Friday, September 18, 2020

Burning Chrome and How I Almost Made William Gibson Look Bad



Look what just came in the mail! The new, beautifully-made Subterranean Press edition of William  Gibson's short fiction collection, Burning Chrome.

I am awash in nostalgia.

Back when Bill and I co-wrote "Dogfight," which is the reason I received a copy of this book, we were both scruffy young nobodies. A casual meeting at a convention, a few chance words, and we were collaborating on a story. Gibson had a hot rep back then--but only if you were among the few, the new, and the hooked-in. Bill agreed to the collaboration because he's a genial guy. I went into the project because I wanted to see what kind of chops he had.

Pretty damn good, as it turned out.

We used the Hot Typewriter method for the story. Not the Hot Typewriter method of the Fifties, which involved a cheap hotel room, a rented typewriter, a bottle of hootch, and (sometimes) a hooker, but the Eighties version. Which was: One writer had control of the story for a month, during which he could write as much or as little as he wished. He do anything he wanted with it. Change the plot, change the characters, put things in and take things out. There were a couple of small details that Gibson took out that on the next pass I put back only to have him take them out, back and forth several times until at last Bill won. When you're working with somebody good, this can be a very exciting process.

On one of those passes, I came to a section that could only be written by Gibson. Luckily, from my collaborations with Gardner Dozois, I knew what to do. With Gardner, I had only to write a bad imitation of his style and its wrongness would so annoy him that he'd tear it all up and, with enormous labor, write it the proper way. So I wrote a bad William Gibson pastiche and sent it back to him, confident he would redo it from top to bottom.

One month later, I got the story back, expanded, with not one word changed in the pastiche section. In the accompanying letter, Bill was effusive with praise for that section.

Oh crap. I knew that if I let that section go through unchanged, the deficiencies that Bill was blind to would be as obvious to the critics as they were to me. Only, because it was written in Bill's voice (almost), blame for this would fall not on me but on him. And people would conclude that, whatever Bill had once had, he'd lost it.

So I spent much of that month laboring mightily to bring that section up to his standards. I succeeded, I believe, but oh man that was not fun.

End of anecdote. No, I am not going to tell you what section it was. You can read the story and make your own guesses. But I'll never tell you if you were right.


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Morbidity, Mortality, and Gardner Dozois


The current scandal about the White House demanding the right to alter the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report has put me in a nostalgic mood about, of all people, Gardner Dozois.

To understand this, you first have to know that M&MWR back in the day was simply a list of the number all deaths in the US in the previous week, arranged by cause. So many people died of cancer, so many of head trauma, so many of hantavirus, and so on. They also had a single short, one-page essay on some related interesting matter, such as things surgeons had found in people's rectums. You could get a subscription to it free if you wanted, because almost all the people who knew of its existence had professional reasons to receive it.

You also have to know that Gardner was not an optimist. This led him to be willing to entertain borderline conspiracy theories. These could be reasonable ("There's a new disease...) or not ("AIDS can be spread through drinking water" which, the virus being an anaerobe, is absolutely untrue). I could almost never convince him he was wrong. He would listen to Marianne, because he respected her expertise, but her explanations never seemed to take hold in him permanently.

So one day, as a joke, I submitted Gardner's name and address to M&MWR

Gardner loved it.

Once a week, the pamphlet-sized publication came in the mail. He scanned it, and knew exactly what was killing everybody and knew that there were no surprises lurking out there to ambush him. For years, until the print version was replaced by a virtual one, he was a happy man.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Me! Me! Virtual Me!



One unanticipated result of the Covid-19 self-isolation has been the explosion of virtual events, readings, panels, and conventions. All of which I am, as a citizen science fiction writer, expected to share my time with.

Two good examples of this phenomenon are embedded here.

Directly above is my "appearance" at the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series. The highlight of which is my reading of the opening of City Under the Stars, which is Gardner Dozois's last novel, co-written with yours truly.It is a dark, dark opening in which you get to see a man's life and soul destroyed right before your eyes.

So why might you want to hear it, and then read the book? Because after hearing it, you'll find it hard to believe that immediately after the section read, Hanson's life gets worse. And that after that, it gets even more worse. Yet it does.

This is a pattern that continues up to almost the end of the book when... unexpectedly, unbelievably... it has a happy ending. A hard-earned and well-deserved happy ending that the book was headed for all along.


And meanwhile . . .

Ongoing at this very moment is a totally mad enterprise called Con Tinual, known as "The Convention That Never Ends." Which, I have to say, is something that I've had nightmares about on the last night of more than one convention. But these cheerful, positive folk seem to have no problem with that aspect of it.

I participated in a discussion, one of a series called Hot Off the Press, in which participants talked about their recent books. The other (and very articulate) participants were Tom Doyle, Kyoko M, and Gail Z. Martin. The panel was ably MC'd by Jason Tongier.

 The book I discussed was, of course, City Under the Stars.



Monday, September 7, 2020

City Under the Stars at the NYRSF Reading Series


TONIGHT, I'll be doing a virtual reading from City Under the Stars, which is Gardner Dozois' last novel, co-written by Yours Truly. 

The event starts at 7:00 p.m., New York City time and ends at 8:30. There will be a reading, the usual badinage, some questions and answers (probably) and even some sentimental rambling about what a swell guy Gardner was (almost certainly).

