Review: The Emerald Circus

I’ve written about Jane Yolen’s books before, which I have really enjoyed, especially her short stories. like Sister Emily’s Lightship. With that in mind, when I saw a new collection of Yolen’s stories, The Emerald Circus, I decided to take a look (I actually checked it out of the library!).

This book has some reprints of earlier stories I liked, including Sister Emily’s Lightship and Lost Girls. But I especially enjoyed reading some newer stories I hadn’t read before. In particular, I loved “A Knot of Toads,” which was a creepy, modern-gothic story set on the coast of Scotland. I loved the origins of the story and the references to history, but the characters really shine through, and I love how the main character’s views of the people around her are suddenly upended. Likewise, “The Quiet Monk” was passionate and romantic and beautiful, and the ending had a kind of quiet devotion that I loved. “Evian Steel” was another Arthurian -inspired story I enjoyed. It had a great twist ending, and gave a really fascinating perspective on familiar characters.

“Blown Away” was a dark and disturbing retelling of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, form the point of view of one of the farm hands on Dorothy’s Uncle’s farm. It was strangely creepy and bleak, and the ending was both haunting and “off” in a fascinating, if not exactly satisfying way. The unreliable narrator and the constant uncertainty about who is telling the truth about Dorothy’s strange disappearance made it feel like there were terrible family secrets welling just beneath the surface.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in Jane Yolen’s writing, or in reading fantasy short stories, particularly reinterpretations of fairytales and legends.

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Five More Realistic Very Short Stories

I’ve written five more realistic very short stories for the hashtag #vss365. I’m really please with how they turned out, especially considering how difficult I felt some of the prompt words were for the past couple of weeks.

Mermaids

They walked along the shore, picking up driftwood and other flotsam.

"What are we going to do with this?" one of the children asked.

"We're going to make mermaids," Mama said. “Sinuous driftwood tails, shells and pretty stones for eyes, seaweed hair.“

Wasteland

Useless, they said. Wasteland. They didn't see the way the sun set over the stony mountains, or the way delicately jeweled scarabs swarmed the dead like mourners at a feast. They didn't know how the sand purified the aquifer they needed to survive. Until too late.

Rain

Rain fell over the battlefield. The scent of petrichor mingled with the smells of blood and decay. Jasper lay where he'd fallen. Distant sounds from the victorious army's celebration reached his ears, but the only living he saw were ravens. He tried to sit up.

Stage Lights

The stage lights came up as the house lights faded. The audience held their breath in anticipation, and a frisson of excitement and fear trilled in her nerves. She took a deep breath and strode out, her violin cradled in her hands.

Library

I'm in the library, amidst a myriad of books. I touch their spines and gaze at fascinating covers, surrounded by joy and calm and quiet. And books, all the books I can read, true kind friends. I'm okay here. I'll be okay.

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My Most Recent Author Interviews!

I’ve been doing lots of author interviews and guest posts over the last few days! I’m thankful people have been interested in me and my books.

Dove Winters asks some very interesting questions for my “Questions That Matter” interview with her.

I believe that there is likely to be life on other planets, or even in our solar system in the deep sea vents of Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Where would I go on my ideal family vacation and other interesting questions? See what I tell Teresa Keefer in my interview with her.

I think I’d go an a walking tour of the Rhine with my family. We’d stop at lovely castles, quaint little inns, and beautiful scenes along the river. At night, we’d stay in lovely inns that serve authentic German food.

Alice de Sampaio Kalkuhl asked about my world building in Sapience for my interview with her.

I think that the stories in Sapience are about big questions about our future. What kind of life will we find on other planets or moons? What kind of life will we allow an AI with human level intelligence? Can we overcome the old conflicts and hatreds of Earth?

I did an interview for Stephen Pearl’s blog on the Greatest Gadget in Sapience.

One of my favorite stories in Sapience is “Husk.” The main character, John, is a scientist who’s been tasked with creating an AI that won’t go mad or try to kill its creators (which has clearly happened during previous projects).

While this may not count as an interview, I’m also thankful to Kristina Kelly, who collected a wish list of tons of books using the #IndieApril hashtag, including Sapience!

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Realistic Very Short Stories

While I usually write science fiction and fantasy, sometimes I like to experiment with other genres. In this collection of very short stories, I wrote realistic stories, most of them set in the present day. These stories could be found on my twitter account, @TheWiseSerpent, usually on the hashtag #vss365.

Vacation

"We have to leave," Mommy said. "Right now."

"Are we going on vacation?"

"Yes, to Mexico! For a long time, maybe forever. Won't that be fun?" She wiped blood away from her mouth and threw clothes in a bag.

