Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Erin K. Wagner's When Home, No Need to Cry


 I'm pleased to announce the release of When Home, No Need to Cry, a collection of short fiction by Erin K. Wagner and is the eighty-fifth volume in our Conversation Pieces Series. It is available now in both print and e-book editions at www.aqueduct press.com



A child spells away the changeling that haunts her. An Appalachian girl marries young and learns that men don’t die easy. A dying astronaut yearns to return to space and the alien dreams that crept inside her head. An old woman chases down her most elusive prey and realizes the hunt isn’t worth it. From sunny kitchens to arid Mars, this collection of stories traces the quiet things that haunt us, whether it be suspicions of neighbors, the failures of memory, or the ghosts of planets.

You can read a sample of the book at http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/samples/978-1-61976-232-9.pdf.



 Wagner collects 10 speculative shorts loosely connected by a quietly brooding aesthetic and themes of how humanity is changed by brushes with the supernatural or extraterrestrial. “Blowflies” calls on the author’s Appalachian heritage and evokes a lonely mood, while “How to Tell the Future by Tea Leaves, Stars, and Cards” uses a child’s limited understanding of her weirdly unsettling environment to set a scene both luminous and stifling. The standout, “Blood & Formalin,” follows an embalmer in a time of war as he is confronted with what caring for the dead really means. The last three stories move the collection to outer space: an astronaut waits to die in a space shuttle in the title piece; the human population of Mars has developed a different sense of priorities than their Terran tourists in “A Planet Like Earth”; and “From That Sea of Time” takes readers to an entire planet abandoned in mournful memorial. Wagner’s writing seats itself deeply in each individual narrator’s perspective and explores the tension between individual agency and the undeniable pull of the strange. Readers are sure to be enthralled. --Publishers Weekly



Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Nisi Shawl's Our Fruiting Bodies


I'm pleased to announce the release of Our Fruiting Bodies, a collection of short fiction by Nisi Shawl, in both paperback and ebook editions. It's available now from Aqueduct at www.aqueductpress.com. And you can read a sample from the book here: http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/samples/978-1-61976-224-4.pdf.

 Our Fruiting Bodies collects stories of old growth and fresh decay, of stubborn rebirth and the faint but nonimaginary paths connecting life and nonlife.From the sharp, sweet confessional of their Peter Pan-inspired “Awfully Big Adventure,” through the melting ambitextualities of “Just Us”—from the early, dizzy-eyed quest at the heart of “Looking for Lilith” through the newly unfurling tendrils that pierce the grounds of “I Being Young and Foolish,” Nisi Shawl’s search for the power of fiction’s truth puts pure, precious gifts right here, right in your hands, ripe and ready for reading.

Nisi Shawl's Our Fruiting Bodies is a wilderness of untamed magic to explore, ever changing underfoot, beauty thorned and fertile with meaning, nurtured by the most talented of keepers. Shawl trusts their readers to be attuned to the mysteries of the imagined, rather than sated by formula or convention.
 —Indrapramit Das, author of The Devourers 


Rich in diversity and imagination, this will delight any speculative fiction reader.  (Read the whole review)
  —Publishers Weekly, Aug 15, 2022

"Nebula Award nominee Shawl (Everfair, 2016) presents a new collection of fantastical short fiction bound to delight speculative fiction and Afrofuturism readers."--Booklist, Nov 2022 (the whole review will be available when it goes online on Nov. 10.)

Monday, October 24, 2022

An Evening with Three Aqueduct Authors

This is a heads-up for an Aqueduct authors event I'd love to be able to attend myself. (I'm in Port Townsend for my annual sabbatical, so sad to say, I won't be there.) Over the years, I've seen many of Nisi's readings and know that she's a star performer, and so am confident she'll be brilliant. Also? This is the launch of her new collection, Our Fruiting Bodies, which Aqueduct will be releasing on November 1. Last summer, during a conference held via Zoom, I saw Tara reading from her collection, Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection, and found her performance of a delightfully creepy story enthralling. And to tell the truth, it was the memory of Holly Wade Matter's intriguing Seattle Public Library reading of an excerpt from what would become her novel Damned Pretty Things, that made me eager to read her novel ms when she offered it to Aqueduct years later. Which is to say, the evening promises to be a fun precursor to Halloween, full of feminist dark fantasy and horror. (Not to mention a chance for people in the Seattle area to see friends one hasn't seen in a while in the absolute, real-life flesh.)

