Competence Porn is my new Trail of Bread Crumbs

Times are hard; not uniquely hard, maybe, but we’d like to think so. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes, etc. It’s easy to get lost in the thicket of trying to assess the direness of the current moment. But nobody can argue in good faith that today isn’t Bad, by any objective measure.

Escapism is the order of the day in most popular media. Things that win the most praise, my ears tell me, are those that depict The Good Guys Kicking Ass. I get that, I do. It’s fun to see nuns with guns, or watch an immortal Charlize Theron heroine executing CGI-perfect spin-kicks in HD slow-motion into the faces of fascists. Most computer entertainments are exactly this, just moreso.

I feel like, as a character to emulate, these choices are completely unhelpful to  me. Nothing I am going to do in the current crisis is going to work like, or even much feel like, Hollywood violence onscreen–or the equivalent carnage in recent spec-fiction works, which can afford to be even more bloodthirsty because there are no actual images accompanying them.

I worry that my son thinks that Fortnight melees are the normal mode of human interaction. I worry that Marvel Comics super spectacles with names like “Armageddon” and “Infinity War” are going to displace the mindshare occupied by movies about people doing things.

My wife and I watched a random movie last night, “The Sunlit Night”. It was a slightly romantic, occasionally funny post-breakup-woman-gets-her-act-together script, with some very predictable notes and a plucky PoV character who is not an action heroine.

The thing  I really liked about the movie were the little inset segments where she, an artist, is working at her painting. In the very beginning of the movie, we see three prickly art professors, presumably, critiquing a piece of her work, a kind of ab-ex pastiche. They are ruthless in their comments about the art and the artist; at the end, she gratuitously thanks them and leaves. Later, we see her approaching a blank canvas, twiggling paint brushes in her hand, to convey that internal work is happening.

[Spoiler] she gets a new approach, finds a new subject, eeks out time from her other commitments (she’s painting a barn in most-northerly Norway, for another prickly artist) to work on her vision. The results are, to my eyes, modest, but the trio of critics back home are, eventually, impressed.

This bit of artistic growth, and the hard work that accompany it, is conveyed in just a series of vignettes interspersed throughout the film, but they felt like a hard rain in the desert for me. The next morning found me awake at 5:30 after a long absence, seeking a way back into writing an ambitious story I had put aside weeks earlier. Representation matters, and that’s not just for race or gender or orientation, but also for what you do. And if what you do, or want to do, is work steadily and non-flamboyantly on something you love (whether it’s a ‘job’ or not) you will find relatively little representation, especially right now, in this time of necessary escapism and revenge fantasies.

And  this is not just about the arts. “American Factory” is another recent, excellent film that could be reasonably called competence porn. In this case it’s factory workers who find some redemption and a pinch of bliss in Doing What They Do.

I’m not dreaming of some capitalist fantasy where everyone is super obsessed with career and competition. I’m talking about doing the thing you do, a productive, not harmful, not impossible thing, and deriving some modest joy from doing it well, and from the effect it has on those around you. This is, for me, a trail of bread crumbs, an encouraging one, and one I hope will lead me, if I follow it, out of this dark forest, and back to some better place.

I don’t pretend competence porn is going to correct all the things that have gone wrong with our world lately–and, just saying it here,  some things that have been wrong for a long time. Black Lives Matter. Love is Love. Science is Real. Families belong together. America was made by immigrants. Punch Nazis whenever you can.

I do think it’s almost always a better option than midnight doomscrolling–a word we’ll long regret having had the need to invent–and, not to belabor this, but a little more representation of competence, unrelated to revenge fantasies, would be good for all of our psyches at this point.


beat, not beat

Boy, I am beat–not in the Kerouacian sense, overwhelmed by grace and overlove and exhaustion–more like, ‘beat like a mule’. But not defeated. I have an absurd amount of privilege, a high, safe perch in the world, but even so, the bizarre overwhelming moment, the huge grinding crash of world events, it’s too big for me to get my arms around and comment in any coherent way. Forgive me, and I hope at some point I will be able to process some piece of this, and produce some kind of sense, or helpful nonsense.

The pandemic, the senseless killing of George Floyd, the continued degradation of democracy in America, and the tremendous run of protests–and, on a more personal level, the bleakness of self-isolation, and the death of my laptop (thanks to my dog spilling coffee on it)–have contrived to cut me off, physically and/or emotionally, from the stories and other writing I had been doing, productively, this spring. But I’m trying, haltingly and defiantly, to carry on, to pick up the shards that seem useful, and put them into some sensible order.

