Friday read! “Cup and Table” by Tim Pratt

Cup and Table” is my favorite of Tim Pratt’s stories–and it has a lot of competition. To explain how much competition, let me tell an anecdote about the audio magazine I used to edit, PodCastle.

I was no longer on staff when this happened, but at one point, the editors I who took over after I left received a letter. That letter complained of how many stories about lesbians were in the magazine, arguing that PodCastle should just be called LesbianCastle. One of the editors deviously ran the numbers and found that, proportionally, they did not actually run that many stories about lesbians. However, they did run a surprisingly high percentage of Tim Pratt stories. A percentage that, in fact, exceeded the percentage of stories about lesbians. He suggested that they call themselves PrattCastle instead.

By the time those events occurred, I was gone and many other stories by Tim Pratt had been bought by successive editors. But I did publish my share, including an audio version of this one.

I greatly admire Tim Pratt and his ability to write swift, smart prose that flows fast through action that seems unpredictable, and yet is often perfectly crafted. “Cup and Table” is emblematic of how smart his fiction can be. I also recommend his collection Hart & Boot.

Cup and Table:

Tim-Pratt-Cup-and-table_lg_Dara_Lightspeed“Sigmund stepped over the New Doctor, dropping a subway token onto her devastated body. He stepped around the spreading shadow of his best friend, Carlsbad, who had died as he’d lived: inconclusively, and without fanfare. He stepped over the brutalized remains of Ray, up the steps, and kept his eyes focused on the shrine inside. This room in the temple at the top of the mountain at the top of the world was large and cold, and peer as he might back through the layers of time—visible to Sigmund as layers of gauze, translucent as sautéed onions, decade after decade peeling away under his gaze—he could not see a time when this room had not existed on this spot, bare but potent, as if only recently vacated by the God who’d created and abandoned the world.

Sigmund approached the shrine, and there it was. The cup. The prize and goal and purpose of a hundred generations of the Table. The other members of the Table were dead, the whole world was dead, except for Sigmund.

He did not reach for the cup. Instead, he walked to the arched window and looked out. Peering back in time he saw mountains and clouds and the passing of goats. But in the present he saw only fire, twisting and writhing, consuming rock as easily as trees, with a few mountain peaks rising as-yet-untouched from the flames. Sigmund had not loved the world much—he’d enjoyed the music of Bach, violent movies, and vast quantities of cocaine—and by and large he could have taken or left civilization. Still, knowing the world was consumed in fire made him profoundly sad.

Sigmund returned to the shrine and seized the cup—heavy, stone, more blunt object than drinking vessel—and prepared to sip.”

Illustration by Galen Dara at Lightpseed Magazine. Read here.

Visiting Kit Tea, a San Francisco Cat Cafe. See also: Excuse to post cat pictures.

A few months ago, a friend of mine and I went to Kit Tea, an Oakland cat cafe. I took a bunch of pictures, but I am only posting them now, because I am me.

I had never been to a cat cafe before, but of course I had read about them because I A) live on the internet, and B) like cats. It seemed like a good lark for a weekday afternoon.

When we came in, we saw the following wall mural:

cat cafe mural

…which I stared at for a bit because while I quite like hairless cats, and I am terribly amused by the conjunction of cats and yoga, somehow adding these things together broke my brain. (Also, it seemed like possibly uncomfortable appropriation, but I may be reading too much there.)

Inside the cat cafe, we discovered that just in case the flesh and blood cats were insufficient, there were lots of cat objects to compensate:

cat cafe catwoman

cat cafe sylvester

cat cafe fitness

cat cafe monopoly

I didn’t open the Cat-opoly to see what was inside, but I suppose it’s quite possible that I could have spent the time we paid to get into the cat room playing cat monopoly instead. On the other hand, if the cats at KitTea are anything like the cats in Chez Swirsky, they would have made short work of the game by scattering everything and then plopping down on the board.

There were also some cat toys that I’m surprised to find I didn’t photograph, such as Tetris scratching posts, and a giant cat-hamster wheel.

The cats themselves were pretty lackadaisical. It was the evening and they had been accepting the petting of strangers with good grace all day so they were tired. Also, they were cats, so they were tired.

