Clockwork Phoenix 2 stories included in Hartwell & Cramer’s Year’s Best Fantasy 10

/ December 21st, 2011 / No Comments »

CLOCKWORK PHOENIX 2I’m proud to be able to announce that two stories from Clockwork Phoenix 2: More Tales of Beauty and Strangeness are going to be included in David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer’s Year’s Best Fantasy 10, forthcoming from

They are the novelette that opens the anthology, “Three Friends” by Claude Lalumière, and Saladin Ahmed’s Nebula Award-nominated “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela.” Congratulations, guys!

This is, of course, the perfect excuse for me to mention (again) that I’ll be bringing Clockwork Phoenix 2 out as an e-book under my Mythic Delirium Books imprint next month, and that the first volume of Clockwork Phoenix is available now in e-format at and from Weightless Books.

“Budding” sells to Phantasmagorium

/ December 19th, 2011 / 2 Comments »

Received word this morning from Laird Barron that he’s buying my poem “Budding” for the next issue of Phantasmagorium. Woo-hoo! (“Budding” was inspired by a conversation with Nicole Kornher-Stace about child-rearing, something I have no first-hand experience with.)

Stories have their own lives

/ December 14th, 2011 / No Comments »

I have this horror story called “The Blessed Days.” It first appeared in Tales of the Talisman in 2009 and was adapted to audio by Pseudopod in 2010. Now it’s part of a new e-anthology called Past Future Present 2011 that’s available on Amazon for 99 cents. In fact, you can read it free, because it’s included in its entirety in Amazon’s free sample, though I hope you’ll purchase the anthology — given the lineup, with work by Hugo winner John Grant and two-time Nebula nominee Vera Nazarian, it’s certainly worth the price.

I’m going to use this opportunity to give a demon its due.

The spark of inspiration for “The Blessed Days” came from a conversation from a friend here in Roanoke, Jon Smallwood, who was meditating on the tidbit that “bless” evolved from a term that meant “mark with blood.” But as I wrote the story it involved into a piece in which I tried to express how I felt as a reporter when covering (from afar, yet feeling very much connected) events like the 9/11 attacks. (By the time the story was published, the 4/16 shootings at Virginia Tech had also factored in.)

But mind you, it is also a lurid tale of monsters, human and not. It went through many, many drafts, including an extensive rewrite just before the Tales of the Talisman issue that held it went to press. I’m still grateful that David Lee Summers took a chance on it. I still love the blunt illustration by Jag Lall that introduced the story with a bit of gory sleight-of-hand: dead-on accurate, yet what you see doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Reselling it to Pseudopod brought it to a bigger audience, and here’s where I kick myself a little, because the story generated more buzz at the time than I realized it was getting. (I was not yet a Google Alert master, heh.)

Take, for instance, this review from blogger Scientifically Bookish:

A reporter wakes up naked next to his girlfriend, covered in blood, beneath plastic sheets. But the story transcends its splatterpunk opening to achieve a more psychological brand of horror. The odd part is that the first half seems like an entirely different story than the second half. A lot of time is spent on how humanity deals with magically waking up covered in blood every morning, from infections down to haircuts. It is made clear that the blood isn’t the blood of the sleeping people, but appears out of nowhere.

Then the protagonist gets to use his exceptional lucid dreaming abilities to help a scientist friend figure out what’s going on, since the blood only appears when you’re asleep. From here we get into Lovecraft territory, and as the Pseudopod outro points out, you can’t help but think of Nietzsche’s famous “when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” This one is truly scary despite the bloody, unlikely premise. The Mayan Apocalypse tie-in annoys me, but isn’t unjustified, and the ending is very good, in the horrifying sense of “good”. Love the last line.

I totally missed this when it first came out!

I also missed the initial comments in the Pseudopod forum, which made the same mistake this review makes.

A conversation I had with another friend here in Roanoke, Anne Sampson, led to the inclusion of Mayan mythology in this story, specifically the significance of the ceiba tree. That conversation happened sometime during Spring-Summer of 2005. (So now you know how long this story percolated.)

