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Twittering the Stars

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After a week where I was seriously considering checking out of the writing business and just admitting that the entire effort was futile, some good news this morning:

"Twittering the Stars," my science fiction story told entirely in Twitter format, a story that can be read backwards and forwards, is now available from Upper Rubber Boot Books as an ebook from the following locations:

Barnes and Noble.

Kobo

Amazon (Also other worldwide Amazon storefronts.)

Canadian readers can also purchase the book through Chapters Indigo.

I'm very pleased about this. "Twittering the Stars" was one of my hands down best received, best reviewed stories. However, it was only available in an anthology, which limited the number of people who picked it up. I'm delighted that it's now available as a separate short.

I'm also delighted to be part of, in however small a way, Upper Rubber Boot Press, which apart from doing this series, also publishes speculative poetry collections, something I always want to see more of.

My email brought me one other snippet of good news, about which more later, making me feel like a touch more of a writer today. Maybe I will get this story finished after all.
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Just a quick note that my poem, The Loss, has been nominated for a Dwarf Stars Award. A collection of the nominees is forthcoming soon; I'll have a post up at that point.

Now back to writing more poems to the sound of the neighbor's lawnmower.

Jay Lake

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Speculative fiction writer Jay Lake passed away this morning.

Apart from being a Campbell award winner and Hugo and Nebula nominated fiction writer, Jay Lake was also funny, and extremely supportive of fellow writers. I had the amazing luck to spend time with him at more than one ICFA, chatting writing and publishing and alligators and films, and I am incredibly grateful for the unstinting support and encouragement he gave to a complete stranger.

Thanks for everything, Jay. You will be missed.

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Call Me Burroughs, Barry Miles

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A few weeks back, supergee discussed Call Me Burroughs, a new biography by Barry Miles of influential Beat Generation writer William Burroughs, using it to raise the fascinating question of whether an artist's work can allow us to overlook his or her life. It sounded like exactly the sort of juicy, gossipy biography that I love, so I got the book from the library as soon as I could. This may or may not have been a good thing. The biography is detailed, gripping, enthralling in more than one section. It also left me feeling faintly to seriously unclean as I read. This was a book I had to put down frequently.

Cutting because although I think all of this is important, it also got much longer than I anticipated. Rant ahead. Also, brief mentions of child abuse and animal torture. You've been warned.Collapse )

Mary Stewart, 1916-2014

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Romance/suspense fantasy author Mary Stewart died at the age of 97 this week.

My favorite book of hers was Touch Not the Cat: mystery, Gothic, telepathy, archaeology, identical twins - it kinda has everything. It was enough to get me to rush through the rest of her Gothic/suspense novels, of which the best is arguably Nine Coaches Waiting, although I also have a soft spot for The Moon-Spinners.

But her most influential book on me was unquestionably The Wicked Day, her retelling of the Arthurian legend from Mordred's point of view, which I picked up back in high school and was transformational. To be honest, I haven't read it for years, and it probably doesn't live up to my memories - let's go with it certainly doesn't live up to my memories - but it was the first book that got me to think about the villain's point of view, and to think about how history and stories are determined as much by viewpoint as by anything. And that, in turn, led me to relook and reconsider many of the characters from myth and fairy tale, something I continue to do today.

RIP.

Coffin

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Sometimes, when I start to write a story, I know exactly where it's going.

And sometimes the story does not go at all where I thought it was going. I knew vaguely that I was writing about a coffin - even the coffin, but this story took an unexpected turn into the present day with the phrase "satellite photos" and then just kept changing from there, and by the end it had nothing to do with what I was originally thinking (a caper story) and everything to do with other things.

Enjoy!

The Silver Comb/Water Babies

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The latest issue of Mythic Delirium is up, featuring poems by Jane Yolen, Cedar Sanderson, and me. Enjoy!

Also out: the latest Tor.com post, on The Water-Babies. I can't exactly recommend the book for enjoyable reading, but it does provide some interesting commentary on the Victorians.
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Brandon Sanderson has a post up about the Hugo Awards as a whole and the Wheel of Time nomination in particular.

