Sex, Elves, and Rock ‘n’ Roll (Skyglass Ch1 is alive!)

Sex, Elves, and Rock ‘n’ Roll (Skyglass Ch1 is alive!)

Read chapter 1 of my novel Skyglass right this very sweet moment. Really. There are elf-powered plant cities, and fire-cats, and gun chases, and disgruntled drummers.

Have a (sexy) prologue! It’s not necessary for understanding the main story, but utterly worth a read for the multiple kinds of fuckery, interrogation of humanity, female agency, and space-battles (naked newborn vs. space ship!).

Alternatively: hop straight into chapter 1.

Also: check out the series page. And the character bios/designs! And this sweet magazine cover. Be sure to read/listen to everything mentioned thereon (Awake, as per usual, is my go-to. Ugh, so good.)–plus the bits not on the cover (personally, I’m looking forward to devouring the second part of Dinner Ditz [divorced dad destroys dinner!]):

sparklermag-issue11

Murderous Cats & Cyber Elves (SKYGLASS begins soon!)

Murderous Cats & Cyber Elves (SKYGLASS begins soon!)

Skyglass_character designs1

My novel SKYGLASS starts serialization this June (i.e. very soon!) in the multimedia magazine Sparkler Monthly. Read on for more about this explosive tale of murderous fire-cats and post apocalyptic elves…

Written by Strange Horizons alumna Jenn Grunigen and featuring the explosive art of Mookie, Skyglass is a collision of post-apocalyptic science fiction and sexy rock gods. The adult-content prologue, Cinderseed, was released in March as a short story for Sparkler Monthly’s Cherry Bomb line. Skyglass tells the tale of two mismatched roommates, their volatile take on friendship, and the messy path to self-actualization, with some intergalactic stardom along the way:

Four years after his human mother and elven father died by double suicide, Moss lives a shadow of a life. He’s an anorexic, aromantic drummer who wallows in apathy and inadvertently wooed his boss in a bathtub. But when Phoenix – a fire elemental turned human pop star – lands on earth and decides to move into his apartment, his stale life gets torched. Phoenix is on a manhunt to find and kill her father, and she has no problem dragging everyone around her into the fire.

My editor also has some super-lovely things to say about it:

Skyglass is exactly the kind of book I always wanted to publish with Chromatic Press – something so wild and fantastic that it explodes out of genre boxes, so delightfully bizarre that you have trouble explaining it to people,” says Lianne Sentar, head of prose development and editor of Skyglass. “It’s like throwing Ai Yazawa’s Nana, a space opera, and a really fresh take on post-apocalyptic Earth into a blender. Grunigen’s writing style will suck you into a portal. And Mookie was our one and only choice for illustrator, because her work always looked like glam-rock aliens having a party to me. You couldn’t ask for a better match.”

The wait is almost over. I’ll be sure to signal boost the release of chapter one. In the meantime, have a tempting and torturous taste of Mookie’s cover art (soon to be seen on the front page of issue 11 of Sparkler Monthly)…

skyglass_tease

I Signed My First Book Contract (and neglected to mention it)

I Signed My First Book Contract (and neglected to mention it)

Sometimes a thing happens, and it’s a really exciting thing, and all you want to do is smash people’s faces in it cream-pie-style because your really exciting thing is delicious and should be smeared everywhere.

Only, really exciting things often require patience and silence–

…and that’s where I’m going to stop the pie metaphor because instead of smashing the pie it has to be sat-on, and NETHER REGIONS + CREAM are sadly not directly related to my first book contract (though the book is, on occasion, quite sexy).

Tangent diverted.*

Anyway:

I signed my first book contract with Chromatic Press in March. Just two months ago. That moment made me grin wide and toothful, and it’s quite possible I punched the air and gave a ghost a nosebleed. (Did you know that uber-concentrated excitement can give you ectoplastmic superpowers?) But there’s a before and after attached to that moment. A story:

Last fall, I discovered Chromatic Press, and their multimedia magazine, Sparkler Monthly. In Sparkler’s words, they aim ‘to be a platform for engrossing, entertaining stories that aren’t heard enough in mainstream media,’ with a focus on the Female Gaze. I’ve only just begun to dig into the work they’re publishing, but it’s like good chocolate: habit-forming, and quality. My favorites thus far are Awake, an (agonizingly addictive) audio story about a generation ship, its human crew, and a healthy-dose of murder-made mayhem. If you like the BBC’s radio dramatization of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but want something more subtle and nerve-wracking, this is for you. I also enjoyed Before you Go, a sweetly brief comic about two girls falling in love in the rain, and am highly anticipating my soon-to-be read of Dusk in Kalevia.

