopped around a collection of stories without much success until my friend and fellow writer Jennifer Pelland helped me out.

Jen had been publishing stories with Apex Magazine, and the publisher at Apex, Jason Sizemore, had decided to publish a powerful collection of her stories, Unwelcome Bodies, even though she too at the time did not have a novel in print. (That changed shortly afterwards, but that’s more her story, not mine.) Jen brought my work to Jason’s attention, and given how many publishers had already turned me down, I sent Jason a sample of my published work with little expectation that it would go anywhere.

Jason surprised me multiple times. First, he decided that he liked my stories, even though for the most part they didn’t quite fit into the Apex perspective. Then we had to decide how long to make the book. He wanted to keep it short as a shorter book would cost less to produce and be easier to sell. I pointed out to Jason, however, that a good theme for the collection could be “award-nominated stores.” A collection of all of my Hugo and Nebula finalist stories would be a more promotable book, despite it being more than twice as big as Jason wanted it to be. After about a day, Jason decided what the heck, let’s go with it!

The book was released on November 2, 2008, and we held a huge publication party at the main branch of the Public Library of Brookline, MA, where I was and still am a trustee. I signed special editions of the hardcover for about two hours. It was a thrill. I would love to do another collection soon.

Finally, I’m obviously very glad Jason was willing to publish the collection but I’m even more glad that he insisted on a brand-new story for the title of the book. After my high school friend Andrew Marc Greene suggested the title “I Remember the Future,” I crafted a tale about an old science-fiction writer who is estranged from his only daughter and is disappointed with the way the real world turned out. The story sparked interest from two student filmmakers and one of them even ended up making a student film that won an award in a film festival. Maybe that might lead to something else one day.

Pick up your own copy of I Remember the Future and save 25% with discount code SEPTEMBER through the end of the month!

On the Importance of Having Your Book Translated (Not Your Mind-Set)

By Lesley Conner
on September 17, 2019

Guest post by Francesco Verso, author of Nexhuman

Publishing in English is considered the apex of any writer born in a non-English speaking country. It is very much so.

You benefit from a bigger audience (in terms of readers and reviewers) and you can be easily translated into other languages. In just 30 or 40 years, English language has become the only (financially sustainable) source of fiction and non-fiction across the world, generating an irresistible magnetic attraction towards it. Apparently, this pull has resulted in an unprecedented number of books published by non-English speaking writers that nonetheless write in English and a surprising openness to other ideas and cultures (provided you can submit your translated work in English). But, in the long term, what would happen if all non-English speaking writers embrace one single language, adhere to one single culture, chase one single market, and represent one single point of view from which to give shape to our creativity, our very own words and the metaphors we use to reflect upon reality?

Being Italian, I know what cultural dominance looks like. The Roman Empire ruled the world for centuries, Latin was the official language of culture, Roman roads were the infrastructure of communication, Roman Law was the measure of justice, Roman art was the perfect device to export a desirable lifestyle in the provinces for all the novi homines (“new men” born from non-Patrician families that were worthy to become Roman citizens).    

And yet, the old saying goes: “When in Rome, do like the Romans do,” meaning that when you visit a foreign country you shouldn’t look for the usual customs and standards you’re used to. And what a better example of a foreign country than a science fiction book set in an imaginary city and written by a non-English speaking writer!

If in writing Livido (the original title of Nexhuman) had I considered the book a commodity, an easy to consume by-product of a writer’s creativity, then I would have intentionally inserted in the plot easily recognizable cultural references and exportable settings. Instead I’ve let my identity and cultural background take the lead—my genius loci—a mix of Italian history, Mediterranean geography, and contemporary European culture.

Being that Nexhuman is set in an imaginary city of the near future, I wanted to reproduce a sense of “globalized interconnected scenario” where powerful forces play a dominant role on weaker ones, where consumerism transformed well-being into well-having (or better not-having), leading to dangerous consequences for the environment and unexpected twists for the human body and human relations. In a way, that’s what is happening in many parts of the one-way globalized world, where removing pain and fatigue from daily work and weekly pleasures has led to a comfortably numb lifestyle.