Here are the details, and a little more about Nisi's, Holly's, and Tara's work to be featured at the event.

Thursday, October 27, 2022. 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM PDT
Third Place Books 5041 Wilson Ave S Seattle, WA 98118 United States

Next week, Third Place Books will welcome Nisi Shawl, Holly Wade Matter, and Tara Campbell to their Seward Park store. Our authors will be discussing their latest works of fiction: Our Fruiting Bodies, Damned Pretty Things, and Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required in advance.

Copies of Our Fruiting Bodies, Damned Pretty Things, and Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection will be available for purchase at the store. This event will include a public signing and time for audience Q&A.

Per request of the authors, masks are required to attend. More about Third Place Books' COVID-19 policies for in-person events.
About Our Fruiting Bodies

Our Fruiting Bodies collects stories of old growth and fresh decay, of stubborn rebirth and the faint but nonimaginary paths connecting life and nonlife. From the sharp, sweet confessional of their Peter Pan-inspired "Awfully Big Adventure," through the melting ambitextualities of "Just Us"--from the early, dizzy-eyed quest at the heart of "Looking for Lilith" through the newly unfurling tendrils that pierce the grounds of "I Being Young and Foolish," Nisi Shawl's search for the power of fiction's truth puts pure, precious gifts right here, right in your hands, ripe and ready for reading.

About Damned Pretty Things

Fortune is an itinerant musician without a past who braids memories into her hair. Maud is a sheltered small-town girl and an unwitting heir to the notorious McBride family magic. The two young women meet when Fortune is commissioned to bring Maud to a rich man whose grandson she cursed. United by their love of music and their hunger for the road, Fortune and Maud form a friendship...one that is threatened not only by Fortune's mission but also by their mutual desire for a man called Lightning.

About Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection

Deep in the recesses of childhood memory, your old playthings await. Listen: don’t you hear them crying out for you? Come take a peek inside the Cabinet of Wrath to find out what really happens when toys go missing and the stark decision they must make if they ever want to go home again. Discover what doll heads really think about being separated from their bodies. Follow a skull-and-bones novelty ring as it assembles a full body for itself, bit by grisly bit, and learn how loving your doll too much can lead to grave consequences. Open the door to these fabulist tales of toys and vengeance for a playtime you’ll never forget.

About Third Place Books

Founded in 1998 in Lake Forest Park, Washington, Third Place Books is dedicated to the creation of a community around books and the ideas inside them. With locations in Lake Forest Park and Seattle's Ravenna and Seward Park neighborhoods, Third Place Books is proud to serve the entire Seattle metro area. Learn more about their event series.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Cesi Davidson's Bilabials



I'm pleased to announce the release of Cesi Davidson's Bilabials: Short Plays to Nourish the Mind and Soul. Aqueduct is publishing it as the eighty-fourth volume in our Conversation Pieces series in both print and e-book editions. You can purchase it now at www.aqueductpress.com. And you can read a sample from the book at http://www.aqueductpress.com/books/samples/978-1-61976-228-2.pdf.


 .Bilabials is the third volume in Cesi Davidson's series of Short Plays to Nourish the Mind & Soul. The three anthologies of plays, Articulation, Fricatives, and now Bilabials are eclectic mixes of stories with surprises, tragedies, delights, and wit. Bilabials departs from the earlier books by its concentration on plays with some theme of love. She also places prose between each play that may sting or please or some modicum of both. This collection isn’t a how to manual. It isn’t a for-women-only, “Aha.” This often laughable, often tear-jerking collection if a label is needed, is a rousing cheer for asking the question, “What is love anyway?” The answer lies somewhere on the horizon between the earth and the sky. This is where Cesi Davidson dwells. She offers her heart in her hands and releases her voice inviting us to travel into the depths of a mystifying unknown. Love is. 

