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Sara Saab, Author Of A Trail of Demure Virgins

Sara Saab, author of A Trail of Demure Virgins, came wailing into the world at Al Najjar Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon, in the winter of 1984. The prime witnesses each recall a single stand-out feature of the event: her mother, the musk of hard liquor on the skin of the attending obstetrician, and her father, the worrying Klingon dent scoring the tiny nose of the ruddy and slick infant. This crease soon disappeared, but little Sara didn’t. Nowadays Sara works too hard and — embarrassingly — aches too much in the heart whenever confronted by rock anthems or perfect sentences. Every explanation for her actions can ultimately be traced back to her unruly fern of a hairstyle.

Sara has had / has / will have work in Electric Velocipede, the Vignette Press‘s The Death Mook, Word Riot, and a selection of fine campus literary journals and zines.


Tell me a little about “A Trail of Demure Virgins.” What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

The story was written in a few drafts but the original impetus was very strong: on family roadtrips in the mountains of Lebanon, I was always struck by the Virgin Mary shrines left by the roadside. They’re all over the place, but as far as I can tell, never signposted. Who puts them there? Who brings the fresh flowers and incense? And why? The most recent explanation I’ve heard is that they mark the sites of fatal car crashes, but I have yet to close the case…

Without giving too much away, the very end of the story came to me word for word as this suspended image of irony and chaos.

Where do you get your ideas?

I trap them on glue pads. The little rotters squirm worse than mice and the ones that’ve gotten particularly grotesque and mangled trying to make an escape — those ones turn into the best stories by far

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Blog For A Beer: Best Books of 2008

It’s December, and you know what that means: lists.  Specifically Best Of lists.  We humans have this need to look back over a meaningful section of time and decide on the most awesome things they experienced in that time period.  Exciting, right?

Over the next three weeks we’re going to compile some Best Of lists, and you’re going to help.  Why, you ask?  Because we might give you $10 if you do!

Since you’re all avid readers of Fantasy, I’m going to guess that you enjoy reading genre fiction.  I pretty much devour anthologies and collections, myself.  I’m sure there are some novel-lovers amongst you.  Today’s question is a simple one:  What are the best books you read this year?  I’m talking best books published in 2008 — novels, collections, anthologies.  Pimp your favorite three and tell us why.

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Rose Lemberg, Author Of Geddarien

Rose Lemberg was born on the outskirts of the former Habsburg Empire. She spent many happy years in Berkeley, CA, where she also received her doctorate. Rose is a newly minted professor at a large Midwestern university. She lives in a beautiful modernist house with her toddler, husband, books, and tortoises. In her so-called spare time, Rose writes articles, sleeps, paints, and writes fiction. Her first story was published in the Warrior Wisewoman anthology. Geddarien is her second published story. Her speculative poetry has appeared in Star*line, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, Abyss and Apex, and other venues.


Tell me a little about Geddarien. What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

A vision of winter in Luriberg. An architect sits by the window. He sketches buildings of frozen water — towers, bulbous monastery roofs; the city is coughing; snowflakes melt into rain as they fall. None of this made it into the story.

Where do you get your ideas?

I don’t really get ideas. The world is full of secret noise. Cities talk to me. I have a door in my bathroom that opens to other places. Instead of a heart I have a firebird. When I was little, other children did not want to play with me because I was too strange.

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A Conversation With Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay, author of the World Fantasy Award-winning novel Ysabel, is a writer steeped in myth and history. His books, deep and well-researched jewels that unfold like flowers as you read them, have earned him numerous awards, including a World Fantasy for Tigana and a Mythopoeic Fantasy for Adult Literature for The Summer Tree. Recently he talked with author (and fan) Alaya Dawn Johnson about his recent accolades, his writing process, and the fate of his Howie.


Alaya Dawn Johnson: First, congratulations on winning the World Fantasy Award for best novel. I think it was very well deserved. The Howie is a very dignified — and hefty — award statuette (in fact, from the back of the room, he looked like an Easter Island sculpture). Is he in a place of honor or holding down shopping lists?

Guy Gavriel Kay: Easter Island’s a cute description, Alaya! It is a substantial object, a good weapon, in fact. Colonel Mustard in the Living Room with the Howie. And, for the moment, he is on the living room mantelpiece, at my two sons’ insistence because, ‘That’s where these things go!’ Who am I to argue?

