Monday, December 28, 2015

A New Year, A New Reading Challenge

 Guest post by Jaylee James

The end of the year is a great time for reflecting on what you’ve accomplished in the past year, and where you want to go in the next – what things you wish you had done differently. My planner has a section at the front suggesting I make a list of what I did well in 2016 – what major things happened over the last year – in order to celebrate. It also suggests I take time to think about where my 2016 resolutions went off track so I can better prepare for 2017.

But let’s talk about the most important aspect of the New Year.

It’s time to make our 2016 Reading Challenges on Goodreads.

I’m aiming for 100 books this year. Last year I aimed for 50, then later upped it to 100 because I finished my challenge in June and that’s just no fun at all. No. A reading challenge is no fun unless you are scrambling to finish off your Currently Reading shelf the week after Christmas to a chorus of “Who cares?” and “What does it matter?” and “It’s just a reading challenge,” from your non-reading friends and family.

As I write this, I will need to read … a book every three days in order to finish. Not bad. I’ve definitely done worse. Thank goodness for holidays off from work so I can spend time with family read for hours on end.

Reading should be fun, and personally I think challenges make it more so.

There have been a lot of reading blog challenges floating around the internet this month, such as only reading female authors, or reading two diverse books for every book by a boring ol’ white dude. I saw one on twitter the other day that suggested reading in an alphabet pattern. Your first book begins with A, next must begin with B, etc. (My hearty well-wishes to them for finding books beginning with Q, X, and Z.)

In 2014 I challenged myself to try out new genres, and found that I actually adore mystery novels, and romance novels are not nearly as terrible as I thought they were (in fact, I wound up loving romance so much that I’m now attempting to write it!).

No matter what your reading challenge for 2016, may I suggest that you push yourself to try something you’ve never tried before? Read a genre you’ve never attempted, or make an effort to try out books you previously scorned because of their hideous covers. Maybe pick up a book set in another country, or on a hard topic you generally shy away from.

Surprise yourself next year. I think you’ll find it’s worth it.

What about you… What are your challenges for 2016? Did anything awesome come out of your 2015 challenges?
Jaylee James is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, romance, and variations thereof. She is most well known as the Senior Editor of the LGBT lit mag Vitality Magazine. Her work has appeared in Wings of Renewal, a solarpunk dragon anthology, and her time-travel romance short, Choosing You, was released in November. Visit her at to learn more about her upcoming projects.

Wings of Renewal:
Choosing You:

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Twas The Night Before Christmas

Guest post by Simon Kewin

One of the Christmas traditions that has grown up in our household is to read Clement Clarke Moore’s poem A Visit From St. Nicholas (more commonly called ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas) every Christmas Eve. It’s become a vital part of our family’s celebrations, something our children would miss hugely. I know others do this too. I have a relative whose grown up child lives on the other side of the planet - and still gets the poem read to her via a phone call.

It always amuses me, though, how Christmas as represented by the poem (which was written in 1823) differs from our modern version. Clearly Santa Claus, despite being a timeless and magical entity, is not averse to the vagaries of fashion.

Santa wears fur
 These days he prefers the red outfit with the fur trimmings although for many years he also wore green. In the poem he is dressed in neither – instead he is “all in fur, from his head to his foot”. Hopefully the red outfit keeps him as warm as the fur one did.

Santa is an elf
These days we tend to think of Santa as a man who has elves to help him make the presents and so forth. Back in the early nineteenth century they appeared to think he was one himself, as the poem describes him as “a right jolly old elf.” Of course, this might be metaphorical - or perhaps there is elven blood in Santa’s origins. It might explain some of his incredible magical abilities.

No sign of Rudolph
the most famous of the reindeer – the one with the very shiny nose – doesn’t always help pull Santa’s sleigh. In the year the poem was written, for instance, there were eight reindeer listed and Rudolph isn’t among them. Instead we have Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. Presumably there is a large stable of reindeer at the North Pole, and Santa picks a different team every year. Or perhaps Rudolph was simply having a rest that year.

Santa doesn’t always stay out of sight
Thee days we tend to assume we won’t see Santa when he arrives, but that wasn’t the case back in 1823. The narrator of the poem sees Santa come down the chimney, and Santa doesn’t appear to be concerned. Instead he gives “A wink of his eye and a twist of his head” to tell the narrator “I had nothing to dread”. Perhaps Santa has become more careful over the intervening years.

