2017: Awards eligibility, favorite stories, and thoughts about writing while the world burns

In 2017, I published the following stories:

Flash Fiction:

All the flash that I published this year happened as a result of reading too many IT HAPPENED TO ME columns at XOJane.com, and then seeing an ad for a “yoni wormwood steam” at a spa. “You should do it!” my partner at the time said. “Do it and then write a column about it!” I could write it off on my taxes, I thought. Then I thought I should save my money and possibly having to explain to an IRS auditor why I’d tried to deduct the costs of steaming my junk, and just write some SFnal IHTM flash instead. Those were happier times. The first two were published first at my now-defunct Patreon and then at Fireside Fiction, and the third was published solely at Fireside.

Short Stories:

  • “Presque Vu” in Liminal Stories: a story about queer anger, queer community, ghosts, and the unique terror of our times. I’ve tried to write this story and these characters multiple times; I wrote this version about a month after the 2016 election, and it shows. This story would be eligible for the Hugo, Nebula, and maybe the Shirley Jackson, in the short story category. (It’s just under 7,000 words.)
  • “Which Super Little Dead Girl (TM) Are You? Take Our Quiz and Find Out!” in Nightmare Magazine. A story in the form of a personality quiz, about girls who are murdered, and then come back and form a superhero team. It’s about friendship! Also the void. Also also about everything I hate in the horror genre and how it treats dead kids. I really want to turn this into a comic, so if you’re an artist and into this idea, call me. Until then, this story is eligible for the Hugo, Nebula, Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Tiptree awards. (It’s 2,000 words.)


  • Cicada Magazine reprinted “A Silly Love Story,” which was first published by Daily Science Fiction in 2012, with an interview in which I name-dropped Gay Pride Babadook and said I’d like to haunt politicians by farting at them.
  • FlameTree Publishing reprinted “The Shape of My Name,” which was first published by Tor.com in 2015, in their Time Travel Anthology.


  • “Ad Astra Per Aspera” in Capricious Magazine’s Gender Diverse Pronouns Issue.
  • “Odontogenesis” in Fireside Fiction
  • “Kitchen Sink Gender” in Letters From the Rest of Us, an essay anthology of trans and nonbinary writers.

In the Pipeline/Out on Submission

  • “Disturbed Ground” — a collection of vignettes about a strange patch of woods near a suburban development
  • “The Fainting Game” — short story about a girl who discovers a strange power when playing a stranger game
  • “Nameless” — a piece flash fiction about forgetting
  • “A Catalogue of Time Bubbles” — an interactive novella in the form of a Wiki, about what happens when bubbles of frozen time start manifesting in everyday places.
  • “Space Weasels! 3 Million BC!” — a novella about archeology and the construction personal histories. Also space weasels.
  • “Patchwork Prometheus: Posthuman Themes in Transmedia Narratives” — research essay, to be presented at ICFA in 2018.

I usually add my top stories of the year to these posts, but unfortunately, grad school means that my reading time is severely curtailed. Still, a handful made it through the fog of work and sleep-deprivation.

Suddenwall by Sara Saab is a story for this world and these times: after a genocide, two former soldiers make their home in a sentient city, which can wall off anyone it decides violates the peace. (This story can be nominated in Best Short Fiction categories.)

My favorite novel was probably Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving. I’m entirely unapologetic about how much I fanboi Sam’s writing, and this story — about a queer teen who believes that his eating disorder is giving him powers — killed me, revived me, and then just kinda gently stroked my hair while I sobbed uncontrollably. (It can be nominated in Best Novel categories or in YA categories.)

I had a similar death-by-feels from K. M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over a Long Period of Time.” Vampire gender feels. Body feels. Consent feels. Desire feels. Sexy feels. Trans feels. Fucking A. (This can be nominated in Best Novelette.)

Football In 17,776 blew my mind. The premise is not, hmm, exceptional as far as SF/F readers are concerned. Its execution, however, is amazing, and the stories that it tells are gloriously human, deceptively simple, and moving. (I will be nominating this story for the Hugo in one of its Best Dramatic Presentation categories.)

Gone by Sunny Moraine and The Bright Sessions are the best podcasts I’ve listened to this year, for very different reasons. Gone is close, claustrophobic, intimate, beautifully strange. The Bright Sessions has a big cast with a complicated plot that makes full use of its ensemble. They’re both excellent.

2017 has been a fucking year, hasn’t it? I’ve found myself bouncing between horror, rage, and hysteria with alarming regularity, often within the same day. My partner and I also broke up this summer, and, well, grad school is an ongoing exercise in seeing how much work I can cram into my waking hours. (Who needs sleep or regular meals anyway?) I’ve continued my trend of packing in extra work on top of my courses and my teaching; I’m the fiction editor of my program’s literary magazine, heading up negotiations for the teaching assistants’ union, and sitting on approximately 23141 committees for the grad students’ organization for my department. Plus, calling my elected officials and telling them to stop driving the country into the ground has apparently become a long-term, unpaid, unfulfilling gig.

