Conversation with a reader, part 2: Seriously Shifted

I recently interviewed Evelyn about “Seriously Shifted“, the sequel to “Seriously Wicked” by my friend Tina Connolly. You can see the first installment here. (Spoilers below!)

S: Okay, so, usually I find that when there is a series I always like the first book in the series the best, probably just because they’re explaining the world and how the magic works and stuff. But you told me before we started that the second — you like the second book better than the first book. Why is that?

E: I like the second book better because I think that there’s more elements and, well, I really like it because the whole idea is that it’s a game and I think that’s a really interesting idea.

S: I agree that, you know, it seemed like there was a lot more going on in this book, like a lot more plotlines and stuff, that Cam was running around from person to person to person. Would you agree with that?

E: Mmm hmm. I think that…it may have been harder to follow along, but personally I liked it better.

S: Yeah, you were able to follow, it was okay even though there were a lot of characters —

E: Yeah, like there are some books that it’s like, ‘And then this happened and this happened and this happened’ but this one, it wasn’t that fast — I mean it was fast paced, but it wasn’t THAT fast paced.

S: So, in the first book, a lot of the book is about Cam and her mom and she doesn’t want to admit that her mom is really her mom and stuff, but in this book they kind of have a better relationship I think?

E: Yeah

S: Just because Cam is actually trying to do witch stuff, which her mom kind of likes. Do think that they have a better relationship, or…you know, do you think Cam’s mom is happier with Cam in this book?

E: Yeah, I think so. Um, I’m not sure…I’m sure that her mom is happier, I can’t tell if Cam is happier now or before, because before, even though she didn’t like living with the witch, she at least could pretend that she wasn’t her real mom. But I don’t know if she’s happier. She gets more happy as the story goes along.

S: I think she’s happier because she can help people. You know, she likes to help people.

E: Yeah.

S: So, one of the things that Cam struggles with is that she wants to be an ethical witch, she wants to be a good witch, and she makes a list of things…what do you think about her, her efforts to do that?

E: I think that, even though she has a good idea, like about not using animal parts in spells and stuff, like, I would compare it to being a vegetarian because you want to not harm animals? But sometimes there are good sides too. Like, it’s good for you because meat has protein, or like with the spells she can help more people because she won’t have to go all over trying to find substitutes for the things she can’t use. So maybe she could just use it sometimes, when it won’t harm as much?

S: So, you think that there are some worthwhile parts of her struggle, but also you’re kind of saying that maybe she takes it too far?

E: Uh huh, because it might be….if she doesn’t want to…oh, that might be the next book.

S: No spoilers! I haven’t read the next book yet.

E: <Laughing>

S: So, one thing that we talked about in the last book, you had mentioned that maybe it would be for older kids because there were….there was–

E: Stuff…

S: Smooching. So in this book, I think there is no getting around that there’s more boy…stuff. There’s love potions and there’s multiple boys and stuff. So what did you think this time? I mean, you’re older, also.

E: True. I think this one…I find this one more appropriate. Um, I don’t think that the love potion added too much of another element…I should stop saying that because elementals are like something in the book? Well, anyway.

S: But, so, do you think it’s that you got older, and so–

E: I’m not sure.

S: Because there’s more smooching, for sure.

E: Okay. I don’t remember the book as well, I should reread it.

S: <laughing>

S: Witches are always shown to be very tricky, and even when they’re helping, they’re still kind of doing their own thing. For example, Malkin…seems like she’s doing this contest but really she doesn’t care about the contest, she really just wants to find a shifter. And Cam’s mom, Sarmine, she…even though she’s helping Cam through the whole book, she’s kind of not helping her because she has her own plans. It just makes me think it would…it’s hard for me to imagine a witch as a mom. You know, even though Cam and Sarmine get along better in this book, they still don’t seem like they’re…really getting along well, you know?.

E: Uh huh, well, I think it’s better than getting tied up by a pumpkin plant. <Laughing>

S: <Laughing> That’s true, that’s true.

E: Uh huh, so…

S: But do you think that she and her mom will ever come to have a good relationship? And do you think that it would be required for her to turn into a full witch in order for that to happen?