“Cesi Davidson’s newest book of short plays is at the same time revolutionary and hilarious in its content and delivery. Appropriately, the first play is titled “Juicy,” and this book has so much sweet, liquid fun within. From the beginning, the reader experiences a trickle of exquisite sensuality running through each page. Cesi gives a gift to those of us with female bodies—and that gift is permission to feel good, whatever it looks like, and to research what could feel even better.” —Kim Chinh, actor, screenwriter, playwright, author of “Reclaiming Vietnam”

“Cesi Davidson has collected for us here a wondrous trip around, through, and within the heart. These short journeys into the emotions of those who love and those who do not add to our understanding of what love is and what love isn’t. When you laugh, cry, and sigh with recognition, you will be reminded that you are not only a witness to, but also a participant in the emotional life of all those around you.”—Celeste Rita Baker, World Fantasy Award Winner, author of Back, Belly and Side

“Once again I was entertained, moved, and shocked by Cesi’s expansive imagination in this third collection of inventive and delightful short plays. Give yourself to Cesi’s words, and you’ll experience the true essence of love with plenty of laughter inside the rich world in which all beings are sentient, intelligent, and funny.” —Rachel Lu (Actor, Elite Match)

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

The 2022 Pride Bundle




by Catherine Lundoff and Melissa Scott

 The 2022 Pride Bundle Bundle - Curated by Catherine Lundoff and Melissa Scott

It's time for another queer-themed bundle to celebrate Pride! This year, we have five books in the main bundle, and another ten in the bonus, for a total of fifteen if you spring for the bonus. Once again, winnowing it down to a manageable number was ready hard — there are so many writers out there who are creating intelligent, nuanced and queer SF/F.

Because this is for Pride, we looked for books that depicted queerness in all its aspects. You'll find profoundly hopeful work as well as darker themes, but what you won't find is stories in which being queer means you're evil, nor any in which it's purely a doomed and tragic fate. We've included newer writers and new work, reintroduced some older ones, and are offering a mix of novels, novellas, and short story collections; we have science fiction, fantasy, dark fantasy, solarpunk, cyberpunk, ghost stories, and more. These are stories that celebrate the multitudes within our queer community, all written by authors at the top of their game. You'll find a wide range of diverse characters, an equally wide range of styles, and stories that will hook you from first to last.

We can't claim that this is anything like a definitive LGBTQIA+ collection. There is too much wonderful queer writing out there for anyone to be able claim that. Instead, we're offering a collection that celebrates queerness, and shows off the work of some of the best writers working today.

StoryBundle has always allowed its patrons to donate part of their payment to a related charity, and once again we're supporting Rainbow Railroad, an NGO helping LGBT+ people escape state-sponsored persecution and violence worldwide. Especially at this moment, their work is desperately needed, and if you choose, you can pass part of the bundle's price to them — a gift that can save a life. – Catherine Lundoff and Melissa Scott

* * *

For StoryBundle, you decide what price you want to pay. For $5 (or more, if you're feeling generous), you'll get the basic bundle of five books in any ebook format—WORLDWIDE.

            Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale

            We're Here edited by C.L. Clark & series editor Charles Payseur

            The Adventure of the Incognita Countess by Cynthia Ward

            Sanctuary by Andi C. Buchanan

            The Language of Roses by Heather Rose Jones


If you pay at least the bonus price of just $20, you get all five of the regular books, plus TEN more books for a total of 15!

            Unfettered Hexes edited by dave ring

            The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum by Cynthia Ward

            It Gets Even Better edited by Isabela Oliveira and Jed Sabin

            The Hereafter Bytes by Vincent Scott

            Water Horse by Melissa Scott

            Friends For Robots by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

            The Sea of Stars by Nicole Kimberling

            Foxhunt by Rem Wigmore

            Pangs by Jerry L. Wheeler

            Depart, Depart! by Sim Kern


This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub, .mobi) for all books!

It's also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.

            Get quality reads: We've chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.

            Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth. If you can only spare a little, that's fine! You'll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.

            Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there's nothing wrong with ditching DRM.

            Give to worthy causes: Bundle buyers have a chance to donate a portion of their proceeds to Rainbow Railroad!

            Receive extra books: If you beat the bonus price, you'll get the bonus books!


StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook. For press inquiries, please email press@storybundle.com.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Queering SF: Readings by Ritch Calvin


I'm pleased to announce the release, in both print and e-book editions, Queering SF: Readings, by science fiction scholar Ritch Calvin.  It's available now at www.aqueductpress.com.

The essays in Queering SF provide an introduction to some of the shades of queer in SF writing. SF is not a monolith. Queer SF is not, either. Writers of queer SF approach it in a variety of ways, with a variety of end goals. The essays here aim to introduce readers to a wide range of writers and texts, some familiar, some unfamiliar.

These essays demonstrate some of the ways in which queer SF pushes at the very generic norms of SF. The idea of SF, the characteristics of SF, the content of SF have all been shaped (a) in a particular place and time, and (b) in one's own reading experience. Many of these writers want to challenge what SF looks like and does.