In more concrete terms, I am signed up to participate in the Clarion Write-a-Thon (I think kind of by accident–I don’t ever remember registering, but I’m taking it as a sign that some force in the universe, perhaps myself at some earlier moment of inspiration, deemed it necessary that I undertake this) and I hope some amount of broader good, and personal forward progress, will come out of it.

So, even though there’s not much there yet, here is the link:

I hope to put something there, sometime soon, that will be a goad to myself and something(?)–information, hook, reassurance, inspiration–something nourishing and sustaining, there for you all, anybody at all who cares to read it.

And Goddamnit, BLACK LIVES MATTER. It breaks me, that here in the year two thousand and twenty, this is still something that has to be said, but it does, again and again.

I should list like a jillion different efforts that would benefit from your support RIGHT NOW, I feel like everyone needs to be everywhere at once, and it’s bewildering how much work is needed on so many fronts, but don’t be defeated by it. DO SOMETHING GOOD NOW. Here are just a few that are on my mind:



And, humbly, I am obliged to now put this one forward as well:

Clarion is life-giving sustenance for speculative fiction writers, and hopefully, through the act of writing, a lever to move readers and our shared culture. Don’t discount the good that can be done with a well-told story, now and in the future. Support organizations that recognize that, and endeavor to use the power of words responsibly. Art can change people.

I’m grateful for any piece of hardware that doesn’t fail under such severe, unforseen circumstances. I’d written this about my laptop once, in earlier, happier moment, but I guess now I am saying this about myself.

not an eligibility post

I’m back a month from Viable Paradise, and taking stock of things. The experience at Viable Paradise was transformative, surreal in its intensity and at some moments naked-wire crazy. Coming back from that has been a plunge into mundanity, and I’m having a hard time reconciling myself to ‘normal’ again. I’ll try to write a post about that experience, but I’m still processing it, and feel like any meaningful writing about it would likely betray secrets, and likely the privacy of others as well.

Viable Paradise is great, and if you want to write, you should go.

I’ve gotten one of the stories I’d submitted to VP revised, a sort of medium-depth revision that gathers all the low-hanging fruit, plasters over some cracks, and includes one new scene that really becomes the emotional ballast of the piece. I can’t say the name of the piece, as I submitted it to a contest and it’s in their slush now. Their submissions are supposed to be anonymous. I know I’ve been irrationally excited at my chances at contests before—well, here we are again.

I’ve really enjoyed the recent issue of Lackington’s (#20) that I’ve been poking through. A beautiful almost-fable by Karolina Fedyk, “A Map to a Future Unlike Any Past” and a penguin story with an unexpected turn, “The Capacity to Serve” by Simon Christiansen, are both excellent, and I may have to break down and read the whole issue. The issue is bird-themed, and how have I never written anything where a bird figures prominently?

I’m flailing in revising my other VP story, which is a ridiculous thing to be blowing so much time and effort on, but I have the message from critiquers that this one really appeals, and if I can find some way to stick the ending, I’ll have something that comes closer to capital-A Art than I’ve been in a while. I’m encouraged, but there weight of having a potentially-salable story is making the search for an ending more stressful than I wish it to be.

I’d really like to solve the mystery of why it’s so appealing to a certain slice of its readership, and, you know, do that more. I sort of bumbled into this story, there was no grand theory about its construction. I think it has to do with more than just representation. The main character is a mystery, and the reader is invited to try to suss out what her deal is. People want to be, not just mysterious, but the focus of that kind of attention(?) That’s a theory.

I’m totally coming out for my new favorite punctuation, the question-mark-within-parentheses. Oh man, this works for so many of my life situations. My whole being resonates with (?) (?) (?)  Doubt is essential in a deliberative society.

So, everybody is putting up eligibility posts, and, coming off a dry year (ok, year-and-a-half) I really have nothing to crow about. But in order to cheer myself about this situation, and to answer an offhanded question from my brother-in-law, I did the math recently and discovered that I’ve placed seven stories altogether. Here is their disposition:

  • A Thousand Solomons – Winner, Baltimore Science Fiction Society Amateur Writing Contest (2015), published in the Balticon program the following year
  • Monstrance of Sky – Escape Pod, text and podcast available online
  • Emerging Grammars – CAT’S BREAKFAST, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Anthology, published by Third Flatiron. Pushcart Prize nominee
  • Rushford Recapitulation – Interzone (UK magazine)
  • God on a Bad Night – (forthcoming anthology; pretty cool but not yet announced)
  • Kobold Domain Patch Notes – DreamForge Magazine (forthcoming)
  • Not Even Asking the Right Question –  Shout: An Anthology of Resistance Short Fiction and Poetry. (forthcoming)

I feel better looking at this, and more, I have some confidence that the new batch of stories are more affecting and better put together than the earlier clatch. I’m trying to establish better and more regular writerly habits, too.