In the spirit of his final paragraph, allow me to say that right now, the major reason I am unable to read all the works in the novelette and novella category has nothing to do with the nominated authors, their politics, their ability to write Latin, or the stories themselves, and EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT WINDOWS 8.1 SUCKS. MIGHTILY SUCKS.

Specifically, it does not like Adobe Digital Editions, a program I have used for YEARS to organize, open and read epubs and pdfs. Windows 8.1 allows the program to open, kinda, but then has FEELINGS about whether or not you can actually read the file. Microsoft will helpfully point out the other reading apps available, but a: most of my ebooks are NOT from Amazon/Kindle, Barnes and Noble/Nook, or Kobo Books, so shut up Microsoft; b: the Kindle app on Windows 8.1 didn't open up the epub file either (however otherwise it is a very nice app and does not crash my system, so kudos Amazon); and c: I don't want to have to jump through a lot of different and competing reader apps just to open up a 36 page book.

As it turns out, if you restart the computer several times Windows 8.1 will grudgingly admit that just maybe Adobe Digital Editions has a right to exist and be used, and hopefully - hopefully - I will manage to get the rest of my books to open up in it. (That particular epub was DRM free.) HOWEVER.

This is only the start of many issues that I have with Windows 8.1. Auugh. I will adjust, I know, and at least this time Windows hasn't added that terrifying paperclip thing, but seriously, Microsoft, can you try checking with users to find out what they actually want and need before launching Windows 9.0? Thanks muchly.

Hugo Awards

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So if you missed it, the Hugo Award nominations were announced over the weekend. You can find the list here:

http://www.loncon3.org/2014hugos.php

Cut for those of you that don't care about the Hugo awards.Collapse )

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Ah, Victorian England: prim, proper and also touched by the occasionally horribly gruesome murder of a three year old, as detailed in Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which I just finished and highly recommend.

But first, a bit of a rant: throughout the internet and on other forums, I keep coming across the insistent myth that the labor force greatly changed in the 1960s when women started to work outside the home and/or in professional jobs for the first time.

And then I read books like this one, discussing events in 1860 and the later 19th century, where nearly every woman discussed or mentioned in the book at one point or another held down full time jobs – most for their entire lives.

These included, I need to add, middle class women. And a woman convicted of murdering a child.

The jobs varied. The second Mrs. Kent worked full time as a governess and housekeeper before marrying her employer. Once married, she employed three young women in their 20s as full time servants: a cook, a housemaid and a nursemaid, and also hired a fourteen year old girl to come in and assist the nursemaid on a daily basis and a charwoman to handle the heaviest cleaning. Even with these servants, and with sending the laundry out on a weekly basis, the evidence given at the trial shows that her two oldest step-daughters, technically members of the middle class, continued to do significant amounts of physical labor with household chores – preparing food, running errands, carrying the laundry, cleaning, helping to supervise their younger siblings, doing the household sewing (apparently no small task) and other jobs. They later worked full time as governesses and nurses.

It is possible that these servants were slow, lazy, inefficient workers, which is why the household (a three story home described as "comfortable") needed so many of them and still needed the oldest girls to help out? Maybe, but Mr. Kent never hesitated to fire unsatisfactory servants, and even in the midst of a murder investigation, no one accused the cook and the housemaid of not staying busy and working. The same went for the oldest two girls. The nursemaid was accused of sleeping around and not immediately reporting a missing child – but one reason she didn't report the kid's absence was that she had so many tasks to do in the morning.

Outside the household, we see women working as bakers, as novelists, as skilled, professional naturalists and watercolorists focused on creating scientific books, actresses, singers, nurses, artists, schoolmistresses, laundresses, governesses, innkeepers, boarding house managers, and seamstresses.

Even the convicted murderer worked as a skilled artist in mosaics – her work is still displayed – and later as a highly skilled, trained and greatly respected nurse.

