Category Archives: myth

Women in Horror: Tracy Fahey

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The Past is Always Present: New Music for Old Rituals

This is a story of folk horror and of its roots in much older tales. It’s a story of how these old, cautionary tales still cast long shadows in contemporary culture. And of course, it’s part of the story why I wrote my second collection, the nineteen tales of folk-horror that make up my second collection, New Music for Old Rituals (Black Shuck Books 2018).

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New Music For Old Rituals (Black Shuck Books 2018)

This collection grew organically from my own upbringing as a child in rural Ireland, where the very landscape was infused with myth and folklore. I grew up on the site of the great Irish saga of the Táin Bó Cúailnge halfway between two towns, Dundalk, where the Táin hero, Cuchulainn was born and Ardee, where he slew his best friend Ferdia at a pivotal battle−even my secondary school sits beside an ancient burial ground where mounds marked the site of Cuchulainn and his wife Emer’s graves.

But even more so, New Music for Old Rituals was influenced by the stories I grew up with, curses, stories of na Sidhe, the dark Irish fairies and their interactions with human, tales of jumping churches, of banshees, of curses and of graves cracked by a hungry Devil. These stories were told in my neighbourhood, within my family, and they formed the cornerstone of my childhood experience.

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The site of Wildgoose Lodge. Photograph © Tracy Fahey 2015

The first piece of short fiction I published in 2013, ‘Looking for Wildgoose Lodge,’ (in Hauntings, Hic Dragones Press) was based on a story originally told to me by my grandmother; a tale of a two hundred-year-old atrocity. I was fascinated by the idea of the persistence of memory in a small community, and the fact that these stories were still told. I was drawn to this topic by the fact that in folklore the past was always present−that these stories still operated strongly as cautionary tales that warned of the dangers of secrecy and of secret organisations, and the untrustworthiness of neighbours. I spent three years working on a memory project with these families and recording their variant stories of this event as part of my PhD thesis.

At the same time I was also researching the folklore and how it echoes through contemporary Irish art and literature, and have since published five academic essays on this topic in edited collections by Palgrave, Routledge, Peter Lang Publishing, Aguaplano, and Boydell and Brewer. However, this research kept inspiring new ideas for fresh fiction, and so in 2016 I started writing in earnest on a new collection that would focus on the survival of past narratives in contemporary Ireland.

Fahey Cuchulainn, The Hound of Ulster. Print by Jim Fitzpatrick

Cuchulainn, The Hound of Ulster, art by Jim Fitzpatrick

In putting together this collection, I’ve only obliquely referenced ‘real’ Irish folktales. I was more interested in the nature and character of folktales; how they seep upwards from the very landscape, how they’re mapped by real sites that act as portals to other worlds; dolmens, passage graves, fairy mounds. In 2015 I’d spent time armed with a copy of Tarquin Blake’s Haunted Ireland, visiting and photographing local spectral sites; many of these photographs would later act as triggers for some of the stories that I would write, most notably ‘The Green Road,’ ‘Graveyard of The Lost,’ and ‘The Black Dog.’

Fahey The Black Dog

The Black Dog. Photograph © Tracy Fahey 2015

I was conscious when writing of other contemporary Irish authors like Patrick McCabe, who creates evocative dark, small towns with a savage magic realism, and Peadar Ó Guilín whose dystopian novels are influenced by his erudite knowledge of Irish folklore. The stories that I wrote between 2016 and 2018 all feature the pervasive power of the past; how old, bitter stories ripple outwards and continue to shape our culture. Some reference the Irish fairies, but the tales that do so consider them in contemporary contexts; man-made fairy villages (‘The World’s More Full of Weeping’), children’s games (‘Under The Whitethorn’), burial rites (‘The Cillini’) and gender identity (‘The Changeling’). The collection also references modern Irish phenomena like ghost estates (‘Scarecrow, Scarecrow’) and the Celtic Tiger economy (‘What Lies Beneath’). What all stories do is consider the ties between the past and present, and how certain themes are both repetitive and timeless; ideas of loss, love, sacrifice, family, inheritance and transmission.

There were also two things that were important to me in writing this collection; I wanted it to have a strong female voice (most of the protagonists and narrators are women), and also that it represented the Irish lived experience of folklore as a continuum between past and present. The reason for this is that New Music for Old Rituals sits squarely within the canon of folk horror, a term that has gained popularity since the BBC4 TV series A History of Horror of 2010 where Mark Gatiss used it with reference to Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and also Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973). Folk horror is also characterised in terms of contemporary contributions towards the genre: Ben Wheatley’s Kill List and A Field in England, Robert Eggers’ The VVitch (2015), David Bruckner’s The Ritual (2017), and The League of Gentlemen (1997-2017).

However, there are two interesting things to consider when looking at this genre since the 1960s: the fact it tends to be Anglo-centric and male-dominated. This isn’t to say that women are omitted in the canon−especially in terms of literature with Angela Carter’s marvellous The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979) and Susan’s Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence (1965-77)−but there Carter’s contribution, as with so many other outstanding works by female writers like Margaret Atwood, Tanith Lee, Gemma Files, Kelly Link and Helen Oyeyemi tend to be categorised under the heading of ‘revisionist fairy tales.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with revisionist fairy tales−the rewriting and re-questioning of these forms is a valuable part of the feminist canon of writing−but it’s strange that many of these are not considered as folk horror. James Gent’s definition of folk horror could be used to sum up some remarkable short stories by women including Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ or Angela Carter’s ‘Wolf Alice.’

Hermetically sealed (usually rural) communities; imagery of agriculture, fertility and the soil; modern man standing on the precipice of deeper, hidden, horrors and the friction that arises; a haunting of the present by the past; and the arrival of an innocent outsider drawn into this hinterland. (Gent 2017)

Fahey The Cillini

The Cillini. Photograph © Tracy Fahey 2015

Women in Horror Month is more than just about celebrating the women who are or have been active in the field; it’s also about honestly examining whether female achievement is correctly attributed across horror. The horror genre−and the folk horror genre−is richest when it encompasses a breadth of diversity and experience−from across genders and nationalities.