It is your original language and culture that has to be translated, not your mindset.

In this way, you will preserve the biodiversity of your writing and freedom of thinking: if you indulge too much into pleasing any world-dominant culture (yesterday the Roman, now the English, tomorrow another one) you risk losing yourself in search of the latest trendy mass market, and you end up damaging not only your own creativity but the whole world representativeness of the genre and literature.

Picture the flowers growing only in your region.

Recall that saying that tells so much about your people.

Point to the star visible only from your portion of the sky.

Name the feeling no other language can really grasp.

Savour your preferred local dish.

It’s your identity I am talking about and nobody else’s.

Yet, a translator can do the magic and give you the same sparkle to light a candle in the dark of a foreign land, maybe made by a slightly different material, but still a candle. After all, it’s that particular fire and unique taste coming from that unmapped territory that the readers are looking for to expand the boundaries of their knowledge and awareness.

It might sound like a too vague concept to be accepted—every single writer shaping the world culture, one story at the time—but at the accelerated rate with which capitalism is proceeding, unravelled by any other system, such neglected risk becomes almost a certainty. At this very moment, storytelling is being handed over to Big Data, Algorithms, and Artificial Intelligence’s bias: they are the ones who are shaping our minds and perceptions in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Currently our stories don’t just run the risk of the single storyteller, they’re at risk of being told by an unhuman one: the AI’s are coming for all of us.

That’s not to complain against a particular technology or culture. We are all as much as into science fiction as we are part of an “hyperobject” called Anthropocene. Instead this wants to be a distress call in order to better understand what we can know and learn about the world we live in. Science fiction is a wonderful tool to sharpen our views and imagine alternative ways to improve people’s condition according to our desires.  

That’s why books must not be transformed into easily swallowable commodities and shouldn’t make you feel comfortable—the two words derive from Latin “cum”+“modus” meaning something complaint and relaxed, and “cum”+“fortis” meaning strengthening and easing the pain—instead they are wormholes into other (cultural) dimensions, time-machines to revive (unknown) pasts and futures, perfect devices for (challenging) worldbuilding, and mapping the (alien) psychology of human beings.

Very often mass market wins over niche genres but sometimes it’s the other way around. I will always be thankful to Jason Sizemore (nomen omen!) and Apex Books for giving Nexhuman a chance to emerge from the invisibility of non-English speaking countries.

Pick up a copy of Nexhuman and save 25% with discount code SEPTEMBER.

HebrewPunk

By Lesley Conner
on September 12, 2019

Guest post by Lavie Tidhar, author of HebrewPunk and An Occupation of Angels, and editor of the Apex Book of World SF series.

HebrewPunk, one of the first books ever published by Jason Sizemore’s then-fledgling Apex Publications back in the sunny summer of 2007, is still near and dear to my heart. I don’t think it ever sold a tremendous amount of copies (but then, what book of mine has!), yet, improbably, it always pops up. I can never do a signing at some event—be it in Sweden, Poland or Singapore—without someone coming over with a paperback copy of, yes, HebrewPunk, of all things.

It’s also close to my heart because, in many ways, it is the book where I began to define to myself what it was I was doing. The interest in how genres work, the interest in history, the interest in both politics and pulp and how they might actually come to work together.

And it is close to my heart because the second story in the collection had a meaningful impact on my career. “The Dope Fiend” was not only one of my very first proper professional sales but it was the biggest in many ways, being the very last story published on the Sci Fi Channel’s Sci Fiction website edited by Ellen Datlow. It was a huge vote of confidence in work I was not yet myself confident about.