Michael Swanwick/(channeling) Gardner Dozois

Tuesday, September 9, 2020

7:00 p.m.


Here's what hosts Jim Freund and Barbara Krasnoff have to say about the event: 

 This reading marks the beginning of our 30th Season! Sadly, we cannot all join together for a fete, but over the course of time, we'll figure something out. We wish to experiment with simulcasting the reading on our traditional home here on Facebook.

 On, Michael Swanwick wrote: "Almost a quarter century ago, Gardner Dozois and I published “The City of God,” now the first half of this novel. It ended with a slam, seemingly precluding any sequels. But over the decades Gardner and I talked over what might come next. We planned to write two more novellas, “The City of Angels” and “The City of Men,” which would tell one long, complete story. One with a happy ending. 

 Don’t laugh. 

Yes, Gardner could be a bleak writer. Yes, the novella was dark even for him. But he had an uplifting idea for how the book would end. We discussed it often. We were midway through the second novella and aiming at that happy ending when, without warning, Gardner died. 

I knew I would never write that third novella without his input, his genius. Nevertheless I wanted the world to see this genuinely happy ending. So I changed the direction of the work in progress, combined both novellas, divided them into chapters, and made of them a novel I think Gardner would have been pleased with. 

The ending is exactly what Gardner envisioned all those decades ago. A happy one. For everyone. 

When I wrote the last words of it, I cried." --


Michael Swanwick has received the Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, World Fantasy and Hugo Awards, and has the pleasant distinction of having been nominated for and lost more of these same awards than any other writer. He has written ten novels, over a hundred and fifty short stories, and countless works of flash fiction. His latest novel The Iron Dragon’s Mother, was recently published by Tor Books. 

 He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Marianne Porter. 


 Gardner Dozois was one of the most important editors in the history of science-fiction. His editorial work earned more than 40 Hugo Awards, 40 Nebula Awards, and 30 Locus Awards, and he was awarded the Hugo for Best Professional Editor fifteen times between 1988 and his retirement from Asimov’s in 2004, having edited the magazine for 20 years! He also served as the editor of The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies and co-editor of the Warrior anthologies, Songs of the Dying Earth, and many others. As a writer, Dozois twice won the Nebula Award for best short story. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2011 and received the Skylark Award for Lifetime Achievement. *

Friday, September 4, 2020

My Cyberpunk Interview

Back in the days of the Cyberpunk-Humanist Wars, I was pretty clearly identified as a humanist--a class enemy. I wasn't in Chairman Bruce's shortlist of the Movement (the term he preferred) or in his Mirrorshades anthology, which cast a much wider net. So that settled that.

Except that with the passing years, the definitions of cyberpunk have gotten vaguer and, more and more, I find myself listed as having been one.

Most recently, Mark Everglade, author of the novel Hemispheres: A Cyberpunk Dystopian, among other works, interviewed me about my novel Vacuum Flowers and about what the  cyberpunk culture was like back in the day.

 Here's how the interview begins:

 Mark: Cyberpunk had been declared dead by Bruce Sterling in 1986 due to what Bruce Bethke called a lack of continued originality, as publishers and fans forced cyberpunk into repetitive and pedantic tropes (paraphrased). Vacuum Flowers was published in 1987, although you’ve stated you didn’t intend for it to be a full cyberpunk book and really wanted to stress its space opera side. You’ve also stated in the past that cyberpunk fans weren’t particularly warm to the book. What was the overall cyberpunk atmosphere like at that time in the publishing industry and among consumers?

Michael: Let’s start with the observation that it was a phenomenon whose time had come. In retrospect, there were a lot of writers (some unlikely) trying to invent cyberpunk before William Gibson succeeded with stories like “Johnny Mnemonic” and “Burning Chrome” and then codified it with Neuromancer. ..

You can find the intro page about Vacuum Flowers by going to:

(Forgive me for not formatting this as a link; the new Blogger interface is not exactly intuitive.) Those who are already familiar with the novel can scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the button for the interview itself.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

City Under the Stars is Born!!!


Today is the publication date for City Under the Stars, my most recent and Gardner Dozois' last novel.

Everybody knows Gardner's work as an editor. Fewer know what a fine writer he was. If you're among those who know his fiction, you already want this book. If you're not... well, this is a good time to find out.

Here's how it starts:

It was high summer in Orange, in York, in the Human Domain of Earth. There was commerce in the town, crops in the field, beasts in the byre, bandits in the roads, thants and chimeras in the hills, and God in His Heaven—which was fifteen miles away, due east.

From where Hanson worked—on an open platform extending out from the side of the giant State Factory of Orange and nestling right up against the bare, rocky face of Industry Hill—it was possible to look east, out across the teeming squalor of Orange, and see the Wall of the City of God marching north-south across the horizon, making the horizon really: a radiant line drawn across the misty blue of distance, pink as a baby's thigh, pink as dawn. And to know that it stretched, in all its celestial arrogance, over two hundred miles to the north, and more than three hundred miles to the south, unbroken, cutting three-quarters of the Human Domain off from the sea—the City of God, perfect and inviolable, with a completeness that was too much for man. That was what Hanson must face every day when he came to work and stood in the sun and in his human sweat with his little shovel. That terrible, alien beauty, indifferent to mortality, forever at his back, a head's turn away, as he worked, as he grew old. And knowing that God and all the angels were in there, pure and incomprehensible as fire, maybe watching him right now, looking down over the Edge of the Wall and into the finite world: a huge watery eye, tall as the sky.