I also have been doing a hell of a lot of writing. I’ve seen my friends and family often. I’m traveling a lot. I’m dating someone incredibly sweet and kind and caring and– I’ll stop there, lest I turn into an oozing glob of gooey feelings. I’m not sure what it says about me that despite the underlying terror of this year, I feel like I’ve been at my best. Not just that — but my best is pretty damn good, and getting objectively better. I have some Deep Philosophical thoughts about that, but I’ll save it for a night that’s full of wine and friends, and not a blog post for the internet.

We’re living in strange, bloody, and scary times. I don’t know what to hope for, exactly, but I know what I believe in: good friends, the power of community, and the truth of art. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to deter humanity from cheerfully self-destructing. Pause and rest if you need it; breathe deeply, cry, laugh hysterically, and punch the occasional wall. Keep doing what you can, as best you can.

Everything I Know About Getting Short Stories Published

Who I am

My name is Nino, and I’ve been submitting short stories and essays for the past five years. I’ve been published, at best guest, in about 15 different venues. I’m currently the assistant fiction editor at Beecher’s, a literary magazine, and I’ve previously worked as a slush reader for Crossed Genres Magazine and Strange Horizons.  I’m not a “pro” writer or editor, but I’ve learned some stuff and am happy to share.

What this is

Originally, this was a handout for other students in my fiction workshop, some of whom hadn’t been published, or didn’t have much experience with submitting stories to short fiction markets. This is meant for people who are just starting to submit their short fiction, and might want tips on how to navigate the process: finding markets, choosing where to submit, how to deal with rejections, what to do when you get an acceptance, and a bunch of random advice from someone who’s waded through slush piles for a while. A lot of it slants towards writing for science fiction/fantasy/horror markets, since that’s what I know, but there’s plenty of advice that might apply for writers in other genres.

This is all 100% based on my own experiences, and should not be taken as law, obviously. Other writers and editors will have their own advice, and some of it is probably better than mine. The info below is under a Creative Commons license: you can share freely, as long as it’s credited, but cannot use it for commercial purposes, and it cannot be remixed or transformed. Continue reading “Everything I Know About Getting Short Stories Published”

Goodbye, Sexy Weirdo Role Model

Content warnings: probably not safe for work.

At 12:56 yesterday, I texted my girlfriend: “Prince was found dead. This day is dead. I’m pretty close to crying at work.”

When an artist passes, people mourn publicly. I found out on my lunch break via Twitter, where people were already capslocking their grief. But in that first half-hour, I couldn’t say or write anything, not to my coworkers or friends or roommates. All I could do was find a local radio station playing a tribute (thank you, Vocalo) and livestream it.

In the day since the news broke, many people have posted stories about what Prince meant for them: I’ve seen eloquent essays and Twitter threads about Prince’s blackness and musicianship, his femininity and queerness. He was unapologetic, confident in his genius, and utterly himself, and those qualities leave lasting impressions.

Here’s my grief story: Prince was a key part of my sexual awakening.

I grew up in Vermont, in a working class neighborhood, in a smallish town with many churches and gas stations and not much else. Sex was not discussed, not even in a forbidding way. It wasn’t actively repressed—no crusading speeches against fornication in those many churches, no films about the horrors of STDs and teen pregnancy at school—so much as it was entirely erased from my landscape.

Listen: there is only one strip club in Vermont. Whole state, 626,000 people: one strip club. New England is just like that, and for all that Vermont is proudly politically liberal, that does not extend to sex. While you can throw a stone and hit a display case of bongs, there are, as far as I know, only three stores where you can buy sex toys. One of them is also a head shop. Another, hilariously, is the Vermont Country Store, which primarily sells old-timey boardgames, candy, and hideous flannel nightgowns. (VCT incurred quite the backlash when they started selling “personal massagers” and “instructional videos”.)

Anyway. Into this sexless, homogeneously white, and pastoral landscape of my childhood came Prince.


Thank you, cable TV.

I was seven years old when the video for “Seven” was released. It features, among other things, Mayte Garcia belly dancing, and Prince touching her as she does. It’s not graphic—not by Prince’s standards, and not by today’s—but it’s intimate and sexy as hell. I had literally never seen anyone touch or be touched like that. The inclusion of children in the video, wearing outfits that matched those worn by Prince and Mayte (yellow, fringed crop tops for the girls, black lace masks for the boys) seems to acknowledge that children also had a nascent sexual identity.

