Author Spotlight: “THINGS TO BRING, THINGS TO BURN, THINGS BEST LEFT BEHIND” (Fantasy Magazine, Issue #63)

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Hi all! As of today, my new story, “Things to Bring, Things to Burn, Things Best Left Behind” is available to read online at Fantasy Magazine, along with an author spotlight on yours truly! I was truly humbled and delighted to be given this chance to talk about my writing process and the various works and ideas which inspired TtBTtBTBLB, and interviewer Reece Michaelson’s questions were simply a pleasure to answer. Check it out if you can!*

* After checking out the following content warnings, of course:

Content warnings for the Author Spotlight: non-graphic discussion of depression, suicide, and suicidal ideation

Content warnings for “Things to Bring, Things to Burn, Things Best Left Behind:” a (non-graphic) near-suicide-attempt on the first page, suicidal ideation throughout, and several brief, implied mentions of transphobia and an emotionally abusive parent.

— CEM

What I’m Reading: The House in the Cerulean Sea

An image of the book The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T. J. Klune.

Long time no post! I’m trying to get back into the habit of posting about the books I’m reading, so I thought I’d start off with The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune. This is the first of T. J. Klune’s books I’ve read, dare I say the first of MANY, because this book was just so damn good. I originally picked it up because I saw that V. E. Schwab had described it as “like being wrapped up in a big gay blanket,” and by golly folks, she’s right; if you’re looking for something to soothe your nerves in these trying times then this is it!

The House in the Cerulean Sea follows Linus Baker, a reserved and sensible man who works as a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. Linus leads a dreary life in the city, in which his only joy in life seems to be the beach-themed mousepad on his office desk; this all changes, however, when he’s given a secret assignment by Extremely Upper Management and send to inspect an orphanage on scenic Marsyas Island. As he gets to know the orphanage’s mysterious caretaker Arthur Parnassus, as well as his six charges (children classified by the department as ‘extremely dangerous’), Linus is forced to reconsider everything he knows about the system he works for. (And, of course, fall in luurv!) (That isn’t a spoiler. If you can’t tell from the jacket blurb that romance is on the table here then clearly you don’t understand the meaning of “big gay blanket.”)

I’m always a sucker for found family, so you can probably imagine that this book grabbed me squarely in the feelings and did not let go. As well as being charming and funny throughout (at the beginning especially, the surreal satire of office drudgery gave me Douglas Adams/Terry Pratchett vibes), it also addresses the othering of minorities and the cruelty of government bureaucracy towards disadvantaged populations — even those groups they supposedly claim to protect. All in all a lovely reading experience, and I highly recommend!

‘Til next time,

— CEM

What I’m Reading: The Inverts

Last night I finally got a chance to sit down and binge the rest of THE INVERTS by Crystal Jeans (coming April 2021)! My lovely agent gave me a proof of this one way back in October, but for several reasons (i.e. moving into a new house, painting & fixing up said new house, editing my book, and Having Seasonal Depression) it took me a ridiculous amount of time to finish this one. In the meantime, it’s been sitting upon my windowsill prettying up my view each day, because honestly, have you seen this cover?? The instant I saw it, it made me yearn both for a packet of rainbow Nerds and a bespoke purple suit to wear to lavish gay dinner parties. (Although unfortunately, given the state of 2020, the only one of these which I foresee in my future is a whole lot of Nerds.)

As one might be able to guess from the excellent cover, The Inverts is about two best friends, Bart and Bettina, who decide to get married — to disguise the fact that they’re both gay. The book follows their lives through the glitz of the 20s, the glam of the 30s, and the grim days of the 40s, as their friendship is tested to its limits by the strain of war and parenthood. I will admit I was quite surprised by how serious the book got at times, given that it seemed quite light-hearted at first; but I am glad that serious side is there, and that Crystal Jeans provided a realistic glimpse here into many of the struggles faced by real queer individuals in the first half of the 20th century.

I absolutely loved Bart and Bettina, and thoroughly enjoyed following their riotous, queer, champagne-soaked adventures. Keep an eye out for this one hitting shelves on April 1st 2021! 📚

— CEM

New Story: “THINGS TO BRING, THINGS TO BURN, THINGS BEST LEFT BEHIND” (Fantasy Magazine, Issue #63)

Image description: a picture of the cover image of issue #63 of Fantasy Magazine, which depicts a robed wizard-like figure drawn in a graffiti art style as well as the text: C. E. McGill, Tonya Liburd, Megan Chee, Marissa Lingen, Magaly Garcia, and Maria Zoccola. Edited by Arley Song and Christie Yant. /end description

Hi all! I’m thrilled to announce that my new story, “Things to Bring, Things to Burn, Things Best Left Behind” just came out in Fantasy Magazine!

