Horror

The Sharp and Sugar Tooth

I’ve a new book out!

The Sharp and Sugar Tooth is a speculative fiction anthology of food and horror stories, edited by me and published by Upper Rubber Boot Books. Part of their Women Up To No Good series, it focuses on women’s experience with food and feeding. Because food is a necessity, something we can’t live without, there’s power in the managing of it, and power in the enjoyment of that management. Sometimes that’s a frightening thing, both for the women who cook and for the women who feed… but sometimes food needs to be frightening. There’s so much in it of temptation and of threat, and implicit in many forms of consumption is the tension between taking life from some so that others can live. This is fertile ground for a horror anthology, and the 22 stories in The Sharp and Sugar Tooth explore what that tension means for individuals, communities, and ecosystems.

The Sharp and Sugar Tooth features stories by Kathleen Alcalá, Betsy Aoki, Joyce Chng, Katharine Duckett, Anahita Eftekhari, Chikodili Emelumadu, Amelia Gorman, Jasmyne J. Harris, A.R. Henle, Crystal Lynn Hilbert, Erin Horáková, Kathryn McMahon, H. Pueyo, D.A. Xiaolin Spires, Rachael Sterling, Penny Stirling, Catherynne M. Valente, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Damien Angelica Walters, Rem Wigmore, Alyssa Wong, and Caroline M. Yoachim.

You can buy print and electronic copies at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Indiebound, and Wordery.

 

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The Little Beast

I’ve a new story out!

Well, it isn’t really new. “The Little Beast” was originally published back in 2017, in the anthology Respectable Horror from Fox Spirit Books. It was a great anthology to be a part of, but I’m happy to say that the story has been reprinted in this month’s issue of The Dark, making it free to read online for the first time.

“The Little Beast” is inspired by my least favourite fairy tale. Come at me, all you Beauty and Beast fans, but Beauty creeps me out. She always has. There’s something so unrelentingly good about her. Now I’ve nothing against good characters usually, in fact I tend to like and admire them. But sometimes goodness is so ostentatious you start to wonder if it’s a put on – like a politician kissing babies – and not to be trusted.

It’s the rose bit that always made me suspicious. “Oh, I just want a rose, Daddy!” At which point I bet the poor man cringed in himself, because over long distances a rose is the worst of presents. Can you imagine trying to keep a cut flower in good condition after several days of an overland trip, taken on a horse and cart most likely? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And there’s Beauty, smirking in the background like butter wouldn’t melt, getting all the credit for wanting this simple little gift that ensures her poor bloody father has to think about her every single second of that trip back, lest that simple little rose gets bruised or dry or the petals start to fall…

Horrible girl. There’s something extremely disturbing about her.

Sharp and Sugar Tooth Kickstarter

So, the anthology that I’m editing for Upper Rubber Boot Books, The Sharp and Sugar Tooth, is getting closer! There’s a kickstarter on for it right now, so if you like short stories and horror and food, and feminism in your fiction, please take a look. There are all sorts of levels and rewards, including copies of Sugar Tooth and the other speculative anthologies in URB’s Women Up To No Good series, so it’s totally worth your while!

The anthology had its early genesis in the food and horror essays I did for The Book Smugglers a couple of years back. Once I’d finished that non-fiction collection, I was still interested in the food horror theme, and when I saw that URB was looking for new anthology pitches I thought I’d give it a go. The pitch was accepted, and last year I read through a heap of tasty slush, looking for the creepiest and most empowering horror stories I could find. There was a wide, wide range and it was really difficult to pick the best, as so many wonderful stories were submitted. But pick I did, and there are 22 fantastic stories from 22 wonderful, food-loving authors!

From Chikodili Emelumadu to Alyssa Wong and Catherynne M. Valente, as well as newer authors like Jasmyne J. Harris, H. Pueyo, and D.A. Xiaolin Spires, come stories of the sweet and the savoury and the scary, of apples and confectionary and strong meat, of little Wonderland cakes and post-apocalyptic nature preserves, of honey bees and hungry daughters and organ-eating. Please come back us, you won’t regret it!

 

Gone to Earth

I’ve a new story out! “Gone to Earth” is free to read in the latest issue of Shimmer.

It’s a psychological horror story about Mars: the effect it has on astronauts, and their inability to adapt to it. “Gone to Earth” is also one of the earliest stories I ever wrote. It’s been sitting on my computer for close to a decade now, and most of the time it was lying fallow. New-writer me sent it out a couple of times, and it was promptly rejected, and I was disappointed but not all that surprised.

