Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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It’s the End of the World and I’m Loving It

by Beth McCabe


Why do post-apocalyptic stories appeal to us so much? After all, they tend to be dark; plot-lines are limited by the situation; and at this point there’s a bit of a glut out there, which is a problem for us as writers as well as readers.

Bring’em on. I want more: more zombies, pandemics, and grid failures. Alien invasions!

Frog in hot water

I’m fascinated by how characters react in the frog-in-slowly-heating-water scenario. Your phone has no bars. Then your power goes out. Next, you hear wild rumors of people looting supermarkets. Finally, like our frog, you realize: I’m screwed.

In some stories, this early period spawns an elaborate dystopian society. In the books and shows that draw me, the fight to survive itself becomes the new normal.

I asked my husband Kevin (also known in this column as Hwong the Cleric), a fellow scifi fan, why he thinks we are attracted to these stories. He answered, “Because then none of us would have to go to Thanksgiving.”

He continued on a more serious note: “I think it’s because all synapses are in play and there’s no safety net. Everything you know is wrong. We all wonder what we would do in a situation where we are fighting over basic resources. Would we help others? What would it take to make us do things we would never have imagined doing?”

An author’s perspective

I also spoke with Melissa Dickerson, author of Cured, a wildly funny, fresh YA zombie apocalypse in which the teen heroine is…or was…one of the zombies (not a spoiler). Before I read this gem, I would have said the only way I want to encounter zombies is in my sights while wearing a VR headset.

Here’s what Melissa said:

“Modern life is stressful and complicated. We’re multitasking and so engrossed in technology that we’re suffering overload. Social conventions and expectations change so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. A lot of today’s changes are great, but others are making us more unhappy.

“Young people especially are feeling powerless. Many want to change the world for the better, but either don’t know how, or their efforts are disregarded. Others don’t know where they want to go in their lives, or how to figure that out.

“In a post-apocalyptic world, the shades of gray fall away. You’re back to basics, in ultimate control of your life. Your close-knit group works together. Distractions are minimal. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and your goals are clear. Survive. Defeat the bad guy. Find love in a world where you’re more than a photo on a dating site.”

She finished with this insight: “And really, who doesn’t occasionally fantasize about a little cathartic violence?”

Exploring our dark side

Courtesy of Liquid Imagination

The darkest story I’ve ever written, “Prom Night”, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. It’s also the story closest to my heart, for two reasons.

First, I enjoy the stretch of portraying everyday life under extreme conditions. You still get up in the morning. You crush on people. The trash has to go somewhere. More than ever, you feel the need for some form of family unit, even if it’s one of your own making.

Second, putting extreme stressors on my characters freed me to explore my own dark side—a freedom I should give myself no matter what I’m writing, but usually don’t.

A little light reading

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven received critical acclaim that it well deserves. The book tells the unlikely story of a wandering group of actors performing Shakespeare in the remote outposts of what is left of civilization in the Great Lakes region of the U.S., twenty years after a pandemic. Lots of other stuff happens too.

“What’s key here, I think, is that Mandel doesn’t dwell on the apocalypse,” says Todd VanDerWerff in his review in Vox. Instead, the author paints a vivid portrait of the every-day existence of her characters, bringing the sense of what this would feel like so much closer than a more violent, extreme portrayal.

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

Two teen girls and their dad live in an idyllic woodsy grove, but with all the conveniences and technology to which we’re accustomed. Slowly they begin to see things crumbling around them. They’re not sure why, but after a while, the “why” no longer matters. It’s a scary, beautiful, realistic portrayal of how regular people can reach beyond themselves in the face of fear and uncertainty. If you need something for movie night, Patricia Rozema wrote and directed a movie based on this book starring Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page. It’s well done and true to the book.

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

This is quite simply one of the best books I have ever read. The apocalypse, as with Station Eleven, is in the background, yet it propels the story arc. The book follows two isolated groups of people—one in space, one in the Arctic—who begin to suspect that something terrible has overcome the Earth, but are limited in their communications with the rest of the planet. I’ll stop here to avoid spoilers.

One final thought: Maybe my fondness for post-apocalypse literature is just whistling in the dark. Lately, whenever I check the news, I feel the uncontrollable urge to say “Ribbit”.

