Monday 17 December 2018

Micro-interviews with TFF #47 authors

After each issue of TFF comes out, we run a series of very short interviews (about two questions, one line answers) with each of the authors and artists on social media. We’re in the middle of the series at the moment, and in case you don't follow us on Fakebooc, I’ll collect the links here (in no particular order). We try to give a teaser of the stories, poems or illustrations, and give the creators a chance to promote what else they’re working on while we’re there.
We’ll add the rest as they show up.

Please feel free to like or share the posts, spread the word about the interviews or the stories, comment over on FB or on the issue post if you come across anything you particularly like.

Saturday 1 December 2018

Interview with Ephiny Gale

Our friend Ephiny Gale (whose lovely story “The Light Princess” appeared in TFF in 2013, and “Five Tales of the Rose Palace” in 2018) has released a collection of her fantastic and unconventional short stories this week, under the title Next Curious Thing from Foxgrove Press. To celebrate this release, we have invited Ephiny to tell us a little more about her work.

An otherworldly banquet of contemporary fantasy, dark fairy tales and soft science fiction, Next Curious Thing collects some of Ephiny Gale’s best short fiction from 2013 to 2018, including ‘In the Beginning, All Our Hands Are Cold’ (Syntax & Salt Editor’s Award winner) and ‘Wrecked’ (Tangent Online Recommended Reading List). Known for her ability to mix the extraordinary with the relatable, darkness with splendour, and heartache with hope, Gale showcases a wide cast of fascinating female and queer characters in the most curious of situations. In addition to its previously published stories, Next Curious Thing features six brand new tales original to this collection.

TFF: You first appeared in The Future Fire in 2013 with “The Light Princess,” which is maybe not so much a fairy tale retelling as a new fairy tale-like story. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of and inspiration for this piece?

Ephiny Gale: Occasionally I’ll read the title of someone else’s story, get an idea of what that story “must” be about, and then be disappointed to learn that my assumption was wrong. “The Light Princess” owes its existence to an 1864 Scottish fairy tale of the same name (found via Wikipedia’s “List of fairy tales”) which is about a princess who weighs very little, while I wanted it to be about a princess who was very bright. Thus, my story “The Light Princess” is not a retelling of the 1864 fairy tale; rather, it’s what I immediately hoped the story would be based on its title alone.

What is the clearest golden thread running through the stories in Next Curious Thing? Was that deliberate in your writing and editing, or did it only emerge as you began to collect the stories for the volume?

‘Fairy tales versus superheroes’ is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few years, especially with the recent explosion of superhero movies. Both are fantasy sub-genres, but superhero movies tend to be about extraordinary people saving the world (or at least part of it), while fairy tales tend to be about ordinary people trying to save themselves (or their families) from within that world. The power difference is huge: superheroes are about enacting their power on the world, while fairy tales are about reacting to the (often oppressive) power that the world has on you.

Even though not all of my stories in Next Curious Thing are fairy tales, I think this is the golden thread that runs most clearly through the collection: that these are ordinary people, often in extraordinary—and magical—circumstances, who are trying to survive in spite of the world around them, and shape and improve it in the small ways that we can on an everyday basis.

This thread wasn’t a deliberate choice throughout my writing and editing, but it doesn’t surprise me that this element of fairy tales has spread out into my science-fiction and contemporary fantasy work. I find it much more relatable than stories about superheroes and chosen ones and world-shakers—I can certainly enjoy those types of stories, too, but I’m not sure that they’re the stories I personally want to tell.

Illustration by Margot Jenner © 2018
You have also worked in theater. How does writing for the stage differ from writing prose, for you? Do the specific constraints of theater as a medium make it particularly challenging to tell non-realist stories?

There are definitely restrictions on the kind of non-realist elements you can show on stage, particularly if you’re making theatre with a relatively low budget. I don’t write anything into my stage scripts without first understanding how that might be able to be produced (for instance, with lighting or fire paper or a scrim). Alternatively, for a couple of my shows I’ve chosen to have anything magical or sci-fi occur off stage, and focussed instead on the aftermath or implications of those things.

There’s a lot more freedom with what you can “show” your audience in prose, and also a lot more freedom with structure and the speed at which you can tell a story. Stage scenes are generally confined to the one location (although I’ve enjoyed playing with elements like montages and quick-cuts in my plays before) and build upon each other more directly than prose narration, which might include several jumps between location and time and character in a single paragraph. Depending on the style of writing, too, what might take me an hour to tell on stage could take me just 2,000 words to convey through prose. Prose has a lot more flexibility, but sometimes it’s wonderful to write for the immediacy and atmosphere and constraints of the theatre, too.

Which story or work would you most like to adapt for the stage?

Right now I’d be most excited to adapt the final story in Next Curious Thing, called “The Secret Death of Lane Islington.” It involves a famous teenage singer bringing her non-famous doppelganger back from a parallel universe, so the trickiest parts would be casting actresses who looked enough alike, and working out how to show a portal opening in the middle of the stage. Definitely doable, though.

What is your favourite modern retelling of a traditional tale?

I’m not sure if the Wizard of Oz is considered “traditional” enough, but assuming it is, I have to pick Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked. Wicked has been one of my favourite books for a long time; I love its world-building, its complexity, and its unexpected quietness. Harking back to what I said earlier about fairy tales versus superheroes, it turns the Wicked Witch of the West from a supervillain into the heroine of her own fairy tale, which is exactly my cup of tea. As you might have guessed from “Five Tales of the Rose Palace” (published earlier this year in The Future Fire) there are a few stories in Next Curious Thing where traditional villainesses receive similar literary treatment.

Ephiny Gale was born in Melbourne, Australia, and is still there, alongside her lovely wife and a small legion of bookcases. She is the author of more than two dozen published short stories and novelettes, which have appeared in publications including GigaNotoSaurus, Daily Science Fiction, and Aurealis. Her stories have featured on the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List, as a finalist in Nestlé’s Write Around Australia, and have been awarded Syntax & Salt’s Editor’s Award.

You can purchase Ephiny’s new story collection Next Curious Thing from any of the booksellers listed here, or better still request your local independent bookstore or library to order it.

Saturday 17 November 2018

New issue: 2018.47

“I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.”

—Aretha Franklin (on posting bail for Angela Davis in 1970)

 [ Issue 2018.47; Cover art © 2018 Saleha Chowdhury ]

Issue 2018.47

Short stories
Download e-book versions: PDF | Epub | Mobi

Full issue and editorial

    Thursday 11 October 2018

    Giveaway: post images of ancient magic

    Our friends at the Institute of Classical Studies (who helped fund and publish the Making Monsters anthology), and our co-editor Emma Bridges, are running another public engagement event at the end of this month—on Hallowe'en, no less!—on the theme of Ancient Magic. (See poster to right for registration information: it's free, but booking is required.)