This dilute tortoiseshell did decide she wanted human company, jumping straight onto someone’s lap and subsequently refusing to move:

cat cafe dillute tortoiseshell

This brown tabby was happy to let people pet him as long as they didn’t expect him to get up:

cat cafe brown tabby

This gorgeous orange fluffball spent most of his time hanging out on wall-mounted shelves, but eventually came down and sat by my friend and me. Periodically, he accepted head and shoulder petting.

orange fluff zoomed out

I don’t think this orange and white tabby ever came down, though.

cat cafe orange tabby on shelf zoomed out cat cafe orange tabby on shelf

There were other cats, and I petted some of them, but either I decided I didn’t want to take pictures of them, or the photos were so bad I’ve blocked them out. But there were other soft, purring creatures about.

I like the wall-mounted cat furniture. When we move, I want to get a bunch of it, so that our five cats have more room to roam and aren’t argh just on us all the time Jesus Christ cat why don’t you stop standing on my chest

A cat cafe is to some extent wasted on someone who has five cats. When I want to pet a cat, I pet a cat. When I want to pet a bunch of cats, I pet a bunch of cats. When I want to see cats interacting, I toss Pete at his nephew or his brother, and they adorably groom each other. When I want to see a cat playing, one is always in the mood. And my cats are always excited to see me since I’m not a stranger.

It’s still totally worth it to poke around a cat cafe if you are cat-deprived in your life, or merely suffering from the slight cat deprivation that results when one has less than five cats. (Five cats. Headdesk.) And ESPECIALLY if you are thinking of adopting a cat because the cats at Kit Tea are looking for homes.

Retelling and Retaleing: Take a class with me and Cat Rambo!

Take an online class from me and Cat Rambo! May 21, 9:30-11:30 AM, Pacific Time.

Personally, I love retellings. As a kid, I had a collection of picture books retelling the Cinderella story in a dozen different settings. SFWA president Cat Rambo and I are teaching a class on the subject.

Retellings graphic business card

Authors constantly draw on the stories that have preceded them, particularly folklore, mythology, and fables. What are the best methods for approaching such material and what are the possible pitfalls? How does one achieve originality when working with such familiar stories? Lecture, in-class exercise, and discussion will build your proficiency when working with such stories. 

Retellings are one of writing’s basic tools. We’ve been collectively dabbling with Greek mythology, and Shakespearean plays, and oral folklore (and urban legends and a hundred other things) for centuries.

To a certain extent, all fiction is retelling. It’s all in conversation with past writing and storytelling. A retelling is conscious of its place in that conversation–whether that’s “This is Rapunzel, but my way” or a slantwise satire of Narnia.

If you’re curious about our retellings, here are a couple from Cat and me.

From me:
Alice in Wonderland: “Tea Time
Dr. Who: “The Girl Who Waited (for the Guidance Counselor to Get to His Point

And from the amazing Cat Rambo:
Charlotte’s Web: “Magnificent Pigs
The Little Mermaid: “Foam on the Water

Sign up at!

Silly Interview with S.B. Divya, Defense Attorney for the Oxford Comma

Thanks to S. B. Divya for granting me a silly interview!

S. B. Divya is one of those people who is talented across many areas: science, engineering, art, fiction, music, and extreme sports. She’s got a shiny new novella available from Tor.

SB Divya

1. Your bio says that “S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma.” I am here to tell you that the Oxford comma has, unfortunately, been put on trial for its life. However, you are its defense attorney! Make your case.

Your honor, I humbly present the Oxford comma, also known as a serial comma. It is abastion of orderliness in a sea of grammatical chaos. This comma is an exemplary citizen, always obeying a simple rule: that it follows each item in a list until the last. Let us not create an exception to the rule! Let us not say, “It follows each item in a list except for the second to last and the last, which shall be joined by a conjunction.” Nay, let us stand fast against such unwieldy rule-making – such convoluted thinking – and embrace the simplicity that is embodied by this innocuous punctuation mark.

2. Any good debater should be able to do both sides of the debate, right? If you had to, how would you argue that the Oxford comma should go to death row?

We all know that prisons and pages suffer from overcrowding. Why not make room by removing … ah, no, never mind. I can’t do it! I can’t betray my ideals and play devil’s advocate in a convincing fashion. “It’s a waste of space” seems to be the best this side has to offer, and really, in this glorious age of digital documentation, who cares? No trees were harmed by the insertion of one little comma.

3. Your website has a headline showing five eff words: fact, fiction, feminism, future and family. Do they all figure in your writing?

