Stories that lingered

Prompted by a question on Facebook, this is a list of short stories which have lingered, i.e. which occur to me off the top of my head. They aren’t value judgements, in fact I am certain there are stories that don’t occur to me because they fit so perfectly into the whole of their collection or anthology. But they’ve stuck, and that probably says more about me than them.

  • Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” (in the book of the same title, but also online here) because it was wonderfully strange and folded and caught something true and should have been real.
  • Dirk Flinthart’s “The Ballad of Farther-on-Jones” (in Striking Fire), because it was lyrical and hopeful and contained all it needed to.
  • Shaun Tan’s “No Other Country” (in Tales from Outer Suburbia), because it, like the whole book, is achingly gorgeous. The serious undertones of some of its neighbouring stories enhance the jewel-like quality of this one and its art.
  • Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Dark” (in What I Didn’t See – the paperback has a really nice cover;), because it keeps inserting itself into my memory of other collections, and because terrible things happen but people do good things too.
  • M R James’ “The Diary of Mr Poynter” because of one particular moment of the mundane becoming unsettled. Almost all his ghost stories do this but this one was particularly low-key. And I like the design element in the plot.
  • Dorothy Sayers’ “The Haunted Policeman” (in Striding Folly, but I read it first in the Folio Society’s Crime Stories from the Strand) because it is a miniature painting, and a lovely little puzzle. It was also my first introduction to Peter and Harriet.
  • Henry Lawson’s “The Loaded Dog” (warning for some animal deaths) and/or “We Called Him “Allie” for Short, because of Lawson’s laid-back, tongue-in-cheek tone and, in the case of “The Loaded Dog”, the rolling, rollicking, dangerous inevitability of the plot.
  • Angela Slatter’s “The Badger Bride” (in The Bitterwood Bible – and by the way, the limited edition hardbacks of this are nearly sold out) because it is a small, perfectly formed legend curled into an angle of the interlocked stories of the collection.
  • E Nesbit’s “Melisande, or: Long and Short Division“, because of the knock-on effect of the plot, and the charm, and there being no real villain as such except for consequences (not unusual in E Nesbit’s stories), and because the silliness is played out soberly. Also maths.

Stranger Things Happen – 10th anniversary cover art

Look at this beautiful book!

Stranger Things Happen - in the life!

It is Subterranean Press’ limited 10th anniversary edition of Kelly Link’s collection Stranger Things Happen, which I had the absolute delight of illustrating. And it really is a beautiful book, beautiful mustard-coloured cloth (mustard? goldenrod? schoolbus yellow? I don’t know, but I like mustard), and the lovely satiny wraparound colour, and ostrich-skin textured endpapers. If this is what ebooks force hard copy books to look like, then bring on the revolution.

The only cover specification I received was a request that it contain a nod to the original Shelley Jackson illustration:

ShelleyJackson

Since I had recently been researching 60s fashion and pattern illustrations for Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze, I already had images on my mind for “The Girl Detective” – old Nancy Drew books, and specifically the endpapers:

justalibrarian-endpapers2

Here are my initial thumbnail sketches for the cover, and for the last story in the collection.

Stranger Things Happen - cover sketches

After that I ran around the house taking reference photos (if you share a house with me, the chances are you’ll end up in an illustration). The torch is a pepper mill (with, oddly, a built-in light), which is more torch-shaped than our actual torches.

Photoref

The internal illustrations were pen and ink only. The cover I drew in pen and ink, scanned, cleaned up, added a single flat layer of yellow, and a background texture scanned from an old book. Every story in the collection gets an element (or a share in an element) on the cover, but my favourite part is the peacock’s tail.
Stranger Things Happen - cover

Here are some more glimpses inside from Small Beer Press, and here are some lovely words on the book from the LA Times.

The limited edition is available from Subterranean.

Lady Churchill’s Dalek Wristlet, or: Continuum8

I went to Craftonomicon/Continuum8/Natcon in Melbourne! I survived! Daleks were drawn on people!

