Author: OJ

Artist in Residence

I’m currently the Square Edge/Massey University artist in residence! It’s a three month position, with a visual artist coming in after me. I’ve just completed my first week, and things are very exciting but also a little surreal. The residency is based in Palmerston North, a place I’ve only ever passed through before, and while it appears to be a lovely city the truth is I’m seeing very little of it right now as New Zealand is in lockdown due to COVID-19, so no sightseeing for me.

On the bright side, this gives me lots of time to work on my residency project. I applied to come here a year or two back, with a project called The Stone Wētā, but that particular book was completed some time ago (I was offered the 2020 residency instead of the 2019 one) so I had to come up with something new. That new project, and what I’ll be working on for the next three months, is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, exploring the ways in which science, nature, extinction, and experimentation come together in unusual ways.

I’m looking forward to it!

 

Mary Shelley nominated for a Stoker

This is exciting news for me – my collection, Mary Shelley Makes A Monster, has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award! It’s up for superior achievement in a poetry collection, which is nice for me as it’s my first Stoker nod. So I’m very happy about that, and happy too to be sharing the category with the other nominated poets: Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Donna Lynch, Michelle Scalise, Marge Simon, Bryan D. Dietrich, and Stephanie M. Wytovich.

Voting’s going on now, but the final results won’t be announced until later this year at StokerCon UK. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend as I’ll be in the middle of my writer’s residency at Massey University here in New Zealand, but it’s still great to be nominated.

Pre-order: The Stone Wētā

I have a new book coming out! The Stone Wētā, from Paper Road Press, is due out on April 22. That’s Earth Day, which is deeply appropriate for a novel about climate change and how it can affect us and our planet. The Stone Wētā is based on the short story of mine, of the same name, which was published a couple of years back in Clarkesworld.

We talk about the tyranny of distance a lot in this country. That distance will not save us.

With governments denying climate science, scientists from affected countries and organisations are forced to traffic data to ensure the preservation of research that could in turn preserve the world. From Antarctica, to the Chihuahuan Desert, to the International Space Station, a fragile network forms. A web of knowledge. Secret. But not secret enough.

When the cold war of data preservation turns bloody – and then explosive – an underground network of scientists, all working in isolation, must decide how much they are willing to risk for the truth. For themselves, their colleagues, and their future.

Murder on Antarctic ice. A university lecturer’s car, found abandoned on a desert road. And the first crewed mission to colonise Mars, isolated and vulnerable in the depths of space.

How far would you go to save the world?

You can pre-order hard copies of The Stone Wētā at the Paper Road Press site. E-copies are also available to pre-order at Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Noble.

Pre-order: The Mythology of Salt and Other Stories

I have a short story collection coming out! The Mythology of Salt and Other Stories is my debut collection, and it’s coming from Lethe Press in late summer 2020. You can pre-order a copy here!

I’ve had close to 50 science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories published over the last few years, and this book collects about 18 of them – primarily the stories that deal with the intersection of women, myth, and knowledge. Some of the stories in here have been published in well-known markets such as Strange Horizons and Shimmer, but some went to very small and now difficult to source places, and two are entirely new.

I’m particularly excited that this collection is reprinting “Cuckoo”. It’s one of my earliest stories, and it remains one of my very favourites. It’s a vampire story, which is not something I generally write – this may be my one and only vampire story ever – but it’s an interesting creepy mash-up of myth set in the kauri gum fields of 19th century New Zealand. Of the new stories, one of them “The Knife Orchard,” deals with a piece of fairly disturbing family history, while the other, “In the Shadow of Yew Trees” is a labyrinthine coming of age story set at Bletchley Park during WW2.

So please pre-order if you’re interested, or if you’ve liked my stories in the past! I mean, just look at that lovely cover. Don’t you want it on your shelves?

Our Flesh was Bred for This

I have a new story out! “Our Flesh was Bred for This” is in the first issue of Frozen Wavelets, which is free to read at the link.