Children, too, are embodied creatures. Pleasure is not the same as sex, but American society discourages children from both. Shame is instilled early, and where I grew up, it was enforced through silence. Prince’s music, at least, assured me that there was more to the story.

Later, when I came into my own identity as a sexy weirdo, Prince’s music featured at every single queer dance party I ever went to. The synths on “Little Red Corvette” are bound up with the smells of cigarettes and spilled booze, and the taste of someone else’s lipstick on my mouth. I’ve lost myself on a dance floor to “Let’s Go Crazy,” arms up, spinning and dizzy, dripping glitter-laced sweat. And I have been full-body kissed—pressed against a wall, hands in my hair, hips grinding—while listening to “Seven.”

Prince’s songs about sex are eloquent in their explicitness. Even after his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he still seemed to embody pleasure; his guitar solos still sound like orgasms put to music. Prince was a sexy alien to me, not in a threatening way (the way Bowie sometimes seemed to be), but in an inviting one. Sexuality is not a universal experience, but being able to revel in your body, to take pleasure in it, its movements and functions and sensations—I think that is a human experience, not limited by age or gender or culture.

Yesterday: I was still stuck at work, stuck grieving in solitude when my girlfriend texted me back. She offered an ear if I needed to talk, to hold me if I needed to be held. Having listened to Prince songs for the previous half hour, I wrote back: “I think I actually need to go out dancing.” More than that; I needed to sweat, to dance, to kiss her, to fool around, to laugh, to feel good. That was how I would mourn, and how I would pay tribute.

Sorry mom
Not actually true, as it turned out. (Headline from The Onion.)

Rest in power, Prince, you sexy motherfucker. Thanks for all of it.

2016 Writing Goals

Back in 2014, on one of the last days of the Clarion Writing Workshop, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer spent an afternoon with us talking about goals. Ann posed the following acronym for choosing and following through on goals: SMART goals should be:

1.) Specific
2.) Measurable
3.) Action-oriented
4.) Realistic
5.) Timely

We were all invited to write out goals following this method. I came up with about ten. A decent mixture of creative, professional, and personal goals. I managed some of them on the time frame I wanted—I got my motorcycle license, built a website, revised and sent out certain stories—half-assed a couple more, and utterly failed on others. Still, outlines are extremely helpful, and deadlines even more so.

I was reminded of this when Martin Cahill—awesome guy and Clarion classmate—posted his writing goals for the year, and thought that I should do the same. I like the idea of outlining my own life. (Maybe I should get better at doing it for my fiction?)

Stories I Will Write
•    Working title: “Presque Vu.” A novel about travelers in a carnivorous, parasitic city, to be fully drafted by August 1, 2016.
•    Working title: “Bad Girls.” A novelette or novella, to be drafted by March 10. Also known as “Manic Pixie Dream AI,” this is a story about a paroled prisoner with an AI monitor implanted in her brain.
•    Working title: “Spooner’s Dog.” An interactive short story about internet urban legends, to be drafted by April 10.
•    Working title: “The Other Side Of History, With Your Host, Jay Ferrara.” A short story about alternate universes and podcasts and love. To be drafted by May 15.

Stories I Will Revise
•    Working title: “Death Is Another Country.” A short story about drag queens, AIDS, and magic, written last winter. To be revised by June 1.
•    Title: “Sit Stay Speak.” A short story about ghosts and cryogenics, written at Clarion. To be revised by May 1.

Books I Will Make
•    “The Noctambulists,” a short story, published on Patreon and the deadline. To be finished by February 15.
•    Working title: “Food Geek: The Collected Columns.” I wrote a food/science/culture column for Gozamos from 2011-2014. To be collected and edited by March 15.

Cons I Will Attend
•    Nebula Award Conference, May 12-15, Chicago, IL.
•    Wiscon, May 27-30, Madison, WI.
•    Readercon, July 7-10, Quincy, MA.

Other Things I Will Do
I’m going to get my black belt in Hapkido, probably in the early summer. I’m going to save at least $1500 to buy a motorcycle. I’m going to plan a trip to Iceland with my girlfriend. I will keep writing short reviews at this blog, especially because short fiction never gets enough attention from reviewers. (I’m horribly overdue for December and January’s What I’ve Been Reading.)

I’m not pushing myself to write things quickly. It’s worth taking the slow route to the same destination, particularly if it’s not going to burn me out. Maintaining my well-being is currently a full-time occupation, at the moment. That sucks and I hate it, but it beats the alternative of crushing despair and self-loathing. I don’t need to learn that lesson twice, thanks.

I’m not planning for the second half of the year. I’m waiting to hear back from six of the seven MFA programs I applied to this autumn (got my first rejection last weekend), so I have no idea where I’ll be living after this summer, and it’s entirely possible I’ll be rejected from all of them. In which case, it’s time to figure out a Plan B, even if Plan B is “keep working until I come up with a new Plan A.”

