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A tale of ashes and ink, spoken soft.

My technically-a-novella “Ink, and Breath, and Spring” is now available as episode 637 of PodCastle, so now you have the option of reading or listening to my tale of a dead body found in a rather odd library!

(This work initially appeared in issue 40 of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.)

As always, I very much hope you like it.

Words in the world

Cossmass Infinities has accepted another one of my stories! “The Draw of Empty Spaces” will be appearing in issue #3, coming out in September; in the meantime, you can check out their site here.

In addition, I am very pleased to say that PodCastle has accepted “Ink, and Breath, and Spring” as a reprint; that is the novelette which got a couple of favourable mentions in Locus when it initially appeared in issue 40 of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, which I am extremely proud of.

(I’ve never had one of my pieces done as an audio version before, and am very curious to see how it goes! Writing the pronounciation guide was interesting; not difficult, exactly, since I knew what things were supposed to sound like, but an aspect that I hadn’t considered would be necessary.)

Knox, from SerialBox

KnoxKnox is available on Serial Box. The last chapter there comes out next week, so this review is still spoiler-free.

Disclaimer: I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review.

In fact, I was offered this product, and when I read the message part of me thought something like “oh gosh, I have so much I’ve been meaning to read and I’m really not getting to most of it. Maybe I shouldn’t?” In the meantime, the rest of me had parsed “Mythos”, “noir”, and “partly by Bolander” and was typing back something along the lines of “Yes, please, thank you.”

(To be clear: the chapters from Rivera and Iglesias and Moraine are absolutely stellar, I just didn’t know as much of their work going in.)

Knox is a serialized novel set in 1930s Manhattan. Morgan Knox was a nurse in WWI and is now a PI with a knack for dealing with the weird. When the man who committed a series of murders gets shot and falls to his death in the East River, she’s hired to look into who might have set him on the spree, and from there the story unfolds beautifully.

It’s a beautiful blend of noir and horror. We meet Morgan Knox in an extremely dynamic introduction that makes it clear that she is one tough-as-nails bad-ass PI. I’m holding off on getting into spoilers, but I cannot overstate how much Morgan’s reactions to everything she dealt with anchored the world. Both her present-day visions and the past experiences that underpin her life are horrific without being gratuitous[1], and while she keeps going in them, her doing so never feels easy or cheap. Her world-weary familiarity with horror spared me needing to sit through a protagonist who just can’t believe what’s going on as the case takes on more ominous tones; her battered stubbornness and principles made me want to see her succeed so badly. And while the general thrust of an ominous villain was made clear in the beginning, I genuinely was not expecting the details of the reveal, or how the arc of the antagonist progressed. It was creepy and chilling and ultimately damn delightful, for values of delightful that cover horrific entities from beyond our world.

Then there’s the other characters – the people already in Knox’s life and the people she runs into during the investigation (there is some overlap here). I liked reading about all of them, and even those in more antagonistic roles or who only showed up briefly were clearly drawn and distinguishable from each other. Having Knox surrounded by so many well-realized characters keeps the story from being a grim and lonely one, and really brings home how much she holds back. I deliberately took breaks between reading each chapter, and I never had any trouble slipping back into the story or remembering who people were to Knox, and judging by my own reactions at a couple of points I was really invested in them being okay.

(This is my first serial, and I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the story being broken up that way. I will say that each episode felt well-balanced; the focus differed as the story moved along, and the ending always made me look forward to more, but I was never irritated at the stopping points, if that makes sense.)

As a final note, the story is mercifully not whitewashed or Hollywoodized. I find that when reading or watching noir, especially written-to-be-period noir, there’s occasionally a tendency for the story to have a lot of white straight folks. Knox emphatically did not do that, and I was glad to see that 1930s New York had actually been portrayed as a melting pot.

Recommended for fans of the Mythos (you won’t find name-checks here, but you’ll find some great descriptions and lovely horrific scenes), fans of noir with a rich setting, and anyone who wants a combination of the two with a solid and satisfying character arc.
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[1] Please note that I may have a slightly high tolerance for descriptions of the effects of violence done to others, but this is a blend of Mythos and noir, and I think the descriptions work perfectly in that context.

Ashes and ink, redux.

“Ink, and Breath, and Spring”, which was originally published in issue 40 of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, will be appearing in Podcastle!

This is the first time I’ve had one of my works done in audio format (I am morally sure that reading it aloud to myself as part of the editing process does not count), and I’m really looking forward to it. Writing the pronunciation guide was interesting; it’s not something I’d ever really thought about doing before, but of course it makes sense.

So that was a nice piece of news, today, and I’m pleased to share.

Fixing the quiet.

