out with the old

I am one of those people who likes symbolic fresh starts. Yes, I know that the first day of a new year, a new month, a new week is “just another day,” but they don’t feel like that to me. I want lines of demarcation. (Curiously, my own birthday is a nearly meaningless occasion to me.)

So with that in mind, I’m wondering if I could declare today, the half-year mark, as some kind of fresh start, drawing a line under the madness of the first half not because the madness has eased at all but because I think (I think) I am learning to live with it.

I considered this at midsummer as well. It ought to have been at midsummer; I like the idea of tying it to seasonal cycles more than marks on a calendar, but then my head got subsumed in a whole other cacophony of stress over something or some things–I don’t even remember what–and I lost track. I think I was sleeping very badly, which makes everything worse.

This has not been even remotely the strangest or most difficult or disorienting half-year of my life, but it has certainly been uniquely odd and challenging.

I’m starting to loathe the digital world. I realize the irony of writing those words on a blog, but this, like email, has come to seem practically old-fashioned to me. I effectively shuttered my Twitter account months ago; yesterday, I deactivated my Facebook account, and although that won’t be permanent because I do need it for a few things, it was such a relief.

I find myself almost obsessively drawn to the tactile more and more. I remember my first giddy encounters with Kindle, the ease and excitement of loading books on there that were cheap or even free (out of copyright or as part of a special offer, folks: don’t pirate books) and then the dawning realization that I look at screens all the time for work and I don’t want to look at one for leisure, plus I actually like books as objects, the heft, the look of the font on paper, the act of turning another page. I don’t enjoy reading on a Kindle. I just don’t.

I have been walking a lot and thinking a lot about walking and cycling, of going nearly everywhere under my own steam. Of what it would be like to travel the whole world like that. And about talking to people everywhere I go–actually talking, to people in front of me, not their images, and using our voices instead of words on a screen. To all kinds of different people, not just the ones who think “like me.”

To people who only use their phones as a tool, to text someone or look up a business for something they need, not people who conduct large swathes of their lives and relationships online. The impoverishment of that environment becomes clearer to me the longer we stay away from one another and the digital world reveals itself as only a sometimes-useful supplement and not at all a substitute for actually living.

It feels like social media + worldwide lockdowns are collectively driving everyone mad. Everyone is shouting at everyone else and everyone is furious, even more than usual, like people have overdosed on some kind of rage drug. It’s unbearable.

I feel desperate to be in the world, not this stupid wrong side of the mirror world mediated through Online. I’m sure that I sound like a Luddite, and I’m equally sure that I don’t care.

a pandemic update

Spring cleaning (can we call it that if it’s already June?) Shocking, the layer of dust that’s grown around here after just a few months away. Let us briefly acknowledge that the world has been on fire lately and that this is one of several reasons for my lengthy absence from this space. On the plus side, expect to see me around here a lot more.

Stories are still being told! In April, PS Publishing released Apostles of the Weird, edited by S.T. Joshi, which includes my story “This Hollow Thing.” Here’s the entire lineup.

  • Death in All Its Ripeness by Mark Samuels
  • Introduction by S. T.  Joshi
  • Sebillia by John Shirley
  • Come Closer by Gemma Files
  • Widow’s Walk by Jonathan Thomas
  • The Walls Are Trembling by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Trogs by Nancy Kilpatrick
  • The Zanies of Sorrow by W. H. Pugmire
  • This Hollow Thing by Lynda E. Rucker
  • The Outer Boundary by Michael Washburn
  • Black Museums by Jason V Brock
  • The Legend of the One-Armed Brakeman by Michael Aronovitz
  • Lisa’s Pieces by Clint Smith
  • Everything Is Good in the Forest by George Edwards Murray
  • Three Knocks on a Forsaken Door by Richard Gavin
  • The Thief of Dreams by Darrell Schweitzer
  • Axolotl House by Cody Goodfellow
  • Night Time in the Karoo by Lynne Jamneck
  • Porson’s Piece by Reggie Oliver
  • Cave Canem by Stephen Woodworth

Announced and due to be released later in the summer is Crooked Houses edited by Mark Beach at Egaeus Press.  This includes my story “Miasmata” along with stories by Helen Grant, Reggie Oliver, Steve Duffy, Mark Valentine, Rebecca Lloyd, Carly Holmes, John Gale, Richard Gavin, Rebecca Kuder, Albert Power, James Doig, Katherine Haynes, Colin Insole, David Surface, Jane Jakeman and Timothy Granville. A haunted house anthology, but one that looks back beyond the cozy ghost story to stranger, more atavistic hauntings.

