These Are Not the Droids You Are Looking For


An Interview with Heather Rose Jones
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MotherOf SoulsHeather Rose Jones was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her latest novel, Mother of Souls. To get things started, I’ll make introductions by shamelessly stealing from her author bio…

Heather Rose Jones writes fantasy, historic fantasy, and historical fiction, including the Alpennia series with swordswomen and magic in an alternate Regency setting. She blogs about research into lesbian-like motifs in history and literature at the Lesbian Historic Motif Project which provides inspiration for her fiction. She has a PhD in linguistics, studying metaphor theory and the semantics of Medieval Welsh prepositions, and works as an industrial failure investigator in biotech. Find her on facebook and on twitter as @heatherosejones.

Welcome, and congratulations on the publication of Mother of Souls! Without giving too much away, would you care to tell readers a bit about your latest novel?

The Alpennia series follows a loose network of women in a fictitious early 19th century country inserted roughly around the intersection of France, Switzerland, and Italy. It’s a combination of a collection of personal stories and an overall political intrigue plot. Mother of Souls is about Serafina Talarico, an Ethiopian immigrant to Rome who is struggling to master her mystical talents and thinks that she can find a teacher in Margerit Sovitre, the Royal Thaumaturgist to Princess Anna of Alpennia. And it’s about Luzie Valorin, a widowed music teacher who discovers an unexpected talent when she sets her sights on composing an opera about the philosopher Tanfrit. It’s about Margerit Sovitre’s ambition to found a women’s college. And it’s about a sorcery that has the entirety of central Europe locked in a mystical storm that is beginning to break down the structures of magic that have stood for centuries. It’s…complicated.

This is the third book in your Alpennia series. Each novel seems to focus on very different characters – are they traditional sequels, or standalone books set in a shared world? When you wrote the first book in the Alpennia series, did you always intend to return to the world? Are there more Alpennia stories to come?

When I wrote the first book (Daughter of Mystery), it was supposed to be a standalone, but even as I was polishing it up the second book (The Mystic Marriage) grabbed me. By the time I’d finished that manuscript, I had a fairly good idea of the scope of the overall series, though the details are still working themselves out. At this point I’m planning seven books in the main series (with short fiction to fill in some of the cracks), plus an entirely independent novel set earlier in Alpennian history. It isn’t a traditional series that follows one central character throughout. I’m very much writing about community, and each book has a slightly different set of viewpoint characters.

As an author of historical fantasy and historical fiction, what is your research process like? What’s the strangest, most intriguing, or most obscure bit of history you’ve ever come across while researching? Have you ever written something into a novel that’s based on actual history, but which readers assumed you must have invented from whole cloth because it was too fantastical to believe, or vice versa?

I’ve been a history fanatic all my life and fell in love with European history when I was ten years old and my family lived in Prague for a year when my dad was on sabbatical. Most of my research is the background information I’ve been storing away over the last five decades. But it was a bit of a surprise to me to write a series in the 19th century because most of my research interests previously have been medieval and Renaissance. So I’ve had to do a lot of delving into post-Napoleonic politics and timelines to integrate the story into real history. It’s hard to identify the strangest thing I’ve turned up. That would probably be some very obscure bit of textile technology! But in terms of what I put in my novels, I do a lot of research on queer women in history, and the most surprising thing is probably finding all the ways that women managed to live outside the norms of society in different times and places. But for unbelievable details in my own fiction, I think I’d have to step outside Alpennia and point to my novelette “The Mazarinette and the Musketeer” which is a romp involving various outrageous women in late 17th century England and France. Since I self-published it as a freebie, I went so far as to include endnotes laying out how none of the most unbelievable bits were invented.

On a somewhat related note, in addition to your fiction writing, you also launched the Lesbian Historic Motif Project as a resource for other writers and researchers. Could you talk a bit about how LHMP came to be, your goals for the project, and how you’d like to see if grow in the future?

Originally the Lesbian Historic Motif Project was just my own research notes, gathering background for a variety of historic romances I wanted to write. I had this urge to write stories that were both historically accurate and fun escapist romantic adventures. So I needed to know as much as possible about what it could have been like to be a queer woman at various times and places. And then…well, I have the soul of a cataloger. I know that the hardest part of doing research is knowing that the information you want actually exists and having some idea how to find it. So I wanted to summarize my research in a way that was useful for other interested parties. Back when I started, I was thinking in terms of a published sourcebook, but fortunately the web came along in the meantime and a blog is a much more practical way to present it! The main idea is simply to say, “Here is information; here’s what these publications cover; here’s where you can find them.” Not everyone has the same goals and interests, so it was more important to me to be a conduit than an interpreter. As for the future, I don’t anticipate running out of material to cover anytime soon, so mostly I’ll just keep plugging along. I’d love for more people to know about the Project and use it as a start for their own research.

How does your academic background in linguistics inform your fiction writing process? Do you have any tips or recommendations for authors looking to incorporate the development or evolution of language into their world-building? Are there any invented fantasy language tropes you’ve seen used (or misused) that bother you as someone with a background in linguistics?

As a linguist, my main advice would be: “Kids, don’t try this at home!” But seriously, it’s easy to include over-simplified approaches to language in world-building; much harder to do it in a realistic way. The language aspects in Alpennia are two-fold. The more superficial aspect is in how I’ve created an underlying system for creating Alpennian proper names and small bits of vocabulary, so that it “feels” like a real language without being identical to one that exists. The deeper way I’ve used my linguistics background is in how the characters think about and use language in a multilingual society, and in a framework for using mystical talents that relies heavily on the structure and symbolism of language. It’s more a matter of an awareness of the importance of language than using any specific elements of linguistics. I think the language-related tropes that bother me the most in fantasy is sloppy use of personal names. For example, borrowing names or naming systems from an actual culture without thinking about what baggage those elements carry with them. But conversely, I think authors shouldn’t twist themselves up in knots about “getting language right.” In a very real sense, all historic or secondary world novels are “translated” for the reader. The question is only how well the translation works.

