Since mid-April, I’ve started a new chapter.
Not so much in any particular writing project, of which I have several ongoing, but in my writing life as a whole.
This “new chapter” feeling comes not from fresh goals I’ve set for myself, but from the way a number of endeavors of mine reached a satisfying denouement, a sort of serendipitous equivalent of the awards-giving scene at the end of the first Star Wars movie.
May 2015 was a watershed month in my overlapping careers as writer, editor, publisher and journalist. On the freelance side, I hustled and huckstered my way through the $12,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund the Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology. On the newspaperman side, I was the point person for The Roanoke Times’ coverage of the return of the restored Norfolk & Western J Class 611 steam engine, a once-in-a-lifetime event for many in this built-by-the-railroad city where I live. (I called these twin tasks my “Test to Destruction,” which, for the curious, is a reference to Keith Laumer’s short story in the ol’ Dangerous Visions anthology.)
A lot more happened that month, some things awesome, one event a heartwrenching tragedy, but I’ll leave out those details for the sake of streamlining.
On April 5, I hosted the launch reading for the completed Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology in the Brooklyn Commons Café in NYC. Jim Freund had invited me to make the launch part of the monthly New York Review of Science Fiction Readings series that he’s overseen since the late 1980s.
You can hear Jim and I talk about how successful the reading was on the Hour of the Wolf radio show, which Jim also hosts (click here to listen/download). We had a standing-room only crowd — according to Jim, the second-largest crowd in the decades-long history of the reading series. Rob Cameron, Shveta Thakrar, Barbara Krasnoff, Sonya Taaffe, A.C. Wise, and the duo of C.S.E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez read excerpts from their stories (and in a couple of cases, the entirety of their stories), and even though these were all challenging, artistically-layered works, not the sort of stuff you think of as audience-friendly, this audience loved it. (There’s a Facebook photo album here; there’s even a File 770 report on the reading, a first for an event I’ve hosted.) It was a giddy night, and I spent most of the evening stunned by delight. After a full year of painstaking labor, I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing finale.
And then, further adding to that sense of a chapter coming to a close: four days later, on April 9, I shared a first place award for best story and pictures from the Virginia Press Association. I don’t talk about my journalism career much at all on this blog (professionalism requires me to be careful about “crossing the streams”) but this feels worth sharing. The award was for our Sunday, May 31, 2015, coverage of the 611 steam engine’s return to Roanoke. My role? I boarded the 611 in Lynchburg, rode it back to Roanoke, and wrote about the people I met and the things I saw during that historic ride. (You can read that story by clicking here.)
It was my first 1st place award from VPA since 2000, when I was part of a Roanoke Times team that claimed 1st place in the investigative journalism category, so to say it’s a satisfying personal milestone phrases it mildly. Another reason I’m fiercely proud of our 611 coverage? The second place prize went to The Washington Post, a paper with circulation at least five times our size.
Anita couldn’t join me for the Clockwork Phoenix 5 reading, but she was there at the Virginia Press Award ceremony, which made it 100 times better.
Now the CliffsNotes version: Clockwork Phoenix 5 made its funding goal May 28, 2015. The 611 came back to Roanoke on May 30, 2015. The launch for Clockwork Phoenix 5 happened April 5, 2016. The VPA awards were April 9, 2016.
Okay, life, what next?
Since mid-April, I’ve started a new chapter.
Belated but still enthusiastic announcement: THE SPIDER TAPESTRIES is here (and LIBRARY JOURNAL likes it)Mike Allen / March 22nd, 2016 / No Comments »
For reasons good and bad, I’m awfully behind in promoting my latest writing and publishing hijinx. So, belatedly but enthusiastically, more than three weeks after the fact, I’m thrilled to announce that my second short story collection, the ultra-ultraweird The Spider Tapestries: Seven Strange Stories, is loose in the world!