And that story, as it turned out, endured. I was a little horrified to be invited a couple of years ago to talk to a group of students about the story because, yes, it was part of the curriculum for their course. And then again the next year. It had somehow and impossibly become canon. As for me, I was simply relieved—on frantically going back to read it for the first time in years so I might know what I’m actually talking about!—to find out I still liked it a fair bit.

Phew.

As soon as I wrote the first story in the sequence, “The Heist”, the concept of HebrewPunk appeared. I had to write three more stories. Each would be set in a different historical period and setting (Transylvania in World War Two; 1920s London; 1904 British East Africa) and each would be in a recognisable genre (a WW2 story; a “dope fiend” story; a Lost World story). And each would focus on one of the three characters from the first story.

The first three were published separately. The last one, “Uganda”, I wrote specifically for the book once we’ve agreed publication. It would serve, many years later, as one of the seeds for my recent novel, Unholy Land.

I’ve loved the cover of the book from day one—Jason had commissioned an artist called Melissa Gay, and it is worthy of being a Weird Tales cover circa 1934. It was a proper oil painting, too, and I often wish I’d bought it when I had the chance! A few years later I was fortunate enough to get another Melissa Gay cover, this time for Jesus & The Eightfold Path, which was originally serialised in Apex and for which Jason later provided the introduction ... But that’s a different story.

The book came out while I was living on the island of Vanua Lava in Vanuatu, arriving in a mail bag carried by a small Cessna that landed in the grassy field below the volcano a couple of times a week. I kept my one copy on my one shelf in my bamboo hut across the bay. I lugged it with me around the world since then and it’s still sitting on my current bookshelf as I type this: older, a little worn down, but still going—much like me, I suppose. So, yes. HebrewPunk has been with me for a while. I am incredibly fond of it—and I look forward to the next unlikely copy to turn up wherever I am next in the world.

Pick up a copy of HebrewPunk, An Occupation of Angels, any of the Apex Book of World SF series, and any other Apex title, and save 25% with discount code SEPTEMBER.

Much Needed Asylum

By Lesley Conner
on September 11, 2019

Guest post by Mark Allan Gunnells, author of Asylum

Asylum was the second book I ever had published, but it was the book in which I felt I really came into my own. This work featured all gay characters and explored LGBT themes in a very direct and bold way. As a writer with a love of horror and suspense fiction, but also an openly gay man, I always wanted to mix these two aspects of myself together in my fiction. When I wrote this novella, before things like The Walking Dead, I had noted that there was a lack of gay characters in this type of fiction. In fact, the original kernel that became Asylum came with the idea of making a sort of Night of the Living Dead set in a gay club instead of a farmhouse.

But once I finished the novella, I wasn’t sure I’d ever find a home for it. Early on, I encountered a few publishers who didn’t seem to know what to do with a work that did not shy away from LGBT material. This piece in particular was one of which I was exceptionally proud, but it seemed destined to go unpublished. Some of the publishers were very direct in letting me know that they didn’t think this work would appeal to their readership which was primarily made up of heterosexual males.

I had gotten to a point where I was considering self-publishing Asylum … and then came Apex, my salvation and my refuge. My asylum.

I happened to spot on a message board somewhere that Jason Sizemore was looking for zombie novellas. I knew of Apex Publishing, but had never had any direct contact with Jason at the time, but I figured, what the hell? Couldn’t hurt to try.

Much to my delight, Jason accepted it really quickly and put it on the fast track to publication. He didn’t even blink an eye when it came to the LGBT content. He treated it like no big deal, and that included in the promotion of the work. He didn’t treat it like a “gay” story, but just as a story that happened to feature gay characters and concerns. That may seem like a small thing, but for me it was monumental. It showed me that there was a place for me at the table.

Even to this day, going on ten years later, Asylum is the work I’m mostly closely associated with, almost my signature piece. It perfectly encapsulates what I’m most interested in as a writer, taking familiar horror themes and filtering them through an LGBT lens. And heterosexual male readers don’t seem put off by it, as that one publisher feared, but seem to appreciate a fresh perspective on a classic trope.