I’m glad to see that recent folk horror collections; Green and Pleasant Land (2016, Black Shuck Books), The Fiends in The Furrows (2018, Nosetouch ress) and This Dreaming Isle (2018, Unsung Stories) all feature a very balanced number of contributions by outstanding female writers. I’m also delighted to see the accolades coming in for Alma Katsu’s The Hunger (2018), which draws upon oral folklore of The Dinner Party and ideas of the Wendigo, and Gwendolyn Kiste’s The Rust Maidens (2018), a meditation on urban folklore.

And of course, I’m very grateful to my publisher Steve J. Shaw of Black Shuck Books for taking a chance on my ode to Irish folk horror, Old Music for New Rituals, and to all who have bought, read and reviewed it. Folklore continues to evolve and to be part of our lived experience, and I’m proud to have offered a small reflection on it with this collection.

References

Gent, James. ‘Robin Hardy, The Wicker Man and Folk Horror.’ Etext at http://wearecult.rocks/robin-hardy-the-wicker-man-and-folk-horror. Last accessed 9.05, 29/06/2018.

FaheyTracy Fahey is an Irish writer of Gothic fiction.  In 2017, her debut collection The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award. Two of her short stories were long listed by Ellen Datlow for honourable mentions in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 8. She is published in over twenty Irish, US and UK anthologies and her work has been reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. Her first novel, The Girl in the Fort, was released by Fox Spirit Press in 2017. Her second collection, New Music for Old Rituals was published in 2018 by Black Shuck Books. Her website is at www.tracyfahey.com

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Women in Horror: Sarah Read

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Today, Sarah Read talks about creepy crawlies and their unjust bad rap. From Shelob to Spider-Man, spiders play a significant role in fiction and our homes. I mislabeled Sarah as Canadian but she’s actually American.

Cellar Spiders: Your Secret Best Friends

Read theboneweaversorchard_coverWhenever I finish a new story, the first thing my reader friends usually ask is, “Are there spiders in this one?” Because, yeah, usually. I have a bit of a spider reputation. I love them and I think our culture has unjustly vilified them. They often feature as protagonists or positive symbols in my work, as they have in much of mythology throughout the world. My recently released novel, The Bone Weaver’s Orchard features a lot of spiders (and other crawlies) as well as a protagonist who loves them. Like Charley Winslow in my book, I keep a menagerie of spiders, though mine roam freely through my house. My basement is full of Cellar Spiders−thousands of them.

Cellar Spiders, often referred to as Daddy Long Legs, are members of the Pholcidae family. They are often found hanging upside down in their non-sticky webs in cool, damp places like cellars, attics, under sinks, or in any tucked-away corner of your home. Their long, spindly legs give them a definite creep factor, but these small heroes have received a bad rap from generations of misconceptions and urban myths.

Spiders play a major role in creation myths, no doubt inspired by their web-weaving. read cellarspider3There are benevolent spider gods and goddesses in Sumerian myths, in the ancient Islamic oral traditions, in African and Native American legends. For some indigenous Australian tribes, a Lord Spider created the entire universe. From the West African Ananse to the Hopi Spider Grandmother, spiders play a key role in our storytelling. Even our language for story is inspired by them−spinning and weaving tales and our webs of deceptions. Despite our modern discomfort with spiders, they still turn up as heroes in our stories. Charlotte’s Web and Spider-Man are as iconic to us as Arachne was to the Greeks. So while the spider seems to feature more often these days as a monster or a figure to induce fear in an audience, that wasn’t always the case. They deserve to reclaim their old reputation as clever, kind, and creative. The spiders lurking around your home and garden are certainly all those things, and most of them aren’t dangerous.

One of the common myths about Cellar Spiders is that they have the most potent venom in the world, but that their mouth parts are too small or weak to bite you. I have good news and bad news about that. The good news is that their venom has been shown to be very mild and definitely not at all harmful to humans. So, ease your mind on that. The bad news is that they definitely can bite you, if they want to. For an additional bit of good news: they don’t want to. It’s very rare to hear of anyone being bitten by a Cellar Spider−they are evasive, not aggressive. If their web is disturbed, they simply drop to the floor and skitter away. The only times they have been shown to bite is if they are cornered, trapped, and grabbed. Since most people don’t go around grabbing spiders with their bare hands, this isn’t a problem that arises often. If a Cellar Spider bites you, you probably deserved it. And, you’ll live.

There are better reasons, however, for leaving Cellar Spiders be. They are the best Read cellarspidernatural predators for the things you hate even more than you hate Cellar Spiders. They love to snack on centipedes, recluses, black widows−they eat the things you definitely don’t want in your house. They’ll even cut down on the dreaded mosquitoes. They keep their webs tidy and remove their leftovers, so you won’t even see their webs most of the time. That’s better than can be said for any human I’ve ever lived with.

While I’m sure it can be said that most people would prefer to have no spindle-legged critters in their homes, the fact remains that you are going to have them. Your preferences matter not to nature. But if you’re going to have leggy housemates, these are the ones you want. They are ultimately beneficial and not at all dangerous. So the next time you notice your basement ceiling is bristling with long-legged beasties, put down the broom and think for a moment. What is it in your basement that feeds such a Read SRauthorpicpopulation of predators? And would you want such things taking over unchecked? Then give these lithe-limbed ladies a salute and allow them to serve their role as stewards of the dark and dank spaces of the house.

Sarah Read is a dark fiction writer who lives in an old house full of spiders. Her debut novel The Bone Weaver’s Orchard, also full of spiders, has just been released from Trepidatio Publishing. You can keep up with her work at www.inkwellmonster.wordpress.com

 

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Women in Horror: Nancy Kilpatrick

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteIt’s bloody Valentine’s Day and who to know more about the horror of vampire’s than Canada’s own Nancy Kilpatrick. Nancy talks about collecting, vampires and all that crazy killer love of them.

Vampires. Now you see ‘em, now you don’t. They’ve been around at least since the first written records of humanity’s history, and likely since the first mortals ventured out of caves and decided they enjoyed being bipeds. As we’ve evolved, so have the Undead. After all, we imagined them, so we have creators’ rights to bring them up to our speed.

