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Apr
23
2014
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Story notes: Spirit Forms of the Sea

Spirit Forms of the Sea is a historical fantasy story set in Hungary and Croatia. It is included in the anthology Sword and Mythos, collecting Lovecraftian sword & sorcery stories (edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles).

As all the other anthologies put out by Innsmouth Free Press, this one is also emphatically diverse and the editors specifically sought out stories with non-American settings.

The anthology only launches in May, but Kindle copies and fundraiser rewards are already circulating, so I thought I should hurry up and put my usual bonus notes online.

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I wrote this story specifically with this anthology in mind, and my beta readers were Ada Hoffmann (who had a very important structural suggestion) and Marcell Géza Takács. Thank you!

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I spent a long time thinking about possible topics when I saw the call, since I wanted to write something with Ancient Hungarians, but Ancient Hungarians were steppe nomads and the setting is just not a really good match with Cthulhu (I wanted to feature Cthulhu specifically and not other Mythos characters).

I finally had the idea to have my characters ride to the Adriatic from the Carpathian basin, which is what happens in the story, and it’s doable on horseback (though back then they didn’t have those big highways leading to the coast and cutting through the mountains…).

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Some of the historical details might be a bit sketchy. In my defense, information from the time period itself is a bit sketchy. The story is set somewhere around 950 CE? I did an amount of research for it, but I don’t have my notes at hand…

I don’t know about 950 CE, but traditional Hungarian shamanism did include spirit forms of the sort described in the story, with horse and bull forms probably the most common. The last traditional shaman in my area died in 1972, so quite a lot of this stuff is well-documented.

If you read in Hungarian, a collection aimed at the general public which I can recommend is Táltosok, tudósok, boszorkányok – Kisalföldi népmondák collected by Dr. László Timaffy.

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Writing-advice books sometimes say extended flashbacks are a bad idea and should not be done in short stories, ever, but I think the extended flashback worked OK in this story.

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I wanted to have a sword and sorcery (or, rather, bow and sorcery) story specifically with two female main characters who are skilled in combat. In Ancient Hungary this was actually quite common, and possibly the norm. Women were also often buried with their weapons. AFAIK, the Magyars were very surprised to see feudal arrangements in the West where some people had no weapons and had other people fight for them.

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Hungarian is not a Slavic language and there is zero intelligibility between it and any of the South Slavic languages.

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The Ancient Hungarian leadership was predominantly Central Asian ethnically and culturally (but spoke a Finno-Ugric language). Present-day ethnic-majority Hungarians are white because the invading Magyars were severely outnumbered by the population already living in the area, and assimilated ethnically to them eventually.

I tried to make it obvious that the protagonists would be considered characters of color today, and they markedly do not pass as locals on the coast.

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Names are reasonably authentic for the era, but spelled with a modern Hungarian spelling. (Hungarian phonology went through quite large shifts since then.) They are not particularly meaningful, I just picked them based on what sounded right for the character in question.

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The point about “cheating” that Delin makes is IMO an important one.

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“No one offered themselves to the turul, a bird of prey — no one, save for someone in a half-forgotten, ancient legend …” I have a story about this, but it was slated to appear in an anthology that was recently cancelled. I’ll see where it finds a new home…

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Enterprising children sell seashells on the coast to this day. (The Adriatic is a popular vacation destination among Hungarians, though I personally have spent more time in Slovenia than in Croatia.)

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I think I have all too many stories about characters getting eaten by something inhuman. Another recent one is Three Partitions published in GigaNotoSaurus.

Apr
20
2014
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More on Three Partitions

Rose Lemberg posted a great set of comments on my recent novelette in GigaNotoSaurus, Three Partitions (free ebook!). I’m going to respond; again, spoilers abound beyond this point.

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I’m very happy Rose took the time to write up these thoughts about the story. When I was writing, a lot was implicit in my mind, based on my personal experience, but Rose (another formerly Orthodox person) can describe them in an explicit, systematized way that still rings very true to me.

For example, it was not a conscious decision on my behalf to make this point:

“However, it is not clear to me whether Adira the shapechanger would be even grudgingly admitted without the koshere bsule (‘a kosher virgin’) Chani to chaperone her.”

But yes, this is very much true and accurate. (Sadly, I should add.) I just wrote it the way I could see it happening, without really thinking it through in detail.

