Tactile Interlude: Salt

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From a work in progress…

Pink Rose Salt (Andes) is too delicate to be mournful, yet presented as a defiant rock, so that you must work to break off its plaintiveness and in that struggle realize you were wrong all along.

Maldon Sea Salt is deceptive in its raucous and rowdy shouting–it wants to punch you in the shoulder and gift you with a golden retriever and kick the ball around, and yet has a hidden core of vulnerability.

Sel Au Vin (Cotignac) carries memories of some long-ago cabernet sauvignon cut through by a bitterness that dissolves into a bold and assertive independence, before, finally, revealing at its core a remote and eviscerating solitude.

Oak Smoked Chardonnay Salt juxtaposes accents of delicate charcoal with the ancient and wise puzzles released from the wood, creating a kind of laid-back tall tale on the palate.

Yet Hickory Smoked Sea Salt has a swagger that makes the Oak Smoked seem stodgy and provincial–like a novelist who’s only good at describing one particular wooded lot in Pennsylvania. Hickory Smoked is lurching solid on the deck of a boat and reeling in the nets and then going out drinking late at bars. Rinse. Repeat.

Polish Rock Salt is quarry-sound, practical and trust-worthy, with not a hint of deviousness right through to the clean aftertaste.

Hawaiian Pink is the aftermath of a dive into the sea around noon, punctuated by seeing a parrot fish, then crawling back onto the beach, lounging under a hat, hoping for a f—ing beer not seen in commercials but not getting it.

Pinot Noir Flake Salt sits like coral on the tongue, cuts to the back of the throat, recedes into a delicate froth and memories of a short story by Boris Vian.

Black Truffle Sea Salt has a richness that begs to be tasted grain by grain, descending to the tongue by way of a golden set of tweezers, perhaps crafted during the early Renaissance and acquired by Catherine the Great; too much and you’ll be lost forever.

Oh for the love of god I need water.

Book Murderer Novel Excerpt

Every once in a while, I briefly turn back to the novel I’m working on after the Southern Reach trilogy. Here’s the latest excerpt. No, the Book Murderer is not a very nice person, but then neither is the world.

The Book Murderer believed in the study of history, and this was no different when it came to writer communities, or “tribes” as they were sometimes called by the less self-reflective of the general “clan” of scribes. Historical study of writer communities revealed the full extent of their corruption. Inevitably institutions corrupted, but with a slothfulness (for the internet age) that meant the participants, steeped and marinated in their own ethical diseases, never seemed to realize what had happened to them—or cared. In online forums and elsewhere one or another Decaying Orbit would pontificate upon the health of the tribe as if just saying it was so and keeping other things unsaid would make it so. And under the cover of these Houses of Shusher, which periodically with a harrumph and a kind of shrug put on show trials with wrist slaps, an endless revolving door recycled personalities who, discredited and booted with comfy pillows out the front door, were resurrected through the back door mere months later. Sometimes with the ritual sacrifice of monies or of status still a bright flare in the internet night sky, that flare yet to slowly, lazily fall through the blogosphere to the forgetful ground. Some symbolic event allowed the normative to again be acceptable and those who had angrily decried a situation quietly or boisterously returned to the fold. Thus, over time, the basic corruption that was writing became a ten-fold corruption, whereby resurrected real thugs and thieves moved with ease amongst the writer sheep-thugs and the sheep-thieves who were so fond of bleating “tribe tribe tribe” that they contributed to their own figurative slaughter.

My Novella “The Cage”–Now Available at PodCastle as a Podcast

PodCastle has just posted the podcast reading of my novella “The Cage,” originally published in City of Saints and Madmen and reprinted in at least one year’s best. The story can also be found in The Weird.

I first had the idea for “The Cage” at a bar mitzvah party. I saw a strange-looking cage wedged high up in a corner of a ledge in the banquet area. It didn’t seem to fit. I worried that detail in my mind for quite awhile, not sure what it meant. Then one day we were traveling back from some event on the Florida coast and we passed by the University of Tampa, which is housed in part in an old former hotel. It was after hours, and we walked around that place, which was eerie and somewhat like The Shining hotel in both the decor and the way the silence was watchful. And behind glass, in an exhibit: another cage. At which point, something was sparked in my imagination and I suddenly had the core of the idea for the story.

Book Murderer Excerpt for Hal Duncan’s Storybusking

Hal Duncan, the juggernaut responsible for Ink and Vellum, is storybusking. Go help him out–he’s a great writer. And in solidarity with him, here’s an excerpt from a novel I’m working on, The Book Murderer. If you like what you read, go donate something to Hal.

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Dean Francis Alfar: Read New Fiction, Buy His New Collection

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Dean Francis Alfar is an excellent short story writer whose second collection How to Traverse Terra Incognitais now available on Amazon and elsewhere in e-book form. The book comes with blurbs from such luminaries as Hugo Award winners Ann VanderMeer and Lynne M. Thomas, among others.

Not familiar with Alfar? Here’s what you need to know.