ADJ: I have been a huge Dorothy Dunnett fan for years, and when I discovered that you had not only known her but been very influenced by her Lymond Chronicles it was like a bolt of lightning in my brain. I discovered that there’s this fascinating genealogy of many writers I love that goes back to Dunnett’s masterwork and it makes a great deal of sense. Why do you think those books, though they’re not at all in the fantasy genre, have had such an impact on certain kind of fantasy novel — particularly writers like you and Ellen Kushner.

GGK: Dorothy was unmatched at the revelation of character through action, as opposed to stopping a narrative to ‘do’ the character-stuff, which so many writers (and that includes the serious ones) end up doing. She was also a role model in terms of the value, the necessity of doing your homework, your research. She exemplified as a writer the notion that entertaining stories are not remotely inconsistent with complex thought and character. All of these elements in her work (and more) will be noted by a wide variety of writers, and that extends far beyond and outside fantasy.

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A Conversation with Tobias Buckell, Author of Sly Mongoose

Tobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born speculative fiction writer who grew up in Grenada, the British Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has published four books and numerous stories in various magazines and anthologies. He is a Clarion graduate, Writers of the Future winner, and Campbell Award for Best New SF Writer Finalist.

What drew you to science fiction?

In Grenada, my family lived on a boat and there was no TV, so I started reading at about 4 or 5. My mother needed something to babysit me, and figured out that if she taught me to read, I’d take care of myself for hours on end. I started reading Clive Cussler at young age, probably 6 or 7. After picking up an Arthur C. Clarke novel, I had the feeling that my imagination had been exploded and was never put back the same again. I thought, I want more of that. I look at literature as the dreams of mankind. Science fiction is the daydreams, the imagination of humanity.

Tell me about your first story.

My first story was for the Writers of the Future Contest, a military science fiction story. Being male, I’m almost stereotypical in the fact that I love action adventures. I’m horribly predictable in that regard.

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A Conversation with Dr. Nnedi Okorafor author of The Shadow Speaker

There’s a discernible new voice in Young Adult Fiction. That voice is distinctly Nigerian…and American. Dr. Nnedi Okorafor thrives in a realm of fiction called African Fantasy.

This genre combines elements of speculative fiction, magical realism and traditional fantasy with a decidedly cultural twist. Not all of these books are set in Africa, but do contain aspects of African folklore. Also, instead of the traditional Celtic setting, stories have a more earthy approach to magic.

Nnedi was born in the United States to Igbo (Nigerian) immigrant parents and you can see that influence in her work. But, her path to writing was an unusual one. Absent are any anecdotes about knowing she wanted to write since she was a small child, though she was always an avid reader. Favoring the maths and sciences, she envisioned a career in either entomology or veterinary medicine.

All this changed when following her freshman year at college, she made the difficult decision to undergo surgery to correct scoliosis, a condition involving curvature of the spine. Nnedi found herself among the one percent of people paralyzed after the surgery.

Nnedi credits that experience and having to learn to walk again with releasing her creative juices. Undeterred by advice not to pursue her passion, she changed majors. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric (Creative Writing) and earned a PhD in English in 2007. The rest, shall we say is history.

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Fantasy Pioneer Charles R. Saunders Continues to Build His Legacy

Charles R. Saunders has been writing African-inspired fantasy fiction since 1971. He has also written screenplays, radio plays, non-fiction and political opinion columns. For several years, he was the main editorial writer for a daily newspaper. Born in Pennsylvania, he now resides in Nova Scotia, an eastern Canadian province. We have Saunders to thank for bringing color to the world of fantastical fiction. He is an African American man, writing stories based on fictitious Africa. His work is full of rich imagery, exquisite scenes and heroes that before him, didn’t exist in the genre. The author of the Imaro and Dossouye series, was gracious enough to grant an us interview.

Samuel Delany was our first African American writer in the sci-fi realm. How did his work influence you?

I didn’t find out that Samuel Delany is black until long after I started doing my own writing. I had read his books before discovering his ethnicity. However, I can’t say he was a major influence, because he was writing science fiction, and I was writing fantasy. He is our pioneer, and he has set the bar very high for those of us who follow him.

Tell us about your very first story? Was it a novel or a short story?

The first story I wrote that was not an English composition assignment was an origin-of-Imaro story, which eventually became the “Place of Stones” section of the first Imaro novel.

What do you love/dislike about writing?

What I like is the creative process … transferring my imaginings from my head to the blank page. When that process goes well, it’s a natural high. What I dislike about writing is writer’s block. I hate writer’s block, and avoid it as much as possible.

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Audience Participation: Why Don’t Readers Comment On Fiction?