I had been planning on Book Day to share the full text of the wonderful blurb that World Fantasy Award winner Scott Nicolay wrote for The Spider Tapestries—except I never managed to make a Book Day announcement. So here it is now, still unbowed:
“There was a time before the marketplace sliced our wild fantastic literature into bite sized chunks, a time when visions could be astounding, amazing, and weird all at once, a time when Clark Ashton Smith could mainline a Thousand and One Nights into million-colored suns. Now comes Mike Allen, shredding raw that scar-woven shroud between then, now, and infinity, releasing hallucinatory torrents of jewel-encrusted erotic transhumanism with the intensity of a quasar and stripping bare the secret wheels and cogs of the universe beside those lovers who would destroy them. Here are stories accelerating divine sibling rivalries into ultimate cosmic horror and offering unthinkable sacrifices to mark mere step stones on journeys redefining time, space, and identity . . . dangerous short stories, not padded doorstops, epic explosions out of almost microscopic doses. More than a simple collection, these seven tales overlap and interplay in a crystalline cubist web that might as easily be the nightmares of deities or the dead dreams of a painted cranium, pirated memories or the visions gifted in an azure star spider’s bite. Surrender yourself to The Spider Tapestries and let these tales rewire your mind past genre for a while—a while woven out of an eternity.”
One good thing about taking so long to write this post: I can include the complimentary review of the book that appeared in Library Journal last week!
“The seven stories in this slim collection range from dark fantasy to sf to horror—sometimes all within one tale. There are enough spiders here to make an arachnophobe go into hysterics, but they are not the only ones spinning webs. Goddesses, aliens, and genetic splicers all pull on strings. Gems include ‘Sleepless, Burning Life,’ about a woman in love with a goddess, and ‘Twa Sisters’ with a man hiding secrets in his brain. Especially vivid in its blending of imagery and narrative is ‘Stolen Souls,’ in which a former cop tries to reconnect the stolen pieces of his lover’s consciousness.
“VERDICT: As he did with his previous collection Unseaming, poet Allen weaves intriguing connections among his tales, applying dizzying, sensual images. Poets often make excellent writers of the short form owing to their ability to use few words to evoke an emotion or paint a picture; this volume displays that skill.”
Intrigued by all these wriggly insinuations? Here is a list of links to many (but not all) of the places where you can find The Spider Tapestries.
A.C. Wise was kind enough to conduct an interview with me today about my forthcoming collection of short stories, The Spider Tapestries, that coincides with a giveaway of 10 paperback ARCs that launched today on Goodreads. You can read the interview here.
Details of the giveaway can be found here and they are also boxed inside the widget:
Alison (that is, A.C. Wise) also wrote me this wonderful blurb, in case you need any more enticement to sign up:
“The aptly named Spider Tapestries forms a stunning picture that is equal parts darkness and light . . . a whirlwind tour through worlds of decadent fantasy, noir-touched future-weird, and elegant horror. Mike Allen offers up intricate mythologies that feel real and lived in, rich-detailed stories for readers to immerse themselves in, and from which they will emerge changed. The stories feel epic in scope, from an assassin climbing through the clockwork gears of the world to rescue a goddess in a cage, to an AI moving through bodies and networks to gather up and reassemble the pieces of his lost love. Allen takes readers on a journey through years and worlds, all in the space of a few pages.”
—A.C. Wise, author of The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again
The Spider Tapestries can be pre-ordered in both ebook and paperback formats.
I’m hugely honored that Jeffrey Thomas, author of the cult classic genre mashup Punktown, took time away from his busy writing schedule to craft a blurb for my forthcoming collection The Spider Tapestries.
And I’m doubly honored by what he had to say:
“We think of science fiction, fantasy, and horror as genres of the imagination, but someone like Mike Allen shows us how lacking in daring and vision so many of their works can be, by resisting the labels altogether. The Spider Tapestries is kaleidoscopically, gloriously imaginative—feverish and fantastical—while never threatening to spin away into the nonsensical. Beyond the gorgeous and poetic mind pictures, he creates real, powerful emotions in the most alien of settings and circumstances. Allen achieves what I find most exciting in any artistic medium: a synthesis of beauty and the grotesque.”
Thank you, Jeff!
The Spider Tapestries officially goes live March 1, and is available for pre-order in paperback and e-book formats. Later this month I’ll be giving away ten ARCs on Goodreads, watch this space for more info.
This past week, Publishers Weekly reviewed my new short story collection, The Spider Tapestries, and I feel like one lucky author, because whoever wrote the review seems to have understood my super-strange little book on every level.
The gist of the review:
“Elegant language and surrealistic themes defy genre and moral expectations in the weird and transgressive stories found in this collection . . . Allen’s pairing of individualistic suffering and cosmic hugeness evokes a lyrical friction between dread and wonder.”