Hey everybody, here’s to a kinder and more productive 2020! Cheers!





Short Stories: Some Things To Try

Just listing these here for my own reference, but I’d be glad if they turned out to be helpful or interesting to anyone else. This list has been knocking around in my Notes app for too long, without any permanent home.

Sometimes I need to stop and ask myself what I’m attempting to do with a story. This is not that. This is prescriptive without being too analytical about why. Try this. Try that. See what happens.

1.) Choose one of the most traumatic experiences in your life, couch it in SF idiom, and write a story about that. A parent dying, a child dying, the end of a relationship, a horrible accident. Old age catching up with somebody you love. Failing at something that you wanted badly. A horrible illness. A loss of ability. 

2.) Take any two ideas you’ve been dying to write stories about, crash them together, and write that story.  Collisions make new things.

3.) Flip the gender of the main character or PoV character, after you’ve finished draft one. I’ve done this before and it seemed like a cheat, almost, it worked so well as to be almost scary. It’s a quick way to make characters fresh. Suddenly the character(s) are defying the stereotypes that you’ve been carrying around unknowingly. It’s a good exercise, at least, to expose your own biases.

4.) Or, similarly, write a complete draft, then try to flip whatever the biggest relationship is in the story—boy/girl, black/white, alien/human, science/magic, etc.

5.) Write a sentence that is clearly impossible, under the current ‘rules’–for instance, “The king is pregnant!”–and build a story around a set of circumstances that make that scenario plausible and interesting.

6.) Don’t start with an ending in mind. Start with a technology that does one thing that’s currently not possible, and extrapolate out from that. (Maybe this is all SF?)  

7.) I’m always kicking around the idea that in Kelly Link stories, there’s not one thing, but several, a salad or a bouquet of things happening all together. Movie-star vampires and mysterious disappearances, or lesbian space colonies telling ghost stories at a birthday party, or pocket universes with weird twins and mysterious ‘sleepers’ and big lizards. Some of this is to generate themes and characters that can interact with each other in interesting ways. Some of it is to allow the writer to change channels when one line of writing runs out of steam, give you somewhere else to go.

I think of serialism, and Schoenberg. The idea is to pose a challenge that you would never have come to without it.  You may be simply incapable of ever arriving at it, or (more likely) committing to doing it, without some external mechanism to allow, or invite, randomness into your process.  

The danger here, I see, is falling into the trap of letting the mechanism absolve you from any responsibility for bad choices. There still has to be some analytic and/or editorial process down the road.

I’ve worked a bit at making a twitterbot along these lines, but gotten too caught up in making all the results be grammatical and interesting on a sentence level. I think now that a quicker way to a useful tool might be to make a card deck with the cards each representing writing subjects, motifs, genre tropes. Shuffle it up and deal yourself a hand! And commit, before the cards hit the table, to writing the results! (**I’m going to try to get a deck like this together for VP, if I get time, just to see what comes out of it.) 

8.) The thing where you can attempt to imitate any other piece of art, but by the time you’re done, your own muscle memory will be evident in it, your own tendencies, instincts, unconscious biases. (This is a thing that is super-true for ceramics, especially at the potter’s wheel.) The closer to your subconscious your process can get, the more true this will be. Go ahead and try to replicate, in your own chosen medium, Starry Night, or Appalachian Spring, or Moby-Dick. Or write an SFF version of that great story that was in the New Yorker last month. What you end up with is going to be uniquely yours (for better or worse) with your fingerprints all over it. You’ll arrive at a place sufficiently different to make something new, and in the process to illuminate your own vision, shortcomings, subconscious obsessions.

As always, I’m curious (see what I did there?) to read any comments that readers might want to share—

That List; also, What Happened

Boy, I’d be surprised if anyone noticed a new blog post here—it’s such a show of bad faith to any (hypothetical) readers out there, that I haven’t updated this in so long. What THE HELL happened?

