And the Award-Winning Author Is…

I’m amazed and thrilled to announce that my story “Eight Mile and the City” from When Worlds Collide has won the WSFA small press award for short fiction.

Check it!

This year, the committee got more than 260 stories for initial consideration. They whittled it down to ten finalists, including my story. The finalist list has some heavy-hitters in the SF writing community on it, and there were so many stories anyway, so I wasn’t expecting to win. I had a “It would be great, but no need to get your hopes up” frame of mind. I was in the audience at the award ceremony in Washington DC, and when they announced my story had won, I was floored. I was so surprised, I couldn’t do anything for a moment but stare at the announcer. Joshua Palmatier, one of the editors for the anthology, was sitting next to me, and I could see he was thrilled. In a fit of exuberance, I hugged him, then went up to the podium to get the award. I also gave a short speech. This is what I said:

Thank you, everyone! This is amazing!

This story means a lot to me. Not just because I wrote it, but because of what it means. The main character in “Eight Mile and the City” from When Worlds Collide is gay, but that’s not what the story is about. The story is about a hardboiled detective trying to solve a kidnapping and uncovering his own past as well.

Not that long ago, this story would only have appeared in an anthology of gay fiction and “only”
gotten the attention of the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. This story appears in a fantastic anthology
of wonderful stories that are geared toward all SF readers. It’s not a specialty. It’s not an odd outlier. Instead, it’s one of the family.

We still have further to go, of course, but every step forward gets us one step closer to full inclusion and acceptance. I’m thrilled that my story has become one of those steps.

I do want to thank the committee members for choosing “Eight Mile and the City.” It means so very much! I also need to thank the members of the Untitled Writers Group of Ann Arbor, Michigan–Sarah, MaryBeth, Jonathan, Christian, Diana, Cindy, Ted, Christine P-K, and Christine D–for commentary that improved every line of this story. I want to thank S.C. Butler and Joshua Palmatier for editing When Worlds Collide and buying my story. And I want to thank my husband Darwin McClary for the inspiration I needed to write this piece.

I’m back home now and coasting on euphoria!

The story “Eight Mile and the City” appears in the anthology When Worlds Collide. We have an excerpt below:


We knew she was opportunity because she knocked once and came in. She had a swagger and a set of dagger heels you only see in women south of Eight Mile. A thin line of dark showed at the roots of her carefully golden hair and her lipstick was a strawberry scarlet. She shut the office door behind her and sat in the client chair across from me without asking, her red leather purse perched on her knees like a sleek little lapdog. Seb exchanged a glance with me from his section of the shared Ikea desk we’d salvaged from a burned-out building down on Cass.

“Is this the Eight Mile Detective Agency?” she asked.

Seb leaned back and his chair squeaked. “That’s what it says on the door. You need a detective?”

“Or maybe two.” Her posture hummed with live-wire tension. “I want to hire you to find my son. His name is Samuel Flagg.”

From her purse she removed a paper photograph and passed it over to me. It landed on my desk and I looked down at it without touching. A boy with brown hair, maybe three years old, gazed back up at me with brown eyes. I flipped the photo over to Seb with my fingertips. It was a hell of a flip. My part of the desk looks like the universe a half-second after the Big Bang. But if you stand on it and look down from a distance, you’d see that the chaos makes a wider pattern—these papers sorted by date, those by urgency, others by category.  Seb’s desk, on the other hand, is rigid as a general’s asshole. The few objects on his desk look like they’re nailed there. So it was a feat to flip the photo over my chaos to his order.

While Seb examined the photo, I made myself say, “Your name is?” Talking to strangers is the hardest part of my day. Not because I don’t know what to say. I just have to find a way to say it.

“Candace Flagg.” She reached across the desk. “Pleased to meet you.”

I managed not to grimace when I leaned in to shake. Her hand was cool and thin, and when the sleeve of her blue silk coat pulled back, I noticed the scars.

“Andy Faust,” I said, giving my standard opener. “This is my partner in crime prevention, Sebastian. How long has your son been missing?”

She hesitated. “Next week, it’ll be two years.”

Seb’s eyebrows went up. “Have you called the cops about him?”