Now that Mother of Souls is out in the world, what are you working on next? Any other projects or works you’d like people to know about?

The next Alpennia book will be a bit of a change-up. I plan it to be a YA novel that can be a new starting point into the series. Floodtide will introduce a new protagonist, as well as bringing in several of the younger minor characters from the existing books. It overlaps a fair amount of the timeline of Mother of Souls but with an entirely different focus. But in the mean time, I’m working on a non-Alpennia project. I wrote a series of connected short stories about a shape-shifting clan in a sort of Iron Age not!Europe for the Sword and Sorceress anthology series, and now I’ve written a novelette that ties up the series and plan to collect them all up in a single volume and self-publish it. Working title is Skinsinger: Tales of the Kaltaoven.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for inviting me!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Fall Book Love: Ghosts and Bones
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Chilly weather makes it the perfect time to curl up with a good book. Here are three recent reads I’ve loved. Hopefully you’ll love them, too. (Warning, spoilers ahead.)

Ghost TalkersMy first exposure to Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal was hearing her read an excerpt at World Fantasy, back when it was still a work in progress. I was immediately hooked and wanted more. The core concept of the book was just so cool: a group of mediums works with the British Army during WWI, collecting and relaying intelligence from soldiers killed in battle. Kowal takes the story far beyond a cool concept, however. There is an immediate sense of the emotional and physical toll communicating with the dead takes on the mediums, not to mention the horrors of war itself. Kowal doesn’t shy away from the violence, and she immediately makes the impact of war personal. Her protagonist, Ginger Stuyvesant, is one of the few Americans involved in the war before America’s official entry into the conflict. Her fiancee, Ben Harford, is killed early on, remaining with Ginger as a ghost, determined to uncover the traitor in the British ranks before he can move on. Kowal shows us Ginger and Ben’s loving and playful relationship, and almost immediately pulls the rug out from under the reader’s feet by killing Ben. Having him return as a ghost never feels like a cheat. Loss is threaded through his ongoing presence; the longer he remains on the mortal plane, the more he forgets of himself, bits of his personality drifting away, burning up more quickly when manifests himself as a poltergeist to protect those around him. Kowal makes the reader care for every one of her characters – Helen, the medium working with Ginger who comes up with the method of binding soldiers so they’ll report in as ghosts, Lady Penfold, Ginger’s aunt and founder of the Spirit Corp program, Pvt. Merrow, Ben’s assistant, and the men and women of Ginger’s circle who help keep her grounded as she communicates with the dead. The novel is part war narrative, particularly focusing on the roles of women, frequently overlooked in the dominant cultural narrative of war. It’s also part murder mystery, love story, and ghost story. Kowal slips in bits of humor as well, with the banter between Ginger and Ben, as well as references to Doctor Who. It’s a wonderful novel, with elements to appeal to fans of historical fiction, speculative fiction, and romance.

CloudboundCloudbound is the follow-up to Fran Wilde’s brilliant and award-winning Updraft. It continues the story of the city of living bone, showing the fraying edges of that city in the wake of the Spire’s collapse and the removal of the Singers from power. While Kirit is still close to the heart of the story, in Cloudbound, events are told from the point of view of Nat, Kirit’s best friend. This is a brilliant choice on Wilde’s point, allowing her to show the city from a different angle – literally, from the new areas explored, and figuratively, filtered through Nat’s perspective. Since the Spire’s collapse, there’s been a struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the Singers removal from power. Nat is a newly-minted Counselor, struggling to do the best for the people he represents, and his family – his mother Elna, his partners Ceetcee and Beliak, and the child they’re expecting. Nat’s heart comes through in every decision he makes, as does his inexperience in the world of politics. The web around him is tangled enough that he cannot see through to the end of every thread, but that never stops him from trying, or from fighting for those he loves. His point of view is contrasted perfectly with Kirit, who has been hardened by her experiences in the Spire. She’s come out the other side quicker to judgement, to action, and more war-like. There’s tension between the characters, and tension in the world itself. The crumbling city is a clock ticking down in the background, a constant reminder of how wrong things have gone, and how much worse they can get. As in Updraft, the descriptions in Cloudbound are gorgeous, and the action sequences stunning – whether fighting, flying, falling, or simply exploring, the details are beautifully wrought and visceral. As fantastic as the world is, it feels real, as do the characters. The novel ends with another world-altering event for the characters, their lives once again upended as secrets are revealed, and the danger level ramped-up. I’m already looking forward to the next installment in the Bone Universe series, which is due out next year.

Hammers on BoneHammers on Bone is a novella from Cassandra Khaw, whose short fiction I greatly admire. John Persons is a private detective approached by a young boy who wants to hire him to kill his stepfather in order to protect his younger brother. From the start, it’s quite clear there is something strange about the boy, the stepfather, and Persons himself. There’s a ghost yammering in John Person’s head, likely the real John Persons, as the being calling itself John Persons now is anything but a person. Lovecraftian horror and Noir fiction seem made for each other, and Khaw blends them effortlessly here into a slick and stylish whole that drips with atmosphere. I’m a sucker for both the Lovecraftian and Noir genres, and this novella was everything I hoped it would be. I’m hesitant to say too much or give too much away, especially since at novella length, Hammers on Bone is a quick read. I recommend diving in and devouring it all in one delicious and darkness-tinged bite. If you’re a fan of the hard-bitten detective genre, or weird horror, this is absolutely the book for you. I’m delighted by the fact that Khaw has a second novella forthcoming from Tor, which sounds every bit as wonderful – a sentient, living city losing its mind. What more do you need to know? I’m eagerly awaiting the release of In the Living City.

And because there’s no such thing as too many books, I’d love to know what you’ve been reading this Fall? What have you loved? What do I need to add to my already precarious and teetering TBR pile?

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Pucker Up!
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Kissing Booth GirlThe Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories is here! The collection contains 14 stories, 4 of which are brand new. An e-book version is on the way, but right this very minute you can get your hands on a paperback copy direct from the wonderful Lethe Press at the link above, or through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. What is this collection, you ask? Well, it’s a little bit of darkness, a little bit of the weird, some sexy bits, some happy bits, and some bits that are hard to define. You want underwater nuns? I’ve got ‘em? A queer zombie love story? Got that, too. Witches, aliens, outer space, and a steampunk circus? Got ‘em all!