Santa has the power to alter size
As well as the ability to move at huge speed (or bend time), and to carry a vast weight of presents, Santa also appears to have the ability to change size at will. At one point in the poem his carriage is described as “a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer”, but clearly he can be big enough to carry large presents, too.

Santa has given up smoking
Santa, as an ageless and magical being, presumably doesn’t suffer any of the side-effects of tobacco, but clearly at some point he has given up smoking. In the poem he smokes a pipe, and the smoke “encircled his head like a wreath”. Perhaps he stopped so he didn’t set a bad example to anyone who did manage to catch a glimpse of him.

So, the poem gives us a fascinating insight into Christmas past. I wonder how things will be different in a couple of hundred years from now?

The poem can be found here.

Simon Kewin is the author of over 100 published short and flash stories. His works have appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex and many more. He lives in England with his wife and their daughters. The second volume in his Cloven Land fantasy trilogy has just been published. Find him at

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Failure to Launch

Novel outline is close to done, even if I've gutted the novel again, wrote a new beginning, culled the cast, and rewrote the motivations of the significant players. It sits at 30% of goal but I did put together an ending that should make sense given what I've planned. This is going to be a hard sell for so many reasons, but it's a goal and milestone. Plus I promised someone and that's a big commitment.

In other news, I was handed two invites for anthologies. It's nice when editors ask you to submit, it's not a guarantee acceptance, but damn you have to screw up big time to fail. Yeah, guess what happened. Not the more brilliant bits of fiction that I've written in the past month. Utterly frustrating when you fail to get past the starting gate. On top of it, I missed two of the three other subs that tickled my fancy. At least the GRONK! universe story got out the door.

As this piece of fiction is pretty specialized, I'm gonna post it here. It's been through a couple of beta readers and an edit. There's probably spelling errors, missing words, confusing story, and other issues. It also contains swearing, blood, violence, a lot of political incorrectness, and unicorns. You have been warned.


You know what I hate the most about humans? Their sheer inability to get it. They’re a mass of hubris, narcissism, and stupidity that - when faced with the truth - would rather bury it and carry on with the party while the house burns down around them. As I told the creator many times, just wipe them out and let something better evolve in their place; like the octopus. I mean really, humanity wasn’t planned in the first place, just an accident 'cause she didn’t clean up after making the universe. Like the stray sperm after you’ve fucked your partner really well and left with a few dribbles afterward. That’s how it happened, an unplanned creation that wasn't caught until too late.

We'd talk for hours about humanity and she insisted you had limitless potential. She even took your form and preached a message of peace to help you grow into responsible stewards of the earth. That experiment ended with a messy death. You jacked-up little monkeys escaped my wrath only because she ordered me to stand down. Well, now you’ve gone and done it. You little fuckers are about to start the final war and kill all life on the planet. All her efforts gone to waste. Its been four thousand years of observing the mighty human jack things up, over and over and over. The creator’s given me leave to make things right. Finally.

 Oh right, who am I? I’m the Unicorn of the Apocalypse. There’s no other horsemen [another thing you humans got wrong], but I do have an army and we’re coming to wipe out humanity. It’s going to be glorious. Now, the creator’s a merciful being and she’s not going to punish the innocent. They’re all safely in her realm enjoying milk and cookies. The rest of you assholes are about to have a very bad day and a much worse eternity.

* * *

Shawn paused to flick the lint off his collar and square his shoulders. His jeans were a touch too tight today, but Sarah loved the way they clung to his ass. His flannel shirt was run-of-the-mill, but the hat, oh my god, that was something special. A grey pork pie found on a shelf at Goodwill. It sat perfect on his head and only cost a few bucks. The first drops of rain pattered down from the now cloudy sky.  

Just in time.

The thought had barely formed when the ground heaved and bucked, sending him sprawling into the planter box as his newly found treasure rolled into the gutter.

“My hat!” he wailed. A BMW X3 crushed it flat as the soccer mom bumped over the curb, spilled her Starbucks, and dropped in her cell phone. He saw the surprise on her face for just a second, before the SUV hit the cement bench and the air bags popped.
I hope the bitch broke her nose.