"Is daddy coming?"

"No." She left her ring on the counter.

Victories

Jeremy's nurse smiled, a rare sight. His mother sat quietly beside him. He did not turn to look at her, but his hand touched her face, gentle this time.

"Mama."

His mother wiped a tear from her eye. "A great victory," she said, softly. "The first of many."

Fine

Everything seemed fine, great even. Her sister smiled and laughed, lovingly touched her fiance's arm. But there was something off about the cadence of her voice, something strained. Mel wondered how she could find a way for them to be alone together before the wedding.

Diver

The bodies settle deep in the aphotic part of the lake. He adjusts his regulator and shines his flashlight on the dark sediments. Is that a skeletal hand he sees? Or the crooked fingers of a broken branch? He swims closer, heart pounding. The bones are so small.

Lies

She blinked back tears as she read the texts on the phone he'd kept hidden.

"Just be patient. She's rich, and once we're married..."

"Of course you're the one I really love..."

And the pictures. Everything about him, their relationship, was just a chimera.

She left.

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Fantasy Integration in Saints and Curses

Welcome to everyone stopping by from OWS CyCon 2019! Be sure to check out my author booth (I have one for fantasy and one for science fiction), and sign up for my newsletter using the form at the bottom of the page. Don’t forget to sign up for the giveaway too! I hope you enjoyed your previous stop on this blog hop, and now for my take on fantasy integration into society.

My newest book, Saints and Curses, is a collection of fantasy short stories. Since each story is different, the way fantasy relates to society is slightly different as well. So I’m going to focus on just two stories, “There Was a Nicholas Once,” which you can listen to for free at the Gallery of Curiosities podcast, and “Braids,” which you can find online at Swords and Sorcery Magazine. *Trigger Warning—Depicts Domestic and Sexual Abuse

“There Was a Nicholas Once” is set in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. War, deprivation, and terrifying government purges have left many people struggling to survive. The main character, a witch-child, has horrifying visions that she can barely understand. In a society that brutally punishes anyone accused of disloyalty or dissent, her visions are a danger and a curse. Yet, the witch-child grows more comfortable with her visions, and with the dark powers she can feel in the cold winter forest.

In this story, fantasy isn’t integrated into society so much a dark undercurrent, a sign of the blood and trauma of the past and the desperation of the present.

“Braids” is set in the Middle Ages. When the Haar-witch Cresputina comes to Mont Noire, many people are at first afraid of her. But Cresputina can weave magic into women’s hair as she braids it, and soon all the women of the village come to her for their troubles. But while Cresputina is welcomed by some, others see it as dangerous and evil.

One of the things I like about this story, is that it shows many different reactions to magic, from joy and excitement, to fear and hate. I think that if we discover real life magic, it would likely face the same kind of mixed reactions. Not everyone will want to embrace it, just like some people reject modern medicine or other scientific discoveries today. Yet, I think most people would love a touch of magic in their lives!

Thank you for stopping by my post for the Urban Fantasy blog hop! The next post is on Mary Woldering’s blog, so be sure to stop by her blog next. And if you’re interested in hearing more from me, I’ll be taking over the Fantasy and Sci-Fi Reader’s Lounge Friday, May 17 from 1-2pm, and again on Sunday, May 19 from 8-9pm. Finally, make sure you sign up for my newsletter using the subscribe box below (and put that down for the giveaway)!

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Another Five SciFi/Fantasy Very Short Stories

Yes, I’ve still been writing even more scifi/fantasy very short stories! I’ve even included a few of my favorites in my latest book, Saints and Curses. If you’re interested in reading more, make sure you check out the hashtags #vss365, #scififri, and #satsplat on Twitter.

Mother’s Love

They tore my babies from my arms before the execution. My uncle glowers as they tie me like an offering to the River God.

What will happen to them?

Your bastards will die in the woods, he smirks.

I pray to the gods of Hell, with the power of my mother's love, to come back.

Waif

They always send a waif, he thought. Skinny, dirty, a supposed virgin with no family or connections. He flicked his tongue at the latest sacrifice. Her eyes burned bright.

"I can unlock the gates," she said. "You could feast on the others, the rich, fat ones."

Ugly Things

"The night the white things landed," gran began to reminisce. "They looked like slugs, ugly. Tricky, too, singing in your mind about galactic harmony and what not. But Pa couldn't hear 'em, so they couldn't trick him. He shot at 'em, and they left for good."

Clouds

She watched the clouds float above her. The wind twisted them into surreal shapes, and she could feel little sparks on her skin.