Publishers Weekly was kind enough to give the collection a starred review.

Wise’s inventive sense of weirdness and wonder comes to the forefront in this intense, graceful collection of stories in which plot plays second fiddle to quietly immersive world-building, longing and obsession are the forces of beauty, and grimness leads not to depressive dystopia but to desperately hopeful and brave, if still unsettling, solutions.

ETA: Lambda Literary had some very kind things to say about it, too!

They liked it, so maybe you will, too. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories and a copy of my first collection, The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again. So step right up, try your luck, and throw your name in the hat below (aka the comments). One lucky winner will get two books, and maybe even a bit of extra swag thrown in. Comment by midnight on November 15, 2016 (wherever in the world you happen to be) and that winner might just be you!

ETA: The Random Number Generator has chosen lucky #1. Congratulations, Zach, and thank you to everyone who entered!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Apex Magazine: Delicious Fiction Since 2009
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Apex Magazine kicks off its annual subscription drive today. Apex has been bringing readers dark, and strange, and beautiful fiction for the past seven years. Whether under the editorial direction of Jason Sizemore, Cat Valente, Lynne and Michael Thomas, or Sigrid Ellis, Apex has been committed to bringing high quality speculative fiction and new voices and visions to readers. I could go on about why you should subscribe, but I’ll let the stories speak for themselves. Here are a few of my favorites from the past seven years.

An Evening in the City Coffeehouse, With Lydia on My Mind by Alexander Zikjak

The Days of Flaming Motorcycles by Catherynne M. Valente

each thing i show you is a piece of my death by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer

Ghosts of New York by Jennifer Pelland

The 24 Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak

Alternate Girl’s Expatriate Life by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

Armless Maidens of the American West by Genevieve Valentine

Erzulie Dantor by Tim Susman

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky

Build-a-Dolly by Ken Liu

Ilse, Who Saw Clearly by E. Lily Yu

Call Girl by Tang Fei

Becca At the End of the World by Shira Lipkin

This Is a Ghost Story by Keffy R.M. Kehrli

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon

The End of the World in Five Dates by Claire Humphrey

Last Dance Over the Red, Red World by Gary Kloster

Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu

Griefbunny by Brooke Juliet Wonders

Crow by Octavia Cade

Remembery Day by Sarah Pinsker

A Sister’s Weight in Stone by JY Yang

It is Healing, It is Never Whole by Sunny Moraine

Find Me by Isabel Yap

When the Fall is All That’s Left by Arkady Martine

The Laura Ingalls Experience by Andrew Neil Grey

1957 by Stephen Cox

Cuckoo Girls by Douglas F. Warrick

Check out the stories, and if you like what you see, consider subscribing to Apex Magazine. It’s a fantastic publication. You won’t be sorry!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Non Binary Authors to Read: Where to Start – Part Six
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It’s been a while, far too long in fact, so now it’s high time for another Non-Binary Authors to Read post. If you’re new to the series and catching up, the first five installments can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I use non-binary as a term-of-convenience, meant to include agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, neutrois, and other genders that do not align with the male/female binary. I do my best, but if I ever fuck up a pronoun, or misgender anyone, please let me know. I will make changes with my sincere apologies!

Foz Meadows is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer, and poet, and was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe in 2014. My recommended starting place for her work is Ten Days’ Grace, published by Apex Magazine in 2014. The story describes a reality that feels all too frighteningly possible, where family structures are mandated by law, for the ‘good of the children’. Each child must be raised by two parents, one male, one female, regardless of whether they love each other. Single parenthood is not an option, nor is same-sex marriage, or abortion. A parent who finds themselves widowed receives ten days grace to mourn before they must marry again. Julia, the protagonist of Meadows’ story, finds herself in just such a situation. Twelve years into a loveless marriage, her husband dies in a car crash. Julia’s daughter, Lily, was the result of an affair with a married man, leaving her little choice but to marry a stranger in order to protect her daughter. Now, she’s forced into the situation again. Meadows shows the emotional impact such laws might have on women and children, those who have the least say and power in the situation, and it is heartbreaking. The story is not hopeless however. Julia develops a relationship with the agent assigned to ensure she remarries, and they strike a deal. He is gay and has no more interest in marrying than she does, but a marriage will protect him, and help his career. It’s still a relationship of convenience, but one that seems like it could develop into a genuine friendship. Sora and Julia are both taking a risk, trusting each other when they barely know each other. By having Julia and Sora follow the letter of the law, if not the spirit, Meadows shows how useless said laws are. After starting with her fiction, I highly recommend checking out Foz’s non-fiction on her blog and elsewhere.

Lora Gray is a writer, illustrator, and dance instructor. My recommended starting point for their work is Shadow Boy, published in Shimmer’s September/October 2016 issue. Shadow Boy is a take on the story of Peter Pan, specifically one of its darker and more disturbing aspects – the idea of a boy whose shadow needs to be forcibly reattached. The focus is not Peter here, but PJ, whose family believes her to be a girl, but whose shadow is a boy. PJ’s shadow fights PJ from within, further adding to their struggle to decide who they are and who they want to be. PJ doesn’t fully identify as a girl, but doesn’t fully identify as male either. Their family is less than supportive, and when Peter comes into their life, at first it seems like a blessing. He scorns traditional gender norms with his clothing, and propriety in general, stomping around funerals and wearing dead pigeons as jewelry. PJ envies his freedom, but there’s something sinister about him as well. When PJ’S shadow escapes, Peter offers help, but he wants to keep PJ’s shadow in return. I’ve always been a sucker for Peter Pan stories, especially ones that touch on the darker side of his nature. There’s something truly unsettling about a boy who never grows up, who kidnaps other children, but abandons them if they refuse to live in his world of perpetual childhood. Gray does an excellent job of weaving familiar elements of the Pan story with issues of gender dysphoria, and outside perception vs. self identity. The imagery throughout the piece is striking, and beautiful language balances the pain in the tale.