 


Review: “Graverobbing Negress Seeks Employment”

by E. Young


[Editor’s note: this post was originally written in spring 2017, when FIYAH, a literary magazine of black speculative fiction, had just published its second issue. This post is blogger E. Young’s review of what she found in that second issue. LSQ is happy to note that FIYAH continues to publish on a quarterly basis and is in its second year.]

First, I want to mention how robust the issue is this time around. They’re getting bigger! We have a novel excerpt, an indie spotlight corner, some sweet merch (THAT COVER ART THO!), and a Spotify playlist going on so please check out the website. With that being said, of course we’re here for the stories and they are excellent but I wanted to single one out in particular because it…well, it vexed me!

“Graverobbing Negress Seeks Employment” by Eden Royce takes the theme of spilling tea, to me, in a few different directions. If you’re not up to date on your genteel slang, to spill tea is simply to gossip mightily or in some instances tell a cold, hard truth about something (usually someone). The literal tea element is here, of course, with the Life Everlasting tea which does…well, guess. Then there is the rumor or gossip element that chugs the meat of the plot forward. And then there’s the twist at the end that reveals a cold, hard truth that shakes the reader and Prosper to the core. I had about as many questions as she did, the biggest one being “WHY?”

Now of course, in stories and cinema we are used to asking ourselves why knowing damn well there is no real why, and here is pretty much the same. There’s no why to senseless violence against one’s own people under the cover of racism, and that freaked me out a bit. It freaked me out a bit but I also wished it could have been expanded out a bit. Not in the name of making a grand political statement or some deeper meaning, but the chill still felt a bit short. But at the same time I wouldn’t ask for a series or a longer novella or novel, because the impact is captured in the shortness of a single night and one (probably) last mission.

But in the end, this ended up becoming one of my favorite stories in the issue. The atmosphere was very Eve’s Bayou meets Candyman. And I’m sure you all know by know how hard I pop for American South lit that isn’t all ooga-booga Hollywood voodoo, although there are subtle traces of voudou represented here. And it’s written in first person dialect? Hell yeah. Give it a read and the rest of the stories here in this issue, pick up issue #1 (my thoughts on it) if you haven’t, I know FIYAH is only going to get bigger and better from here on out!

 


Hey, I know you!

by Calee Jordan


Haven’t we met before?

Yeah, we have. I’d recognize that wild tangle of hair and quirky disposition anywhere.

Why are you shaking your head?

No, no. We’ve definitely met before. In fact, I can prove it.

You’re a witch, right? Ah, see, you paused. You are a witch.

No, that’s not an accusation, but don’t look so surprised. It’s one of the first things I learned about you.

Anyway, I remember you say these odd phrases that sound just a little off, like…  <Snapping my fingers, I try to remember.>  Oh bat wings or flying broomstick.  I can’t remember the exact phrase, but it’s some twisted cliché.  What else do I remember? <I tap my chin. > You’re powerful, but you have trouble with your craft sometimes so much so that the local authorities or magical government trouble you often. And you just solved another crime—a murder or conspiracy, right?

What?! No! I’m not a stalker. It’s just that, well, you witches are all alike.

Yeah, yeah. You claim every paranormal species has its areas of comfort that I call stereotypes. The werewolves—or shifters as they’re now known—are lovers; in most novels, they have three goals: claiming their mates, protecting their packs, or fighting over territory. Whereas vampires and elves tend to cause the problems. They seek political power and sometimes world domination.

Still, witches–no supernatural character is more stereotypical than the modern witch. They look alike, they talk alike, they work alike. They have the same hang-ups.

I’m not exaggerating. Ever since Hermione Granger flounced into the witching world, a novel’s lead witch (our protagonist) has had wild bushy hair (like Hermione) and brown or reddish-brown hair (like Hermione). Sure, Charli Goodwin of Southern Charms Cozy is a blonde, but her hair’s still bushy. Yet witches somehow appear like every girl, remaining average—neither tall nor short, neither attractive nor ugly, neither genius nor stupid. But every protagonist witch has underappreciated intelligence, unrivaled skills or powers, and an a-dork-able attitude that is neither abrasive nor off-putting.

I can’t blame Hermione though. Even before Granger influenced witchy appearance, witches fell into a common female stereotype: women’s work. Most witches cook or work around food. They work at a bakery or a coffee shop. A few witches garden as well, but only as a hobby as they grow herbs and brew special foods for their customers.