 But no one ever thought much about God on shift, not for long…

Which is one lovely stick of prose. I can say that because every word of the opening section was written by Gardner. There was nobody who ever wrote quite like him.

And to provide a little context . . .

City Under the Stars took almost fifty years from first inception to publication. I wrote an essay, included with the novel as an afterword, laying out the whole grand saga. Here's a small fraction of it:

At the end of a visit to his new Society Hill apartment—a far cry from the Quince Street digs, with a fireplace and a Jacuzzi tub—Gardner saw me to the front stoop and then said, “Wait a second.” He went inside and returned with a familiar cardboard box.
“I’m never going to write the Digger Novel,” he said. “So you might as well take it and see if you can turn it into a novella.”
I took the box from him. “I know exactly how to do this,” I lied. “I’m not going to tell you now because I want it to be a surprise!” (Remember, I’d long ago given up on Gardner ever finishing it on his own.) I clutched the box to my chest and began to edge away, afraid that Gardner would come to his senses and snatch it back.
“It’s clear to me this isn’t going anywhere,” he said unhappily. “But maybe you can make something of it.”
I was down to the sidewalk. “Wait until you see what I have in mind! You’ll love it!”
Gardner wasn’t listening. In his heart of hearts, he was mourning the necessity to hand over the child of his imagination to me. “But I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Make the conclusion open-ended. Just in case we decide to make a novel of it.”
 “You must be reading my mind!” I chirped. 
Miraculously, in that instant, even as I was saying those words, the solution entered my mind…

And because it can never be said too often . . .

Gardner Dozois could be a very dark writer indeed. People used to marvel at the contrast between the jolly fun-loving man they knew and the stories he wrote. And much of this novel adheres to that pattern. Three-quarters of the way through reading it, Marianne said to me, "This doesn't end well, does it?"

"No, no! It has a happy ending," I told her.

"Oh, sure. One of your happy endings."

"A happy ending! For everybody!" I insisted. "And it was Gardner who came up with it."

Which is true. Gardner had been talking about the ending of the novel for decades. It was one of the reasons I was so anxious to finish the novel after he died. I wanted everybody to know that he had a happy ending in him. I wanted everybody to know that he went out on a positive note.

Read the book. You'll see.


Monday, August 24, 2020

How To Write A Submission Letter


Going through a heap of old papers in the printer room, I ran across my submission letter for "A Small Room in Koboldtown," which I sent to Sheila Williams at Asimov's Science Fiction. 

The guidelines for submission letters all agree that they should be short, interesting, and to the point. Mine, I believe is exemplary on all three counts. So I present it to you as a model:

Dear Sheila,

No, don't say a word. You don't need to. Among my many, many other talents, I'm a precognitive telepath. So, to spare you some trouble, I've made a transcript of your future thoughts as you read hte attached story, "A Small Room in Koboldtown." To wit:

Oh Gawd, it's another urban elf story! The readers are going to rise up with pitchforks and torches. I keep telling Michael that we want hard science fiction! With spaceships!! But he... What's this? It'a a locked-room mystery? Has Michael gone completely bonkers? I can't believe that he would do this to... Actually, it's not bad. It's pretty good. In fact, it's terrific. I think I'm going to... going to... buy it. But I refuse to  be gracious about it. I'm going to write him a terse, clipped acceptance letter.

So there you are! Look at all the time I've saved you! Inferior writers wouldn't do that. But I refrain from pointing out how wonderful of me it was. My great modesty will not permit it.

Magnaminously yours,

And that's how it's done by the pros. Go thou, young gonnabe writer, and do thou likewise!


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Bradbury Panel--Tonight!!


Imagine you were given the opportunity to read something by Ray Bradbury. Anything from Ray Bradbury? What would you choose?

That's the impossible decision I had to make when I agreed to be a part of Ray Bradbury and the Future of Speculative Fiction. Tonight, starting at 6:30 p.m. You'll have to listen live if you want to know what I opted for, because the Enoch Pratt Free Library got permission for the readings but not to have them posted permanently.

After the readings there will be a discussion (far-ranging, I hope) of Bradbury and his work. Justina Ireland, Sam Weller, David Wright, Sarah Pinsker and I are all great enthusiasts on this matter. So it should be fun.

See you there!

Info on how to log in here.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Dispatches from the Republic of Books


Look what came in the mail today! Two items, very different from each other, but both citizens of the Republic of Books.

To the left is Devil's Ways, an anthology of stories about You-Know-Who, edited by Anna Kashina and  J. M. Sidorova. From Dragonwell Publishing.

Would it surprise you to know that I have a story in here? I do. It's "Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown,"and I'm rather proud of it.

