Hello, dear readers! Please give a warm welcome to the authors of Rhonda Parrish's fourth installment in the Magical Menageries anthology series, Sirens
. This is a book--and a series--that you don't want to miss. Rhonda has an eye for selecting haunting, enchanting stories. If you haven't read anything she's edited, you're definitely missing out.
Why do you enjoy writing short stories?
Randall Arnold: Mainly the challenge of creating a world, populating it with compelling characters, and making readers care in as few words as possible.
Cat McDonald: I prefer writing long-form stuff, but short stories give me license to be more off-the-wall and intense. They're more concentrated, I guess?
Simon Kewin: I like the immediacy. I like that I can start and finish a story in a day or two, which can be refreshing six months into a novel. I like the idea of a small, perfectly formed, complete story in a few thousand words.
Eliza Chan: I wrote my first novel between the ages of 17-21. It was terrible! Characters literally disappeared off the page when I got bored of them. At the time my crit group recommended I hone my skill by writing short stories, so that's what I did. It wasn't until I started writing them that I really realised what a difficult art form it is! Scene setting, characterisation and an interesting plot in about 5000 words? Madness. But I love it now. Short stories allow you to be experimental and innovative. And some of the best writers out there today are writing in the short form.
KT Ivanrest: For a long time I disliked short stories, largely due to some misconceptions left over from college writing courses. However, I’ve always enjoyed writing one-off scenes—a quick glimpse into a character’s life, the beginning of larger problems without the commitment required to actually solve them. Basically, setting myself up for novels I’ll probably never write. I’ve found the challenge, but also the satisfaction, of writing short stories has been taking those scenes and whittling the conflict down to short-story size and scope.
Adam L. Bealby: For me, writing fiction in general is a form of catharsis. If I’m not doing it, on some deep and reasonably subtle level, I’m not quite well with all things. I tend to throw myself into other people’s fictional universes as a surrogate release; which is no bad thing, of course, but it’s not quite the same. Plus, all those story ideas in my head, all those, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…’ moments, either dry up, because they can’t access a creative nozzle, or they stubbornly refuse to budge until they’ve been given an outlet. I’m a perennial dreamer and really who wants to have the same dream over and over again? Get it out, get it written down, and on to the next story kernel. That makes me happy the same way a big bag of those black and red berry sweets does.
If we’re talking short stories, I just love the form. You can take risks and play around with structure and tone in ways you can’t with a novel, because it wouldn’t be sustainable in longform. Also, I only have two speeds – flat out and stop! I’m either hard at it like a bench-press or slobbing out with that big bag of sweets I was talking about watching 80s horror films. A couple of weeks intense writing in the evening suits me very well thank you. If I’m writing a novel I basically have to lock myself away and not see my wife and kids for three months; or streeeeeetch it out over a year or so, writing in fits and starts, and trying to get the feel of the characters and style again after a few weeks’ hiatus say, which can be incredibly frustrating.
Tabitha Lord: Short stories are satisfying to write for a few reasons. For me, a full-length novel can take a year or more to draft, and then another several months to work through edits. It’s a long, pain-staking process! In the meantime, other ideas surface and start whispering in my ear. With some, I know they require a “big” book, so I make them an outline and a file, and tell them to wait their turn. But others can be explored, in part or in their entirety, as short stories. There’s still a sense of completion, of an idea fully expressed, but it may only take a month to get that idea down on paper.
Another reason I enjoy writing shorts is that I can play around with different voices. If I’m working on a longer draft in the third person, I can write a short in the first person and really tighten up the point of view.
Similar to working with different voices, I can try out different styles in my short fiction. “Homecoming”, for example, is written in a much more literary style than my science fiction series. I’m not sure I’d be able to sustain that for an entire full-length novel, but it really made me stretch as a writer.
Amanda Kespohl: In some ways, writing a short story is more challenging than writing a novel. A novel has room to sprawl and stretch and add subplots and develop characters. A short story has to be short, sharp, and to the point, with no scene added that doesn't carry its weight. It's an excellent way to work on becoming more concise, a skill I am constantly trying to develop. I'm hoping that the tighter plotting skills I'm developing with my short stories will carry over to my novels. Besides, sometimes it's nice to just dabble in a world for a while--no big commitment, no grand scheme, just a good time in an interesting place before I pop away to somewhere new.
: Writing a novel is long and calculated -- when you finish one, you feel like a master hunter who has laid down an elaborate trap to catch his prey. Writing short stories is more similar to spotting an effervescent dream, made of clumps of colorful gas -- and then trying to capture it. Instantly. With both hands. So there's kind of a gleeful anarchy to it. It can be impulsive and liberating and wonderful, especially when you feel as though you captured the heart of the thing. That isn't to say it isn't hard, and it isn't thoughtful-- only to say that, when it works, it feels like the truest way you have of communicating your soul, without losing yourself to the complexities of a longer plot.
Why a story about sirens?