Yes, you’re right. Food and cooking have obvious connections to witchcraft. Cooking and witchcraft share that whole standing over a bubbling pot thing, but so does chemistry. Where’s the chemist or botanist witch? How about a zoologist or veterinarian witch since most witches have familiars? (Wouldn’t gathering eye of newt or tongue of toad be easier if a witch worked with animals? Or better yet, why aren’t witches environmentalists, geologists, even weather people who are in tune with nature? And I say “weather people”, but let’s face it, if a witch is a protagonist, then it’s a she, not a he. That’s a stereotype for another time.)

Yes, some witches evade this stereotype. Rachel Morgan (of The Hollows series) is a bounty hunter, and Ivy Wilde (of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic series) is a taxi driver. But it’s a rare witch who earns her living without a stove nearby.

Fine, fine. Deny the cooking career stereotype if you must, but you can’t deny the most consistent stereotype among witches is their distrust of police. I suspect this distrust, quite reasonably, hails from the Salem Witch Trials and the various Inquisitions. Witches have become society’s problem solvers since if a witch is in the story, then she’s valiantly trying to solve a mystery—a murder, a conspiracy, or some other crime—because they don’t trust the police to handle it.

Witches make their distrust seem so reasonable. You need to help your friend or relative because the police suspect the wrong person. But, Katie of Magical Bakery Mysteries, the investigation began yesterday. Can’t the police have a day or two to gather some information or evidence? Besides, the police chief is a trusted friend, Katie, or your brother, Charli (of Southern Charms Cozy Mystery series). The police department could be corrupt, but can’t you trust your friends and family to investigate a situation thoroughly before they convict the wrong person?

I get it. The police can be corrupt like Cincinnati’s Inderlander Runner Service (The Hollows series). If given an hour, those vampires will have the suspect handcuffed, railroaded, and six floors underground in a magic-proof jail cell. So if a witch wants to help a friend out, she may need roll up her sleeves and pull out the truth potions or transformation spells.

But that doesn’t change the sad facts: if you’ve read one witch, you’ve read them all. . . sorry Rachel and Ivy. I love you guys.


Fanfilms, Authority, and Accessibility

by Linda Codega


People are often aware of fandom through the lens of fanfiction. Sometimes fanart makes its way into the public consciousness, but more often than not, these two expressions of fanwork are the most commonly recognized. Some other methods of fanwork such as podfic, fanvids, and cosplay are all pretty well known, but an area of fanwork that’s overlooked and not understood very well is fanfilms.

Fanfilms are films, usually shorts running from 5 to 25 minutes, but are sometimes feature-length. Fanfilms usually have a narrative story and a script of some kind, which can separate them thematically from fanvids. Fanfilms are shot, produced, acted, edited, and distributed much like any piece of original film. They are written and crafted, and some are played in small theaters, and very often at fan conventions. A fanfilm in the 1980s originally had George Takei signed on to reprise his role as Sulu. There are also fanfilm awards and archives, and often big-name franchises like Star Wars will endorse fan-made creations, hosting the Star Wars Fan Awards which honors fanwork in the genre. It’s interesting to note that while they accept films, fanart, and photos, no writing of fanfic is allowed. Some other fanfilm networks, such as the Fanfilm Awards, do allow submissions of screenplays.

The acceptance of fanfilms as legitimate fan labor is very different from the way that fic as perceived. There are a few reasons why this could be. One is sexism; the fact that fan films usually revolve around the stories of men, are written by men, and produced and distributed by men, whereas fic is overwhelmingly female. Unlike fic, there are actual costs associated with fanfilms; whether that’s paying the actors and crew, paying to produce the film professionally and allow for distribution to small theaters or submission entry fees into fanfilm contests. Films are more likely to be noticed by producers and Intellectual Property holders, as they require large crews and collaboration, and can be easier to monetize by the original IP owners. This can lead to endorsements of fanfilm and even promotion of fanfilm from the original media’s creators and owners, creating greater visibility through accessibility of films and the viral nature of videos.