They do. Of course they feature in my blogging, but those are common themes in my fiction as well. Let me break them down one by one, starting with the word “fact.” I love science, and I love incorporating it into my fiction. This is not to say I haven’t dabbled in the magical arts, but my favorite stories are the ones that involve a kernel (or more) of plausibility.

Fiction – this one speaks for itself! I’m getting to the point where I could write about being a science-fiction author, to tie this one back to the fact side.

Feminism: the “f” word that started it all. Yes, the female (and gender neutral!) characters in my fiction are equals to the males. Ultimately, that’s what feminism is about so far as I’m concerned. Equal opportunity – it sounds simple on paper, but it’s a beast to wrestle in the domain of social change.

As to the future, that’s the realm of most science-fiction. It’s probably fair to say that I speculate about the future more than the average person. This doesn’t always work in my favor (think disasterizing on a regular, involuntary basis), but it does give me plenty of ideas for stories.

And family? None of us would exist without one. Even the lone wolf character is defined by the absence of family support. Whether by blood or adoption or romance, family is what drives us at a fundamental level. This is what shapes our personalities at an early age, where we learn who we want to be.

4. You have a novella coming out from Publishing. What was the best part about writing it?

RuntimeThat nobody had any expectations of it – not even me! I wrote it on a lark, an attempt to write something longer after working at short fiction for nearly two years straight. This meant I could throw in a lot of my favorite topics – gender divides, social inequality, hackers and tinkerers, the beauty and danger of nature – and out popped a mess of a story (my first drafts are like that) with a main character who I loved and a compelling plot.

I didn’t know what to do with the thing after I wrote it so I let it lie for a while, figuring I’d eventually edit it and submit to the usual magazine suspects. I went back to short fiction for a few months until I heard about the open call for novellas from Publishing. Writers (like most people) can use a good motivator. This one got me to revise and submit the novella because, why not? I had nothing to lose!

5. What was it like working with’s new arm?

When Publishing offered me a contract, I was blown away. My editor there has been extremely patient and thoughtful while working with me. I knew very little about the world of book publishing, and that was what I was dealing with. I took a bit of time to find a wonderful literary agent, who was also very patient and understanding, and then the ball’s been rolling merrily downhill since then.

I’d say the whole experience has been extremely smooth. My husband and I have been doing a major home renovation over the same months that I’ve been working with Tor, and the latter has been much easier to deal with! They handled the cover art and design (which I love) and have been proactive with marketing and publicity. I haven’t published any other books so I have nothing for comparison, but I would certainly recommend them to any writer.

5. You do a lot of what I guess I should call extreme sports. In our house, we mostly call them adventure sports, and the only one I do is SCUBA diving. What draws you to these hobbies? And if you want to tell a story or two… I certainly wouldn’t *complain.* ;)

I love being outdoors. Nature is my temple, and being out in the wilderness restores my sanity in wonderful ways. As for the adventure sports, I can lay some of that at my husband’s feet. He was a diver before we met, and he convinced me to try it. I loved it! Still do. I place a lot of faith in the technology that lets us stay underwater, and I hope we make some advances there before I’m too old to dive. My best and worst dive experiences were during a week-long liveaboard trip in the Maldives. The best: huge manta rays swimming just inches above me on their way to a cleaning station. The worst: currents! Holy fast currents, Batman, those were tough for me to deal with.

Mountain biking was another one that my husband drew me into. I love easy cross-country rides, but I’m not an aggressive rider. I never learned to jump or ride ramps – the Slickrock trail in Moab defeated me after two downhills – but I love where these rides take me. You can go a lot further on a bike than on foot in the same amount of time, which means you get to see more amazing scenery. Sure, some of it whizzes by, but I walk all the scary sections so I get plenty of time to take it in.

(And then there was that time we almost got lost in the desert…as the sun was setting…and it was raining…and I nearly strangled my beloved husband for not backtracking in time…but we made it out alive. We did damage the delicate cryptobiotic soil during our exit, which I’m not proud of, but you know, survival takes precedence. Not as dramatic a story as 127 hours – thank goodness! – but exciting enough for my tastes.)

To flip the narrative a bit, I did get my husband into snowboarding, and I’m usually the impetus for backpacking trips. I also arranged a trip for us on deep-sea submarine off the island of Roatan. Our deepest point was around 1100 feet. That was an incredible experience. Everything is still and silt-covered – it looks like undisturbed dust. We lost most of the marine life around 300 feet, and then we saw lots of strange little translucent jelly-things.

