Why We Love Monster Stories

Jess Mahler spent a couple hours combing through werewolf romances on Amazon the other day before coming back and crying on the team’s shoulders about how hard it is to find monster stories that aren’t full of “destined mate” or “alpha male” bullshit.

Paranormal romance and urban fantasy are full of some really nasty tropes, many of which fully deserve a place on our “No! Tropes List.” But we keep coming back to them, combing through the bad ones for the rare gems that we finish with a sigh of utter contentment.

Why do we love monster stories so much? Why do we put ourselves through so much trouble to find monster stories that don’t fall prey to the nasty tropes?

Because WE Are Society’s Monsters

we are society's monstersThe black man in his hoody who just wants to walk down the fucking street in peace, the trans woman who just wants to take a piss, the autistic enby who just wants to be seen as a whole person and not a broken jigsaw puzzle. We are society’s monsters–to be either hunted down or locked away.

So we love our monster stories. Werewolves, vampires, witches, dragons, the nightmares of European civilization. In our books, they have their own secret societies. They hide from hunters or fight back. Or they exist openly in “human” society. They live, and love, and THRIVE. And in them we see ourselves. The unloved, the unwanted, the outcast. The strong, the resilient, the tough ass bitches.

Like the monsters we love, we have built our own societies, our own communities. We have existed in the shadows, either hiding from those who hunt us or fighting for recognition from those who shun us. Sometimes both at the same time.

So bring on the werewolves, the selkies, the fae. We’ll read about vampires, dragons, wizards, and ghosts. Because you know the best thing about urban fantasy and paranormal romance?

In the end, the monsters win.

We’re on Mastodon and off Twitter

Hey folks,

We’re changing up our social media a bit.

Mastodon

We’ve joined Mastodon, a new-ish open source social media that Jess Mahler has been on for a bit and has recently become popular in some portions of SFF fandom and author communities. You can find us talking books and tea @cuilpress@wandering.shop

Twitter

We’re also retiring our Twitter account. We won’t be deleting it entirely, but it’s become a time and spoon sink that we can’t afford, and really, Twitter just isn’t a good place anymore for a small business to reach people. Plus, we don’t like a lot of their policies.

Facebook

We’re keeping Facebook as-is for now. With Twitter not being active, we’ll hopefully have the spoons to keep FB more active.

Instagram

We’re looking at getting an Instagram account going. Visual images aren’t a huge part of the what a publishing company deals with, but it would be a good way to share cover art, author pics, and photos of events and such.

Tumblr-Twist/Granny Chosen One Deadline Extended

We’ve had several submissions for the anthology already and will probably have enough stories to fill our anthology by Nov 30th. But the Cuil Press team had a lightbulb moment last week.

See, we all completely forgot about NaNoWriMo. It wasn’t until some of Jess’ writing group started talking about their projects that we remembered.

We want to give everyone interested in Granny Chosen One a chance to get their submissions in and we know how much of a time and spoon sink NaNo can be.

So we’re extending the deadline to December 15. If you wanted to get a story in, but didn’t think you would have time, we hope this helps.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

The Bargain, by Jess Mahler Will Be Out January 18th

The Bargain, by Jess Mahler, is a fantasy thriller set in a world where fae, powered by pain-fed magic, rule over the humans they once conquered.

For Mattin, it was a straightforward sacrifice to save his sister. For Countess Jahlene, another political gambit to protect her family. For both of them, it became something they never expected.

The Bargain was previously released as Glamourhai, this is an updated and enhanced edition.

In keeping with Cuil Press’ commitment to releasing inclusive and #ownvoices fiction, The Bargain does not have your typical fantasy cast and Mattin is not the typical fantasy hero. Jess Mahler is a polyamorous, kinky, non-binary, bisexual with PTSD who openly admits to not understanding romance. Her personal struggle to understand relationships and family while embracing who she is shows in Mattin’s struggle to come to terms with the very different approach to love and family he finds with Jahlene. Jess won’t say whether or not Jahlene has PTSD but does say:

“I started this story wanting to explore what it means to be family, and I did. But without realizing it, I also explored how trauma shapes us and how we heal from it. Jahlene’s trauma is the most obvious, but most of the characters in The Bargain are struggling with trauma in some way. How healthy their responses are… you’ll need to decide for yourself.”