S. Qiouyi Lu is a writer, artist, narrator, and translator. My recommended starting place for their work is Her Sacred Spirit Soars published in Strange Horizons’ Queer Planet issue. A pair of interdependent mythical birds, kimkim, with one eye and one wing each, are separated. One of the birds is forced into the body of a human woman as an experimental cure for her mental illness. The story is soaked in longing, as the woman remembers being the bird, and the bird slowly takes on the identity of the woman, becoming a ghost inside her skin. The doctors tell her she’s sick, but getting better; she remembers flying, and being part of something larger than herself. She remembers another being as part of herself, and there is a hole where that other half of her should be. In the center where she’s being treated, she  begins to develop a tentative relationship with her roommate, Yaulan. It feels both like a betrayal of her other half, and a moment of hope. They are both lacking something, both searching for a meaningful connection. Through gorgeous, poetic imagery, Her Sacred Spirit Soars explores the idea of identity and wholeness, while blurring the line between fantasy and reality. The story can be read as metaphorical or literal, and it works on both ways. It’s an excellent place to start with S. Qiouyi Lu’s work.

Margaret Killjoy is a genderqueer author and editor. My recommended starting place for their work is Everything That Isn’t Winter, recently published at Tor.com. Elements of Killjoy’s piece remind me of Emily St. John Mandel’s excellent Station Eleven. They are both ‘quiet apocalypse’ stories, taking place after the end of everything when the world is in a period of recovery. In the case of Killjoy’s story, the protagonist, Aiden, is a former fighter, trying to find a place in the new world. The violence of their past frightens them, and they are struggling to make a new life, rebuilding themselves as they help rebuild society. At the same time, Aiden is going through a rough patch with their boyfriend, Khalil. There’s a gap between them, a breakdown in understanding that Aiden doesn’t know how to bridge or heal. When the In-Between Lodge where they live with a small community, harvesting tea, is attacked, Aiden goes off to fight. The impulse to violence warring with the desire for peace, and the fear of losing Khalil for good, eventually leads to a breakthrough. Rebuilding isn’t easy work, for individuals, or for society as a whole, but it’s easier together, and together Aiden and Khalil will find a way forward. The story provides a fascinating look at what happens to soldiers once the war ends, and a look at the new shape societies take when the fundamentals they took for granted are no longer there. It shows both the brutality humans are capable of, and our ingenuity and determination in the face of adversity.

So there you have it, four fabulous authors and a recommended starting place for their work. But wait, there’s more! This time around, I have a bonus recommendation, and a wonderful-looking project to plug.

First up, my bonus recommendation is the Queering the Genre series curated by D Libris. D is a genderqueer reviewer and occasional essayist, and I only include this as a bonus and not a main feature since I don’t believe they technically self-identify as an author. Queering the Genre includes guest essays, reviews, and author spotlights with a focus on queer fiction, and it’s well worth checking out. You can find D’s mission statement for the series here.

Last, but not least, is a plug for Andi Buchanan’s IndieGoGo campaign for Capricious: The Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue. Andi edits Capricious, and I’ve covered their work in a previous installment of this series. The issue looks like it will be fabulous, and there are lots of fun rewards on offer for backing the campaign, including your very own adorable, handmade fuzzhog. Take a look and lend the project your support, if you’re so inclined.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll do my best to make sure there isn’t such a long gap before the next installment of the series.

 

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Hey, It’s SOCKtober!
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ETA: Our prize winners are Ralph Walker and Amy Bush. Thank you to everyone who participated and helped to make October a little cozier for those in need!

The weather is getting cooler, the calendar has flipped over, houses are draped in gauzy spider webs, and pumpkins are starting to make their appearances on front porches and lawns. All of that can mean only one thing – it’s time for #socktober2016! What is #socktober2016, you may well ask…. And I’ll tell you that it’s all Fran Wilde’s fault. Mostly!

From my perspective, SOCKTOBER started with this tweet:

Which was followed shortly by these tweets:

SOCKTOBER goes much deeper than fun socks. For that, I’ll step aside and let Fran herself explain: “I started posting socks for October yesterday because I was having a really hard day. Socks = whimsy = happiness, right? And then I figured it could go further and bring awareness to something I’ve known for a while. One of the greatest needs in domestic violence and homeless shelters, as well as for people on the move through upheavals is clean socks. Especially with winter coming, this is a huge deal. So I thought, I’ll post my sock pictures, but also plan to donate to a shelter a new set of socks with each photo I post. I have a massive sock collection, but No Idea if I can Make it 30 days, so it will be like a dance marathon, but with socks. I’m hoping others feel like getting involved too, but I don’t want to tell people how to do this right. Just working on awareness first, and maybe some socks for some people.”

As you can see, the upshot of this is, Fran is not only a wonderful author, she is a wonderful person. After seeing Fran’s tweets, I asked if I could help. We brainstormed, and came up with a plan to spread the socktober love. Throughout October, Fran and I and others will be posting sock pictures on Instagram and Twitter because socks are cool. We’d love for you to join us!

We also hope you’ll go a step further by donating socks to a homeless shelter in your area. As Fran mentioned, socks are one of the greatest needs at homeless shelters, especially as the weather gets colder. To find a shelter near you, and to find out how to donate, start here: www.homelessshelterdirectory.org.

Of course, you can donate other items of clothing, too. Many shelters on the website linked above list the items they most need, or provide contact information where you can inquire about donations.

But wait! There’s more! You can win fabulous prizes while you’re having fun and helping people. Here’s how it works. Donate a package of socks (or other clothing item of your choice), and post your favorite sock pictures on Instagram and/or Twitter between now and October 31, 2016. When you post @ us (@fran_wilde on twitter and Instagram; @ac_wise on twitter and @a.c.wise on Instagram), and tag your post with #socktober2016. You’ll be entered into our drawing for prizes including copies of Fran Wilde’s Updraft and Cloudbound (US-only for physical copies, audiobook anywhere in the world), a gift certificate to Sock Dreams, so you can add even more fabulous socks to your collection, and possibly some other cool stuff we come up with along the way. We’ll employ Ye Olde Random Number Generator to choose a winner on November 1st. It’s that easy!