Now I’m Here: Reflections on 2015

Trigger warnings: discussion of depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts below. Just so you know what kind of reflection post this is going to be.

The end of the year is a time for reflection, and I’ve seen that in a multitude of ways: a lot of friends and people I know write yearly posts, count their successes, and muse on what they hope the next year will bring.

Here’s the short, non-triggery version of this post: 2015 was a bad year full of bad feelings that didn’t go away. I didn’t want to be a downer, but I couldn’t celebrate this year’s end.

Depression, for me, feels like being mired in a radioactive swamp. No way to go but by wading right into it, and hoping you can make it out to the other side without becoming some 50’s era mutant monster. And it stained everything. It stained the really lovely reception for “The Shape of My Name,” and the strides I made as a labor organizer. I sold three original stories and two reprints. I made a Patreon page and, wow, have received $1000 from it over 11 months. I received the Working Class Writer’s Grant. I went to three really great cons, got some travel in. I started dating somebody, and she’s pretty great. I applied for grad school. I wrote half a novel, but if you ask me about this year in the future, I’ll probably sum it up thusly: “2015: the year I managed, barely, not to listen to the worst voices in my head telling me to kill myself.”

I started 2015 right, as far as it goes: my BFF and roommates, a bottle of bourbon, and a pack of fake mustaches. We didn’t even notice when midnight struck, and 2014 was over. We sang that Mountain Goats song, toasted all the things were to come, and went to bed.

A few weeks later, I was contemplating suicide while walking home in the snow. All the bad feelings were rioting inside my chest: self-loathing, hatred, loneliness, anger, frustration, and the worst, the belief that nothing was going to get better. I made an entire plan in my mind, and it seemed like such a beautiful, quiet story. I couldn’t shake it off, that whole walk home, not until I was walking beneath the overpass next to my street. There, I punched the crumbling cement until my knuckles were swollen and bruised, and flakes of the thick, peeling paint stuck to my gloves.

The violence and the pain derailed the story that was circling through my head, and let my rational mind get a word in edgewise. I went home, went straight into my room, and wrote down what had happened. Then I started crying. Then I left a voicemail for the therapist I’d started seeing a few weeks before, and went to bed. I spent the next six months trying to explain to said therapist (and really to myself) why I felt like a monster, or fantasized about destroying myself. I never could come up with a satisfying answer.

I feel mostly human these days, if deeply flawed and bearing scars. My friend group in Chicago shrank, and I haven’t recovered the sense of purpose I used to get from writing. I feel heavier than I used to, slower, older. It’s harder to rally myself for things I know might make me feel anxious or awkward; I can’t always convince myself to do things I care about, like go to protests, or organize union stuff at work. I don’t even know what happiness would look like, at least for me.

I wondered if I should share these words, what good it would do, and if I shouldn’t keep the shitty truth about this year to myself. I can’t bring myself to count my achievements, and don’t feel stable enough to make goals. What can I celebrate, honestly? Is survival enough of an achievement?

I’ve been trying to write this post for 6 days now, with that question lingering in my mind. And the best answer I can come up with is:

Yes. Survival is worthy of celebration. Maybe it’s the best thing to celebrate, since it’s one of the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There’s a reason my friends and I sing this Mountain Goats song, with the best refrain I’ve ever heard: I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me. When k8 and I sang that on the last day of 2014, I didn’t think I’d be tested on the strength of that promise, but I was, and I kept my end of the bargain. I lived through it.

I can mourn all the lost opportunities, the hours I spent feeling like a monster, wishing I could drift off quietly into death in the snow. I can be afraid that my depression will return, and be worse, and I can wonder if I’ll make it through next time. But if my crowning achievement in 2015 was that I ignored the worst and most violent voices in my head, I will accept that fucking tiara and sash and wear it with all the goddam pride I have.

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Favorite Stories of 2015/Award Eligibility Post

There was so much excellent fiction this year, or perhaps this is the first time I’ve really tried to pay attention to what’s being published in the short fiction realm. For those of you following along, I’ve attempted (not always faithfully) to keep track of my reading habits in monthly “What I’ve been reading” posts. Which is pretty handy, now that award season is upon us. If you are a member of SFWA, please take the time to nominate your favorite works of fiction.

I have two eligible stories for awards. “The Shape of My Name” is a story about time travel, family, love, heartbreak, and identity. “Let Down, Set Free” is a letter about getting over a divorce, getting free, and strapping yourself to goddamn flying tree and sending yourself into the unknown.