“Of course. They told me he isn’t missing.”

Now my eyebrows went up. “You got more to say than that?”

“Look. There’s a reason I’m here.” She leaned in again and lowered her voice. “Word out there—” she made a vague gesture at the door and its pebbled glass window that read Eight Mile Detective Agency: We Push the Boundary “—is that you boys have an in with the NokSinn.”

A silence fell over the little office, but it took me a while to notice. Seb sat stone-faced. I looked away from him and swallowed a throatful of nerves.

Choices in Reading

I am not familiar with the work of  Annie Ernaux, the French author who just won the Nobel Prize for literature. It used to bother me when I hadn’t heard of a writer whose work was well-enough known to be considered for a prestigious award, especially if that writer was a woman.

But I no longer expect to have read everything of note that’s published in the world. It’s not just the obvious fact that writers who don’t work in English are not translated and published in the U.S. as often as they should be, especially since I have read some complex works in French and probably could do it again with the help of a good dictionary.

It’s mostly that there are just a lot of books out there, many of them by writers who should be better known than they are. I find it hard to keep up even with writers whose work I love.

And of course, there’s a great deal of nonfiction to read, not to mention the need to read “comfort” books, most of which will never be nominated for big awards even though they are often better than that label might imply.

It is clearly impossible to read everything and when you know that a great deal of excellent work isn’t even noticed by those who purport to define the literary canon, it’s obvious that one will miss a lot of very good books.

As the French say, “C’est la vie.” Continue reading “Choices in Reading”

Let’s Build a World: New Astronomical Finds for Your SF Stories

I’ve got a file (actually a dozen files) of cool science stories that I might use in science fictional world-building. What sf author doesn’t? Even fantasy stories need good science. For instance, an urban fantasy involving werewolves really should depict the phases of the moon accurately. This week, images and data from the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes have furnished a treasure trove of research ideas. Rather than post them separately, I’ve gathered a few that I find particularly exciting.


There Could be Many Water Worlds in the Milky Way

Astronomers are curious about how many terrestrial planets in our galaxy are actually “water worlds.”
These are rocky planets that are larger than Earth but have a lower density, which suggests that volatiles like water make up a significant amount (up to half) of their mass-fraction. According to a recent study by researchers from the University of Chicago and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC), water worlds may be just as common as “Earth-like” rocky planets. These findings bolster the case for exoplanets that are similar to icy moons in the Solar System (like Europa) and could have significant implications for future exoplanet studies and the search for life in our Universe.

“We have discovered the first experimental proof that there is a population of water worlds, and that they are in fact almost as abundant as Earth-like planets. We found that it is the density of a planet and not its radius, as was previously thought, which separates dry planets from wet ones. The Earth is a dry planet, even though its surface is mostly covered in water, which gives it a very wet appearance. The water on Earth is only 0.02% of its total mass, while in these water worlds it is 50% of the mass of the planet.”

However, planets around M-type stars typically orbit so closely that they are tidally locked, where one side is constantly facing toward its sun. At this distance, any water on the planet’s surface would likely exist in a supercritical gas phase, increasing their sizes. As a result, Luque and Pallé theorized that in this population, water is bound to the rock or in closed volumes below the surface, not in the form of oceans, lakes, and rivers on the surface. These conditions are similar to what scientists have observed with icy moons in the outer Solar System, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan.

Given that they are tidally locked to their suns, these planets may also have liquid oceans on their sun-facing side but frozen surfaces everywhere else – colloquially known as “eyeball planets.” While astronomers have speculated about the existence of this class of exoplanet, these findings constitute the first confirmation for this new type of exoplanet. They also bolster the growing case for water worlds that form beyond the so-called “snow line” in star systems (the boundary beyond which volatile elements freeze solid), then migrate closer to their star.