When I heard Chromatic had put out an unsolicited call for novel submissions, I knew I’d found the perfect home for the book I was working on (a character-driven SF novel about an anorexic, aromantic drummer and his blood-hungry fire-elemental roommate). So I kicked myself in the ass, polished up my submission materials, and sent them off.

While anticipating (what I thought would be) my inevitable rejection, I fantasized. A lot. At the time, I had another (shorter and completely unrelated) piece under consideration with Shimmer –the piece was “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” and, to my dizzying elation, eventually accepted. With that good news lashed to my belt (for fear it was all LIES), I’d sometimes think giddily to myself, what if my book got picked up too?! Only probably with more exclamation points. Because I knew how unlikely it would be for BOTH to be accepted.

And yet, in September, I received an email. It was one of those nebulous emails writers occasionally get, where you can’t tell from the subject line whether you’ve been accepted, or gut-punched out of the running. I opened the message and found that my fate was neither: I’d been cryogenically frozen; in-betweened. It wasn’t bad news, it wasn’t good–it was promising. Very, very promising.

Basically, Lianne (Lianne, who is now my editor, yay!) said she liked what I’d sent. A lot. But also that it was a mess. What followed was a (wonderfully) giant critique detailing everything that was killing the book–and an offer: revise your outline, polish up the first two chapters, get it back to us in three weeks, and we’ll reconsider your submission. Terrifying, because I knew cleaning up a mess that size was on par with giving a troll a bath. But validating, too, because if she’d spent that much time with my submission, that much time writing her reply, I must have done something right. I was also a little thrilled and in-agony, because holy hel-hounds, my book MY BOOK was kind-of-almost on the brink of getting published.

I revised. Cut. Toned and stream-lined. Did the writerly equivalent of plyometrics for books.

And then I waited.

Thanksgiving day dawned. The apartment was cleaned. Food was made in blasphemously modest quantities. After a turkey-less feast (chicken for the carnivores, salad and candied walnuts and cheese for me) eaten cross-legged around our coffee table, in the company of Cavan’s fellow grad students, I checked the special gmail account I reserve for writing and publishing. In my inbox, I found an email from Lianne–a message full of puppies and rainclouds and metalheads making snarly-faces, aka my kind of happiness. One of my favorite bits of bliss was this beautiful string of words:

We’d like to offer you a contract.

A two and a half hour Skype conversation followed, and then a number of months–and then came the arrival of my legal document. I read it, had my workshop instructor Richard Fifield (who just sold his first novel, The Flood Girls, to Simon & Schuster!) read it, after which I read it again, and asked for clarification (many times over). Clarification secured, I fretted for a moment or two, and then I signed.

YES. I signed it, my first book contract, for SKYGLASS, this novel of mayhem and wonder, and Peep-obsessed vocalists (and yes, I DO mean those sparkly chicken-shaped marshmallows. Somehow they manage to survive the post-apocalyptic earth of my story…are you really that surprised?).

As for the whole I-Signed-My-First-Book-Contract-And-Kinda-Forgot-To-Mention-It, well…I had to keep silent about the contract before it had been signed, obviously. And then I signed it, but I’d gotten used to the silence, and then things (editing, writing, writing, writing + grad school apps and the day job) just…piled up, and–as exciting as a book contract is–humans are adaptable. Even realizing my lifelong dream was strangely easier than I expected (except for the all-too-often moments of paranoia, where I’m sure all my good luck is going skedaddle itself right out my existence). In the end, while this super-exciting thing is truly and utterly SUPER-EXCITING–and also a huge gift of fortune and privilege–it took hard work to get here, and will continue to always be hard work. Writing is my existence; I love it, but sometimes it’s just my air and lungs.