TtBTtBTBLB (as I affectionately call it) is a sort of speculative parable about gods and sacrifices, mountains and mental illness—and what happens when the unfortunate soul picked as a sacrifice is all too-willing to go. It’s here, it’s queer, it’s dear to my heart, and it comes with a HEFTY series of content warnings (see below, if you don’t mind the spoilers).

It’s such an honour to be featured in the new reboot of Fantasy, and in such fantastic (ha! Fantast-ic, get it?) company, too. This is also my first ever publication in a pro-rate magazine, so I’m doubly excited! TtBTtBTBLB will be available to read online for free on January 5th, or you can buy issue #63 of Fantasy Magazine for $2.99 and read it right now.

Stay tuned for more yelling later this week when my author spotlight comes out, too—aaaaaaah!!

— CEM

[Trigger/content warnings for “Things to Bring, Things to Burn, Things Best Left Behind:” a (non-graphic) near-suicide-attempt on the first page, suicidal ideation throughout, and several brief, implied mentions of transphobia and an emotionally abusive parent.]

2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge: DONE!

A screenshot of my Goodreads Reading Challenge Page, showing the 60 books I read this year.

A few days ago, I finished reading The Way Back by Gavriel Savit (a Jewish historical fantasy about two children’s charming and macabre adventures through a land of demons called the Far Country), which marks my 60th book read in 2020, and the completion of my Goodreads Reading Challenge for this year! (Phew, squeezed that in JUST under the wire.)

I will admit, I did not start out with a goal of reading 60 books this year. In fact, if I recall correctly, I started at 35 (a modest improvement on my previous year’s total of 30) and hiked it up several times along the way, as I challenged myself further. This was the first calendar year since I started college that I’ve had as much time to read as I’ve always longed for, and I wanted to see just what ridiculous number I could push myself to! (Though in fairness, it must be noted that almost a third of the books I read were middle grade, novellas, or graphic novels, and thus pretty short — so with that in mind I suppose 60 isn’t too ridiculous.)

Here’s to all the wonderful books released this year that helped make 2020 less terrible, and here’s to (hopefully) a safer and saner world in 2021!

— CEM

What I’m Reading: I Wish You All The Best

“I don’t know whether to cry or scream or do both. It feels like I’ve done more than enough of both. And it feels like I haven’t done enough.”

You know when a book makes you cry five times that it’s gotta be good. Either that, or very, very sad. I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver manages be both—not to mention sweet, funny, romantic, and all-too-relatable at times. (And not just because the book is set in Raleigh, where I lived for 15 years. And the main character has the very same name as my own little sib. Cue X-files theme!)

This book follows Ben, a nonbinary teenager, who is kicked out by their parents after coming out to them at New Year. Consequently, Ben is forced to leave their entire life behind and move in with Hannah, their estranged older sister who left the family ten years before. As if high school isn’t a nightmare enough on its own, Ben has to finish their last semester while dealing with panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and (on the more positive side) the relentlessly friendly attention of their new classmate Nathan.

This book hit me hard, both in the gender-feels and mental-health-feels department. While I love the recent influx of stories in which queer characters get to be themselves and go on adventures without worrying about homophobia or transphobia (usually only possible in speculative fiction, unfortunately), I feel that these sorts of stories are just as vital. Trans teens like Ben need to see that even if the worst comes to the worst, even if they end up rejected by the very people in their lives who ought to love them unconditionally, they can still have a happy ending—still find love and family, still build a healthy and happy life despite the awful things they’ve been through. This was such a bittersweet but heart-warming book, and I’m so glad that teens today get to grow up in a world where books like this are waiting for them.

— CEM

A Flimsy Excuse to Show Off This French Apple Tart I Just Made

Hi everyone! I won’t lie—pretty much the only reason for this post right now is to show off this French Apple Tart I just made. I’ve realized in the past few years that I have quite the tendency to stress-bake (in no way at all encouraged by my tendency to stress-binge the Great British Bake-Off), and apparently, interestingly, my level of stress seems to be directly proportional to my proficiency in baking. Hooray?

It’s been an odd few months, y’all. Immediately after moving country in the middle of a pandemic, I signed with an agent (!!!), prepared to move with my family into a beautiful seaside house, learned that said beautiful seaside house was riddled with mold and needed tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of repairs, and sold my first short story to a pro magazine, all while spare-mattress-surfing with various relatives. In the words of Matthew Gray Gubler, “I’ve got one foot in the darkness and the other one in a hello kitty roller skate.”