I keep trying to draft this, and I keep coming back to what other people have said that I admire. “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” “Not caring about politics is a privilege.” “Silence is a message.”

This feels like the kind of thing where I should be owning my own words, and not bouncing off those of others. Also it feels like the kind of thing where I should really stop delaying until I have near-perfect words. It’s fine to do that for my fiction when no-one’s waiting on it; it’s not fine to do that now.

Racism is a real and living thing. I am white, and was raised with that privilege; I have been trying to undo some of the things I’ve learned, and it’s pretty clear that I need to both try harder and make more of an effort to fix systemic issues. I’m going to try harder, because the current state of things is just not tenable and needs to get better. I am sorry I didn’t do more already.

Slogging onwards

As opposed to this time last month, I am not exactly catching up on my reading. Focussing on written words has been feeling a lot more demanding lately. I have been able to do a couple of critiques, which is good, but when it comes to reading for personal interest…

I finished a magazine article last week. It was a photo essay with very minimal text; slightly less than a page’s worth. Aside from that, I don’t think I’ve picked up anything to read since last Monday, when I reached the end of a book that I wasn’t really internalizing.

Eh. This too will pass, I suppose.

On the plus side, the cats are extremely cuddly (and even softer than usual since an entire spare cat was brushed out of them), spring is approaching, and it’s raining. I’m looking into a couple of things that should help, as well.

Progressing, by words

I am finding that I have been picking up a lot of podcasts lately. I’ve been somewhat interested in them for a while – I started listening to The Bright Sessions in late 2018, and progressed to The Magnus Archives – but lately I have just dived in. I’m listening to Unwell and Old Gods of Appalachia, I’m going to try Hitchhiker Horror and The Far Meridian, and the non-fiction This Podcast Will Kill You is weirdly relaxing. (There are a few other on my radar, but they’re not quite at the top of my to-listen pile. It is a growing pile.)

(I think it might be because I am not getting out a lot, so I am a bit restless, and they are easy to listen to while I am moving around the house. Plus they require a fairly constant minimal level of attention, which helps keep my mind from wandering. And unlike reading, they just pour into my ears and I don’t need to focus enough to read. Despite the fact that it helps to have something to hold my attention, I’ve been having trouble making myself focus lately, and these help.)

Aside from that, I have been deeply resenting the return of the snow (we were up to 20’C before it started snowing again!), and trying to make sure I keep moving. It mostly seems to be working, I suppose.

Dynamic

Sometimes I take minutes. My raw notes are inevitably a bit unpolished, but they’re pretty fast. And I clean them up before I send out the draft for people’s comments, because “a bit unpolished” includes my editorializing about some situations. (I write swears. Not that anyone else swears. Just sometimes things are stressful.)

In recent minutes, I referred to the current situation as “extremely dynamic” and that’s about the politest way I can put it.

I’m still submitting. I’m writing a little. I’m having real trouble revising my own stuff, though, so that’s going to be something I’m going to be trying to focus on next month. Aside from writing, I suspect I’m dealing about the same way many other people are, and a lot of them are being more eloquent about it, so moving on.

I am catching up on my reading, though.

 

Pause for reflection

Huh. I just noticed how close we were to the ides of March.

Like pretty much everyone, I suppose, the covid-19 news is a bit on my mind, and I’m trying to make sure I stay up-to-date on all the usual daily stuff despite distractions. It’s not so much that I’m missing out on things – the things that I’d want to go out to do are all getting cancelled – it’s that I find myself at slightly loose ends for what to do instead.

I did manage to get my Hugo nominations in before the deadline, though, and am looking forward to seeing the final ballot.

Related to that, the only work I published last year got a mention in Locus! Rich Horton said that it was his favourite story published in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet that year in his short-fiction-in-print review. I am really pleased by that.

29 days and not enough time

…well that was a month.

A couple of days ago, I think I figured out why I never see any of my own work as “dark”. To me, something is dark if it develops in a chilling and unexpected, or a disturbing and surprising, way.

My own work usually isn’t unexpected or surprising to me. Therefore, it doesn’t register as dark. The implied body horror, the deaths, the strange alterations of self, the loss – that’s not dark, that’s what’s expected. (Not that these things inherently make a work dark, but they can, and they’re examples of what I’ve seen people point to.)

And yes, I have the same issue with a lot of horror – there’s very little of it that I parse as “dark”, simply because it’s horror, and that’s what I came for. It can be gruesome, chilling, heartwrenching, startling, dour, or dire – but because I’m going in expecting and hoping for that, it isn’t usually unexpected or surprising.

Aside from that, there’s been a lot going on, but a lot of it’s also been fairly personal and is in progress, so I’m going to settle for saying that I think things are improving.