I knew the idea was good, but the execution was… lacking.

That’s why when you’re a writer it’s so very necessary to be a reader as well. Especially if you’re not a very good writer – and none of us are very good writers when we’re starting out. If you don’t read, and read widely, it’s all too easily to fall into an isolated creativity where you simply don’t have the tools to recognise that you’re producing sub-par material. But because I did read, I could assess that early version of “Gone to Earth” with some objectivity, and if I didn’t quite know why the writing sucked, I still knew that it did.

So I left it and left it and left it, and then late last year I pulled up that old file and started again. And I’m really glad I did, because I still love the ideas in this story. Take a look!

He’d thought the green would keep him from dreaming of the memory of arid sterility, the red and waterless horizon.

It didn’t.

His body was racked with chill and he hunched in his bed, trying to breathe with the rhythm of tides, to slow his heart to growing things. Yet even the warm night air of the Coromandel summer, straight from the coast and rustling through rātā trees, couldn’t dispel the cold. The nightmares still came regularly, suffocating waves of homesick regret. Strange that they hadn’t passed now that he was home again and anchored to the world of the living, and even stranger that they came from an adventure marking him a hero. He’d even felt heroic at the beginning, but all the bravery of heroism had come from ignorance, the assumption of a strength not yet tested because the testing was unimaginable.

An astronaut on the first manned mission to Mars! All the psychological tests he’d undergone had been for other things: socialization, conflict resolution in close quarters, the ability to cope with long-term and claustrophobic isolation. Alan had passed them all and felt himself stable enough, had never wavered either in ambition or explorer’s faith.

They’d never thought, none of them, that what brought him down would be a different sort of lack….

 

Year’s Best Hardcore Horror

Last year I wrote a story, called “The Better Part of Drowning“, about carnivorous crabs and the girls who kill them. It was published in The Dark, and I’m happy to say it’s been reprinted this year as part of the Year’s Best Hardcore Horror series from Red Room Press! Volume 3 of the series, containing stories from 2017, has just been published. I can’t wait to get my hands on my own copy, because I love horror (as you would expect, writing so much of it) and I’m really looking forward to reading all the other creepy, bloody, lethal stories herein.

If you haven’t come across “The Better Part of Drowning” before, here’s a small excerpt:

Alix was never sure what kept the groaning rickety-spider of a dock up, unless it was the mussels that swarmed over the piles, turning them to hazards that could slice a swimmer open. The divers were all over scars from waves and mussels, always being pushed into shell sharp as knives and leaving their blood to scent the water.

“You kids be careful you don’t draw the crabs!” If she heard that once a day she heard it fifty times, and each time she had to smile over the slicing pain and wave up, because coins weren’t thrown to kids who wailed. Wailing made her choke if she tried to dive anyway, and there were always kids enough to squabble over coins so tears did nothing but anchor her to surface and starvation and blind her to the sudden scuttle of predation.

Don’t draw the crabs, they always said, and smiled as they said it, because it was entertaining to see kids dive in crab beds, and entertaining to see the bloodshed when they were slow enough for catching. Alix didn’t blame them for that. She’d never been able to look away either, no matter how much bile rose in her throat, the metal taste of panic.

Crabmeat, crabmeat. It was their own little circle of carnivorism, the smallest crabs providing one and the smaller kids the other. Not that the biggest of the scuttlers couldn’t take a man full-grown, but usually the bigger you got the more sense you had, and the more the habit of watching claws kept them away from bone.

 

We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice

I’ve a new story out! “We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice” is free to read over in this week’s edition of Strange Horizons. It’s a climate horror story about bears and lies.

It’s an odd mix of fantasy and fact, this one. Clearly, ghost bears the size of houses are not prowling over the ever-less-frozen north of the Americas. But I like finding interesting new ways to write about science so folded in with all the gore and mayhem are bits of biology and climate, and sprinkled through the whole are links to science news stories from journals like Science and Scientific American. The articles inform the story, so you can read them if you want but the mere presence of the titles in the text should clue you into context if you don’t want to follow the links.

I wrote it in cold rage a few months back, after seeing that terrible video of the starving polar bear. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and it was either swallow down all my bile (which didn’t seem to work, apparently spite concentrates in small spaces) or spit it out and make other people suffer too. Fair warning, this one’s really dark. Strange Horizons lists content warnings before each story, and this hits quite a few of them. As you can see from the opening snippet:

Look at what we woke.