"Is there a storm coming, Gran?" one of the children asked.

"Yes. Go to the shelter, the hidden one. Wait for me and don't make a sound."

Greening

The creature has long fingers, lithe as willow branches and brown as roots. It runs them over the flowers in the garden. They grow over the tops of the beds and spill out over the step stones. Jen watches silently from the upstairs window.

The Newest Reviews/Book Mentions/Spotlights for Sapience!

I’m very happy at how Sapience has continued to get excellent reviews on Amazon and Goodreads! Recently, Sapience also received a lovely review from Shari Sakurai on her blog. My favorite quote:

I think what I loved most about the stories was that as dark as they were, there was very often hope amongst the darkness and the characters had resolve to prevail no matter what difficulties they faced. Each one was beautifully written and are the kinds of tales that will stay with you.

Several blogs and websites have also spotlighted Sapience recently, including on Jennifer' Perkins’ Author Esquire #IndieApril Booklist, A. Woodley’s Random Stuff and Books, Chris Morton’s New Adventures in Sci-fi, and Book of the Day. Thank you to everyone who’s helped get the word out about Sapience!

Also, as a part of OWS CyCon 2019, Sapience will be a part of a rafflecopter giveaway! It’s free to enter, so check it out and you could have the chance to win an Amazon gift card as well as a selection of books from the science fiction writers of the CyCon! For more chances to win, you can subscribe to my newsletter using the form below! Make sure you put OWS CyCon 2019 in the subject!

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Find out About the World of “The Starborn Legacy” by Leslie Conzatti for OWS CyCon 2019

Welcome to another fantastic stop in our World-building Showcase blog hop! On this stop, we’re highlighting a story that isn’t dependent on the Earth for the action, but you can find a full list of authors and topics on the OWS Cycon website. Let’s dive in!

Welcome Leslie Conzatti!

Before we dive in to the nitty gritty, what is “The Starborn Legacy” about?

“The Starborn Legacy” tells the story of a teenage girl struggling to find her place in a faraway space colony. She wants to connect and bond with her mother, but it’s been hard when the girl’s grandmother--a famous interplanetary explorer--spent most of the mom’s formative years absent and traveling among the stars, where eventually she ended up passing away while on a mission. The mom still hasn’t really come to terms with that, and it’s wearing on her own relationship with her daughter.

On the same day the girl’s father returns from an excursion to an unexplored area of the planet, she makes a stunning discovery about the legacy her grandmother left behind--and a mysterious virus threatens the lives of many colonists… including her mother. The girl faces a choice: Will she stay, and potentially save her mother’s life, or will she leave to an unknown destination to claim her destiny among the stars?

1.Did you invent any new slang or terminology during your world-building process?

Yes I did, and I had a lot of fun doing it! Inventing new terms by just adding “Dome” to the various living or activity spaces (“ExploraDome”, “ResiDome”, and so on) and even inventing an AI schoolteacher for the kids of the colony, naming her “Ivy-Rue” (or AI-V RU, an Automated Intelligent Virtual Response Unit). Then, of course, there is the term “Starborn”, a term used to refer to the people from the “Solarian” system (our solar system) who originally set out to colonize other planets, since to every other system, our Sun would be merely another star in the sky.

2. What do people in your world do for fun? Are there sports, games, music, or other activities they do in their free time?

It’s not directly mentioned or expounded much in the short story, but in my mind, there’s a whole lot in this colony, even though it isn’t too advanced. There’s a Commerce Dome, so they have an economic system in place for financial transactions. There is the Central Construct, the huge, main area that all the different Domes connect to: there’s shopping, and like a combination science/history museum and library in the ExploraDome. There are many families in the colony, so of course they wanted to plan for places and activities that families and children could enjoy. The only thing is that radiation from the “sun-star”, Taurus, and some hitherto-unknown chemicals and minerals in the air and the soil make anything outside the climate-controlled Domes uninhabitable… but terraforming is in process still!

3. What kinds of transportation and other interesting technology do your characters have access to? Are they ahead, behind, or a mix of different kinds of tech compared to where we are now?

Ahead, definitely, since this is a far-future setting. For example, the island in the kitchen is a large glass computer touchscreen, used for video calls, receiving and sending messages, and all sorts of things one would use a tablet for. Also the kitchen comes with an “InstaChef”, a smart cooking implement equipped with dozens of recipes, to provide meals within minutes at the touch of a button. They don’t need much long-distance transportation because everything in the colony is still within walking distance at this point.