The exceptions? A wife who seems to have been too sick to work, the first Mrs. Kent, and various thieves and prostitutes. If we put "prostitution" under "job," the percentage of women working full time increases.

Look, I don't want to sugarcoat things. The types of jobs available to women were clearly limited. At no point does anyone suggest that one of the Kent girls can go and study marine biology with William Saville-Kent at the British Museum or Brighton Aquaria, for instance (although both of his wives later helped him with his work). The detectives and police are all men; the lawyers, judges, and members of the jury are all men; the doctors are all men; the government employees are all men; the major religious figures (with the exception of one Anglican nun) are all men; the journalists are all men; the politicians are all men. And so on. The women who did manage to work as novelists, scientists and artists on their own were clearly limited in their options – Constance Kent eventually gave up mosaic art for the more lucrative nursing profession which based on her possessions when she died was not all that lucrative. (She may also have had other reasons for giving up mosaic art beyond money.) It is also clear that most of these jobs were very badly paid: at one point, people point out that one of these working women, a seamstress, is near starvation because her job pays so little money. It's very clear from contemporary reports that working as a nursemaid – or at least Mrs. Kent's nursemaid – was a thankless job even if you didn't end up getting suspected of murder. But it was work, paid work, and it is fully documented in the historical records.

And of course, the history of women is not particularly linear – at any given decade in history, women might be doing very well in one place, and not at all well in another place. Louisa May Alcott made some pointed observations on the roles of married women in the 19th century United States, comparing them, not all that kindly, to women in 19th century France. It gets even more complicated when we look at other eras where the historical record is more scanty, or non-European cultures where some of the underlying principles differed. And even in those cases we see variation: the roles and rights enjoyed by women seem to have varied from city to city in the ancient Roman Empire, for example, if the documents we have are any guide – including documents often very hostile to women.

But what I do want to counter is the idea that women just began to enter the labor force in the 1960s, since this is not borne out by the historical records.

What makes this particularly notable is that this is not even a focus of this book, which is interested in how Victorians viewed detectives, not women's labor. The jobs are mentioned casually – in part because they were taken for granted by contemporaries. Victorians did worry about governesses and servants and allowing these outsiders into the inner sphere, and worried about whether or not they were effective (since most of the first Mrs. Kent's children died young, and since the second Mrs. Kent lost a child to murder despite having two servants specifically directed to care for her children, this worry apparently had a pretty valid basis). But for all of the mythology that the Victorians believed that a woman's place was in the home, they also accepted that women could and did work.

Ok. Rant over. Back to the book, which is actually a lot more interesting than I just made it sound since it's about murder not Victorian employment options. Summerscale uses the evidence given at the various trials and investigations and newspaper interviews to reconstruct what happened in the home of the Kents on Friday, June 29. Or at least the agreed upon details, since by the following morning, Saville Kent, the three year son of the household, a cute if occasionally mischievous child, was found brutally murdered, throat sliced through, stuffed into an outdoor privy.

Suspicions immediately fell on the nursemaid, who did not immediately report that the child was missing. The nursemaid countered that she had assumed the kid had gone to his mother (another child did sleep in the parents' bedroom). Many assumed that Mr. Kent was sleeping with the nursemaid – he had, after all, married the governess of his oldest child. Rumors ran rampant. Scotland Yard sent one of its first detectives, a Mr. Whicher, to investigate. Mr. Whicher had another theory: the murderer was the young teenage Constance Kent.

As I noted, Summerscale's main interest here is in murder, and in the development of the detective in both a literary and real life sense. The Kent murder mesmerized the British press and many readers, who all turned themselves into amateur detectives, much like the Casey Anthony trial would years later. It also helped to inspire a number of mystery and sensation novels, eventually leading to the great Golden Age of detective fiction.

And it also offers a mystery for contemporary readers to solve. After all, someone did eventually confess to doing the murder – but did she? Or was she covering for someone else, or deciding to sacrifice her life to save an otherwise innocent person under suspicion?