Onto other people’s stories. Please note that these were my favorite stories of the year, not “the best”; there’s no way I could ever hope to read all the amazing short fiction that’s put out every month, nor am I pretending to measure these stories objectively. Some were written by my friends, others by writers who have taught or mentored me, and some just blew me away when I read them.

“Evidence” by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, published in Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories From Social Justice Movements.

As I wrote in my review for Strange Horizons: ‘Evidence’ plays with the structure of its own narrative: a series of exhibits, in the courtroom sense, of a future that has already, hasn’t yet, is in the process of happening. The trail of evidence is nonlinear, and the story that it tells isn’t clear in its details…Alandrix lives some time in the future, trying to sort out the events that led to what she calls, ‘the time the silence broke.’ She and her ancestor, Alexis (also the name of the author), engage in a sort of cross-generational communication, with Alandrix gathering the small scraps that Alexis has left behind: letters, emails, poems, and writing on the wall. ‘Evidence’ is a moving experiment in form, hopeful and a little heartbreaking.”

The Half Dark Promise” by Malon Edwards, published in Shimmer

Steampunk urban fantasy with monsters, prose that hopscotches between English and Haitian Creole, and a narrator who can form a chrysalis out of her own skin and fights with two machetes: this story has everything I didn’t know I wanted. “The Half Dark Promise” is a gorgeous and unique story, full of striking imagery and rhythmic language, complicated and beautiful.

Orange Dogs” by Marian Womack, published in Weird Fiction Review

I loved the setting of this story, a shabby Oxford that’s been worn down and transformed by climate change: hot, humid, prone to floods, and home to strange new species. The eponymous Orange Dogs are giant, carnivorous butterflies, and they mean something more to the protagonist, who struggles to provide for his family while also grieving for a stillborn child. This story felt restrained, almost reticent, to me, while still being carried by a strong emotional current. You can read Marian’s thoughts about her writing process here.

The Ticket Taker of Cenote Zací” by Benjamin Parzybok, published in Strange Horizons

A story full of creeping dread and dreamy prose. Eduardo is a poet who has come to a small town to finish a manuscript; he’s found a job to occupy his days, taking tickets for visitors to town’s cenote–an entrance to an underground cavern and pool. He’s troubled by the tourists that don’t return from the cenote, who seem to take all traces of their existence with them, save for the small paper ticket stub Eduardo keeps. Parzybok weaves nightmares, creativity, and the supernatural together in this story.

Android Whores Can’t Cry by Natalia Theodoridou, published in Clarkesworld.

“It’s not an android thing. It’s an existential thing.” To me, this line neatly sums up Theodoridou’s story, about a journalist investigating the political turmoil of an unnamed country. Androids in the country are second-class citizens, kept as domestic aids and whores, and were swept up in recent protests that were violently quelled by the autocratic regime. “Android Whores Can’t Cry” meditates on death, violence, and existence; a well-crafted epistolary story that incorporates notes, definitions, interviews, and narration.

The Language of Knives” by Haralambi Markov, published in Tor.com

Another meditation on love and death. The narrator dissects his husband’s corpse with his daughter, in order to bake it into a sacrificial cake. The prose is unsparingly graphic, but careful, beautiful, and loving. I like to think of “The Language of Knives” as existing in the space between the two definitions of “tender:” demonstrating gentleness and care, and something that is easy to cut, already in pain: a bleeding valentine of a story, a fresh bruise.

Folding Beijing” by Hao Jinfang, translated by Ken Liu, published in Uncanny Magazine. (Note: this would technically be in the Nebula’s novelette category.)

So much contemporary fiction–not just in genre, but in all fiction–bypasses the experiences of the poor and/or working class. When it doesn’t, poor characters rarely stay that way: they become bootstrappers or Cinderellas, navigating their way out of the peasant class and into the high towers of riches, fame/infamy, nobility, or at least a steady income. “Folding Beijing” focuses on the trials of an impoverished waste processing worker as he navigates a Beijing that’s stratified its social classes in a concrete way: the city is divided into three distinct spaces, each of which mechanically folds away like a Murphy bed to make room for another. As a concept or image, it’s great; in Jinfang’s hands, it’s a staging ground to write about class, materialism, gender, and capitalism in China through the eyes of her protagonist. Lao Dao is only trying to get enough money to get his young daughter into a decent school; to break, if you will, the curse of their poverty. It’s the sort of journey worthy of a fairy tale.

And You Shall Know Her By the Trail of Deadby Brooke Bolander, published in Lightspeed. (Note: this would technically be in the Nebula’s novelette category.)

You know that feeling after watching a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road, where when you walk out of the theater, you’re still so high on adrenaline that you’re convinced you could backflip off the hood of a burning car, punch a thousand creeps in the mouth, then nail the high notes on “Under Pressure” at the karaoke bar, all without ever spilling your drink? Yeah. It’s that kind of story. The last line deserves an ovation, or maybe a totally unironic slow clap, or just a hundred fists pumping the air.