I will always be grateful to Apex for believing in me and for really pushing this book hard. A couple of years ago they even rereleased the title with a new gorgeous cover and an original short story set in the world of Asylum. Apex gave me confidence at a time when I really needed it, confidence that my vision for the kinds of stories I wanted to write was viable.

I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if not for my association with Apex.

Pick up Asylum and any other back catalog titles missing from your personal library and save 25% with discount code SEPTEMBER.

My Take on Zombies By Way of My Apex Novel, Desper Hollow

By Lesley Conner
on September 05, 2019

Guest post by Elizabeth Massie, author of Desper Hollow

Zombie fiction offers all sorts of variations on the living/walking dead mythos. Most of these novels or short stories are apocalyptic, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it epics, featuring scores of shambling, ambling rot-bods coming after one community or other filled with terrified but fighting-the-good-fight, still semi-normal human beings. As we all know, zombies are not only dangerous because they eat living flesh right off the bones of their victims, but if they bite you, you will likely become one, too. Very few things are as terrifying as a large mob of raggedy, jaw-snapping, drooling, brainless, hungry once-humans heading your way through the forest or down the road, or over the field. And stink? Whew!

So, I thought, Hmmm. (Yeah, I actually thought, Hmmm.) Then I thought, I want to write a zombie novel. Zombies are fun, right? I mean, sure, I basically know what they can and can’t do. Maybe I can find a somewhat different take on the living dead.

Now, I live in the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia. Beautiful territory. To the east are the Blue Ridge Mountains. And to the west are the famous and often infamous Appalachian Mountains. I’ve spent a lot of time in the mountains, driving around, hiking, geocaching. There are some fairly populated areas. There are small towns. There are tiny communities. And there are far flung individuals who live apart from almost everyone else.

And so, instead of creating a vast palate for my story, I brought it down. I shrunk the setting to the vicinity of Beaver Dam and Desper Hollow. I limited the number of human characters. I came up with a story that features no more than five zombies at a time. Oh, the zombies are as dangerous as any in a huge mob. They eat flesh and brains. But five are more than enough for my mountain folks to deal with.

It was all Granny Mustard’s fault, of course. She was the one who wanted to create an “immortality moonshine” that, rather than making animals and people live forever, created zombies. And once Granny met her brutal end, Granny’s socially-inept granddaughter, Jenkie, decided to create her own zombies, keep them in the back of her Desper Hollow trailer, and invite people from Hollywood to come see them, film them, and make her famous. Several folks from Beaver Dam thought that wasn’t such a good idea, however. They decided they had to get involved. To their own peril, naturally. I mean, we’re talking zombies here.

Check out Desper Hollow!

Pick up your own copy of Desper Hollow and save 25% on it and everything else you purchase in the Apex store all month long! Use discount code SEPTEMBER at checkout!

Pimp My Airship: Steampunk as Afrofuturism

By Lesley Conner
on September 04, 2019

Guest post by Maurice Broaddus, author of Pimp My Airship, I Can Transform You, and Orgy of Souls (with Wrath James White), editor of Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocations (with Jerry Gordon).

Afrofuturism is hot right now. Ever since Black Panther made its seismic splash, the term has been bandied about and suddenly folks are “discovering” black writers who have been out there doing the thing for years. The original “Pimp My Airship” steampunk short story was published in Apex Magazine in 2009, the beginning of what would be termed “steamfunk” (steampunk through the black cultural lens). Steamfunk and Afrofuturism do very similar work.

The term ‘Afrofuturism’ was coined in 1994 by cultural critic, Mark Dery in his essay “Black to the Future.” He defines it as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture — and more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future.” Ytasha Womack defines Afrofuturism as “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future, and liberation.” Similarly, steampunk is speculative fiction that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century steam-powered industrial age. They are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century British Victorian era or the American “Wild West,” in a future whose technology revolves around steam power.