 

Have You Ever Heard of a Fantasy Thriller?

We have a confession to make. Not to long ago we shared this meme on Facebook:
aromantic romance
The truth is:
fantasy thriller

The Bargain, by Jess Mahler, will be our first novel and is scheduled for release January 18th.

Jess very much had a love story in mind when writing The Bargain (actually, several love stories). But none of them are a “typical” love story.

When we call a book a “romance” these days we don’t just mean a book with a love story. Most books have love stories in them somewhere. It’s an unusual book (or series) that doesn’t have at least two characters (more often four or six or eight) pairing up somewhere along the line. Romance, in book talk, means a genre. With expected tropes, patterns, and plot points.

The Bargain has none of these. Well, except the Happily Ever After. But again, most books have that these days. Unless they are part of an ongoing series (and sometimes even then) most books these days end with the metaphorical equivalent of the characters riding off into the sun set, Happily Ever After.

So it’s not a romance.

It’s a

via GIPHY

Fantasy Thriller

Wait- what?

We hear about genre mash-ups all the time, but fantasy-thriller isn’t one you hear too often.

Like any genre mash-up, a fantasy thriller has elements common to both fantasy novels, and thriller novels. Of course, in spite of our fun with gifs Michael wasn’t really singing about thrillers. He was singing about horror movies. The defining feature of a thriller–and the one that makes thriller fantasy an amazing mash-up inspite of their rarity–is a quest.

In a thriller the main character has a quest. And that quest has a time limit. If the MC doesn’t discover the cure, stop the assassin, uncover the conspiracy, before time runs out, it’s all over.

Quests are, of course, a long and well loved tradition in fantasy. A tradition that was codified by Tolkien, but existed long before a rag-tag group of adventures set out for Mount Doom on a hopeless quest. However fantasy quests are usually epic in nature. Thrillers tend to be more personal. While the fate of the world may hang in the balance, it’s the fate of the characters that has us holding our breathe as the last air-tight seal breaks in Andromeda Strain.

The Bargain is a fantasy thriller with an aromantic subplot. We’re doubt you’ve seen anything like it before.
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Speculative Fiction with Intersex Characters

For Intersex Awareness Day, we’re sharing a list of speculative fiction with intersex characters.

Intersex: Fiction and Reality

Interior artwork from The Sandman vol. 2, 21 (Nov 1990). Art by Mike Dringenberg.

These characters all provide much-needed representation of people whose bodies don’t fit the male/female binary expected in modern society. Unfortunately, few of them reflect the reality of being intersex. Many of these characters reflect the authors imagination of what it would be like if science or magic could create true hermaphrodites (able to become pregnant and carry to term AND able to engender a child in someone else).  Others switch back and forth between binary physiologies. Some of them, like the herms of the Vorkosigan Saga, prefer to be called terms that are highly offensive to real intersex people.

So please read, enjoy, but be cautious. If you are intersex, assume many of these stories come with trigger warnings and content notes. If you are not intersex, please learn from real intersex people, such as Mx. Anunnaki Ray, and don’t confuse fiction with reality.

Speculative Fiction with Intersex Characters

  1. Desire, one of the Endless, from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman
  2. Therem Harth rem ir Estraven and other characters from Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness
  3. Swan Er Hong and other characters from Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312
  4. Bel Thorne from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga (First appearing in Warrior’s Apprentice)
  5. Fullin and other characters from James Alan Gardener’s Commitment Hour
  6. Mikassa Ahmed Shekran and other characters from Michon Neal’s Cuilverse (Suggested starting book: The Changing of Allison Dutch)
  7. Wraeththu, post-apocalyptic species from Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu series (First book:  The Enchantments of Flesh and Stone)

Know something we missed? Please share it in the comments!

Granny Chosen One Short Story Submissions Still Open

granny chosen one
Get out of my way. I got a world to save.

