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

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

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

Apocalypse Cookies

Several cookies cooling on a tray.

Hi all! So; things are looking pretty rough right now. If you’re like me (i.e. an unquestionably Non-Essential worker), you’ve likely been stuck at home the past week or two with no one but your family and a dwindling supply of toilet paper to keep you company. (And several hundred pages of edits I should be working on as we speak, but let’s not talk about that.)

No, what I’m here to talk about today is cookies! Today I made what I’ve decided to refer to as Apocalypse Cookies; or, if you prefer, I’ve Got Jack Shit Left in the Pantry and I Ran Out of Sweets a Week Ago But I Can’t Go Out and Buy More Because I’m Practicing Responsible Social Distancing cookies. I thought I’d share it here, in case any of you are working with the same appalling lack of baked goods as I was this morning. This recipe is designed to be easy, quick, and nigh-infinitely adjustable to whatever leftover back-of-the-pantry crap you’re working with.

A close up of the Apocalypse cookies.

So, without further ado!

  • Step One: Check your pantry. If you have the ingredients for making regular cookies, make those first. This recipe is for the DESPERATE, do you hear me? If you still have chocolate chips, what are you even DOING here?
  • Step Two: Re-evaluate your conception of what counts as a cookie. These things are going to be imperfect. They may even be a little ugly. But be honest: you’re in your pajamas right now, aren’t you? I certainly am. We’re in no place to judge. Give these cookies space to be whatever they turn out to be — at least 6 feet of space, preferably.
  • Step Three: Gather the ingredients. The following is what I used to make my Apocalypse Cookies, but make whatever substitutions necessary.
    • 1½ cups flour. Regular, gluten free, leftover waffle mix, anything you have. If you don’t have any flour, use oats.
    • 1½ cups almond flour. Or hazelnut flour. Or flour flour. Or more oats. Or, if you’re truly insane and have 45 minutes to kill, stick some almonds in a food processor and grind them yourself.
    • Approx. ½ cup oats. Or oatmeal mix. Useful for adding bulk and filling in for any flour you don’t have. Disregard if you don’t like oatmeal cookies.
    • 1 cup brown sugar. Or date sugar. Or coconut sugar. Or white sugar. Or ½ cup honey or maple syrup.
    • 2 eggs. Or 1 mashed banana. Or ½ cup of yoghurt or apple sauce. Or 1 Tbsp flax or chia powder + 3 Tbsp water. Baking temps or times may have to be adjusted accordingly; this page has some handy info on adjusting recipes for egg substitutes.
    • 6 Tbsp water. I’m assuming you have this. I hope.
    • 2 tsp baking powder. Or 1 tsp baking soda + 2 tsp cream of tartar. Or ½ tsp baking soda + 1 tsp lemon juice. Or use buttermilk or sparkling water in place of the 6 Tbsp water. Or, honestly, if you already have eggs, you’re probably fine to skip this extra raising agent.
    • 1 pinch of salt.
    • 2 capfuls almond extract + 2 capfuls vanilla extract + 1 capful orange extract. Or whatever flavors or extracts you have on hand. Some (i.e. professional bakers) would say this is far too much extract. They would be WRONG. The trick, you see, is to disguise the sins and substitutions elsewhere in the recipe with as much flavor as possible.
    • Optional accessories: Cinnamon. Cocoa powder. Chopped walnuts or almonds. Go nuts.
  • Step Four: Preheat oven to 325°F. Then, while you’re waiting:
  • Step Five: Rewrite your recipe. Write it down. Write it dooown! Especially if you’re using complex substitutions or a different raising agent.
  • Step Six: Add dry ingredients.
  • Step Seven: Add wet ingredients.
  • Step Eight: Mix. This is a one-bowl, one-spoon recipe folks. I know you don’t have the mental or physical energy to wash eight different bowls right now.
  • Step Nine: Line a tray with baking paper and spoon cookie-sized dollops onto tray. If your mixture is very sticky (as mine was) I recommend using a wetted fork to get the mixture off the spoon and shape it on the tray.
  • Step Ten: Bake until done. About 25 minutes, probably. But look, every batch of Apocalypse Cookies is its own unique creature. Listen to your cookies; talk to them. Give them the time they need.
A pair of Apocalypse cookies on a plate with a mug of tea.

And that’s it! Eat them on their own or with tea, coffee, or whatever else you have. This is a tough and stressful time for all of us, but we’ll get through it if we just stick together. I mean — not stick together. Stay apart, that is to say. Stay at home. You know what I mean.

Eat cookies and stay safe!

— CEM

SHORT STORY: PASSENGERS

Julia had grown up knee-deep in superstition. Augury itself came with superstitions, though most would say they were purely common sense. That night, as Julia sat in inky silence tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, she thought about one warning in particular. One that her mother had whispered in her ear years ago, before kissing her softly on the head and buckling her in for some late night road trip.

Always put something in the passenger seat at night. An open seat next to you is an invitation.

A belated announcement, but here nonetheless — my latest short story, Passengers, is now published on Strange Constellations!

Do you like to read about ghosts? About girlfriends? About grief? Do you start sometimes, while driving home at night down those winding country lanes, because you looked in the rearview mirror and saw some huge and shambling shape cross the road? Do you tell yourself after you’ve parked your car, only twenty feet of yawning black void from your front door, that that tapping sound on the roof is just the engine cooling down, just the engine, just the engine? Then this one might be for you.

— CEM

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