So, I hope you will understand why I’ve posted this today—a flimsy excuse to show off the French apple tart I’ve just made. Because the fact that I have access to a kitchen at the moment, let alone a spare 3 hours (yes, I know, I’m slow, I would never make it on GBBO) to make a French apple tart, is a downright miracle. And I will relish this small victory of mine for as long as I can.

But enough of that. The point is: everyone look at this French apple tart I just made.

If anyone wants the recipe, let me know; it’s gluten-free, dairy-free, and (I can tell you from experience) delicious with ice cream.

— CEM

What I’m Reading: Girl in the Walls

ACT 2020, SCENE 532,400,741. Enter CHARLIE, hair windswept and glasses askew, with the crazed, hollow-eyed expression of someone who has just moved house (and country) during a global pandemic. In their trembling, housepaint-stained hands is a beautiful proof copy of GIRL IN THE WALLS, by A. J. Gnuse (coming May 2021!)

Hi all!! Finally, I have time to write a review for this book, which my lovely agent was kind enough to send me a copy of last month! I actually finished reading it a couple of weeks ago, but for Reasons (largely related to the aforementioned house move during a global pandemic) I haven’t been able to sit down and put my thoughts on it to paper just yet. Until now!

At first glance, this book is about a young girl named Elise who (for spoilery reasons) ekes out a life living within the hidden spaces of an old Louisiana house. Unbeknownst to the house’s current occupants—a family called the Masons—she sleeps in the attic, crawls through the walls, creeps out while they’re at work to sneak dried cereal from the pantry and watch TV. I say ‘at first glance’ because really, it became quickly apparent to me that this book is about much more than that. It’s about secrets and denial, fear and paranoia; it’s about the terror of being discovered, of being seen; and the terror of discovering something, in turn, that you didn’t expect to find.

I love the way that Elise’s secret life feels both metaphorical and literal all at once. As many people do in response to traumatic experience, she’s chosen to retreat back into the safety of her own life, pretending that she doesn’t exist—because if she doesn’t exist, after all, she doesn’t have to hurt. I also really enjoyed the atmosphere of this book, ominous from the start yet peaceful and bittersweet at the same time, working in perfect concert with the sleepy, eccentric Louisiana house in which the story is set. (Sleepy, that is, until the nail-biting finish, when all is turned upside down and it becomes harder and harder for Elise to hide…!)

So keep an eye out for this book come May 2021! Only one word of warning—if your house is the creaky sort, you may find yourself looking over your shoulder more than usual, listening out for girls in the walls…

— CEM

NEWS, NEWS, NEWS!

I have a very exciting announcement to make today: I am now officially represented by Susan Armstrong at the C&W agency!!

If I were any higher over the moon right now, y’all, I’d be rapidly approaching Mars. Sue and everyone else at C&W have been so delightful and welcoming already; my book could not be in better hands. It’s been a long journey to this point, and it’ll be another long journey ahead, but I’m excited for every step!

And now — to edits!

— CEM

What I’m Reading: The Murderbot Diaries

Recently I read the first of (and then promptly inhaled the rest of) Martha Well’s Murderbot Diaries! This series of novellas (with the exception of Network Effect, which is a full length novel) is written from the perspective of a SecUnit, a human/robot construct designed to act as a security guard on human space missions. I was drawn to this series not only because of the gorgeous cover art and the fact that the main character’s name is freakin’ Murderbot (clearly, I need to up my character-naming game), but because of the fascinating and hilarious premise:

After many gruelling years spent under human control, Murderbot has disabled its “governor module” and gone rogue. And what does this absolutely jacked, guns-for-arms security robot do with its newfound free will? Murder the rest of the crew perhaps, in typical rogue-AI fashion?

No. It watches several thousand hours of TV dramas while on the job.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this series. The contrast between Murderbot’s flawlessly capable performance in combat situations and its self-deprecating, darkly funny narration is just delightful, and I really enjoyed watching its friendship with the human crew unfold. (Plus, you know my nonbinary ass was thrilled to have a genderless protagonist!) But it isn’t all touching character moments, of course; the universe of The Murderbot Diaries is not a happy one, and Wells pulls no punches in examining how the trauma of being controlled—either by a governor module, or by an oppressive capitalist system—affects her characters’ lives.

In short: Murderbot is wonderfully engaging protagonist, and Martha Wells does some very interesting work throughout the series on personhood and the dehumanizing nature of capitalism. Highly recommended—give it a read!

— CEM

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