Well the plan was to coast at work, in my day job, you know, designing and building avionics for NASA missions, and REALLY LAYING INTO the effort to revise off-tempo but beloved SF story drafts. But it turns out that saying “Yes!” to working on a bunch of NASA missions (Solar Probe, DART, IMAP, and possibly, probably DRAGONFLY, plus etc) is in itself kind of a big commitment. Plus being a parent, an apparent parent, and a husband, etc — it turns out these are all big commitments.

Story idea: single dude finds a ghost on Grindr. An actual ghost. She’s, say, a victim of the Triangle Factory fire, and after they get together a few times, she decides she’s just not into him—so she ghosts him.

Life intervenes, life roars on. I think there have been some minor victories, in terms of my ability to wrestle stories into some facsimile of completeness, of done-ness, but still missing is any kind of assembly-line efficiency where ideas tumble in one end and finished, gleaming stories rattle out the other. Everything, for me, seems to require some kind of creative trauma, some extraordinary amount of effort, to get to Finis.

Story idea: those US postage stamps that say “FOREVER” on them–imagine a scenario where in the far future, someone unearths one, and tries to mail a physical “letter” from one end of a US galactic territory to the other…

One thing that has kept me sane is this notion of stockpiling ideas I’m having but can’t act on in any reasonable time frame. I know I’m not alone in this. If you’re reading this, and you’re a writer, you’ve probably got a list somewhere, or several.

Story idea: a long-distance runner voluntarily has his arms removed in order to radically improve his running time. Nothing in the rules of the sport prevents this. Subsequently his wife leaves him.

Even the nutty ones, even the obviously unworkable ones—just to have some place to write them down, to feel like they’re safe, to feel like I COULD get back to this one or that one, if I really wanted to.

Story idea: what if it required more than two people of different genders to procreate? Would families be more secure, or in some sense richer, if they needed four, or five or seven, genders to make a baby? Imagine a far-flung colony world where the human pioneers were engineered to have this feature, and only several hundred years later discover that original humans only had (and only needed) two genders. Possible title for a story about a seven-gendered family: “ROY G. BIV”

OK, I know that keeping and adding to this list is impractical, maybe unreasonable and a little tragic. I think I read somewhere that William Gibson had said he keeps no such list, because the only really good ideas are the ones that you simply can’t free yourself of, that keep nagging at you until you acknowledge and act on them. That may be absolutely true for him, but with my memory, having an external way to capture them is a big comfort.

Big here’s the thing: several stories I actually wrote and finished and submitted appeared first in this list of ideas. I have the evidence, I can point to actual lines in the file! and I can’t tell you how heartening this is, to be honest.

I asked Neil Gaiman recently, in an AMA, whether he considered himself, in his writerly heart of hearts, a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’. Hardcore genre writers won’t need this question explained to them.

Through the miracle of internet telecommunications, Neil Gaiman actually responded to my question. He said that he rejects the dichotomy, and prefers the GRRM formulation that writers are more like architects, or more like gardeners. (He, Neil himself, identifies as more of a gardener.)

And I feel like I’ve been given a great and useful metaphor here, and I’m going to run with it. This ideas list is like a garden, and the ideas are seeds. They need all the stuff, from me or the environment around them, to grow. Warmth, light, water, fertile soil, space, time, fair weather…

I concede that there’s a larger question as to whether these little toenail-sized scraps of ideas are really the best way to go about germinating a story, whether they are capable of developing into something rich and substantive and nutritious. Some of my little idea-seeds are less items or situations, more hints of voices or writing techniques to try, and I think mostly these are the ones that have the most promise, but since I have a lot of space (infinite space) in my little seed bed, it’s easy to just plug one more seed there, and see if it takes root.

Someday maybe I’ll be super-brave and post the whole list right here. After all, lots of writers say, Oh there are no new ideas, Oh everything has been written before, and It’s all about execution and technique. I admit a certain irrational fetish for secrecy here, like, maybe just maybe there are a few good new ideas left to be thought (but that one about the runner though–)

But honestly, for all the depreciating comments about it, I know of very few authors who have ever aired such lists anywhere in public. I think there’s value in believing you’ve got some lightning hidden away in your pockets. Try me at barcons (like, if I ever go to a con again) and maybe if I’ve had one or two, I’ll share some ideas with you.