It’s a flash story, which is unusual for me. I find flash to be exceptionally difficult to write – every time I try, it tends to balloon out to my natural length, which seems to be around 3500-4500 words. I do not have the gift of concision, is what I’m saying, though I do admire it in others. Every time I see a really good flash piece by someone else, I try to study it to see why they’re managing it and I can’t. I think, finally, that it’s down to a ruthless sense of scale. With such a limited word count, there’s no room for tangents, or even for pretty language that serves no purpose other than prettiness. It’s far closer to a vignette, for me – something designed wholly around a feeling rather than an ongoing plot. Anyway, this is mine. I don’t know that I’ll write a whole lot more of them in future, but I’m glad to have achieved a successful flash, even if it’s just the once. And here’s a taster of it:

Death is different for island folk.

It’s an old saying, if not a truthful one. There are islands enough for carnivores. On Kodiak they stake you out for bears, on Komodo you’re left for dragons. Not everywhere is barren of hunting teeth. In most places they’ve come back, feed them up so carefully as we do.

But there are some islands where they never were. Islands of birds and bats, and the only big carnivores are marine, their fish-bellies white around the coast, their easy length swum up along estuaries and into rivers. The great hinged jaw of leopard seals, the smooth sleek lines of blackfish.

Apex predators, all of them…

 

Year’s Best Aotearoa SF&F 2019

I have a new story out! Well, it’s an old story actually. “We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice” was originally published by Strange Horizons last year, and its creepy creepy bears have shot to the top of my own personal favourite stories.

So when Marie Hodgkinson of New Zealand’s Paper Road Press decided that she was going to put together the very first volume of Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy I knew precisely which story I was going to send in. Given that New Zealand is hosting WorldCon next year, the time has come for an anthology series of this sort – it’s a great idea to showcase local talent to our soon-to-be visitors! And I knew with Marie publishing it the result would be outstanding. Though I say that with bias – Marie and Paper Road have published my stuff before, namely my SJV award-winning novella The Ghost of Matter, about famous Kiwi scientist Ernest Rutherford.

Fittingly for my creepy bears, the first volume of YBANZSF&F was launched on Halloween, and I was down in Wellington for the event. Even did a reading, so that was exciting (in a nerve-wracking sort of way). Being launched at the same time was a novella from a mate of mine, Andi C. Buchanan. Their book is called From a Shadow Grave, and it is outstanding. Andi also has a story in the Year’s Best  anthology, as do a number of other fantastic Kiwi writers, including A.J. Fitzwater, Mark English, J.C. Hart, Sean Monaghan, M. Darusha Wehm and more! And just look at that gorgeous cover by Emma Weakley…

Inside the Body of Relatives

I have a new story out! “Inside the Body of Relatives” is in the November/December 2019 issue of Asimov’s Magazine. It’s the fourth story I’ve had in Asimov’s, and the first which is actually a short story. Everything else I’ve had published there has been a novelette, so it’s good to have sold them something different. It’s a short story because it’s only a little idea, and sometimes you just don’t need to pad out a good idea with extra words. That idea – and I don’t want to spoil it, exactly – is something that came to me one night when I was lying in bed, tucked up under the duvet and listening to rain on the roof. And it was such a simple idea, and it seemed so obvious…

It’s also a story that features that staple of the science fiction narrative: artificial intelligence. Specifically, an AI dwelling. There’s a reason this is a trope (often a horrifying trope) but I wanted something not-horrifying for this. It’s a quiet little story about aging and loneliness and evolutionary biology, so there seemed no reason to go all overwrought with it. Anyway, here’s a teaser of it:

There’s a reason I don’t have a lot of guests – or worse, a tenant, for all the rent would round out my super. I like my house quiet.

“Quiet as the toooomb,” says the house, in response. It gets sarcastic when it’s worried. “I don’t like to think about you getting depressed,” it says.

“I’m not depressed.”