    You may remember that the monster-themed anthology came out of a similar public event last year ("Why do we need monsters?"), so we have fond memories and high hopes for this evening!

    To celebrate the Ancient Magic event, which will include presentations as well as hands-on activities, and will be family-friendly, we are offering a free paperback copy of the Making Monsters anthology as a prize in the social media image contest. Simply post an image (it can be an archaeological object, ancient or modern artwork, painting, character, or your own work) that makes you think of ancient magic, with the hashtag #ICSmagic by midnight on Wednesday Oct 17th, and tell us why you like it, and we'll choose a winner right after that. There are some examples there already, if you're looking for ideas of the sort of thing that might work.

    (I note that they're encouraging ancient magic-themed fancy dress at the Hallowe'en event, so maybe they're looking for inspiration for costumes in the images people send!)

    Monday 1 October 2018

    Making Monsters Micro-interviews round-up

    The month-long Making Monsters promo carnival ended last week, having seen a dozen or so interviews and guest posts, various games and giveaways on social media, a launch party in London with monster costumes and a monumentally impressive cake sculpted into a facsimile of the book cover!

    We also ran a micro-interview (2-3 questions, short answers) with one of the authors or contributors almost every day. Because I know FB isn't always the easiest platform to navigate back several weeks, I've gathered links to all of the micro-interviews below.
    Please share or comment on anything you particularly enjoy, feel free to post follow-up questions (there or here), or respond to any of the stories or essays if you've already read the anthology. (And if you haven't buy it here!)

    Thursday 27 September 2018

    Guest post: Ain't nobody here but us humans

    Guest post by George Lockett.

    I love monsters. Don’t get me wrong—they can be terrifying. Creatures who can rend our bodies with their teeth and claws and spines, driven by animalistic hunger. Beings who can subvert our wills, break our minds with their eldritch powers, or with the very substance of their being—wearing shapes more horrible than our minds can withstand. Spirits who promise to subject us to brutalities for our sins, for our mistakes, or for our unwitting transgressions.

    It is comforting to believe in monsters.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about monsters lately. You probably have too. We seem to be surrounded by them. You only need glance at the news or skim your social feeds to catch a glimpse of one. The unrelenting onslaught of this present moment—children gathered in cages, justice only for the few, men who would drag the world to the brink of destruction for their own selfish ends—it might have you telling yourself that monsters are real.

    But they’re not. The ones who do these monstrous things are not monsters. They are people.

    When you’re faced with a real, honest-to-God monster, there’s always something to be done. Run. Tie yourself to the mast. Show them a compassion they’ve never experienced. Turn their outer clothing inside out. Rub salt or crushed garlic on their entrails. Or, draw your sword; slay the beast (but watch out for his mother).

    When dealing with a monster, knowledge will see you through. An anathema, arcane gesture, or the right word, softly spoken, will protect you. And you may well find that the so-called monsters aren’t so terrible as you’d thought. That they have their own stories, if you’re willing to listen.

    But monsters aren’t real; there ain’t nobody here but us humans. People are complex, and they demand complex solutions. People who do monstrous things are still people, no matter how much we’d like to deny it, to say they’re a different breed, not like us.

    It is comforting to believe in monsters, because we know how to fight them (and that fighting them is sometimes a sign of our own weakness). A stout heart, trusty blade, or, best of all, an exceptional sprint aren’t enough to save us from people. Reality is always more terrible.

    Take vampires. They’ve stood for many things in their time, not least a fear of the rich and titled. Their powers make them almost unassailable. They are terrifying monsters who enslave and kill the less powerful with a mere extension of their will. They literally subsist by draining the life force of those under their power.

    And what of the rich and powerful now, the ones for whom, in many stories, vampires were a proxy? They are far, far more powerful than their fictional analogues ever were, with the capacity (and, it seems, the will) to steer the world into ruin in the execution of that power.

    Some even have their thralls on social media, a mere remark enough to unleash hordes of yipping Renfields to harass those unfavourable to them. Reality also has a sense of humour in its predilection for aping fiction. And sunlight, garlic, holy water, crosses? They offer us no help. The only thing that can really make a difference is much, much harder won: sweeping and radical social change.

    It is a harder and more harrowing thing to accept that the people who do monstrous things are not monsters.

    There is one thing I’ve found to help, though. An arcane gesture that can make us feel a better, at least in a small way. It’s a simple one. When all of this seems like too much, I roll up my sleeves. And I keep writing.

    George Lockett (@mastergeorge) is a writer of fiction and video games, telling tales of flesh-hungry birds, mischievous ghosts, and technoanxiety.

    George’s short story “The Last Siren Sings” can be found in the Making Monsters anthology.

    Wednesday 19 September 2018

    Guest post: Revealing Monsters

    Guest post by Alexandra Grunberg.

    The world is not a simple split of black and white, good and evil, heroes and monsters. Though it would be easy to look at something monstrous and label it a monster, it is more interesting to find the shades of grey. How did they become monsters? Why do we assume they are monsters? What is it about appearance that can be so manipulative, so convincing, if it matches the familiar stories we’ve been told since childhood? If it has teeth, fangs, horns, talons, it’s bad, it’s evil. It’s clear. In the Making Monsters anthology, we are twisting traditional genre expectations by finding the heroic, sympathetic, and complex in characters that present as typical monsters.

    But what happens when we reverse that process? What secrets may be hidden behind the beautiful, strong, and romantic? And what can we learn from pulling back the mask of “goodness” and revealing the dark truths underneath? If Making Monsters twists our view of villains, there is an equally important twist occurring in fantasy fiction that unveils the villainous in characters that present as typical heroes. And no one does that twist better than Disney.

    In Disney animated films, we see characters that present many attributes of expected heroes, but eventually reveal evil beliefs, intentions, and actions. This twist can be seen in the popular animated films Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, and Coco. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast may be beautiful, but he is still obsessive and jealous. Hans from Frozen may be fun and charismatic, but he still manipulative and self-serving. Ernesto from Coco may be a beloved musician, but he is still a murderer. These are not just examples of great characters and engaging writing, but examples that are relevant to the real world and our own lives. That beautiful man is untrustworthy. That beloved musician is a criminal.

    That talented swimmer is a rapist.

    In the present #MeToo movement, the public still has difficulty reconciling our heroes who present traditionally good qualities (admired entertainers, successful sportsmen) with actions that do not match their perceived character. It is hard to accept that the story we have been told about this person does not match their behavior. It is hard to accept the reality when we preferred the fantasy. And it is even harder when we are exposed to television and films that encourage these fantasies.

    But having examples of these twists in fiction prepares us to recognize the reality of these surprises and disappointments. These characters give the public a framework for understanding, recognizing, and accepting. This is especially useful in films geared towards younger audiences. Children who watch these films grow up with these examples of duality and contradictory behavior, as well as the expectation and need for justice. Twisting heroic tropes in fiction offers an opportunity for representation of an unexpected yet common villain that directly relates to our current social climate.