E: I think that, I think that she can just stay the same. Because, I feel like, more than changes in Cam, we’ve also seen some changes in Sarmine’s character. Like, respecting her more and stopping trying to make her do stuff–

S: She still tries, she still wants her to use ingredients–

E: But she doesn’t push her as hard or like, punish her as much–

S: That’s true. She’s definitely more on Cam’s side, for sure.

E: Yeah. I think that they need to do something together, like a girl’s night out or something.

S: <Laughing> Okay. But it would probably turn into like a witchy disaster.

E: Probably.

S: Are there any final thoughts you want to say on this book? I know that you already read the third book…

E: Yes, there is something I want to say. I think that it is AMAZING how, um, Jenna and Henny and…who was the…? Oh yeah. How they were bouncing back, and it was pretty amazing how, even after all these bad things happened to them they were like, were still going to try to be happy. It reminds me, I think there was one time in the book where one of the witches was like, “I’ve played this game before and I was, like, throwing worms and turnips on this guy and he was just shouting, ‘It’s great to be alive! It’s great to be alive!'” <Laughing>

S: Yeah. That’s one thing I definitely liked, was just all the…all of Cam’s friends, how they all got involved. Even Sparkle–

E: “Yeah, Sparkle, her change in behavior. She absolutely detested her in the last book, and I think that they’re going to become friends.


Story by me in Gallery of Curiosities issue #1

I am very pleased to announce my story “Bright and Falling, Like an Avenging Angel” is currently available in Gallery of Curiosities issue #1!

What to say about this story?

It’s an alt-history, steampunk (ethanol-punk?) Civil War / Lovecraft mashup in epistolary format. So if Civil War-era mechs battling tentacle beasts from space is something that sounds like it will appeal to you, 1) you should check this out, and 2) you’re my kind of person.

I admit that I have not yet read this issue due to the holidays, but I am really, really excited to. As a huge fan of The Drabblecast, who is still mourning its loss a full year later, Gallery of Curiosities seems fit to fill the Drabblecast-shaped hole in my heart.

The story should eventually be available in audio, but if you can’t wait, the issue is available for purchase now for an extremely modest price (the price of a 1977 movie ticket!).

New Story by Me (and a GORGEOUS book!)

I am delighted to announce that my story “Spooks” is now available in the Agents & Spies anthology from Flame Tree Press.

I ask you, have you ever seen a more beautiful book in your life?

It occurs to me that I have never been in hardback before, and it is absolutely delightful.

As I am reading through, I am reminded how much I used to enjoy these kinds of gothic crime / detective stories. I went through a huge Sherlock Holmes phase around middle school, and read anything that I could get my hands on. In fact, it occurs to me as I read the other stories in this book, that this has actually influenced my writing more than I realized. Even though I don’t write this kind of fiction (aside from a single unpublished, thinly veiled Sherlock Holmes fanfic story), and rest assured, my story in the book is decidedly science fiction, I do maintain a certain fondness for the clever wrapping up of all the loose ends in the final act. My stories nearly always involve plucky heros surviving by their wits, using clues carefully threaded through the narrative to overcome overwhelming odds. If those aren’t hallmarks of Agent & Spy stories, I don’t know what is.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is IN. THE. BOOK. with me??? Yeah, no big deal. Just him and me and a guy named Rudyard Kipling. Maybe you’ve heard of them? Maybe you’ve heard of US??


This life, man. Sometimes it is just too much.

Free Audio Fiction by Me: “Copy Machine” on Toasted Cake!

I am very pleased to announce my story “Copy Machine” is now available in audio on the podcast Toasted Cake.

Tina is the perfect narrator for this story. I have always believed this story was *perfect* for Toasted Cake, so much so that I had to wait through a TWO YEAR HIATUS at my shot to send it in.


Toasted Cake is one of my all time favorite podcasts. IN FACT, I actually wrote Tina a fan letter five years ago:

But anyway, I just wanted to say that I love weird fiction and my favorite magazine is the drabblecast. But toasted cake is like the photo-negative of the drabblecast. It’s like all the weirdness without all the darkness (or maybe quite as much darkness?). Don’t get me wrong, I like the darkness, but I guess I never really realized how much I like the more poetic, light-hearted side of weird fiction too until I had it all assembled for me.