Lady Churchill's Dalek Wristlet

This counts as a version of the Dalek Game as it is for Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and Kelly Link was one of the guests of honour, so there are connections (also chocolate-and-book-fests) all over the place.

Drawings of small witches / small drawings of witches were delivered to Jonathan Strahan!

Here is one:
Cast

Here is the other:
Winter Warfare

Light Touch Paper, Stand Clear was launched, with many wonderful stories. My story, “Kindling”, about a delivery boy and a waitress named Minke and the trouble with detailed maps, is also in it. ASIM 56 was also launched, which has an emergency Llama illustration in it, but the website has not yet been updated with it (it’s that new). There was cake.

Here are some people working at Brisbane airport:

Not many pictures were drawn because there was a box of free yarn, and Emma lent me a crochet hook (which I broke), so I made many octopi. Please to note the state of the crochet hook:

Several were worn as fascinators at the Maskobalo, and all have found good homes. I attempted to write the pattern down, but it is awaiting translation into contemporary notation.

Maskobalo!

And more people:

I have so much chocolate in my system right now. ANYWAY, moving right along, that is Kirstyn McDermott at the bottom left, looking so much like an evil queen that it was very disconcerting when she smiled. As she eventually did when it turned out the stand-ins for the delayed Ditmar trophies squeaked! There was a chorus of squeaking rubber octopi all evening long. Congratulations to all winners!

Mine were blue (she said immodestly, thereby implying she received more than one – thank you for the votes, and congratulations to all the nominees!).

Mostly I spent the weekend talking to all the wonderful people, forgetting where they live (as far as I know their natural habitat is hotel bars), drinking coffee and chocolate, planning Lovecraft readings and receiving many many books. I bought two, gave one away and came home with 20, so it is good I packed light, although light enough to bring all those back in onboard luggage is also light enough to have packed nothing suitable to wear to the awards, so packing needs finessing before I got to Toronto.

I had a book cover due this weekend and have just sent it off which is why I’m a little excited. Plus, residual convention high and two squeaky blue Ditmar octopi sitting on the bookcase staring down at me, and the trailing glory of long conversations and plans.

Calmer tomorrow!

The Muddle-headed Dalek

The Muddle-headed Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Ruth Parks’ The Muddle-headed Wombat, an Australian classic of which I retain a great fondness but very dim memories (although I do remember Wombat’s bicycle). Wombats are more southern creatures – I have never seen a wild one, and so (like the platypus and Tasmanian devil) I find them appealing but exotic. I’ve seen a koala in the wild in a tree at my year 10 graduation, and all the other usual suspects have been through our garden or house at some point – bats and possums, numbats, wallabies, kangaroos, paddymelons, goannas, echidnas…

In other news: Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze (cover art and Dalek versionwon the Andre Norton award at the Nebulas! Next week’s Dalek may be delayed due to convention attendance. Tansy Rayner Roberts interviewed me for the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot! And the cryptic references I make in that are to this: Subterranean Press’ limited 10th anniversary edition of Kelly Link’s collection Stranger Things Happen has been announced! And here is the front cover (it is a wrap-around image, but all shall be disclosed in time):

Illustration Friday: Beginner

Illustration Friday: Beginner

This is an illustration of an early scene from Kelly Link‘s story “Magic for Beginners”, and also the beginning of a beautiful friendship: the librarian Fox, a secondary character on an elusive television series, battles the statue of George Washington in the Angela Carter Memorial Garden on the 17th floor of the Free Peoples’ World Tree Library. And yes, the story is that wonderful.

Pen and ink line drawing with colour and texture added in Photoshop, trying out a technique (coloured lines). I’m enjoying this lighter style but don’t want to use it exclusively (although I am very fond of George Washington’s shoes).