    So, when someone says that they just can’t believe a popular musician would do horrible things, Disney fans can counter with the example of Ernesto in Coco. And we can remember that even someone as loved as Ernesto had to face the consequences of his actions when the public realized his true nature. And maybe we can learn to hold real people to the same standards that we have for fictional characters in animated films.

    Alexandra Grunberg is an author, screenwriter, and poet. Her short stories have appeared in various online magazines and anthologies, including publications certified by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You can learn more at her website.

    Alexandra’s story “The Banshee” can be found in the Making Monsters anthology.

    Saturday 15 September 2018

    Guest post: Rent Asunder

    Guest post by Misha Penton


    “This was the darkness in which ghosts and monsters were active, and indeed was not the woman who lived in it… -was she not of a kind with them?”¹

    A thunderhead churns in slow-motion, its high clouds billow white against a darkening blue expanse. Bats chirp a chorus under a bayou bridge and a falcon circles a slow descent. Thousands of grackles gather on powerlines to watch the end of day: the last rays of sun move across the city as it rises from the desert plain.

    “…in 'visible darkness', where always something seemed to be flickering and shimmering…”

    Her abdomen hovers above the sparkle of twisted skyscrapers and her thin, long legs easily navigate between metallic buildings: one furry claw here on the pavement (barely missing a sidewalk crack), and one claw there, next to a man asleep on a bench (he doesn't wake).

    “The darkness wrapped around her tenfold, twentyfold…”

    Now, beyond the buildings, she rests at the edge of a concrete-lined waterway. Above her, blue lights hang from the underside of a bridge, signaling the coming full moon. Between her two front legs she holds the remnants of a shattered porcelain bowl. Its glaze is a galaxy swirl of greens and blues—tiny bird silhouettes lift from its fractured surface and merge into the surrounding darkness.

    With mother-like coaxing, she gathers the shards and makes her way to a deserted avenue. She ascends a slick glass tower. A shimmer of silk spools out from her spinnerets and wafts high on the breeze, sticking to the steel building across the street. One glimmering thread at a time, she crafts a magnificent web. At last, she settles in its center and starts to work on the shattered bowl: with silk and gold, she adheres each broken piece to its match, and makes what was once broken, whole—and more wonder-full and splendid than before.²


    I find myself searching for examples of transformations that occur through physical trial—like the shattered cup renewed and made whole through craftsmanship and patience.

    The wedding of tech and biology is often physically arduous, and a beautifully rendered example of such tech-craft is Star Trek’s iconic Borg, Seven of Nine. Too numerous to name, cybernetic transformations abound (not always physically difficult but always cool): from the Maschinenmensch (robot) in Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis to Darth Vader. I'll count Hugh Jackman's Wolverine transformation, too: physically difficult and very high-tech.

    Mary Shelley's monster in Frankenstein is another grim physical transformation. Though her book gives few details of the physical trial, the many ensuing iterations of the work are full of state-of-the-art details of his making. Other ordeals that come to mind include the contorted physical changes of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, and the pack of movie werewolves from Henry Hull and Lon Chaney to David Naughton³ and Michael J. Fox.

    Angelina Jolie's Maleficent is one of my favorites, and her wing-cutting and reintegration is a dramatic and powerful symbol of dismemberment and wholeness regained.

    Is losing oneself through transformation possible? Isn't that the fear? or the gift?—that through some monumental change we become unrecognizable to ourselves and to the world?

    Tanizaki, Jun'ichirō. "In Praise of Shadows". The Art of the Personal Essay. An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Phillip Lopate, ed. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, trans. New York: Anchor Books, 1995.

    1. Quotes in italics in are from Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s essay, “In Praise of Shadows” translated by Edward G. Seidensticker (1995).
    2. Inspired by the Japanese art and concept of kintsugi: broken pottery mended with lacquer and gold to create something new and perhaps more beautiful than the original.
    3. H/T to Djibril al-AYAD for pointing out the painful lycanthropic transformation in the film American Werewolf in London (1981).

    Misha Penton's projects blossom in many forms: live performances, audio and video works, and writings. She has produced and directed over 16 original evening-length performance works and more than six music video projects. Professional affiliations include Houston Grand Opera, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Bath Spa University, and University of Houston Center for Creative Work. Upcoming projects: a new media monodrama celebrating the magnificent monstrous feminine. On Twitter: @divergencediva

    Misha's flash story “Eclipse” can be found in the Making Monsters anthology.

    Monday 10 September 2018

    Guest post: Childhood Monsters

    Guest post by Neil James Hudson.

    My childhood was full of monsters. My favourite book was Usborne’s All About Monsters by Carey Miller. The cover showed the fiercest possible Loch Ness Monster, green-skinned, yellow-eyed, and possibly a little over-supplied with fangs. Inside were lurid paintings and descriptions of dinosaurs, Sirens, Cyclops, Grendels, dragons, krakens, abominable snowmen and Godzillas. If this wasn’t enough, a weekly dose of Doctor Who kept my imagination topped up with an ever-changing parade of new creations. My worst behind-the-sofa moment was the Krynoid, a space plant that infected humans, turning them into an enormous mass of vegetation that would eventually engulf the planet. It owed an enormous debt to The Quatermass Experiment, but I watched it again recently and found it just as terrifying as when I was six and had to leave the room, unable to resist watching through the kitchen door.

    On the face of it, I didn’t need them. Real life was quite terrifying enough. I had so many school bullies that sometimes I had to stay behind to catch up on some of the bullying I hadn’t had time for. Teachers tended to blame the victims, and would add extra punishment for missing work because I’d been too busy being bullied. And I found everyday social interaction so baffling and difficult that I was occasionally grateful to the bullies for getting me out of it. And yet, my favourite leisure activity was to scare the hell out of myself.

    Bullies aren’t monsters; they’re too dull. Monsters, frankly, cheer the place up a bit. I’ve never heard of a monster that simply bored you to death; Douglas Adams might have pulled it off, but not Homer. Monsters are just more interesting than reality. School life was painful, but it was also boring, blow after blow after blow. Bullies didn’t breathe fire or turn you to stone, let alone lure you to your death by singing.

    The other great thing about monsters was that you seldom defeated them fairly and squarely through single combat. You used your brain, and beat them through cunning and trickery. You approached Medusa with a mirrored shield. You stabbed Polyphemus in the eye and hid under his sheep. You put spikes on your armour and fought the Lambton Worm in a river. You turned off the Daleks’ power supply. The bullies would be eaten in no time, but their bright but weedy victim could save the world—after the removal of a few undesirables. And of course, to the enormous gratitude of a few desirables.