Here are the other stories:

Nzembe by Perephone D'Shaun

Death and the Lady by Ben Loory

Fire in His Eyes, Blood on His Teeth by R. S. A. Garcia

A Diorama of the Infernal Regions or the Devil's Ninth Question by Andy Duncan

One of Our Angels is Missing by Curtis C. Chin

The Hag by Darrell Schweitzer

Frayed Tapestry by Imogen Howson

Where is Evil by Edwina Harvey

Unto the Daughters by Nancy Kress

The Fisherman... A Tashlich Legend by Avram Davidson

Escape Goat by J. M. Sidorova

Those stories I've read (most of them) I can recommend wholeheartedly. I'm looking forward to reading this others over the next day or two.

Incidentally, Publishers Weekly reviewed the anthology and said, "Readers are in for a devilish treat. Which is a little cutesy but a great blurb and a warm endorsement.

And . . .

To the right is The Private Life of Books by Henry Wessells, richly illustrated with photographs by Paul Sch├╝tze. (I should mention that while my photo of the cover is washed out and bland, the real thing is dark and detailed.)

This is a much smaller re-issue in palm-sized paperback of an earlier hardcover that sells for $150. The Temporary Culture website defines it as "Six poems by Henry Wessells on reading, memory, books, and the second law of thermodynamics."

It really is a lovely thing.

You can get information about this iteration of the book f(or even buy it, or a mere $17.50)  here. Or go to their website here and wander around.


Monday, August 17, 2020

Free! Dragons! Ten! Free!


Jonathan Strahan and HarperCollins are doing a giveaway for The Book of Dragons over the next two weeks. They'll be giving away ten copies of the book to people chosen at random.

What's the catch? Only minor ones. It's limited to U. S. residents only and you have to be at least 18 years old.

You can enter by going here and filling out the form. 

This is a very cool book (Why didn't it exist when I was 18?!) and I have a nifty story in it, "Dragon Slayer." Along with some thirty other stories and poems by other writers. 

(The fine print says that by giving them your email address, you agree to receive promotional email from HarperCollins. But there are worse fates. Also, you can opt out by just clicking the link at the bottom of one, so no harm done.)

And while you're thinking of book promotions . . .

The e-book of Ellen Datlow's classic anthology Lethal Kisses ("stories of dark desire and wicked payback" says the publicity) is on sale today only for $1.99.

This is a splendid anthology full of great stories. Including one very very very dark collaboration by me and Jack Dann. The story is called "Ships" and it's a good old-fashioned tale of an assault upon Heaven. Recommended for all fans of fiction about wooden ships.

You can find the announcement with links to places where it can be bought here.

And have you noticed . . .?

Ellen appears to be in that phase of her career where her reputation is transitioning from "multiple-Award winning" to "legendary."

What makes this particularly interesting is that the legendary Ellen Datlow continues to win awards. Most recently, she won the Locus Award for Best Editor.  Normally, once you've been promoted to legendary, they won't let you anywhere near the awards. But Ellen is the exception. Or maybe the standard?

Anyway, she rocks!


Friday, August 14, 2020

Virtual Bradbury Panel "at" the Enoch Pratt!


In this era  ofsheltering-in-place, people need conventions, panels, intellectual distractions and, above all, celebrations of Ray Bradbury! This is, after all, the great fantasist's centenary year.

So the Enoch Pratt Free Library is hosting and posting an online event, Ray Bradbury and the Future of Speculative Fiction. As the graphic above says, this Wednesday, August 19 at 6:30 p.m.

It begins with short readings from Bradbury's work  by:

Justina Ireland

Michael Swanwick

Sam Weller

and David Wright

Followed by a panel discussion with all four of us, moderated by Sarah Pinsker.

It ought to be a lot of fun and, of course, it's free.

You can find details at the library website here or their Facebook account here.


Friday, August 7, 2020

The Brilliance of Gardner Dozois (and Other Topics)


The new issue of Clarkesworld has an interview with me, capably conducted by Arley Sorg. In it, I talk about the brilliance of the late Gardner Dozois, our collaborative novel City Under the Stars, how to stay relevant as a writer, and why there should be a sign by the womb-door reading  HEROES ONLY.

Among many other topics.

You can find the interview here.

And because you're wondering . . .

It bears repeating that Dragonstairs Press is Marianne Porter's micropress and not mine. She is the sole founder, operator, editor and publisher of the Dragonstairs empire. I'm only the content provider.

That said, you're probably wondering how the rollout of Swan/Wolfe, Marianne's latest chapbook, the lightly-edited transcript of my interview on the ReReading Wolfe podcast went.

Not so badly. Marianne made 100 copies of the the signed-and-numbered, hand-stitched, and beautifully-made chapbook, of which 76 were available for sale. Every one sold by the end of the day.

Of course, it was a Gene Wolfe related item, which means that a year from now it will be fabulously expensive--assuming you can find someone who wants to part with it. But Marianne is already at work on her next project, which I'm absolutely sure is going to sell out in less than an hour.

But it's still too early in the process to drop hints. For now, mum's the word.


Wednesday, August 5, 2020



Marianne Porter has announced another Dragonstairs Press chapbook. It goes on sale tomorrow, Thursday, August 6 at noon EDT.

Swan/Wolfe is my meditation on the place Gene Wolfe in modern science fiction and fantasy.  It came about because I was interviewed on James Wynn's and Craig Brewer's ReReading Wolfe podcast. (Normally, they do a chapter-by-chapter close reading of Gene's The Book of the New Sun quatrology, but from time to time they interview people who knew Gene and/or have interesting things to say about his work.)