November short book reviews

I was doing NaNoWriMo and decided to read only short stories, partly to catch up on the large pile of anthologies acquired at conventions, and partly because I thought it would suit my concentration reserves. I read and write short stories but am still working out exactly which sorts and structures I like (I’ve worked this out with novels and poems, but my short story reading has been more scattered and interstitial) and this went a way towards helping me solidify my ideas, although I am still structuring them.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #37. Dirk Flinthart’s ‘This is Not my Story’ was probably my favourite, because it reminded me in good ways of Bridge to Terebithia and Peter Pan, and in spite of some darkness and loss of chances and potential had an innocence and hope to it. Eilis O’Neal’s The Unicorn in the Tower also stood out, not so much for the story as for the writing, because it still feels in my head like a tapestry. Jason Fischer’s Rick Gets a Job was exactly the sort of short story I like, structure wise, and the sort of story that really bothers me because I want to know people can fight back and have a chance of succeeding in some small way (this is why I prefer Fahrenheit 451 to 1984, for example) – the combination of deeply depressing story of enslavement and chatty Australian working-class feel also weirded me out (in a good way as far as writing and a bad way as far as my mental calm :).

The Grinding House – Kaaron Warren. Brilliantly written and deeply disturbing. The structure/feel of many of her short stories aren’t in line with what my personal preference is developing to be, but the images – the clay men, the bone flowers (oh, and the entirely fused skeletons of ‘The Grinding House’) – are extremely compelling and lingering. Her short stories do what good short stories can and should do, just not always what I want them to do. This isn’t a criticism – just me working out my personal preferences.

Magic for Beginners – Kelly Link. I should dislike Kelly Link’s story structures because she tends towards open-ended and ambiguous endings which would usually bother me, but she does it like Dianna Wynne Jones does them (i.e. I know there’s an answer there if I just keep rereading the ending) and she writes so beautifully and the stories spin off into so many other stories in my head that I love them all, even the ones that leave me frustrated and puzzled. My hands-down favourites are ‘The Faery Handbag’, which is just marvelous and makes me want to spend more time in op shops, ‘The Hortlak’ for its slow hilarious bizarre convenience-store-world, and ‘Magic for Beginners’ which is just weird and odd and loving and full of idiosyncratic and independent individuals, horror writers and avid fans and phone booths and a very remarkable television show which takes place in the World Library where a girl band called the Norns plays in the basement and the main character is never played by the same actor twice. The last story has been compared to Borges, but if it is Borges it is Borges with a larger heart and an understanding of fantasy fans and a keener sense of humour. You have no idea how glad I am that I have now read some Borges and can actually say this – I feel like having wanted to like Borges I have been rewarded by being able to read Link.

Canterbury 2100 – Flinthart (ed). I just love the structure of this. It is a brilliant structure and if the stories were all horribly weak (which they aren’t at all) I think I would still like the book. I am a sucker, in fact, for tales within tales, and characters interrupting each other, and nested stories and ideas which continue through other ideas (why I love Valente and fairy tale retellings and stories by Link and DWJ that spill off the edge of the page). Inspired by the Canterbury Tales, the stories in the anthology are united not by theme but by setting – the anthology takes place in 2100 in the carriage of a train on its way to Canterbury, whose passengers pass the time during a breakdown by telling stories – hard science fiction, social science fiction, medieval feuds and tournaments, love stories, ghost stories (I will never look at a balloon man without thinking of intestines), fighting against corporations, oppression, fate. I really liked the way the supernatural and superstitious threaded through tales of technology and bare-bones survival. It tended to the bleak – the present of the anthology is not a pleasant one – and some of the stories (the events, not the writing) were just nasty (there are a couple of people – you know who you are – I recommend do not read Ben Bastian’s ‘The Doctor’s Tale’), but there were flashes of beauty in the world as well as the stories and the telling. I think I liked Matthew Chrulew’s ‘The Gnomogist’s Tale’ best, because of the sustained joke about the sequins and the wonderful narrator’s voice which could have been precious but never faltered. Laura E Goodin’s ‘The Miner’s Tale’, which was not a fantasy and not a fairytale retelling and not entirely happy nevertheless managed to hit a lot of my other buttons (see comments above re fighting back and having at least the hint of a ghost of a chance).