Prisms

The image you see above is the cover art for Prisms by the excellent Ben Baldwin, a science fiction anthology edited by Michael Bailey and Darren Speegle that includes my story “Encore for an Empty Sky.” This will be available for pre-order from PS Publishing shortly. Here’s the full lineup:

“We Come in Threes” by B.E. Scully
“Encore for an Empty Sky” by Lynda E. Rucker
“The Girl with Black Fingers” by Roberta Lannes
“The Shimmering Wall” by Brian Evenson
“In This, There Is No Sting” by Kristi DeMeester
“The Birth of Venus” by Ian Watson
“Fifty Super-Sad Mad Dog Sui-Homicidal Self-Sibs, All in a Leaky Tin Can Head” by Paul Di Filippo
“Rivergrace” by E. Catherine Tobler
“Saudade” by Richard Thomas
“There Is Nothing Lost” by Erinn Kemper
“This Height and Fiery Speed” by A.C. Wise
“The Motel Business” by Michael Marshall Smith
“Everything Beautiful Is Also a Lie” by Damien Angelica Walters
“The Gearbox” by Paul Meloy
“District to Cervix: The Time Before We Were Born” by Tlotlo Tsamaase
“Here Today and Gone Tomorrow” by Chaz Brenchley
“The Secrets of My Prison House by J Lincoln Fenn
“A Luta Continua” by Nadia Bulkin”
“I Shall but Love Thee Better” by Scott Edelman

Also, I was interviewed in Phantasmagoria Magazine! You can pick up a copy on Amazon.

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Here’s a fun little project I had the opportunity to take part in a couple of months ago along with some friends to promote the new book of another friend, Rob Shearman. Rob is a terrific writer and a lovely guy, and in April, PS Publishing released a three-volume set of 101 short stories by him with illustrations by the ridiculously multi-talented Reggie Oliver (actor, writer, artist). Jim McLeod, the mad Scotsman behind the site Ginger Nuts of Horror, conspired to have dozens of us write short review of one or two stories each from the book, and you can check them out here (I’m in part four).

I was also honored to write an introduction to David Surface‘s debut short story collection, Terrible Things, out now from Black Shuck Books. If you subscribe to Black Static (and if you love horror fiction, you should) you may know David from his “One Good Story” column that he writes there, or you might recognize him from appearances in various anthologies.Terrible Things is a terrific debut, and you should check it out.

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Last but by no means least, fans of British horror cinema (or critic David Thomson’s Suspects) might want to check out England’s Screaming by Sean Hogan, a book with the conceit that a link runs through the characters and happenings in British horror films to a diabolical end. Part short story collection, part film criticism, part secret “history” of post-war Britain, England’s Screaming is a vicious romp even if you don’t know all the films (I didn’t). For a taste of the madness, you can read a bonus vignette at Sean’s blog here and the book’s introduction by writer, critic and actor Jonathan Rigby here. There’s also a novella-length sequel, Three Mothers, One Father, that tackles Eurohorror, and you can pick it up over at Black Shuck Books. You can also check out some additional terrific book recommendations from Sean at Kendall Reviews (which is partnered with PS to offer 10% off England’s Screaming for June), an interview and a review of England’s Screaming at Diabolique, and an interview at the Britflicks podcast.

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Wherever you are in this absolutely mad world we have found ourselves in, truly through the looking glass, I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well and have found some wonderful stories as a temporary respite.

“So Much Wine” in SUPERNATURAL TALES #42

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I was remiss in announcing my last publication of 2019, the Christmas ghost story “So Much Wine” in the excellent and underrated publication Supernatural Tales, which has published several of my stories. Get a hard copy or a copy for your Kindle here.