Being one of those insane types who becomes obsessed about certain things, I’ve ended up with a library of vampire novels totaling over 2,500 volumes, which will be hard to move if I ever need to. I also own a hundred or so movie posters, games, dolls, toys, pamphlets, PhD dissertations, small press non-fiction offerings, movies, vinyl and CD music, poetry, jewelry, clothing, toys and much other memorabilia related to Bloodsuckers (and their less physical cousins who don’t want to sip our blood but do want to imbibe our energy, our dreams, our souls, or whatever else they desire which we possess).

kilpatrickI’ve also written quite a bit on vampires. Currently, my 22nd novel has just been released in a vampire series for adults called “Thrones of Blood.” Vol 4: Savagery of the Rebel King follows the bite trail of Vol 1: Revenge of the Vampir King; Vol 2:  Sacrifice of the Hybrid Princess; Vol 3: Abduction of Two Rulers.

Being awash in this crimson milieu has resulted in a bit of knowledge about these supernatural creatures, especially in terms of what’s been written, and what hasn’t. Which is why the great hoopla about the Twilight books and movies and others of that ilk has astounded me. Both the pro and anti positions are strong still and within those are factions like: Camp Edward (vampire) or Camp Joseph (werewolf)—pick your own fantasy guy.

Twilight has been viewed as teen fodder, but it was not only young adults and not only females that adored the material. Rumor has it that moms also jumped on the coffin wagon. This sanitized vampire world spoke to budding hormones, since the human protagonist didn’t have sex until marriage, which came at the end of the series. Edward Cullen (approximate age 117 years), aka The Good Boyfriend, was always there for his still-in-high school human sweetheart Bella Swan. Attentive. Kind. Not pushy. Self-effacing to a fault; he would rather harm himself than harm her, abandon her instead of inflicting his questionable true self on his true love. Much tease, little payoff.

But vampires have always had problems being accepted. Derived from legends and mythology with a few “true” accounts, in the past this creature was portrayed as horrific, violent, a fearsome, murderous, blood-drinking resuscitated corpse.

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Bela Lugosi as Dracula

The review in the Manchester Guardian on the 1897 release of Bram Stoker’s book is so scathing. Bela Lugosi played Dracula on stage and in 1931 on screen. While the movie was well received by the public, some of the female persuasion reputedly fainted en masse in the theater, The New Yorker’s negative review included, “there is no real illusion in the picture” and, “This whole vampire business falls pretty flat.” The Chicago Tribune did not think the film as scary as its stage version, calling it “too obvious” and “its attempts to frighten too evident.” Despite that, The Tribune deigned to conclude it was “quite a satisfactory thriller.”

All this to say that the vampire has floated side by side over millennia with us and that each incarnation has met with acceptance and rejection. Ultimately, the vampire, IMHO, is composed of many facets, which is why its popularity ebbs and then flows again at a re-envisioning, and why it likely will always remain the most popular supernatural. This monster is recognizable as us. Vampires were human and can still take human form.

We’ve cleaned up the vampire to meet our exacting germ-obsessed 21st century kilpatrick2standards. And that’s fine because it’s what the public demands. Each generation finds a new facet to engage with. Generation X had the most recent crack at redefining the vampire as a being that sparkles. A backlash resulted to return to the more terrifying Undead. We will have to wait to see what Gens Y or Z concoct. But if history means anything, it tells us that the vampire will not be staked into oblivion. If that was going to happen it would have already occurred. This dark archetype resonates in its myriad forms. Twilight is already part of the comprehensive history of the most intriguing of supernaturals.

Nancy Kilpatrick, who has been called Queen of the Undead, Canada’s Anne Rice, and That Hot Vampire Chic, says these monikers leave her delirious because “Somebody’s got to own it!”  Kilpatrick writes vampires, not only, but mostly. Her website lists her novels and collections. In addition, she has published over 220 short stories, 1 non-fiction book—The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined—as well as graphic novels and stories and lots of non-fiction articles. She whiles away her limited free kilpatrick3time visiting crypts, catacombs, cemeteries, mummies, jeweled skeletons and Danse Macabre artwork. Her latest creations are the sinister and seductive vampires in Thrones of Blood, with the first 4 books of this 6 book series out now. Check out the ebook of #4, Savagery of the Rebel King here  as well as at Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk.

Nancy Kilpatrick’s website is here and if there’s something not there that you want to know about her, ask at the bottom of the page. Nancy can also be found on Facebook,
Twitter, Instagram and on her Blog.

Links to the Thrones of Blood series:

 

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Women in Horror: Robyn Alezanders

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Today, Robyn Alezanders talks about acting, Dracula and the role of consent and sexuality with vampires.

Female Vampires in the Age of #MeToo

A couple of months ago I decided to challenge myself, try to check off a bucket list item, and hopefully get my creative mojo back by auditioning for a play. Not just any play either, but a community production of Dracula, and proud to say I landed it, portraying one of the vampire brides/Vixens. An absolute dream role, one I’ve coveted since I fell in love with vampires and the horror genre almost four decades ago.

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Robyn Alezanders playing the bloodthirsty Vixen

The entire theater experience thus far has been amazing and inspiring, thanks to an amazing woman director and a cast and crew who have made me, the newbie, feel entirely at home. Everyone is very open, very candid about themselves and what they bring to their roles, and as to be hoped and expected for, consent is strongly instituted. In a production where the story dictates a lot of touching and physical interaction, we have all discussed comfort levels and boundaries.

Dracula involves multiple obsessions: sex, feasting (food), faith, love, life, and death, but it’s the sexual component that has me most intrigued. It’s easy to analyze the Transylvanian count and see the flaws in his seductive dance, especially when focusing on his behavior with Lucy and Mina. He pursues who he wants and takes what he wants, and yet it’s that kind of control that many men and women find incredibly appealing about vampires. I, like many of those admirers, have a vampire fetish, extremely turned on by the neck biting, the submission, the feeling of being carried away into the depths of erotic imagination.

During these rehearsals, I’ve thought back to my goth nightclub days, where I alternated between “baby vamp,” hair pulled up in Pebbles Flintstone style, baggy white nightgown, and large wooden upside down cross, and “sexy vamp,” black lace, velvet, and fishnet stockings. Under either persona, I attracted flirtatious responses, emulating that compelling creature that’s become no pun intended, a forever classic in literary, cinematic, pop culture, music, and role-playing ventures.