So come join in the fun and celebrate #socktober2016 with us while helping those who need some toasty socks.

ETA: We’ve added a few additional prizes to the roster. Rachel Sharp has generously donated a $25 Amazon gift card, and a pre-release copy of her upcoming novel Phaethon (to be mailed out in December). On top of that, Rachel’s publisher, Pandamoon Publishing, is donating any three of their currently available titles. Thank you, Rachel and Pandamoon!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Capclave & Children of Lovecraft Reading
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Next weekend I’ll be attending Capclave, the DC-area convention run by the Washington Science Fiction Association. It’s a lovely, laid-back convention primarily focused on the literature of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Here’s my schedule for the weekend.

Saturday – 12:00 pm – Writing and Selling Your Story
Panelists:Scott H. Andrews, Lezli Robyn, Hildy Silverman, David Walton, A.C. Wise (M)
What are the elements that capture a reader’s, editor’s or publisher’s attention? How do you get them to pick up the story, and keep turning the pages?

Saturday – 2:00 pm – Reading
I haven’t quite decided what I’ll be reading yet. Maybe some military-esque weird fiction? Maybe some eco-punk? Maybe a ghost story? Suggestions and/or votes welcome.

Sunday – 10:00 am – Cthulhu Wants You! For Breakfast!
Panelists:Alan Loewen (M), Tim Powers, Darrell Schweitzer, A.C. Wise
Love it or hate it, the Cthulhu Mythos and its related arcs are a literary phenomenon here to stay. Whether it be the Dreamlands, the Carcosa Cycle, the related King in Yellow, as well as other sub-genres, many a writer has cut their teeth on cosmic alienation and horror. Discuss the best and the worst of the lot as well as its future.

Sunday – 11:00 am – Feeding Off Fairy Tales
Panelists:Deidre Dykes, Bernie Mojzes, A.C. Wise
Many authors use fairy tales as an inspiration or even the basis of a new novel. The panelists will discuss why we keep going back to these stories, which ones are the most popular and which ones are ripe for use.

When I’m not on programming, I’ll be attending other people’s panels and readings, hanging out in the dealer’s room, hanging out in the bar, and catching up with friends. I’ll even have the corgi with me. He’s rather partial to people making a fuss over him and telling him he’s a good boy. If you see us, say hi!

The weekend after Capclave, I’ll be in NYC at Lovecraft Bar along with several other authors from Ellen Datlow’s latest anthology, Children of Lovecraft. I’ll be reading from my story When the Stitches Come Undone. Siobhan Carroll, Livia Llewellyn, Maria Dahvana Headley, David Nickel, Laird Barron, and Richard Kadrey will be reading from their stories. More details on the event here. Come join us!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Hidden Worlds
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It just so happens that three of my recent reads all deal with hidden worlds, the idea of seeing and choosing not to see, and the ways in which people themselves can be invisible. On top of that, I thoroughly enjoyed all three books, and that seemed like as good an excuse as any to group them together and talk about them here. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

Roses and RotKat Howard’s debut novel, Roses and Rot, centers on two sisters Imogen and Marin. An author and a dancer respectively, they are accepted into an exclusive residency program at Melete, an artists’ colony that transforms the lives of those lucky enough to attend. The stakes for Imogen and Marin are more than just the promise of success. Even as adults, the sisters are still trying to escape their abusive mother, and Marin in particular sees Melete – and the opportunities it provides – as a way to ensure that neither sister will ever deal with her again. The hidden world in this case is Faerie. An initial sense of too good to be true, coupled with a vague unease, grows to the reveal that Melete’s true patrons are the Fae, and those who gain the greatest rewards from their time there are those who give themselves to Faerie for seven years as tithe. Howard also plays with the idea of glamour and perception, but there’s a secondary layer of hidden-ness as well. As victims of abuse, Imogen and Marin are invisible. Even though they bear scars, both physical and emotional, they’ve never told anyone about their mother. Like so many victims of abuse, they feared not being believed, or that speaking out would cause their mother to do even worse things to them. Abuse, and the darker side of humanity, is something many would rather not see and so we look away, pretend it isn’t there. Marin and Imogen’s situation also speaks to the authority adults have over children to convince them they are powerless. It’s a theme that comes up often in fairy tales, as does the reversal of that power, and Howard works with both throughout her novel. Imogen’s specialty is fairy tales. The project she intends to tackle during her residency is a novel that weaves together various well-known stories to tell a larger story, with the fairy tales she picks inevitably echoing themes of sisters, mothers, loss, and sacrifice. The passages of Imogen’s re-working of fairy tales that Howard scatters throughout the Roses and Rot are some of the most lovely and heartbreaking in the novel. Through Imogen’s eyes, we get at the heart of Roses and Rot – that stories have power. Fairy tales, as some of the earliest narratives we’re given as children, are a way to codify and make sense of the world. They are a way to reveal what is hidden. Stories do not have to be objectively “real” to be true, but of course, because Roses and Rot is a fantasy novel, the stories are real as well as true. The novel is told from Imogen’s point of view, but all the characters are fully drawn, making the choices Imogen faces even harder because it’s so easy to see things from Marin’s point of view. The prose is lush and gorgeous, but Howard doesn’t shy away from the dark side of faerie, or humanity either.  Ultimately, it’s a story about family, their love for each other, the ways they can hurt each other, fail to understand each other, and grind up against each other’s sharp edges. As in fairy tales, the path worth taking is rarely the easy one, and rewards never come without a cost.