There are three other Christmas ghost stories inside–by Steve Duffy, Helen Grant, and Mark Valentine–as well as some non-seasonal fiction. The full table of contents:

‘The God of Storage Options’ by Steve Duffy

‘Flame Mahogany’ by Jane Jakeman

‘So Much Wine’ by Lynda E. Rucker

‘That’s What Friends Are For’ by Patricia Lillie

‘Cold as Night’ by Sam Dawson

‘The Seventh Card’ by Mark Valentine

‘Mrs Velderkaust’s Lease’ by Helen Grant

About 2019 itself, the less said, the better–2020 has been off to an unpleasantly hectic start, but I’m finally getting a small chance to catch my breath. I’m hoping for a better year and that I’ll be able to finish some long-languishing projects and bring you a lot of new stories!

“The Vestige” in NOWHEREVILLE

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The anthology Nowhereville: Weird is Other People is now available to order, containing my story “The Vestige,” a strange tale of a man searching for his cousin in an Eastern European city.  Here’s the full table of contents:

Walk Softly, Softly – Nuzo Onoh

Y – Maura McHugh

Night Doctors – P. Djèli Clark

The Chemical Bride – Evan J. Peterson

Patio Wing Monsters – S.P. Miskowski

Underglaze – Craig Laurance Gidney

The Vestige – Lynda E. Rucker

The Cure – Tariro Ndoro

Kleinsche Fläsche of Four-Dimensional Resonance – D.A. Xiaolin Spires

Nolens Volens – Mike Allen

Vertices – Jeffrey Thomas

Like Fleas on a Tired Dog’s Back – Erica L. Satifka

Urb Civ – Kathe Koja

Over/Under – Leah Bobet

A Name for Every Home – Ramsey Campbell

Tends to Zero – Wole Talabi

My Lying-Down Smiley Face – Stephen Graham Jones

Luriberg-That-Was – R.L. Lemberg

The Sister City – Cody Goodfellow

 

 

 

“This Crumbling Pageant” in The Far Tower

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Swan River Press and Mark Valentine have done it again, put together an absolutely gorgeous book with a terrific line-up. The Far Tower: Stories for W.B. Yeats is available now for preorder, shipping in December. It includes my story “This Crumbling Pageant” as part of an excellent table of contents:

 “Introduction”
Mark Valentine

“Under the Frenzy of the Fourteenth Moon”
Ron Weighell

“Daemon Est Deus Inversus”
D. P. Watt

“The Shiftings”
Rosanne Rabinowitz

“Hermit for Hire”
Caitriona Lally

“The Property of the Dead”
John Howard

“Cast a Cold Eye”
Timothy J. Jarvis

“The Messiah of Blackhall Place”
Derek John

“This Crumbling Pageant”
Lynda E. Rucker

“Shadowy Waters”
Reggie Oliver

“The Hosts of the Air”
Nina Antonia

“Contributor Notes”

“Acknowledgements”

I’m absolutely in love with the cover design by John Coulthard. When I was a child who wanted to be a writer, I imagined being in books that had covers that looked like that.

“the city will live and the Wall will fall”*

Even though I’ve lived in Berlin for more than a year and spent around 2 1/2 months here on two separate occasions before that, I’m often still struck, as though it’s my first day, by how amazing this city’s 20th century history is and how amazing it is to be living here amidst it all, a place that I grew up reading about: the wars, the Berlin Wall. Berlin is a story in my head, and it’s also a real place, and I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know it even a little bit.

(“Do you know Berlin?” I asked a German friend living in the U.K. before I came here the first time. He laughed and said, “Does anyone know Berlin?”)

I think Berlin has integrated the past century of history into the cityscape so thoughtfully and intelligently, preserving it without glorifying it. There’s nothing to mark Hitler’s bunker, although you can go there–I have, it’s a car park. But there’s a street I was walking down one day and I realized there were little plaques set into the sidewalk, and I stopped and looked at them. They were the names and birth dates and death dates of the Jewish people who had lived in the apartments I was walking past. Entire families, extinguished in the death camps. Memorialized not with fanfare, just there. A street, bearing witness along with everyone who walked along it and looked down.

Today I went for a wander in Prenzlauer Berg, the neighborhood next to mine, and wandering brought me to a museum. “Museum in der Kulturbrairei,” the sign outside said, which wasn’t really very descriptive given that I was literally standing in the Kulturbrairei, but it also said admission was free and you know what, I love museums. So I went inside, where a man at the door told me that the museum was free and that I could leave my backpack in one of the lockers. I still didn’t know what the museum was all about, but I went over and struggled with the lockers for about five minutes until a couple came in and watching them I realized OH THERE IS A LITTLE SLOT INSIDE THE DOOR I NEED TO PUT A EURO COIN IN which was a really good thing as I otherwise might still be there, now, trying to get one to lock.

