End of year summary 2015: a beautiful nightmare

/ December 30th, 2015 / 2 Comments »

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I did have some previously unpublished (and some previously published) writing make it into print in 2015.
 

  • “The Sky-Riders,” a comic steampunk sci-fi Western I co-wrote with my friend Paul Dellinger appeared as an e-book, an audiobook, and finally a trade paperback.
  • Short story “The Cruelest Team Will Win,” a continuation of the world envisioned in my story “The Hiker’s Tale,” appeared in Rhonda Parrish’s anthology Corvidae.
  • My surreal piece “The Spider Tapestries” appeared in Lackington’s and will be the title story of my forthcoming collection.
  • My even more surreal story “Monster” re-manifested in audio form at Pseudopod.
  • Ellen Datlow, in her Best Horror of the Year long list of Honorable Mentions, gave kind nods to “Monster,” “The Lead Between the Panes” and “The Quiltmaker” from Unseaming, and to “Tardigrade” from Jason V. Brock’s A Darke Phantastique.
  •  
    Poetry-wise, the last of my unpublished “Claire-dare” poems reached daylight, an important personal milestone for me. Poems that appeared:
     

  • Sad Wisps of Empty Smoke,” Van Gogh’s Ear, January 9.
  • “The Bone Bird” and “Purloined,” Spectral Realms 2, Winter.
  • “Dearly Beloved” from Postscripts to Darkness 5 (2014), reprinted in the 2015 Rhysling Anthology
  • “Toujours Il Coûte Trop Cher,” co-written with C.S.E. Cooney, in Spectral Realms 3, Summer.
  • Chagall’s Lamp,” first published in Strange Horizons in 2005, reprinted in Strange Horizons: The First Fifteen Years
  • Dormant,” Through the Gate 8, October
  •  
    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.
     
    #SFWApro
     
    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?
     

    One new podcast, two new poems, two new story sales

    / November 11th, 2015 / 1 Comment »

    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.)
     

    Trop Cher

     
    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.
     
    SR3_draft_cover2

     
    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?
     
    TC-cover

     
    You can pre-order copies of Tomorrow’s Cthulhu here.
     
    Back to Editorland. Whew!
     
    #SFWApro
     

    Discomfort Food and the BEST HORROR reading list

    / September 30th, 2015 / No Comments »

    Unseaming_ecover_newRecently Best Horror of the Year editor Ellen Datlow posted her annual recommended reading list, and I was pleased to see that four of my stories from 2014 made the bloody cut.
     
    On the honorable mention roll call: “The Quiltmaker,” my novella-length sequel to “The Button Bin,” that appeared in Unseaming; “The Lead Between the Panes,” first published last year in Lakeside Circus, reprinted in Unseaming; “Monster,” published in Nameless Digest, also reprinted in Unseaming; and “Tardigrade” from Jason V. Brock’s A Darke Fantastique anthology.
     
    Thanks, Ellen, for the tip of the hat.
     
    Even more recently (like, today) a Mind Meld forum discussing weird fiction appeared at SF Signal. A number of my esteemed fellow authors tackled a definition of “The New Weird,” but since I basically think of “The New Weird” as “newer writers writing the Weird” I fudged that part of the question and focused more on why I think folks like the Weird in general, and thus I attempt to explain the made-up-on-the-spot concept of Discomfort Food — the idea that it’s comforting to know that others find life as disturbing as I do.
     
    The Mind Meld also includes much more learned input than mine from Ann VanderMeer, Laird Barron, C.S.E. Cooney, John Klima, Lucy A. Snyder and many more. Check it out here. My thanks to Andrea Johnson for including me!
     
    #SFWApro
     

    Chesley Award UNSEAMING sale

    / August 19th, 2015 / No Comments »

    Unseaming_ecover_newIn honor of Danielle Tunstall‘s Chesley Award nomination for best paperback cover, the ebook edition of Unseaming will be on sale for 99 cents through Thursday night.
     
    The Chesley Awards, given by the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists, will be announced Thursday evening at Sasquan (aka the World Science Fiction Convention) in Spokane, Wash.
     
    You can find the discounted Unseaming editions here:
     

    Amazon
    Amazon UK
    Amazon CA
    Nook
    iTunes

     
    #SFWApro
     

    Not a Readercon report

    / July 29th, 2015 / No Comments »

    Readercon was great, but as I’m in the midst of reading Clockwork Phoenix 5 submissions and starting on a novel revision, I’m not going to be able to provide any kind of detailed report.
     


     
    I did not win the Shirley Jackson Award, though I remain honored to have been nominated and enjoyed meeting a number of my fellow nominees. I certainly don’t begrudge Helen Marshall her win for best collection.
     