4. Do you have different races or enhanced humans with their own unique abilities inhabiting your world?

Not unless you count the “Starborn.” They are the ones who still possess the DNA of the original pioneers from Earth. Genetic manipulation and generations of living in colonies on other planets have nearly eradicated this last connection to Earth--humanity has adjusted to living in strange, artificial environments--but there is rumor that there are still Starborn living among the colonists. Perhaps the famous “failed colony” where everyone died of a mysterious malady could have been composed entirely of Starborn.

The Process

5. When you build a world, what is your process like? Do you do a lot of research upfront, wing it completely, or something in between?

I definitely winged it this time around. I think I took inspiration from shows like Firefly, especially with the concept of terraforming--in fact, I’m pretty sure that was as much “research” as I did, to decide the specific date of the story based on the fictional “timeline” of the history of terraforming on some fan website. To me, the world-building wasn’t as important as establishing the characters and working on them.

6. How central is the setting of your story to the story itself? Is it more of an interesting backdrop, or is it integral to the events of the story?

A little bit of both, maybe? On the one hand, it’s kind of just a cool backdrop because it’s a colony of people living somewhere that isn’t Earth, but to all of them, it’s the only life they’ve known, living on ships or in domes. To actually live in the atmosphere of a planet, to be able to walk freely on a planet’s surface seems like a distant dream.

On the other hand, it’s kind of integral because of a special connection the characters have with the titular “Starborn Legacy.” Like, if they weren’t on a planet so unlike Earth that it would almost kill some of the humans, then the story would be missing a massive element!

7. When helping the reader get to know the world you built, what techniques do you use? Do you tend to be upfront about things, or keep the reader in the dark and feed them only bits at a time?

Generally, when I’m writing a short story, there isn’t a lot of room for world-building, and very often, not all the details get answered. For “The Starborn Legacy”, there is a lot of information that is hinted at, “behind-the-scenes” things that might not be directly stated in the narrative, but are definitely affecting the characters, extra information that colors the way they interact with each other. A lot of the history between Reese (the girl) and her mom is implied through things they say, or the way they kind of stay very superficial with their conversations.

I like to be up-front as much as possible, to give the reader a clear picture of what’s going on--but there are times when the absence of information carries more significance than an abundance of it, so there is a sequence of moments in “The Starborn Legacy” where certain characters respond to a stimulus that isn’t fully described until it’s almost too late.

8. How did you come up with the storyline for “The Starborn Legacy”? Is it a brand-new story, or a combination of several different ideas?

As a matter of fact, the inspiration for “The Starborn Legacy” came from two different short stories I wrote years before, as a part of a serial novel I threw together just for the fun of it. One was a story about a mother and daughter working through the mother’s bitterness toward her “famous world explorer” mother’s absence in her life, and through it they discover a series of clues that lead to the revelation that the grandmother had actually discovered the Fountain of Youth and wanted to leave that discovery for her daughter (or, as it happened, her granddaughter.) The second was kind of a darker, horror story, about a colonel sent to investigate a space colony where everyone mysteriously dropped dead… and while he’s there he encounters a deranged android and discovers (too late) that his pilot was hiding a deadly secret…

Neither story by itself was quite the tone I wanted for my submission, so I took elements of both stories (the mother and daughter, the legacy, the “Starborn” concept, the mysterious, fatal disease, the failed space colony, among other things!) and worked them together into a separate story that bore many hallmarks of one story and the other, but at the same time, was very much its own tale.

Let that be a lesson to any writers out there: You might feel like an idea you wrote in the past (or the one you’re writing right now) doesn’t sound right, or it feels like you’re just writing meaningless crap--but don’t discount any ideas! You just might find a way to take the good parts of the idea and make them fit better into a brand-new story later on down the road! You never know!

9. Did you experience any difficulties while building your world? Any facts that refused to cooperate or inconsistencies you needed to address while editing?

Oh definitely! I went through like three or four different drafts, getting input from an editor. I had originally started the story from the point of view of the mother, just so the reader could understand why she’s responding a certain way to her daughter--but, as the editor pointed out, it created an inconsistency in point of view, and a short story should stick to one perspective only. There were a few more details that clashed as a result of trying to combine two vastly different stories--there are two letters written in the story, and I had to really comb through every single sentence to make sure I included all the necessary information, and remained suitably vague on those details that the characters (and the reader) shouldn’t yet know about. There was also the timing of everything--two days here, a couple hours there, and how much is happening in the space of a single day?--that was tricky to figure out and keep track of--I was so grateful to have help!

Where can people find you on the web?