It turned out to be a really good museum! Museum in der Kulturbrairei is a museum about everyday life in the DDR/GDR/East Germany. It’s wonderful because it has loads of interesting items and a lot of video and is quite interactive, but also because it’s just a museum about ordinary people and their lives. I like a grand archeological find like the Staffordshire Hoard as much as the next person (and did I nearly die of excitement at seeing some of it? I DID), but there’s nothing like learning how people lived day to day. There’s something profoundly humanistic about making museum pieces of children’s essays, of the complaint book left for supermarket cashiers, of the longed-for Levis that could be bought in Hungary, if you could afford it and could manage to get a visa.

I wasn’t going to bother taking any photos because the battery on my regular phone needs replacing which means I am using my ancient phone with a broken camera, but I couldn’t resist a few shots–apologies for the dreadful quality.

I was, as ever, particularly interested in some of the displays on youth movements and artists’ resistance, especially efforts to circulate forbidden material. I’m a passionate believer in free expression, including free expression I dislike and disagree with, created by people I dislike and disagree with. I found myself thinking about all the ways that art and expression can be discouraged–it’s not always just about the government knocking down your door–and how often it begins from a well-meaning place, a belief that it is a good and necessary thing, to protect people and a way of life. There were some examples of samizdat literature, which I remember hearing about in the 1980s. I really wanted to be a dissident fighting against a totalitarian government–it sounded exciting and glamorous and meaningful. Vaclav Havel, the playwright-turned-revolutionary-turned-statesman, was kind of a hero of mine in those days, so I was struck by his name on the cover of this one. Too bad it was under glass!

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I saw photos of and read about youth movements, including the “hitchhiker” movement of the 1970s. This was all new to me.

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I loved this little window into the youth movement of the East exploding just as it did in the West.

Of course, as the Cold War raged, over in the West the story was that we were endlessly unfettered and free and They were miserable and oppressed. Neither of these is entirely true, of course, and as East Germans liked to go on holiday with the family as much as anyone, I was also quite taken with this display: the car tent. When you fold it up, it’s the shape of a double mattress on top of the car, a big rectangular box. The tents were easy to pop up. Apparently camping was a very popular pastime in East Germany. How much weight could you put in a car tent, a reporter asked the inventor in the video footage about the tent. A Trabi could take up to 250 kilos, he said, so three people of 70 kilos each, no problem. Unfortunately, the inventor’s company folded after reunification as he couldn’t keep up with demands as well as his competitors.

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(again, sorry for the terrible photo.)

There were some wonderful examples of what I think of as Soviet-style propaganda posters although of course they were East German (and I’m not really a fan of the word “propaganda” because I remember as a kid thinking of propaganda was something their government did and not ours, which is of course nonsense).

There was also this.

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History doesn’t so much repeat itself so much as it does, as someone who was almost certainly not Mark Twain said, rhyme. In other words, the cyclical juggernaut of history is deceptive: because now never looks quite like then, so surely, we are not repeating ourselves; perhaps there are parallels but we are not like them.

We are not just like them, we are them, being human, in our endlessly blundering ways. We keep making the same mistakes and we’re too myopic to realize it. But we also keep being wonderfully, endearingly, human, and a place like the Museum in der Kulturbrairei reminds us. The city of Berlin itself, the fact that it still exists, and thrives, and changes (and does not change, is still that city of artists and intellectuals and decadents and dissidents it was 100 years ago) reminds us, if we’ll just listen.

 

*title is from the memoirs of former Chancellor of West Germany and former Berlin mayor, Willy Brandt

“Every Exquisite Thing” reprinted at The Dark and other news

My story “Every Exquisite Thing,” which originally appeared in The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray, is available to read for free online at The Dark. The Scarlet Soul was edited by Mark Valentine (a very talented writer in his own right) and published by Swan River Press, but it sold out pretty much immediately on publication, so until now, this has been a rather hard-to-find story of mine!