The Vixens are eye candy and then some in three momentous scenes of this production. Clad in vintage flowing wedding dresses, we slither and crawl, evoking that interesting line between lust and fear−sadistic, wild, feral women ready to pounce on what (and who) they desire. It’s many a heterosexual man’s fantasy, isn’t it, to have four bewitching women all over him, despite the ultimate reveal that they bear more than just a sexual appetite?

We fondle, grope, and hold Harker down, moaning, cooing, giggling, and sniffing, exhibiting an over-excitement at hopefully satiating our hungers. And this in particular has me thinking about the role reversal of the Vixens vs Dracula−the portrayal of aggressive, overpowering, coercive women. Are we simply owning our sexuality, that which we should, that which men often already do, or are we, in the same context of dissecting Dracula, something more suggestively sinister? Harker is a perfect match for the virginal Mina−he is conservative, cautious, a by-the-rules gentleman. It is that purity that adds to Dracula’s attraction to Mina, and the obvious contradiction between her and Lucy, who has presumably not behaved as virtuously with some suitors. If Lucy is still indeed a virgin, she is at least a lot more self-aware of her beguiling wiles than Mina.

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Harker being seduced by the Vixens

In the seduction scene between Harker and the Vixens, he is asleep, and we guess that he is most likely dreaming of his beloved. He feels the Vixens licking, nibbling, and stroking him, but is in that blurry state of applying those actions to what he’s dreaming about. He may even naturally be getting turned on, softly mumbling his fiancée’s name, before suddenly snapping awake, and realizing who is atop him. We hold him down, force against his struggles, and still try to dominate him (three Vixens at his arms and chest, me at and then between his legs), only to be cast off by Dracula entering the room and commanding us to stop. In those fleeting moments we have with Harker awake, is he solely aghast at seeing our fangs for fear of being killed, or because it hints at dangerous, unwillful sex? Were our fangs not evident, were the threat not so obvious, how far would the sexual element go? Would he even dare to touch us back? What of the metaphors between the Vixens and sex?

Our movements are animalistic, that of jungle cats on the prowl. We are also each from different centuries, and in this production, reminiscent of or inspired by historical female killers. There are multiple layers to muse on – did their inherent viciousness draw them to Dracula, or something else? What are they now, as compared to their mortal lives as rulers, forces unto themselves, formidable women not to be messed with? They have an essence of Manson Girls about them, that semblance of subservience, and what does that say? They’re trying to satisfy their lusts in the only ways they know how, but that’s quelled by Dracula−we are ordered to obey, and pacified like children. Lucy Westenra roams freely after becoming a vampire−it is her conspicuous behavior as the “Bloofer Lady” that leads to her ultimate demise. Have the Vixens just been lucky in avoiding the attention of vampire hunters, or are they kept quarantined to the castle? And if held to their home, why them, and not Lucy? What is the full extent of Dracula’s dictation, and how does it affect the Vixens’ sexual drives?

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Robyn as Vixen

As with any centuries-old story, it’s not unusual for adaptations and variations to echo societal issues or notable distinctions of the present time period. So what to do in this age, where we are redefining boundaries, encouraging and supporting more outspoken discussions, and pushing #MeToo to the forefront of conversations? What are the obligations, if any, from horror writers, women horror writers, women horror writers who can personally relate to #MeToo?

Putting aside Dracula’s sole behavior being called into question and castigated for ignoring consent, what if the Harker seduction involved more than one male vampire pinning down a woman? Unless explicitly designed, promoted, or described as something otherwise, how would it not then seem a bit uncomfortable to watch or unseemly? Contrary to the titillation of multiple women trying to have their way with a guy, against his true will, strutting with sensual purpose, and oozing with their sense of empowerment.

Bela Lugosi in 1931 film Dracula. Creative Commons

As I said, I am loving this role simply because it’s personally awesome to portray a vampire, and because it has re-ignited a long dormant creative rut. But I’m also seeing the story in another light, and despite the still erotic components, also seeing that Dracula is not the only one with debatable actions. As horror writers, we evoke and depict that which scares and unsettles us, weaving commentary into our spooky scenes and monsters’ motivations. We create atmospheres that often have much more layers for analysis than the surface impressions and words. As writers in general, we also tend to insert our own experiences into stories, either as catharsis or as in-your-face terror.

Do I now soften the vicious women I write about? Mirroring real life, there are indeed women who are just as awful and criminal as men, so whether I keep my characters as mortal or otherworldly, they shouldn’t all be victims or the nicest gals around. At some point though, I may incorporate my own #MeToo experience into some story, which hearkening back to reality, would be in the guise of a male character. It’s all an entirely new scope to explore, in step with this recent landscape we are carving….one which may take interesting turns when (re)interpreted in creative works.

Robyn Alezanders made her horror debut with the short story, “Soul Stains,” in Des Lewis’ Alezanders Bio Pic (002)critically acclaimed Nemonymous 5, and earned an Honorable Mention in the 19th Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. Her work has also appeared in The Mammoth Book of the Kama Sutra, Eternal Haunted Summer, and New Spirit Journal. She hopes to pursue more theatrical roles after Dracula, and to further explore the intricacy of haunting women characters.

https://nemonymous123456.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/soul-stains-robyn-alezanders/

https://www.amazon.com/Mammoth-Book-Kama-Sutra/dp/0762433930

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Writing Update & Call for Submissions

It’s been a busy month or two. In March I drove down to the Olympic Peninsula for the Rainforest Writers Retreat, where I accomplished a lot, writing several stories, and ended the event with catching the flu, alas. I then rode the wave of the flu (haven’t had one in over 8 years) in time to go to Ottawa and work on more writing as part of my Canada Council grant. Thank you, Canada Council.

Alice Unbound: Beyond Wonderland is out on the shelves, as we speak (figuratively) and if you’re in Ottawa, check out the launch and readings at The 3 Brewers/Les 3 Brasseurs.Alice Ottawa

There is a great lineup of writers and it’s also available through Exile Editions and Amazon. I hope to have a reading in Vancouver in June. More details as they come.