In a soon-to-come post, I’ll talk about how the publication of SKYGLASS will differ from your typical book (because of serialization! and Skyglass’ excellent illustrator). Till next time, though, behave, eat chocolate, plant a tree–and if the sky’s deep and starry enough, don’t forget to wish for benign alien abduction.

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*If you begin with a tangent, is it really a tangent? Are they chronologically dependent? Tangents imply the existence of a coherent point, and then the act of branching. And yet, you can grow a tree from a branch…

 

Folktales in Space! (The Moon Phoenix)

Folktales in Space! (The Moon Phoenix)

This piece originally appeared in my story “Cinderseed” which can be read here. The tale was shortened during the (necessary) hack and cut of editing, so here it is in full:

THE MOON PHOENIX

There once was a bird that lived on the earth-circling moon. It pecked at moon-rocks for food, and laid empty eggs that crumpled into anti-matter and vanished. The bird was alone, but didn’t wish to be alone. However, it was no longer young, and living on the moon for so long had brittled and whittled its bones. Returning to the heaviness of earth would break its wings.

In its despair, the bird ceased laying, in hopes that the negative presence of its unlaid eggs would erase it from the moon and subtract it from the cosmos—a more permanent, fitting death than the crush and color of the earth. But the bird didn’t die.

The hunger of the creature’s belly-locked eggs flared into a clutch of resilient sparks that revolted against its despair, and began to forge in the bird a slow change. Its beak hardened to a needle of obsidian, and its skin and plumage iced over. Inside the bird’s chest, however, its heart warmed and blistered with heat, and after endless days of enduring this pain, the burn became too much–the bird had to pluck out its own heart.

The bones in its neck creaked and cracked as it bent its head. The needle of its beak frosted-over when the bird pricked its freezing skin, but thrust deep before the cold could break it. The bird’s bill seized its heart, plucked it free, then tossed the organ up–a bloody thing, gold and dripping as the sunset–and swallowed it down.

The heart, broken open by the gnaw of the bird’s stomach, became heavy and hungry as a black hole, and ate the bird from the inside out, leaving only a few puffs of down. Soon, though, light crackled from these featherlings and a new bird rushed forth, blue as the aurora that raced across the earth at night. Its wings were greater than the moon, and beneath the bird’s weight, the lunar rock broke and plummeted to earth.

The bird watched the rock fall until nothing remained of it, but a haze of moon-dust. And then, instead of following its path, the new-born creature took flight into the deep of space.

END

The Moon Phoenix

Sex and Cinderseed

Virginity ended when I was twenty. Before that night of carpet and green-glass light, there were other nights: nights when sex was something that existed in books, on computer screens, and threaded through internal monologues (or external, if I was on my bike and the night was dark and empty). The words in my head, and the words that I read, tended to be carnal.

Short story: I thought a lot about fucking.

Shorter story: I’m fucking human. A fucking human. A human that fucks. A human.

But there’s an interesting sexual truth to be found in thumbing through old stories, the words I wrote in 2010 and before. While the books I write tend to be snarled rhizomes and roots of palimpsests, and marrow, and fascination pounded seed-like into the ground to grow into groves of fungal trees supported by giant underground networks of mycelium, my short stories are more…momentary. More vicious. They have teeth, and they are mine.

At least, my stories of today are. In 2010, they were quiet and withdrawn. Stories about foggy people, dispersing–or wanting to disperse–like vapor. People who found all their bliss in a single bite of hyper-sexual brownie (at the time, I edged around the sex, and call it aphrodisiac). But whatever the time, however, my stories have always been flashes of me that breach my interior and break out onto the page, where some level of deciphering can be managed. Often, they are lies and diversions, tricks to make you think they aren’t their writer, but ultimately, my words are the existence I’ve made for myself from the gunk caught in my existential filters.

Which is how I know that, four years ago, I thought a lot about fucking. But it was peripheral fucking. I knew I wanted to fuck, and be fucked, but when said fucking was the centerpiece of my brain, I was on the edges. My short stories had sex on their edges, ghost-words that alluded to intercourse, but nothing more. I thought about death, and dissolution, and fictional people having sex, but I was still a virgin in my head.