Alif the UnseenAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson deals with both the hidden world of the jinn, and the hidden world of grey hat hackers. Alif is one such hacker, willing to work for anyone who will pay him – from pornographers to extremists, revolutionaries to major corporations. At the novel’s opening, Alif seems to be deliberately unlikable. He’s self-centered, impatient, and rarely thinks of anyone but himself. At the same time, he manages to be a sympathetic character, which isn’t an easy trick to pull off. The people surrounding him – his neighbor and childhood friend Dina, Vikram the Vampire, Sheikh Bilal – are such compelling characters that because they care about Alif, the reader does, too. All the trouble in the novel begins when Intisar, the wealthy girl Alif loves, reveals she’s agreed to an arranged marriage. Alif goes slightly off the deep end and sends her a rather unsavory ‘gift’, evidence of their sexual relations, which could ruin her. She returns a mysterious ‘gift’ of her own – a book of tales called the Thousand and One Days – along with making it clear she never wants to see him again. Out of spite, Alif takes it literally. He writes a computer program to erase himself from her sight, a bot that uses language patterns, keystrokes, and other indicators to pick her out no matter what name, IP, or email address she uses and block her from seeing him. The program works a little too well, even though Alif doesn’t entirely understand why it works at all, drawing the attention of a powerful individual known as The Hand, who has been trying to shut down Alif and his hacker community for quite a while. The Hand, it just so happens, is also the man Intisar is set to marry. On top of all that, the Hand is after the Thousand and One Days. Alif and Dina go on the run, discovering the hidden world of the jinn to be very real, and the tales of the Thousand and One Days to be more than stories after all. As the novel’s title indicates, invisibility, seeing, and being hidden play a major role in the story. Alif and the other hackers hide behind screen names to protect themselves and their work. The world of the jinn is invisible to most humans until they learn to see it. Dina chooses to wear a veil for religious reasons, and as a way of protecting herself. The Thousand and One Days contains hidden meanings in each of its stories. Invisible code has a major impact on the characters and their world. In addition to literal unseen things, Wilson weaves more metaphorical interpretations of unseeing through the story as well. Alif spends a great deal of the novel refusing and/or unable to see Dina because of his own prejudices against her religious choices, and the sort of person he believes her to be. Just as he has to learn to see the world of the jinn, he has to learn to see her, and the others around him, leading to his growth as a character. On a larger scale, revolution and uprising are key to the plot, with the overlooked and ignored classes of society forcing themselves into the public eye and refusing to let the world ignore them anymore. Wilson doesn’t shy away from the uglier things in life – imprisonment, torture, murder – but she infuses the book with wonder and beauty as well with the jinn and their unseen world. All the elements come together beautifully, making Alif the Unseen a wonderful read.

Star-Touched QueenThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi tells the story of Maya, one of the many daughters of the Raja, but shunned by most of the women in the harem due to the ill-fortune assigned to her by the stars at her birth. Maya’s horoscope promises that she will be wedded to death and destruction and as such, she is looked down on, avoided, bullied, and blamed for any bad luck that occurs. Her father declares she will be married, allowing her to choose a husband from one of several politically advantageous matches, however it is soon revealed he doesn’t expect her to go through with it. Instead, he expects her to drink poison, sacrificing herself and preventing a war. Imprisoned, and seeing no other options, Maya nearly agrees, but at the last moment, a mysterious hooded man appears, saying he can save her and give her a whole world to rule if she only trusts him. She hastily throws the marriage garland at him, choosing him as her husband, and he spirits her away to Akaran, a hidden realm between worlds. At first, Amar refuses to show Maya his face. He asks again for her trust, telling her all will be revealed at the next new moon. In the meantime, he will help her develop her powers, she will rule equally with him, and nothing will be denied to her. Except for the fact that the world they rule appears devoid of people, the palace is full of locked doors and whispering voices, and Maya has the feeling of being constantly watched. Many classic elements of fairy tales and myth are at play here – the lover who won’t reveal his face, the locked door the bride must never open. Roughly midway through, the novel takes a sharp left turn, the story and its expected path completely upended to become something else. Akaran is revealed to be the realm of the dead, and Amar the lord of death himself. Already distrustful of Amar because of all his secrets, Maya allows herself to be convinced by a woman claiming to be her best friend from another life she can’t remember, but sees glimpses of in a room full of bottled memories, to betray her husband. Maya steals the noose Amar carries, the source of his power, and the world crumbles around her. She is exiled, realizing too late that Amar is indeed her true love; in the life she barely remembers, she betrayed him, abandoned him, and forced herself to reincarnate. Now, she must find Amar, and restore his power, thus restoring the balance between life and death. The second half of the novel is a quest story, again with classic elements from myth and fairy tale – retrieving a lost love from an evil influence, hidden identities, and supernatural companions. In this case, Maya’s companion is an undead demon horse with a penchant for eating human flesh, and she is one of the most delightful talking animal sidekicks ever to accompany a hero. Like Roses and Rot, and Alif the Unseen, the theme of the hidden in The Star-Touched Queen operates on multiple levels. There is the hidden world of the dead, as well as Maya’s true identity, hidden from herself and leading to a journey of self-discovery. There is also the idea of trust earned versus trust given, and Maya learning to see those around her more clearly as she grows as a character. The prose throughout is lush and gorgeous and absolutely breathtaking. A Crown of Wishes, focusing on Maya’s sister Gauri, is available for pre-order now, and due out in March 2017. I’m already eagerly anticipating it.

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


An Interview with Caroline M. Yoachim
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Caroline M. Yoachim was kind enough to drop by today to talk about her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World, among other things. I’ll kick things off in the usual way by shamelessly stealing her author bio to make introductions…

Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. Her fiction has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and Daily Science Fiction, among other places. She is a 2006 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, and her 2010 novelette “Stone Wall Truth” was nominated for a Nebula Award. Caroline’s debut short story collection is coming out with Fairwood Press in 2016.

7 Wonders CoverWelcome! First off, congratulations on the publication of your collection. Would you care to give readers a taste of what kind of stories they’ll find within its pages?