Click here to read the whole review. The reviewer highlights stories “The Spider Tapestries,” “Sleepless, Burning Life,” “She Who Runs” and “Still Life With Skull,” over half of the “seven strange stories” in the book.
The Spider Tapestries officially goes live March 1, and is available for pre-order just about everywhere, in paperback and e-book formats.
Most of the book promo plans I have this year involve throwing whatever weight I have as a publisher behind Clockwork Phoenix 5, so I have no official plans for a Spider Tapestries launch. However, I’ll likely be reading from it at Mysticon here in Roanoke at the end of February. (It’s sold out, but if you happen to be going already, stop by and say hello.)
My next collection of short stories, The Spider Tapestries: Seven Strange Stories, is available now for pre-order in both electronic and paperback formats.
The book will officially launch March 1. The title story is the surreal piece that recently appeared at Lackington’s, that, as it happens, works out pretty well as a sort of introduction to the remaining six. You could view this book as my follow-up to Unseaming, although it’s a very different book; there’re horror elements mixed in there, for sure, but these aren’t horror stories — at the root they’re sci-fi and fantasy (and both) but above all they’re exceedingly strange.
Why only seven stories? All seven share a density of plot and an intense visual and conceptual weirdness that to my mind justifies the smaller size of the book. Together they represent my most experimental work. Adding more from the material I have available would dilute the effect.
The book includes “The Spider Tapestries” (Lackington’s 8, 2015), “Sleepless, Burning Life” (Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, ed. JoSelle Vanderhooft, Torquere Books, 2011), “Twa Sisters” (Not One of Us 47, 2012), “Silent in Her Nest” (original to the collection, an oblique companion piece to my Mythos story “Her Acres of Pastoral Playground”), “She Who Runs” (Sky Whales and Other Wonders, ed. Vera Nazarian, Norilana Books, 2009), “Stolen Souls” (Altair 3, 1999), and “Still Life With Skull” (Solaris Rising 2: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, ed. Ian Whates, Solaris, 2013).
A lot of “s” alliteration in this book. I think that’s just a thing I like to do. #SFWApro
I’m really privileged to have a terrific introduction to the book from Nicole Kornher-Stace; and humbling blurbs from Helen Marshall, Scott Nicolay and A.C. Wise. I’m gonna conclude this post by showing off those blurbs:
“Readers, be warned: Mike Allen will infect your subconscious with hallucinatory and alarming delight. This book is a must-read for fans of weird fiction and dark fantasy.”
—Helen Marshall, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Hair Side, Flesh Side and Gifts for the One Who Comes After
“There was a time before the marketplace sliced our wild fantastic literature into bite sized chunks, a time when visions could be astounding, amazing, and weird all at once, a time when Clark Ashton Smith could mainline a Thousand and One Nights into million-colored suns. Now comes Mike Allen, shredding raw that scar-woven shroud between then, now, and infinity, releasing hallucinatory torrents of jewel-encrusted erotic transhumanism with the intensity of a quasar and stripping bare the secret wheels and cogs of the universe beside those lovers who would destroy them. Here are stories accelerating divine sibling rivalries into ultimate cosmic horror and offering unthinkable sacrifices to mark mere step stones on journeys redefining time, space, and identity … dangerous short stories, not padded doorstops, epic explosions out of almost microscopic doses. More than a simple collection, these seven tales overlap and interplay in a crystalline cubist web that might as easily be the nightmares of deities or the dead dreams of a painted cranium, pirated memories or the visions gifted in an azure star spider’s bite. Surrender yourself to The Spider Tapestries and let these tales rewire your mind past genre for a while—a while woven out of an eternity.”
—Scott Nicolay, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Do You Like to Look at Monsters? and Ana Kai Tangata
“The aptly named Spider Tapestries forms a stunning picture that is equal parts darkness and light … a whirlwind tour through worlds of decadent fantasy, noir-touched future-weird, and elegant horror. Mike Allen offers up intricate mythologies that feel real and lived in, rich-detailed stories for readers to immerse themselves in, and from which they will emerge changed. The stories feel epic in scope, from an assassin climbing through the clockwork gears of the world to rescue a goddess in a cage, to an AI moving through bodies and networks to gather up and reassemble the pieces of his lost love. Allen takes readers on a journey through years and worlds, all in the space of a few pages.”
