MOSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 13 and 14

13. Evianna Talirr Builds a Portal On Commission

Here’s the thing. Atoms lie.

First published in the 2014 HWA Poetry Showcase, this is the first official appearance of a character of mine who’s bounced around through a number of different settings and plots, including my out-on-spec novel. She’s one of two characters whom I built the novel around, and who existed before the rest of that setting did.

Here, you can find her luring an unnamed character into a portal to another universe in which he (?) will immediately cease to exist because the laws of physics no longer support his molecular structure. As one does.

14. The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library

“Foolishness,” said the whales again, and they swam back to the upper worlds, eating two of her bodies on the way without even saying thank you.

I wrote this as a birthday present for Bogi Takács; it’s the first and only story I’ve ever successfully written as a present. (Unless you count the rambling, badly spelled tale I once free-wrote for A. Merc Rustad, in which Elric of Melniboné meets Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid and Lovecraftian sea-witch hijinks ensue.)

Bogi was kind enough to make the process easy by listing story tropes that e liked: these included cephalopods and hive minds, especially if the hive minds were not presented as a bad thing. I ended up with a strange, almost fairy-tale-like flash story about a hive mind of squid. (At least one beta reader mistook it for a children’s story, which… Please don’t do that. There is flaying. A child who likes death and creepy stuff would probably enjoy it, but otherwise… don’t.)

After I showed the story to Bogi, I submitted it to the Friends of the Merrill Collection Contest (which it won) and then to various magazines, including Strange Horizons, which published it in December 2013. It’s free to read there. Out of all the stories I have ever written since then, this is still the one with my favorite title.

Song Pairing: Even aside from the fact that the literal voice of a literal whale is important in the story, there is no better accompaniment for this weird little undersea story than George Crumb’s beautifully weird piece of undersea chamber music, Voice of the Whale.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 11 and 12

11. A Certain Kind of Spider

The male of the species knows we want him.

This is an early poem from the point of view of a black widow spider. Pretty self-explanatory, really, and a good thematic pairing for the murderess protagonist of “Lady Blue and the Lampreys”. It’s also the only poem I ever had published in Star*Line, before I decided that I wasn’t very interested in Star*Line or the SFPA, really.

(The sign-language aspect of the poem was added rather hastily, when a beta reader asked how the male spider was still talking after the narrator had already eaten his head. Oops.)

12. The Siren of Mayberry Crescent

She snaps her jaws together.
Silence is golden.

A poem about the domestic life of a siren who, Little Mermaid-like, has gone on land with a lover who cannot deal with her voice.

The inspiration for this one came from a minor D&D NPC who was a siren (actually a “sirine”, which, in typical D&D monster fashion, is rather different from the original myths). I started wondering what her home life was like and how she felt about it. Inevitably the poem wandered from that starting point and went somewhere else, and some uncomfortably personal stuff also crept in.

This poem was published in Mythic Delirium #29. It was nominated in the long category for the Rhysling Award that year, which was my first-ever Rhysling Award nomination. (The second, “The Giantess’s Dream”, was in the short-form category, and was published too recently to go into this collection.)

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 8 and 10

8. Goblin Love Song

I want to suck the marrow from your bones.

A short, sexy, violent poem. I would probably have sent this to Twisted Moon if it’d been around then. Instead it ended up in a horror zine called The Literary Hatchet.

10. Lady Blue and the Lampreys

The lamprey stomps to the bar and orders a Jim Beam, Bloody Tom’s favorite. Benny’s the kind of bartender who doesn’t say anything. Just slides the glass across and takes his money.

Back in 2013 or so, I kept toying with the idea of writing a gender-flipped Bluebeard. Eventually, I wrote a gender-flipped Bluebeard villanelle, called “Bluebells”.

My beta readers agreed that “Bluebells” was pretty, but it lacked something; villanelles are lousy for depicting a sequence of events, and so, for what the villanelle did manage to describe, context was missing.