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Open Letter to Anita Alvarez, State’s Attorney for Cook County, IL

Update: All charges against Malcolm London were dropped, as of 11/25/15, 1:52 CST.
To: Anita Alvarez, State’s Attorney for Cook County
State’s Attorney Office
Ms. Alvarez,

I’m writing to you today to urge you to drop the charges against Malcolm McDonald. This young activist was arrested last night while protesting against the Chicago Police Department’s abetting of a criminal act by one of their officers.

I use the word “abet” with purpose, here. The CPD has a troubling history of human rights abuse, the use of torture, and racial profiling. By sitting on this video until forced to do otherwise, they have shown that they are resistant to becoming a more fair and equitable force. By not taking immediate action–such as the University of Cincinnati Police Force did in the wake of the shooting of Samuel Dubose–they have closed ranks to protect an alleged murderer.

You have already contributed to the erosion of faith in the CPD and the justice system in Chicago, by failing to bring charges against Officer Van Dyke before the imminent release of the video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting, more than a year after his death. As an elected official, you have a duty to the people of Cook County, and I hope these protests have made you consider how you have failed them, failed all of us.

You still have a chance to prove yourself to the people of Chicago and Cook County. Malcolm London’s charges of felony aggravated assault far outweigh any possible crime he committed in protesting, and run counter to numerous on-scene witnesses that have already given their testimonies in the media. I urge you to drop the charges against London, and prove that you are worthy of the faith that the voters placed in you.

Drop the charges against Malcolm London. If not, we–the people of Cook County–will remember it during your re-election campaign.


Nino Cipri

Writer, Chicagoan, concerned voter

If you’d like to contact the State’s Attorney’s office, please email them at statesattorney@cookcountyil.gov, or call (312) 603-1880, and urge them to drop the charges against Malcolm London. For more information, check out the links below:

DNAinfo.com: 5 Arrested While Protesting Shooting Death of Laquan McDonald, Police Say

WBEZ: Chicago teens wrestle with the pain of Laquan Mcdonald case

Chicago Reporter: How Chicago tried to cover up a police execution

Chicago Tribune Commentary: 400 days? Really, Alvarez? Really McCarthy? Really, Rahm?

Black Youth Project: Shifting the Focus From the LaQuan McDonald Murder Video and Back to the Systems That Killed Him

Ted Talks: Malcolm London: High School Training Ground

What I’ve Been Reading: October 2015

In an effort to keep track of my reading, I’ve started taking notes about the stories I’ve been enjoying. All of them are linked, where applicable. If there’s something I’ve missed, or that I should read, leave a comment or send me a note at nanoonino [at] gmail [dot] com. And if you’d like to support my writing–whether it’s reviews, tiny essays, or fiction–please check out my Patreon page.


The Diviners and Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray.
I really can’t talk highly enough about these books. Bray might be one of my favorite YA authors, and I’ve been waiting for a sequel to The Diviners for years, and Lair of Dreams did not disappoint. This series takes place in New York in the ’20s, and has  everything I could want. Supernatural evil! Monsters! Diverse characters that actually reflects New York’s demographics! Complicated and layered relationships!


Queers Destroy Horror, edited by Wendy Wagner.
There’s a lot of amazing stuff in here: stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan, Sunny Moraine, Alyssa Wong, Poppy Z. Brite (who wrote the first queer horror I ever encountered) and Chuck Palahniuk; poetry by Brit Mandelo, Amal El-Mohtar, and Rose Lemberg; plus a collection of essays, art, and interviews. You can read a selection of it online or buy the ebook.

Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements, edited by Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown.
My review of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements is now live at Strange Horizons. You can read it here.


The Tragic, Forgotten History of the Haitian Zombie by Mike Mariani, in The Atlantic.
The historical and cultural origins of appropriated monsters often get lost in popular representations. Zombies, in particular, have become divorced from their origins as allegories for slavery, and have become instead blank canvases onto which we project our (white, American/European) fears.

Impostors by Katharine Quarmby, in Aeon Magazine.
I proceed extremely cautiously while reading essays about identity, particularly as it regards race and gender. Quarmby navigated the potential thorns and pitfalls pretty well, I thought, probably because this essay functioned more as a survey of layered or transitional identities, using the author’s experience as a transnational and transracial adoptee as a starting point, rather than a critical essay.