I regret that I can’t, two years later, wade back into this discussion and say: “Folks. You all have 2012 on the brain. I know that movie just came out. But this story way predates that. AND THERE IS NO MENTION OF THE MAYAN CALENDAR ANYWHERE IN THIS STORY. None whatsoever. Ahem.”

Timing is everything.

But it didn’t seem to damage things too badly, if this review from blogger “Ready When You Are CB” is any indication:

If you are a fan of horror fiction, especially a fan of dark horror fiction, you owe it to yourself to give Mike Allen’s “The Blessed Days” a listen. The stories hero has been plagued by debilitating recurring nightmares his entire life. He has sought help from sleep scientists as well as less reputable dream experts, to no avail. But his dreams, along with the dreams of everyone else on earth stop altogether after The Blessing begins.

One night, humanity experiences The Blessing simultaneously, as everyone wakes to find themselves covered in blood. Their own blood, which has leaked out of every pore in their body at once, just before they awoke. This continues to happen every time they fall asleep over the following two and a half years. No one dreams; everyone wakes up covered in blood.

How creepy is that?

Mr. Allen’s story is a tribute to the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, the kind of story about the unleashing of dark and primitive gods, gods who demand blood sacrifice and give nothing in return that Clive Barker wrote about in his Books of Blood series. If it’s not your sort of thing you’ll run away screaming as soon as it begins. In fact, you may have run away already. But if you’re a fan of dark horror fiction, you really should give it a listen. It’s very good. It kept me sitting in my car in the parking lot at work listening. At National Public Radio they call that a driveway moment, but I don’t think “The Blessed Days” is quite what they had in mind.

You’ll note this reviewer mistakenly thinks folks are waking up in their own blood. I’ll attribute that to reviewing a story just listened to rather than one where you can flip back pages and double-check. Except, you know, people reviewing print make goofs like that all the time too, heh.

Maybe what I’m most sorry I missed: one of the commentors in the Pseudopod forums disagreed so strongly with what he believed my story was asserting about the essential nature of evil that his comments, on my story and subsequent ones he felt were similar, ended up leading to a huge forum debate in Summer 2010. How cool is that?

Our stories, they have a life of their own when we’re not watching.

Maybe I’ll get to be a more attentive parent this time around.

Mythic Delirium, Clockwork Phoenix now available at Weightless Books

/ December 13th, 2011 / No Comments »

So I kicked off the month with both a new issue of Mythic Delirium 25 out in print the first volume of Clockwork Phoenix re-released as an e-book.

I started out making Clockwork Phoenix directly available for Kindle, but if you would rather support a small business instead, well, you can. Today the book became available at Weightless Books, run by Gavin Grant and Michael J. DeLuca of Small Beer Press. Same price as the Amazon version, available in .epub format as well as .mobi.

And that’s not all. For the first time ever, I am offering an 2-year electronic subscription to Mythic Delirium, also through Weightless Books. These are PDF files that preserve all the interior illustrations. For starters, I’ve made the current issue, silver No. 25, available in e-form.

Last but hardly least — the 350-copy run of our 10th anniversary issue, which features a Neil Gaiman poem with a specially-hand colored illustration, is about to sell out. I’ve got one left. No joke. (Well, technically I have one more — the only one Neil actually signed — but I have special plans for that one.) From this point on that issue, which also contained Kendall Evans’ and Samantha Henderson’s Rhysling Award winner “Into the Astronaut Asylum,” will be available only as a PDF, which Weightless Books gets to sell for me.

I hope you’ll check them out.

My type of Xmas carol…

/ December 13th, 2011 / No Comments »

My thanks to Steve Breeding for aiming this at me.

e-book adventures, part 1

/ December 12th, 2011 / 3 Comments »

I made my first venture into the much-hyped e-book rush this past week with a new edition of the first volume in my best-known anthology series, Clockwork Phoenix. It’s fascinating to be able to see results in real-time in a way you can’t with print sales — I think I’ll need to train myself not to seek daily updates, heh.