Asphalt cracked and jerked apart to send geysers of chunky, brown water into the air. The US Bancorp tower, or the Big Pink, as the locals called it, wobbled from side to side, like an erection flicked in jest. Glittering shard of glass reflected the few rays of sun that pierced the clouds. A rainbow cascade of razor-edged death plummeted towards the earth below.

“Sucks to be them,” he muttered, trying to regain his balance. His foot slipped in the noisome goo, sending him sprawling to the ground.

The soccer mom staggered out of her BWM, with a hand covering her nose to stop the flow of crimson. Bystanders moved this way and that, dodging the noxious spray and semi-solid lumps that rained out of the sky. Shawn crawled over the unstable ground, snapping up his ruined hat.

“My hat! It was perfect!” He rounded on the driver. “You stupid slut, why the fuck weren't paying attention!”

She glared at him and mumbled something behind her hand.

“Speak up, you sound like you have a dick in your mouth!”

“Fuck you and your hat, you useless hipster!” she screamed, letting the blood flow down her face. She spit blood and took a step forward. “I'm gonna...”

Shawn blinked in surprise as the silver horn punched through her chest. Crimson fluid coated his face as the driver's heart pumped squirts of blood.


He stared as the corpse slid off the horn with a long slurp and collapsed into the growing puddle of waste. Her bowels slackened and added a fresh steaming pile at her feet. The unicorn looked up, red eyes blazing. It pawed and stamped on the ground with a black hoof, throwing its head back and forth, silver mane flowing and waving in response. Horse of all colors, markings, and size galloped from the cracks in the ground. With each hoofbeat came the sound of thunder and crack of lightning. Red eyes. Silver manes. Blood stained muzzles.

“What. The. Fuck.”

“I would run if I were you,” the unicorn said. “You've got to the count of ten.”

* * *

 I'll give the little hipster props, he almost made it the end of the street by the time I hit ten. Didn't do him a damn bit of good when the aftershock hit and he stumbled out into the street. Teabug Pretty Mane got him with a rear kick, breaking his leg and rupturing an artery. Little poser was dead before he hit the street. Organs popped with spurts of blood and a meaty squelch as the stampede followed her to chase down the other runners. When they'd past, only smears of sticky fluid, bits of meat, flecks of gristle, and shattered shards of bones remained.

Gunfire always attracts attention. A cop, his comb-over flopping in the breeze, yanked on the mare's reins. She skittered and reared back, neighing and whinnying at the commotion, and pawing the air. Little known fact that most of the horses in the world have a bit of my bloodline in them. Nightmares in potentia. That asshole was about to get a rude surprise.

The creator frowned at my dalliances, but she's one to talk about getting around. Another thing you humans fucked up... heh, fucked up... Seriously, sex is awesome; it feels good and mellows you out. If you guys screwed more and fought less, I wouldn't be doing the four-hoof shuffle on your corpses. I hope whatever evolves after you pricks takes things a bit less serious.

But you say, hey he's a cop. One of the good guys.


His list of sins was on display for all to see. It helps us weed out the innocent from the guilty as fuck. Murder. Theft. Jaywalking. Everything a person in power could conceivably get away with and more.
“Stand down, you stupid nag!” He yanked hard on the reins, pulling her muzzle down to his level. The mare pulled back her lips and bit. Hard. Not one of those little nips, but a full-on, fuck-you, chomp into the cop's leg. Blood coated her head as it spurted from the wound. A laughing neigh came from her throat as she swallowed the chunk of meat.

Did I mention nightmares are carnivores? Might have slipped my mind.

“Why... what... how?” His hands clamped down on the wound, slowly the fountain of crimson. He paled and his eyes fluttered. “But you were my partner...”

She snorted and flicked her head. Her eyes shifted to a glowing red. With a slow deliberation, she placed her hoof on his chest and pinned him to sidewalk. His ribcage held up well for having a ton of Percheron pressing down. He gasped for breath, clawing and beating on her leg. His face turned beet red, then purple as his struggles slowed and a frantic desperation shone in his eyes. With a final shudder, his arms fell to the side and his legs gave a last twitch. She dipped her muzzle and tore out his heart.

