I recently read Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a response to a H.P. Lovecraft story, but it isn’t horror; instead it (I assume) takes some of the critters and locations of Lovecraft’s work and uses them to populate a beautifully written fantasy tale set in a world that feels familiar yet unique in the same way that Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series does.
I’ve never read anything of Lovecraft’s, and I don’t often read fantasy, but The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is phenomenal. It’s a novella, so it’s an easy read, and you can pick the ebook up for a song.
And because I can, here’s an excerpt from one of Kij Johnson’s short stories, Ponies. It’s a twisted, dark horror tale, with a core of sad childhood truth.
The invitation card has a Western theme. Along its margins, cartoon girls in cowboy hats chase a herd of wild Ponies. The Ponies are no taller than the girls, bright as butterflies, fat, with short round-tipped unicorn horns and small fluffy wings. At the bottom of the card, newly caught Ponies mill about in a corral. The girls have lassoed a pink-and-white Pony. Its eyes and mouth are surprised round Os. There is an exclamation mark over its head.
The little girls are cutting off its horn with curved knives. Its wings are already removed, part of a pile beside the corral.
One morning in early July, I woke up to an email from one of the editors at Tor.com Publishing. They’d recently had an open unsolicited submission window and I’d submitted the manuscript for my sci-fi novella Killing Gravity. It had received a really quick form rejection from another publisher just a few weeks earlier, so I had basically convinced myself there was no way a publisher with as much clout as Tor would want it (Lesson the first: personal preference is a strong condideration in editorial decisions. Just because one editor rejects a story, it doesn’t mean it [and by extension, you] are rubbish). The email subject read “Offer on Killing Gravity,” and I had so thoroughly convinced myself of the impending rejection that I actually thought, That’s a strange way to phrase a rejection.
Honestly, if the email subject had simply read: “RE: Submission – Killing Gravity” there’s a chance I might have deleted it unread (Lesson the second: never, and I mean NEVER, self-reject).
Needless to say, I opened the email.
I literally couldn’t believe it, I was in shock. My first response was to send my partner (the award-winning author of Welcome to Orphancorp, Marlee Jane Ward) a message reading: “Fuck. Motherfucking Tor want to buy my fucking book.” 6am eloquence is not my forte. My second response was to stumble through, knock on my housemate’s bedroom door, and repeat the news to her more-or-less word for word (she later said she thought something terrible had happened, like a death in the family, because I was white as a sheet. When I said ‘in shock’ I meant literally).
Marlee and I had already planned a trip to the States, which meant it was perfectly timed for us to be able to meet up with my editor Carl Engle-Laird in New York, and even receive a tour of the tour offices in the historic Flatiron building. It also meant I could have an editorial meeting with Carl over beers in Kansas City while we were there for WorldCon. Sure, the internet’s an amazing tool, but there’s nothing quite like face-to-face. It’s great when everything just falls into place.
Now here we are, a few months later. The announcement has been made, including the amazing news that Tor.com Publishing are going to publish Killing Gravity’s sequel, and now I can talk publicly about it. Something I mentioned on twitter is that a big part of why this is so exciting (besides it being my first book, which is a huge deal on its own) is that Tor.com Publishing’s line of novellas is consistently of a super high quality, with multiple award-winning novellas, brilliant emerging and established authors, beautiful cover art, and an editorial desire for better representation with their authors and books. To think that Killing Gravity got chosen out of slush to be published alongside Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe, as well as upcoming titles from Charles Stross, Cassandra Khaw, and Laurie Penny (not to mention all the other well-regarded authors whose work I haven’t checked out yet), is incredible. Talk about external validation… (I’d had 130 short story rejections in the 18 months before this sale, so Lesson the third: it’s all about forward motion).
So if you need me, I’ll be here, talking about Killing Gravity, offering advice, posting fiction (my own, and links to others), and trying to make the most of this opportunity to kick-start something resembling a writing career.