Fanfilms have been around for almost a century, almost as long as film itself. The first known fanfilm is from 1928, Anderson Our Gang, and the 1922 film Our Gang. Many amateur filmmakers have created fanfilms for fun, whether with friends or a larger more experienced crew. Like many things, Star Trek and the rising popularity of cons in the ’70s allowed more fanfilms to be shown, and also allowed more people into the hobby. Until the early 2000s, technology and production costs severely limited the kinds of fans who could produce fanfilms. Recently fanfilms have been made by people of all levels of experience and professionalism, from critically acclaimed live-action Aragorn prequels to animated shorts. The advent of accessible technology has led to an increase in the production, popularity, and distributions of fanfilms as fan work.

Much like fic, fanfilms seek to explore nuances in popular media that are either not identified, addressed, or glossed over. A lot of fanfilms don’t have the budget or production to create intricate battles, CGI, or special effects; so often this means that fanfilms must rely on sharp storytelling, minimal effects, and off-screen implications. While fic often seeks to represent underrepresented people, fanfilm usually seeks to tell another story within the world of the original franchise. Very rarely does fanfilm venture into alternate universes, domesticity fic, or extremely ship-centric work. Fanfilms also rely on accuracy to convey a message. They will recreate props, costumes, and settings as much as possible in order to maintain the illusion of being a part of the original film franchise. This attention to detail and ability to mimic the original piece of media or work is often seen as a measure of how good a film is. The idea is to make a fanfilm that is believable, that is understood to be a part of the franchise it is based on.

Prequels and sequels are very popular fanfilm subjects. The previously mentioned Aragon prequel, Born of Hope as well as Daywalker: Blade Origins, and Von Doom, are well known origin story fanfilms.

Fanfilms exist in a strange in-between space of gray legality. While not technically protected, neither the appearance nor existence of fanfilms necessarily threaten the monetary gain or impact of the original work. Fanfilms are by necessity predicated by the popularity and reach of the original piece of media. Often fanfilms will be ignored by Intellectual Property owners, and it’s only in the very rare instance where a film could be seen as damaging or derogatory when IP owners make threats or deliver cease-and-desist letters in order to remove or suppress a fanfilm.

Much like fic, money seems to be the driving force for leniency. According to Paul Levitz, DC’s president, “we [DC] are not against things where people use our assets if they don’t do anything monetarily with them.”

Ultimately fanfilms are growing in popularity, as people consider this type of fan work appropriate for portfolios and resumes, as well as a labor of love. Again, because of the difference in legitimacy and the way  fanfilms are viewed, they are considered justifiable pieces of fanwork. Although it feels like the accessibility and understanding of fanfilms is becoming more mainstream, the presence of IP owner authority and awards with regards to fanfilms makes this kind of fanwork not as subversive as fic, nor as representative. I believe that fanfilms will continue to expand in popularity, and allow for greater representation of marginalized communities, but I doubt that we will ever see the intense rewriting and reinterpretation of original media in fanfilm that we see elsewhere in fandom. When this happens we will either see IP owners back away from film support, or we will see an increased acceptance and accessibility to this mode of fanwork.

If you want to watch some amazing fanfilms, you can start by browsing the (somewhat out-of-date) fanfilm archive. YouTube is a haven for fanfilmakers, and a quick search of fan film [insert fandom here] will reveal a treasure trove of good work.


Weekly Wrap-Up: Week of August 6, 2018

by Anna O’Brien


Happy weekend, dearest readers! LSQ is here to break down for you the amazing posts we shared on our blog this week. Ready? Here we go!

  • On Monday, it being the first Monday of the month and all, we posted our LSQ monthly news flash;
  • On Tuesday, we visited the Tarot again with blogger Tisdale Flannery, this time exploring the Four of Wands and how it relates to writing;
  • On Wednesday, blogger Jacqui Lipton discussed the pros and cons of hiring a PR firm to market your book;
  • On Thursday, we were lucky enough to snag another Issue 034 interview with author C.L. Spillard where she talked about her short story “Frost“;
  • On Friday, LSQ‘s ed-in-chief Jennifer Lyn Parsons made the unlikely (but then actually really likely when you stop to think about it) comparison between today’s comics and soap operas in her column “An Editor’s Ephemera.”

On Superheroes and Soap Operas

by Jennifer Lyn Parsons


Spoiler Alert: this piece mentions recent developments in Batman and The X-men.

I’m going to start this piece by describing the main features of either superhero comics or soap operas and then tell you which one I’m describing.