Like father, like daughter. Makes me proud.

* * *

“What the hell?” screamed Reverend Justin Brown. The chapel rocked and lurched with the first rolling waves of the quake and the sharp aftershocks. Candles tipped off the altar, sputtering out as they broke apart. The pulpit pitched forward into the nave, breaking in two upon impact with the front pews. “God must hate me.”

All around him dust swirled and light flickered, then snuffed out as the electricity failed. Great. Mrs. Simmons is going to be late or not show up. How the hell am I going bust a nut now?

“Padre!” shrieked Mrs. Diego weaving out from the vestry and wringing her hands. The elderly cleaning lady's breasts bounced and jiggled beneath the loose blouse. “What's is happening?”

“No cause for concern. Just an earthquake. It will pass soon.”

“Marie is missing, Padre. I sent her to clean the bathrooms and now she's gone.”

That bit of news piqued his interest. He knew the young lady. He'd overseen her confirmation and she was the spitting image of her mother. Reverend Brown patted her hand, lingering in a friendly, reassuring manner. “No worries. We'll find her once the building has stopped shaking.”

“If you say so, Padre.” The edge of doubt crept into her voice, as she drew back.
And if I find her first, she'll get an education about her place in the scheme of things. Like her mother learned. “Let us head to the backroom and commence our search.”


Wood splintered and cracked as the bronze bell tore itself from the yoke. Gravity accelerated it down along with the stone tower, crashing through the rafters with the force a freight train. Sunlight streamed into the chapel through the cloud of dust, illuminating what electricity no longer did.

“Padre! An angel!” Mrs. Diego pointed at the gap in the broken ceiling.

He followed her finger, blinking to clear his blurred vision. Silhouetted against the light, a figure hovered, flapping majestic feathered wings. Its head was too long and legs too skinny, but what else could it be? A twinge of fear gripped his stomach as a cold dread pierced his soul. Oh, Jesus.
It alighted between the pews, feet clicking on the hard wood floor. Red eyes cut through the gloom, baleful orbs that emanated hate and disdain.

“What do you want? Have you come to pass judgment on me?” His voice broke as he spoke.


“Padre. We must pray for our souls.” The cleaning lady dropped to her knees and pressed her hands together. “Forgive me for I have sinned. Let me confess before you and God!”

The angel neighed, flapped its wings, and reared up. Silver hooves flashed once. Mrs. Diego's head split open at the impact. Grey flecks of brains burst from her ruptured skull, colored with a thin coat of red. She sagged and toppled to the side without a sound, other than the noisome emptying of her bowels.
It's a horse? He ran to the altar, snatched up a silvered candlestick, and waved it at the gloom. “Be gone spawn of Satan! You have no power here!”

Unseen wings flapped and blew dust in his face. He coughed and choked, the impromptu weapon clattering to the ground. Hot, dank breath tickled the back of his neck.

“Oh, sweet Jesus.”

* * *

I have to admit that I didn't come up with the Pegasus breed. Of all people, The Morningstar [that's Lucifer for those unfamiliar with the Bible] suggested putting wings on the cleverest of the host and the rest is history. They're faster than anything that runs, swims, flies, or crawls. They aren't nearly as robust as the nightmares, but that's just a matter of degrees. The creator gave them the task of taking out hypocrites, and boy, do they love it. Dropping victims from ten stories up is a game to them.

The pastor prayed and cursed in turns, then screamed like one of his victims as he fell. He made a nice red Jackson Pollock on the street once the flight had enough of playing hacky-sack with him. Between the host and natural selection, the herd of unrighteous shrank quickly. Fewer and fewer juicy targets showed themselves, digging deep to hide. Not that it would do them any good. Time to summon the ponies.

* * *

“What the hell's going on, Anthony? There's a horse breathing flames and trampling down anyone that runs! I saw one of them spear your brother and then roast the corpse for good measure.” Edgar S. Burgle, lobbyist and lawyer for Crutch Pharmaceuticals, clutched at the lapels of his boss.

“Get a hold of yourself,” he sneered, slapping away the man's hands with stinging blow. “I'm sure the military will take care of it. In the meantime, we've got this bunker and plenty of supplies. Two years' worth of quality food, wine, and recreational options.”