    I am pleased to report that Bone Swans, the debut collection from C.S.E. Cooney that Anita and I published through our Mythic Delirium Books imprint, sold out at Readercon. Nor did Unseaming fare poorly, for that matter. And, at the joint party Anita and I held for both books, Carlos Hernandez provided this rather amazing cake, that did not last long at all once it was cut:
     
    cake

     
    Finally, Scott Edelman made a video of one of the panels I participated in, along with Shira Lipkin, Patty Templeton, Catt Kingsgrave and moderator Kate Nepveu, “Successfully Writing About Horrible Things.” If you like, you can watch the video below!
     

     
    #SFWApro
     

    Readercon matters

    / July 6th, 2015 / No Comments »

    This weekend: Readercon. I’m so looking forward to seeing people there, as well as the folks we’ll visit as we’re on the way.
     
    My schedule changed a little since I first posted it. (Post is updated to reflect that.) My autograph session now happens 8 p.m. Friday. I’ll also be taking part in the “Miscellany” variety show Saturday night, reciting a poem or two. (Imagine that!)
     
    Anita and I will hold a two-book party Saturday night in our room, starting about 9-ish. It’s the official launch party for Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney, and we’ll also be celebrating my Shirley Jackson Award nomination for my lil collection of horror tales, Unseaming. (And then the winners get announced Sunday morning. No reason to be nervous at all! *g*) My reading takes place noon Sunday — um, right after the award ceremony! We’ll see how that works out…
     
    Copies of Bone Swans and Unseaming will be available in the dealers room at the Small Beer Press table. (My thanks to Gavin Grant for allowing that to happen.)
     
    If you’re gonna be there yourself, don’t be shy, come say Hi!
     
    #SFWApro
     

    HUNGRY CONSTELLATIONS is an Elgin Award nominee

    / July 2nd, 2015 / No Comments »

    Hungry Cover Mockup 0Last week I found out that my newest poetry collection, Hungry Constellations, is a Suzette Haden Elgin Award nominee. This is a relatively new award given by the Science Fiction Poetry Association for best poetry collection, chosen by member vote.
     
    I considered Suzette a friend and I’m glad SFPA took a step to honor her memory.
     
    Hungry Constellations began as a reward offered through the Mythic Delirium Kickstarter in 2013. My gratitude goes out to Dominik Parisien, who sifted through 20 years of my verse to curate something extra special to present to the world. Thanks, too, to Amal El-Mohtar for an introduction that states pretty succinctly what my poetry is all about. And finally, thanks, to whichever SFPA member(s) nominated the book.
     
    If you’re a SFPA member and you’d like an ebook copy to read (or heck, if you’re just someone who’d like a copy, it’s not like I’m going to perform a background check) feel free to email me a request at mythicdelirium@gmail.com. The book is available in PDF, EPUB and MOBI formats.
     
    I want to note, too, that among the other nominees, John Philip Johnson’s comic-book-in-verse Stairs Appear in a Hole Outside of Town is a truly amazing, original creation, and I would love to see it win in its category.
     
    #SFWApro
     

    CORVIDAE invasion warning

    / June 30th, 2015 / No Comments »

    Editor Rhonda Parrish has shared the lovely and eerie cover for her forthcoming anthology Corvidae, which contains a new weird tale from yours truly, “The Cruelest Team Will Win.” (It’s a sequel, of sorts, to “The Hiker’s Tale” in Unseaming. The corvidae family, of course, encompasses crows, ravens and magpies, but I based my dark fantasy tale on bluejays. And spiders. Both comprise cruel teams.)

    CORVIDAE-cover-resized-695x1024

    The anthology debuts July 7! The full list of contributors other than me: Jane Yolen, C.S.E. Cooney, M.L.D. Curelas, Tim Deal, Megan Engelhardt, Megan Fennell, Adria Laycraft, Kat Otis, Michael S. Pack, Sara Puls, Michael M. Rader, Mark Rapacz, Angela Slatter, Laura VanArendonk Baugh, and Leslie Van Zwol.
     
    #SFWApro
     

    Speculative industrial romance horror metal poetry and me

    / June 29th, 2015 / 4 Comments »

    My kooky career path has led me to a place where two major aspects of my life have overlapped unexpectedly: speculative poetry and Rammstein fandom.

    Horror house Raw Dog Screaming Press has published an English translation of Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann’s second poetry collection, On Quiet Nights (now available everywhere). Raw Dog commander-in-chief Jennifer Barnes asked me if I’d consider writing a blurb for the collection, and I was more than happy to! (After all, my wife and I paid to see the man set his keyboardist on fire and ride a giant, um, pink cannon that spewed white foam (ahem!) all over the front rows…)

    It’s a handsome volume, with more than a little bit of the twistedness contained inside evident at first glance. (The same could be said of Till himself.)

    Lindemann

    Here’s the full text of my take on the book:

    “Wry and rude, disturbing and droll, schneidend und schonungslos, Till Lindemann’s On Quiet Nights is no tome of quiet reflections. Admirers of the Rammstein frontman’s cynically humorous and gleefully raunchy lyrics will find those qualities in concentrate in these verses drawn straight from his darkly playful id. Lindemann pours blood, sweat, tears, and other bodily fluids into these lines, his yarns of lust, abuse and heartbreak brought to life by Matthias Matthies’s equally twisted illustrations. And yet, ever the trickster, Lindemann sows moments of beauty through the flood of sins, surprise gems like ‘So beautiful’ and ‘Silhouettes’ ensuring readers will never be able to predict what the next page brings.”
    —Mike Allen, author of Hungry Constellations, three-time Rhysling Award winner

    (My thanks to Shveta Thakrar for assistance with the German phrasing.)