Afrofuturism has a larger aesthetic mode, encompassing visual art, music, film, literature, and fashion to create a framework to critique our present, that’s rooted in history and looks to the future derived from Afrodiasporic experiences. Afrofuturism mixes science fiction and social justice, imagines the future through art and the lens of black experience, and is rooted in black people’s pursuit of a better future for ourselves on our terms.

Steampunk, with its emphasis on Victorian era ethos, features an aesthetic rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Historically, steampunk ignored the “darker” aspects of the Victorian Era, such as colonialism, sexism, classism, racism, and chattel slavery; its Make Literature Great Again mindset erasing POC. [In recent years this has been examined with works such as Steamfunk! by Milton J. Davis, The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia by Jaymee Goh, Steampunk World/Steampunk Universe by Sarah Hans, Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley, and The Black God's Drums by P. Djèlí Clark.]

In my novel Pimp My Airship, all the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional agitator known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. Beneath the comic romp, there’s some serious business that gets done, which coincides with the work that defines Afrofuturism.

Rooted in history. In my steampunk world—from “Pimp My Airship” to “Steppin’ Razor” to Buffalo Soldier to the nearly dozen other short stories set here—America lost the Revolutionary War and remains a colony of Albion. The legacy of slavery and colonialism have sown the seeds of racialism. Oppressive societal control systems have been built. And in this cauldron of racist systems, the city of Indianapolis—and the people who live there—struggles to figure out what it wants to be.

A framework to critique our present. Sleepy and Knowledge Allah have grown up in communities isolated by redlining, forgotten and abandoned in the undercity known as The Tombs. As their adventures escalate, these accidental revolutionaries have to navigate systems of an over-policed state, mass incarceration, and run up against the industrial-military complex arrayed against them.

Eye to the future. To overcome the way society remains unequal, there has to be visions of a future where the problems are solved. Revolution takes many forms. To paraphrase Tananarive Due, even imagining ourselves with a better future is an act of revolution. Each person has a simple question to answer: have you had enough? When that answer becomes yes, you have to leverage your gifts—be you poet, artist, or writer—to act where you are and lend your voice to The Cause.

Afrofuturist art is the intersection of a black cultural lens, technology, liberation, and imagination. It bridges the past and future to critique the present. Afrofuturism is about: Remembering, Resilience, and Resistance. It creates awareness, raising consciousness, and maps potential futures; beginning with a journey of self-discovery, exploring black identity; and involving a radical imagining as systemic baggage gets deconstructed. Afrofuturism allows conversations about race and oppression that people don’t know how to have. Pimp My Airship, with steampunk trappings as its backdrop, constantly asks the Afrofuturist question “What future do you want to see?” as it imagines alternative visions of tomorrow. Maybe with steamfunk meeting Afrofuturism, it’s time for a new genre label. Perhaps, as editor Bill Campbell suggests, “Funktrofuturism.”

All month long you can save 25% on Pimp My Airship and everything else in the Apex store! Use discount code SEPTEMBER to save!

A Carnival of One’s Own

By Lesley Conner
on September 03, 2019
1 comment

Guest post by E. Catherine Tobler, author of The Kraken Sea and The Grand Tour (upcoming)

When I was little, I didn’t like the circus.

It was all too much—too many lights, too many people, and the elephants didn’t look like they were having a great time. True, I didn’t have a lot of elephant references as a kid, but— Well, Dumbo was sure a trauma, wasn’t it?

Then, I read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury introduced me to the magic and wonder of traveling carnivals. That sense of wonder never left me, and so when the first of my circus stories arrived (“Vanishing Act”), I knew where its roots were. Around the same time that story came out, HBO was wrapping up Carnivale, a show I didn’t see until long after it had ended, but it too felt right when it came to the beautiful brokenness one might find while wandering a sideshow.

The more circus short stories I wrote, the more I realized I wanted to tackle a longer story in that universe, and given that in those days I always participated in Nanowrimo, I decided my Nano novel would be set with my circus people. I decided that I should tell, at long last, Jackson’s story.