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As for the ending, that was written after much deliberation. (By contrast? I do sometimes think things through. :D ) I wanted to have an optimistic ending, but one that is marred by discordant elements – simply because I myself could not feel optimistic about their future. Hence the final sentence, hinting at remaining tensions.

Also, amusing anecdote about the ending: the original manuscript had “he rubbed her nose”, because I mess up pronouns all the time. (Hungarian doesn’t have gendered personal pronouns, maybe that’s why.) Ann Leckie spotted it in the last round of editing and said that sounded either very inappropriate, or a typo :D She was of course right, it was a typo… and also very inappropriate!

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“It is at least equally likely that the community would pack their bags indignantly and depart for Mars” – This is a very real possibility. But it is very important to note that those who had already been incorporated into the planetmind would probably not be able to leave! Thus the community would have to split, the question would only be how large each part would be, and what relations they would maintain with each other.

It’s worth noting that the Rebbe remains on Mars…

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“Childbirth does not come up, but it should have, because marriage and children are at the cornerstone of one’s identity in an Orthodox community.”

Childbirth doesn’t come up because in my experience it was always first talk about marriage, then childbirth, and it never gets that far in the story. (It usually never got that far in my own life either, but that’s because I was a very third-rate marriage prospect from an Orthodox point of view.)

Still, I probably should’ve mentioned it at least briefly!

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“If I have qualms with this story, it’s that I’d like these tensions to be a tad more explicit.”

Now, over a year later, I’d thought these issues through more so that I could actually have something more explicit, but it took me a long time!

If I ever end up finishing the Dovber stories, this will probably come up. Dovber is also a shapechanger, but of a different kind, and the community doesn’t know. He spends a lot of time off-planet for a reason…

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On the language issue – I cut a lot of exposition on my first editing passes (before sending the story out) and this seems to have become a victim.

The Rebbe has a fondness for the lashon kodesh (holy tongue) and has a reverse position than many Chasidic communities where people markedly do not speak Hebrew in everyday life.

(This has become a lot more relaxed since the founding of the State of Israel, when many people ruled it was even forbidden to talk about everyday things in Hebrew. At least I’ve always been able to converse with Chasidim the world over in my rather haphazard Israeli Hebrew – I figured it’d go over better than my really German-sounding Yiddish. Note that Chabadniks especially are happy to speak Hebrew while members of other branches of Chasidism might feel differently; it is in general not a good idea to generalize from Chabad to Chasidism.)

They speak Hebrew, though this is only briefly alluded to in the story itself and is not at all clear. But to translate this to English, I opted to go for a Yeshivish(-light) English, since it’s just not possible to do so otherwise and convey their speech style, I think.

They also speak with a lot of words of extraterrestrial origin mixed in, but that I didn’t really detail either (or, rather, tried to detail, then cut). I have long rants about this that somehow never make it into any of my stories…

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If anyone is interested in more background on the Chasidic group (this will probably be unintelligible to most people – I apologize), they are actually a splinter group of Lubavitchers and have many followers who are baalei teshuva of the Chabad – Breslov – Rav Kook-inspired kind, since the Rebbe is a kind of offbeat but charismatic personality.

I got as far as having paragraphs describing his major work, but I decided to just… stop before it became completely unreadable to everyone but the (actually not so tiny) intersection of religious Jews and science fiction fans.

Apr
18
2014
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Going to Iowa!

I am happy to announce that I am going to attend the PhD program in Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Iowa. Moreover, the university awarded me a Presidential Graduate Research Fellowship, which is a really wonderful opportunity.

The Iowa program is currently ranked #1 in the US in speech-language pathology. I’m amazed I got this offer, this was my first time applying and I had little idea what to expect. This is probably the best offer that’s out there in the field.

I have many people to thank! First and foremost I’d like to thank Rose Lemberg for all the amazing support and advice I’ve received – I couldn’t have done this without you, I probably wouldn’t even have tried. I thank you with all my heart. Likewise a lot of thanks to Mati for his love and happiness!

I’m very much looking forward to working with Dr. Karla McGregor, and I’d also like to use this opportunity to thank her and all members of the Word Learning Lab for their hospitality and the kind welcome. On my visits to Iowa it was also great to meet Amanda Van Horne, Jean Gordon and Bob McMurray, among others. I owe a lot of thanks to Mary Yotty and Katherine Rebal of the administrative staff, who put up with all my visa trouble and paperwork and were amazingly helpful and supportive.

I am very grateful to everyone who wrote me recommendation letters – in alphabetic order: László Kálmán, Rupert Lanzenberger, András Vargha.