In the past, glaciers may have existed on the surface of Mars, providing meltwater during the summer to create the features we see today. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA

Mars Had Moving Glaciers, but They Behaved Differently in the Planet’s Lower Gravity

On Earth, shifts in our climate have caused glaciers to advance and recede throughout our geological history (known as glacial and inter-glacial periods). The movement of these glaciers has carved features on the surface, including U-shaped valleys, hanging valleys, and fjords. These features are missing on Mars, leading scientists to conclude that any glaciers on its surface in the distant past were stationary. However, new research by a team of U.S. and French planetary scientists suggests that Martian glaciers did move more slowly than those on Earth.

These findings demonstrate how glacial ice on Mars would drain meltwater much more efficiently than glaciers on Earth. This would largely prevent lubrication at the base of the ice sheets, which would lead to faster sliding rates and enhanced glacial-driven erosion. In short, their study demonstrated that lineated landforms on Earth associated with glacial activity would not have had time to develop on Mars.
In addition to explaining why Mars lacks certain glacial features, the work also has implications for the possibility of life on Mars and whether that life could survive the transition to a global cryosphere we see today. According to the authors, an ice sheet could provide a steady water supply, protection, and stability to any subglacial bodies of water where life could have emerged. They would also protect against solar and cosmic radiation (in the absence of a magnetic field) and insulation against extreme variations in temperature.

Continue reading “Let’s Build a World: New Astronomical Finds for Your SF Stories”

To mask or not to mask, fandom is the question

Today’s post will be a bit acerbic. I was at my first face to face SF convention yesterday, and am home and still puzzled. Also disappointed.

First, some background. The convention didn’t have a strong policy about masks and etc, and most people chose not to wear masks, especially on the first day. Australians don’t have quite the same personal space as people in the US and Canada (we stand more closely together, quite simply), so whenever I would step back from the maskless, that person would follow me to close the uncomfortable gap and our conversation would turn into a dance. I have taught writers about this dance, but normally to illustrate how different cultures see space differently (my internal ethnohistorian is handy for writers). This dance was about some individuals seeing safety differently, and about different individuals thinking “This thing that affects this person doesn’t apply to me.”

I couldn’t safely go to most of the convention events, because of the COVID policy: I’m one of the COVID-vulnerable. I may not be happy at missing book launches and panels and a whiskey tasting and… everything except the panels I was on and the workshop I gave (I couldn’t even give a reading). I’m not complaining about this, though I missed so many things, because the lack of safety had always been a possibility and I had arranged to help at my writing group’s table whenever I needed space between me and the world. I spent a lot of time at that table.

I was absurdly pleased when one of my old friends stopped for a few minutes to have a chat, because I haven’t seen most of them for so long. I was less pleased when some people, who have been able to pick up their normal social life as soon as lockdown was over, did nothing more than wave as they passed. It felt as if they don’t want me back in their lives. I didn’t have as many people to apologise to as I used to, because of old friends walking right past. The walking stick and the mask taught me who sees disability as a Thing, and who cares about the person, regardless of their physical health.

I explained this to various folks as I sat in my safeish place, because I had to miss lunches and evening programme and… so much. I even had to skip the panels I’d normally go to for research. I’ve sorted the research thing by finding another way to get that material, and I joked about the situation. I didn’t tell everyone I was missing doing research. What I commented on was that panellists who were friends didn’t have an academic expert staring evilly at them when they talked about certain subjects.

If all this was expected (not joyous, but expected) what’s troubling me, then?

Someone I’ve known for years told me that, if I wanted to have things set up differently, I should do the work and be on the committee. For eight years I was on the committee and did the work. Illness intervened, and so did the need to earn income despite that illness. I do committee work these days, but I frame it around my capacity. The person who told me that I needed to provide the solution knew I’m not well. His implication was that if I don’t provide a solution, then I should either be silent or get out.

I’m going to take this to Accessible Arts (a body for making the Arts more accessible, obviously) because its advisory body is one of the committees I’m on, and the COVID-vulnerable present a new group of accessibility  issues that need to be addressed.  The problem is a deep one and needs addressing at a number of levels. Should events in our COVID-shaped world be accessible to people with impaired immune systems and who are COVID-vulnerable in other ways? If they should, is it up to the person who can’t do the things to do all the work to transform the difficult into the possible, or does the wider community have an obligation to let us share events with them?