    Ultimately, monsters aren’t real. That’s what’s so great about them. If they were real, they’d just be beasts. Instead, they’re discrete chunks of imagination, superimposed on reality to wreak a bit of havoc on a smug world. When I was a child, reality wasn’t good enough; I had to live in a world of my imagination instead. I still do. Here be monsters; let’s have more of them.

    Neil James Hudson has published forty short stories and a novel On Wings of Pity, about incubi and succubi. He has been fascinated by mythology since finding a stray copy of Pears' Cyclopedia as a child, and has a diploma in Classical Studies from the Open University. His website is at

    Neil’s story “A Song of Sorrow” appears in the Making Monsters anthology, available now.

    Tuesday 4 September 2018

    Resist Fascism! Make the new Crossed Genres anthology happen

    Our friends at Crossed Genres Publications are running a Kickstarter to fund the publication of their newest anthology Resist Fascism: An SFF Call to Action. A speculative fiction micro-anthology about fighting fascism any and every way possible or impossible. Apart from being an obviously timely and self-evidently important theme, wherever in the world you might look, at the moment, this anthology will be full of kick-ass and mind-blowing science fiction stories by a slate of talented and exciting authors.

    Selfishly, I want this project to be funded, because I want to read the book. But for a better incentive, we’ve invited five of the Resist Fascism authors to TFF to tell us why they think it’s an important project, what their stories contribute to the anthology, and how the whole is an act of much-needed resistance against political repression worldwide. We’ll let Izzy, Marie, Barbara, Tiffany and JL take it from here…

    Izzy Wasserstein

    Crossed Genres Magazine was already legendary by the time I started writing speculative fiction. To my great regret, it was also closed. So when this project was announced, I was eager to be a part of it.

    My story is set during one of the great failures in the fight against fascism: the Spanish Civil War. Fascists enthusiastically supported Franco, while the western governments, fearing communists more than fascists, failed to help the Republicans. I wrote this story because I believe that even small kindnesses and unwitnessed bravery can make a difference. It’s up to each of us to do what we can. I fervently hope this story helps make a difference.

    What excites me most about this project is that it’s an important part of a larger effort to imagine how we can defeat fascism, and how we can cultivate a better world. Despair is a powerful temptation, but we must continue the struggle. We must be victorious. We owe it to the future.

    Marie Vibbert

    My story was about public housing. I have a personal tie to that, since the first home I remember was the projects. My grandparents lived in the same project. It's gone now, like so many others, and the lack of good, clean places for people to live galls me. The public perception of the projects is skewed, too. People think of public housing as hotbeds of crime, when in actuality they are islands of safety. It's harder to get into the projects than Harvard most of the time. You have to have a job. You have to have income to pay the rent. You have to have a clean record. The people in the projects are worried about the less vetted people living in tenements around them. Neighbors are kind and look out for each other. That's true everywhere, I think, other than wealthy home owner's associations. :P

    Anyway, that's just pontificating. The story was inspired by an interaction I saw of a little girl scolding her obviously older brother at the base of steps in Cleveland's public housing. I was biking by, but the brief interaction really stuck with me, how girls were so often put "in charge" as kids. Expected to be more selfless, more mature at an early age. So I got this idea of an inner-city matriarchy.

    Then I got worried about Own Voices, so I moved the setting to a smaller town with a predominantly white population. I made my main character black because I wanted people to see the role of the social worker as a minority and the poor being helped as white. Because that does happen and it's not what's represented. As a poor white kid, I got a lot of help from black professionals.

    So yeah, I wanted to write something about the projects, and make it science fiction, and have the projects WIN, which might be the most science fiction part of it.

    Barbara Krasnoff

    I’ve known Bart and Kay for several years—Crossed Genres published three of my stories when it was a monthly magazine—and when I met Bart during the Readercon genre convention, and he told me about the upcoming anthology, I was very excited. I started working on it as soon as I got home, but it was difficult for me at first to come up with an idea. I made several starts before I got underway with “In the Background.”

    Whenever I watch a show or read a story, I’m usually more interested in the characters who are not the front-and-center heroes—the best friends, the walk-throughs, or the unnamed individuals in the crowd. I recently spent three fascinating days working as an extra for a TV series, and I suddenly realized that this could be the basis for a story about those anonymous individuals and the real effect they can have. Just as a production can’t be made without its background actors, political and social movements depend on their background volunteers to call the voters, contact their representatives, type in the data, design the websites, and do all that other necessary work without applause or recognition—except perhaps from close colleagues, friends or family. My hope would be that stories like “In the Background” can help those of us who are not in the spotlight understand that we too are important.

    Tiffany E. Wilson

    Like most of us, I'm burnt out and often feel hopeless about the political situation in the US, especially because it feels like many of the horrific things that are happening are beyond my control. My story grew from that frustration.

    “Meet Me at State Sponsored Movie Night” is about a future nation where fascism has taken hold, restricting people's access to resources, media, and education. It follows two teen girls and their small act of resistance to reclaim their community. I hope the optimism of the story serves as a reminder to readers that small actions matter, even if it only helps a small group of people for one night.

    Art—especially science fiction—has a very important role in inspiring change. Since SF is often forward-thinking, it can help readers envision possible futures and the pathways to create or avoid them. As we near the midterm elections, this country is at a critical turning point where each citizen can help shape the trajectory of our future through the simple act of voting. Books like Resist Fascism can be a rallying cry, not only to encourage everyone to persist through the struggles and setbacks but also to remind people to step up and do their small part to resist.

    JL George

    I wrote “We Speak in Tongues of Flame” last year, though it had been percolating a while longer than that. The idea of an artist’s creation coming to life and spurring her on to a destructive act of defiance had been with me a long time, but the way it’s framed in terms of displacement and linguistic oppression comes out of my complicated feelings about my home country and about Welshness, especially in the wake of the 2016 Brexit vote and the rise in open racism and xenophobia that has followed. (Naïve nationalism sometimes claims, “The Welsh aren’t racist because we know how it feels to be colonised!” but, given how decisively Wales voted for Brexit, I think it’s pretty clear that this is bullshit.) My home country is there in Keris’s struggle to hang on to her native tongue—but also in the complicity of the townspeople who shrug and go along with the actions of their repressive government.

    I found out about the anthology and about Crossed Genres via the Submissions Grinder, and after learning more about what they do and the ways they’ve championed diverse SFF over the years, I couldn’t be happier to be part of the anthology. Stories of resistance are important not just for showing us ways to oppose the rising tide of right-wing extremism, but also for giving us the catharsis that helps us get back up when it all feels hopeless.

    For more context, Bart Leib and Kay Holt talk about the history of the Crossed Genres magazine and publishing house in an anniversary video.

    Please support the Resist Fascism fundraiser, and help make sure this anthology happens!