Summerscale doesn't say, since it's impossible to tell, which may leave readers somewhat unsatisfied – but there's enough here for anyone to create a theory, not to mention a variety of other tidbits.

Bonus: a sidenote here is the biography of early marine biologist William Saville-Kent, who studied, drew, painted and categorized numerous species in Australia's Great Barrier Reef for the first time. His work The Great Barrier Reef was a standard reference book for years; you can still find it in many research libraries. (I've seen a copy although Pacific corals, not my field/thing.) He also liked owls. Those with an interest in this sort of thing, or in the history of cultured pearls, might want to check this book out just for this (I'll be honest, that's why I picked up the book) even though, as said, it's sidelined.

Game of Thrones, Season four, episode 1

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Game of Thrones, Season Four, Episode One

Yes, this is up a bit late. It's not my fault: the Lannisters crashed HBO. (Really. This even ended up on the news.) Anyway, general, partly snarky reactions on the episode:

Spoilery for the episode.Collapse )

Lessons Learned From Flash Mobbing:

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1. Flashmobbing can be indeed organized with a few days notice (like, two) and two hours of practice.

2. When following the directions of flashmobbers, it will often feel as if Google Maps is your best friend. Or even your only friend.

3. As is shade. Shade is good. Shade is very good. What happened to Florida this April? I miss you, delightful Florida Aprils! Oh, wait. This is supposed to be about flashmobbing not weather. Back to that.

4. Astonishingly, about one third of the people who show up will claim to have never flash mobbed before. About half of them will claim to be unable to dance.

5. You will wonder just how this is going to work.

6. As it turns out, this works by choreographing a dance specifically for people who can't dance. Also, fist pumping.

7. As it also turns out, thanks to this, people who are not, in fact, professional dancers can, in fact, do flash mobbing on a regular basis – say, at least once or twice a week.

8. Which also means that Orlando and Tampa are the sorts of cities that host flash mobs at least once or twice a week.

9. Orlando and Tampa may be a bit weird.

10. You can, as it turns out, fist pump and air guitar from the wheelchair.

11. Hiding in the back corner will not prevent people doing what is apparently meant to be a King Tut dance move from King Tutting right into your wheelchair.

12. You will be told that the one thing you never, ever do as part of a flash mob is call it a flash mob.

13. You will then decide that you are calling it a flash mob anyway.

14. First grade teachers join flash mobs to get out their frustrations. "At a certain point you need more than crayons."

15. Since everyone has to type things into tiny, tiny, keyboards, it will take a surprisingly long time to tell everyone where the flash mob is actually going.

16. "Everybody knows this Hilton, right?" "It's the one across from downtown Disney!" "Right!"

17. That will turn out to be wrong.

18. Orlando has far too many Hiltons, even if the first Hilton you head to turns out not to be a Hilton.

19. The second Hilton is, in fact, a Hilton, but is not the Hilton you are looking for.
20. Google Maps is your friend.

21. Parking garages are not your friend.

22. This particular Hilton will turn out to have not only a convention center and a splendid view over a championship golf course but also a lazy river and 24 hour chocolate.

23. You will realize that certain things have been missing from your life: namely, lazy rivers and 24 hour chocolate.

24. What high powered, wealthy attorneys call "business casual" and what the rest of us call "business casual" are two entirely different things.

25. You can be in "business casual" and feel terribly, terribly, underdressed.

26. Until you see some people in Mickey Mouse hats and gloves and cheer up.

27. All of the planning that goes into a flash mob can be destroyed in a second when the flash mob realizes that the area they can flash mob in is considerably smaller than the already not large rehearsal area.

28. It is nearly impossible to have a casual conversation about not having enough space for a surprise flash mob without letting the audience know that a flash mob is coming.