I’m also editing Eye to the Telescope #29. The theme is the Dark. I want to see how one fights the dark or succumbs to it. How the dark enhances light, or obscures truth. What blooms in the darkest shadows and what is better left there. Click to go to the guidelines. I look at all forms of poems. Reprints will be a harder sell but if you think it’s stellar I might consider it. Eye to the Telescope is part of the Speculative Fiction Poetry Association (though they don’t seem to have changed the name yet on the site), which also publishes Starline. You do not have to be a member to submit, and anyone anywhere can submit as long as it’s in English, so if you think you have a poem that embraces the dark, send it in before June 15.

Arhtur, Camelot, knights, the Round Table, chivalry, battle, valorIn publishing news, my story “Sir Tor and the River Maiden” will be out in By the Light of Camelot, published by Edge Publishing, edited by J.R. Campbell and Shannon Allen. It’s available as an ebook in July. There are 13 tales in this anthology.

And a fun little sea shanty “Washday Blues” has been published in Polar Borealis #6, a collection of Canadian poetry and fiction that’s free to read.

There are other things in the works, including a trip to the UK this fall for the launch of my dark fiction collection from Black Shuck books, A Body of Work.

Now, I have to get back to writing and editing, and getting some more poet interviews up.

 

 

 

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Alice Unbound Guidelines Update

Alice in Wonderlnand, Through the Looking Glass, fantasy, speculative

Sir John Tenniel’s famous Alice illustrations. The Griffin, the Mock Turtle and Alice.

For those writers thinking it’s too late to get something in for May 31, know that the deadline has been extended to July 15. I’m just not getting enough stories of the caliber needed for an anthology.

If you are submitting, read all of this post–to the end. People are ignoring the proper submission format and I won’t read a story until it is sent double spaced, with word count, and full contact info on it. That should be easy enough to do, you would think. And page numbers, please.

Now, I’m seeing a lot of the main Alice characters so remember, if I have five Mad Hatter stories I might have to select the best. Alice, White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat are all becoming very popular. And tea parties and rabbit holes. I’ll post the expanded guidelines at the end of this but here are a few important things to keep in mind, Stories:

  • should not be rehashings of the same old tales.
  • need to take place in the modern world or the future
  • can take place on another planet
  • can be steampunk but if you stick it in Victorial England you need to bring it forward
  • can be time travel but know I don’t like these tales much as they can get too convoluted (but I do like most Dr. Who)
  • can be combined with characters from other times/place
  • should be as original and unique as possible–the farther you veer away from rabbit holes and tea parties, the more original it will be

Remember these rules of writing:

  • do not tell me someone was upset or mad; show me
  • watch for passive action–seek out words like was, could, would and try to replace them
  • plot–you must have one, even in a poem, and conflict–either resolve it or show the fail
  • use all five senses–this helps give setting and atmosphere
  • do not put a veneer of SF or fantasy on a story that isn’t–ask yourself if the story would work without the SF/fantasy element–if yes, then it’s not spec
Lion and unicorn, Alice, Through the Looking Glass

Sir John Tenniel illustration.

What is Alice Unbound about?

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) explored childlike wonder and the bewildering realm of adult rules and status, which clashed in bizarre ways. Many characters in his tales are anthropomorphic, whether talking cards, crying mock turtles or saucy Tiger Lilies. Over 150 years later, people still recognize characters from Carroll’s works. Who doesn’t know of vorpal blades and tardy white rabbits, protagonists and antagonists that resonate in a primal part of the human psyche? They hearken to the mysticism and mystery of the ancient world, when one wondered how the rain fell, or which gods empowered madness through drink, or whether a person was separate from an animal or could become one.

Centuries passed and myth became fairy tale, evolving to resonate with each era, showing the triumphs of the common man, the humble and generous woman who outsmarts tempters, jailers, and evil stepmothers, or the trials and tribulations of seeking the unknown. Carroll’s characters jumped forward, not just following the regular metamorphosis of an age-old tale, but leaping off the cliff of the familiar into something altogether new, different and endearing. We might not truly want to live in the world of Alice or have to deal with mad queens and bandersnatches, but what if that Wonderland ceased to exist on a separate plain, and melded with our modern world? How would these characters fit in, and what would they bring or change? Are we ready to accept Alice Unbound into our hearts and let the Jabberwock in the back door?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was Carroll’s most famous work but there are other stories and poems (some within the greater works) where madcap creatures abound. Alice Unbound should contain an element of the speculative and may embrace fabulist, weird, myth, SF, fantasy, steampunk, horror, etc. Other speculative elements or characters may be combined in any way. I don’t want to see rehashings of Carroll’s tales but new stories taking place in a modern or slightly futuristic world. Your tale may take place in Wonderland but only if it has connections with this world. That’s not someone thinking about having a drink at the café they miss but actually integrating modern elements. If you have a talking cat, it must be recognizable as the Cheshire Cat. You should not be copying Carroll’s style but telling a new tale in your voice. Too many stories submitted with the same character will limit chances of the story being accepted. NOTE: I am getting many Alice, falling through rabbit hole and Cheshire Cat related stories. Which means competition will be harder in these areas. You might want to look beyond these elements.

Whether the Mad Hatter, the mock turtle, or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, write a new tale. QUILTBAG or people of colour as characters are encouraged. Alice doesn’t have to be white and blonde. I will accept any characters from the following works . I have not read everything so if you want to write about another character that fits into Carroll’s fantastical tales, please write first and ask.

  •  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  •  Through the Looking Glass
  •  The Hunting of the Snark
  •  Phantasmagoria

These are story examples only but not requirements:

  • The caterpillar is the owner of a medical marijuana store but turns out to be part of a moonlighting superhero team by night.
  • The Walrus and the Carpenter’s strange relationship is strained farther when they both fall for a mermaid, who crusades for the murdered oysters.
  • The Snark is as elusive as the Sasquatch, but when they vie for the same space in an endangered environment, what happens?
  • The last Jabberwock is captured and used to battle an overpopulation of vampires.
  • From space comes a delegation that looks a lot like the card soldiers. They have a concern with Earth for harbouring fugitives from their world.
  • A company has perfected an AI that emulates the Mad Hatter, something to help run parties and liven them up. What could possibly go wrong?