I am also greatly thankful to everyone at the departments who’d agreed to meet me even before I’d even applied, and put up with my travel difficulties and dietary needs. Especially huge thanks to Karla McGregor, Amanda Van Horne, Matthew Rispoli, Holly Storkel, Laura DeThorne, again in alphabetic order. I am also very grateful to Laura DeThorne for being interested in ASDs beyond the pathology aspect, and I would like to use this opportunity to recommend her if any of you are considering the University of Illinois.

A special mention also goes to Pamela Hadley and the good people at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who’d even offered me a travel grant after my Greyhound bus never showed up in the middle of the night and I got stranded in Champaign. Sadly I wasn’t able to accept this money due to the terms of my visa waiver, but it was greatly appreciated.

A huge thank-you for all the grad students who were assigned to drag me around campus and answer my incredibly naive questions about American universities. Especially big thanks to Megan-Brette Hamilton for the secrets of academic small talk :D and Mariana Aparicio Betancourt for telling me about Jewish life and border crossing experiences. And to everyone in Iowa – looks like we’ll meet again!

I’d also like to thank my friends who made my stays in the US a lot more hospitable and who I was happy to meet, again in alphabetic order – Lisa Bradley, Bryn Greenwood, Karina Meléndez (thank you for the surprise books!), Shweta Narayan, Nathaniel J. Smith, Tom @orlikeawhale (yay food!). And there is always Mippo :D

Written by prezzey in: sci |
Apr
11
2014
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A quick post about reviews

I have a very big announcement to make, but I still have to send out approximately 482643276 emails before I can do that. I might not get to it before the weekend, but I’d certainly like to get to it before Passover.

In the meanwhile, here is a small SF-related update – I’ve found another review of my fantasy story in Apex last fall, and it’s very positive. SFRevu says it is a “very imaginative look at a culture that we only briefly glimpse”. I posted a collection of reviews a while back… this story seems to have been quite popular. It’s also available for free online, with my customary set of bonus story notes!

I have a few new and upcoming things which have no or very few reviews, so if you read them and habitually review speculative fiction, I’d like to encourage you to say something :D Here is how you can obtain them…

The easiest to get is probably my science fiction novelette in this month’s GigaNotoSaurus, which even has a free epub version in addition to the online magazine issue.

Then there is my story Changing Body Templates in Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction – this is a print volume not available online free of charge, but I am happy to send reviewer e-copies in multiple formats upon request.

Finally, my historical fantasy story Spirit Forms of the Sea is coming out in the Lovecraftian sword and sorcery anthology Sword & Mythos in Mayyou can get advance reading copies from the publisher, they were finished just recently and they look spiffy. :D (Coming to think of it, I should write story notes for this too…)

Wishing everyone a great weekend!

Written by prezzey in: sf,writing | Tags: , , , ,
Apr
07
2014
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Two poems to appear in CSZ

Just a very brief announcement – My poems Autonomous, Spacefaring and Grow are going to appear in Cascadia Subduction Zone.

I’m greatly thankful to Rose Lemberg for pointing out that CSZ is open to unsolicited poetry submissions; I wasn’t aware of this. This was my first time submitting to the venue.

These very brief poems will come with very long bonus notes; I already wrote them and will post them after publication, IY”H :D

Written by prezzey in: sf,writing | Tags: , , , , , ,
Apr
06
2014
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Story notes: Three Partitions

Wheee – my science fiction novelette Three Partitions is up at GigaNotoSaurus! You can read it online or download it as a free epub (!). It’s Jewish-themed and it also features genderthings.

This post is a bit delayed because I was traveling and simply didn’t have time to finish it. At least this way I managed to avoid the April Fools glut of fake news.

Content warnings for the story:

Transphobia, body mutilation (both deliberately and accidentally), do I need a warning for space magic? Potentially upsetting space magic.

Bonus notes:

This was the last story at GigaNotoSaurus edited by Ann Leckie. She made a post about this. As I’ve said in my comment there, I’m greatly honored she bought my story and took the time to comment on it in great detail. I rewrote it and made it longer to make the narrative more clear – the story was previously under novelette length, but this pushed it over 7500 words (yay!).

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This is my first novelette, though now I have another one in the works (it’s in second draft). Editors usually tell me to make my stories longer; now I’m trying to consciously work on this, to remove ambiguity and terseness before I send out the stories, not after. :D Beta readers are very helpful (and my beta readers are also patient!).