This month, Fantasy Magazine online turned one year old. It was in November of last year that we started publishing fiction and non-fiction on a weekly basis. Last June we launched the second version of our design and revamped the non-fiction offerings a bit. Over this time traffic has increased and we’ve gained more new readers, plus had some really amazing discussions (particularly on Fridays).

I’m really happy we have such a high level of participation from our readers, but we can’t help but notice that the comments section of our fiction is sparse or non-existent in many cases. We know you’re reading the stories (I’m obsessive about stats), but you rarely comment on them.

This is not limited to Fantasy, I know. Most online magazines offer a way for readers to comment on stories, whether on the page itself or in a forum topic. The only place where I see consistent commentary on stories is the Escape Artists forum. The audience there is vocal and brutal, but very engaged (which is awesome).

Recently, Sheila Williams mentioned that though the Asimov’s forums are very active, readers rarely discussed the stories.

…mostly they get on there and argue politics; we call it the basement. …they hardly ever talk about the stories. There are a handful of dedicated readers that talk about the stories, but they are the minority. What I have seen in the past in the ’70s and the ’80s, there were dozens of letters coming in a month. We don’t get the letters anymore. I think back in the ’80s we had more correspondence coming in on the stories than I see in the comments on the forum.

You would think that there would be far more commentary on stories on the Internet, considering how easy it is to broadcast your opinions to the world. Yet in the case of SF/F mags, we seem to see less.

I’m sure this doesn’t mean that readers aren’t liking the stories. They may be congratulating the author personally or writing opinions on their own blogs. That’s fine, too. But we, the editors, really like seeing what the readers think, too.

If you read a great story online or in print, what moves you to comment on it at the magazine itself? Assuming they’ve made it easy by providing a forum post or other comment section, what would make you take that extra step? What keeps you from doing it? Is there something editors can or should do to encourage readers to comment?

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No Objectivity: Fantasy’s Guide to Holiday Fashion

You know, I forget I can’t dress myself until the Holiday Fashion Guides come out. I know them well – they feature dresses that cost three figures and close-ups of eyeshadow palettes at ludicrous angles, and remind me what I should be wearing, and what I should avoid lest I get thrown out of all those holiday parties I will apparently spend all of December attending. I read them all, just to make sure I wouldn’t show up in lime green velvet two years in a row; unfortunately, I was watching movies the whole time, and what with all the pumpkintinis I was drinking (Fall’s Hottest Drink!) I got them sort of confused.

I did my best to bring you a brief digest of these edicts, so that you won’t find yourself stranded with nothing to wear just before the party starts. So take a load off, pour yourself a pumpkintini or six, and check out Fantasy’s Guide to Holiday Fashion.

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Diversity in Speculative Fiction

It seems like a common trope that diversity and quality in speculative fiction are mutually exclusive. Or, at least not a double necessity. Whenever an internet discussion blows up over this issue (notably, the Eclipse 2 anthology and Helix Magazine debates just this past year), I see it frequently stated that quality is more important than diversity, to the point where you would think quality and diversity couldn’t live in the same story. And nobody ever questions this.

This feels like an intentional non sequitur. Quality isn’t something that you can judge universally; it’s highly subjective. One person’s gold is another person’s fool’s gold. But more to the point, quality as a criterion really has nothing to do with the health of the speculative fiction field. “Quality” may give us a little more prestige with the literary folks, but it doesn’t stretch the boundaries of what we consider “speculative fiction”. It doesn’t get us thinking new ideas, seeing new horizons. Diversity does.

Two fairly recent anthologies: Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (2005), edited by Sheree R. Thomas, and Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (2003), edited by Andrea L. Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilán, showcase African-American and (mostly) Spanish-speaking spec-fic writers respectively. Both, as Silvia Moreno-Garcia remarked to me a few months ago, have stories that are far more likely to appear in literary publications than any spec-fic market. Now there’s an irony for you–quality according to literary terms is used as an excuse for not aggressively pursuing diversity in spec-fic, yet all the ethnically diverse spec-fic is in the Literary section of the bookstore.

This brings us to the central irony of downgrading the importance of diversity in speculative fiction. The term is “speculative fiction”. It’s not just about shiny, phallic rocket ships populated by deep-in-the-closet Aryan brethren conquering the Final Frontier, people. It’s about different futures, alternate realities, dangerous fantasies. You’d think such places, where dragons dwell, would be heavily populated with equally unusual people, but nope. Looks like everybody important there is white, male, anglophone and straight. Not to mention perfectly healthy physically and mentally.

Excuse me, but how is that “speculative”?