I was chatting about the experience on social media afterward, when author and collector Lawrence Person suggested that a transcript would make an excellent Dragonstairs chapbook. Having done transcripts on occasion (including a book-length interview published as Being Gardner Dozois), I was not crazy about the thought of doing all that work. But Craig Brewer heroically volunteered to type out a transcript. Marianne and I consulted and told him to leave out the parts of the interview that didn't deal with Gene (I was given a lot of freedom to talk about myself), and the result is a nice, tightly-focused look at my feelings toward and admiration of Wolfe.)  I edited the results lightly to amplify and clarify my thoughts.

Out of all this, Marianne created another lovingly-crafted chapbook.  Hand-stitched, 6”x9”, and 10 pages long. Numbered and signed by the interviewee (me), and produced in an edition of 100, of which 76 will be available for purchase.

You can buy a copy on But not before tomorrow noon.

And if you're just curious about what I said, you can listen to the podcast here.

Above: Looks nice, dunnit? Cover by Philadelphia artist Susan McAninley.

Friday, July 31, 2020

City Under the Stars--coming SOON!


Look what came in the mail!

City Under the Stars is a collaborative novel written with Gardner Dozois, my latest and his last. In an afterword I trace its near 50-year history, culminating in its publication this month.

Here's how it begins:

It was high summer in Orange, in York, in the Human Domain of Earth. There was commerce in the town, crops in the field, beasts in the byre, bandits in the roads, thants and chimeras in the hills, and God in His Heaven—which was fifteen miles away, due east.   
That is one lovely stick of prose. I can say that in all modesty because every word of it was Gardner's. Most people today know Gardner only as an editor, but he was one of the best writers in the genre. I mean that seriously. He was a much better writer than he was an editor--and as an editor, he was aces.

So City Under the Stars is here and it's almost available to buy. Keep watching the skies!

And speaking of Gardner's co-author . . .

Open Road Media is putting the E-book of my novel, Jack Faust on sale for $1.99 in Canada and the US this Sunday, August 2nd.

That's one day only!

They tell me that you can subscribe to the newsletters at the links below so that you will get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears.

Newsletter Link
  Early Bird Books     Subscribe Now  
The Lineup Subscribe Now
The Portalist Subscribe Now
Murder & Mayhem Subscribe Now
A Love So True Subscribe Now
The Archive Subscribe Now
The Reader Subscribe Now

Jack Faust is my dark but beautifully written version of the Faust legend. I'm quite proud of it. So if you read E-books and are curious, well, here's your chance to buy it cheap.

End of commercial pitch.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

"10 Can't-Miss Books...."


So one of my books made another click-bait list, this one titled "10 Can't-Miss Books like Carnival Row That Feature Magic and Murder." 

 I haven't read everything on the list but those books I have read, I admired. So I'm pleased that The Iron Dragon's Daughter is there.

And maybe I ought to check out Carnival Row as well.

You can find the list here.


Monday, July 27, 2020

Book of Dragons AMA -- Going on NOW!


There is a Book of Dragons AMA on Reddit Fantasy going on now (Monday, July 27), as of 9am EST. Editor Jonathan Strahan kicked it off and there is a guest writer every hour.

The schedule is:

 9.00AM EST Jonathan Strahan
10.00AM EST JY Yang
11.00AM EST Ken Liu
12.00AM EST Elle Katherine White
2.00PM EST Jo Walton
3.00PM EST CSE Cooney
4.00PM EST Ellen Klages
5.30PM EST Jonathan Strahan T

You can find the AMA by clicking here.

And you'll have noticed . . .

I'm not among the people taking part in the AMA. I should mention that this isn't because I made myself persona non grata with my peers or decided the enterprise was beneath me. The problem was that when this thing was being set up, I suddenly started solving the problems that were hanging up a number of short stories, so I've been writing furiously and finishing stories at a rate quite remarkable for me. So I was distracted and didn't get around to volunteering to help out. Mea culpa.

On the other hand, I should have this problem all the time.


Friday, July 24, 2020

17 Story Openings


Going over the typescript for a partially-written story, I discovered that a couple of days ago I had written the openings for 17 stories on the backs of the pages. Since I'm (probably) never going to do anything with them, I thought I'd share them with you. If you happen to want to use one, feel free. There's plenty more where these came from.

1. It was night, as it always was.

2. After five thousand years, the ship arrived. Too late, too late, too late!

3. The night before the end of the universe was lush and sultry.

4. The moon was full and our arsenals too.

5. The dogs howled at twilight, passing the news on and on. Mankind was dead

6. A goldfish in a fishbowl knows as much of the universe as do you and I.

7. There are over forty different species of fish in the sea. How dare the biologists say it's dying?

8. Three times I killed you. three times the universe was reset to bring you back. This time I'll you and the universe too.

9. I was the fourteenth woman and the third differently-abled person of color to set foot on Pluto. So close to the history books, and so far from anybody caring!

10. Human flesh is gourmet food in thirty-seven civilizations in this arm of the Milky Way alone. Which is why I got a degree in law.

11. How can you doubt I care for you? My zombie armies are about to destroy everything you care about. Leaving only me for you to love.