—A.C. Wise, author of The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again
Lackington’s first published my short surreal piece “The Spider Tapestries” in November. This month editor Ranylt Rachildis posted all the stories from Issue 8 to the magazine site. You can now read “The Spider Tapestries” here.
(The illustration, I think, is a bit misleading. I swear this isn’t a horror story—at least it doesn’t fit my definition of one—nor are the protagonists exactly human.)
I have more to reveal about “The Spider Tapestries,” but that’s for another post.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies released my dark fantasy story “Longsleeves” as the first story in the first issue of 2016. What an honor!
You can read it online here.
I’ve written about the story’s origins in this post. To what I wrote there I’ll add something even more arcane. “Longsleeves” was the first story I wrote after finishing my novel The Black Fire Concerto, and in a way the story is a kind of evil-funhouse-mirror reflection of the book, not unlike Stephen King’s Desperation and its companion novel The Regulators, just on a smaller scale.
(Adding a bit to the strangeness: Part Two and Part Three of The Black Fire Concerto are themselves a kind of funhouse mirror distortion of the characters and especially the plot of my far future short story “Twa Sisters” — so I see the three works as a kind of thematic trilogy. I don’t know if anyone else would be able to detect the elements that link them.)
And finally, anthology Tomorrow’s Cthulhu has been released on Kindle. It contains my short story “Drift from the Windrows,” a story rooted in the not at all far-fetched premise that beings from Lovecraft’s Mythos might find a use for genetically-modified organisms (and the companies that make them).
I know I’m building a reputation as a horror writer, but believe it or not, this is only the second explicitly Lovecraftian story I’ve written to see print. (The first was “Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” in Cthulhu’s Reign.)
I’m someone who believes that writing in that form is better accomplished with theme, mood and imagery than by sowing Lovecraft’s made-up words throughout the story, so just like in my first outing, you won’t find any Unnameable Ones mentioned by name.
If you check ’em out, let me know what you think.
The second Mythic Delirium anthology, which I co-edited with Anita, came out at the very end of 2015, while I was in a frenzy of e-book preparation and mailing.
When we released the first anthology in the series, waaaay back in 2014 (heh) we were blessed with a rave review and a star from Publishers Weekly. For this new volume, alas, we were not so blessed, but even this very mixed review enthused about some of the stories and poems and praised some of the work as “brilliant.” In my biased opinion, of course, all of it is brilliant.
I’ve at last assembled all the links where you can buy the book in one place. You can find that page here.
So I drop in a heap at the end of 2015 feeling like I’ve packed several years’ worth of creative living into one. This ain’t the first time for that, but even judged my often hyper-busy standard this has been a barnstormer of a year, a strenuous ascent of a year, one hell of a year. I haven’t come out of it completely unscathed — I’m undergoing physical therapy right now for two unrelated injuries — but still, this year’s gonna be really hard to top.
Keith Laumer’s “Test to Destruction” in Dangerous Visions recounts the ordeal of a man being telepathically tortured by aliens while simultaneously physically tortured by fellow humans. Back in May, I joked to friends that I was living my “Test to Destruction,” simultaneously running the Kickstarter campaign to fund Clockwork Phoenix 5 while researching and writing a special section about the renovation and return of the Norfolk & Western Class J 611 steam locomotive for my newspaper day job. I got it all done, with lots of wonderful help and support, but getting there was a bear.
That same month, my short story collection Unseaming made the shortlist for the Shirley Jackson Award and hit sales rank #101 overall on Amazon. Papaveria Press released the limited edition hardcover of my novella The Quiltmaker. And Publishers Weekly gave a starred review to Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney, the first solo-author short-story collection Anita and I have ever published through our Mythic Delirium Books imprint. And in the midst of all that I ran a charity 5k.
No other month was quite that intense, but really, things never slowed down much.
I did have some previously unpublished (and some previously published) writing make it into print in 2015.
Poetry-wise, the last of my unpublished “Claire-dare” poems reached daylight, an important personal milestone for me. Poems that appeared:
Though I adored Suzette Haden Elgin and loved working with her, I have mixed feelings about the award for poetry collections that the Science Fiction Poetry Association created to honor her memory. Nonetheless, I was honored to have my poetry collection Hungry Constellations in the running for that award. (For the record, I won exactly zero awards this year, but it was nice to have nominations.)