Edgar looked at the vault of crates, boxes, and water tanks. It stretched off in the gloom, the red emergency lighting unable to chase away all the shadows. To the left, a putting green occupied a prominent piece of space. “We should find others. There's more than enough space.”

“Nonsense. Why risk opening up the door and being overrun by the public. Please relax and enjoy the quiet. There's a nice bottle of red that my dearly departed brother was kind enough to leave us.” Anthony patted his bag of clubs. “Perhaps a couple rounds of practice will relieve some of the tension.”

“Jesus. We're just going to let them get killed?”

“Please, think of the more important issues at hand. Our stocks are going to tank after this, but once we move in to supply nations with needed medical supplies and services, our options will skyrocket.”

“Are you serious? It's the end of the world and all you can think about it is your fortune? People are dying out there and we should help them, not horde ill-gotten goods.

Appealing to my charitable nature? That's very surprising of you, Edgar. After all the work you did to scuttle the child care health act, I'd thought you beyond such charity.”

He groaned at the memories. “Yeah, bring that up at a time like this. How many died because of that?”

“No one important. If they could afford the health care, they deserved to live. It's Social Darwinism. Some of us are simply more important than others.”


“Now what?” Anthony muttered, turning towards the video screen. Bodies littered the access hallway; a trampled mush of flesh, bone, and blood. In the midst of the carnage, a dun Shetland pony buried her muzzle into the belly of particularly fat man. Ropes of intestines slurped out of the cavity as she tossed her head back and forth. The victim's eyes bulged and his mouth opened in a soundless screen.

Edgar gave thanks that his boss was too cheap to include sound. “On second thought, we should stay here.”

“Thank you for the statement of the obvious,” his boss sneered.

Just as the edge of camera range, a silver dapple pony pranced and hopped in a circle. On its rump a mark, in the shape of a closed fist, glowed red-hot. His companion's mark glowed just as bright, a crimson drop from the wavy blade of a dagger. He rushed at the door, twisting in mid rush to present his backside, and kicked.


The pony glared at the camera, then turned to the door to nuzzle it. Two dents, perfect impressions of hoofs, adorned the metal barrier.

“How the hell?”

“We're going to die. Killed by ponies.” Edgar giggled at the thought. All his sins coming back to roost. All those kids that died. His fault. All his fault. His head rang with slap.

“Get a grip, man or I'll kill you myself!”

Anthony 'Tony” Crutch. Sixth richest man in the world. The man who planned that campaign that he'd seen pushed through. He guided all the business decisions with his brother's approval. Preying on the weak and defenseless. Not caring about anything except the bottom line. He even turned his back on the one man that supported him. I did all his dirty work, the ungrateful bastard.

 Edgar stood up and pulled a nine iron out of the bag. They were the best clubs that money could buy. He'd seen the amount of invoice. A family of four could have lived for a year with enough for a modest vacation.

“Hands off my clubs, Edgar,” said Anthony with a deep scowl on his face.


“No.” He swung low, catching his boss in the nuts and feeling resistance against bone. The man gave a sharp gasp, doubling over with pain written all over his face.

“What.. the... hell...”

“FOUR!” Bone splintered and the club bent as the second blow landed on the cheek. Tony's jaw hung open, blood flowing from the shattered teeth and torn gums. Red spit, flaked with white, spattered on the floor. “Hey, my swing's improved. Guess all I needed was a giant prick to aim at.”

Whimpers and whines of protest issued from the bleeding man, muffled by one hand covering the remains of his lower face as the other clutched at his ruined testicles.

“What's that, Tony? Can't hear you from the all the bullshit you've been been spilling. No snappy come backs?” Edgar tossed the useless club and drew out a driver. “It's all your fault. You caused this.”

His boss glared at the shortening of his name, replacing fear and pain for a brief second. The former-CEO scrambled across the floor, towards the metal door that now visibly bowed inward. Cracks covered the metal hinges.

“Hey, quit trying to get away.” He landed the next blow on the knee, then another, then another. Meaty smacks filled the air with a slurred scream following after. “Let's see how you like to take it in the ass.”

Tony cried as he drug himself forward with his arms. His body smeared the blood leaking from his face, crotch, and knee. He pressed against the metal door, hands raised in defense.