    I believe in truth in advertising, so I can offer an even quicker way to evaluate Lindemann’s poetry. Watch the following video (N!S!F!W!), from Lindemann’s first solo project, Skills in Pills. If you savor its over-the-top gross-outs, deeply disturbing imagery and singularity-black humor, you should buy the book right now. If you find the video too repellant to watch all the way through … maybe Till’s poetry won’t be up your alley.
     


     
    #SFWApro
     

    My Readercon schedule (is pretty sweet)

    / June 28th, 2015 / 1 Comment »

    So I have my final Readercon schedule and it’s pretty awesome (I am going to be one busy, busy tiger) though it doesn’t cover things like the dual-book party Anita and I will throw to celebrate the launch of Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney and my Shirley Jackson Award nomination for Unseaming. And we’ll be doing even more stuff, I’m sure! But check it out, what’s there is already plenty enough to keep me on the go:

    Friday July 11

    4:00 PM    CO    Stop, Collaborate, and Listen. Mike Allen, C.S.E. Cooney (leader), Eileen Gunn, Malinda Lo, Michael Swanwick. The speculative community is full of collaboration: writers who write a story together, musicians who work with writers to create incredible performances and multimedia experiences, artists who work with writers both to illustrate and to create original works. Our panelists will discuss their experiences with the benefits and challenges of collaboration. How many people can collaborate on a project before it becomes unwieldy? How do methods of communication, issues of dividing payment, and other practical considerations influence collaborative artistry?

    8:00 PM    E    Autographs. Mike Allen, Cecilia Tan.

    Saturday July 12

    10:00 AM    F    Successfully Writing About Horrible Things. Mike Allen, Catt Kingsgrave, Kate Nepveu (leader), Mary Rickert, Patty Templeton. If you’re not writing horror but your plot calls for something horrific to happen to a character, how do you handle it? You might go overboard and be detailed to the point of undermining or derailing the narrative, or might be so vague that the horrific event has little effect on the reader or the story. A reader who’s been through a similar experience might be offended or distressed by a description of awfulness that’s lurid, gratuitous, clichéd, or bland. What strategies can writers use to help readers empathize with the characters’ suffering and build stories that respectfully handle the consequences of terrible events, without falling into these traps?

    2:00 PM    IN    Speculative Poetry Open Mic. Mike Allen (leader). Speculative poetry covers a broad range of forms and topics. Creators and fans of speculative poetry are invited to come to this open mic and perform their favorite works. Sign up at the info desk.

    3:00 PM    ENL    Interstitial Arts Foundation Town Hall. Mike Allen, Tempest Bradford, Sarah Smith, Emily Wagner. The IAF is a group of “Artists Without Borders” who celebrate art that is made in the interstices between genres and categories. It is art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, mediums, and cultures. The IAF provides border-crossing artists and art scholars a forum and a focus for their efforts. Rather than creating a new genre with new borders, they support the free movement of artists across the borders of their choice. They support the development of a new vocabulary with which to view and critique border-crossing works, and they celebrate the large community of interstitial artists working in North America and around the world. The annual Interstitial Arts Foundation Town Meeting at Readercon is an exciting opportunity to catch up with the IAF and its many supporters, hear about what they’re doing to support the interstitial art community in 2015, offer ideas for future projects, and contribute your voice to the development of interstitial art.

    Sunday July 13

    10:00 AM    CO    Ghostbusting Lovecraft. Mike Allen, Gemma Files, John Langan, Adam Lipkin, James Morrow. In Max Gladstone’s blog post “Ghostbusting Lovecraft,” he writes: “Ghostbusters is obviously taking the piss out of horror in general. But while the busters’ typical enemies are ghosts of the Poltergeist persuasion, the Big Bad of the movie, a formless alien god from Before Time summoned by a mad cultist–cum–art deco architect, is basically Lovecraftian.” Unlike typical Lovecraftian protagonists, however, the Ghostbusters prevail over the eldritch horrors by exploiting the power structures and emotional connections that exist between people. Is the Ghostbusters story arc an alternative to the standard horror tropes, one that replaces fear with humor, defiance, and camaraderie? How else does it subvert our expectations of the conflict between humans and horrors?

    11:00 AM    F    The Shirley Jackson Awards. Mike Allen, John Chu, Ellen Datlow, Daryl Gregory, Nicola Griffith, Gary K. Wolfe. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2014 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.

    12:00 PM    EM    Reading: Mike Allen. Mike Allen. Mike Allen reads selections from his Shirley Jackson Award-nominated story collection Unseaming.

     

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