Finally, Queering SF points to some of these newly imagined futures, to a way to spend some time in differently imagined societies and families, and to think about the ways in which we would like to see that in our own reality.

Advance Praise

Queering SF takes readers on a tour of science fiction’s imaginings and reimaginings of gender and sexuality, from the tentative explorations of the early twentieth century to the burgeoning diverse visions of the twenty-first. To read this book is to be transported into an ideal college classroom, where stories and novels are carefully contextualized, generously critiqued, and expansively engaged as contributions to the projects of queer, feminist, intersectional social transformation. Calvin's accessible, friendly style and deep knowledge of both SF and queer studies make this an essential read for anyone interested in exploring the queerness of science fiction and the science-fictionality of queerness.”  —Alexis Lothian author of Old Futures: Speculative Fiction and Queer Possibility

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Forkpoints: Stories of Decisions Made and Roads Not Taken by Sheila Finch


 I'm pleased to announce Aqueduct Press's release of Forkpoints: Stories of Decisions Made and Roads Not Taken by Sheila Finch in both print and e-book editions. You can purchase it now from Aqueduct Press at www.aqueductpress.com.  

One of our imperatives as humans is to communicate–with others, with animals, and eventually with aliens. Here, in Forkpoints, you will find stories of unlikely people–scientists and street people, athletes and musicians, the very old and the arrogant teen–meeting and connecting with others not like them at all. Another major interest of Finch’s is what Robert Frost called “the road not taken,” that haunting sense we all have from time to time that maybe there were other paths we should have explored, other doorways we should have passed through, forkpoints where our choices changed our lives forever. Science Fiction shows us many fantastic inventions that may come in the future, other worlds, other beings. But, even then, people will still be people, loving, making families, worrying about trifles, dealing with crises, making life-changing decisions as best they can.

Advance Praise

“Good reading for our hard times. These are stories of opportunities unseen, glimpsed, suddenly brought into focus—maybe to slip away, or be refused, or maybe just delayed. There’s a gentleness to them, a melancholy, that sets off the glints of new possibilities and hope. The last story gives us a child’s-eye view of the Blitz so clear and detailed—readers who loved Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight should have a look here.”
 —Suzy McKee Charnas, author of The Holdfast Chronicles and The Vampire Tapestry

“Sheila Finch is one of the treasures of modern science fiction. She’s literate, imaginative, and deeply insightful. Her contributions to the field include not only specific, awesomely good works, but her careful attention to how language shapes story structure and flow. Her short fiction works are like polished gemstones, with each facet reflecting and informing the central theme. Here is a collection of such jewels, each speaking to the profound transformative power of human understanding. We are more than our circumstances, these stories say, we have the ability to shift our perspective, to look and feel more deeply, and thereby to shift entire realities. From an elderly music teacher who could also have been an iconic physicist to an extraordinary communication across species to a time-traveler visiting his own ancestor during the World War II London bombings, each tale reaches deep into the mind of the reader, inviting us with Finch’s characteristically gentle wisdom to see the universe and ourselves in a revolutionary light.”
 —Deborah Ross, author of Collaborators and The Seven-Petaled Shield fantasy series


Nebula Award winner Finch (Reading the Bones) delivers an impressive, career-spanning collection celebrating the power a single decision holds to change the shape of the world. Some of the 12 stories focus in on those pivotal moments; the gripping “Not This Tide” leaps between the inexplicable supernatural experiences of a girl and her father in WWII England, and the year 2035, in which the now-elderly woman is a renowned world peace activist. Others place the fateful decision in the background and chart the consequences, like the wistful “The Old Man and C,” which imagines a world where Albert Einstein followed his talent for violin instead of physics. Fans of Finch’s Xenolinguist stories will enjoy encountering the author at her lyrical best in “Sequoia Dreams,” about alien visitors who have a profound ecological message to convey, and “Czerny at Midnight,” in which a marine biologist’s autistic son communicates with an octopus through music. Though pieces like “Forkpoints” and “Where Two or Three” are weakened by plentiful hints that there are better stories happening in the background, this collection as a whole is delightfully cohesive and thought-provoking. It’s a showcase of a legend at her finest.  
  —Publishers Weekly, April 2022

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Memories of Tomorrow by Mayi Pelot



I'm pleased to announce the publication of Memories of Tomorrow by Mayi Pelot, translated from the Basque by Arrate Hidalgo,* as a volume in Aqueduct Press's Heirloom Books series. Aqueduct is releasing it in both trade paperback and e-book editions. It's available now at www.aqueductpress.com.