Also, in July, a new story by me, “The Sideways Lady,” appeared in an anthology for “kids of all ages,” as they used to say (do they still say that?), Terrifying Tales to Tell at Night. That link goes to Amazon but of course if you ordered the book through your friendly neighborhood brick and mortar independent bookstore, all the better. Edited by Stephen Jones and spookily illustrated by Randy Broecker, the book is mostly reprints of short tales by great writers (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Michael Marshall Smith among others) suitable for kids–Lisa Morton has the other original story in it besides me. I’m particularly chuffed to be in an anthology alongside the legendary Manly Wade Wellman for what I believe is the first time.

I feel like there has probably been other news worth sharing in the past almost-seven months since I last posted anything here, but in the spirit of onwards and upwards, let’s just move along. I’ve got a few things coming out in the months ahead and am working on some other exciting things, so watch this space.

The Moon Will Look Strange: Deluxe Limited Hardcover

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I’m delighted to announce that the very fine Undertow Publications is releasing a gorgeous limited edition reprint of my first short story collection, The Moon Will Look Strange. There will only be 100 copies. You can take a look at the specifications and preorder here. The amazing Vince Haig is responsible for the beautiful design.

I’m particularly pleased to be first in a line of “Contemporary Classics” released by  Undertow that will include Joel Lane’s The Lost District. I’ve written here before about what an influence and inspiration Joel was for me.

In other news, I am on the jury this year for the Shirley Jackson Awards, which means that outside of the usual work-sleep-eat survival stuff, my life is mainly consumed by reading like a maniac. This is a huge honor and also provides the opportunity to read a lot of really amazing fiction and is also a lot of work! Unless I have any more publication news to share, I’m unlikely to resurface again here until after the nominations are announced in late spring, but I’ve got quite a few projects going on and a lot to say, so I’ll be back when I can. In the meantime, you can always find me on Twitter and Facebook (though I post less on Facebook and am also really bad about keeping up with friend requests unless we’ve met, so . . . )

And of course, the paperback and ebook version of The Moon Will Look Strange is still available at all the Amazons. There are also copies of my second collection, You’ll Know When You Get There, available from Swan River Press.

“the only lasting truth is change”*

“When the generation that survived the war is no longer with us, then we will find out whether we have learned from history.”   -Angela Merkel, 20 July, 2018

I don’t really believe in the progressive theory of history–that is, the idea that human civilization is on an upward arc toward enlightenment. I think there are definitely certain eras and cultures that are better for certain types of people than others, and I am constantly grateful to have been born a woman in the West in the latter half of the 20th century; I never had to fight to get basic rights such as education, bodily autonomy, and things like my own line of credit. But in general, I think human history is a story of ebb and flow from tyranny and oppression to freedom and back again, and that ideological extremes of any stripe tend toward the former and not the latter.

With all that said, hey! the world is pretty crazy right now, isn’t it? I often feel like I am surrounded by extreme voices on all sides and very little reason. But in the last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time in two European cities wracked by wars and profoundly divided in the 20th century: Barcelona and Berlin. What I find heartening is how much those cities have recovered–which is not to say they don’t bear scars, both physical and psychological. There’s something extraordinarily moving about encountering the physical remnants of those scars in the present day, and the way that people go about their lives around them–because one of our simultaneously best and worst attributes, as humans, is our ability to adapt.

Just a few blocks up the street from me in Berlin is one of the former checkpoints between the former West Berlin (where I live) and the former East Berlin. Today, I zip from my flat in West Berlin to my friends’ flat in East Berlin on the tram in under 15 minutes, or walk there if I have more time and want to stretch my legs. Thirty years ago, that would have been impossible.

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“Mauer” is German for wall.

This is a remnant of the wall that once divided my neighborhood, Wedding, from Prenzlauer Berg.

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Imagine waking up and learning that literally overnight, a “wall” (it wasn’t yet a wall then, of course, in 1961) had been constructed that divided your city in half.

There are panels up about the construction of the wall, and photos from the night it came down, juxtaposed against what’s left of it.

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Now, it’s just an ordinary bridge. Unless you were looking out the window from the tram or car at this particular point, you’d speed right past without knowing it.

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It takes more than a generation or two to recover from a devastating war and a totalitarian government, but cities, places, people heal. New generations are born who are largely untouched by what came before, which is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a shame we don’t learn a damn thing from history.

 

*title of post is from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower