For many years I’ve enjoyed Lindsay Ellis’s clever, well-crafted video essays, so I was delighted to discover she had a debut novel. “Axiom’s End” is a first-contact story that is sharply real in its theoretical treatment of aliens and genuine character honesty, combining to create a story with great emotional and existential impact.

To summarize without spoilers, protagonist Cora Sabino becomes a pivotal figure in first contact with an alien civilization, while her iconoclastic father looms as a cultural icon threatening to uncover related truths. This summary doesn’t do justice to what makes the book so interesting, however.

Let’s start with the aliens. From their physical descriptions to their language, Ellis makes it abundantly clear they are not human. At first blush this might seem obvious, but authors rarely achieve a true sense of the alien. Ellis steers away from comparisons to Earth animals, something that many other First Contact stories do to their detriment, because such comparisons inevitably just supplant the uniqueness the author’s attempting to invoke. With careful crafting, Ellis has given me a mental image of aliens like no other, and it will stick with me.

She takes a similar approach with alien language. Rather than just making a fictional phonemic language that might be indistinguishable from any language foreign to the reader, Ellis describes a truly alien vocalization we can barely grasp. The end result is that the aliens feel simultaneously real and other-worldly, instead of the cartoon dress-up effect you can find in many other works where the alien is more like a costumed drama student speaking Elvish.

There is a considerable amount of dialogue in the novel, but it’s infused with equal care and attention so it’s fascinating to witness the ripostes of vastly different philosophies. And this is where the real depth and complexity of what Ellis’s crafted really shines through. There were many poignant commentaries on what it means to be human, where we’re headed as a society, and the value of truth… but I won’t detract from their impact by trying to relay them here. The relationship between Cora and the aliens results in some painstakingly honest conversations that cause serious reflection on our moral and ethical assumptions.

The aliens are far from a monolithic culture, and their political complexities entwine with humanity’s with gripping results. What struck me hard was the insightful and careful layering of information. Typically when aliens have a hidden agenda or are withholding something in a story, it is for nefarious purposes. In “Axiom’s End,” however, the aliens are just as worried about competing interests as humans are, and are fraught with ideological differences, relationship struggles and trust issues.

Ellis starts with the premise of truth being a human right and through clashing perspectives and the selective exposure of truth, makes us ultimately wonder what higher end this truth is serving, and exactly whose truth is being told.

It’s rare that I read a book about aliens and feel so strongly like I’ve had a close encounter. “Axiom’s End” not only did that for me, but was suffused with such rich philosophy and honest humanity that I must advise you to go and get a copy. Thank you, Lindsay Ellis, for this wonderful experience.

I’m proud to join a host of others in the 2019 Giftmas Blog Tour, organized by Rhonda Parrish. It’s a fundraiser for the Edmonton Food Bank, where, because of the infrastructure and organization they’ve established, one dollar donated equates to three meals. The funds are in Canadian dollars and are done through Canada Helps, a reputable organization to give you the peace of mind and assurance that your donations are going where you expect them to go, and where they need to be.

Donate to the Edmonton Food Bank here.

To encourage people to take part and donate to this great cause, there is also a Rafflecopter that you can enter for some sweet prizes.

Finally, there’s also a snowman drawing contest you can enter here. If you can draw circles, you can definitely enter the contest!

What’s my part in this? Well, today I’m going to contribute by talking about our relationship with food.

Food is something that’s easy to take for granted, and I say this not to invoke guilt, but rather as a stepping-stone toward greater empathy, of which the world can never get enough.

Being hungry sucks. I’ve been very lucky to have spent most of my life with this basic need met, but I do have some experiences that have afforded me a greater understanding of just how great an impact hunger can have on a person’s life. It is by no means the same thing as struggling for food every day, but I think it can offer a similar lens to understand what that struggle might be like.

I have ulcerative colitis, which is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting the colon. It means that I’m very sensitive to certain foods, to stress, and that I will need to be medicated for the rest of my life. I’m doing well now, but it wasn’t always the case.

During the many years before my diagnosis, I spent a lot of time in pain, and I lost a lot of weight when I couldn’t properly absorb nutrients. My relationship with food began changing dramatically at that point. I started to make adjustments to find out what would be safe and what wouldn’t. Getting advice from others was a loaded gun, because it came packaged with a lot of judgment, which in turn translated to a lot of self-criticism and feeling bad about what I ate when I was already feeling terrible.

Even after getting diagnosed, this pattern didn’t go away. In fact, in many ways, it got worse, because I knew what my condition was, and felt responsible for managing it. This included keeping a running, confusing and often contradictory list of foods that were safe to eat, which sometimes conflicted with the foods that were good for long-term health. It also meant saying no to a lot of foods offered by hosts, as well as alcohol.

I was astonished at how much this change in diet affected my relationships with others. Suddenly there was this layer of judgment, a distance that grew between me and many others, and there was often a perspective that my dietary restrictions arose either out of pretence or a need for attention. Neither could be further from the truth.

I’ve also spoken to friends who define themselves vehemently by what they eat (for example, a love of bacon and a hatred of all things vegan). Where would they be, and what would they do if they discover they can no longer have these foods, and have to cross sides? I wish there wasn’t so much identity attached to food, but the old adage of “you are what you eat” carries more weight than we like to admit.

The way I think and look at food has changed forever, and although I’ve tried to be kinder to myself, I still at times fall into the trap of hyper-analyzing what I’ve eaten, when it’s a much more complex matrix of factors that influence whether or not I have a flare-up. I think about food far more than I used to, partly because I’ve spent so many periods of flare during which I couldn’t hardly eat anything at all.

There was a study on hunger (back before there were restrictions on this type of harmful research) where groups of college students were starved for varying levels of time. What they found was the students became pre-occupied with thoughts of food. When they watched TV, they would have tunnel-vision on scenes with food. It was all they could think about during lectures. (This is a phenomenon that is sometimes called a scarcity cycle, where the lack of something leads you to behave in ways that are not conducive to getting more of that thing, but that’s another topic)

Years later, the participants of that study report still having an abnormal fixation on food.

The point is that going without food, even for a short time, has permanent, long-term effects.

Many of us have goals and plans that stretch into the far future, dreams and aspirations that we build toward. When someone’s hungry, their cognitive capacity to think and see that far ahead is diminished. In a very real sense, it kills some of our ability to dream.

I’ve experienced this effect myself. It takes far more effort than it used to for me to cast my gaze into the far future. Part of my mind is, I’m sad to say, always thinking a little bit about food, and about the near-term possibility that I will have to starve for a few days because of my illness.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m by no means saying my experiences are the same as long-term starvation. I think that maybe I’ve had a small taste of the effects.

This is a very long way of saying that I support the Food Bank because everyone should be allowed to dream. Everyone should be allowed to have their basic needs met in such a way that they can cast their spirits into the possibilities of what they might bring into the world, and into themselves, tomorrow, next week, and next year.

If you’re in the fortunate position to have great food over the holidays, consider making a donation to help others have that security. If you’re not in the financial position to do so, that’s fine.

My hope is to increase understanding and empathy between people with differing relationships with food, whether that be from dietary needs or scarcity. If you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve given you something to think about in terms of your own relationship with food, and how that translates to others. Do you define yourself by what you eat, and judge others in kind? I hope that if you do, you’ll consider another approach: not letting food be the barrier between people, but instead be the bridge that lets people bring out the best in themselves. And possibly giving a donation to the people for whom lack of food is in fact a barrier to living a full, happy life.

Thanks for reading. I wish you as much calm and warmth as possible in this season that can come laden with too much baggage. Let’s not let food add to that baggage. Happy holidays, everyone!

Humanity has benefited tremendously from the fruits of scientific discovery, particularly since the Enlightenment. Most of us rely on electricity for day-to-day needs, and are moved to awe upon seeing our species extend the known boundaries of existence, in space exploration for example. We are naturally inclined to value freedom, and these discoveries augment our sense of it. No one has any living memory of the historic times scientific study was considered utterly heretical, and in direct opposition to the values and norms any good citizen ought to hold dear.

Until, perhaps, quite recently.

Rather than the religious banners under which anti-science rhetoric assembled in Galilean times, it now aligns along the political spectrum. It is a war of ideology rather than spirituality. Is it all that different? Each side lays claim to their status as outsiders trying to subvert or prevent manipulation by powerful “other” forces. It’s left or right, blue or red, us versus them, down and up, matter and antimatter. Each side claims to be a victim of the sinister manipulations and devious schemes of the other.

With sources of information so tunneled directly into our eyeballs, we report multiple realities. We inhabit the era of alternative facts, and have moved far beyond George Orwell’s doublethink and into a realm where an infinite series of paradoxes no longer contradict one another. Maybe one day this will be looked upon as the greatest unintentional invention of our generation.

There have been some studies that attempted to link personal psychology with political leanings. The one I am most aware of revealed that a conservative political bias tends to be associated with fear, whether that be fear of the future, fear of the government or fear of the unknown. On the other hand, a liberal political bias tends to be associated with psychologies leaning toward hope and anticipation of possibilities. This result probably sounds quite biased, and as though there is a one-size-fits-all model to describe every conservative or liberal. That’s an extreme supposition, and not what I think can be taken away from these results. I think it’s more a useful way to try and situate where another person might be coming from. Because we all know hope, and we all know fear.

The question of fear is pertinent to the overall climate surrounding science (pun intended). Here, we see fear playing out on multiple levels. There are people afraid of the effects of climate change on our planet. There are other people afraid their fundamental freedoms will be restricted if the liberal agenda to restrict our carbon footprint is allowed to pass. What I find compelling is that both sides hold positions that fundamentally stem from an existential fear. In one case the fear of death is sparked by the fear of losing ecosystems that support us. In the other case, the fear of death is sparked by the idea of losing independent, conscious action.

If we can find no other common ground, we can safely say that we are united in our fear of death. That sounds more morbid than I intend. I actually find a great deal of comfort in the notion that at the end of the day, we are all just scared little lumps of flesh trying to our best.

Returning to the question of humanity’s relationship with science, we have to ask the question: when did our perspective shift from awe, to one where we question the notion that the Earth is round? Many people ranting online about conspiracies to hide the truth of our flat Earth are seemingly unaware that the messages they’re sending, and the community they’ve formed is entirely reliant upon satellite networks orbiting a spherical body. But I digress.

I think our relationship with science comes down to the news science is trying to tell us. In most cases where scientific discoveries are appreciated, they are associated with the fundamental extension of our freedoms. We can communicate with more people around the world? Great. We don’t have to cook our food over a fire? Fantastic. If we process this black sludge, mix it with air and pressurize it in a one ton hunk of metal with wheels, we can travel great distances? Sign us up.

Science is valued and trusted when it allows us to do more. We don’t see a lot of argumentation over the fundamental principles of semiconductors, even though we use them every day in our computers and smart phones. If scientific results expand on the ways in which we can interact with the world, and conduct our lives, then they are not questioned.

Quantum mechanics, one of the branches of physics most difficult to understand, nevertheless gives us results that we’re coming to rely upon more and more. Multi-junction solar cells rely on tunnel junctions to work properly. Tiny computer processors have to take quantum effects into consideration.

If all of a sudden, however, a physicist emerged from a lab and said that quantum physics tells us our regular everyday conduct is going to tear apart the fabric of reality, we would probably have an inrush of people wanting to understand the nuances of Schrödinger’s equation.

Scientists, as enablers of freedom, are beloved liberators. Scientists as police officers telling us what we cannot do, are burned at the stake. We are fine when scientific discovery gives us iPhones so that we can never feel bored again, but heaven forbid if those same principles and practices start telling us that we have to give up some of the conveniences of modern life.

Image slightly cropped from original from https://www.flickr.com/photos/lolaashepherd/26544415935

This can versus cannot paradox lies at the heart of the climate change debate. There’s also, admittedly, the notion that scientific results that we can’t easily observe with our five senses firsthand can be hard to take in. Most people can’t see electrons and protons, but they trust the results of physicists from generations before them.

The weather, on the other hand, is something people can observe. And everyone has an opinion on the weather. Inevitably, ideas of the weather are conflated with climate. For some reason it seems absurd to trust a scientist telling us about the long-term global climate future when a meteorologist can’t even predict the next day’s weather. Observability and comparability to experience certainly plays a role in the climate change debate.

When else has scientific discovery been met with such scrutiny and skepticism? The best example I can think of is the tobacco industry’s campaign against the cigarette-lung cancer link. Smoking (or not) was a choice that arguably affected individuals rather than entire countries, and it took twelve years (between 1954 and 1966) between the first scientific discovery, and governmental intervention in the form of warnings on cigarette packs. Nevertheless, the pernicious effects of that campaign are still felt today. I’ve met people who don’t believe in the harmful effects of cigarettes, and who swear based on a single outlier of an uncle who smoked every day and lived to 85 that the rest of the statistical results can be discarded.

This all-or-nothing thinking, or certainty-or-nothing thinking, is willfully encouraged when science gives us a result that threatens our existence. Objectivity is thrown out when it inconveniences us. So-called enabling science is welcomed, and restrictive science is spurned.

As a thought experiment, let’s flip climate change on its head. Let’s suppose that climate change scientists were telling us that as a result of anthropogenically-produced CO2, the climate has and would become more stable, that more people would live in favourable conditions on Earth. Would we have a debate? Would we question scientists and their results more than had ever been done in the last century? Even the naysayers would eventually have to acknowledge the evidence borne out by reams and reams of data around them, wouldn’t they? In this case, oil corporations would benefit from this news, so the widespread narrative would be more or less aligned. The alignment of realities is one effect, but there’s also the effect that this news, as an expander of freedoms, would be met with open arms.

Regardless of what your own stance on climate change is, I think an important act of self-awareness to take when you’re having any gut reaction to something climate-related is to examine where that reaction stems from. Does it come from a fear of death? Is it a fear of limiting your freedoms? By labelling an emotion, we empower the use of our entire brain’s circuitry to think through things more clearly and fully. Rather than staying rooted in lower-level reactional habits, this act of labeling an emotion to engage our whole brain can help us better understand ourselves and each other.

If we can acknowledge the fearful roots of our beliefs and reactions, we can examine them for what they are. If we value freedom so much that we treat any threat to limit it with outright hostility, then we ought to engage our whole brains in the examination of our fears, and beliefs, to truly express that freedom we hold so dear.

I have some incredibly exciting news, which I’ve been meaning to share amidst the crazy busy summer times.

First of all, “Ad Me,” a flash story about a magical homework assignment gone awry, was published in the Centropic Oracle podcast. It’s a short but adorable listen, so check it out in the sidebar.

Secondly, my short story, “The Djinni and the Accountant,” published in Fire: Demons, Dragons, and Djinn by Tyche Books, is a finalist for the Washington Science Fiction Associations Small Press Award!

You might notice that it’s published under a different name. That’s my old pen name, but it is indeed me. It’s funny how this stuff happens almost immediately after making a branding change, but that doesn’t detract much from my delight.

I have to give a huge thanks to Rhonda Parrish, who edited the anthology (and always does terrific work), as well as Tyche Books for publishing the elemental anthology series. I’m very flattered and honoured to be recognized as a finalist. It can seem sometimes like I’m not making progress, or that I’m banging my head against the same wall, but moments like these are wonderful breaths of air to say that yes, the hard work is paying off.

The finalists will be honoured, and the award given out on Saturday, October 19th, at the annual WSFA convention, Capclave (http://www.capclave.org). I will unfortunately be unable to attend, but I’ll be paying close attention for the final results, and will share as soon as I know.

If you happen to be attending, send me a message and let me know how the con goes!

I love board games, and so I feel an unnerving pressure to attend local events. A good kind of pressure, a deep-tissue massage.

We only went for the last afternoon, but we experienced what happens every time I crack open a new board game: new paradigms, new lenses through which we see microcosms before total immersion. I lose myself in these worlds, loving the way mechanics can be reflective of our own rules, things we might strive toward, or just ways in which we can be something more than ourselves.

The best game we played this year was Naga Raja, a two-player duelling treasure hunt game that entwines betting, combat, Indian Jones exploration and the satisfaction of pipeworks grid puzzles. The game had the wonderful combination of multiple interacting elements and mechanics, while remaining easy enough to understand the basic structure and flow. I regret to inform you I didn’t win the match, nor did I win the raffled copy of the game. Somehow, however, I feel that a serpentine ruler will slither its way into my game cupboard nevertheless…

Another game by the same company (Ilo 307) was Planet, where you build a planet by attaching magnetic tiles to your very own dodecahedron. Animals will spontaneously emerge, or perhaps flock to, the planet most abundant in a particular type of biome. While the mechanics were simple, the three-dimensional tactile aspect retained interest as we flipped our own, and each other’s planets to try and plan the next moves. Trying to keep a mental model throughout proved a form of calisthenics for spatial reasoning.

Tiny Towns was an adorable game that showed how resource acquisition can be a double-edged sword, discouraging wanton hoarding or collecting of anything but what you need, a notion and theme that is perhaps an appropriate lesson for the young and old.

Then there was Tokyo Highway. Oh, Tokyo Highway. What I’d like to call String Railroad 3D. What a neat concept, but wow, do I wish I had surgeon’s hands to be successful. In a two-player version, I managed to demolish highways faster than a sharknado. I can only imagine the rich satisfaction a 4-player game would entail, which would no doubt harbour toddler-level joy through ruination of an established order.

Thank goodness we have such outlets as games, or who knows what the babbling, insufferably adorable destructoids might do to the world as we know it.

Pretty excited to share that you can get F is for Fairy now as part of a Story Bundle (like Humble Bundle for books). That means you get to pay what you want for a variety of fairy-themed e-books, choosing what portion of it goes to a charity (like Girls Write Now or Mighty Writers) and to writers. This is a great opportunity to snag some good reading, support some great organizations, and support authors. Sandra Kasturi has curated this lovely collection.

This is happening before the book is officially released in May, so you can get it early. Click here to go to story bundle and get your books!

The F is for Fairy anthology, edited by Rhonda Parrish, is a collection of 26 short stories themed around fairies. There’s a story for each letter of the alphabet, and my story is the letter “I”. You’ll have to read the story to find out what the letter stands for….

Hard to believe I’m in a bundle with Jane Yolen!

Thursday night (Nov 9) Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first woman in space, will be speaking at Festival Place. https://festivalplace.ab.ca/view/shows/id/1004#showtimes

Tomorrow the Alberta/Canada Fusion Technology Alliance is hosting a public forum on fusion energy, 9am-4pm at U of A.
 
Fusion energy is extremely clean, with bountiful fuel that releases a MASSIVE amount of energy (1 truckload of fuel would last a whole year at a power plant). But it’s very difficult to do. If we can make it viable in a reactor form, it would go a massive way toward addressing the world’s energy needs.
 
Registration for the Forum is free and includes a free lunch and refreshments at break times. It is targeted at a general audience of the public, students and administrators to give an overview of the status and opportunities for fusion energy.
 
 

In the past few months, World Weaver Press has released the next two installments in Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menagerie anthologies: Corvidae and Scarecrow. In Corvidae, “birds are born of blood and pain, trickster ravens live up to their names, magpies take human form, blue jays battle evil forces, and choughs become prisoners of war.” In Scarecrow, “ancient enemies join together to destroy a mad mommet, a scarecrow who is a crow protects solar fields and stores long-lost family secrets, a woman falls in love with a scarecrow, and another becomes one.” These two fascinating works feature many bright authors, and I had the opportunity to interview some of them.

This week I got to glimpse inside the mind of genius behind the magical menageries, writer-editor Rhonda Parrish. In the words of Sara Cleto, Rhonda is a “shapeshifter with talents to match her every incarnation- magpie tenacity for picking the shiniest submissions, nightingale notes for crafting tales, and bright, feline eyes for seeking out her photographic subjects. She balances on the knife-edge of darkness and light, a sorceress of both realms.”

fae  corvidae  scarecrow

Joseph Halden: How did you find the process of editing Corvidae and Scarecrow compared to the previous magical menagerie, Fae? Was it difficult to coordinate the two anthologies and make them work well with each other? Were there many surprises along the way?

Rhonda Parrish: It was significantly more difficult to work on two anthologies at the same time to focus on just one, more than twice as difficult actually LOL. I think part of that was just time management but a bigger part was what you refer to here–trying to make them work well together. It’s an interesting balancing act I’d never attempted before and it led to a lot of extra steps and work.

For example, not only did I have to solicit submissions from people to add diversity and fill in gaps (“Please, please, submit something that includes a corvid other than a magpie, crow or a raven.”), I also had to solicit story submissions for one book to counter balance stories in the other. Tricksy.

I enjoyed the challenge a great deal and I think the resulting anthologies are amazing but I am not going to do another set of paired anthologies any time soon–or if I do they’ll be released further apart LO

JH: Have all the magical menageries been your brainchildren? Is/are there any that are particularly dear to you?

RP: They have, which makes them all exceptionally special to me ☺ However, while I love all of them they are each dear to me for reasons unique to themselves as well.

Fae’s publication marks a turning point in my career as an editor and anthologist. That is the book which put my work on people’s radar and opened the door for the rest of the series.

Corvidae is an anthology I’ve wanted to do forever. I feel a connection to corvids that is both ridiculous and profound so being able to honor them in an anthology like this means a lot to me.

Scarecrow… Scarecrows are so wonderfully uncanny that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do a collection all about them. Beyond that it’s got my favourite cover and contains what I consider to be some of the strongest stories from the series within its pages. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to say that in public but there ya go LOL

JH: What authors or stories spurred you as a child (or later) to delve into the rich magical fantasies you now share with the world?

RP: I was really lucky in that my mother never ever censored what I read and there were always books around the house. It resulted in a few awkward moments such as when I did a grade four book review on Christine but I am incredibly grateful.

I grew up on a super fun mix of romance novels, Stephen King, Choose Your Own Adventure, Dragonlance, Xanth, Shakespeare, VC Andrews and basically whatever fantasy and horror novels I could find in my local second-hand store.

These days my tastes remain pretty eclectic. I could talk about them for hours but I’m afraid to start naming names for fear I’ll forget someone and then spend hours being mad at myself LOL

JH: Do you look at the birds in your yard differently after doing these anthologies?

RP: I don’t think so, no. I’ve always felt pretty connected to corvids, especially the ones in my yard and neighbourhood (my husband refers to them as my soulmates and I think he’s only half-joking) so Corvidae didn’t make me look at them differently… but it did make me feel like I was honouring them.

JH: Why did you discriminate against Phasianidae birds when you put these works together?

RP: Well, I had to discriminate against a lot of birds when I put these works together because you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. I *do* love birds from the Phasianidae family though and you could certainly get a kick-ass cover for an anthology about them… Maybe you and I should co-edit an anthology filled with Phasianidae stories. Do you think there’s a market out there for those stories? ☺

JH: Do you have any advice for budding authors? Budding editors?

RP: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” That’s a quote from Samuel Beckett. It’s how I try to live my life (in fact I intend to get ‘Fail Better’ as my next tattoo) and I think it especially applies to writing or editing. Just don’t give up.

Sometimes it’s going to suck. It’s going to suck so bad and you’re going to wonder why you keep trying, keep banging your head against walls but sometimes… sometimes it’s amazing and you don’t get to experience those amazing bits if you give up.

JH: You’re a very active and ambitious writer/editor. How do you approach doing all the things, and stay sane?

RP: Want to know a secret? I’m not sure I’m doing so well at that sanity thing LOL

I’m still trying to find the balance. I go through this cycle where I take things on and take things on, and then I find a sweet spot where everything feels right. Timelines are meshing, I’m being consistently productive and things are going awesome and I’ll stay there for a while. And it’s wondrous… until it’s not.

Suddenly I’ve got too many things going on and not enough hours in the day. I feel like I’m drowning in projects so I start prioritizing, cutting back, trying to find the things which are really important to me and focus on them. Then I find another sweet spot and everything is working and I’m productive and feeling positive…

And then I have a great idea for a new project and a little extra time so why not? So I take that on. And the next thing, and the next thing, and the cycle starts over again.

As I get to know myself and my process the cycle becomes a bit less dramatic, less exciting to watch from the outside, and I get to spend more and more time in those sweet spots but still, sometimes it’s a struggle.

…on a more practical level–I use a whiteboard to keep track of all my projects, deadlines and to-do lists, I go through more Post-it notes than anyone else you’ve ever seen and I make a ridiculous number of lists LOL

JH: Any hint on what we can expect after the next installment, Sirens?

RP: I’m afraid not LOL I have ideas but it’s a rather long list and I haven’t had a chance to pick one and write up a pitch for World Weaver Press Editor-in-chief Eileen Wiedbrauk about it yet. Besides, right now I’m swimming (ha! I’m so funny) in SIRENS submissions so I’m just going to focus on them for a little bit, then we’ll see.

Thank you for your honest and thoughtful answers, Rhonda! If you want to see some of the fantastic projects she’s put together, visit her at www.rhondaparrish.com. And of course you can check out her magical menageries, Fae, Corvidae, and Scarecrow — available now! If you’re a writer looking to get involved, her next project SIRENS is currently open for submissions.

In the past few months, World Weaver Press has released the next two installments in Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menagerie anthologies: Corvidae and Scarecrow. In Corvidae, “birds are born of blood and pain, trickster ravens live up to their names, magpies take human form, blue jays battle evil forces, and choughs become prisoners of war.” In Scarecrow, “ancient enemies join together to destroy a mad mommet, a scarecrow who is a crow protects solar fields and stores long-lost family secrets, a woman falls in love with a scarecrow, and another becomes one.” These two fascinating works feature many bright authors, and I had the opportunity to interview some of them.

The second is Kat Otis, who lives a peripatetic life with a pair of cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there’s no country music involved. Her fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction and Penumbra eMag. Her story “Whistles and Trills” appears in Corvidae.

corvidae

Joseph Halden: Your story hints at events happening on a larger scale than what we glimpse in Morgaine’s tale. Do you have any plans to expand on those ideas, or have you already?

Kat Otis: I haven’t made any specific plans to write other stories in this world, though it’s definitely a possibility.  I find twentieth-century history to be insanely depressing so it isn’t my go-to period for historical fantasy.

That said, part of the initial inspiration for this story was my research on twentieth-century spy pigeons.  I cannot emphasize enough how awesome spy pigeons are, especially when you’re trying to communicate information in a way that can’t be easily intercepted by the enemy.  Almost two thirds of the WWII Dickin Medals (the UK’s award to honor animals in war) were awarded to pigeons!  So there are definitely a lot of possible “spy corvidae” ideas floating around in my head and it’s likely that I’ll eventually write some of them.

JH: Can you give us your take on why the corvids in your story were on a prisoner transport?

KO: The Nazis attempted to purge Germany of all “undesirables” – most famously Jews, but also Roma, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, and many others.  Alas, it doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination to lump their resident non-humanoid intelligent birds into the same category.

JH: How did you come up with the lines to separate the warring creatures in your alternate world?

KO: In general, the frost giants, corvidae, and sea serpents would prefer to keep to themselves rather than involve themselves in human infighting.  But the geographical proximity of the Axis powers to the Alps (where I imagine many frost giants live) provides a strong incentive for the Nazis to woo their various chieftaincies into a military alliance.  And the Nazi leadership has the requisite ruthlessness to give the frost giants whatever they want to make sure that alliance sticks…

The corvidae’s entrance into the war doesn’t involve unilateral support for the Allied side – the Nazis might have burned their bridges there, but they weren’t the only Axis power.  And a lot of corvidae are going to want to stay neutral, seeing this as a primarily human concern.