    Monday 3 September 2018

    Guest post: On Monsters and Heroes

    Guest post by Liz Gloyn
    Liz Gloyn, Senior Lecturer in Classics
    Royal Holloway, University of London

    As I have been thinking about the manifestations of classical monsters in the modern world, one critical thing I have learned is that they have an unhealthily co-dependent relationship with their heroes. Monsters are often ported into narratives purely for the hero to slay them; retellings of classical stories frequently take the moment at which a hero slays a monster as the story’s anchor. Perseus and Medusa, Theseus and the Minotaur, Hercules and a wide variety of supernatural fauna—although the slaughter of one by the other is predicated by the mythic tradition, they have clung to each other to survive through the centuries.

    But now, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, are we starting to see monsters break out of this toxic relationship? Certainly, more classical monsters are making lives for themselves in which they distance themselves from their heroes, or where the story they have to tell decentres conflict and death. I wonder how much of this is due to a relatively recent move in representations of monsters which has started to see them as sympathetic, enticing characters. Vampires are perhaps the best example; from Anne Rice’s brooding and sensual Vampire Chronicles, the erotic horrors of The Hunger (1983), and the sparkly romance of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, the act of being transformed into a monster has become something to be courted rather than avoided. As the balance between fear and desire has begun to shift, monsters have become more complicated, less obviously evil.

    The parallel development has been that we have started to see that the heroes are less nice. For the ancients, this would not have come as a surprise—they knew Hercules was horrible to his family, that Odysseus was duplicitous and self-centred, and they talked openly about these men’s failings as much as their virtues. However, nineteenth century versions of classical myths sanitised and valorised heroes, mainly so they could work as moral exemplars for impressionable youths; as such, heroes’ violence, white supremacy and patriarchal abuses were celebrated as worthy of emulation. Looking at these heroes and their sense of self-entitlement, their belief in their own right to trample over the earth and take whatever they felt like, the injustice of their actions and the way some post-classical cultures have uncritically honoured them now makes their heroism look much less appealing.

    The general question of who gets to be a hero, and what makes someone heroic, turns our gaze back to the monster—because maybe, just maybe, monsters get to be heroes as well. Again, this is part of broader patterns of reclaiming what society might consider monstrous. There is a long tradition of coding monsters, particular in Hollywood cinema, as queer, giving LGBT+ audiences the uncomfortable experience of identifying with a villain only to see them vanquished as part of a heteronormative plotline. In recent decades, the LGBT+ community has reclaimed monstrosity—just think of how much Lady Gaga means to her Little Monsters who feel alienated and marginalised because of their sexuality—and with that reclamation comes power. Power to see the monster as important and valuable in and of itself, rather than simply as a victimised adjunct to somebody else’s story.

    Where does this leave classical monsters? Certainly they will always be connected to their heroes; they have been fellow travellers for centuries. But perhaps we will see, in retellings of their stories in future years, a loosening of that binding, a relaxing of the tie, a shrugging off of the conventions which claim the classical monster’s only value lies in its defeat. Perhaps, after watching the catastrophic effects of letting heroes tell us what to do, it is time to see what lessons the classical monsters can teach us.

    Liz Gloyn’s essay “Caught in Medusa’s Gaze: Why does the ancient monster survive in the modern world?” appears in the Making Monsters anthology.

    Saturday 1 September 2018

    Making Monsters blog carnival

    For the next few weeks we will be running a series of guest posts, appearing in interviews and panels, and running games and other activities on social media (including some giveaways) to promote the release of the Making Monsters anthology, which is on sale in print and e-book from all good bookstores today. To keep a handle on it all, and for posterity, we’ll be maintaining a list of blog posts and other links here. Please feel free to share individual links, or this page, as widely and in as many venues and media as you like.

    Before the anthology was even complete, there were a few posts encouraging people to submit stories:
    Micro-interviews with almost all the authors and contributors are going up daily on Facebook: so far we have Annegret Märten; Tom JohnstoneMathilde Skoie; Liz Gloyn; Hûw Steer.  I’m not going to add these every day—go to the TFF FB page to catch the rest.)

    And finally the current blog carnival…

    All of this is just tasters, of course. For the real goodness, get the Making Monsters anthology in print or e-book now (or ask your local library to order a copy).

    Friday 31 August 2018

    Map of the Monsters of London (with giveaway!)

    One not very well known fact about monsters is that they love cities. We tend to imagine them in caves and forests, but, really, when asked, most monsters confess that they quite enjoy the urban life. It maybe that they like window-shopping. Or it maybe because of their centuries-old fondness for buildings.

    If you think about it, monsters really look at ease on top of grandiose monuments. Temples, churches, banks, bath houses. I guess they like to look down at us humans, walking on the streets. Some, you can tell, feel a sense of ownership of the building and look like they would do anything to protect it. Others know they were more of an aesthetic choice, so it’s another kind of vanity that you can read in their eyes. And there are some that look like they have been put there just to mock you. Or to make you smile.

    There are very many of them, peacefully inhabiting our cities. You don’t believe me? If you live in London, just try looking around when you take a walk. I bet you will see at least two monsters that you never noticed before: on a big door knocker, on a statue in the park, to the sides of a gate. Unlike more rural kinds, city monsters really like to be seen. Actually, if you wave at them when you spot one, you’ll definitely make their day! We have decided to compile a map of the monsters of London, to see how many we can collect. At the moment, the map only shows the location of a tiny fragment of the very large family of London monsters, but we definitely hope to keep adding information. Feel free to browse it, to read the short news about our city monsters, to use it to organise monster-themed walks. Or, you could become a monster watcher yourself and help us spot city monsters in their natural  habitat (without disturbing them, of course!). You can join the Map of Monsters of London team by taking a picture of a monster anywhere in London and tweeting it with some geographical information (postcode or address) and the #MakingMonsters hashtag.

    To the best picture of a London monster, the editors of the Making Monsters anthology will award an e-copy of their monstrously gorgeous book. Now, some simple rules to contribute to the map and participate to the give away

    1. Don’t forget to use the #MakingMonsters hashtag otherwise we won’t see your tweet!
    2. We only accept entries for monsters located in London. We will be delighted to see city monsters from other places, but they won’t be placed on the map (for obvious reasons) and won’t participate to the giveaway.
    3. If you don’t live in London (or don’t have time for an excursion) you can always send us a pre-existing picture, as long as it has the appropriate copyright and credits.
    4. What monsters do we want? All classical monsters like mermaids, sphinxes, dragons, chimeras, unicorns. But also green men, monstrous gargoyles, horned and goat-footed demons. And all hybrids. Yes, including angels.
    5. If you could add a couple of lines of information about the monster you photographed that would be even more awesome.

    So, let’s go out looking for monsters! I suspect they are all excited now! Check the dragons on old buildings, the mermaid on the local swimming pool logo, the gorgon painted on an old vase in a museum. We are especially interested in all ephemeral depictions of monsters that are doomed to disappear, like graffiti or advertising hoardings.

