Monday, May 22, 2023

Solarpunk meets treasure hunts in "The Lost Lab," my latest Brave New Girls story!

Hey everyone! Mary here, coming out of my cave after sending the latest BRAVE NEW GIRLS manuscript off to formatting. Whew, how is it already the end of May??

For those of you who don't know, BRAVE NEW GIRLS is a young adult sci-fi anthology series about girls in STEM, edited by Paige Daniels and myself. Proceeds from sales benefit the Society of Women Engineers. This year's anthology, TALES OF GIRLS WHO ENGINEER AND EXPLORE, will be our seventh (!!).

This year, my own contribution is a solarpunk adventure called "The Lost Lab," about two teens searching for a rare plant. I'll admit it took a while for me to get going with this one. Co-editor Paige Daniels and I decided late last year that we wanted a solarpunk cover for this year's anthology, mostly because we hadn't done one before and thought it would be fun. And while all the BRAVE NEW GIRLS short story collections span multiple sci-fi subgenres, we wanted to make sure at least some matched the cover vibes, so we both opted to write solarpunk tales. I, for one, had never written solarpunk before, so of course I had to give it a try.

What is solarpunk anyway? It's a subgenre of sci-fi that imagines a world where technology and nature live in harmony. As such, it tends to lean utopian. Think high-tech cities powered by clean energy and covered in roof and wall gardens. 

The first concept I had for my short story was that it would be about a girl living in a solarpunk future who has a mechanical arm, and whose family is going broke paying it off (hey, just because society has stopped destroying the ozone doesn't mean medical debt disappeared). So she needs a get-rich-quick scheme, and my first idea was that she'd need to win a science fair of some sort.

But thanks to my procrastinating, I didn't end up writing my own story for this anthology until after we'd accepted submissions, and quite a few of the stories we selected were about science fairs / competitions. Okay, I thought, scratch that. How about a heist? Except we'd also accepted some of those too.

That's when it hit me: treasure hunt! Something Indiana Jones-y, except futuristic, and without the colonial overtones. 

So in "The Lost Lab," the girl, Amara, and her partner-in-crime, Ravi, discover the long-lost lab of an eccentric scientist who died two hundred years earlier, and who was rumored to have bioengineered a superfood. Of course, said scientist booby-trapped her lab to prevent anyone from stealing her work. And it turns out they aren't the only ones after it...

Though it took a while for the idea to come together (I confess, I used ChatGPT for brainstorming, though it seemed weirdly fixated on Amara's arm...), once it did, the actual writing process went smoothly (No, I didn't let ChatGPT produce any actual sentences for the story. Mostly because they would have sucked, and I would've had to rewrite them all anyway.)

Here's the illustration, drawn by the amazing Adriano Moraes:

Monday, May 15, 2023

Book Review: Little Black Crimes

"Little Black Crimes" by Nathaniel Blackhelm. I was sent my copy in exchange for an honest review. 

This is a collection of eleven dark fiction/crime noir tales, all revolving around the world of human horrors. Inside this collection, you'll find stories about incredibly heavy topics such as abortion, guns, rape, murder, and suicide. All the stories inside are impeccably written. The emotion they evoked was truly shocking. I highlighted entire passages while reading, allowing me to really soak in the messages of these stories. 

".38 Special Kind of Love" is a story so well written that you don't realize what is going on until the end. 

"Yellow Light, Red Light" reminded  me of he Black Lives Matter movement. This was a truly powerful story, and it made me incredibly sad to know there are people who have and do experience racism on this level every single day. 

"Projectionist vs. Priest" is a story I felt on a severely personal level. It depicts sexual abuse within the Christian church and impacted me tremendously. 

"Ricardo's Second Coming" was a story told in a series of conversations. The storyline was intriguing, and it's definitely a story you just have to read for yourself, but I enjoyed this one very much.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Serendipity at the End of the World--Casting and Aesthetics
 What started out as  Kindle Vella experiment is on its way to becoming a novel available through more traditional means (E-book and paperback). That's right, SERENDIPITY AT THE END OF THE WORLD is making its final rounds through the proofreading queues at Red Adept Publishing, and will hopefully be making its ways to bookshelves across the world (but probably mostly just the bookshelves in my own house) soon!

In case you need a memory refresher, or in case you've never heard of me and stumbled across this post by accident (highly likely), here's a little taste of what I'm talking about: 


Serendipity Blite inherited her father’s crackerjack shooting skills, while her sister got his knack for mechanical engineering. The siblings’ talents make them a formidable pair capable of surviving the apocalyptic aftermath of the Dead Disease. Their skills also attract the unwanted attention of Moll Grimes, a ruthless woman intent on building a new empire in a city infested with undead.
When her sister goes missing, Sera suspects Moll has something to do with it, but attempting a rescue mission on her own would be suicidal. Sera seeks help from a band of unlikely allies, including Erik LaRoux, an enigmatic young man with a curious scar, and a collection of alchemists obsessed with developing a cure for the Dead Disease.
Sera’s alliance with Erik challenges her old ways of coping-- her fierce independence won’t be enough to save her sister. But as she opens herself to new possibilities, an unfortunate accident sets Sera teetering on the edge of a deadly abyss. Surrendering to it would bring an end to Sera’s grief, pain, and fear, but surviving could mean finding family, love, and maybe even a cure.