BTW, If anyone wants to help the new Clockwork Phoenix listing with tags or “likes,” that’d be awesome.

What I’ve found is laying out an e-book is just about as much work as laying out a print book, at least this first experience seemed that way.

It hasn’t been enough to deter me from producing more. I’m hoping to have Clockwork Phoenix 2 out by January and Clockwork Phoenix 3 out the next month.

I’m also going to start releasing some of my previously published stories.

I had a little bit of inspiration doing yard work the other day. When Steam Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories was on the runway to publication, JoSelle Vanderhooft commissioned artist Avery Liell-Kok to create a promotional postcard based on my novelette “Sleepless, Burning Life.” This was a delightful surprise to me, to say the least; however, I don’t believe the postcards ended up being printed.

My inspiritation was, when reflecting on what else I could make an e-book out of, remembering that this art exists. So I contacted Avery and asked her if she’d be willing to let me use it for an e-book cover. She asked to be allowed to clean up a few things, as it was produced in a bit of a rush. (Kind of like my novelette!) That was fine by me, and now the cover art is ready.

Illustration by Avery Liell-Kok. Copyright © 2011.


In my mind, “Sleepless, Burning Life” is what might have happened if Michael Moorcock wrote the script to Kill Bill (and all the assassins were current or former lovers with divine powers.) It’ll be fun to have it out there making big anime-style body-bisecting sword swipes all on its own.

New featured poems at by Catherynne M. Valente and Serena Fusek

/ December 9th, 2011 / No Comments »

I’ve posted two new featured poems on the Mythic Delirium website. The first comes from New York Times bestseller (and to think, I knew her when, hee) Catherynne M. Valente, along with audio of her reading this challenging new piece. The poem appears in our new issue, #25 (click here to buy or subscribe.)

Over on her blog, Cat says these things about it:

The Melancholy of Mecha Girl is a philosophical confessional poem about anime and giant robots.


I am as proud of it as a short story.

The second poem, “The true poem” by my fellow Virginian, Serena Fusek, appeared in our previous issue, as did the accompanying illustrations by Paula Friedlander. The beautiful audio reading by Clarkesworld podcast director (and SFWA Interim Executive Director) Kate Baker is exclusive to our site, of course.

I hope you’ll check out both of these morsels. (Click here to do so.)

I note: I’ve been aware for a long time our website is pretty seriously outmoded, but we’ve gotten by. However, now that we’re going to start offering e-books (the new edition of Clockwork Phoenix being the first) it’s time for an upgrade. So these featured poems will be lasted presented in this format.

Though they won’t disappear — they’ll just be the first ones up at the new version of the site, so stay tuned.

“Let There Be Darkness” sells to Pseudopod

/ December 7th, 2011 / No Comments »

I learned last night that horror podcasters Pseudopod have decided to adapt my short story “Let There Be Darkness.” These folks previously adapted my tales “The Button Bin” and “The Blessed Days” and I’m delighted to be back on board with them again.

For me, this has definitely been The Year of the Reprint. “Let There Be Darkness” first appeared in a tiny zine called Penny Dreadful in 1998(!) and was reprinted by editor Michael M. Pendragon (not his real name, natch) in The Bible of Hell in 2001.

As you might guess, it’s a cheerful story about tulips and unicorns…

Signal boost: Past Future Present 2011

/ December 7th, 2011 / No Comments »

My new edition of the first Clockwork Phoenix book for Kindle isn’t the only thing I’ll have out in that venue this week. I’m taking part in an e-book only anthology, Past Future Present 2011, that’s scheduled to become available Saturday for a whopping 99 cents.

Swiped from the publisher’s blog, here’s the complete table of contents.