29. Hint: if part of your flash mob experience includes having to put on bright orange sunglasses, make sure that you have not placed your bright orange sunglasses into a bag with a zipper that more than occasionally gets stuck. Otherwise the sounds of "WE BUILT THIS CITY ON ROCK AND ROLL!" will boom out and you, rather than fist pumping, will find yourself wishing you had indeed bought a second bag with a working zipper from Target.

30. You can fist pump while putting on bright orange sunglasses.

31. Conga lines are much more difficult in a crowded room full of attorneys. They are much much much more difficult in a wheelchair in a crowded room full of attorneys.

32. A surprising number of people will want a picture of the group afterwards. You, however, will want chocolate. Because.
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Speaking of April, and more specifically April First, Unlikely Story has just published The Journal of Unlikely Story Acceptances, which I am linking to here only because one of the stories, "Whinny If You Love Me," by Andrew Kaye has a vampire pegasus, which is the sort of thing the world needs more of, although it needs more of this in better written stories.

On a completely different note: last night, CBS aired the final episode of How I Met Your Mother...

...and it's safe to say Twitter exploded. (Apparently Tumblr exploded as well, but Tumblr terrifies me so I'm just going to have to take other people's word on that.)

I don't really watch the show (I think I've seen about three or four episodes), and I didn't watch the finale, so I can't comment on the actual finale. But I was intrigued enough by the explosion to seek out a few reviews of the finale to see what, exactly, people were yelling about - and in the process found some very interesting comments about the writing process, for novels or television.

Probably the most interesting reaction was from Alan Sepinwall, over at Hitfix. The good stuff is on page two. There's also this.

The takeaway lesson here is that sometimes, you have to let your original plans go (are you listening, Arrow writers?). Friends did that, to wild success; its finale wasn't perfect and was certainly widely criticized, but nothing to this extent. Same with Cheers and several other great comedies and dramas through the year.

It's a hard lesson to learn. Like many writers I do often write the end before I write the middle, or in some cases even the beginning, and sometimes it's very hard to let that ending go because I'm so incredibly proud of it or tied to it. I'm having to do that just now with a story, where the ending was one of the earlier things I wrote. It worked beautifully with how the story was at that point; it doesn't seem to be working now. So I think I have to let it go, even though the very thought is making my fingers itch.

I meant to connect this thought with something about vampire pegasi, but I think that's another thought I'm going to have to let go of.

inkscrawl, issue 7

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One of my favorite little zines, inkscrawl, is back, just in time for National Poetry Month. This issue contains a tiny poem from me, as well as work from Sonja Taaffe, Kendall Evans, Adrienne Odosso, and many more. A lovely little way to start off April.

Tidbits

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Various tidbits that we will pretend make a post!

1. I spent most of last week and weekend at ICFA, the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, which for many people is an academic conference offering important insights about fantasy and the arts (literature, film, television, apparently tarot cards) and for me is a time to have a nice drink by the pool. Various personal issues and getting extremely sick prevented me from enjoying this conference as much as I would have liked, but I did have a chance to do a reading with Eugene Fischer and Dennis Danvers By a complete coincidence, we had all managed to choose stories on a similar theme: horror stories about the process of creating story. And by horror, the excerpt from Eugene's novella strongly suggested that we are all going to die, Dennis' story chatted about a puppy strangler – and by this, I mean, someone who strangles puppies, and my story had a house built from the teeth of small children. All very cheerful for a Saturday morning, though the puppy strangler story had us all collapsing with laughter. I think you have to read it to understand.

Special thanks to Julia Rios and Keffy Kehrli for helping me out during the conference.

2. Alas, attending ICFA meant I missed going to Megacon – and seeing many of you – but it looks like next year the events are on separate weekends. I'll keep my fingers crossed that golf is on a separate week.

3. While I was at ICFA I did get various tidbits of good news, including:

The release of Mythic Delirium 0.4, April-June 2014, available from Weightless Books here, which contains my poem, "The Silver Comb." (If you check, you will also see that it lists my name right under Jane Yolen, which is pretty awesomely cool.)

The news that Upper Rubber Boot Books will be reprinting my short story, "Twittering the Stars," as part of their new upcoming SOLES series.