These days, in my skull-space, I still don’t think much about sex and myself. My stories, however, are an intimate act, braver and wilder than before: I sort through the entrails of me and fucking, and both are split bellies. Not just genital-thrust fucking. I mean fucking in a bigger way–brutal acts of mayhem, learning to take the world, or let it take you.

So when my editor asked if I was interested in writing a short piece of erotica as a precursor to my forthcoming novel, Skyglass, the decision was quick and easy. Of course I was interested in writing something sexy. I’d wanted to explore the back story of one of my two main characters, Phoenix, anyway–a girl who’s more fire than flesh (literally), whose back story is probably better described as an, uh…erotic history.

Even outside the velvety depths and shallows of erotica, it just makes sense to layer the fat of a story on a backbone of sex (if you’re going for something more straightforward, at any rate). Look at traditional narrative structure–stories are sex: foreplay, climax, afterglow. Plot triangle. But when I set out to write this story, I didn’t want the sex to be a ghost, a vital, but invisibile map to follow. I wanted the story’s climax to be a climax. An orgasm. I wanted sex to be empowering, the catalyst.

I wrote “Cinderseed”. A story of birth, the story of a creature of heat stolen from her sun-home, forced to navigate the cold and nasty human world. She has to find a new fire, hers, her own, taking it and making it as she goes–in part through the thrust and grab and friction of sex.

Read a sample here. Or acquire the whole thing here, out now from Cherry Bomb (Sparkler Monthly‘s adult imprint).

I had no second thoughts when I wrote it. Stories are sex, and erotica is story, after all. But I’ll admit, when I first started talking to people about the piece, I stressed the story, the story! (Because, as much as “Cinderseed” is about sex, it’s also mostly story and–oh, who am I kidding, they’re the same almost always THE SAME) Because maybe I was embarrassed? Or felt the need to make it important, give it gravity? Because for some reason, my brain has been trained (or I’ve trained it so) to think that sex for sex in literature isn’t important. Or gravid. Now? I probably still put the same emphasis on narrative, but in my head, I know it’s all padding, justification, mostly unnecessary, because really–who the hel doesn’t want to read about fucking?

…honey dripped in Loki’s gaze

TODAY is the last day to vote for my poem on eating and horse-boiling (Tattertongue), published last year by Strange Horizons.  There are a number of different categories to vote in, and lots of excellent writing to explore, if you feel so inclined.  If you happened to enjoy my poem, and feel it deserves ranking, please vote!  It’s under ‘poetry,’ then ‘Tattertongue, by Jenn Grunigen.’  Many thanks!

Cast your vote here.

once, a short story killed me

once, a short story killed me

I recently read two books that gently removed my brain, fiddled with it as softly as a piranha eating breakfast, and put it back in all reconfigured, chewed upon, and terrible.  The first  was At the Mouth of the River of Bees, by Kij Johnson.  The other was Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl.  Both short story collections, both heart-eaters.

Before this year, I wasn’t sure what I thought of short stories.  I knew I couldn’t write them, and wasn’t sure I liked reading them.    I certainly hadn’t read many of them.  But because my attempts at making them always churned out glittery, half-masticated beasts with broken legs, I knew it was time to get better.  This meant reading, because as a writer, reading is possibly the second most important thing to do (the first involves going outside and letting life punch you in the gut—again and again and again).

So I went to Clarkesworld.  I read some E. Lily Yu (who I love, and please, Ms. Yu, won’t you finish your novel so I can eat it?) and then listened to some more E. Lily Yu, while I was working on this piece (which explains why the elk in the drawing looks a little tragic).  But as much as I inhaled those pieces, short stories still weren’t utterly my thing.  So I decided to trick my self.  I got a couple collections, which are like novels-in-disguise (because when you sardine a bunch of stories between two bread-like covers, you get something that looks pretty much like a book).  I began with Wonders of the Invisible World, because this review said it wasn’t going to be “like consuming a box of crackers.”  And it was right!  The stories in this book are not crackers.  Or at least, they aren’t saltines.  They’re more like pita chips–far more delicious, but still missing something (hummus, obviously).