Writers must be Canadian citizens (living in Canada and/or paying taxes in Canada) or permanent residents of Canada. LGBQLT, POC are encouraged to submit. I will read cover letters last and will choose stories on merit first. This resource may be of use in your research: www.alice-in-wonderland.net

Payment: .05/word CDN (that’s 5 cents a word, not a half cent)

Length: 2,000-5,000 words. Poetry: minimum 1,000 words (and 2 may be submitted at the same time: submit each in a separate document and submission).

Simultaneous submissions: No; if you submit to me, please do not send it anywhere else until you receive a rejection.

Multiple submissions: You may send one story, or two poems. Please wait until I’ve sent a rejection before you send anything else. I may hold some pieces until the submission window is closed.

Acceptances: Final acceptances will go out a month after the submission window closes.

Manuscript format: Please use standard manuscript format (Google William Shunn): double-space (except for poems), no extra spaces between paragraphs, indented paragraphs, title, etc.) This also means full contact information on the first page, unless you want me to attribute your piece to someone else. Failure to follow formatting may see your piece rejected without being read. Canadian spelling would be awesome but I won’t turn down a story that comes in UK or US spelling. Submit .docx, .doc, or .rtf only.

Deadline: Extended to July 15, 2017

Publication Date: April 2018 (tentative)

Rights: First English-language rights & non-exclusive Anthology rights for one year from publication (print and eBook).
Submit here: https://exilepublishing.submittable.com/submit/77982/alice-unbound

 

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Alice Unbound: Call for Submissions

Hello, world, and happy new year.

books, publishing, collection, reprints, ebooks, Smashwords, writing, book production

Creative Commons: Ninha Morandini

I can’t guarantee I’ll get more posts out this year but I can start with a bang. I last co-edited Playground of Lost Toys with Ursula Pflug. The anthology was nominated for an Aurora Award, as well as one author being nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award, and three longlisted for the Sunburst Award with Catharine MacLeod’s Hide and Seek winning in short fiction. Now, to hopefully repeat that sucess, I will be editing an anthology of speculative fiction, due to be published by Exile Editions in the spring of 2018. Read on for Alice Unbound guidelines.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) explored childlike wonder and the bewildering realm of adult rules and status, which clashed in bizarre ways. Many characters in his tales are anthropomorphic, whether talking cards, crying mock turtles or saucy Tiger Lilies. Over 150 years later, people still recognize characters from Carroll’s works. Who doesn’t know of vorpal blades and tardy white rabbits, protagonists and antagonists that resonate in a primal part of the human psyche. They hearken to the mysticism and mystery of the ancient world, when one wondered how the rain fell, or which gods empowered madness through drink, or whether a person was separate from an animal or could become one.

Alice in Wonderlnand, Through the Looking Glass, fantasy, speculative

Sir John Tenniel’s famous Alice illustrations. The Griffin, the Mock Turtle and Alice.

Centuries passed and myth became fairy tale, evolving to resonate with each era, showing the triumphs of the common man, the humble and generous woman who outsmarts tempters, jailers, and evil stepmothers, or the trials and tribulations of seeking the unknown. Carroll’s characters jumped forward, not just following the regular metamorphosis of an age-old tale, but leaping off the cliff of the familiar into something altogether new, different and endearing. We might not truly want to live in the world of Alice or have to deal with mad queens and bandersnatches, but what if that Wonderland ceased to exist on a separate plain, and melded with our modern world? How would these characters fit in, and what would they bring or change? Are we ready to accept Alice Unbound into our hearts and let the Jabberwock in the back door?

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was Carroll’s most famous work but there are other stories and poems (some within the greater works) where madcap creatures abound. Alice Unbound should contain an element of the speculative and may embrace fabulist, weird, myth, SF, fantasy, steampunk, horror, etc. Other speculative elements or characters may be combined in any way. I don’t want to see rehashings of Carroll’s tales but stories taking place in a modern or slightly futuristic world. I’ve seen many of the Alice as well. If you have a talking cat, it must be recognizable as the Cheshire Cat. I will consider a few very select poems, but they must have a storyline and not just be an observation or an image. You should not be copying Carroll’s style but telling a new tale in your voice.  Too many stories submitted with the same character will limit chances of the story being accepted. The anthology needs to go beyond Alice in every way.

Whether the Mad Hatter, the mock turtle, or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, use Carroll’s elements and characters to write a new tale. QUILTBAG or people of colour as characters are encouraged. Alice doesn’t have to be white and blonde. I will accept any characters from the following works . I have not read everything so if you want to write about another character that fits into Carroll’s fantastical tales, please write first and ask.

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

    Lion and unicorn, Alice, Through the Looking Glass

    Sir John Tenniel illustration.

  • Through the Looking Glass
  • The Hunting of the Snark
  • Phantasmagoria

These are story examples only but not requirements:

  • The caterpillar is the owner of a medical marijuana store but turns out to be part of a moonlighting superhero team by night.
  • The Walrus and the Carpenter’s strange relationship is strained farther when they both fall for a mermaid, who crusades for the murdered oysters.
  • The Snark is as elusive as the Sasquatch, but when they vie for the same space in endangered environment, what happens?
  • The last Jabberwock is captured and used to battle an overpopulation of vampires.

Writers must be Canadian citizens (living in Canada and/or paying taxes in Canada) or permanent residents of Canada. LGBQLT, POC are encouraged to submit. I will read cover letters last and will choose stories on merit first. This resource may be of use in your research: www.alice-in-wonderland.net

Payment: .05/word

Length: 2,000-5,000 words. Poetry: minimum 1,000 words.

Submission window: Feb. 1 to May 31 at: https://exilepublishing.submittable.com/submit Please go to this site to see some expanded information.

Simultaneous submissions: No; if you submit to me, please do not send it anywhere else until you receive a rejection.

Multiple submissions: You may send one story, or two poems. Please wait until I’ve sent a rejection before you send anything else. I may hold some pieces until the submission window is closed.

Acceptances: Final acceptances will go out a month after the submission window closes. I may ask for rewrites before making a final decision.