Shortly after that, A. Merc Rustad and I were talking to each other about how horror stories have both an “inner story” and an “outer story”. I realized suddenly why the fix to “Bluebells” was eluding me. “Gender-flipped Bluebeard” sounded like a full story prompt, but it was only the inner part of the story. And that meant that the outer part of the story could be… anything I wanted.

I’m not sure anymore how I got from “anything I wanted” to “INVASION OF SOUL-EATING LAMPREY PEOPLE”, but Merc liked the idea.

“Lady Blue and the Lampreys” ended up being a rather un-fairytale-like weird horror story with a femme-fatale protagonist and a noir feel. Appropriately, it was published in The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir.

Lady Blue appears again in the story “As Hollow as a Heart”, which is possibly a prequel but more likely a slight AU, and was published in Lamplight earlier this year. “As Hollow as a Heart” doesn’t appear in MONSTERS IN MY MIND, as its publication date is a little too recent. You can look for it, probably, in a future collection.

Song Pairing: Lady Blue spends an important scene in this story listening to various parts of Verdi’s Requiem. In my mind, the part that is linked most indelibly to her is the “Libera Me”.

That soprano, though! Those high, wailing notes! Those totally gratuitous reprises of other parts of the Requiem! That fugue! That ENDING! *dramatically swoons*

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 6 and 7

6. Moon Laws, Dream Laws

The Un-God told us, later, that this was a lie, and that the sun’s disappearance was astronomy and optics. But a story can be true and not true, just as my Lady is the moon and not the moon.

This story was written – and by that I mean conceived, drafted, beta read, revised, and submitted – in one week. It entirely owes its existence to Krista D. Ball, who was friends with the person editing Tyche Books’ “Ride the Moon” anthology, and who asked around to everyone she knew when the editor suddenly had several of their solicited authors back out at the last minute.

I was not at all convinced that I could write anything good to such a short deadline, but with Krista’s encouragement, I just DID it. Not only did the editor like the story, but it ended up in pride of place as the anthology’s very last story – the one that summed up the anthology’s themes, I suppose, most fully.

“Moon Laws, Dream Laws” takes place in a fictional world that venerates polytheistic, mystical gods – gods whose whims can and do directly influence the physical world. But it’s also a technologically advanced world that is building a moon colony. The protagonist, Viola, is a priestess of the Lady of Blood and Stone, an easily angered, Artemis-like moon goddess. Her wife, Trulia, has been selected for a mission to the moon – but the Lady of Blood and Stone is very particular about who and what is allowed on her surface, and things quickly go awry.

Trulia was one of the first overtly autistic characters that I wrote into a published story, and I liked very much having a queer autistic woman as a love interest.

Viola and Trulia’s universe appears again – with a completely different set of mortal characters, and a very different kind of plot – in “The Herdsman of the Dead”, a story from Shimmer Magazine that didn’t make it into MONSTERS IN MY MIND. (I think “Herdsman” is a very good story, but it wasn’t a tonal fit for the collection.) The Herdsman of the Dead is a god who is mentioned a few times in “Moon Laws”, so people who’ve read that story can look out for that bit of continuity.

Song Pairing: There is no better song for a story about a moon priestess than Bellini’s “Casta Diva“, a literal hymn to the moon in operatic form.

7. Memo From Neverland

I fell out of my crib with nothing.
Now the mermaids and tigers are mine-

A short poem about some of the more practical considerations of being Peter Pan. It appeared in Kaleidotrope’s Winter 2014 issue, and is free to read there online. The poem emerged from some thoughts that I had about “adulting”, and about what it really does and doesn’t mean.

A beta reader told me that this poem is wildly out of character for Peter Pan and at odds with values that he strongly espouses in the actual books/plays/films. I considered this criticism seriously, and concluded that it’s true, but that I also don’t care. 😀

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 5, 9, 16, 28, and 39: micro-poems!

5. Hippocamp

In 2013, I was part of an online poetry critique forum. That allegiance didn’t last (for reasons that are no one’s fault – the people in the forum were very sharp when it came to technique, but couldn’t make head or tail of speculative themes unless they were a metaphor for something, and that frustrated me). But for a while it was a fruitful place to hang out, practice critiquing poetry, and learn.