Short Stories

Orange Dogs by Marian Womack in Weird Fiction Review.
Marian’s a classmate from the Clarion Writing Workshop, and apparently this was one of the stories from her application. Marian writes so well about environment, and here she evokes a shabby Oxford that’s been worn down and transformed by climate change: hot, humid, and home to strange new species. The eponymous Orange Dogs are giant, carnivorous butterflies, and they mean something more to the protagonist, who struggles to provide for his family while also grieving for a stillborn child.

You can also read Marian’s story Frozen Planet in Apex Magazine. Marian describes it as a “Lovecraftian SF tale.” I’d describe it as a gothic ghost story on a different planet, with shades of Jack London and Henry James.

Minotaur: An Analysis of the Species by Sean Robinson, in Unlikely Story’s Journal of Unlikely Academia issue.
This story re-imagines the classic monster, its labyrinths, its prey, and its slayers, taking the format of a scholarly article. I really love stories that play with form and ostensible function, and this tale manages to create a soft narrative in building its world.

The Game of Smash and Recovery by Kelly Link in Strange Horizons.
There is a lot we never know in “The Game of Smash and Recovery.” There are vampires and Handmaids and secrets between Anat and her brother Oscar. The revelations we’re privy to don’t give us all the answers we seek, and the story perhaps mirrors the game Anat and Oscar engage in. What is recovered and what is destroyed by the end of this story? (I have a lot of feelings about Kelly Link’s fiction. Each of her stories seem to exist as separate and wholly different from each other. She never takes shortcuts; never leads the reader by the nose.)

The Invention of Separate People by Kevin Brockmeier in Lightspeed.
I still remember reading The Symposium in college, and this story seemed like it would have had a place in that volume, next to Aristophanes’s dialogue on the invention of love. This is an extremely odd love story, where metaphors about love are made literal, dissected, and discussed.

Solder and Seam by Maria Dahvana Headley in Lightspeed.
Headley has become one of my favorite short story writers in the last few months. “solder and Seam”, like most of her stories, is richly drawn, with a wealth of detail that invigorates her fiction. I loved the image of a rusty, patched-together whale traveling over the fields of yellow grain.

Horror Story by Carmen Maria Machado in Granta.
A lot of horror stories are analogies for more subtle fears: the disintegration of a marriage and domestic life, in this case. Machado, like Link, tends to subtly twist tropes on their head, such as in this passage, where she plays with familiar origins for haunted houses:

It turned out there had been a graveyard for criminals on the property where our home now stood. Also, a woman had been strangled by her lover in our bedroom just after the house was built. Also, a man had hanged himself in the attic during the Great Depression. Also, a teenage girl had been kidnapped and held in the basement for a year in the seventies before the kidnapper, who had never bothered offering a ransom, sent pieces of her body to her family in sets of Russian nesting dolls and then burned what remained of her on the front lawn. We tracked down the tenants who’d lived there immediately before us. Their eight-year-old son claimed the seam between the world of the living and the dead ran through the foyer.

I’ve previously written about Machado’s work here. Machado, as it turns out, is also an essayist with work in the New Yorker, and a really excellent guide to applying to MFA programs that has been an open tab on my laptop for the past two months.

50 Word Essays: Food edition

[For previous 50 Word Essays, look here. And yes, my household really does have a chicken named Dixieland Stampede.]

6.) Avocado/Coconut milkshake from Radio Bean.
Pale green, sweet, creamy. It’s good, but I can’t believe I paid $6 for this. It’s mostly for the memories: Radio Bean opened half my life ago. I’ve killed so many afternoons and lung cells smoking on the patio. It’s a converging point of weirdos, yuppies, artists, and crust punks.

7.) Health food.
Adult sick days are such a bullshit parade. Why does it take so much energy just to make comfort food? How am I supposed to get better without soup? I blow my nose for a few minutes, and blearily resign myself to takeout. Thank god for pho and tom yum.

8.) Urban farming.
“Dixieland Stampede laid an egg with NO SHELL.” I tried to imagine it, an exercise in poultry-themed body horror. Did Dixieland squirt out raw yolk and albumen? Was there a membrane keeping it together? I wanted a picture, but inquiring minds were happy to leave it to the imagination.

9.) Allergy.
Someone in my dorm brought them home: pounds of illicitly-gained cashews. I asked no questions, survived happily on cashews until I woke myself up in the middle of the night, scratching at hives that had sprouted all over my hands and face. My lips still itch whenever I see them.

10.) Ginger.
My secret to a life of happiness: ginger. Ginger tea, Ginger-Os, ginger jam, ginger candy, candied ginger, pickled ginger. You know what your chai needs? Fuckloads of ginger. Curry? Get some ginger into that shit. Ginger Spice is my least favorite Spice Girl, but in all else: ginger or gtfo.