I’ve done a decent amount hiking in and around Yosemite, and I got up Half-Dome the year before I got pregnant. Those cables are scary, but the exhilaration of being up there – awesome! I stole from these experiences shamelessly for Runtime, and I wish I had access to the technology that my main character does. My biggest weakness in sports is literally that I’m weak. I don’t have a ton of strength or stamina so having gear that enhances my body’s natural abilities would open some amazing doors.

The one “extreme sport” I’ve wanted to do for a long time is skydiving. Now that I’m a parent, though, I feel like it would be irresponsible to do it until after my daughter is more grown up.

6. Upcoming projects and any other notes you’d like to make–please insert here!

Since I’ve written about it above, this is probably where I should mention that my novella, Runtime, will be available from Publishing on May 17. You can pre-order it now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

I’d also like to put in a word for Escape Pod, the science-fiction podcast and magazine, where I work as Assistant Editor. I hope people will go listen to some great stories (or read them on the website if that’s their preference). A lot of what we publish is original fiction and I hate to see it missed because it’s not a traditional genre magazine.

What Lies at the Edge of a Petal Is Love

What Lies at the Edge of a Petal Is Love” began with a dream. For a while, I was writing dream stories, such as this one and “How the World Became Quiet: A Post-Human Creation Myth.” It hasn’t happened lately. Maybe my sleep habits have changed. The stories just seemed full-formed–but odd. Vanilla scent was vivid in the dream, for some reason.

What Lies at the Edge of a Petal is Love

Lynch Albert Young Woman Holding Flower“After the wedding, Ruth moved into the Victorian mansion on Jack’s vast, rural estate. She brought only two bags. One was full of clothes. The other she unpacked like a devotee arranging an altar: an assortment of vanilla-scented lotions, deodorants, soaps, moisturizers, scrubs and splashes.

Every morning, Jack watched Ruth stand by the pedestal sink in her white silk robe: rubbing, dabbing, spraying, powdering, and anointing. When she emerged, he took her hand and inhaled her from soft wrist to slender shoulders.

Jack had met Ruth only two months earlier, during his obligatory annual visit to his relatives in the city. Ruth was also visiting the city, on doctor’s orders; she suffered from a pair of charmingly old-fashioned diseases, malaise and neurasthenia. Her physician believed they might be cured by exposure to the warm southern climate, so Ruth’s mother, an old family friend, had arranged for an extended stay with Jack’s aunts.

Both Ruth and Jack felt out of place in high society, never sure which fork to use and whether or not it was polite to dab one’s face with a napkin between courses. “Being a person is so much work,” Ruth confided. Jack was forced to agree. He fell in love with her slender paleness like the stalk of an exotic plant; with the way drops of water lingered in her hair after she swam in the lake, like dew; and, of course, with her exquisite vanilla scent.”

It was an honor to appear in the first issue of The Dark and to be listed on Locus recommended reading list, 2013. The title nods to William Carlos William’s 1923 “Spring and All:” It is at the edge of the / petal that love waits.

Read here.

Friday Read! “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu is one of the most gorgeous, surprising and strange stories I’ve ever read. Some stories just seem to wing free of convention, to follow an unexpected trail to something excitingly new. Sometimes Carmen Maria Machado does that. Sometimes Kelly Link.

Lily Yu masters the technique in this beautiful story, made even more striking by the fact that she published it so early in her career. In recognition of this piece and her other first publications, she won the Campbell Award for new writers in 2012.

The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees:

Wasp March 2008 Polistes dominula European paper wasp wikipedia

For longer than anyone could remember, the village of Yiwei had worn, in its orchards and under its eaves, clay-colored globes of paper that hissed and fizzed with wasps. The villagers maintained an uneasy peace with their neighbors for many years, exercising inimitable tact and circumspection. But it all ended the day a boy, digging in the riverbed, found a stone whose balance and weight pleased him. With this, he thought, he could hit a sparrow in flight. There were no sparrows to be seen, but a paper ball hung low and inviting nearby. He considered it for a moment, head cocked, then aimed and threw.

Much later, after he had been plastered and soothed, his mother scalded the fallen nest until the wasps seething in the paper were dead. In this way it was discovered that the wasp nests of Yiwei, dipped in hot water, unfurled into beautifully accurate maps of provinces near and far, inked in vegetable pigments and labeled in careful Mandarin that could be distinguished beneath a microscope.”