Manuscript format: Please use standard manuscript format (Google William Shunn): CDN spelling, double-space (except for poems), no extra spaces between paragraphs, indented paragraphs, title, etc. Failure to follow formatting may see your piece rejected unread.

Now, don your Mad Hatter’s cap, clean out the teapot and start writing.

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Filed under fairy tales, fantasy, horror, myth, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, SF, Writing

Fall Update & the Environment

steampunk, cogs, clockwork, Buffalo Gals, fantasy

Clockwork Canada is available on Amazon and through Exile Editions. Steampunk stories about Canada’s revisioned history.

Fall is definitely falling here in Vancouver, with days on end of rain, rain and more rain. Twenty-eight out of thirty-one days, so what’s a drenched soul to do? Many things have happened, including trips and busy busyness. I’ve been lax with this blog so I’ll do an update on fiction and poetry. I’ll mention briefly that I went to the UK in Sept./Oct. and to British Fantasycon by the Sea in Scarborough. Adventures with writers and others, but that will be a post that I hope will happen soon. In the meantime…

The World Wildlife Fun just mentioned this last week that many species are in rapid decline. This is happening to birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles and by 2020 they estimate we’ll have lost two-thirds of all species. This is catastrophic and heartbreaking. The only species that won’t be in decline are humans and insects. Many of these other species control the insect populations and with even  just a few being out of balance we’ll be overrun in a short time. When I wrote “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” I researched this buggy phenomenon and it was frightening in its own right. That story was reprinted last year in the Best of Horror Library Vol. 1-5. In relation to this topic is m story “Freedom’s Just Another Word” about the last elephant on Earth. It can be read for free at Agnes and True and came out earlier this year. I hope that we’ll wake up before it’s too late and realize that by saving these species we will save ourselves.

horror, dark fantasy, death, speculative fiction, Season's End.

The Beauty of Death, edited by Alessandro Manzetti.

“Buffalo Gals” came out in Clockwork Canada in the spring and is an alternate history steampunk tale about BC’s early history. I touch on the murdered and missing women which has been part of BC’s and really, the whole country’s news for quite a few years. I have a feeling that if other countries started looking at their stats we would see a lot of the same; more women murdered or missing, as seems to always be the case. As well, “Seasons End” came out in the massive Beauty of Death. This story too touches on the decline of the environment but from a more mythical aspect, with hope woven in. On a lighter note, there were two drabbles (100 words exactly) up at SpeckLit but they are no longer drabbling so these are in the archives.

Stories sold and yet to come out include “Love in the Vapors” in Futuristica Vol. 2, “Awaking Pandora” in the Goethe Glass anthology about climate change (yep, another environmental tale), “Shoes” to be reprinted in Polar Borealis 4, “Changes” in Deep Waters #2, and “Sins of the Father” (a fungal horror story) in OnSpec. These will probably all be out next year. There are a few others in the works but I can’t announce those yet. I should also mention that Playground of Lost Toys, edited by Ursula Pflug and I, was nominated for an Aurora Award but didn’t win. Several of the authors were nominated for various awards and Catherine MacLeod won the Sunburst Award for short fiction with her tale, “Hide and Seek.”

toys, childhood, nostalgia, fantasy, SF, fiction, short stories

Playground of Lost Toys is available through Amazon published by Exile Writers

There have been many poems this year so I’ll just list these: “The Hedge Witch” in OnSpec #101 (plus and interview), “Book of Shadows” in Devolution Z #8, “Patchwork Girl” in Future Fire #37, “Pilot Flight” and “Short Sighted” in Polar Borealis #2, “Triptych (Amsterdam)” in Wax Poetry #11 (4th place), “Come and Go,” “Oh You!”, “Cuntipotent,” “Cremating Love” in Maple Tree Literary Supplement #21, and “The Persuaders” in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #29. About to be published are: “A Good Catch” in Tailfins and Sealskins (UK), “Garuda’s Gamble” in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #30, “Mermaid” in Spirits Tincture #2, “Wolf Skin” in Myths and Fables, “This Song” in Deadlights, “Spirit Bottle” and “Geomystica” in the summer solstice 2017 edition of Eternal Haunted Summer. Many of these are free to read online so Google away.

I hope to post again next week with the first part of m UK trip, which involves writers and editors, and saving someone’s life. I’m also hoping to revamp this blog in the next few months and there will be some book give-aways. So stay tuned to my sporadic posts.

 

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Playground of Lost Toys Interviews: Abrahamson & Renwick

toys, childhood, nostalgia, fantasy, SF, fiction, short stories

Playground of Lost Toys is available through Amazon published by Exile Writers

Karen Abrahamson’s “With One Shoe,” and Alex C. Renwick’s story “Between the Branches of the Nine” are two of the last three stories in the Playground of Lost Toys, with Geoffery Cole’s “Wheatiesfields in Fall” in between. When editing a themed anthology, the editors always look at balance. Are there too many SF stories and not enough fantasy; are there authors of various genders; are there too many doll stories, etc.

As well as that balance, after we’ve selected the final stories, we need to decide on what order they should appear. Do you put all the SF together, do you put the train stories or the chess stories together? There were many ways to arrange everything. Because several of the stories are very dark and horrific and some are lighter and uplifting, would it make sense to put the darkest next to the lightest?

In some cases we eased readers toward the dark and then eased them back away. Cole’s story is humorous and SF. Abrahamson’s is a tale of hope and a mystery. Last was Renwick’s, which deals with games of the gods and it seemed a great way to end the anthology with the cyclical and immortal aspect of time. Karen comments first on her tale.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

 When I heard about the anthology theme it gave me a little shiver down my spine. I immediately had the idea for the story and so I just had to write it. I haven’t written a lot of short fiction over the years as I seem to prefer novel length. This was a chance to practice the short form.

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

    fantasy, magic, mystery, swings, toys, hope, speculative fiction, Karen Abrahamson

    Karen Abrahamson is the author of several serial novels. She also writes as Karen L McKee.