 Memories of Tomorrow collects a set of vibrant and enigmatic visions that emanated from one of the most creative minds of contemporary Basque literature. Often unnoticed by the established canon, Mayi Pelot has been uncovered and championed in recent years as one of the first genre authors in the language. Her publications, despite their brief span—from 1982 to 1992—undeniably laid the groundwork for future generations of Basque science fiction writers.

This collection, the first book published by Mayi Pelot, includes six stories that take place in the same galaxy but at different times. Touching on subgenres such as social speculative fiction, the techno-thriller, and space opera, Memories of Tomorrow is, in essence, a poignant political commentary on the oppressive systems that rule our world and their practices of othering, neocolonialism, gentrification, and massive exploitation of natural resources. Pelot often focuses her lens on those questioning and resisting the actions of the powerful and points to the relationship with nature and one another as a healthy, sustainable alternative to our current world structure. 

 Read a sample from the book.

 The five sci-fi shorts and one novella in this impressive collection from Pelot (1947–2016) explore the aftermath of a third world war. The flash fiction opener, “Miren,” showcases Pelot’s ability to make a visceral emotional impact in only two pages. “Row, row,” about a girl named Leyre attending a lesson on the futuristic Anti-Pollution Wall, builds on that first story in a devastating way, exploring the interconnectivity of individual trauma. The emotionally authentic “Feedback” follows a Muslim man living in 2039. The standout is novella “The Exchange,” in which an unfaithful man named Wotan pursues the mysterious being Erda, who lives beneath the planet Daleth. The tale is lush and immersive in its illustrative descriptions of other worlds and other beings, and contains the most beautiful prose of the entire collection. Hidalgo’s introduction, which provides fascinating context for Basque science fiction, lauds Pelot as an “innovator,” and these six works prove her worthy of this praise. Readers will be delighted to dive in to Pelot’s oeuvre.--Publishers Weekly


*The translation was made possible by a grant from the Etxepare Basque Institute.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

We've Been Here Before by Anne Carly Abad



I'm pleased to announce the release of We've Been Here Before,  a collection of poetry by Anne Carly Abad, as a volume in Aqueduct's Conversation Pieces series. It's now available in both print and e-book editions at www.aqueductpress.com.

Read a sample from the book.

In the spaces between dreams and reality, the strange and the familiar intersect. As if walking into different pockets of existence, each poem is a world of its own, but with beings who experience joy and pain the same ways we do. Suddenly, there is this undeniable sense—of being able to cross the liquid boundary between the self and the Other.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2021, part 29: Eileen Gunn


The Pleasures of Picture Books
Eileen Gunn 

 The artist Jerry Pinkney, whose work I’ve admired for more than half a century, illustrated over a hundred books, mostly large-format, beautifully printed picture-books for youngsters. Over the years, I’ve bought, for deserving children, a small stack of these very thin books, but I’ve bought none for myself. I now have a basket-ball team’s worth of grand-nieces and -nephews, so I’ve been indulging my fondness for giant Pinkney picture-books, because, after all, they’re presents for the kids, right? Until the beginning of the pandemic, I would go to the children’s section of the University of Washington Book Store and buy pretty much whatever Jerry Pinkney books they had. In isolation, I started buying the books online, at first delivering them in person, and then, due to the onset of virus variants, holding them for later delivery. They’re big, beautiful books, and of course I couldn’t resist taking a little read. What harm could that do? Eye-tracks are invisible, I thought.

 Well, reader, it was a mistake. I’ve had a hard time giving these books up. I did give my six-year-old niece Jerry Pinkney’s recent retelling of The Little Mermaid, in which the mermaid child befriends a human girl and pines not for a handsome prince.  But I had also bought, as a companion volume, Strange Animals of the Sea, a pop-up book that Mr. Pinkney did in 1987, the heyday of pop-ups. The book is no longer in print, so it’s used. (All the pop-ups work!) I am sorry to tell you that I have delayed giving my niece that book, telling myself that pop-ups are fragile, is she old enough, blah, blah, blah. Reader, wtf? Pop-ups are the most glorious kids’ books in the world, and this Pinkney pop-up book is ideal for a six-year-old. This could be the book that inspires her to become an oceanographer like her grandfather. In fifteen-twenty years, she could be the woman who saves the oceans.