Read here.

Silly Interview with Effie Seiberg, Liar.

Thanks to Effie Seiberg for granting me a silly interview!


EffieSeibergEffie is a San-Francisco-based writer with the requisite San-Francisco-based tech job. In college, she studied philosophy and logic. Now she bakes novelty cakes shaped like “spaceships and facehuggers.” Follow her on Twitter at @effies, or check out her other stories at

1) One of the first times I met you, it was because you were on the liar’s panel at FogCon where people compete to tell outrageous lies. If I remember correctly, it’s an annual panel, and I think you’ve been on it before. How did you get involved?

The 2014 FOGcon Liar’s Panel was my favorite panel ever. For my slot on the panel, it was a tie between me, the zombified head of Richard Nixon, and a Magic 8 Ball, but of those I was the only one willing to do it without an outrageous speaking fee.

It was a lot of fun! If I recall, at one point one panelist was both Neil Gaiman and Seanan McGuire at the same time, and another panelist was the entire Nebula voting committee, and I believe I shot a raygun at the first audience member who asked a question. Sadly, FOGcon hasn’t had another Liar’s Panel since. I can’t imagine why.

2) Is the above an outrageous lie?

This sentence is a lie.

3) If the answer to number one is not an outrageous lie, can you tell us an outrageous lie?

The answer to question 4 is the truth.

4) Wait, how do I know you aren’t sneakily telling the truth?

The answer to question 3 is a lie.

5) All right, I’ll let it go. Just know that I’m aware that at any point you could be LYING. So. You studied philosophy and logic. Do you use that in your fiction?

Absolutely! There’s a long tradition of slipping philosophy into speculative fiction, especially since they’re both about exploring ideas and taking them to their logical conclusions. Some of my favorites are Italo Calvino’s “All at One Point” and Asimov’s “The Last Question” for metaphysical cosmology, Ken Liu’s “Mono No Aware” for ethics, and Roald Dahl’s “William and Mary” for epistemology, and the movies Labyrinth and Monty Python’s Holy Grail for classic logic. Also the entire Discworld series for all the philosophy ever.

The fun of it is putting it into a story that doesn’t sound like a dry philosophy text. So, take metaphysical cosmology, which is about questions of the nature of the universe, its existence, and its origin. That’s a pretty good basis for a science fictional story! Calvino turned that first state of all matter condensed into a single point as a crowded apartment building. Asimov used increasing magnitudes of computational ability to define the pre-conditional state for creation. For my take on it, I just went with a recipe. No really, “Recipe: 1 Universe” uses a mix of real references about the states of the universe after the Big Bang, plus some baking tips, plus a bit of whimsy thrown in for good measure, so that you too can create and be destroyed by your own universe.

Or take utilitarianism, a branch of ethics that says that you should optimize to do the most good for the most people. Liu created a moving story of self-sacrifice in the face of peril to save the human race. (Seriously, go read it. And have tissues on hand.) I, on the other hand, wrote a story about a cute and naive smartbomb. “Rocket Surgery” (available in the Jan issue of Analog) is about a smartbomb named Teeny who, while going through a variety of test simulations, starts to question how to optimize its actions to do the most good. These actions don’t always align with the General’s plans.

It’s also fun to take logical fallacies like the slippery slope argument, where you extrapolate something to its logical extreme until it really makes no sense anymore, as a foundation for satire. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” uses this to propose that we all eat babies. I decided to go with a toy line launch predicating the end of the world. “Re: Little Miss Apocalypse Playset” is a corporate epistolary showing a string of well-meaning decisions with disastrous outcomes. (Also the characters chose to re-brand the four ponies of the apocalypse as Punchy, Bonesy, Sniffles, and Om-Nom, so you can already tell that this wasn’t going to end well.)

6) Repeating: you studied philosophy and logic. Does that make you more or less susceptible to “Someone is wrong on the internet” syndrome? (

It pains me to inform you that humans aren’t logical and never will be. This is why I welcome the upcoming rise of our robot overlords.

7) What was your experience with Women Destroy Science Fiction like?