As a part of that forum, I participated in 2013’s National Poetry Writing Month and some other, shorter-term challenges. Some of what came out of those challenges was excellent (“Self-Portrait as Bilbo Baggins” was a NaPo poem, for instance). Some of it was garbage. Most of it won’t appear in this collection or any other, because see above re: garbage. But some of the pieces, after editing, became things I loved and wanted to share.

“Hippocamp” was one example of a motif I returned to frequently in the 2013 challenges: a three-line poem (NOT a haiku) about a mythological creature. I took to calling these the “bestiary poems”. “Hippocamp” was the first bestiary poem that I wrote, and (in my opinion) still the best.

9. Atavist

Not a bestiary poem – it has five lines, not three, and at least one of the creatures involved is an actual chicken – but related.

16. Crocodile Tears

A three-line poem which has nothing to do with mythological creatures at all.

Beta readers were divided about whether the person speaking in this one is addressing someone who has bullied them, or is a bully themselves. My response to this is WHYNOTBOTH.GIF, but you can choose your own interpretation.

28. Abominable Snowman

Another of the bestiary poems, this is the only one that was actually published – in Niteblade, Issue #30. This used to mean that it was free to read online, although the Internet is fickle and this doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. Amusingly, it was one of the only Niteblade poems to be free from the start; normally that magazine only posted teasers online until their fundraising goals were met, but in this case, it was so short that the teaser was the poem.

39. Baku

A third bestiary poem; this one is about a tapir-like Japanese creature that eats dreams.

This is the last of the bestiary poems that I decided was actually fit for publication. (Or, almost the last; there’s one about a prehistoric creature that I may or may not end up shoehorning into a later, dinosaur-themed collection. We’ll see how that collection takes shape in the future. Sssh.)

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 3 and 4

3. And All the Fathomless Crowds

Attempting to exterminate Non-Minds on sight is a sign of Romero Disorder. In the days immediately after 12/12, many human survivors developed this disorder. The sheer number of Non-Minds overwhelmed them, and each human died of exhaustion mid-rampage – if the Non-Minds didn’t get them first.

“And All the Fathomless Crowds”, first published in Dead North, is an anti-zombie-apocalypse story. The world has been overrun with dangerous, mindless creatures… and humans just kind of sit tight and learn ways to exist as peacefully as possible. It’s centered around Sandra, a young woman at university taking her Survival 101 exam, who runs into a very unexpected form of Non-Mind.

Dead North’s submission call asked for stories with local flavor. Mine is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Queen’s University, my alma mater, and it was delightful to add details from Queen’s and from Kingston, Ontario more generally which could serve as inside jokes with other folks who have lived there. The story should be perfectly intelligible to people unfamiliar with Kingston, though.

A lot of the eerie atmosphere is taken from what it actually feels like for me to walk down the street on a bad sensory day, except that it’s made absurdly literal and concrete. So other people aren’t just unnerving to look at but are dangerous magical creatures, etc, and so is every other sensory thing. In that sense, it is a stealth autism story, though no one in it is autistic and the word “autism” is never used.

Derek Newman-Stille at Speculating Canada wrote a wonderful review of “And All the Fathomless Crowds” which articulates some of the thoughts behind it better and in more detail than I would have been able to. (Although I do have some related thoughts about zombies, diseased bodies, violence, and ableism, which went up on Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s blog.)

The title sounds like a reference to something, but it’s really just a bunch of words that I made up so that they would feel rhythmic and topical.

Song Pairing: For Sandra’s test of outer survival and inner strength, there is no better accompaniment than Lacuna Coil’s “Survive“.

4. Mama’s Sword

They talked a long time, mostly things I didn’t care about. Mostly Daddy talking on and on about how much he loved her, wherever she’d been, whatever had happened to her. He sounded like he was trying to convince himself. He sounded like he was crying.

“Mama’s Sword” is a Lovecraftian sword and sorcery tale about a seventeen-year-old girl, Kejiu, whose mother comes back from her adventures traumatized by a too-close brush with cosmic horror.