 Okay, reader, you’ve convinced me. I must give this funny, intelligent, careful child that book. I will order another copy of Strange Animals of the Sea for myself. (PS: I have just done so.)


One of the hallmarks of Mr. Pinkney’s work is the way color dominates. He uses watercolor, which  you might think of as a meepish medium, all washes and seascapes. Not in Jerry Pinkney’s hands. He builds up layers of color to convey depth and texture, and to place fine details in art that can be startlingly realistic. (Moray eels! Octopuses! Huge, open-mouthed goosefish!) The most wonderful thing about watercolor, of course, is its transparency, its ability to allow light to hit the bright white paper underneath the paint and bounce back out. If the pigment is thinly laid, this can light up the colors like gemstones. In addition, watercolor has the ability, when allowed to flow at its own direction, to offer the artist serendipity and inspiration. Jerry Pinkney has worked in watercolor all his professional life: he understands it so well, and deploys it so creatively, that much of his work just fills me with awe.

 Mr. Pinkney’s métier is fine traditional portraiture of people, animals, and animal-people, in detailed settings, in pencil and watercolor. He blocks out the overall design in pencil, and uses pencil or graphite to delineate details that express character and humor. The people and animals he draws are surprisingly real individuals, because he uses live models to set up the scenes. The illustrations often include details that enhance or expand the story, and they reward the reader who spends time exploring them.


My favorite Jerry Pinkney work is a set of four books, The Tales of Uncle Remus, retold by the estimable Julius Lester in a conversational voice much one like he’d use telling stories to his grandchildren––say, about the time Br’er Rabbit got caught in a snare trap.

“Good morning, Br’er Bear,” he sang out, merry as Santa Claus.

Br’er Bear looked all around.

“Up here!”

Br’er Bear looked up and saw Br’er Rabbit hanging upside down. “Br’er Rabbit. How you do this morning?”

“Just fine, Br’er Bear. Couldn’t be better.”

“Don’t look like it to me. What you doing up there?”

“Making a dollar a minute,” said Br’er Rabbit.

Mr. Lester’s lively retelling releases the stories from the clutch of Disney and the condescension of dialect spelling. These tales were created by Black storytellers to amuse Black people, and the drawings reflect the lives of country people in wonderfully surrealistic ways: Farmer Rabbit and his wife milking a cow, for instance, or Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox, fully dressed, walking upright past a small scampering rabbit chased by an appropriately sized fox. Pinkney draws Br’er Rabbit and his friends as actual animals, not cartoons, and dresses them in realistic period dress, wearing vests and trousers, skirts and sweaters, kerchiefs and beat-up hats, clothing appropriate to the time and place and people the stories came from. Pinkney himself posed for photos wearing period costume, then drew illustrations from the photos. It would not be amiss to call the books profusely illustrated, with three complex full-color spreads and dozens of black and white pencil drawings in each volume. The dust jackets are wrap-around, full-color works of art: they would make wonderful murals. Ideally, this series should have been published in the same format as the picture books, instead of as a small trade hardcover. That would make a nice project for a billionaire who loves fantasy….


For the first half of his career, Mr. Pinkney illustrated stories that someone else was telling. Somewhere in the 1990s, though, he started telling the stories himself in his books, using few words and conveying the story almost entirely in pictures. This is very much like what he was already doing: he has often said that he saw his job as an illustrator to include adding something to the picture that wasn’t in the writing. In The Lion & the Mouse, a magnificent visual retelling of the Aesop fable about power and reciprocity, the art rules so completely that the book has dispensed with words entirely: even the dust jacket has no title or credit on the front, just on the spine. The lion, yellow and fierce, fully occupies his pages, and leafing through them is like walking in the African sun. The mouse is small and modest, but boldly seizes her share of the book, and her transition from victim to savior is accomplished without a word, just a squeak. This is a book that begs to be read out loud to a small child, and yet there are no words, just sounds. How can it be read? Just open it up: the book silently persuades you to tell the story yourself, in your own words, pointing out to your listeners all the wit in the illustrations––which, of course, is the most fun way to read books to kids. A few more of Mr. Pinkney’s books––The Grasshopper and the Ants, The Tortoise and the Hare, some of the fables––also have very little text, and detailed, hilarious illustrations. Puss in Boots has a few more words, but features the most adorable silver tabby shorthair wearing boots in all of children’s literature, and that’s a highly competitive genre niche.