    P:S: We didn’t manage to spot a Medusa yet. Can you?

    Monday 27 August 2018

    Making Monsters: round-robin interview

    The end of this week sees the release of our new publication Making Monsters: A Speculative and Classical Anthology, co-edited by Emma Bridges and containing a mix of fiction along with a few poems and essays. For the next few weeks we’ll be featuring posts from some of the authors, as well as appearing in interviews or guest appearances on other sites; we’ll share as many of these links here as we can. There will also be micro-interviews with almost all authors and editors on FB, games and giveaways on Twitter, and other fun to be had.

    In the meantime, about half of the contributors have conducted a round-robin interview: each person asks a question of the next in the list, who replies and asks the next question. You’ll get the idea. If you want to hear more from any of these people, stay tuned!

    Djibril asks Emma Bridges:
    In your introduction to Making Monsters you talk about how myths, and monster stories in particular, are and always have been mutable, flexible, ripe for retelling. Is there any limit to how far a story might have been recast, and still fit the mythic model?

    Emma replies:
    I’ve read and seen countless ‘receptions’ of ancient stories, and I’m always amazed by the ways in which writers and artists can bring something fresh to each new retelling. These myths never get tired, and I think that’s precisely because the possibilities for reinvention are almost limitless. I think a new story usually starts with a recognisable core at its heart, but after that the only limits are those imposed by the storyteller’s own imagination. Not every classical scholar or author of fiction would agree with me, I’m sure, but I’m of the opinion too that ultimately the reader or viewer doesn’t necessarily have to be familiar with the ancient tales, or to recognise what that core is, to take something meaningful from a new version of a story.

    Emma asks George Lockett:
    The Siren who tells her own story in ‘The Last Siren Sings’ says, “ours is not a song of pleasure. It is a song of power.” Do you think that, as a writer of fiction, you have a role to play in empowering those who have been marginalised or misunderstood?

    George replies:
    A key goal of fiction, particularly speculative fiction, is to ask interesting questions. Fiction that does not include or consider marginalised voices at this point in time is going to fail at asking those sorts of questions. I am a straight white man; if my writing does not make space for those who are ‘not like me,’ then it’s not fit for purpose, and only serves to centre a narrative perspective that’s been unjustly dominant for far too long. Marginalised and misunderstood voices need to be present in fiction, because to routinely omit them shows a huge lack of understanding of the world. More than that, omitting them harms the world.

    ’Empowering’ can be a tricksy term, though. It can imply an ‘uplifting,’ which still hinges on a certain power dynamic as being the ‘default,’ and puts undue burdens or limits on those characters that are part of marginalised groups or their fictional analogues. This is not the same as claiming their stories as my own, though. Not all stories are mine to tell.

    I think writers of fiction have more than a role to play in amplifying these kinds of voices; they have a responsibility to do so.

    George asks L. Chan:
    I absolutely loved your story in the Making Monsters anthology, “Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement.” It pulled me in quickly and then proceeded to tighten inexorably around me. You managed to skilfully incorporate details of the mythological background of the monsters from south-east Asian folklore without compromising on the pace of the story. Are there any other monsters you thought about including, or that were flitting around your brain while you were working on this story?

    L. Chan replies:
    The monsters for me had to reflect the different peoples in Singapore. And also had to be critically vulnerable in one way or another. Monsters living in fear of the vulnerabilities people give them was one of the themes I was playing with in the story. I had hoped to put in a monster from South Asia, perhaps a Naga or a Garuda, but they were more mythic than monstrous and didn’t really have Rosa’s fear of dying when she ventures out to feed. Five characters was plenty to write though!

    L. Chan asks Hester J. Rook:
    In “Aeaea By The Sea,” you chose to feature two classic Greek monsters—the witch Circe and the Gorgon Medusa, both famous for transforming men. How does the theme of transformation play into the story?

    Hester replies:
    I’ve always been fascinated by the theme of transformation, and find it plays out frequently in the stories and poems that I write. Greek mythology is full of examples of transformation used as punishment, or disguise, or protection—Actaeon’s transformation into a stag as punishment from Artemis, Zeus’s many transformations to seduce mortal women, and Daphne’s transformation into a laurel to escape a pursuer, for example. I find Circe and Medusa notable in that in certain ways they fall outside these categories. I find the Circe of book 10 of the Odyssey to be capricious and amoral, acting out the part of the evil witch with no real motive. Medusa’s transformative gaze is indiscriminate, and she does not choose who she transforms. In “Aeaea on the Seas” I wanted to show both characters’ motives and the way their transformative powers, and their own personal transformations, aid or disrupt their lives.

    Hester asks Danie Ware:
    For a myth that is often interpreted (rightly or wrongly) in a way that casts Persephone as a victim of circumstance and higher powers (Zeus, Demeter, Hades, etc), what was your intent in transforming the story so that Persephone is one of few characters with agency (albeit an agency that can only be displayed through subterfuge and trickery)?

    Danie replies:
    Persephone chooses to display her agency through trickery, a choice that reflects her intelligence and resourcefulness, and her complete understanding of her situation. I’ve always liked to think that the passion between Hades and Persephone was sincere—and that Demeter was the possessive and destructive influence, refusing to allow her daughter to associate with ‘the wrong type of man,’ no matter how much they may love each other. And if you’ve ever dealt with an overbearing parent, or someone who believes that they have the right/authority to direct you, confrontation is rarely the answer! In order to circumvent a bullying and didactic mother, she used her wits.

    Danie asks Neil James Hudson:
    Odysseus was said to be a very proud man. Was his desire to listen to the sirens made from pure vanity? Or was he a classical hero who loved daring and risk?

    Neil replies:
    It seems that the Homeric ideal of masculinity didn’t involve suppressing emotions. Odysseus is allowed to feel the excesses of fear, grief and love, and isn’t afraid to let the tears fall. In fact, as a hero, he seems to experience extremes of emotion not open to ordinary men; he’s an emotional, as well as physical, hero. And he seems capable of enduring extreme beauty as much as extreme hardship. I think Odysseus wants to experience beauty for its own sake; it’s as much a heroic goal as justice or duty.

    My instinct is to analyse the Sirens in terms of gender, but I have to wonder if Odysseus (who seems to be as heterosexual as a Greek mythological figure ever gets) would have acted the same way if the Sirens had been male. I’m sure he would; beauty is beauty wherever it comes from.

    I can’t imagine a modern-day action hero risking his life to experience the emotional extremes of perfect beauty; he’d be more likely to ignore or even destroy it to get on with the action. I think it makes our own myths seem a little thin in comparison.