Specifically, one of the smattering of episodes I listened to was episode 24: Zing Zou Zou. This story has really been haunting me since I listened to it. The funny thing is, I think that if I had read that story I wouldn’t have liked it. But your reading (and singing!) really made the story. I think that one really is better out loud (I can see why it would work as a play). Which is a long way of saying, you don’t podcast in vain!

Anyway, fan letter.

I never miss an episode of Toasted Cake, which is not hard because the episodes are so short! Go give my story a listen; it will take less than 10 minutes.


Free Fiction by Me – Random Play All and the League of Awesome

CoW promo 279

I am delighted to announce that my story “Random Play All and the League of Awesome” is now available in audio on the Cast of Wonders podcast!

To quote myself from a different blog post:

I can not overstate how much I love trivial superpowers. As anyone who knew me growing up could tell you, I’ve always loved super heroes. From dressing up as one as a kid (or, er, as an adult), to collecting comic books, to apparel, movies, and video games, to the absolutely embarrassing number of times I’ve listened to Dr. Horrible.

But I never liked the idea of guys like Superman or Thor. I don’t want an unstoppable goody-two shoes. Show me a guy who doesn’t have it so easy. Show me a guy with just a *little* bit of power, and the wit and courage to use that little bit at just the right moment to make a *huge* difference.

This is one of my all time favorite stories, and I’m so glad it is available for free (it has appeared twice before previously in “paper book” form).

Go give it a listen!

Curious Fictions

I want to tell you about a brand new fiction website, Curious Fictions.

Curious Fictions is a story-aggregator site with the goal of helping readers find the stories that they want to read. Have a writer you like? (::cough, cough::) Quickly find all of their stories, regardless of genre whatever magazines they’ve published those stories in. You can search by keywords, genre, magazine, or author and then get an estimate about how long it will take to read the story (i.e. is this a 3 minute read or a 15 minute read?)

Curious Fictions operates on a “pay what you want” model. You set up your credit card when you create an account, but I promise you never have to pay if you don’t want to. But if you read a story by someone you like (::COUGH, COUGH::), you can toss them as little (or as much!) as you want.

Obvs you’re reading this here, so you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I have a few stories up. One thing I like about this site is that it lets me put up stories that were previously unavailable online, so you guys can read them!

Let me know what you guys think, and if you like the site I will put up more stories.

OH HEY LOOK AT THAT? Who is this week’s featured story?

MIRI Intelligence in Fiction prize winner!

I am excited to announce that I am one of the winners of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute “Intelligence in Fiction” prize!

The prize is given to:

…people who write thoughtful and compelling stories about artificial general intelligenceintelligence amplification, or the AI alignment problem. We’re looking to appreciate and publicize authors who help readers understand intelligence in the sense of general problem-solving ability, as opposed to thinking of intelligence as a parlor trick for memorizing digits of pi, and who help readers intuit that non-human minds can have all sorts of different non-human preferences while still possessing instrumental intelligence.

And the best part is, you can read my winning story, “Human in the Loop” for free!

I wrote this story while I was working on code related to autonomous vehicles. Technically, a lot of the problems are eminently solvable. But what about the ethical problems?

If an automated vehicle had a crash, say, and someone dies, who is responsible? The “driver” who was behind the wheel at the time? The manufacturer who perhaps installed faulty software? The regulatory agency who allowed these vehicles on the road? The software developer who wrote the algorithm? What about in the case of emergent behavior; actions that were not explicitly programmed by anybody but instead emerged organically from an artificial neural network?

I was also frustrated by misunderstandings related to what exactly neural networks are (“My CPU is a neural-net processor; a learning computer.”), and wanted to set the record straight on that.

I am very happy that the people at MIRI enjoyed this one (and that my science was sufficiently rigorous!). It’s so great to find such a perfect audience for a piece of fiction, and this is about as perfect of a fit as you can get.