This is by far the weirdest thing I've written, but it's no surprise to anyone that knows me that I'm a fan of all things Zombie (see my previous Across the Board homage to the undead here: May Zombies Never Die). In that post, written before the HBO release of The Last of Us was even on my radar (Hey, I'm no gamer, okay?), I postulated on the waxing and waning popularity of zombies and whether they are currently on their way in or out again. Now that I know people are still somewhat responsive to apocalyptic stories featuring reanimated corpses, I am a little less hesitant to talk openly about my upcoming release.

To be clear, I'm not ashamed of my zombie novel. It's more that I'm stepping a little outside of my comfort zone and walking a path that's rather new to me. After all these years of writing and publishing, I'm surprised to find there's any new ground left. That's not a bad thing! 

So, in preparation of its upcoming release (no release date or cover reveal to announce yet, but soon, I hope), I thought I'd share a little pictorial inspiration for some of my characters and story aesthetics.

Serendipity Blite (Equal parts tough, brave, impetuous, and vulnerable, she never met a gun she didn't like):

Erik LeRoux (Mysterious Rescuer with a curious scar and useful knowledge of the city's underground tunnels).


The Undead (general agents of mayhem and chaos):

The city (If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere): 

The Alchemy (wherein lies the hope that the Undead Disease can be cured):

For more images inspired by Serendipity at the End of the World, check out my Pinterest page:

Monday, May 8, 2023

Butter Over Too Much Bread

Another quality post brought to you by Steve! 

Hey, kids!

Hope all's going well with you.  Today I'm feeling overwhelmed.  Or, as Bilbo once so aptly put it, like butter over too much bread.  

Right now I'm doing something which I really shouldn't be doing, which is querying a novel I haven't 100% finished editing.  I've done everything I need to start querying, which is, to be fair, quite a lot.  Before I would even start I would say you have to complete:

1.)  A query letter

2.)  A one-page synopsis

3.)  A two-page synopsis

4.)  Edit the first 10 pp

5.)  Edit the first 50 pp

Agents and publishers ask for all of these items at various stages of the querying process, and I'm learning now a lot of them are asking about your indie sales numbers in addition to social media clout, comp titles, and a bunch of other various nonsense that really feels more like gatekeeping than anything else.  And, I know, "gatekeeping" is the buzzword du jour lately, but I just have to wonder why any potential agent would want to know about my marketing plan before reading page one of my manuscript unless, of course, he just wants to keep out the riff-raff.  

I was actually making good progress on getting to:

6.)  Edit the complete ms

when an e-mail came through this weekend containing an entire manuscript Gavin Dillinger and I have been collaborating on.  This one is called LOONEY! and might be best described as a horror version of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.  Our intent was to bring some of the genuine horror of the Looney Toons universe into the real world both in the theoretical sense of how it would feel to be someone Bugs Bunny was picking on and in the real-world context of the often explicit racism, sexism, transphobia, and the like that informed those classic works.  I'm rather satisfied with how it came out, but I wasn't so excited to jump in and start editing two whole novels this month.  Of course, if I get a bite on the unnamed one I'm querying, that will take priority, but until then, collaborations, as always, take priority with me.

Meanwhile, in the publishing world, this past week we had an international BookBub event for ILLUSIONS OF ISOLATION by Brennan LaFaro, the first collection from French Press.  That has gone smashingly, but required a significant amount of effort to change the prices on every platform it appears on.

Speaking of French Press, we're still working on putting together our first anthology, THE PERFECTLY FINE NEIGHBORHOOD, which you can, of course, still submit to.  We (and by "we," I mean mostly our very own Kayleigh Edwards) have already put a ton of effort into wading through the slush pile.  I suppose we could always just add a requirement to discuss your indie book sales and your marketing strategy.  That seems to work elsewhere.

We've also managed to snag a narrator for ILLUSIONS OF ISOLATION, and coming up soon I will be releasing my first standalone novella, THE THING UNDER YOUR BED, which, for reasons I am beginning to regret, I intend to narrate myself.  I've always wanted to narrate something for audiobook, and this seems both the right length and it would save me the trouble of having to find and pay a narrator.  Of course, if that turns out to be a nightmare, it may end up being simply another writing lesson learned.  

All of this is, of course, before we even start talking about my day job, which has become an unbearable nightmare in its own right.  I wanted, though, less to simply bitch this month as to commiserate.  I find myself overwhelmed at times with this job, and I expect many of you are as well, though often in public, in social media and the like, we must put up the front of the ever-plucky indie author.  So just know that I see you, I feel you, and if you're feeling overwhelmed for any reason, know that you can always reach out to me via whatever method you feel most comfortable with.

Okay, everybody, talk to you soon!

Thursday, May 4, 2023

On The Origins of May The Fourth Be With You

Happy May the 4th my fellow Star Wars fanatics and friends!