    So I don’t think Odysseus listens to the Sirens through either vanity or love of danger. I think his motives are pure, the same yearning for art and beauty we all have. And I think this is the point where I find him at his most heroic.

    Neil asks Hûw Steer:
    What monsters do you think we need protecting from today, and what have we got to protect us?

    Hûw replies:
    I think the most dangerous monsters we’ve got to deal with now are the ones in our own heads. Depression and anxiety are getting more and more common, and with all the awful stuff going on in the world it’s all too easy to let them sink their claws in. The best way to fight them is to not do it alone.

    There’s also the Old Gods clawing at the edges of reality, but they’re always doing that. Best to just ignore them.

    Hûw asks Valeria Vitale:
    What’s the most disturbing thing you’ve created in Meshmixer?

    Valeria replies:
    This is an easy choice! In all my experience with 3D workshops, nothing compares to how creepy and unsettling was the creature that was born, in Meshmixer, during the “Why do we need Monsters?” event at the Institute of Classical Studies last October. I had prepared three menu-like lists of animal and human parts to mix and match, and the idea was to enable the audience to create their own digital 3D monster, in real time. I would manipulate the software, but the public would direct me, choosing the parts to be combined, but also dimensions, proportions and so on. I was expecting a funny hybrid at the end of the process, but what they made me do was absolutely disturbing. The creature had the body of a crocodile, a bald human head, and, on its forehead, a protruding cobra. Maybe it was the short crocodile legs that made it look like it was about to crawl on you, maybe it was the unnatural vacuum in the mannequin-like eyes. Or maybe it was just how darkly absurd was the snake on top of everything… but it was by far the most disturbing thing that ever came out of my computer. By the way, things got only worse when I 3D-printed it…

    Valeria asks Tom Johnstone:
    Your story reminds us that Medusa is, in the first place, a victim of an unjust punishment and, like Maddie—the protagonist of “Heart of Stone”—and many other women, she is blamed and shunned because of a man’s crime. How did you decide to focus on this aspect of Medusa’s myth?

    Tom replies:
    Funny you should ask this question, Valeria, because I think it was a conversation between us about this that sparked the idea for the story! We were discussing this anthology at the British Fantasy Society social, and I remembered I had a story that touched upon the Medusa myth, but was far too long for the guidelines. I also thought this version lacked clarity and focus. At some point during the conversation, Poseidon’s rape of Medusa in Athena’s temple and her subsequent transformation by the goddess as punishment came up. I think it was you who mentioned it in fact, so you can claim credit for the genesis of this story! It enabled me to sharpen up the story and get it down to the required length.

    Tom asks Alexandra Grunberg:
    The cup of tea in your piece gives a very personal, domestic feel to ‘The Banshee’. What drew you to that central image?

    Alexandra replies:
    To me, a cup of tea is a solitary image. It is a symbol of being alone, without necessarily the accompanying feelings of loneliness. In this manner, I felt like that image contrasted with the nature of the banshee, even if she can only see it as a reflection of her own loneliness. It also adds to the horror of the banshee, not just as a harbinger of doom, but as an invader of privacy. No one expects that they are being watched, about to be warned, when they are enjoying a late-night cup of tea.

    Alexandra asks Barbara Davies:
    Sirens have persisted as well-known monsters in the present day, with the “siren’s song” as a familiar warning. What do you think has caused the popularity of this musical monster, and what is it about the siren song that keeps it relevant to modern readers?

    Barbara replies:
    Lack of specifics about their appearance and the nature of their song, plus the way the epics never show us their point of view, mean the Sirens remain an irresistible mystery. And unlike some ‘monsters’, the beauty of their voices plus their female faces make them approachable. So there’s still plenty of scope for new stories, whether its redressing the lack of Sisterhood in the old tales or using siren song as a superpower.

    Barbara asks Liz Gloyn:
    Is there a ‘monster’ you feel has been overlooked/neglected and would like to see featured in a film or TV series?

    Liz replies:
    I’m always surprised that Echidna, Hesiod’s Mother of All Monsters, doesn’t get more airtime—Hercules: The Legendary Journeys makes her a recurring character, but other than that she’s pretty neglected. Maybe she’s just too monstrous a mother.

    Liz asks Misha Penton:
    How does “Eclipse,” your story in the anthology, fit into your larger interest in the monstrous feminine?

    Misha replies:
    I think of the monstrous feminine as superpowers or supernatural abilities—a woman physically hybrid or altered—from trauma? an innate difference? a cybernetic intervention?—something that is (at-first) perceived as weakness but is the source of her brilliant ferocity and wisdom. Relatedly, I’ve been reading a lot about Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending pottery with lacquer and gold: through the breakage something more magnificent than the original is revealed.

    Misha asks Valentine Wheeler:
    I love your image of wings hidden and pinned under a corset—what’s your favorite historical period to set your work within?

    Valentine replies:
    Most of what I’ve written has been near-contemporary or far-future, but I love the 1890s and would love to set something around then. There was so much change around the last few decades of the nineteenth century, especially in Boston, where I’ve lived for the last twelve years. I’m a big fan of subways and transit, and the construction of the Boston and New York subways systems was an incredibly ambitious undertaking that people ten years earlier had no inkling was coming.

    A story needs infrastructure to feel real—transit, food, justice, politics, communication systems, et cetera—and without understanding how those things work, even if they don’t appear in the text, I don’t feel like the story has the meat it needs to land solidly with a reader. Subways changed so much of those basic processes in Boston so quickly, and I’m looking forward to exploring the changes in future works.

    Valentine asks Djibril al-Ayad:
    What defines a monster and what is the line separating monstrous from odd or unpleasant?

    Djibril replies:
    I’m not a big fan of definitions, preferring to be quite inclusive about genres and media and so forth… “I know it when I see it.” That said, when we talk about monsters I think we’re talking about things that transgress the boundaries—between human and animal, natural and unnatural, rational and inscrutable. Mythological monsters, unlike wild animals, have agency, have human or human-like or divine intelligence, but also have implacable violence and appetite. They’re terrifying because we recognize ourselves in them as well as seeing the alien elements that we can’t hope to reason with. The ineffably weird or mindless or hideous beast may be just as dangerous, just as unpleasant, but it isn’t as monstrous.

    Of course, I’m sure there’s at least one exception to this definition in the anthology…

    All these authors and many more can be found in the pages of the Making Monsters anthology, available Sept 1 in print and e-book from most online booksellers.

    Purchase links and reviews will be listed on the press page.

    Monday 13 August 2018

    New Issue: 2018.46

    “No eres ‘provida’ si permites que tus ideas morales y religiosas estén por encima de la seguridad de las mujeres.”

    —Beatriz Serrano

    [ Issue 2018.46; Cover art © 2018 Eric Asaris ]Issue 2018.46

    Short stories

    Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi

    Full issue and editorial

    Tuesday 7 August 2018

    Guest post: Write, then write, and write again.