This medium tells serialized stories with a huge cast of characters. Most of the time you know who the heroes and villains are, but once in a while, they’ll change their stripes, usually for the purpose of moving the plot in a new direction. This is a temporary change, and they go back to their devious old ways pretty quickly to bring that story line to a head.

The characters also never (seem to) age, forever portrayed at the age they were when they first appeared. The one exception is with children, where huge leaps in age are not uncommon. Toddlers become teenagers overnight, again for plot development purposes.

There is a sense that the story is never truly finished. One plot closes as seeds are planted for the next one, often kicking off with a cliffhanger (sometimes literally for the characters). Characters each have their own story lines, which are often interconnected with other story lines, once in a while coming together for a big event where everyone meets up.

So, am I talking about superhero comics or soap operas? It’s a trick question because of course. This description applies to both! There are many other similarities between the two as well, such as the fact that both have run for decades, owing to their continued popularity with generations of engaged and committed fans.

For over two decades now, since I started reading comics, I’ve thought the big superhero books like Batman, The X-Men, etc. are all soap operas, just in print and with some bigger stakes in their stories than “Will Bo cheat on Hope again?” (which probably dates me but whatever). Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that as a teenager, I was reading/watching both, discovering them to be not that far apart. When you look at superhero books through the lens of soap operas, it can give a very different perspective to how you read them.

With both of these genres there are tropes you gain a foothold in understanding, to the point where the plot can become predictable. Occasionally, a writer will come along and throw a curveball and you get to go on a very different ride. Most of the time the stories in both soaps and comics cycle around and around the usual personal drama or the same villain over and over, but once in a while there’s a special story line that breaks the boundaries. That’s when they both get good.

Think soaps can’t get creative? Multiple soaps I watched as a teenager had supernatural story lines going on. An alien came to visit on one and on another a character was possessed by the devil. The special effects departments on these shows must have had a field day. It made the comics I was reading and the soaps I was watching feel even closer at the time.

So, why am I talking about this now? I haven’t watched soap operas for over twenty years now, but I do still read comic books. But recently, one of my favorites, Batman, had a story line where he finally finally finally asked Catwoman to marry him. This relationship has been flirty since day one and someone got them up to the altar at last.

Unfortunately, the story took a turn for the worse and Catwoman decided not to marry Batman after all. The world needed him angry, she decided. DC has hinted this might not be the end of the story, but in this case I was glad to be spoiled by mass media. It saved me from reading a disappointing story.

In another recent comic book story line, Kitty Pryde was all set to marry Colossus, that is until someone put doubts in her head the night before the wedding and she left him flat. The blow was softened a little bit here by another long-time comic book couple tying the knot in their place. Drama!

For now, I’ll put aside the gender politics involved with having the woman leave the man at the altar in both cases and focus on why this might be some lazy storytelling at worst, and proving my point that comics are soaps at best.

A married Batman was new idea. It was fresh and different. What would it be like if Bruce Wayne was happy for a while? What different kind of stories could be told? Why didn’t we get to see that play out?

The problem I see here is that the comics industry as a whole, despite Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and all that came after it, still infantilizes the characters in the name of keeping comics “for kids”. There is a palpable mandate with the big companies that kids won’t read comics about married people. Unfortunately, this is an example of not reading the audience, the majority of whom are adults nowadays. There are plenty of kids books out there, and they’re very clearly targeted toward that age group.

As if to prove themselves wrong in the same gesture, many superhero comic books, Batman especially, regularly feature violence, mentions of rape, murder, drug use, and other adult-themed story lines, making them inherently unsuitable for the children they’re supposedly targeting by not marrying off their characters.

To come back to my comparison, soap operas get something right here. They know their target audience, producing story lines that are adult-themed and never having to question whether they cater to children. Granted, they never started out as “kiddie fodder”, but comics have evolved far past that phase such that you would think the big publishers would acknowledge that. Honestly, even if kids are reading these books, wouldn’t it be more kid-friendly to allow characters to form stable, loving bonds?

On the flip side, while soap operas often left folks left standing at the altar as well, they will just as often pull off a wedding or two and let it stick…at least for a while.

These thoughts all leave me even sure of my comparison between the two. Dramatic, over the top, trope-filled, sometimes corny, sometimes creative, always engaging, comic books and soap operas are two sides of the same coin.