The biggest news for me writing-wise was a holdover from 2014. Back when Unseaming was loaded into the launch bay, Anita asked me what I hoped to see it do, and I answered that it would be amazing if it sold 1,000 copies. She asked me what I would do if it sold 5,000. I told her it was too unlikely to bother contemplating. But the actual answer, it turns out, was: celebrate with ice cream!
So at year’s end, my baffling and gruesome book has now sold over 6,000 copies, more than 5,000 of those in e-book format, mostly Kindle, and brought home more than 10k in royalties. In addition to the Shirley Jackson Award nomination, it made the This Is Horror Award shortlist, and cover artist Danielle Tunstall was a Chesley Award finalist for her amazing photo manipulation work with model Alexandra Johnson. I got to read from the book at the legendary KGB Bar in Manhattan. I even got fan mail. BONKERS.
Just to stay level-headed, I recently had a cool conversation with a fellow who writes cookbooks — from his perspective, only 6k in sales would be a disaster of colossal proportions. In genreland, though, those are decent numbers, or so suggests Chuck Wendig. I confess, it’s nice to feel validated for all my dogged persistence through the years. (Hopefully the feeling lasts!)
I don’t expect my follow-up, The Spider Tapestries, to do anywhere near as well, as it’s half as long as Unseaming and ten times as weird. But we’ll see…
Not everything was brag-worthy, for sure. After getting a good look at the real sales figures for my first novel, The Black Fire Concerto, I put sequel The Ghoulmaker’s Aria on the back burner even though the first draft is finished. Then after the Clockwork Phoenix 5 Kickstarter succeeded my creative life was absorbed in everything I needed to make to ensure backers get all they paid for. (That summary is here.) I did manage to sell a handful of new short stories, to Joe Pulver for The Leaves of a Necronomicon, Scott Andrews for Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Scott Gable for Tommorow’s Cthulhu, all of which will hopefully give me new things to blog about at the end of 2016.
So how was your year? Feel free to tell me in a comment or link me to your own summary.
P.S.: Neglected to mention, I got to write a blurb for a book of poetry by Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann! How weird and cool is that?
I have been deep, deep, deep in the wilderness of Kickstarter campaign/submission reading land as bits and bobs related to my own writings have popped up over the last couple of months. This is my attempt to assemble them in a more tangible form than happy blurts on Twitter.
Over Halloween weekend, horror podcasters Pseudopod posted a trio of aural horrors that included an audio adaption of my killer fractal story “Monster.” You can check it out here.
My contributor’s copy of the horror poetry journal Spectral Realms arrived, contain “Toujours Il Coûte Trop Cher,” an epic poem I co-wrote with C.S.E. Cooney that imagines a final conversation between martyr Joan of Arc and condemned child murderer Gilles de Rais (who, as it happens, knew each other IRL.)
I’m grateful to S.T. Joshi for giving these poor doomed souls a final rest, if not a peaceful one. You can get a copy of your own here.
In the meantime, Mitchell Hart’s poetry zine Through the Gate has published a brand spelunking new, hot-from-the-oven poem from me, “Dormant,” a sort of golem-ic fever dream. You can read it here.
I’m also proud to be able to announce two new short story sales.
Scott Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies has purchased my dark fantasy “Longsleeves,” a companion piece to my first horror-fantasy story to appear there, “The Ivy-Smothered Palisade.”
“Longsleeves” has multiple points of origin, including a prompt by C.S.E. Cooney and an art exhibit by Beverly Semmes. On Twitter, I’ve called it my #killallmen story. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, let me toss in an actual assessment I received in a rejection: “It embodies some fairly angry, violent feminism, which will piss people off.” I dunno that I can truly cop to that as conscious intent, but it will sure be delightful if it happens.
And today, Scott Gable with Broken Eye Books (I’m having good luck with Scotts this year) formally accepted my new Lovecraftian short story “Drift from the Windrows” to the upcoming anthology Tomorrow’s Cthulhu. Authors were asked to combine the Mythos with near-future takes on science. I took inspiration from research Anita once did into the malignant aspects of lateral gene transference in genetically modified plants. GMOs were just made for Lovecraft, don’t you think?
You can pre-order copies of Tomorrow’s Cthulhu here.
Back to Editorland. Whew!