Flash Fiction: Not an Ocean, But the Sea

[[Hey folks! Over on my Patreon page, I reached a goal of a monthly writing prompt. Uh, actually, I reached it a while ago and am only now in a place to fulfill that goal. Life, organizing, etc. Here’s the first installment of what will hopefully become a monthly piece of flash fiction. If you enjoy this, please consider becoming a patron or making a paypal donation.]]

Nadia found the ocean behind the Swedish assholes’ couch during her weekly cleaning. She had followed a small trail of sand grains to the eastern wall with the vacuum, and when she’d moved the couch to vacuum underneath it, there was an ocean, snuggled right up to the wall. A fresh wind blew off it, stirring the curtains: the smell of salt and mud.

The Swedish assholes’s stupid cat jumped up on the couch that Nadia had moved and stared down at the ocean like he could see beneath the surface: the fish, the plankton, the sharks and all. His tail twitched.

Nadia had dubbed these particular clients “the Swedish assholes” for many reasons, most prominently because they insisted she use their vacuum. Their vacuum was an awful, rattling thing, with a hose that connected directly to air vents installed the walls of their high-rise. It was nearly impossible to reach all the floors with it. But they’d had it mail-ordered from a Swedish design company and insisted it was better than hers, which had been purchased from a cousin’s appliance store and was kept in perfect working order.

The ocean behind the couch, she thought, had probably not been ordered from Ikea or Electrolux.

Nadia cleaned houses because the money was decent and she could do it alone. She was forty-eight, Ukrainian, had never been very beautiful, and had outlived most of her family. She was proud of all those things. She was not a woman given to romance or fancy.

“Shoo,” Nadia said to the cat. He bent his ears back and glared, and didn’t move until she waved the vacuum’s upholstery attachment at him. Nadia moved the couch back into place and continued vacuuming. There was much left to clean in the Swedish assholes’ apartment. She hadn’t even started on the kitchen, where the many chrome gadgets were always splattered with sauces. God save her from rich people who wanted to cook like Ina Garten.

Nadia mostly forgot about the incident until the next week, when she again had to move the couch to vacuum. This process repeated itself for several months. Nadia would see the sand first, then catch the smell, and remember: of course, the Swedish assholes had the ocean under their couch.

The day that changed, as things must always change, was not very different than the preceding ones. Not unseasonably cold, nor warm. She was still divorced, childless, and an immigrant that lived in an enclave of other immigrants, who understood the true value of things.

Was her back bothering Nadia that day? Yes, but not as much as her knees, her knees were her real problem. All that time spent scrubbing floors, all kinds of floors, tile and linoleum and bamboo and one man who had furnished his children’s playroom with a floor made of pennies that were glued to the floor. It was ghastly, a nightmare to clean, and she had Abraham Lincoln’s face permanently embedded in her knees now, from that floor.

If we are seeking to place blame for what happened that day, perhaps it should lie on the penny floor. Maybe we can blame the verdigris that crept over Lincoln’s features, and the bright, bloody smell of that room.

On the day, Nadia arrived at the Swedish assholes’ apartment at her normal time. Nadia dropped her purse, then her bucket of cleaning supplies, and then her coat. The stupid cat watched her from the kitchen counter where he was surely forbidden to sit, and she watched him back. Then she strode into the living room, hauled the couch away from the eastern wall, and stared down at the small ocean that hid beneath it.

It looked like the Black Sea, she decided. Not the sea of her memories with its dirty colored sand, and overly tanned men leering at young bikini-clad girls; but the sea of her dreams, with dark water that contained shipwrecks and other unknowable things.

Nadia shed her clothes, placing them on the back of the couch: the old, stained jeans, the cheap and scratchy T-shirt that was emblazoned with the name of the cleaning company; her threadbare bra; her soft panties with the torn lace at the hem. Then she stood at the lip of the sea, of her sea, and dipped into it a toe. She knew that the best way to get into cold water was not to hesitate, not to shriek and to fumble, but to steadily allow oneself to be submerged.

Rather than sinking in, however, the sea rose to meet Nadia, spilling out over the stingy inches of sand that formed its beach, lazily spreading across the floor of the Swedish assholes’ 14th floor apartment. It quickly submerged the mohair rugs and the lower bookshelves, the white lacquer coffee table with its collection of fashion and design magazines. It rose higher than the air vents of the awful vacuum, and salty water quickly began leaking down the pipes. Wavelets lapped against the cream-colored walls.

As for Nadia, she placidly watched the water rise to her ankles, and then her knees. When it was just about thigh-height, she took three deep breaths, and then dove in.

The cat had leapt up onto the couch, perching on Nadia’s clothes. He watched the water with the same fascination he had shown months earlier, but no real concern. Instead, he raised a paw as if to swat at something just under the surface. Then he brought it to his mouth and licked it instead, as if that was what he had meant to do in the first place.