News: big show coming up at Charm City Spec, with Sarah Pinsker, Arkady Martine, and Justina Ireland, April 24, 7pm, at the Bird In Hand Café in Baltimore. I feel like this event is a culmination of some kind, and I’m sure it’s going to be one for the books. Please come out, come out if you can! (Also, it is likely to be the last CCS to offer free libations, so there is that.)

Also news: I’m writing it here to make it more real, and cement my commitment— I’m applying to Viable Paradise this year. Deadline is the end of May, but I have hopes of having an application together weeks before that date, to give some friends a chance to look at it (and make comments, hopefully.) Super excited about this, and hoping it’s not too expensive/stressful/complicated to make all the logistics work—if they accept me.

Viable Paradise:

(The list of teachers and the resident artists are A-Mazing!!)

Wish me luck!

Threat Level Manifesto v2.0

Rules are made to be broken, but here’s an attempt to set out a set of writing rules (for me, for a while) and to see what they lead to–

1.) Commit to collecting and working with ‘found objects’ —narrative & non-narrative elements that have a realistic voice because they were found ‘in the wild’ (a.k.a. ‘real life.’) Your own prose may never achieve as much reality as an actual list of cereal ingredients.

2.) Work to surprise the reader at the level of the story and especially down to the level of individual sentences. Create opportunities for the accidental, the flukey, and the fortuitous to find their way into your writing.

3.) Trust and teach readers to accept and appreciate a richer prose (longer sentences, more structured prose, tricks cribbed from classical rhetoric or borrowed from other languages, adventuresome and precise vocabulary, intentional voice choices, etc.) Resolve to write up to your readers.

4.) Write naturalistic stories that don’t reward easy expectations for resolution, arc, or cheesy ideas about “character growth.” Avoid framing devices that point to twists, pat endings, morals. Erase as much authorial stage-direction as possible. Let the reader do some of the work in finding the story in the story.

5.) Find or develop ways to include automation in the writing process. Writing programs can be arbitrary in ways that humans simply can’t. We should concede that, and take advantage.

5.5) Run with the notion that nothing is ever truly random, and we are always in conversation with larger beings and forces beyond ability to perceive them. Even a car-repair manual can be a mantic text if put to such use.

6.) Write stories that exhibit “harmonic” (implications or similes across disconnected threads of a story) as well as “melodic” (i.e. linear and-then narrative) development.

7.) Never write a story in which only one thing is happening, or one thing is the focus. In real life, lots of things are always happening all at once. That’s what life is.

3.1415369) Defy expectations right up to the point required to puncture the suspension of disbelief. Force the reader to take your side of the argument about the plausibility of your story.

9.) Write no revenge narratives. These uniformly stink so badly as to warrant their own item here.

10.) Avoid cheap updating or inverting of myths, fables, fairy tales. It’s some lazy fucking vandalism to scrawl your own message over the top of The Little Mermaid or Samson and Delilah l or whatever. If you’re going to do something like this, you better be so damn innovative as to earn it.

10.1) Stop explaining what everything is. People took the time to figure out what Faulkner was saying, didn’t they?

11.) No unalloyed heroes. Everyone is a person with depth, flaws, history, weak spots, trophisms. Write and imagine your characters with an unflinching eye.

12.) Insist on finding or constructing new words/usages/slang for each piece. Don’t neglect the voice. Don’t repeat the voice. Don’t assume your own voice is good enough.

13.) Every piece asks a question or questions. It’s ok to start writing without knowing what the question is, but it’s not ok to finish a piece not knowing.

14.) Whenever/wherever you write, resolve to free yourself from the room.

15.) Don’t write just about criminals/hackers/mercenaries/spies. Everyone’s life is significant, interesting, surprising. It’s ok for a housewife, a dishwasher, or a dog sitter to go out and have their own Goddamn adventure.

16.) If a character is important enough to be doing some critical thing in your story, they’re important enough for you to give them at least a name and a line of dialog. No redshirts.

17.) Limited perspective is essential for stories about this or other futures. You can’t imagine everything, (especially for a short story) and by not attempting to do so, you invite the reader to add their own imagination into your world.

18.) Give up on any idea of moving the needle in any direction—your writing effecting social, technological, linguistic change, whatever. This is ego. If it happens, it happens, but otherwise, it isn’t worth worrying about. Mostly when it happens, it does so after the author has passed.

19.) Always add the extra SF stuff—some readers are just in it for that. By this I mean, things that are insignificant to the plot but are cool or surprising or just neat ideas. This is a way to be kind and generous with your readers. Also, some small bit of this is legitimate as world-building.