Issue 034 Author Interview: C.L. Spillard and “Frost”

by Jen Gheller


We’re here again, dear readers, with another Issue 034 author interview! Below is our chat with C.L. Spillard with her story “Frost,” which you can read here before continuing.

LSQ: There is a ton of story packed in just over 500 words. This could easily have been a much longer work. What made you decide to keep it brief?

Candida: I have to admit I really enjoy writing flash! I love the challenge of fitting as much action and imagery into as few words as possible, in much the same way that crossword enthusiasts love to fit the words into their puzzles. In fact I’m a bit of a fan of cryptic crosswords…

LSQ: What was the hardest part about writing this story and why?

Candida: The hardest part in this particular story was making sure it was “relateable” for as many people as possible. Not everybody has thoughts of Chinese dissidents at the top of their minds right now. I wanted to bring out the continuum from old power structures—the man taking it for granted that the young woman wouldn’t refuse him— through the more recent past—exiles such as those during the Cultural Revolution—to the present day with its powerful industrial figures. Finally my lifelong interest in the country’s history meant I wanted to show the people’s courage and ingenuity winning out over injustice as it does in real life, even if sometimes only after much time and at a price.

LSQ: There’s mention of a dubious “Laboratory.” Is this a place you’ve written about before or plan to revisit in future stories?

Candida: The Laboratory could be any industrial research institute of the sort you may find in China, Russia, or even Germany. It’s not supposed to sound sinister: perhaps it’s just developing new cleaning products or dyestuffs. The Dissident came up against issues common to nearly all organisations, East and West: cost-cutting paired with the lack of ways to get vital information from the ‘floor’ to the top. At the moment that particular place doesn’t figure in any other of my stories, but now there’s an idea…

LSQ: Are you working on other projects currently? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?

Candida: My fantasy novel The Blackmail Engine, set in a future Russia, is presently on the prowl for an agent:

“A fugitive dissident; a scheming Countess; a city where no night falls… night huntress Katya can trust no-one as she fights to save the city’s women, and herself, from their fundamentalist Commissar’s scheme. Snowden with a dash of Crime and Punishment.”

There are details on my website – www.cspillardwriter.co.uk., which also has a list of free-to-read short stories.

********************************************************

The Price of Time (UK)

The Price of Time (US)

 


To PR or Not to PR?

by Jacqui Lipton


I’ve been chatting to a number of author friends lately about the pros and cons of using a PR firm to help market their work. While the usual disclaimer applies to this column (i.e. nothing written here is intended as formal legal advice and folks who need help with particular issues should consult an agent or attorney), much of this isn’t so much about the law as about common sense and figuring out what works for you.

PR firms are those that offer marketing and publicity services for your writing. You pay them a fee, usually based on what specific services they agree to provide, and they, well, they provide those agreed services. Simple contract. Hence, the law isn’t usually a big deal here.

What is a big deal is understanding exactly what those PR services are, and what they aren’t. In particular, there are no magic bullets in marketing and publicity. PR firms can’t guarantee you results in terms of sales. They can only do what they promise to do in their contracts, which usually comprises reaching out to media outlets (usually including book bloggers) to see if those folks are interested in helping to promote your work. PR firms may also write press releases for you that they then send to those media outlets and blogs in the hopes of garnering interest in your work.

What your PR contract will typically say is how many outlets the firm will contact and how many times it will follow up with those outlets and blogs. They don’t—because they can’t—guarantee that any blog or other media outlet will be interested in your work.

Even if the PR campaign is effective and bloggers and others show interest in promoting your work, you will still likely have to provide copies of your books to them (which will cost you money, but may be worth it for the exposure).

You may well end up paying hundreds, or thousands, of dollars and getting little to no interest back from the media. That’s not unusual. Marketing and promotion is a tough game and—did I mention it already?—there are no magic bullets.

Bear in mind that a lot of what the PR firms do is stuff you could do yourself if you had the time and the inclination, and it wouldn’t cost you half as much as paying someone else to do it.

So when is it effective to hire a PR firm?