Funnily enough, yes it does. I had very vivid dreams as a child and one of them was of a magical swing. In my dreams I could swoop down and rescue my family and friends from evil giants and escape afterward. Writing the story was just a natural extension of the scenario of what would happen if a child really did leave on such a swing.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

Hope and how society kills hope through our expectations and institutions. I’ve been doing some work with youth in my day job and I hear so much about the importance of youth finding their passion in order to successfully transition to adulthood. The trouble is, too often we tell young people that their passion is impossible, like you can’t make a living as an artist so you’re better off becoming a lawyer. This story is about the desperate need to be what you are.

  1. Is there anything else you wish to mention about your story or the theme of the anthology?

I was surprised and a lot pleased that “With One Shoe” turned into a detective story. I’ve written a lot of fantasy and romance, but these days mystery really has me by the throat. I had fun with experimenting with that jaded Harry Bosch-type voice. I can see myself writing more like that.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

Hmm. Lots to tell. My first mystery novel, Through Dark Water just came out this fall under the name K.L. Abrahamson. I also have an urban fantasy series, The American Geological Series that involves map magic, with the first book, Afterburn, currently available for free. Finally, along with a number of romantic suspense novels set internationally, I have a paranormal series, The Unlocking Series set in the sunny Okanagan. Book 4 was out over Christmas, Book 5 in January and Book 6 in February. More mystery and fantasy will be coming out next year. You can check out my novels at www.karenlabrahamson.com

Alex C. Renwick’s “Between the Branches of the Nine” is a great adventurous romp with two warriors bent on besting the other.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

I’m a huge fan of the short story form, and always excited to be invited to participate in any worthy anthology endeavor. Shortfic FTW!

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?
gods, Norse, fantasy, games, speculative fiction, Alex C Renwick

Alex C. Renwick’s tale deals with Norse gods and the game pieces they move through Midgaard.

My Norwegian grandmother had one of the most amazing private SF paperback collections I’d ever seen, all stirred together with her illustrated Scandinavian mythology books and cheesy 1970s Harlequin romances. She came to live with us when I was about ten years old, and nothing in her library was off limits. The character Sigunna’s name is a nod to my gran’ma Sigrid.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

I’m fascinated by the uncaring nature of the universe. We’re conditioned (by dint of being human) to try to attribute reasonableness and pattern to the courses of our individual existences…but the universe doesn’t care, no matter who or what is—or isn’t—running the show. Fate, Cosmic Intelligence, Ancient Norse Gods, Random Molecular Trajectory: we’re just ephemeral playing pieces on a vast and unfathomable board.

  1. Is there anything else you wish to mention about your story or the theme of the anthology?

I so rarely write full-tilt fantasy! Fun stuff. Had a blast.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

I’d urge everyone to read another fantastic Canadian anthology from Exile Editions, cover to cover; (it) was one of the best contributor’s copies I’ve received in ages: The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. Other current short stories of mine are just out or out soon in Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe, Blurring the Line, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and PS Publishing’s Postscripts anthology, Breakout. If you’re up for more sword & sorcery mayhem check out my “Ravenblack” in Women in Practical Armor from Pacific Northwest micropress Evil Girlfriend. Anyone in this neck of the woods in 2016 can come find me at Seattle’s Norwescon, or around the known universe at alexcrenwick.com.

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Writing: Expanding on the Playground of Lost Toys

trunk stories, submission guidelines, lost toys

Trunk stories are valid, if they actually fit the theme.

I realize that when one puts up guidelines for a themed anthology that you will always get trunk stories, those tales already written that have not yet found a home and that might just fit the theme even if not tailored toward it exactly. Trunk stories can be perfectly well-written stories that just don’t mesh with what’s out there, or they may be your B grade stories, never selling because something just didn’t gel in the telling.

I’ve sent trunk stories to anthologies before and I’ve sold some and not sold others. It’s fine to do this. And sometimes you write a story for a particular theme but it’s not accepted, so you try to sell it elsewhere. With Tesseracts 17 we saw a number of superhero stories because there had just been an anthology on superheroes. We saw a few green man stories because there had just been an anthology on the Green Man. There was a story from each of these that we nearly accepted.

playgrounds, lost toys, speculative fiction, fantasy, SF, guidelines

Now here is a great playground, and it’s made by humans. Or perhaps it’s a toy. Creative Commons: Sizuken, Flickr

The Playground of Lost Toys is experiencing this so far, to some degree. I suspect that many of the tales we’ve received were already in existence.There are tropes within all fiction and while many great tales come from them, the fact that they’re tropes mean that they’re popular themes. There are hundreds if not thousands of ghost stories. Likewise, we’re getting a lot of doll stories. It’s a toy that is universally recognized. I’m beginning to suspect that some people are also getting stuck on the “toys” aspect without really thinking about what toy means.

We will accept a few stories (possibly) about dolls or trucks but the anthology is not a doll anthology. If it was, then we would only want dolls. It’s speculative fiction so this opens quite a realm. Google some images and see if they give you an idea. Combine words that are unlikely, such as alien and playground.  Or toy and magnolia. Here are some further suggestions, to get the creative juices flowing:

  • What would be a Sasquatch’s toy?
  • Boy toys–are they cars or men who are playthings, such as in the realms of Faery (this isn’t an erotica anthology either so be careful if you use this)
  • Game consoles–maybe they change the world or the person.
  • Computers–how many games do people play on their electronic devices
  • Games–board games will be considered as toys for this
  • What would you, an animal, or an alien toy with?
  • What would an Ent find to be a toy?
  • Do snakes have toys?
  • Playgrounds have slides, swings, ladders, etc. These can all be considered toys.
  • What would be a toy’s toy?
  • Is it a toy or is it a being?
  • Sentient  or self-aware toys.
  • Are there beings where toys are sacrilegious?
  • Are there aliens with no concept of toy and on finding one they..
  • Synonyms for toy: plaything, game, model
  • Places where toys are: playgrounds, chests, rooms, stores, manufacturers, middens heaps, museums
Dr. Who, toys, SF, fantasy, anthology submissions, guidelines

Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver. It whirs, it has lights, it’s functional, but is it a toy too? Copyright BBC

Let your imagination encompass the act of playing and see what comes up. The full guidelines are here, and you can submit your story as well: https://exilepublishing.submittable.com/submit. Note that 90% of the anthology has to be Canadian. We’re looking forward to weird and wonderful tales.

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