Alfar is a Filipino playwright, novelist and writer of speculative fiction. His plays have been performed in venues across the country, while his articles and fiction have been published both in his native Philippines and abroad, such as in Strange Horizons, Rabid Transit, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and the Exotic Gothic series. His literary awards include the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and then Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award. He is an advocate of the literature of the fantastic, editing the Philippine Speculative Fiction series, as well as a comic book creator and a blogger. Alfar is also an entrepreneur who runs several businesses. He lives in Manila with his wife, fictionist Nikki Alfar and their two daughters.

So here’s a proposition for you, since I’m a big fan of Alfar’s work. Below the cut, Alfar is allowing me to post “Enkantong-bato,” his entry from the bestiary anthology Ann and I are editing—totally new fiction, not found in the collection, free for you to read. Exclusive to this blog post and only available here for the next month. BUT, if you read and enjoy it, please do me favor and go buy How to Traverse Terra Incognita. The fact is, you’ll actually be doing yourself a favor!

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Borne: The Balcony Cliffs

Another novel I’ve been working on and hope to finish soon is entitled Borne. Here’s an early section, mostly exposition, that I’m not sure will survive intact in the final novel. Borne is set in a kind of post-collapse city.

My relationship with Wick was complicated by more than our sleeping arrangements. It was defined by where we lived, in the ruins of what I had dubbed the Balcony Cliffs. By the time I found the sea anemone, our fates in that place had become intertwined: Wick provided his biotech and chemical deceptions and I provided my talent for building traps both physical and psychological.

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The Book Murderer (excerpt)

For awhile now I’ve been working on a novel entitled The Book Murderer. It’s a strange hybrid in that it has satirical elements (sending up all aspects of book culture) but becomes more and more psychologically three-dimensional as it goes along and you come to know the main character’s background. It probably has a little bit of something to offend everyone. And it’s incredibly sweary, for those who don’t like the sweary… (As readers should know by now, I often write characters I don’t agree with or don’t agree with in all particulars…)

Here’re the opening sections…

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The Goat Variations: Free VanderFiction for Other Worlds Than These

My story “The Goat Variations” first appeared in Other Earths edited by Nick Gevers & Jay Lake, and then was reprinted in my collection The Third Bear. Now it’s been reprinted in John Joseph Adams’ Other Worlds Than These anthology. He has a great new section on his website for the anthology, and I’ve let them post the story online in its entirety.

When first published, and then reprinted in my collection, “The Goat Variations” was fairly controversial, with some making the assertion that I was just using fiction to make a political point about President George W. Bush. Well, if so…so what? That’s not the real focus of the story, but if it were, bully for me.

Hope you enjoy it.

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(It’s just a rubber head, folks. Looks a little bit more like that guy from Kiss anyway.)

Post Human Conditions: Arc 1.2 Now Available with Komodo

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(Splash page for “Komodo” in Arc 1.2–art by Lydia Wong)

I posted here earlier about having had a novelette accepted by Arc Magazine, the awesome new glossy SF periodical being published by New Scientist in the UK. Well, it’s out now in Arc 1.2: Post Human Conditions–along with an amazing piece of art by Lydia Wong. Also in this issue of Arc, fiction by Nick Harkaway and features by Anne Gallaway, Frederick Pohl, and Regina Peldszus, among much other cool stuff. The first issue had fiction by Margaret Atwood and a lovely piece about China M. visiting squid and octopi at a marine lab. There’s ordering information here for electronic and print versions, and their blog entry about “Komodo” here.

I’m fairly excited about this story—it’s my longest published piece of fiction since my novel Finch came out in 2009–and I think Arc’s amazing look-and-feel is just what SF needs. It’s a stunningly beautiful magazine and I can’t wait to see what they get up to in the future. Always difficult to have the full sense of a magazine until you’ve read three or four issues.

Here’s the beginning of “Komodo”…

Child, standing there in your flower dress considering me with those wide dark eyes while the mariachi band plays out in the courtyard…I’m going to tell you a story. It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand me—they can, and they need to trust me, need to know I’m telling them this for a reason. But I need you, too, because every tale requires an audience, and you’re mine. So I hope you’ll stay awhile. It won’t take long. I don’t have long, anyway.

It starts in a strange place, I’ll admit, inside of a giant green plastic alien head. I was all dressed up. I was on my way to a party. Let’s say the party celebrated something like the Day of the Dead, and that I was in a hurry to get there not even because of looking forward to the party but to the after party. The after party is always where it’s at—if you can get an invite.

The Southern Reach Novels: Annihilation

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve been working on a new series of novels: The Southern Reach series. The first one, already completed, is entitled Annihilation and it’ll be sent around soon to publishers. Here’s a very rough draft description of the book: “Area X: mysterious, remote, and concealed by the government as an environmental disaster zone for more than 30 years. But strange forces are gathering in this pristine wilderness protected by an invisible, deadly border. The secret agency known as the Southern Reach has sent in eleven expeditions to discover the truth about Area X. Now, the twelfth will attempt to succeed where all others have failed…This is the story of that twelfth expedition, narrated by the biologist attached to the mission: a reticent, misanthropic woman who brings her secrets to Area X.”

Short excerpt below, which is somewhat atypical of the whole–don’t want to give away any spoilers! A flashback to her childhood.

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