That’s always going to be a decision for the individual author, but there are some situations in which PR firms may be more likely to add value than others: for example, if you already have a known author brand (either because you’re known in another field—sports, cooking, reality TV maybe!) but have limited time to market your work, that may be a good situation to hire a PR firm. If you’re pretty much guaranteed to have media interest because of who you are, but you have limited time to contact a bunch of media outlets, a PR firm may be worth the investment.

Likewise, if you’re a known author with a large backlist, a PR firm can help market your existing books while you focus on writing your new books. Again, this is a situation where your name and reputation as a writer will likely garner media interest and that will make the PR firm’s job a lot easier.

Where hiring a PR firm or person is less likely to be fruitful is if you’re an unknown author and you only have one or two books to market. In this case, you’re competing with so many others for media and blogger attention that paying someone to contact the media for you may be tantamount to throwing money away. Of course, if you have a surefire hit on your hands and you just need to garner eyeballs, that may be the exception to the rule, but doesn’t everyone want to think they have a surefire hit on their hands? You just never know what’s going to appeal to the reading public!

I must emphasize that I’m not writing this column to bash PR firms or to discourage anyone from working with them, but I am cautioning authors to be realistic about what those firms can and can’t do, and to make informed decisions about where best to spend their marketing dollars.


The Four of Wands – A Time to Celebrate

by Tisdale Flannery


Tea with Strangers is inspired by the Tarot Illuminati deck, by Erik C. Dunne, and the companion book by Kim Huggens.

Today is not a good day. My sister agreed to watch my kids while I do this interview, but she made it clear that it was putting her out. I’m exhausted from being up all night with the baby. My teenage son is depressed, my novel has stalled, and I’m wondering if I’m really obeying the gods in doing these interviews, or if it’s just a distraction from the real work of my life.

There’s no use turning around now, though. My doppelganger drives silently, lost in her own world. We pull up a long drive flanked by a colonnade of cypress, and stop at the gates of a walled compound, the home of the woman pictured in the Four of Wands. The gates are golden, as are the domes and spires of the house beyond. What a waste, I think. When there are starving people everywhere, gold on the outside of your house is just ostentation. I swallow my bitterness, get out of the car and slam the door, as my doppelganger slowly pulls away. She’s probably regretting her commitment to me. We could have been great friends, but now she’ll leave when the assignment is over, and never come back. No one comes to open the gate. The smell of roasting chicken hits me, and I realize I never ate breakfast. I wrap my fingers around the curls of plated iron. Music, in the distance, weaves in and out with laughter.

“Hello?” My voice sounds irritable and whiny, even to me.

There is no response.

“Hello?”

And then, suddenly, a little man comes bustling around the corner, good cheer smeared all over his expression.

“Come in, come in! Come, and be welcome!” He opens the gate wide. I realize that it was never locked, and I could have just walked in. What an idiot I am. He takes my arm anyway, a white-gloved hand wrapped around my denim jacket.

“I will show you where the festivities are. Oh, heavens, is that your stomach? Or are you carrying a lion in your belly?” He laughs. It is not funny. I am beyond hangry; I am hirrational. He pats my arm. “We’ll head right to the table. There is plenty for everyone. You can eat and drink to your heart’s content; and if you need to sleep afterward, there are soft couches and blankets nearby.”

It is at that moment that I feel the first stirrings of a feeling I haven’t touched for a while: gratitude. How did he know exactly what I needed? I grit my teeth and blink away tears. Kindness is sometimes an armor-piercing knife.

“Come, come. Here you are.” He hands me a plate, and loads it with the chicken I smelled, and grapes, and fresh honey rolls, and butter, and blackberry jam, and tangy coleslaw. All around me under the white tent are friends and families, kids, ancient relatives, people feeding each other, people dancing.

“Where is the couple?” I ask the man. “The couple featured on the card, the ones whose celebration this is.”

“Ah. They are busy.” He winks at me. “Occupied. Don’t you worry about them. Take your time here, enjoy the abundance.”

There’s too much waiting for me to do at home. I really don’t have time for this. But the little man persuades me, the plate of food speaking persuades me more, and I find a seat, fill my belly, and immediately fall asleep with my head on the table.

I wake with a start. The noise is gone. The people are gone. I missed my opportunity. All was for nothing; of course this is how it ends. I look to my right, and there she is, sitting in the folding chair beside me, smiling roguishly – the lady of the Four of Wands, still in her party gown. She could have left me here, but she didn’t. Gratitude runs like a river through me. I will make the most of this, I swear.