For those who don't know, I'm actually a pretty big Star Wars fan. The movies meant so much to me as a kid and I even wore Darth Vader as my sixth-grade elementary school costume. Which was something important to me back then. Those long-lasting elementary school friendships were established through a mutual love of Star Wars. 

I remember those days playing tag. Where we would waste away recess at the blacktop parking lot of St. Matthews, pew-pew-pewing away at each other as Tie fighters and X-Wings. Star Wars was the thing that made it so easy to bond with others as a kid. I think those movies, and the message behind Star Wars: of good winning against evil, was why the property lasted so long in the hearts and minds of fans.

In fact, the reason that I'm even on ATBWriters was that during the thick of the Pandemic, back in the times of 2020, Mary, Victor, Karissa and I did a bunch of Star Wars marathons on Twitter. Every single movie from the original to the new trilogy, with even some rogue one on the side. It was a fun time filled with memes and gifs and jokes and commentary. Good people that got us by during tough times. The rest of it became sort of history, as times changed, and life reopened. Though lasting friendships were formed.

As most fans know, May the Fourth is also a play on "May the force be with you."

Some reports claim that the United Kingdom hosted the first instance of 'May the 4th Be With You' as it marked the date when Margaret Thatcher was announced via the papers as Prime Minister of England. The London Evening News even had the "May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations" slogan plastered at every stand and visible place at the table. I do find it fitting, given that it was a different empire celebrating, well, the empire quite ironically unintended. Especially, as it's been revealed that high-ranking Imperials were in fact made to sound like Imperial Brits, as director Irvine Kershner meant in The Empire Strikes Back.

Still, there are some that believe it actually predated even this incident. Another origin story, came from a Randy Thom, director of sound design at Skywalker Sound. The man claims that it was actually the staff came up with the idea when in California shooting for Endor scenes in Return of the Jedi. How it was on May 4, 1982, when people on set kept stating the phrase 'May the Fourth be With You' rather jokingly, hence starting the trend.

Though all of that celebration of May the Fourth lead to the inevitable Revenge of The Fifth. Whose origins came to be a play on the original celebration - though often, in favor of the Empire. Especially, as Revenge of the Sith became the inevitable Episode 3 title. It's funny because about a year ago I got to cover Cinco De Mayo. Now, I guess I'm doing the fourth. If next year I get assigned May 3rd, I'll talk about Solar Eclipses.

Monday, May 1, 2023

My New Favourite Authors


I am supposed to be delighting you with an author interview this month but I .... er.... mayyyyy have forgotten to send my chosen author the interview questions in a reasonable amount of time. Stay tuned for that (most likely next month now) though, because this author is magnificent and I'm really excited to share their musings with you all!

Instead, I thought I'd rave a little bit about 3 authors and the books that I have discovered only in the last few months, but am extremely obsessed with.


The Year of the Witching is such a great read, and it's Henderson's debut, if I'm not mistaken. A feminist period horror piece that gripped me from start to finish. However, her next novel, House of Hunger is the one that unlocked the NEW FAVOURITE AUTHOR achievement. I knew as soon as I plucked it off my shelf that it was going to be great, I could just feel it - the book was calling to me! I flew through the pages, trying to figure out if what I was reading was what I hoped it was. It was. I'll be pre-ordering everything Henderson releases from now until the end of time.


Comedy horror is a difficult subgenre to write well, but Mark Towse is a genius. Nana had me tearing up with laughter a couple of times, as did The Bucket List (co-written with Chisto Healy who deserves a shout out for sure - I just haven't included him in this list because this is my first and only Chisto read so I haven't reached the obsession phase with him yet!). There's Something Wrong With Aunty Beth is a savage and weird short story collection with shades of Clive Barker and Joe Hill. So far, I've been thoroughly impressed by every Towse book I've read (I've read lots now but the above 3 are my favourites!). If you like a little funny with your horror, there really is no one better at the moment, in my humble opinion. Towse just nails it.


Dave Jeffery politely requested a book review for the fourth book in his 'A Quiet Apocalypse' series (on my review site, HAPPY GOAT HORROR). Since I hadn't read the three that preceded it, I decided I should. I'll be honest, it seemed like a chore because of the time consumption. I have the books on my enormous personal TBR bookcase, and then also a mountain of TBR review requests and for some reason, I keep them separate. However, two chapters into A Quiet Apocalypse, I was absolutely hooked. I couldn't believe the quality of the writing and how intriguing the plot was, how invested I was in the characters and how curious I was about the world. I'd finish one book and then move straight to the next one, and it took me less than a week to read all 4, and not because Jeffery had requested it, but because I simply couldn't stop reading them. 

If you like post-apocalyptic fiction, you HAVE to read these books. Not only my favourite series now, but allllmost my favourite post-apocalyptic fiction ever. The only books keeping the series from the top spot are The Stand by Stephen King, and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Jeffery's work might come in third place to those two, but I'd place him firmly in the same camp as King and Matheson for his writing. It's wonderful, and so is this series.

I can't wait to continue through my request TBR to discover more gems!

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