“Loneliness can be a trigger for depression,” says the house. “You are lonely, and I am not a substitute…”

 

Mary Shelley Makes A Monster

My second poetry collection is out! Mary Shelley Makes A Monster is published by Aqueduct Press. The title poem was originally published in Strange Horizons and was inspired by a biography of Shelley. And, of course, by Frankenstein

All our monsters are mirrors. And when Mary Shelley’s second monster (built from her life rather than her pen, born out of biography instead of blood) outlives its mother, that monster goes looking for a substitute. But all the monster really knows of women is that women write, and so the search for a replacement takes it first to Katherine Mansfield, and then to other women who know what mutilated things can be made from ink and mirrors… Virginia Woolf. Janet Frame. Sylvia Plath. Grace Mera Molisa. Octavia Butler. Angela Carter. Murasaki Shikibu. The monster stares into each of them, has their words carved into its tongue, their nails drawn down its back, their toothmarks embedded in its heart.

When it goes out into the world, no-one can tell the difference.

Available in print and ebook.

Year’s Best SF&F 2019

I have a new story out! Except technically not really new – it’s a reprint. Now I’ve had reprints published before, and it’s always very exciting. (It’s amazing enough when a story sells once, let alone again.) This reprint, though… this one is special.

The first reason it’s special is because it’s the first time I’ve managed to crack this particular market. Getting a story into The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy has been on my writing bucket list for a long time. And of course there’s never any guarantee that an author will sell to any particular market, but let’s face it: there were a lot of absolutely excellent short speculative stories published last year. Choosing what would get into a single anthology must have been enormously difficult, so I was delighted when Rich Horton selected “The Temporary Suicides of Goldfish” for inclusion here. That story, by the way, was originally published by Kaleidotrope.

The second reason it’s special is because of who else is in the anthology. I was lucky enough to attend Clarion West 2016, and one of my classmates, Cadwell Turnbull, also has a story in here. Very happy to be sharing a table of contents with him! We were both very excited… and even more so because in that table of contents was none other than Ursula Le Guin. Reader, I had to take a moment. There is Ursula Le Guin with her final story, published I believe in the Paris Review of all places, and here’s me, in the same book, wittering on about reincarnated goldfish, in what must be one of the most frivolous stories known to man.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m amazed and grateful… but I also had to pinch myself. A lot.

Moonlight and Silver Bullets

I have a new academic chapter out! “Moonlight and Silver Bullets: Twentieth Century Racial Purity in Werewolf Films” has been published in All Around Monstrous: Monster Media in Their Historical Contexts, edited by Verena Bernardi and Frank Jacob. It’s out from Vernon Press now.

I love werewolf films. It’s a good thing I do, because there are a lot of them. Over 300 at last count – the first one dating from as early as 1913. But here’s the thing: go out into the street and accost ten random strangers. Ask them first how they would recognise a werewolf. Then ask them what kills a werewolf. Odds are, you’ll get the same answers from all ten people. Werewolves turn at the full moon, and they can be killed with a silver bullet.

Yet if you go back and look at werewolf mythology – and it’s been around for thousands of years – you’ll find that silver and moonlight make up tiny fractions of that mythology. Seriously, they may as well be footnotes they’re that minor in the scheme of things. So why have these minor elements of the myth come to be so widely held? Well, go back to the werewolf films and see when things begin to change. Up until the period around WW2, there’s a lot more variation in imagery. Enter The Wolf Man in 1941, and suddenly things begin to coalesce. Not all at once, but that’s the turning point. It could be that this was just a great film that made a lasting impact. But WW2, sadly, was also a time when eugenics began to rear its ugly head, specifically with regard to the nasty spectre of racial purity. And quite apart from werewolves, both moonlight and silver have long associations with purity. How do you recognise a werewolf? His mixed and beastly nature shows under pure light. How do you kill a werewolf? Hit him with a purity bullet, and it might kill him, but his dead body will turn back to its uncontaminated human form.

It’s very very nasty, and it may well be unconscious on the part of film makers and consumers, but the correlation – especially in the context of the times – is there.