I’m so grateful that “Ro-Sham-Bot”, about a robot who just wants to play rock-paper-scissors, was a part of Lightspeed’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction!”. When I heard that an entire special issue of the magazine (which walks and quacks like an anthology) was going to be 100% written, edited, and illustrated by women, and took as its title the core of a snarky misogynistic comment from twitter, I was delighted. It’s the most elegant screw-you response to misogyny I’ve ever seen, all while staying positive in tone. The fact that it was my first pro story sale was just icing on the cake!

It was pretty shocking and humbling to have a story nestled in the table of contents among some of your favorite authors (N.K. Jemisin! Seanan McGuire! Sarah Pinsker! You!) and then see WDSF go on to win awards and become required classroom reading, but my favorite part of the whole experience was watching the conversation unfold online after publication. On reddit, sometimes known as a bastion of intolerance and misogyny, I watched people talk about the personal essays and share their own experiences. Trolls saying they didn’t like it when women wrote science fiction and to “get your feelings off my spaceship” were shut up when others talked about other great SF writers like Nancy Kress and Connie Willis and Anne McCaffey. The tone of the conversation shifted, and it was incredibly gratifying to watch.

It’s also been amazing to see the projects that this has spawned. Women are far from the only marginalized voices in the field. Since then we’ve seen Queers Destroy and People of Color Destroy, and People with Disabilities Destroy will come next. The Escape Artists podcasts have put out Artemis Rising and Artemis Rising 2, two all-women collections. Fantastic Stories of the Imagination just announced a Queers Take Over special issue. The projects just keep coming!

It’s exciting to be a tiny ant surfing on this growing wave of inclusion!

8) Upcoming projects: got some?

After having a string of short stories come out recently, I’m switching the focus to novels. I’m finishing up a YA fantasy novel right now about a naive princess chemist who tries to gain membership to the neighboring country’s scientific society, only to find out that it’s full of corruption and sabotage and is a front for an upcoming arms race. It’s got explosions and pre-steampunk flying machines and academic satire and awkward nerds flailing at each other in attempts at flirting. Mostly explosions though. Now that I think of it, there are a lot of things on fire in that book.

After that, I think I’m going to try my hand at a Middle Grade novel that I’m thinking of as candy-colored noir, with mobsters and a failed heist and a chicken-parrot hybrid that belches out fireballs. Hmm, I think I see a theme here. You don’t need to worry – you don’t seem to be wearing anything that flammable.

9) Were you lying about your upcoming projects? You were, weren’t you?

I can neither confirm nor deny that [[[MESSAGE REDACTED BY GOVERNMENTAL CENSORS]]], especially about the baboons.

“I will be wild. I will be brutal. I will encircle you.”

A few people have made graphics featuring a quote from one of my short stories. I’m including two of them below, which take the quote and make a narrative out of it (using movie images), which is neat. It’s awesome that anyone did this at all, but if I’m going to call out one extra awesome thing, it’s the fancy typesetting in the first set.

The quote is from my short story, “A Memory of Wind:”

I will be wild. I will be brutal. I will encircle you and conquer you. I will be more powerful than your boats, and your swords, and your blood lust. I will be inevitable.

“A Memory of Wind” is a retelling of the Greek myth about Iphigenia, whose father, Agamemnon, sacrificed her so his army could sail to Troy. The classic Greek tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis tells Agamemnon’s story of struggle as he decides whether or not to kill his daughter. There’s a modern play that tells the story from Clytemnestra’s perspective–Iphigenia’s mother and Agamemnon’s wife–and it’s very good. I figured Iphigenia needed a story from her own perspective, too, so I wrote “A Memory of Wind.”

Iphigenia’s story is terribly depressing since she is betrayed (and killed) by her father at a young age. She doesn’t have much opportunity to change her fate. “A Memory of Wind” tells the story from after her death, when she has been changed into a wind powerful enough to blow the ships to Troy.

The thing that interests me about this quote is that, in context, it’s actually an expression of Iphigenia’s futility. When Artemis transforms her into a wind, and she fills with that power, she has a moment’s mad fantasy about avenging her murder. That’s this quote. But the fantasy is abruptly cut off:

But no, I am helpless again, always and ever a hostage to someone else’s desires. With ease, Artemis imposes her will on my wild fury. I feel the tension of her hands drawing me back like a bowstring. With one strong, smooth motion, she aims me at your fleet. Fiercely, implacably, I blow you to Troy.

So there’s an irony in the quote’s original context.