Jackson figures into almost all of my circus short stories, even if he’s only a shadowy presence. He can be kind, but is often not terribly nice. Why was he so strange? How was he broken? How did he come to care for all of these other broken people and creatures? Did he really care for them or was it all a front?

The more I wrote, the more I realized I was trying to do too much. There was an entire secondary plot that was very much Not About Jackson, and didn’t add to his story at all. When I decided to cut that nonsense, I discovered that what I really had was perhaps a novella—but then Jackson, once given the entire floor, didn’t stop talking, and talked himself right into a short novel after all.

The Kraken Sea explores his background as one of the children on the orphan trains that often crossed the US carrying orphaned and homeless children, uniting them with families that wanted to adopt them, or in often more cruel cases, put them to work. The woman who takes Jackson in changes the course of his life, for better and for worse.

I knew Jackson’s past was rooted with the railroad—this journey from east to west was how he came to want his own train, given the freedom and opportunity the train represented to him. A train opened a door for him, and showed him the world was larger than one gray room. A train took him from the confines of the East Coast to the splendor of San Francisco. A train became his best friend—housing something that will affect the traveling circus for years to come.

Early next year, Apex Book Company will be publishing my first collection, a collection of circus stories! The Grand Tour is your passport across the world and back again, through hearts and time and space. I hope you will join us for the journey. The Kraken Sea is a great way to prepare yourself for the wonders that wait—but can you ever truly be prepared for such glories? There’s only one way to find out!

All month long you can save 25% on The Kraken Sea and everything else in the Apex store! Use discount code SEPTEMBER at checkout to save!

Back Catalog Blog Tour!

By Lesley Conner
on September 02, 2019

It's here!

All month long we are going to be celebrating all of the amazing books that we've published over the years with new reviews, author interviews, and author guest posts! Just because a book isn't a new release doesn't mean it isn't fantastic and worth some of your precious reading time. So join us this month for a look back at book from our past!

See a title that interests you? You can pick it up anytime this month in the Apex store and save 25% with discount code SEPTEMBER.

Want to help this blog tour be the biggest, most exciting month ever? Move an Apex book to the top of your to-read pile, give us a read, and leave an honest review over on Amazon, Goodreads, or your favorite book review site. Tweet us the link at @ApexBookCompany or email it to Lesley at lesley@apexbookcompany.com, and we'll share it!

Are you ready for some fun? Here we go!

Back Catalog Blog Tour fun across the web:

MoCon Flash Fiction & Poetry Contest Winners!

By Jason Sizemore
on August 28, 2019

Apex is proud to share the winning stories from this year's first annual MoCon flash fiction and poetry contest! Below are the stories and poems accompanied by the artwork that served as inspiration.

Enjoy!

"Mood"
Art by Ess McKee.
Drawing inspiration from urban street art, much of her work is crafted with the grunge of city culture, the sounds of shaking spray cans, and the smell of aerosol in mind, Ess McKee is a Teaching Artist with ReGeneration Indy, a High School Track and Field coach, and a full time Graphic Designer/Visual Artist/Illustrator/Photographer for her graphic design business, INAZ Dezign LLC. Check her out at https://www.iamessmckee.com/.
* * * * *
[first place]
Purple "Mood"
by Ariane Cyusa

 

Ariane Cyusa is a magical light being that wants to cover the world in poetry. Check her out at feelandhealpoetry.com.

Tryna keep a smile on my face,

maaan you see my teeth?

Let them speak confidence and virtue,

let them hint strength and tranquility

Don’t look at my eyes though.

Don’t.

You might get a glimpse into the mess

can’t ever seem to shut these blinds.

Windows stay open.

Letting the storm out.

 

So just look at my smile maaan, and smile back!