20.) Write first, then figure out what it means, then write it again. If you know before you write it what it means, then you’re not doing the work that people are (ostensibly) paying you for.

Q&A with Wendy Nikel, author of THE CONTINUUM

Curiousful: Without giving too much away, what is the setup for THE CONTINUUM?

Wendy Nikel:  THE CONTINUUM follows the story of Elise, who is a professional time traveler. She works for the Place in Time Travel Agency, which, aside from running a normal travel agency as a front, also secretly provides clients the opportunity to travel into the past on historical vacations. Her job is to retrieve them if things go wrong, and in this story, things definitely go wrong.

Curiousful: But beyond that, what is the book “about”? What made it irresistible for you to write?

Wendy Nikel:  I wrote this the first time I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and above anything else, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a book, since up until that point, I’d started a couple but never managed to finish them. I’d heard the advice to write the story that you would like to read, and that’s really what THE CONTINUUM is about. It’s the kind of story, the kind of characters, and the kinds of twists and turns and struggles that I enjoy reading, which I hoped other people might enjoy as well.

For me, the revision phase is always where the real themes start coming out, and it’s then that I realized I’d written a story about belonging, about finding your place in the world and about how we — collectively and individually — learn from the past.

Curiousful: Talk a bit about the research that went into this, please.  Was that the most fun, or the least fun, part of the process for you? What surprised you the most?

Wendy Nikel:  As you can tell from the cover, part of this story revolves around the Titanic disaster. I’ve always been fascinated with this bit of history, and already had a hoard of resources on the topic that I could dig into with gusto.

The more difficult research came when I began writing about what life might be like in the future. I took a bit of a solarpunk approach (without realizing it at the time), which focuses on what a better, more optimistic, eco-friendly future might be like, so I had to research what technological advances were in development and what might be possible in the next hundred years.

Curiousful: Is The Continuum part of a larger work, or a series?

Wendy Nikel:  THE CONTINUUM was always meant to be a stand-alone. However, over the last year, I’ve drafted a couple other novellas in the same universe which may also make their way out into the world someday…

[*Editor’s note: the publication of this interview has been delayed so long that it is now public knowledge that World Weaver Press will be publishing a sequel to THE CONTINUUM, in late 2018. THE GRANDMOTHER PARADOX is a 26,000 word novella that takes place about a year after the events of the first book, following one of the side characters (no spoilers here!) on an adventure back in time to the year 1893, to rescue Elise’s grandmother. Congratulations, Wendy!]

Curiousful: Who do you count among your strongest influences, and why?

Wendy Nikel:  Particularly for this book, the works of Jack Finney were a huge influence. I’ve always enjoyed his take on time travel in its various forms, and many of his stories were written in the same era that I placed the beginning of THE CONTINUUM.

I love seeing what’s fresh and new in science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction, but in general, the stories I come back to again and again tend to be classics: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Daphne du Maurier, H.G. Wells, Alexandre Dumas. I think it’s partially because I enjoy history so much, and reading books from decades or centuries ago provides a little glimpse into the mindset and culture of people at that time, so it makes reading itself a bit like time travel. 

Curiousful: What should we expect from you next? Are you working on something now?

Wendy Nikel:  I am always working on something new. Usually multiple things at once.

I have a few short stories that will be published over the next few months that I’ll be posting about on my Facebook page when those are available.

Curiousful: Finally, are there public appearances or conferences coming up that we should look for you at?

Wendy Nikel:  I plan to attend Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE) conference in Provo, UT in February. More details will be available on my website at as it approaches!

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science FictionNature: Futures, and elsewhere. For more info, visit or sign up for her newsletter HERE and receive a FREE short story ebook.

As of October 25, 2017, THE CONTINUUM is available for pre-order via World Weaver Press. Release date: January 23, 2018. (LINK)

Q&A: Catherine Lundoff, Queen of Swords Press

Queen of Swords is an independent small press specializing in swashbuckling tales of derring-do, bold new adventures in time and space, mysterious stories of the occult and arcane and fantastical tales of people and lands far and near.

Catherine Lundoff is its founder and publisher, as well as an editor and a vital writer in her own right. Her debut collection with QoS, Out of this World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, is some sharp fun, and you owe it to yourself to get a copy!  When she graciously agreed to answer my questions here, I was thrilled —

Curiousful: Why “Queen of Swords?” Is there a connection to the tarot card, or is there a broader meaning?