Edgar paused and stared at the hinges and pins, now sheared and broken. It groaned and creaked, staying upright by sheet weight and inertia.

Tap. The metal rang with the sound of the slightest of blows.

“Ahhhhhh!” Tony shrieked, a terror filled wail of a man faced with his imminent death and finding no way to escape. His body folded at the waist as the former barrier pressed down, popping vertebrae like a series of gunshots.

Edgar stumbled back as a fresh wave of blood flooded out. The driver dropped from his hand, diverting the flow of liquid into a drain. “Holy shit!”

Clop. Clop. Clop.

Two knee-high ponies sauntered out of the gloom, pushing the metal slab down. The dun stopped at the far end, while the dapple hovered at the near end. He jumped up and came down, lifting his partner off the end. His boss's body provided a pivot point. A wet, meaty point that compressed lower and lower until only hamburger remained. Their eyes never left his.

“It's not my fault.” Edgar pointed to the smear leaking for under-hoof. “I was just following orders! I'm innocent!”

The pair of ponies nickered, a mocking laugh that chilled his soul. On their flanks, the marks glowed a dull orange that spread to their manes and filled their eyes.

Clop. Clop. Clop.

“Give me a second chance! I can change!”

Orange flame leaked from their muzzles.

“Oh God...”

* * *

Twin blasts of fire reduced the begging man to a chunk of charcoal. Talk about denial, Egypt, and a river. These members of the host were the newest breed. You humans come up with the funniest shit at times and we're not above copying the ideas if they suit us. I'm sure some lawyer or another would try to sue us to enforce the IP laws as convenient. They can go fuck themselves. Well, some devil's probably doing that already or they're upside down in room of shit. Just desserts either way.

The pair pranced out of the tunnel to join a herd of their fellows. They were small in number as well as size, but even the nightmares gave them a wide berth. I think the creator might have put a bit too much 'little man syndrome' in the mix. Can't argue with the results.

Speaking of which, the last of the Portlandia shit-stains had kicked the metaphorical bucket and it was time to move on. I think Seattle was next on the list and first place order of business would be anyone in that phallic eyesore in the middle. There's bound to be a bunch of frightened pricks in need of a good judgment along with all those other self-righteous, social-media, pseudo-caring activists.

God, it's great to be me.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Burn Out & Recovery

It's been some time since my last blog post. Work and life have consumed my time and while I always mean to come back here, it's never been a priority. Gonna change that.

I hit a wall in December after NaNoWriMo. Burned out. Disinterested in my big novel project. Zero passion in writing. There was a real struggle to get any words written for two months. I could blame the holidays and work, but it boils down to me in the end. The past couple of years I've been focused on short stories and this novel is a whole different beast. A demanding, needy beast that consumes everything. Add in a self-imposed deadline, mix, and watch it implode. By the end of the month I'd let it go, writing when the mood struck and poking with disinterest at other projects.

March got me back into the writing mood, letting me finish two short stories and do a revision to the third. So far I've gotten one acceptance and one rejection with the other third at the beta readers. Feeling much better about things, my head's in a good place and things are rolling along.

I finished the first draft of the novel and it needs a lot of help to be honest. Too many characters, lacking in focus on the central conflict, and there's no single "face" to the enemy. Lots of minions, but no boss or lieutenant to chew up scenery or truly menace the protagonist. I'm diving back into prose and starting to restructure the first chapter. I know who the enemy's stooge is and can plan around that fact. Plus I get to use more of the side-story idea to show what's going on behind the scenes. The cast is down to a handful now and been shuffled around so it makes sense why certain events happen. And tension. If there's one thing that comes back time and again from the beta readers is that I need to racket up the tension. So I did. The protagonist has to deal with two issues of a very personal nature.

On a non-writing related note, I've been impressed with Jurassic World, Avengers 2,Inside Out, and Mad Max: Fury Road. Looking forward to seeing Ant-Man, the new Stars Wars movie, Minions, Terminator Genisys, & the Fantastic Four reboot. Been quite a good year for movies and hoping that 2016 is just as good. I did see that we'll have to wait until 2018 for the Godzilla sequel from Legendary, but there's Pacific Rim 2 & a Japanese Godzilla in the meantime to fill the Kaiju / Giant Robot need.