We feed them lies and watch them burn for it.

Koala bears rarely run during bush fires. Their instinct at danger is to climb up into canopy, where the leaves are shot through with eucalyptus oil, and flammable. They cling to the trunk with charred paws when it begins to burn, the thin bark catching easily and falling off in flaming strips. It sets their fur alight.

They die screaming. ….

Award Eligible Stories, 2017

It’s that time of year… when all writers start shilling their stuff for the upcoming awards season! And why not, I reckon.

I had nine eligible stories and one non-fiction book come out last year, but I think that’s genuinely too much to list, so I’m going to stick with a handful of the shorts and the non-fiction book.

The most important story I wrote last year, no question, was “The Stone Weta“, which appeared in Clarkesworld. If you’re considering nominating something of mine, please make it this. The idea for it was essentially ripped from the headlines – climate denialism sponsored by the state, and scientists working to preserve data across borders. Both of these things are happening, and cli-fi is an important tool in bringing climate change into the spotlight.

The best-written story, on the other hand, was “The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science“, which appeared in Shimmer. This is the most literary of the things I had published last year, and continues my effort to write about science with a tinge of speculative fiction about it. If your nomination wants some snob-value to it, this is the story to go for.

On the other hand, if you’re a horror fan, I had two stories out near the end of last year which have both got a bit of positive attention. “The Ouroboros Bakery” from Kaleidotrope (my creepy magic food story) and “The Better Part of Drowning” in The Dark, which does its best to make sure you never eat crabs again.

If you’re looking for something non-fiction to nominate, my collected Food and Horror essays came out from The Book Smugglers at the beginning of December. The columns were actually published individually throughout 2016, mostly, but the collected edition has been substantially expanded, going from 40,000 to 60,000 words. Also, take a look at that gorgeous cover please, by Kristina Tsenova, who could be nominated for art if you’re so inclined.

That’s it! Thanks for your consideration, *cough* stone weta *cough*.

Dinornis

I’ve a new story out!

“Dinornis” appears in the anthology Pacific Monsters from Fox Spirit Press. It’s the fourth volume in their series of monster stories from around the world, and all of them are well worth checking out.

“Dinornis” is also my first graphic story! I wrote the script, and the story’s illustrated by Dave Johnson, who has done a fantastic job of making the moa seem creepy and sad. “Dinornis”, of course, is a reference to that giant extinct bird of New Zealand, the moa. The moa’s not really a monster, not in the typical understanding of the word, anyway. It’s sort of what I think of as a wishful monster.

Monsters are strange things.

We’re fascinated by them. There’s whole industries devoted to bringing them to life, to packaging them up in consumable form so that we can be briefly entertained by fright. And it’s fun because it is brief. I can enjoy spending two hours watching a zombie horror film precisely because zombies don’t actually exist. If my life revolved around fending them off, I’d not be turning towards them for my leisure hours. I’d be refilling the flame-thrower and any moments I could snatch for escapism would tend to the absolutely harmless.

We generally don’t want the monsters to be real. But sometimes it’s just so disappointing when they’re not.

Especially when we hold the burden of having removed them ourselves. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend turns an individual amongst monsters into the monster those monsters fear, and on a species level Matheson isn’t far wrong. Extinction took a lot of monsters from this world long before humans came alone, but we’ve certainly done our best to slaughter the rest.

This can best be seen in the lands where humans are not. And, for longer than anywhere else, New Zealand was that land. The last major land mass to be colonised, absent of any native mammal but small bats, it was for millennia a land belonging to birds. Flightless, many of them, and some not. The most dangerous was the largest eagle to ever exist – Haast’s eagle. It died out when humans killed its food to line their own stomachs.

That food was my Pacific monster. The tallest bird ever known, the giant moa. Females were as much as 3.7 metres in height, and all of them were flightless.

All we have left of it are bones. Bones, and stories…

Every so often the rumours start back up. That down in the remote, unexplored back blocks of Fiordland the moa survives. Perhaps not the giant moa, which would be genuinely hard to miss, but one of the smaller species of the genus. There’s sightings, a blurry photo or two. Tracks in the earth.

When my Pacific Monsters story was being edited, Margrét commented on the character who’d just found a moa footprint. Wouldn’t she wonder what it was?