The next collection I read was At the Mouth of the River of Bees.  It contains The Man who Bridged the Mist, which won the 2012 Hugo Award for best novella.  Whatever your thoughts on the Hugos, this probably means it may have been pretty good.   At the moment, I don’t feel like commenting on the Hugos (just don’t want to dive into that particular bag of slugs just this moment), but the story is most definitely good, and most definitely deserving.

What happened after Bees was an accident.  I never meant to buy Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl–though I desperately wanted to (after all, it in contains my favorite poem ever in print form).  But then I was writing this paper about myth and story and hearts and robots–and suddenly, this book became very necessary.  So I bought it, because I had a reasonable excuse (wanting something so badly I found a way to trick myself–again–into getting it).

At this point, you might want to know more about the piranhas and brain-eating I mentioned earlier.    It’s this: because of these two books, I love short stories so hard right now.  I’m learning so much about form, and what a short story can be, sometimes I can hear my brain clanking around in my skull it’s still so shock-frozen (the piranhas obviously have ice-picks for teeth).

Now for the funny thing: I just sold my first story, to Shimmer–a story I wrote months before reading these books.  So, while I’m not so confident I feel could free climb El Capitan, I’m feeling a bit better about my ability to write short pieces.  I have a number of new stories with sharper edges, that do stranger things with stronger grins, and soon they’ll be sent out–and if I’m lucky,  find homes.

The piranhas ate my brains, but they left a few scraps, a few loose teeth, and right now, I think I can feel it all regenerating.

Tattertongue

Tattertongue

This is the way of the world: you get what you want and you’re just left wanting more.  My first professionally published poem is now available through Strange Horizons.  Needless to say, I am QUITE excited.  Even so, it’s a quiet excitement.  A spontaneous black hole excitement.  At random points in the day, I’ll remember: someone gave me money for my words.  My blog is no longer the only place that publishes me.  That says something!  Justification!  I’m REAL.  And then, after the blip of joy that inevitably follows such thoughts, I think moremoremore.  Getting published is good incentive to keep trying to get published.  It’s some sort of drug, I guess.

So.  The poem.  TATTERTONGUE:

Where have you been, Tattertongue?
     lying with pelvis and ribcage
     wanting want
     old. old.
     reading the mouth for
     sugared ginger for
     blood sausage

Why did you leave?

(…read more)

*** *** ***

Speaking of more, not long after this poem was released, I received another acceptance for another poem.  Won’t say much about it now, except alien vampires.

Ekphrastic 20/Wonders of the Invisible World

Floss, spider webs, flax , from scalps
these are the wonders
the wanderers, their fish-belly key.
A blonde prism/on, wonder ous.

Good luck finding
the invisible, if you’re too dark to
turn to cold breath to
grub between the silken rawhide.
………………………………….

I also reviewed this book.

Anyway.  Twenty ekphrastic poems.  HEL.  That’s a lot.  Only it’s not, considering that I’ve been writing these things for exactly a year and a month (I posted my first ekphrastic on January 15th, 2012).  Only twenty to show for all that time?  Obviously, I’m not trying hard enough.  I started writing them for deception.  I wanted to trick my skull-meat into thinking about art.  Not just swallowing it (yes, brains have mouths).  But recently, I’ve started reviewing each book I read, and that’s working far better.  Poetry’s too abstract (if you make it so); I can get away with too much shiit and say too little.

So, I’m going to hit 25 ekphrastics and stop.  But not really.  My next poetic project is this: work through Lewis Turco’s The New Book of Forms, which is what it says–a book of poetic form.  Countless kinds of poetry for me to learn.  I’ll go through the whole thing, form by form, week by week.  Embarrassment by embarrassment.  You have permission to jeer at my ass-baring.

….in the meantime, I’m going to go cuddle my last few weeks of ekphrasis.

……………………………………………………………

Previous ekphrastic: Ekphrastic 19/Sisters, Pain of Salvation (Sean Thomas covers)

and

What the hel is ekphrasis + Ekphrastic Poetry Archive (For poems about A Game of Thrones, anime, music, The Hunger Games, Blood Meridian, etc–basically, just the stuff to fulfill your brain’s literary sugar-cravings.)