12. All the waters run to the sea. All the stars run to the black hole at the center of the galaxy. All the Galaxies run to the Strange Attractor. And all my life runs to thee, my one, my only, my dearest love.

13. The chair was plotting against me. I knew it. It knew I knew.  We both knew that nobody else would ever believe it. There was only one passible outcome.

14. After the Event, she was the last woman on Earth. Every straight man and would-be father in the world wanted her. Which was ironic, given her dating history.

15. The micro-aliens invaded Earth in 2170. They were successful in creating cities in the bloodstreams of all the major mammals, including humans. Then came the nano-aliens desireous of their internal habitats.

16.A sewer worker dreamed he was the philosopher Chuang-tse dreaming he was a butterfly. It was the most wonderful dream he had ever had and he wanted never to awaken from it. The analogy to your situation is obvious.

17. Life is real, life is earnest! And your place in it is as comic relief.

And you may be wondering . . .

Just why did I bother with this exercise? Three reasons, really: To keep in practice, to reassure myself that I still can, and just in case. Decades ago, when I was working as a church secretary in West Philly, I arrived at work early and set myself the challenge of writing ten opening sentences. Number six or seven or eight was "There was something ugly growing in the air over the altar."

I liked this sentence so much that I wrote the next paragraph. Then the one after that. Eventually, after many twists and turns, I'd written "Covenant of Souls," which was published in Omni, and which pleased my greatly.

Nothing came of this exercise, but so what? No writing is ever wasted, if you're a writer.

Above: "The Pillars of Creation," cropped and colored courtesy of NASA.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

In Which My Book Leads off a List of Grimdark Fantasies...


So I've had the odd experience of learning that The Iron Dragon's Daughter (the first book of the stand-alone trilogy, not to be confused with The Iron Dragon's Mother, the last) leads off a list on The Portalist titled "Gritty and Gray: 12 of the Greatest Grimdark Fantasy Books Ever."

On the one hand I'm gratified to be on the list. On the other, I don't  personally think the Iron Dragon books are so grim and dark as to be defined by that term. There's a lot of joy to be found in them too. But of course, that's not my call. A novel is like a bird. For the longest time you fill its gaping maw with the creamed worms of your imagination. Then one day it wobbles to the edge of the nest, spreads its wings and takes an awkward leap... and is published.

From then on, its roosts where it wills. The writer's authority over it is no more. It belongs to the readers now.

Let them make of it what they will.

You can find the list here, by the way.


Thursday, July 16, 2020

Communicating With the Future


A while ago, I shared a link for this video... only to learn that the link was broken. (My thanks to "Unknown" for pointing this out.) I corrected the mistake, but of course not so many visitors saw it.

So here it is again.



Monday, July 13, 2020

Puck and Till Eulenspiegel


Two old friends from my childhood have come to stay with me! That's Puck on the left and Till Eulenspiegel on the right. They're both dolls.

Till and Puck were gifts from Mrs. Kressner, our next-door neighbor, back in the 1950s. The Kresners were very good friends of the family and their son Bernie, several years older than me, was my hero. He built rockets, kept snakes (temporarily) in cages, collected butterflies, and so on. My sisters, Patty and Mary Carol and I knew that we could drop by Mrs. Kressner's house anytime and she would give us cookies or other treats she had baked herself.

I have no idea why Mrs. Kressner decided to give Puck to my sister Patty and Till Eulenspiegel to me. But I know that they survive to this day because my mother, who was a doll collector in a minor way, confiscated them both and kept them safe in a cabinet with her own dolls.

When I went off to college, I realized that I was going to be traveling light for the next decade, and I gave Til to my sister Mary who, I knew, would appreciate him. And that was that.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when out of the Blue Mary Carol sent me Till, which I thought extremely generous of her. Then, learning of Mary's gift, Patty sent him Puck. Which knocked me flat.

So Till and Puck are united. I haven't found the right place of honor in which to display them yet, but I will.

Both Puck and Till Eulenspiegel are tricksters and as such, a secret but very real presence in my fantasy. I thought of them often when I was writing the Iron Dragon trilogy.


Friday, July 10, 2020

The Book of Dragons


I'm in print yet again! My story, "Dragon Slayer" is in Jonathan Strahan's new anthology, The Book of Dragons. 

Back when I was a teen, I really needed this book--and nothing at all like it existed either. Stories about dragons were as scarce as... well, as scarce as dragons. When I first conceived of being a writer, one of my ambitions was to write a dragon story someday. A dragon story for adults, I mean, not one of those charming, served-up-with-a-tolerant-smirk things they fed children.

And now, after writing three dragon-haunted novels, I find a story of mine in the book I needed and couldn't have all those long years ago.

But I'm supposed to give you a hard sell for this thing. So here it is:

This book contains stories and a couple of poems by:

Garth Nix, Scott Lynch, R.F. Kuang, Ann Leckie & Rachel Swirsky, Daniel Abraham, Peter S. Beagle, Beth Cato, Zen Cho, C. S. E Cooney, Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Kate Elliott, Theodora Goss, Ellen Klages, Ken Liu, Seanan Maguire, Patricia A McKillip, K. J. Parker, Kelly Robson, me, Jo Walton, Elle Katharine White, Jane Yolen, Kelly Barnhill, Brooke Bolander, Sarah Gailey, and J. Y. Yang.  Beautifully illustrated by Rovina Cai (the cover is below but there are also interior illos for every story).