However! Pull it out of the context, and it’s a perfectly cromulent expression of power, anger, and resolve.

So, at some point, someone pulled the quote out of the story. Maybe they saw its potential for being empowering and that’s where the context shift happened. Or maybe they posted the quote somewhere–and then people who haven’t read the story would, of course, see the powerful and angry side of it.

So, basically, this is all really cool. First, some people made fan art of a thing I did — awesome! Second, pretty pictures! Third, I get a nifty shift in perspective.

From hermiohes:

1 wild

I will be wild. I will be brutal.

2 encircle

I will encircle you and conquer you.

3 powerful

I will be more powerful than your boats, and your swords, and your blood lust.

4 inevitable

I will be inevitable.


From reyoflights:

1 wild

I will be wild.

2 brutal

I will be brutal.

3 encircle

I will encircle you and conquer you.

4 powerful

I will be more powerful than your boats,

5 blood lust

and your swords, and your blood lust.

6 inevitableI will be inevitable.

On Writing and Mortality

This essay originally appeared on the blog Big Other and was later reprinted on the SFWA website. I’ve rewritten it to make its points more sharply and eliminate repetition. The original version is still available on the other sites.

It was originally published in 2011. I had recently had a death scare.


On Writing and Mortality

A year or two ago, an article made the rounds which had asked a number of famous authors for ten pieces of writing advice. Some of the advice was irritating, some banal, some profound, and some amusing.

One piece of advice that got picked up and repeated was the idea that if you were working on a project, and found out that you had six weeks to live, if you were willing to set the project down then it was the wrong project for you to be writing.

I dislike that advice. It seems to come from the same place that makes writers say things like “a real writer has to write” or “any writers who can be discouraged should be.” (A convenient excuse for acting like a jerk.)

Saying that “I have to write” is a way of denying agency. Writing is a risky career and one that doesn’t always yield a lot of concrete rewards or social approval. But if you have to do it, then you can avoid the question of choice.

But ultimately, I don’t have to write. I have to eat. I have to sleep. I might miss writing. I could even see it having a psychological effect. But I don’t have to do it.

And if I had six weeks, I wouldn’t.

Recently, I came a little close to dying. Not as close as some others have been. I don’t want to make too much of the experience. But it changed how I looked at my life, and inevitably, how I looked at my writing. For a while, when I thought I might die, I was viewing myself and my future with tunnel vision–there didn’t seem to be a future to write in.

I regretted that. I wished to have experienced more, and helped more people–and yes, I wished I’d written better things.

But what I really wanted, what I really would have missed, was time with my husband, my parents, my family, and my friends.

This isn’t a novel idea, that someone facing death would wish they’d spent more time with their loved ones. It’s a pretty normal idea, and one most people would probably agree with in another context. But if any project that you’d put aside if you only had six weeks to live is the wrong project and writing is something you have to do, that if you could be discouraged from it, you should be–then that implies anyone who prioritizes family and friends over art isn’t doing writing right.

For me, art isn’t something I do in isolation. I do it to communicate. I want to talk about the messy, wondrous human experience of being human. I’ve been honored to know I’ve written stories that have reached people, moved them, and/or made them think. But my abstract commitment to communicating with an audience that lives beyond me weighs less than my commitment to spending a few more hours with my husband. I do not believe these strangers’ lives would be impoverished more than his and my lives would be enriched.

This isn’t an argument against art. When one has more than six weeks to live, calculations change. My husband and I have decided it’s worth it for him to work eight hours a day so we have enough money to live the way we want to live. I spend time that I could be with him writing and working.

Life is amazing. Art is amazing. Human being are amazing. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t write.

But art isn’t only important if it’s the kind of art someone would write in their last six weeks.

And artists aren’t only real artists if they’d spend their last few days creating art.

Poem: A Season with the Geese

This poem originally appeared in Abyss & Apex Magazine.


A Season with the Geese

by Rachel Swirsky

Once when we
were young, we flew
to Europe with the geese.
Twined neck to neck
we sailed the Seine
chasing ripples and water bugs,
lost ourselves in Madrid
when sudden snow
veiled us, white on white,
nested in crumbling ramparts
overlooking Rome until
blossoms cracked
the frozen meadows,
reviving spring.

Our season ended
we flew home
clipped our wings
devoted ourselves
to grounded lives.
Now I watch
my window as geese
feather the moon
and long for
one more flight.