 Although much of Mr. Pinckney’s work is glorious picture-books for children, he has illustrated a few classic adult novels as well. In the Seventies and Eighties, he illustrated a series of reprints of modernist literary novels for the Franklin Library, including Updike’s Rabbit, Run,  and Nabokov’s Lolita. (The drawings for Lolita are very charming Pinkney-esque pencil drawings with spot color, and perfectly SFW.) In 1991, he created ten delicate and evocative pencil-and-wash works for a new edition of Zora Neale Hurston’s masterwork Their Eyes Were Watching God.  


Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations have commanded attention since the very first book he illustrated, The Adventures of Spider: West African Folktales, published in 1964, when he was just 25. A  book for young children, this early work is design-driven, with swaths of bright color and bold detail, with the design itself carrying much of the emotional weight. He was awarded a Gold Medal at the 1964 Boston Art Directors Club, I believe for the Spider illustrations, which encouraged him to become a full-time illustrator, rather than a designer, which was potentially a far more lucrative career. His continued interest in design, as he developed his personal artistic style, means that his illustrations dominate the pages in a very sophisticated way: they are interesting on both the large scale of design and the more intimate scale of illustration. His work is readily recognizable as his, and I’ve often been surprised to find it in publications far outside children’s literature.

 Re-reading Mr. Pinkney’s work has been a bit of a nostalgia trip for me, and maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed revisiting it so much. He first came to my attention in the mid-1960s, when he was just starting to receive awards for his work. I was working part-time for my father in his Boston graphic design studio, which handled a lot of illustration then. It was a transitional time in commercial art: photography was displacing illustration, and it was getting harder for illustrators to make a living. Mr. Pinkney chose to work in traditional illustration at a time when the market for it was declining. Working in both commercial art and book illustration, he managed to make a living at it and support a growing family, and he continued to create both personal and artistic challenges for himself. He was a Black man, and he made a point of illustrating books of African tales or by African-American writers. He actively addressed Black issues and portrayed Black adults and children in much of his work, at a time when the white publishing industry considered that a very risky venture, especially in children’s books. There was a time, and it lasted into the twenty-first century, when it was a surprise to see Black characters in books telling European fairy tales. Inclusive kids’ books, like Sesame Street, featured animal characters because it was assumed (and probably a fact) that while readers were reluctant to buy kids’ books with Black protagonists, they were happy to buy books that featured talking animals. (And Mr. Pinkney, as I’ve said, can draw a very convincing community of talking animals.) Jerry Pinkney not only drew Little Red Riding Hood as a Black child, he marketed that book and many others to mainstream white audiences and became one of the most celebrated illustrators of children’s literature of the last fifty years. His most recent book, The Welcome Chair, was published in 2021, shortly before he passed away in October at the age of 81. There is a rewarding exhibit at the Normal Rockwell Museum, Jerry Pinkney: Imaginings, that offers a marvelous tour of his illustrations, including videos of Mr. Pinkney talking about his work and explaining his creative process.


I’m grateful to my nieces, and to their kids, for helping me stay in touch with Jerry Pinkney and his work over all these years, and to Ambling Along the Aqueduct for the chance to wallow in nostalgia and buy all these lovely books for myself.  Yes, I’ve stopped hoarding the copies I bought for the kids. At least thirty of the hundred-plus titles Mr. Pinkney illustrated are still in print, and can be ordered from bookstores. More than fifty are available used or new, and you can find them in pretty much every public library. Check ’em out.


Note: The links I’ve provided above were chosen because they show off the books well and may allow you to explore the interiors. I’m not necessarily endorsing the sellers.


Eileen Gunn is the author of two story collections: Stable Strategies and Others (Tachyon Publications, 2004 and Hayakawa, 2007) and Questionable Practices (Small Beer Press, 2014). Her fiction has received the Nebula Award in the US and the Sense of Gender Award in Japan, and been nominated for the Hugo, Philip K. Dick, and World Fantasy awards and short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. award. Her non-fiction has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, Locus, Paradoxa, Science Fiction Eye, the New York Review of Science Fiction, and other magazines covering science fiction, technology, and culture. She is the author of The Difference Dictionary, a guide to and analysis of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s novel The Difference Engine. Gunn serves on the board of directors of the Locus Foundation, which publishes the genre newsmagazine Locus, and served for 22 years on the board of directors of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. After leaving the board, Gunn has served as instructor at Clarion West. 