Thank you! There are stories of time travel, alien invasions, Japanese mermaids, and monsters under the bed. I try to write the kind of sense-of-wonder science fiction and fantasy stories I loved when I was younger, but from perspectives that were largely absent from the literature of my childhood.
Psychology features prominently in both my SF and my fantasy (that’s my academic background, and I find the workings of the human brain fascinating). The nature of identity is a recurring theme in my collection: If a person replaces their body (either all at once or bit by bit), are they still the same person? How does our biological form impact our sense of self? How does who we are change over time, with age and experience? Short fiction is a great way to explore these kinds of ideas because I can revisit the same questions from lots of different angles.

I’m a bit of a process nerd, so I’m curious, how did you go about choosing which stories to include in the collection? Are the way the stories grouped meant to highlight certain themes in your writing?

I started by making a list of all my available publications. At the time when I was putting the collection together, I had about 60 published stories to choose from. There were about a dozen pieces that I was sure had to be in the collection, so I started a table of contents with those. I figured out early on that I wanted to start with “Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” and I wanted to end with the title story: “Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World”.
After that I was at a bit of a loss for how to proceed.

I ended up taking my list of available stories and sorting them into categories: fantasy stories, science fiction stories, and flash fiction (irrespective of genre). Initially I’d planned on mixing the flash stories in with the longer pieces, but as a reader I enjoy flash stories more if I know in advance that I’ll be reading flash. When I go into a flash story expecting something longer, I am inevitably disappointed, despite the fact that I really love flash!

The solution was to separate the flash from the rest of the stories. I initially thought I’d divide the longer stories into fantasy stories and science fiction stories, with a cluster of flash fiction in the middle, but when I looked at my list I realized I’d written about twice as much science fiction as fantasy.

So I divided the book into three main sections, based on the type of world in which the story takes place: our world, fantasy worlds, and alien worlds. There were definitely some stories that could have gone in more than one category, but overall it seemed like a good structure. In between each of the main sections of the book there is an ‘interlude’ of six flash stories.

Flash isn’t an easy length to write. Do you find it comes naturally to you, or was it something you had to teach yourself to write? What is your process like for writing a longer piece versus a flash piece, if they differ?

These days I do find that flash comes pretty naturally to me, but it is something that I originally had to learn to write. One nice thing about flash is that because it is so short you can write lots of flash stories in a relatively short period of time–it is an easy form to practice. There’s also something very satisfying (at least to me) about trimming a story down to its bare essentials, giving the reader just enough to extrapolate an entire world.

For me, writing longer stories is often about building a core (flash-length) idea into something bigger. One way I’ve done that is to mash several flash stories together: “Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion” is an example of this flash-mash method. I show the aftermath of an alien invasion through a series of five interrelated flash stories. Each one focuses on a different stage of grief, and told from a different character’s perspective.

The other main strategy I use for building shorter ideas in to longer ones is to add extra threads. Flash stories tend to be simpler: fewer characters, one driving goal, fewer obstacles to overcome. Adding more elements tends to make the story more complex, at which point it requires more words. I’m currently working on a space opera novella, and creating something at that length has been an exercise in exploring tangents and nuances that I would normally trim away when writing a shorter story.

I have to gush about the collection’s cover art for a moment, because it’s absolutely gorgeous. Is the artist someone you found, or someone your publisher connected you with? Was it a pre-existing piece that fit your stories, or did you have any input into the design?

Thank you! I LOVE the cover art. It is by a Japanese artist: shichigoro-shingo. I was looking for artwork for my cover and stumbled across his work–he did the October 2015 cover for Clarkesworld. My cover art is a pre-existing piece, but it captures the feel I wanted for the collection as a whole, and it is also a good fit for the title story.

Wil Wheaton praised your story ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death‘ on Twitter, which is pretty darn awesome (both the story, and the fact that he linked to it). Did he happen across the story on his own, or do you have a connection to him? Was there a sudden spike in the story’s readership after he signal-boosted it?

I was ridiculously excited about that when I found out about it! Aside from that one tweet, I have absolutely no connection with Wil Wheaton. He happened across the story on his own–from what I gather, he reads Lightspeed Magazine on a regular basis.

The story definitely got some extra attention after the tweet. I checked with John Joseph Adams, and there was a spike of about a thousand readers over a two or three day period.

In addition to your writing, you’re also a photographer. Do the two ever feed into each other? Have you ever written a story inspired by a moment you captured through a lens, or, on the flipside, have you ever set out to compose a photograph specifically to illustrate your work?

These days the two tend to stay relatively separate, mainly because I haven’t had much time to devote to photography.

I’ve had one photograph that was the official illustration for a story of mine–back in 2010 my story “Blood Willows” appeared in Flash Fiction Online, illustrated with a photo I’d taken of a Japanese Laceleaf Maple. For the old version of my website, I used to make small photo icons to go with each story on my publications page. It was fun, but once I got over a dozen stories it made the page too cluttered and hard to read, so now I just list the stories.

I’ve written stories that were sparked by images before, and even stories inspired by photographs, but I don’t think I’ve ever written a story that was inspired by a photograph that I took myself.

In 2010, your novelette ‘Stone Wall Truth‘ was nominated for a Nebula Award. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news, and what you did to celebrate?

I do remember! At the time, my oldest daughter was a little over a year old, and I was home with her when I got the call to say that I was a nominee. We had a lovely time bouncing around in the living room and squeeing, although my daughter (obviously) had no idea what the excitement was about. Later celebrations included wine, chocolate, and shopping for a fancy dress to wear to the award ceremony.

Now that the collection is out in the world, what else are you working on? Any inclination to write something novel-length? Anything else in general you have upcoming that you want folks to know about?

I have just finished the latest round of revisions on a middle grade novel with the working title Junk Craft Magic. It’s the story of a mixed-race girl who helps the local junkyard pixies fight a monster made of hazardous waste. I’m also working on a space opera novella (with fire kittens!) and a handful of short stories.