    Guest post by A. Poythress

    Writing creatively for an assignment takes a certain sort of mindset. Assignments don’t care about whatever ideas are taking up your attention, or your hopes and dreams for what you write. Assignments exist to make you sit down and finish them, even if you despise them or think you don’t need them. And from what I’ve learned in my own MFA program experience, you will have more assignments than you will know what to do with, especially the ones you don’t want to do. I have deadlines and projects and tasks that hit me from every side and I don’t have time for anything else. I certainly don’t have time to think about what an assignment might become once I’ve finished it.

    That’s where the title of this essay comes in. While I’m taking classes during the semester, I have no brain power for things like submissions or publishing. All I have the energy for is making sure I have the minimum page count met and my sources cited correctly in the bibliography. Getting the words out is what counts. My professors and classmates and cohort are all there to tell me what they think of them (and boy will they). Once a piece is out of me, to be perfectly honest, I don’t go back to it until the semester is over, unless it’s one of the very few “full movements” I write per semester. Not because I hate the piece or think it’s not worth my time, but because there is no time for it. Not with the next due dates looming over my head like some sort of academic guillotine.

    That, I’ve found, is what summer breaks are for. Most MFA programs don’t seem to have summer classes, so you’ve got anywhere between two and four months (contingent on your program) to take all those assignments you sped through like your life depended on it and fix them up. To a lesser degree, you can do this during your winter breaks, but as you’ll probably only have a few weeks breathing room before the madness begins again, there might not be much you can get done. That’s okay. You should really take it. Burn out is a real thing and it’s really scary. Take breaks where you can, when you can. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t.

    When the summer after my first year as an MFA candidate started this past May, I had a list of twenty-two pieces from my two previous semesters that needed editing before they could be sent out for potential publication. That doesn’t count the three pieces I started but didn’t finish during that same time that I wanted to work on before the summer was up. They came from lists of assignments for my past classes. You might have that many, you might have more, or less. What matters is you have a pile of them, all sitting there waiting for you. But how do you take something that you had to hand in for credit and turn it into a piece someone might (potentially) pay you for?

    For an assignment, I don’t look too closely at what I’m writing. I want to get the raw bones laid down. The structure. The foundation. I want to make sure my frame is there, so I can go back to it later and hang the details from the rafters (is that how you build a house? I’m a writer, not a carpenter, obviously. Carpenters are the ones who build houses, right?). I’m not worried about editing it more than to give a once-over to make sure there aren’t typos or glaring incongruities. It doesn’t matter that it’s not perfect-that’s not the point. What I care about is finishing it so that I can get feedback from my professors and fellow students that tells me if I’m heading in the right direction, or if I need to rethink things entirely.

    Here are a bunch of quotes from much more famous and much better writers than I am:
    • “The first draft is a skeleton…just bare bones. The rest of the story comes later with revising.” —Judy Blume
    • “The first draft reveals the art; revision reveals the artist.” —Michael Lee
    • “Don’t get it right—get it written.” —James Thurber
    • “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” —Terry Pratchett
    They’re all talking about first drafts of stories or novels, but it can be applied to school work as well! I think of all my assignments as my first draft-they don’t have to be anything other than my first go around. I don’t try to make them perfect. I don’t try to get them “just right.” I just finish them. Then I can come back and spiff them up later.

    Once it’s time to sit with a piece and fix it so I can shop it out, I look at it with a very different eye. No longer am I looking at what my professor was expecting, or impressing one specific group with my wit and creativity. I want to make sure a broad audience can take it in and digest it and (hopefully) appreciate it. I can’t make it so esoteric that no one will understand it. I can’t think my “experimental” style that I played around with in the safety of the classroom will impress every magazine or publication. I have to take something rough and polish it to the point where other people will like it. We might say that we write for ourselves, first and foremost, but that’s cat dirt if you want to make a living with your craft.

    "Friends" by Laura-Anca Adascalitei, © 2018.
    Take bite for example. When I was initially writing it for my first workshop, I just wanted to make sure it fulfilled the requirement for a “full movement”: that there was a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that it met the ten-page minimum requirement. There were no other guidelines. I had the idea because I’d been working with my therapist a lot about my gender presentation and I’d bitten my lip in class on the day we first started working on the movement. That was it. I thought about a girl who couldn’t stop bleeding because she couldn’t be honest with herself, and then I wrote until I had a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s all I did with it, in that class. My professor had comments about it here and there that I noted, but didn’t have time to do anything about.

    When I went back to it during my first winter break so I could potentially find it a home, I took those comments my professor gave me and I applied them. Could I heighten the isolation of Kat and the loneliness of her small town? Could I make her a more well-rounded character? Could I slow down in some places, speed up in others? Could I heighten the tension? These were all questions I had to ask and answer, because they were questions potential future readers would have. I wouldn’t be able to sit with them like I did my professor and fill in all the blanks for them. They had to be explicitly or implicitly stated in the piece, because it had to stand for itself, away from me and my explanations. While you can defend an assignment until you’re out of breath, once something is out for publication, there’s nothing more you can do for it.

    For assignments, I am as wild and out there as I possibly can be, because I can justify myself there. That’s what that space is for. My professors have said flat out that they expect me to learn to see the box I feel most comfortable in and then kick down the walls. They don’t want me to simply produce the same piece again and again. We all have styles, no doubt, but you can always weave your style into something new and different. And maybe, when I’m being wild and crazy for my assignments, I can figure out something about myself and my writing I’ve never thought of before. That’s an amazing feeling. But when I’m trying to publish? I’ve had to learn to tailor my writing to the audience I want or the publication I’m vying for. That’s just how it goes, when you’re starting out. Maybe one day I’ll be famous enough that the New York Times will ask me for a short story, any story I’m willing to give them. Until then, I have to follow their guidelines and show them there’s a reason to give me a chance.

    That doesn’t mean I’ve changed who I am or what I’ve written. A no doesn’t mean no forever in the literary world. It just means another potential for a yes somewhere else down the line. Having a strong sense of who you are as a writer is hard to find, I get that. It took until I started my MFA program to really understand who I was. Other people find it outside of academia. You have to let yourself be open to the process, whether that’s by going to school or through just putting yourself out there and learning on your own.

    But I’ve also had to put in more work than I ever thought I could, since I decided I wanted to “make it” as a writer. I’ve had to work pieces until I never wanted to see them again in my life. I’ve had to swallow my pride and ask for help. I had to be willing to hear no a hundred times before I heard my first yes. And then the process repeats.

    A. Poythress is in their second year working towards an MFA in creative writing. They primarily write horror and fantasy stories about queer folk and women. You can find them shouting at the sun on Twitter at @ap_mess, or for updates you can go to their website,

    A. Poythress's short story “bite” appeared in The Future Fire #45, May 2018.