Saturday, January 15, 2022

Can't Find My Way Home by Gwynne Garfinkle


 I'm pleased to announce the release of Can't Find My Way Home, the debut novel by Gwynne Garfinkle, in both print and e-book editions. It's available now from www.aqueductpress.com and other venues. 

Young actress Joanna Bergman has been guilt-ridden for four years. Her best friend Cynthia Foster died in a firebombing meant to protest a New York draft board near their college in 1971. Jo was supposed to accompany the charismatic Cyn on the night of the bombing but backed out at the last minute. Jo’s new life is complicated enough: she’s falling for her soap opera costar, the philandering Martin Yates, and trying to regain the sense of connection she lost when Cyn died. But then Cyn’s ghost appears, furious with Jo for bailing on her that fateful night and, worse, for going on living without her. As Jo tries to figure out what her friend’s ghost wants from her, she is hurled again and again back to the night of Cyn’s death. 

 Read a sample from the book.


Advance Praise

"Garfinkle catches exactly the passionate and reckless moods of the anti-Vietnam War movement among young people in those years, the deadly naiveté, delight in rebellion, and idealistic misunderstanding of where events just had to go from there…. Writing a really good ghost story is a lot harder than it looks. But Garfinkle pulls it off with élan and produces a wonderful story about lives unlived, for one reason or another, shifting perspectives, what (if anything) we owe our dead, and how we reflect each other, hold each other back, and provide the take-off for others’ sprints into maturity."
 —Suzy McKee Charnas, author of The Vampire Tapestry and The Holdfast Chronicles

"All of us have questions and regrets about things we’ve done, but Jo Bergman is literally haunted by her past. This remarkable novel kept me on tenterhooks as I watched Jo seesaw among the different lives she would have experienced had she made different decisions. Gwynne Garfinkle has nailed both the fraught nature of the 1960s and early 70s and the difficult path of a woman struggling to be her whole self despite the ghosts of her past and the challenges of her present."  — Nancy Jane Moore, author of For the Good of the Realm and The Weave

"Here is a book that took me back in the same way a ghost of her past takes Joanna back, again and again. Gwynne Garfinkle’s ghost story realistically recreates a traumatic moment in America’s past. I was more than impressed with the realism of a period that I personally lived through. Garfinkle asks the reader what would happen if you could go to a pivotal moment in your past and relive it, searching for a different outcome? Would you, could you? In the end would it make it any better? Garfinkle’s deft prose takes you on this journey with suspense and gentleness, tackling both regret and hope with equal sincerity. This book lives not only in the softer side of the horror genre, but as a work that instructs us to confront our own choices and how they irrevocably impact others. If you want a thoughtful and intriguing journey, buy this book."  —Beth Plutchak, author of Liminal Spaces



"Garfinkle (People Change) delivers a fascinating, disorienting ghost story set in the 1970s. Actor Joanna Bergman has carried shame and remorse over her friend Cynthia Foster’s death since it happened four years ago. As protestors against the Vietnam War, the duo would have done anything to stop the bloodshed—but when Cynthia and Joanna plotted to blow up a New York City draft board, Joanna backed out at the last minute. Her hesitance spared her life, and Cynthia died in the explosion. Now, the war is over, and Joanna has her first stable acting gig on the daytime soap Hope Springs Eternal and is developing feelings for her costar, Martin Yates. She’s guiltily moving on with her life, until Cynthia’s angry ghost appears to her and forces Joanna to relive that fateful night, turning over alternate choices she could have made and how things might have gone differently. The tale moves swiftly between reality and the paranormal, successfully making the reader question if Cynthia’s ghost is just a projection of Jo’s psyche or something more concrete. Fans of counterculture narratives and ghost stories will want to take a look."   —Publishers Weekly, 09/13/2021


"I am a total sucker for explorations of mid-twentieth century women’s work lives and choices, and I don’t mind a bit if the speculative element of something takes awhile to unfold, so I was absolutely the target audience for this book. Jo’s soap opera work was not something I’d really thought about before, but Garfinkle clearly did her research into the details of that field and treats it with respect but not reverence–just the right balance. Jo’s reconsideration of what was needed, what was useful, what was right, in regards to her past activism is well-situated in the ’70s–she is close enough to our own attitudes to be engaging but not unduly contemporary, and some of the questions she grapples with are still of interest today. This one is frankly feminist and takes its time with some very worthwhile questions, and it allows its humans to be human rather than insisting on Good Guys and Bad Guys. I’m so glad I got this copy."--Marissa Lingen, Novel Gazing Redux  (read the whole review here)