You can find the announcement here.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Vacuum Flowers EBook Salw TODAY ONLY!!!


Open Road Media, my very active ebook publisher, is having a one-day sale of Vacuum Flowers. TODAY ONLY (that's  Thursday, July 9) it goes on sale for $1.99. So if you've always been curious and like to read ebooks, this is your chance. Vacuum Flowers is loads of fun and ever so well written.

And that's as close to a hard sell as I'll ever get.

And here's the boilerplate:

ISBN13 Title Author Promo Type Country Start Date End Date Promo Price
9781504036504 Vacuum Flowers Swanwick, Michael ORM - Early Bird Books NL US 2020-07-09 2020-07-09 $1.99
9781504036504 Vacuum Flowers Swanwick, Michael ORM - Early Bird Books NL CA 2020-07-09 2020-07-09 $1.99

You can subscribe to the newsletters at the links below so that you will get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears.

Newsletter Link
  Early Bird Books     Subscribe Now  
The Lineup Subscribe Now
The Portalist Subscribe Now
Murder & Mayhem Subscribe Now
A Love So True Subscribe Now
The Archive Subscribe Now
The Reader Subscribe Now


Monday, July 6, 2020

"Artificial People" in Clarkesworld


I'm in print again! My story "Artificial People" is in the current issue of Clarkesworld. 

"Artificial People" was plotted out during Sparks and Embers: a Lyric Fest concert at  The Academy of Vocal Arts. The concert was described in the program book as "Imaginative song pairings to ponder the spark of new life, new seasons and new love, with the embers of endings."

So now you know where stories come from and what my story is about.

 You can find my story here. Or just go to and wander about.

And while I'm lockdowning . . .

I have often observed that when I'm my most productive, I look the least so, and when I'm the least productive is when all the stories in the pipeline appear. Right now is the exception. "Artificial People" is the first of several stories coming out soon and I'm simultaneously working on at least a half dozen projects at once.

But am I content? No. Because I'm not currently working on a novel.

Gonnabe writers, take this lesson the heart: You will never be happy. I once heard George R. R. Martin complain that a story of his wasn't going to make it onto the Nebula ballot, while holding two fresh-won Hugo Awards in his arms.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

a writer's diary

I finished a story on Friday but had mixed feelings about it. It seemed simultaneously too weird and yet ultimately not strange enough, not enough of a challenge to our common beliefs, to justify the liberties I had taken with it. So I showed it to Marianne and Sean. Marianne was unsure what she thought, but expressed hesitations. Sean, of course, knew exactly what he didn't like about it and told me.

I had been planning to shove the thing in the pie closet and forget it for a few years. But their comments, when put together inside my skull, made me realize how to fix it. So I jotted down a few notes and I'll do the revision Monday morning. Then put the story into the pie closet for God knows how long.

Marianne thinks it may be unpublishable, for reasons that seem eminently sensible to me. But this has never been a sensible occupation. Anyway, if it isn't publishable, it will give scholars something to find in my papers. A small frisson for them, a little joke for me.


Monday, June 29, 2020

My Virtual Weekend


I had two virtual events over the weekend. One I saw but did not actively participate in. The other I anticipated in but did not see.

First was the Locus Awards Ceremony. I watched some panels and then the ceremony itself. My novel, The Iron  Dragon's Mother was up for Best Fantasy Novel... and lost. Which happens rather a lot. Marianne got curious and went to Wikipedia, where she found that only Robert Silverberg, Gardner Dozois, and Ellen Datlow have more Locus Award nominations than I do, though many others have more wins. 

So I'm the loser-est. Woot!

Anyway, it was fun. I wore my most colorful shirt (that's it up above) , and I wholeheartedly congratulate all the winners.

Meanwhile, in China, it was Youth Art Week.  So the Future Affairs Administration partnered with the China Academy of Arts to present a forum with the theme "Bits, Genes, Arts, the Future and Past of the Human Mind." Which is, you'll agree, a pretty big theme. For my part, I was asked to do a ten-minute presentation on communicating with human beings a thousand years in the future. So I did, and it came out pretty well.

If you're curious, you can see a video of my presentation here.

Like everyone else, I'm beginning to think this whole coronavirus pandemic thing is pretty boring. So it was pleasant to feel connected, briefly, with friends on the West Coast and in China. I'm grateful for that.

And speaking of Connie Willis . . .

As always, Connie Willis did a wonderful job emceeing. She makes it look effortless. In fact, she did so good a job, I think she should consider taking a leaf from the Romans by having a minion standing by her shoulder while she's entertaining the crowds to occasionally murmur, "Remember you're writer."

Just so she keeps on with the novels and stories.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Devil's Ways


I'm in print again! My quite charming story "Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown" has been reprinted in Devil's Ways, a Dragonwell Publishing anthology assembled by Anna Kashina and J. M. Sidorova. I haven't seen a copy yet, but just look at those names!