“Do you have time for an interview?” My voice is rough and groggy.

But she holds up a hand. “First, let me show you something,” she says. “Follow me.”

In the mansion, gold and marble and rich fabrics and sweet-smelling oils saturate my senses. She leads me down halls, past larger-than-life paintings, past doors, past rooms of people relaxing, winding down after the party. Up in a little tower, the setting sun and rising moon both hang in the windows. She lights a lamp. “Here,” she says. She opens the wire door of a roomy birdcage, and lifts out a cooing bird. A ring-necked dove. She holds out her hand to me, the bird perched on her finger.

“Do you know what this is?” Her voice is steady but soft.

I reach out. I am afraid. I don’t deserve to hold this bird, but I do – I place my finger next to hers, callous against callous, and the dove uncurls its feet from her finger and wraps them around mine. I am suddenly overwhelmed by the light but definite weight of this living creature resting entirely on my hand, the knowledge that it trusts me, chose me, gave itself into my power. I know what this is.

“It is my inspiration,” I whisper.

We talk for a long time in that tower, the lady and I, and the sun sets, and the moon rises. There is so much to enjoy in life. As writers, we get stuck desperately trying to accomplish, to get it all done. We feel the stress, the weight. We lose our way. We wonder why we ever picked up this unrewarding burden, and yet we can’t put it down; it always comes back to us, a bad penny, and we feel trapped. That’s when it’s time to stop working and just be grateful for all that we have. To celebrate. Why are we always surprised to find that, in celebration, the muse is fed?

I am still holding the dove. The lady strokes its back with her finger. “She likes you,” she says. “She likes you because you see her, and you appreciate her.” Her words are framed by the sounds of guests making the next meal for the night, laughing and clattering. “Like all things we love, the muse likes to be appreciated. Honor the moments of beauty you have created. Take time to celebrate them. Read back over the moments of brilliance she gave you. Dwell on the honors or words of praise that came to you because the muse chose to speak through you. Feed the muse this way, always grateful that she has decided to alight on your hand.

“Beyond that, enjoy the life you have. Be grateful that you have this chance to collect experience in a full spectrum of feeling. That is how you feed your inspiration, your muse. That is how you keep it coming back.”

Stephen King said as much, in the earthy wisdom of On Writing. “It starts with this. Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”

She gives me a big hug. I feel nothing but love for this place. This is the house of Gratitude, this opulent mansion where everyone is welcome, and yet there is no sorrow in returning to our lives. As soon as I can, I’m going to take my son to see a new movie. I’m going to take the time to bake a cherry-cardamom pie for my sister, just as an expression of thanks. I’m going to sit and rock the baby as long as the baby will let me rock him. I might be past deadlines but this is the only life I have right now, and enjoying it, and being with people I love, matters more than getting things done. Magic happens with gratitude. My doppelganger is waiting outside, happy; she found an Irish pub and managed to get herself kicked out, and I don’t even want to know how. I drive us both home. Today is a good day.

 


LSQ Monthly News Flash: August 2018

by Anna O’Brien


Heads up, dear readers! Happy Monday and welcome to our monthly news flash–this is our chance to let you know about the happenings and what-nots of our Quarterly. Ready? Here we go:

  • Issue 034 is still out, still fabulous, still contains eight amazing speculative fiction short stories by women authors, and is still available online (for free) and in print!
  • Issue 035 will be out September 1 and we. Cannot. Wait. Mark your calendars.
  • Submissions are open until August 15. We are looking for speculative fiction stories for our first ever themed issue about crones. Read the guidelines, give it a ponder, and then send in your best stuff.
  • We are still interested in bringing a few new bloggers on board to write for our busy blog which posts new content Monday through Friday. Have some thoughts about women in writing, speculative fiction, the craft of writing, creativity, or maybe just an essay on green-eyed monsters and their preferential diet of Pomeranians in relation to the ever-growing genre of dystopian sci-fi? We like that sort of stuff. Check out the guidelines for more info.
  • Been a fan of LSQ for a while? Like what you read here? Like us? Consider becoming a Patron. We’re a volunteer staff, we don’t use ads, and this is a labor of love. We’re in our ninth year of publication and still going strong because of readers like you. Hugs and high fives all around.