I'm particularly delighted by this second bit since prior to this, although "Twittering the Stars" was hands down my most widely and best reviewed story (well over 40 positive reviews the last time I checked) it was also only available in an anthology that briefly popped up in bookstores and then mostly vanished, although the ebook is still available, which in turn meant that it was also one of my least read stories. I've been hoping for a chance to have it released into the wild again, so this is pretty awesome.

I'll also just note that Upper Rubber Boot Books offers a lovely selection of poetry books.

4. And while I was at ICFA and recovering from ICFA, Tor.com blogging continued! Two more posts on Mary Poppins, here and here, and also a second post chatting about Once Upon a Time and Oz here where I am VERY DISTURBED about the biological implications.

The Once Upon a Time Oz posts are not going to be a weekly event, primarily because so many parts of the show leave me wanting to throw things at the television or slam my head against something, and this sort of emotional reaction is a) not appreciated by the cats, who, as they have noted, do not deserve to have their hard-earned cat naps disturbed by this sort of thing and b) not really helped by friendly contact from the ABC publicity department (though I appreciate the effort.)

5. But regarding the upcoming Game of Thrones season four: yes, I do plan to snark individual episodes here, but I may be a bit delayed depending upon when exactly the new computer arrives.

Polychrome in Oz

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Some time ago I had the opportunity to read Ryk Spoor's Polychrome in Oz in manuscript. I sent him my comments, some of which you can see in that link. What I didn't tell him was that both midway through and at the end I kept having the same nagging thought: wow, I can see that this might be a tough sell to publishers.

Here's why - the tough sell, that is, not why I didn't tell him.

By this point, if you haven't been able to tell, I have read a lot of Oz books. And I do mean a lot. (Beyond the Tor.com posts, I also continue to review Oz books for the Baum Bugle.) They tend to fall into two different categories:

1. Happy, cheerful kids books focused on adventure and fun, with a few - very few - attempting to make sense of some of the inconsistencies in Oz along the way (Paul Dana's The Law of Oz, for instance.) Sometimes these books focus on Oz characters; sometimes these books focus on kids from our world getting to go to Oz - either temporarily or permanently. (Loosen those immigration standards, Ozma!)

2. Serious and often, frankly, depressing as hell adult takes on Oz, that Examine All of the Ramifications of This Fairyland and Insert Clever References to the Movies. Interestingly these tend to outsell the cheerful kids books, and I have thoughts on that, but more later.

What's been, for the most part, completely missing is anything between these two extremes: a fantasy adventure set in Oz written for adults.

And that's what Ryk has provided here. And since it doesn't easily fit into those categories, it was, as I feared, a tough sell - so he's turning to Kickstarter to get it into print.

Full disclosure: Ryk and I follow each other on Lj, but I'm linking here not because of that, but because I'm hoping this is the start of a new trend for Oz books.

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Lloyd Alexander, Once Upon a Time, and Oz

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ABC's Once Upon a Time finally went to Oz this last Sunday. I had FEELINGS, which Tor.com was gracious enough to post.

Speaking of Tor.com, the Lloyd Alexander reread finally came to a conclusion with The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio.

I'm finding, by the way, that going through this many books by a single author at once is getting slightly mind numbing - not to mention that I think it's making me less appreciative of these authors. So I may be altering my approach a bit - starting with choosing a less prolific author to reread this week. Keep an eye out for magical nannies.

(The Disney focus of this week was entirely unintentional, I promise.)

Undone and author interview

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First, Happy Pancake Day everyone! Alas, my own plans for pancakes today have taken a bit of a detour thanks to unpredictable weather, but the good thing about pancake day is that you can always celebrate it later with more pancakes.

And in non pancake news:

1. My little story, Undone just popped up over at Apex Magazine. Enjoy!

2. And over at Unlikely Story, I'm interviewed about my short story, Ink. Somehow or other clowns jumped in. That sort of thing happens.

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Mari Ness

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