Queen of Swords Press Logo

Catherine Lundoff: It is connected to the tarot card in the sense that the Queen of Swords is “my” card. It’s generally the one I get as a signifier card when I get or do a reading and it’s certainly the one that I relate to most. In many interpretations, this card signifies a woman who is not to be messed with, one who is smart, strong and straightforward. In short, all the things I like to think of myself as being! I will also admit to a certain fondness for a TV show of the early 2000s about a female Zorro, also called “Queen of Swords.” That said, the Press will not be focused on tarot-themed fiction or how-to books on the tarot, just FYI. I do, on the other hand, hope to publish lots of books with interesting and complex female characters, so I like to think of the name as inspiration for that too.

Curiousful: What prompted you to start your own press?

Catherine Lundoff: It was a combination of factors – some issues with my previous publisher that led me to move on, a near miss on a three book deal with the now shuttered and infamous erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave (unlike a lot of unfortunate authors, I had a lawyer look at their contract and declined the offer), not seeing some of the kinds of stories I wanted to read and so forth. It went from being a fantasy that I was going to try to start my own small press “some day” to entering the planning stages about two years ago. Planning encompassed everything from getting a lawyer, an accountant and a bank account to having logo designs done to getting edits and a cover completed for the first couple of books.

I had been planning to launch in 2017, but after the election in November, I decided that it might be now or never. So in January 2017, I released my first book, Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories. As of June, QoSP released its third title, a new edition of my novel Silver Moon: A Wolves of Wolf’s Point Novel.

Curiousful: What do you envision QoSP will become? Will it branch out, or keep to its initial focus?

Catherine Lundoff: In the short term, I’m releasing my backlist in new editions, as well as some of my new work, as a combination of learning to be a publisher and financing the press. So far, that’s three books this year, with four more in various stages of planning or creation for the rest of 2017 and 2018. By next year, I’m also planning on putting out an anthology with a co-editor. We’re in the very early stages of planning and discussion, looking at crowd funding options and the like.

In a perfect world, I’d like to publish an additional title in 2018, one by an author who is Not Me, along with the anthology, but we’ll see how my learning process and sales go. I really want to make sure that I have a reasonable idea of what I’m doing and that the Press is viable before I start pulling other folks into it. I’d rather err on the side of caution, all things considered.

My long term plans for 2019 and beyond are to focus on science fiction, fantasy and horror with historical elements: mannerpunk/fantasy of manners, steampunk, alternate history, time travel, etc. I’m thinking of works like Panshin’s Villers novels, Carey’s Kushiel series, Wrede and Stevermer’s alternate Regency books, Kushner’s Swordspoint novels, Shawl’s Everfair, just to name a few titles I’ve enjoyed reading. I am anticipating multiple imprints, however, since some of the work I’m publishing now doesn’t fall into these categories; I’m hoping to publish diverse and interesting voices in Gothic horror, fantasy and sf as well as some erotica and some romance. So we’ll see how all of that goes.

Curiousful: Genre fiction is always in need of places for new voices to be heard. Is there any chance Queen of Swords might someday publish anthologies with open calls?

Catherine Lundoff: Why, yes! I’m anticipating that we’ll be doing an anthology next year. There is a Queen of Swords Press monthly newsletter, as well as a Facebook page, Twitter feed and webpage, so the call will go out there, as well as to some of the standard options like Market Maven and some Facebook groups. My hope is that we can do one anthology a year. Stay tuned for details!

Curiousful:  I want to say, I’m enjoying Out of this World immensely! The writing is brilliant, and especially the varied range of voices is making for a tasty read. Congratulations on creating such a rewarding collection. Is there anything distinct about your writing process that brought these stories forth?

Out of this World

Catherine Lundoff: Thank you so much! The book is something of an archive of my writing life because the pieces in it were written over the course of 12 years or so. Each one was written for a specific market (some of which no longer exist or are long out of print). I didn’t start writing fiction until I was in my early 30s, but once I did get started, a lot of my work was deadline-driven. I got into a position early on where I started getting anthology invitations, so I had a lot of incentive to practice writing short fiction and try to get better at it.

I will note that I am somewhat jealous of authors who wrote novels when they were starting out, thus getting a lot of practice writing in long form. Even if those books never saw the light of day, learning how to structure a novel length work is pretty critical to one’s writing career these days. I love the craft of short fiction but I’m definitely trying for longer work more often now.