: As I wrote on my blog
, there were a few contributing factors to "The Dolphin Riders," but strangely enough the main one was an infamous fake mermaids documentary on Animal Planet. It made me wonder.
: Well, it was the prompt! But, that aside, I like to write about sound, about how it feels physically and how it impacts people, so I found writing about sirens fits comfortably with the aesthetic I'd been chasing for the last couple years.
: It's fun to mess with familiar tropes and themes, and I was drawn to writing a story that turns the notion of the siren on its head. I have a mermaid in my story but I also used a sci-fi setting, which seemed to me an entertaining combination. Sirens lure you to the rocks, and while that can be dangerous it can also be liberating. You never know what you'll find there...
: I loved Rhonda's previous anthology on scarecrows. I've never contemplating writing a story about scarecrows but reading the different takes each writer had gone with made me regret that I missed the call for submissions. When the call went out for sirens, again it was a mythological creature I would not have normally written about. But I have written about selkies and love water mythology so I was up for the challenge.
: I wrote Threshold with the Sirens anthology in mind, so they weren’t something I’d given a lot of thought to previously. What I ultimately like most about them, though, is the way they fuel conflict (huh, conflict again!), convincing people to do things that are not in their best interests. For my protagonist, their song increased his problems but also made him believe he had a solution…which of course just caused more problems.
Adam L. Bealby: I love fairy tales. I love weird folklore. I love black humour. So a darkly comic tale about a northern English pensioner who reels in some sort of blubberish elder god during a fishing trip and falls instantly in love with it, kinda appeals. Quite a few of my stories concern magical glamours and deception (especially self-deception).
At the moment I’m writing a series of self-contained short stories about a modern day Russian volkyv (wizard) called Dim. Dim lives in England now and has set up Little Divinities Inc., a sort of paranormal detective agency with a sideline in ancient medicines and pagan benedictions. Mostly his services are called on by Ukrainian and Russian migrants of a certain age. He blesses a lot of houses, a lot of dogs. And ‘bony tsar’ his zagovor remedy for impotence, is very popular. But sometimes Dim gets into decidedly darker scrapes, usually involving the dii minores, the impish minor deities that exist all around us but hidden from prying eyes. (Shameless plug 1: You can read Dim’s first tale in Pagan by Zimbell House Publishing.)
Tabitha Lord: One of my above-mentioned “wait your turn” files contains the idea for a book about Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. Having read the Odyssey several times as a Classics major in college, I was always intrigued by Penelope, and imagined the possibilities for her story beyond what we’re offered in the poem.
When World Weaver Press announced the continuation of their magical menageries series with an anthology titled Sirens, I was intrigued. After all, it was the famous Siren, Kalypso, who lured Odysseus away from Penelope for over seven years. Maybe there was a story here about both women?
Amanda Kespohl: This particular story was inspired by a portion of Patricia McKillip's Riddle-Master trilogy, wherein a character was shipwrecked and temporarily deprived of both speech and memory. Part of me thought, "What is he without these things? He's only a shell, empty and mute." But he was still himself, able to learn new things, develop relationships, and show his personality. I liked the idea of that human-shaped blank slate presenting itself to the world, and the notion that someone might seek to learn what lurks behind it. Combine that with the love of the sea that pervades all of McKillip's books and you get the seeds of "The Fisherman and the Golem."
That's sort of my approach with all my stories. I hear a line in a song, read a sentence in a book, and something about it sticks in my brain. I worry on it and wrap new context around it and obsess over it until it becomes an idea in much the same that an oyster makes a pearl from a grain of sand.
: I love monsters and sirens are a particularly fascinating breed -- a very transparent metaphor for the dangers of following one's lust. The metaphor is potent for anyone with a pulse, and monsters are the most freeing metaphors there are. They allow you passage to a place and mindset you might otherwise feel reluctant to travel to -- and then they also provide you with an outlet for an explosive cocktail of blood and guts. Which is to say that writing about sirens allows you to be thoughtful about the frailty of man's fortitude in the face of desire -- but it also allows you to rip all of that apart with talons and teeth.
What's one story/novel idea you LOVE but can't get going?
: A horror story about a man whose eyes have a "sphere of influence" that bends reality around them. I want to write it as an homage to The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe, but I can't get more than two sentences in...
: I've been querying a dark fantasy western around but getting no biters, which is pretty normal, I think. It's rare that I run into people as into westerns as I am in real life, so it's to be expected in publishing too! It's still a massive bummer, though.
: I'm at the very early stages of a ghostly/time travelly/mysterious house novel called Brokenclock Hall that is going to be very tricky to write with multiple time lines and characters from multiple eras. I've written about three thousand words of set up and I'm at the stage where I need to draw diagrams and create spreadsheets. It feels daunting, but I think it could be good!