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It took me a long time to respond to the rewrite request; I need to improve on that, too. I am very grateful to Rose Lemberg for encouraging me and parallel-working with me on our respective rewrite requests last year. (All of them sold, I think.)

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This story was written for an anthology, who rejected it for not being political enough. (Not the political anthology I recently sold to.) I was quite baffled by this reasoning, because it’s one of the most political things I ever wrote. I could’ve come up with a million reasons for rejection, but not that. GNS was the second place I sent it to.

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I wrote this story, and left Orthodoxy soon afterward. I think the story shows some of my reasons why, but is not an antagonistic portrayal.

I still think I’m traditionally religious, though it can be quite difficult to figure out what that means re: my gender even in an egalitarian community. I might make a longer post about it sometime later, but it’s not very high on my list of priorities right now.

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The Jewish details are as authentic as it gets. When I was writing, I was imagining the floorplan of a local synagogue. There is an actual halachic ruling about three partitions IIRC,  but I don’t know of a single shul that has this implemented.

The Chasidic dynasty is fictional. It’s not explained in this story, but they are a breakaway group from Lubavitchers, founded on Mars.

There’s a lot of Hebrew, but I actually tried to tone it down to keep the story readable and sometimes just left common phrases (especially Bible quotes) in English. Yes, it is common for Orthodox Jews to be casually quoting from the Bible, the Talmud etc. in everyday conversation.

Yeshivish is a thing. It’s also not necessarily intelligible to those not familiar with the dialect (at least that has been my experience), so I had to compromise, keeping my audience in mind.

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I have a lot more ideas set in this continuity (especially about Dovber, who doesn’t actually appear in this story and is only briefly mentioned) but right now I feel like writing about other things and also experimenting a bit stylistically.

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G-d willing there will be another announcement tomorrow, about something upcoming. :)

Apr
03
2014
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Poem to appear in Apex

I will have a longer post (maybe tomorrow? or on the weekend) with a bunch of free things including a free ebook and bonus story notes, but I’ve been traveling and I’m still very tired. At least this way I managed to avoid the April Fool’s glut of fake news…

In the meanwhile, a shorter announcement – my poem A User Guide to the Application of Gem-Flowers is going to appear in Apex sometime this year, issue still to be determined.

Apex recently opened to unsolicited poetry submissions and I put them on my recommended speculative poetry markets list back then, saying I hadn’t sent them poetry yet, but I sold them fiction and it was a pleasant experience. Elise Matthesen, the new poetry editor, commented and encouraged people to send in stuff. I didn’t have anything at hand at that point, but I did send her the next poem I had that I deemed suitable for Apex, sometime in February. The poem is kind of fun and cheerful, but blood is involved, so I took a deep breath and sent it in. I’m happy to say Elise liked it!

Now I can say that two happy things of mine were accepted at Apex, the market that people (erroneously!) claim does not publish happy things :D

You can read the first one with my bonus notes here. Actually it’s more like “the world is changing in scary and confusing ways, but we are managing, YAY”. But I think that counts as happy. (…I have a long and unfinished post about how this exact theme was extremely influential for me in my teens, in a completely different story.)

This poem, however, will be just fun and cheerful. Involving knives. :D

Written by prezzey in: sf,writing | Tags: , , , ,
Mar
27
2014
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Story notes: Changing Body Templates

These are notes for my story Changing Body Templates, published in Strange Bedfellows:  An Anthology of Political SF (available now!). They are best read after the story due to spoilers.

Strange Bedfellows cover image

As it says right at the end, the story setup was inspired by computer science and applied computing research in Hungary during the Cold War era. A lot of the research was essentially reverse-engineering Western devices, outsourced by the Soviets to places like Hungary and Bulgaria. The actual details are completely fictional.

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Naphegy Station was named after Naphegy (Sun Hill), a hill in Buda and also the location of the Hungarian News Agency. I used to visit quite frequently, because one of my clients, the magazine Nyelv és Tudomány, used to rent an office in the same building. I picked this name because it was not obviously Hungarian to anyone except Hungarians.

Characters mostly have Hungarian names; “Chanina” is Hebrew. Foreign countries and locales are made-up. As for the chimpanzee, “Pimasz” means ‘brazen’ (or chutzpadik!) in Hungarian and is a name sometimes given to animals.

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The BTE list used to exist as the COCOM list. I knew what this list was back when I was still in kindergarten, it had such an impact on people’s lives in Eastern Bloc countries. (Or maybe my mom was unusually eager to talk about politics?)