Curiousful: Any news about Queen of Swords going forward? Are there new releases in the works?

Also, can we plan to see a QoS presence at future events? (It would sure be great if Queen of Swords could appear at World Fantasy 2018 in Baltimore, for instance.)

Catherine Lundoff: Definitely! I’m working on a sequel to Silver Moon, my werewolf novel, as well as a couple of new collections of short fiction. There’s a new Emily L. Byrne novel in edits, and the anthology that I noted above is in the planning stages. There’s a monthly Queen of Swords Press newsletter that folks can sign up for on our website: to hear about new and forthcoming books, events, author news and soon.

I’ll be attending Diversicon 25 in St. Paul as a returning Special Guest, Worldcon 75 in Helsinki as an attending author, Sirens Conference in Colorado and World Fantasy in San Antonio this year. Queen of Swords Press will have a table at the Twin Cities Book Festival as well as an upcoming event later on this year at Quatrefoil Library in Minneapolis. I haven’t started to plan much for next year yet, but I hear good things about Baltimore conventions. I haven’t been to one yet, so I will definitely take a look at WFC in 2018.

Thank you so much for all your great questions!

Queen of Swords Press:



Twitter: @QoSPress


Catherine Lundoff

Catherine Lundoff is an award-winning writer, editor and publisher from Minneapolis. Her stories and articles have appeared in such venues as Respectable Horror, The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Professor Moriarty, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Stories, The Cainite Conspiracies: A Vampire the Masquerade V20 Anthology, Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror and SF Signal. Her books include Silver Moon and Out of This World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, both from Queen of Swords Press.

News and Nebulas!

Sorry, I can’t believe this blog has been in stasis for so long. Some news:

My story “Emerging Grammars” was accepted for the anthology CAT’S BREAKFAST. I’m thrilled, because that was among the very first stories I wrote, back in 2015, in an attempt to write something for the BSFS Amateur Writing Contest.  I’m glad it found a good home!

CAT’S BREAKFAST is a tribute anthology, published in memory of Kurt Vonnegut on the tenth anniversary of his death.  I’m a big fan of Vonnegut! (without exactly having read very many of his novels.) I think as a writer you grow up with Vonnegut out at some middle distance, and a lot of his quotes from outside his novels serve as street lamps and signposts.  Especially, his rules for writing are trustworthy tools and instruments that have seen a lot of use. I’m grateful to have the chance to contribute to such a volume. I didn’t write “Emerging Grammars” with  Mr. Vonnegut in mind, but when I read the story to myself in his voice, in his cadences, it made a new kind of sense to me. 

Pre-orders for CAT’S BREAKFAST are open already, here.

Also, the May-June issue of Interzone is out, and oh, it looks gorgeous:

(I have to wonder though, if the face in profile there doesn’t look somewhat like a very familiar contemporary political figure. I’m sure it’s just my imagination.) That’s my name, right there, on the cover! (Squeezing, Muppet-flailing, general cavorting about.)  I can’t wait to have actual copies in hand, to share with lots of great folks who helped out with the story, as well as those who expressed interest.  They should be here soon!

Jeremy Gottwig, friend and fellow writer, interviewed me about the Rushford story, and was totally indulgent about letting me blather all over his blog about my internal issues and mess-of-a-writing-process.  The results turned out pretty great (all due to him) and I strongly encourage you to take a look on his website, here. Many thanks to Jeremy, and I hope to be able to return the favor on his next publication. 

Last up, I’m going to Nebulas! Very excited to be carpooling to Pittsburgh with a bunch of BSFS friends.  It will be my first time, and I’m looking forward to meeting so many fine folks that I hold in such esteem. If you spot me there, please introduce yourself! 

BSFS Amateur Writing Contest

Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s Amateur Writing Contest is open for entries!The contest is open to residents of Maryland ages 18 and older who do not yet have a professional writing credit to a speculative fiction market. Current students at Maryland colleges and universities aged 18 or above also may enter.

There are cash prizes and perks for winners. The contest is free to enter. The deadline for entries for this year’s contest is June 16, 2017. Winners will be announced at Capclave 2017.

Each entry should be an original short story that includes some speculative element. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, weird, cyberpunk, steampunk, and your fabulicious uncategorizable imaginative fictions are all welcome!

Further details and instructions for entering can be found in the link below. We’re looking forward to reading your story!