As for the sea serpents… if I ever get the desire to write a submarine story, then we’ll see.  I should mention I was just at a submarine museum a few weeks ago…

JH: Which side of the war would Phasianids be on?

KO: The dinner plate?  Okay, okay, seriously.  I think there would be Phasianids on both sides of the war.  Unlike my frost giants, who are limited to specific geographical regions, Phasianids are pretty much everywhere and would have evolved a variety of relationships with local powers during the war.  Each different species, and each species in each nation, would have different goals, motives, and politics.

JH: The details depicted in all the flight scenes are very authentic. Did you draw from any aviation experience(s) of your own, or was that just a result of good research?

KO: I come from a family of pilots, though I’m not a licensed pilot myself.  The last time I flew a plane, I nearly flipped it on take-off.  It’s extremely hard to keep a plane level when your co-pilot decides to open his bloody door, and no, I don’t care if the seat belt was caught in it!  Ahem.

Anyway, I’m glad the flight scenes come across as authentic as I spent several days picking various family members’ brains to make sure I got things right.  They’re not writers themselves, but they are extremely enthusiastic when I hijack family gatherings with things like, “Help me crash a plane!”

JH: Why do you think stories of the magical, the fantastic, are relevant to readers today?

KO: I think speculative fiction is vital to fostering readers’ imaginations and helping them see beyond the limits they’ve been taught to impose on themselves and the world around them.  I’m reminded, in this moment, of one of my favorite childhood movies – Flight of Dragons – where the wizard explains that things like the crystal ball inspired mankind to invent radio and television.  If we didn’t dream of dragons and winged men, would we have ever learned to fly?

When it comes to historical fantasy and alternate history, in particular, I think that these stories are vital in helping us understand past events and cultures.  They let us explore historical contingencies – the “what might have been” if just a few little details get tweaked – and reveal the extent of human uncertainty and agency in a history that readers tend to think of as somehow inevitable and foreordained.  They also let us explore the mind-sets of historical cultures; I don’t have to convince readers that people weren’t stupid for believing in X, Y, and Z, I just make those things real and then my readers willingly come along for the ride.  In general, if authors push the boundaries far enough, they can bring readers past their preexisting opinions and prejudices to a better understanding of the historical past and what it means for the present – and the future.

JH: You list many online forums as writer resources on your website. Have you been involved in any of these forums personally, and what can you share with us about the experience? Are you still active on them?

KO: I’ve been active on all the forums that I’ve listed on my website, though it’s been a while since I visited some of them.  Hatrack and Critters were the first online writing sites where I participated in on a regular basis.  The advice and support I got there led to me attending Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp and my first professional sale!  Absolute Write is my go-to forum whenever I need an expert to help me with some aspect of story research – there are some great folks there who are willing to answer all sorts of wacky questions.  It also has a much broader focus, for those people who aren’t solely SFF writers.

My current “home” forum is Codex.  It’s a wonderful resource, full of awesome people, and provides a good kick-in-the-pants to write by hosting a rotating series of contests.  Probably my favorite is the Weekend Warrior contest: for five weekends in a row, we have from Friday night to Sunday night to write a prompt-based flash fiction story, followed by a weekend in which the die-hards attempt to write a short story or novelette in the same length of time.  I’ve gotten a lot of great stories – and sales – out of that contest.

JH: What advice do you have for budding authors?

KO: Expect rejection.  I know, that sounds depressing, but I think it’s important for budding authors to know rejection is a fact of life for all writers who are out submitting their work on a regular basis.  It’s normal.  It doesn’t mean that your work is awful.  It doesn’t mean that you can’t write.  And it definitely doesn’t mean you should give up on your dreams.

Thank you for the realistic yet motivating words, Kat! Check out her story “Whistles and Trills”  in Corvidae, available now from World Weaver Press! You can also visit her at www.katotis.com.