This problem is related to other issues in Australian fandom. How do our fandoms deal with minorities? I know the Jewish side and have been on committees (how many committees should I be be on, anyhow?) to try to get the calendars of non-Christian Australians consulted before the dates for events have been picked. This was triggered by things that happened to Australian Jews at SF conventions. I missed going to the award ceremony for my own book because it was on Rosh Hashanah (a friend had to take a screen shot of my name on the projection screen), and a convention once had a Jewish guest of honour who was on programme (in the initial draft) on Day of Atonement. Jewish SF folks are all different in our observance levels, and how she spent her Day of Atonement wasn’t my decision to make – it was hers, so she was taken off programme items that day and asked if she needed anything to support whatever she decided to do.

What I’m saying with these examples is that every accessibility need is unique to that person, but there are some things any orgasising committee should be considering in advance. Calendars, food, transport – these are some things are not hard to factor into early decisions that will work wonderfully at the convention later on. All the work for Yom Kippur could have been avoided if the committee had asked that guest the year before or after, or changed the date of the convention, or, simply, explained the situation to the guest when she was invited and worked with her on suitable progamming from that point.

It’s a process thing. Because of this, anyone should be able to handle it. Someone with a particular vulnerability shouldn’t have to serve on all the committees related to every single function they might want possibly to to ever go to.

Also, the person telling me this had just spent 2 ½ days in close proximity to many others, in a weekend where there were sporting grand finals and people were travelling a lot, where there are the annual tourist-driven flower festivals in this region and more. Whether he wore a mask or not is his choice, just as how the guest of honour spent her Yom Kippur was hers. But if he put his own opinion above my safety when he said this while leaning in towards me, maskless, he wasn’t just saying that I had to serve on all the committees if I wanted to attend panels or meet favourite author or even join a queue for signing (I have a hardback of Shelley Parker-Chan’s book and I bought the hardback at the convention thinking I could get it signed – but I never saw her without a crowd of people so my hardback is signature-free and one day I will meet Parker-Chan and talk about history with her, but none of those days were at Conflux), he was saying that he, himself, thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

Other people took the situation seriously. They had masks with them and put them on whenever they came close to someone wearing one. People like me became a “time to put the mask on for a bit” sign. This was such a good approach.  They wouldn’t play that COVID minuet. They would stand at a safe distance. This includes the organisers. The organisers also put a pile of masks on the front desk, for anyone who hadn’t thought about COVID. Most other people who wanted to talk with me (not the one who said that her doctor would be angry with her for not wearing a mask) or attend my workshop put one on. At the workshop, I explained that I couldn’t take the mask off unless the participants wore one, and only one person rebelled and it was my my decision to take my mask off for those who needed to see my face. We had the door open, because of that, however, and the maskless participant sat next to the door and about 2 metres away from me. Compromises are part of living in a community, and many people at Conflux were clever and kind and paid attention to what could be done to keep everyone safe and still have the freedom of mostly chatting maskless. (I didn’t take the mask off for panels, which was a problem for those who needed to lipread, but the rooms were not well ventilated and most people didn’t wear masks and… it wasn’t safe. This is one of the times when there is no good decision.

Working together to ensure everyone’s safety is what the committee was doing and it was our first time back together since the bushfires (so since 2019) and… I’m as responsible for COVID-safety as anyone else. The thing is… the thing is…. (this is hard to say) there is a bit of an Australian attitude that people who hurt are the ones responsible for making sure that no-one else hurts. This causes so much pain for people who are trapped by domestic violence, or the women who were molested in Parliament House, or those who are ill or those who have to deal with racists. “You’re the one who sees the problem, you’re the one who should resolve it” is not a kind approach to life. Nor is it viable. It was why I had to leave the public service when the antisemitism made my life untenable: it wasn’t me who needed to change behaviour to get rid of the antisemitism, it was the bigots.

If a bridge is falling down, you don’t ask the person who lets people know that there is a problem to fix it, you find an engineer. The engineer in this case is the guidance from the government about masks, about safe distance, and that certain behaviours will spread COVID.

Australia is a wonderful country in many ways, but the attitude that the person who most experiences the problem is the one who should fix it is not one of them.