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about it:

The Devil goes globe-trotting in this eclectic anthology that explores the many guises of the Dark Lord across cultures and ages. Persephone D’Shaun’s shocking “Nzembe” is a twisted tale of zombie-like creatures set in the plains of Africa with an ending some readers will find hard to stomach. An unnamed girl tries to steal back her heart from her winged lover in R.S.A. Garcia’s lyrical “Fire in His Eyes, Blood on His Teeth,” which draws from Caribbean folklore and the legend of Nanny of the Maroons. Feminist themes carry through many of the tales. Imogen Howson’s “Frayed Tapestry,” which follows an amnesiac woman and her manipulative husband, is a bit too on the nose, but elsewhere gender dynamics are handled more gracefully, as in “Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown” by Michael Swanwick, in which 15-year-old Su-yin follows her father into hell, where she must endure a series of horrible dates in order to save him from eternal damnation, and in Nancy Kress’s brilliant “Unto the Daughters,” a powerful reimagining of the story of Adam and Eve. Though horror fiends may be disappointed to find little blood-curdling terror, there are very few duds among these wide-ranging tales. Readers are in for a devilish treat. 

That, my friends, is what we call a rave review.

My congratulations to Anna Kashina and J. M. Sidorova for having created what looks to be one splendid book. When it arrives, I plan to put down whatever I'm reading and devoour every word of it, from cover to cover.

Except for my story, of course. I already know how that comes out.

You can find the book on the Dragonwell Publishing page here. Or, you know, have your local independent bookstore order it. Those guys are on the front lines of civilization and we want them still in business when the coronavirus is no more.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Gulliver's Wife... from Dragonstairs!


If there's a silver lining to this coronacloud, it's  that the self-enforced lockdown has led Marianne Porter to work on some interesting publications for Dragonstairs Press.

Case in point: Gulliver's Wife. This is a story I wrote in nine single-page chapters, based on illustrations by W. T. Horton. For it, Marianne has created a hand-sewn, signed, limited edition of 50, most of which will be available for purchase. From her press release:

When Gulliver was lost at sea, his wife did not stay at home, wringing her hands, but went out in search of him. Her voyage to the Moon and back and what she learned in the process are recounted in nine swift chapters, inspired by the Golden Dawn visionary artist, W. H. Horton. 
 Gulliver's Wife will be available for sale at, on Tuesday June 16, 2020 starting at noon, Eastern DST. 

The chapbook will cost, if I recall correctly, $13 domestic and $15 out of country.

Marianne does not take advance orders.

And if this is your sort of thing . . .

You might want to set your phone alarm for noon, if you hope to buy a copy of Gulliver's Wife. The last time Marianne offered a chapbook in an edition of 50 for sale, it sold out in 16 minutes.

She hates it when I tell her I expect this one to sell out even faster. But I do.


Monday, June 8, 2020

Retro-Review: "The Bucket of Blood" by John O'Hara

The Cape Cod Lighter by O'Hara, John

Sometimes I feel out of touch with all the world. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in my admiration of John O'Hara's short fiction.

In his heyday, O'Hara was known for writing scandalous fiction in which adults had sex with people they were not married to and didn't necessarily like. Worse, he based much of his work on the sins and lives of people he knew. Consequently, for decades, his name was anathema in Pottsville, PA, his hometown. After his death, he was pretty much written off as a sociological writer of upper-middle-class East Coast America. If this makes you feel no obligation whatsoever to read his work... well, you're far from alone.

But then there's "The Bucket of Blood." The story begins as a profile of Jay Detweiler, alcoholic and former carnie, who becomes the owner and proprietor of the eponymous dive bar. It pauses to explain why the bar doesn't deserve that title and give the history of the other bar in town so-named and why it does. In wonderfully granular detail, it explores the interrelationships of the police, the politicians, and the underworld. It examines how a man can run an honest business in a dishonest world. This is a story such as Joseph Mitchell, the author of Up in the Old Hotel, might have written, had he devoted his life to fiction.

(Footnote: If you haven't read Up in the Old Hotel, order it now, via your favorite independent book store and read it as soon as it comes in. You'll thank me.)

This is as small-town a story as it's possible to imagine. Midway through it, Jay reflects, "It amused him to think back over his first year and to realize that in all that time he had lived in an area that was roughly four blocks by three," but in that space O'Hara created a world. One with vivid people--a criminal too stupid to live, an honest-enough crooked cop, a prostitute who has unrealistic ambitions that no honest reader could blame her for--and a small but carefully examined life spent as wisely and well as you and I can hope for our own.

Bob Dylan famously wrote, "to live outside the law, you must be honest." If you're like me, a little voice in the back of your head said, "Oh, yeah? Prove it!" This is John O'Hara's proof, written long before the first word of "Absolutely Sweet Marie" was penned. O'Hara had a reputation as a cold and sardonic writer. But this story has heart. It recognizes the accomplishment and virtue of a man most of us would never acknowledge exists. It grants him the same absolution that we, in our heart of hearts, devoutly pray for ourselves.

Oh, and I just want to say . . .

As a writer, I can look at a story and have a good idea of how much work went into it. Some of O'Hara's fictions, works that anybody would have been proud to write, could have been tossed off in an afternoon. Not this one. It took blood, sweat, and toil.

It was a work of love. And that love was the love of literature.

Which is why I admire this guy so much. Because he deserves it.

Above: I never have known why the collection was called that.