Thanks for reading all about “The Starborn Legacy”! If you’re interested in reading the story (and others like it, written by a host of authors who sell wayyy more books than I do!) then you can find it in the charity anthology DROWNED IN MOONLIGHT, a collection of stories, poems and art dedicated to the memory of Carrie Fisher. Just follow the hyperlinked text for the Amazon listing!

BONUS: Would you like to read the two original stories I mentioned, that served as the inspiration for “The Starborn Legacy”? Well, you can! I’ve posted them both on Wattpad! Click the hyperlinked text >HERE< to read the first one, “The Legacy”, and click >HERE< to read “The Vega Effect.” Hope you enjoy!


For more stops on our World-building Showcase, visit the tour page on the OWS CyCon website.

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My Top Five Sci-Fi Cosplayers from Fan Expo Dallas 2019

I had a great time at Fan Expo Dallas 2019, where my friend Sarah Mensinga and I had a table together (signing and selling books and having tons of fun!). I thought the con was tons of fun, and I especially loved seeing all the amazing cosplayers! Seriously, the creativity and care that go into some of these costumes really blows me away. I saw probably dozens of incredible looking cosplays, but for now I’m limiting this post to science fiction characters and I picked just five. Without further ado, check out these amazing customes!

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1.Hazel and Cha Cha

If you haven’t seen Netflix’s Umbrella Academy, I’d recommend it. Hazel and Cha Cha are fascinating characters, especially Hazel, who has a fascinating and touching emotional arc of his own.

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2. Deadpool

This is my favorite Deadpool cosplay I saw at the con, and I love that I got a picture of him with Spider Gwen, too!

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3. Fiona and Prince Bubblegum

I love Adventure Time! One of the funnier stories on the show is the long running references to a gender-bent comic version (or perhaps an alternate reality version? Both?) of Finn and Jake, which the Ice King obsesses over. I have some of the Fiona and Cake comics, and they’re so cute!

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4. Padme Amidala

Just…wow. The effort that must have gone into this costume—I had to pick this as my favorite Star Wars cosplay, although there were so many people in wonderful costumes, this was a hard decision.

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5. Cable, Wolverine, and awww!

Yes, those are cosplaying dogs. Deadpool doggie and Negasausage. Just, so cute. Squee!

If you’re visiting from OSW CyCon 2019, don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter using the Subscribe box below, and check out my author booth!

Review: Perfect World

As part of OWS Con 2019, I decided to read and review Shari Sakurai’s dystopian science fiction novel Perfect World. It’s an interesting book that turned out to be nothing at all like I expected when I first started reading. I can normally spot plot twists, but in this case I’ll admit that the author took me completely by surprise.

The main character, Eric Rawlins, at first seems like any other ace pilot/James Bond type. He’s genetically enhanced to be strong, fast, and handsome. But while Eric at first struck me as a bit of a cliche, as the book progresses he develops into a true hero, showing a surprising amount of moral courage, decency, and compassion. I really enjoyed that the author gave Eric vulnerability and empathy—it made his character deeper and more complex, and honestly, made him a more enjoyable and likable hero to root for. I also liked that Eric moves from seeing moral problems as black and white, but comes to understand that people and situations can be grey and complicated.

I don’t want to give away too much about the other characters, in part because to do so would spoil one of the twists of the book, but I’m impressed by how much complexity Sakurai allows her characters. They often have conflicting motivations and desires, and even characters who feel one note at first develop in surprising but organic ways.

It’s hard to discuss the plot in depth because so much of it is dependent on some surprising and original twists, but needless to say, the book completely subverted some of my expectations. If the first chapter gives the impression that the book is going to be a simplistic good guy vs. bad guy Jame Bond-type plot, be prepared for some serious surprises. In the end, I appreciated how much of the plot felt earned. Eric’s initial casting of himself as a hero going up against a cruel villain feels jarring, especially when we learn about the levels of control the LSA has over him as well as the civilian population. Eric’s realizations over the course of the book feel disorienting in a good way, like someone waking up from a dream.

Overall, while there’s a little clunky writing sometimes, I enjoyed this book and once I started getting into it I could hardly stop reading. If you are looking for dystopian science fiction with some LGBT romance, I’d definitely recommend Perfect World!

Find Perfect World on Amazon and Amazon UK!

For more about author Shari Sakurai:

Websites: http://www.sharisakurai.com / http://www.perfectworldseries.com

Twitter: @sharisakurai

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sharisakurai

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/Shari_Sakurai

If you’d like to learn about more great Indie Books, check out the Fantasy and Sci-Fi Reader’s Lounge on Facebook, or visit the OWS CyCon website!

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