* * * * *

[second place]

Untitled

by Nicholas Bright

A science fiction and fantasy author, Nicholas Bright is the co-host of the Just Keep Writing Podcast. Check him out at https://www.brightinks.org/.

“Brothers do what brothers do. The life of a ZaZa sister can only be great if those around her give her permission to a great life.” A young black stood in front of her body length mirror.

“Fuck ‘em,” she said out loud. “I am Zo. I am what I am and I will not be torn down.”

Zo raised her hands and ripped the scarf she had wrapped around her head. The sides of her head were shaved replaced fresh ZaZa tribal tattoos in black. The rest of her hair grown into a mohawk. A tear rolled down her face.

“I will not allow myself to controlled by the insecurity of another’s emotions.” She pulled on the jade necklace around, breaking the chains of bondage she wore. “I will not bend my knee to those who demand respect but in return control you by fear.” She stripped her ceremonial clothing of red and black ZaZa tribal designs that matched her. She stood naked in front of the mirror, her eyes welling up with emotion.

“I am brave and not fearless. I am wounded but not broken,” she bite her lip to ease the pain, knowing what she needed to do for to be free.

“I will be free from the struggles of everyone,” she slipped on a sports bra and black tank top. Underwear and her military style pants. “I am free to explore the my own mind, but I want to see the world. They will no longer let them suffocate my greatness.” She sat on the edge of her bed, pulling up her boots and tying them.

“I will not sacrifice myself for the sake of tradition.” Determination was etched on her face. She knew what she needed to do. She bit her lip again, this time drawing blood and closing her eyes.

A loud crash came from her front door.

Her brothers.

Zo knew there was no going back now. It was time. Time for her to set herself free. Opening her eyes they were filled with blood. “Good,” she said. “Let me come see me. Come see my greatness. Fear the magic that I was inherently born with.”

Zo turned from her mirror and began to march out of her bedroom towards her brothers who were rushing upstairs, her hands outstretched, glowing a faint red. “I will be free.”

* * * * *

"Goldie"

by Mechi Shakur

A 90s baby, Mechi Shakur is a Indianapolis raised and based artist. His influences include Jean-Michel Basquiat, Leonardo da Vinci, Bosch and Kehinde Wiley. Painting for three years now and Self taught, Mechi Shakur believes your art is a reflection of you and loves to blur the lines of reality and the imagination through an assortment of color all while diving into social and political issues touching many subjects all at once

* * * * *

[first place]

Teeth

by Sheree Renée Thomas

Sheree Renée Thomas is a Memphis-based writer, poet, and editor whose “black pot mojo” creative work explores ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. She is the author of Sleeping Under the Tree of Life (Aqueduct Press and of Shotgun Lullabies (2011). Thomas’s Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative from the African Diaspora won the 2001 World Fantasy Award. Dark Matter: Reading the Bones won the 2005 World Fantasy Award. In 2017 Thomas was honored with the L. A. Banks Award for Outstanding Contribution to Speculative Fiction. Follow her @blackpotmojo on Twitter and on Instagram and Facebook @shereereneethomas.

 

Basquiat’s crown shines

through his third eye

Gold teeth glitter atop

a bag of bones

Legba smiles

when the brick dust

clouds rise

Asphalt dreams

on a broken throne

* * * * *
[second place]
Pieces of ...
by Danian Jerry
Danian Jerry, a writer, teacher, and emcee, holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Memphis. His stories engage the culture and music nourished by the Bluff City and the Mississippi Delta. He teaches English at U of M and the Bowie Reading and Learning Center. He has taught fiction writing and performance reading at Memphis College of Art. Outside of class he works his first novel Son of the Iron Mic. Look for his new stories forthcoming in  Trouble the Waters: Tales of the Deep Blue (Rosarium, Spring 2020) and Mojo: The Journal of Black Speculative Arts.

 

 

My sun broke

My heart. Black

sludge building

overhead liquefies

the ground under

my bloody heels.

My broken face,

gilded teeth,

sharpened into

palisades

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