(Horror fiction talks a lot about characters going mad after witnessing Things Man Was Not Meant To Know; it more rarely acknowledges that this is also more or less how PTSD happens in real life.)

The inspiration for “Mama’s Sword” was an incident from a D&D game. To make a very long story short, a woman was rescued from an adventure that had gone very terribly wrong. I wanted to explore what happened to that character after she was rescued. In the process, of course, it became something that wasn’t a D&D story at all, and the setting was changed to reflect that.

This was a very emotionally difficult story to write, and I probably wouldn’t have finished it if not for Krista D. Ball bugging me to get something written quickly for an anthology her friend was editing. (I’d tried to write a story along these lines, and failed, before. If you’ve heard me referring before to the story that made me want to stab myself in the eye with a toothpick, this is it.)

As a result of this, “Mama’s Sword” ended up being first published in the extremely obscure little book, Blood Iris 2012. If you never heard of that book, you’re in luck, because now you can read it collected with my other works right here in MONSTERS IN MY MIND. Enjoy!

Song Pairing: There are a million artists who have written powerful, sensitive songs about PTSD. Battle Beast are probably not those artists. But they’re my guilty pleasure listening and I can only take so much gloom in one post, so here, have “Dancing With The Beast“.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, and in Autonomous Press’s Shopify store.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND: story notes, part 1 and 2

  1. You Have to Follow the Rules

Where I come from, you can rock or cover your ears or run away from people and no one will tell you that you’re bad.

This story was my first full-length pro sale (though I had a pro flash sale or two before it). That, and the neurodiversity themes, and the hopeful tone, make it a wonderful opener. It’s also an opener that you can read for free online – like a free appetizer for the full book. It’s here in Strange Horizons.

“You Have to Follow the Rules” is the tale of Annalee, an autistic child at a science fiction convention, who discovers doors to an alternate dimension full of strange, fey-like children – children who are, she suspects, like her.

The inspiration for the story came from an exchange that A. Merc Rustad and Ursula Vernon had on Twitter. Merc had had a dream which framed itself as an Ursula Vernon story, called “Children of the Con”, in which strange, white-eyed children lived year-round in a convention center. They told Ursula Vernon that she should write the story; Vernon replied that Merc should do it themselves. I asked Merc if I could yoink the story idea, and they said yes. (Merc and I borrow from each other a lot.) Then I threw in the autism angle because, well, at that point, why not.

The editors at Strange Horizons, particularly An Owomoyela, helped me deepen and polish the story in several respects – most notably, giving the mother character a little bit more depth than she had in the first draft (though she’s still awful), and developing a more playful and allusive narrative voice for Annalee.

“You Have to Follow the Rules” was long-listed for a BSFA award.

Song Pairing: I don’t write to music the way many authors do, but I do make playlists and form associations between songs and things very easily. Each full-length or flash story from MONSTERS IN MY MIND (but not poetry or micro-fic) will be paired with a song that I associate with it.

The song for “You Have to Follow the Rules” is Mike Scott’s “Sensitive Children” – one of the few song pairings here that’s obscure enough I can’t link you to it on YouTube. It’s not perfect – for one thing, it’s from a bystander’s perspective, not Annalee’s – but the association stuck, so here it is.

2. Self-Portrait as Bilbo Baggins

Over casserole you explain
that hobbits are three feet tall, like me.
I want to stay this size forever.

This is a poem about my father, told through the lens of the classic fantasy he read to me. (The scene in the first three stanzas, in which I act out “The Hobbit” with a horde of teddy bears and so on, are things that actually happened.) Autism runs in families, and mine comes mostly from my father’s side – as, very likely, do risk factors for other mental illness.

“Self-Portrait as Bilbo Baggins” is available for free online, in the first issue of Liminality. It and “You Have to Follow the Rules” are also what you’ll see if you use the Look Inside feature on Amazon: a childhood-themed preview for the rest of the book.

In the next post, we’ll get into a couple of stories about young adults.

MONSTERS IN MY MIND is available for purchase on Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, and Barnes and Noble.