…………Mike Allen
…………William Barton
…………Keith Brooke
…………Alfred D. Byrd
…………Marian Crane
…………Dave Creek
…………Helen E Davis
…………Linda J. Dunn
…………John Grant
…………Roby James
…………Leigh Kimmel
…………Catherine Mintz
…………Vera Nazarian
…………John Shipley
…………Justin Stanchfield
…………Elisabeth Waters

I’ll have a lot more to say about my story in this one once it’s available for sale.

Fantastique Unfettered 4: in which I have a novelette, 3 poems & an interview

/ December 6th, 2011 / 3 Comments »

I spent a fair chunk of last week (when I wasn’t fine tuning the new Kindle edition of Clockwork Phoenix or stuffing envelopes with the new issue of Mythic Delirium) proofing my portion of the new issue of the gorgeous print zine Fantastique Unfettered, due out in the very, very, very near future.

These folks have actually made me a featured author. See for yourself:

The entire table of contents, which you can view here, is pretty scrumptious: Fiction by Hal Duncan, Lynne Jamneck, Brenda Stokes Barron, Alma Alexander, Georgina Bruce, Hal Duncan, Carmen Lau and D. Harlan Wilson. Poetry by Shweta Narayan, Dan Campbell, J. C. Runolfson, Kaolin Fire, Jacqueline West and Kristine Ong Muslim. Interviews with Hal Duncan & Brent Weeks … and Hal Duncan & me!

In our interview, Alexa Seidel asked Hal & me to discuss the idea that “life is suffering.” Hal is about 100 times more eloquent than I am, but we basically agreed right off that [Spoiler Alert, heh!] suffering happens in life, but life is not equal to suffering, and then meandered in all sorts of fun directions from there.

For my part, being “Featured” means that I have three poems in the issue, “Sisyphus Walks,” “Seed the Earth, Burn the Sky” and “Binary,” all of them part of what I call the “Claire-dare” series, created when Claire “C.S.E.” Cooney bombarded me with poetry prompts last year.

The issue’s cover image is inspired by “Binary.” I’m still agog over that.

FU (love that acronym!) is also reprinting a science fiction novelette of mine first published in 1999 (it was technically my first “pro sale.”) It’s called “Stolen Souls,” and it’s a bizarre futuristic police procedural/revenge story about a guy named Venner whose lover Alys’ detachable brain (everyone has one in this society) is stolen to be divided up and used as part of a vast computer processor on a distant asteroid mine, and the extreme lengths Venner goes to a) kill everyone involved in her abduction and b) retrieve Alys and make her whole. The ending … is not exactly Happily Ever After. (Imagine that.)

“Stolen Souls” was published in a fun but obscure Australian zine named Altair; there was an attempt made to launch Altair in the U.S. but it died on the runway. So hardly anyone saw “Stolen Souls” when it came out, aside from one enthusiastic Tangent Online reviewer, heh. Proofreading this tale meant that I re-read it for the first time in many years. Sometimes re-reading one’s old work turns into a traumatic experience, but this time around it went in the opposite direction. My stories are almost never simple or straightforward, and “Stolen Souls” features the same kind of narrative flip-flops you find in my newer stuff, except more. Fact is, 2011 me wound up being a little awed by some of the pyrotechnics 1998-1999 me managed to engineer.

I kind of want to reach back in time to that version of me with a message akin to this: “Hey, man, brace yourself. You’ve put a lot of work into this story, and you’ll be paid a nice flat fee for it. And no one’s going to read it, and you’re going to wonder what you did wrong. (And it won’t be the last time that happens.) But thirteen years later you’re going to read this again as you’re prepping it for a really classy second debut, and you’re still going to be really happy with it.”

There’s a nostalgia factor here too, I’ll admit. The novelette’s opening section was the final thing I wrote while I was in the Creative Writing program at Hollins University (M.A. ’94.) You can tell, I think, that even-younger me wrote it; it’s a tad flowery and adjective-y, while the later sections are leaner and (much) meaner.

Anyway, between this and re-proofing the first Clockwork Phoenix, last week has been Memory Lane central. At least they’re all good memories!

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