: I've been working on a spirit story on and off for over 6 months now and can't seem to land the ending. It's a bit Philip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy daemons and a bit Ken Liu's "State Change" but based on zodiac creatures come to life. It also heavily features a Chinese family living in the UK, which is the closest to home that I've ever gone before. I think it's trying to be a novella but I am resisting it at the moment. Normally if a story isn't finished within a few months, I struggle to go back to it, but this one haunts me and I am constantly tweaking and waiting for the inspiration for it all to come together.
: I wrote a fantasy/crime novel for NaNo 2013 that I really enjoyed working on—sort of Miss Congeniality meets Gladiator-with-magic. The characters and story both had a lot of promise, but every time I tried to work on it, the characters from my multi-book-fantasy-with-no-discernable-plot screamed for attention (or sang seductively?). Now that I’ve got a plot sketched out I’ll probably be sticking with the latter, but I definitely want to come back to the NaNo novel eventually.
Adam L. Bealby
: It’s the story of Gregory Sears, who goes to bed aged 40, having just kissed his wife and kids goodnight, and wakes up aged 16, with his mom banging on about him being late for school. It’s been done before of course, that sort of ‘what if..?’ scenario, but the idea refuses to lie down and die. What would you do if you had your whole life to live again? Would you do things differently? Or would you try to careful steer your life down the track it followed the first time? The thing is, that’s impossible; your life would never be quite the same as it was before. Even with the finest timing in the world your son, say, would be conceived a second too late, or too early. He’d still be your son, maybe he’d look like you remember, but he wouldn’t be the same. That first son, all your children in fact, are dead to you, no matter how hard you try to reproduce them. You’d end up with changeling children instead. (Shameless plug 2: See "The Other Daughter," my story in Once Upon A Scream
You can never go home again. Gregory can never go home again. It’s a typical male fantasy, I suppose, and I find it equally exhilarating and terrifying.
: My problem really isn’t getting a story going, it’s staying focused on only one story at a time! Right now I’m over halfway through the draft of the second book in my Horizon series. I love writing these characters and their story, but smack in the middle of the work, I had the idea for an urban fantasy novel. I really, really want to write this book! I only gave it a little brain space, but I already have a complete plotline and a well-developed main character. I’m so excited to get started on it, but I know I have something to finish first. Sigh. If only there were a few more hours in the day…
: I was thinking about fairy tales one day, about how crazy I would feel if animals actually started talking to me, and how I would wonder if I was hallucinating if I saw a fairy. It's not really human nature to easily accept things that are out of the ordinary, and in some fairy tales, it's not suggested that anybody but the hero in this world is out there chatting up mice or rubbing elbows with the fae. The fact that these are rare occurrences is usually what makes the character doing these things special enough to warrant a story. But in a more realistic world, it would also make that character look like a lunatic, and possibly feel like one, too.
I also thought about Cinderella's cruel stepmother, and how anyone who was that beastly probably wouldn't confine her torments to mental ones. And under those circumstances, would Cinderella really wish to go to a ball when the fairy appeared, or would she wish for revenge against the people who mistreated her?
And so my fantasy novel, Ash, was born, springing from fairy tale notions, but twisting and sprawling into completely original epic fantasy territory. It follows a young abuse survivor who flees into a demon-filled wasteland after her impulsive wish for revenge leaves her branded a murderess. Only, she won't get rid of the twisted fairy godmother who pushed her to make the wish so easily. They have a history that goes back much farther than Ash realizes, and a future the fairy will do anything to prevent.
At the moment, I'm currently still querying this one. I've gotten some nice feedback, but so far, no takers. I think the word count--162,000 words--is giving people pause, even when they otherwise enjoy the plot and the characters. Still, I remain hopeful.
: I've been trying to finish a young adult book about middle school students coming together to catch a ghost for a long time now. I work with children, so working on a project for young people is appealing to me. Plus, I've always wanted to tell a good ghost yarn -- it's the kind of thing I would have gobbled up as a child, so I feel like I really owe it to a past self to work on it now. Chalk up the slow progress to a mountain of writer's block -- I could say I'm too tired after work, or the project is just too special to me to make a lot of headway, but that's just procrastination by another name. But some day it will be finished!
Sirens is out now from World Weaver Press.
Sirens are beautiful, dangerous, and musical, whether they come from the sea or the sky. Greek sirens were described as part-bird, part-woman, and Roman sirens more like mermaids, but both had a voice that could captivate and destroy the strongest man. The pages of this book contain the stories of the Sirens of old, but also allow for modern re-imaginings, plucking the sirens out of their natural elements and placing them at a high school football game, or in wartime London, or even into outer space.
Featuring stories by Kelly Sandoval, Amanda Kespohl, L.S. Johnson, Pat Flewwelling, Gabriel F. Cuellar, Randall G. Arnold, Michael Leonberger, V. F. LeSann, Tamsin Showbrook, Simon Kewin, Cat McDonald, Sandra Wickham, K.T. Ivanrest, Adam L. Bealby, Eliza Chan, and Tabitha Lord, these siren songs will both exemplify and defy your expectations.