There isn’t a person in this country who would see a three toed footprint that size and not think – not hope – that it was a moa. We’re a young country. We take our monsters where we can get them.

Do I think they’re still out there? Honestly, no. Do I want them to be? Oh, so much.

It’s wishful thinking, I know. Imagination layering itself over science, and with just enough hook to cling to, because, Jurassic Park-like, there is an astronomical outside chance that discovery of ancient DNA might be enough to bring them back.

But what would we do with them if we did? If we found them, alive still, in the dark and distant corners of the bush?

I’d like to think we’d be happy. That, as a nation, we’d pull of the mother of all conservation efforts, exceeding even that of the black robin – a native bird pulled back from the brink when once there were only seven individuals remaining.

But then I remember the context of monsters, and how the moa met a monster new-come to their shores… and it was us.

They didn’t survive the human race.

If they’re still out there, I hope they stay far, far away. That they’re rumours forever, because some monsters survive best in wishful thinking.

 

Food and Horror

I have a new book out! It’s my first non-fiction book, my first full length book, and my first available in paperback (before this I’ve just done short stories and a few novellas).

Food and Horror: Essays on Ravenous Souls, Toothsome Monsters, and Vicious Cravings began as a guest post on The Book Smugglers back in 2015. It very quickly became a monthly series, as Ana and Thea were kind enough to let me ramble on about all aspects of food in horror, from Jaws to the gingerbread house. After a year, I was done. It had been a particularly rewarding experience – people were always very kind and interested, and earlier this year I won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for best fan writing for the food and horror series.

Because of the positive response, The Book Smugglers and I thought we’d turn the series into a book. I spent a few busy months writing new material – there’s an extra 20,000 words in there now, looking at zombies and medical horror, Octavia Butler and the tooth fairy, amongst other things. And now there is a book! It’s longer than anything I’ve ever written that isn’t a thesis; I am prodigiously proud of it.

You can find details of where to pick up your own creepy copy here. And who wouldn’t want a book with that gorgeous cover? The artist is the very talented Kristina Tsenova (who did covers for my stories “The Mussel Eater” and The Convergence of Fairy Tales, also from the Smugglers) and she is extraordinarily talented so please keep her in mind in the future when award season rolls around.

The Better Part of Drowning

I’ve a new story out!

The Better Part of Drowning” is free to read in this month’s issue of The Dark Magazine. It’s been a while since I’ve had a story in The Dark (back in 2014, with “Tommy Flowers and the Glass Bells of Bletchley”) so it’s great to be back in there again.

“The Better Part of Drowning” is all giant, creepy, child-eating crabs, and what it’s like to have to live with them – to prey on them, and to be preyed on by them. Believe it or not, it’s set in the same world (on the same street!) as my recent story “The Ouroboros Bakery”, for all that they’re very different stories. It’s a world I plan to spend a lot more time in, with a series of interlinking shorts. Two more of these stories are in the pipeline – the crabs make a reappearance in my upcoming story “Sugar Ricochets to Other Forms” (in the Mother of Invention anthology), and the Lady of Scales is the subject of “The Temporary Suicides of Goldfish”, soon to appear in Kaleidotrope.

But, to the crabs…

Alix was never sure what kept the groaning rickety-spider of a dock up, unless it was the mussels that swarmed over the piles, turning them to hazards that could slice a swimmer open. The divers were all over scars from waves and mussels, always being pushed into shell sharp as knives and leaving their blood to scent the water.

“You kids be careful you don’t draw the crabs!” If she heard that once a day she heard it fifty times, and each time she had to smile over the slicing pain and wave up, because coins weren’t thrown to kids who wailed. Wailing made her choke if she tried to dive anyway, and there were always kids enough to squabble over coins so tears did nothing but anchor her to surface and starvation and blind her to the sudden scuttle of predation.

Don’t draw the crabs, they always said, and smiled as they said it, because it was entertaining to see kids dive in crab beds, and entertaining to see the bloodshed when they were slow enough for catching. Alix didn’t blame them for that. She’d never been able to look away either, no matter how much bile rose in her throat, the metal taste of panic.

Crabmeat, crabmeat. It was their own little circle of carnivorism, the smallest crabs providing one and the smaller kids the other. Not that the biggest of the scuttlers couldn’t take a man full-grown, but usually the bigger you got the more sense you had, and the more the habit of watching claws kept them away from bone…