The middle grade novel and the space opera novella both sound fantastic. I can’t wait until they make their way into the world so I can read them. Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you for inviting me!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


Quiet Horror
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We’re in a golden age for horror movies, particularly the quieter kind that rely less on gore and jump scares, and more on tense explorations of our deepest insecurities. At its best, horror as a genre has always done that. The Exorcist played with the violation of innocence, the loss of faith, single parenthood, and the limits of our understanding of the human mind. Alien played with forced impregnation, isolation, and the idea that humans aren’t the smartest sentient lifeforms out there. More recently, we’ve seen movies like Cabin in the Woods playing with standard horror tropes and asking audiences to look for a deeper meaning within the patterns of our cultural narratives and the stories we tell. All of that is a round about way of saying I like horror movies, and I want to highlight a few of the recent ones that do interesting things in terms of examining fear, flipping tropes, and asking questions beyond how much blood can we throw at the screen. I’m probably one of the last people to see and discuss these movies, but in case I’m not, beware – spoilers abound.

It Follows It Follows came out in 2014. It’s been much-lauded since, and rightly so. The premise is simple: you have sex with someone who is being followed, and from that moment on, you will be followed too. The creature that does the following can look like anyone, a stranger, or someone you know. It doesn’t want anything. It cannot be reasoned with. It will walk straight at you, slowly but relentlessly. It will never stop, not until you’re dead, and then it will turn back on the person who infected you. It Follows plays on the teen slasher trope of sex getting you killed. There’s an element of shame in the standard trope – being virginal earns you safety; being promiscuous earns you a violent death. It Follows turns the trope sideways. Your risk is also your safety. Sex exposes you to the monster, but it protects you as well. Having sex with someone else passes the monster on. Like the videotape in The Ring, the more copies that are made, the more sex that occurs, the more layers there are between the you and the monster. If the standard sex-as-death trope can be read as a metaphor for sexually transmitted disease, then It Follows’ take can be read as a metaphor for life itself. Nothing is safe. There is risk in everything, but some things are worthwhile. There’s a dreamy, timelessness to It Follows. It deliberately calls back to the horror movies of the 70s and 80s with its stylistic choices. At the same time, it is set in the here and now, with prominent use of modern technology like an e-reader. And it is set outside time, with that e-reader technology divorced from any recognizable form it exists in today, instead being housed inside what is essentially a make-up compact. The group of friends who band together against the monster of It Follows give the movie the feel of films like The Goonies, E.T., and Stand By Me – a buddy film about growing up and coming of age, rather than harkening to the teen slasher model where characters are picked off one by one and only one can survive. There’s a kind of childhood innocence to it, the idea that we are stronger together than alone. Which goes back to the way the movie treats sex, not as something adversarial, but something that brings people together. The ending of the movie is beautifully ambiguous. In the last scene, two characters walk down a sidewalk, while a third follows. Perhaps the monster is still with them, or maybe it’s merely coincidence.  My preferred interpretation is acceptance. The characters have chosen to let go of their fear, knowing they can’t control everything. Safety in life is never guaranteed, but you can’t let terror rule you.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at NightA Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is another 2014 release, similarly praised and similarly deserving. It’s an Iranian vampire film, shot in black and white, resulting in a piece that is stark, moody, and full of beautiful lighting and striking images. It plays with some of the same fears and insecurities as It Follows, but from a different angle. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night takes on the idea of deserved death, the idea that women putting themselves in ‘risky’ situations deserve whatever happens to them. Instead of being a cautionary tale where a girl breaking the rules is punished, thereby restoring order, the movie makes the girl alone at night the predator herself. There are shades of Let the Right One In, of innocence subverted, and those deadly supernatural beings giving protection to those who have been beaten down by life. The subversion of innocence in both movies – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Let the Right One In – also plays into the idea that there is no such thing as innocence. The people being protected are just that, people, flawed, and capable of doing terrible things in their own right. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night also deals with addiction, loneliness, and the ties that bind us to other people – money, sex, love, duty, and blood. Here monstrousness is being outside, separated from others and unable to relate to the basic elements of humanity. While the ending is less ambiguous than It Follows, the final scene of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is open-ended. Again, it calls back to Let the Right One In, with two characters leaving the familiarity of home, and surrendering themselves to possibility, uncertain of what the future might hold.

HushHush, released in 2016, is quiet horror in a very literal sense. The main character is a deaf-mute author living in an isolated house in the woods. Her nearest neighbor is murdered in what appears to be a random sport killing, and she becomes the next target of the killer’s pre-murder cat and mouse game. Not being part of deaf culture, I can only give the perspective of a hearing person on the effectiveness of the movie. It doesn’t feel exploitative, but that isn’t for me to judge. From my own perspective, it primarily feels like a standard home-invasion horror movie, but ramped up to an extra degree of difficulty. The character cannot call for help, and the would-be killer cuts power – and therefore internet access – to her home, preventing her from contacting the outside world in an other way. Everything takes place in a single location, over a few hours, with nothing extraneous padding the plot. The killer is never even given any motivation for his actions, but in this case, it’s a feature not a bug. Everything extraneous is stripped away, leaving only tension, fear, and a sense of desperation. Even though there’s nothing supernatural about Hush, the blank-slate nature of the killer gives him the relentless feel of a zombie. He cannot be reasoned with and nothing will stop him. The opening scene is brilliant in its use of sound, first giving the viewer a hyper-awareness of every day noises as the main character cooks dinner, then taking  those sounds away and giving them a glimpse into her world. There is very little dialogue in the movie, leaving the focus solely on action, and psychological fear. Despite all this, the main character never feels like a victim. She’s resourceful, and she refuses to give up. When one tactic doesn’t work, she tries another. What is particularly refreshing is that the protagonist is given space to experience the terror of her situation – as any human would – but she isn’t reduced to only her terror. In terms of horror tropes, Hush can be seen as taking the final girl as its starting point, and unrolling from there, showing just what someone isolated and alone can do against an unstoppable force. Despite the lack of the supernatural, Hush is an effective horror, one that takes our fears, and allows us to explore them at a safe remove through the medium of film, the way the best horror movies do.

These are just a few of the recent crop of quieter horror movies, and I have several more on my radar. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your opinion. If you’ve seen It Follows, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, or Hush, what did you think of them? What are your recent must-see horror movies? Let me know so I can add them to my list!

Originally published at A.C. Wise. You can comment here or there.


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