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“Counterselection”, a term loaned from biology, is frequently in use in Hungarian political discourse to this day; usually referring to the reasons why incompetent leadership arises, as discussed in the story.

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The lucid dreaming sections are based on actual experience. :D

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I seldom write anything in first person, even much more personal stories. It doesn’t have a particular reason, it just turned out this way.

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While this is not what the Dathran did in the story (according to Orosi intelligence, at least!), neuroplasticity can be directly influenced with drugs. Interested readers can try this paper. No, psychedelics are not involved. :D

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The Soviets did institute parades in occupied countries, and people joked about fake warheads all the time. I can share one I remember from my childhood. Warning – it’s really morbid and it’s about mass murder, as can be expected in a joke about warheads… But I think it’s characteristic of jokes of the era.

The American President calls the Soviet Premier on his red phone.

“My dear Premier, I think we could have a smaller-scale nuclear war, it could strengthen our political positions. Say, you nuke New York, we nuke Leningrad, and that’s it. What do you think?”

The Soviet Premier enthusiastically agrees. “Of course, of course, this could keep people occupied. We can begin right away, you can start.”

The Americans drop a nuke on Leningrad and the President calls to inquire.

“My dear Premier, how did it go?”

“A million dead, two million injured… Splendid!”

“Glad to hear. Now it’s your turn,” the President says.

The Premier calls his military chief of staff. “To retaliate for the American bombing, we are going to drop an atomic bomb on New York!”

The chief is aghast. “But Premier, we don’t actually have nuclear warheads!”

“What do you mean you don’t have them?! I see them on parade on Red Square every year!!”

“My apologies, Premier, but they are fakes, they are made of rubber…”

The Premier becomes really angry. “Then you’ll launch a rubber warhead!! It’s too late for me to get out of this deal!”

He barely dares to call the President. “…so, my dear President, how did it go?”

“Splendid! Two million dead, five million injured, and it still hasn’t stopped bouncing!!

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As I found out much later, kinetic projectiles are a Thing…

Written by prezzey in: sf,writing | Tags: ,
Mar
26
2014
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A lot of writing-related news!

I’m now on Goodreads! I signed up for the author program too, so now you can add me as a fan. This reminds me of the classic meme:

Become a fan

I’ve been on Librarything for 5+ years now, but I previously hadn’t bothered to register as an author, so now I did that too. My author page is a lot more sparse than my user page, though…

I’ll give Goodreads a try and see how it goes. I can already say that a lot more of my friends seem to use it than Librarything.

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As part of a series about post-binary gender in SF, Alex Dally MacFarlane has an article on Tor.com that also discusses my poem The Handcrafted Motions of Flight at length. It’s well worth checking out! It also has many other recommendations I happily second, and some criticism I wholeheartedly agree with.

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The political SF anthology Strange Bedfellows, featuring my story Changing Body Templates, has just launched! Even I received my contributor copy after it travelled twice around the globe. (Not kidding.) I think tomorrow might be a good time to post my bonus story notes; I wrote them a while ago.

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Another anthology I’m in, Sword and Mythos, is available on preorder at a discount.

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I have two more upcoming… things I’ll announce later!

That’s it for the news today; I’ll be traveling in the first half of next week, so I won’t be around a lot, but I’ll try to post the story notes before that. :D

Mar
07
2014
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New story: One of Our More Atypical Invasion Plans

After a lot of difficulties, I’ve arrived in the US! I’m very tired, but I wrote most of this post before I left; the magazine issue was supposed to launch a while ago.

I have a new story out – One of Our More Atypical Invasion Plans in Fictionvale! This is my first ever microfiction piece, clocking in at 32 words not including the title.

I think the cover looks great (there is also some delightful grammatical ambiguity there):

Fictionvale #2 cover

This is a pay-only issue and I signed 6 months of exclusivity, so if you want to read my story, you will have to buy the magazine. They do sell it in a variety of formats and you don’t need to go through Amazon, either.

At the risk of having story notes longer than the story itself… this is a one sentence thing that I literally dreamt. It is about an alien invasion, and it’s humorous. Or bizarre. Or oddly practical. I do not endorse implementing the plan!

I need to thank A. Merc Rustad and Ada Hoffmann for recommending Fictionvale as a market which buys microfiction, and Rose Lemberg for beta reading and cheering me on.

Written by prezzey in: sf,writing | Tags: , , ,

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