We are still accepting submissions for our Tumblr-Twist short story anthology, working title “Granny Chosen One”. We want fantasy stories that take on common genre tropes and twist them into something completely unexpected.

This anthology is inspired by the many Tumblr posts proposing stories about granny chosen one going off to save the world with her knitting bag and attendant, tiny dragons guarding hoards of pennies, and other twists on the “usual” fantasy stories. And those are the stories we want to see.

Submissions deadline Nov 30th. For more information, check out the original call for submissions.

Tomorrow is Spirit Day: Speaking Out Against LGBTQ Bullying

What is Spirit Day?

Spirit Day was started by Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan in 2010 as a response to a large number of bullying-related LGBTQ suicides. Since then it has been picked up and promoted by GLAAD as a day to speak out against LGBTQ bullying and offer visible support to LGBTQ teens.

What Do We Do?

GLAAD has a page where you can pledge to support LGBTQ youth against bullying.

Wearing purple has become the traditional observance for Spirit Day. The color is meant to signal LGBTQ teens that they have our support. If you can’t wear purple or if, like Cuil Press, purple is your “every day” color, you can look for other ways, from making art work to speaking out on social media, to let LGBTQ teens know you are there for them.

“Ultimately, I want Spirit Day to make just one person feel a little bit better about his or herself, to feel safe enough in their own skin to be proud of who they are.”

-Brittany McMillan

Kalonymus ben Kalonymus: Transgender History Gets a Pat on the Head

Who was Kalonymus ben Kalonymus?

In Provencal in the 14th Century a child was born to the Kalonymus family, a well known and highly respected Jewish family. The child was examined and someone declared “It’s a boy!” and named Kalonymus ben Kalonymus (Kalonymus son of Kalonymus).

And so history has recorded “him” ever since.

The child grew and learned. He began work as a translator in his twenties and is best known for those translations. But he also wrote some original poetry. Among them is אבן בוחן (Even Bochan).

The Even Bochan

Even Bochan is a mix of biography and satire. One part of Even Bochan, which has traditionally been interpreted as satire, is a long section on how much Kalonymus would have wished to be born a girl.

A Jewish boy’s life at the time, if their family had money, involved endless rounds of studying the scriptures. And many, many Jewish humorists and satirists have poked fun at the endless lists of rules and laws Jews are supposed to follow. In the Middle Ages these laws tended to fall hardest on men, who were held to higher standards than women. So it’s not unreasonable to read:

What an awful fate for my mother
that she bore a son.
What a loss of all benefit! . . .
Cursed be the one who announced to my father:
“It’s a boy! . . .

Woe to him who has male sons.
Upon them a heavy yoke has been placed, restrictions and constraints.
Some in private, some in public,
some to avoid the mere appearance of violation,
and some entering the most secret of places.

Strong statutes and awesome commandments,
six hundred and thirteen.
Who is the man who can do all that is written,
so that he might be spared?

Followed by criticism of the endless studies required of Jewish boys “books, which he may think a bore.” And a long list of other things Jewish boys were expected to learn if they were to be considered educated: multiple languages, ethics, logic, philosophy, astronomy, theosophy, history….

And see Kalonymus to rejecting not his BEING a man, but the requirements expected OF boys and men in Judaism at the time.

But to anyone familiar with the pain of being forced to act out a gender not your own, the following section doesn’t read of humor, but well known pain and longing.

Father in heaven, who did miracles for our ancestors with fire and water,
You changed the fire of Chaldees so it would not burn hot,
You changed Dina in the womb of her mother to a girl,
You changed the staff to a snake before a million eyes,
You changed [Moses’] hand to [leprous] white
and the sea to dry land.
In the desert you turned rock to water,
hard flint to a fountain.

Who would then turn me from a man to woman?
Were I only to have merited this, being so graced by your goodness. . .

Because Kalonymus lived in a time and place where he had no way to identify as a woman and no knowledge that such a thing was even possible, he ends this part of the Even Bochan with hard won acceptance:

What shall I say? Why cry or be bitter?
If my Father in heaven has decreed upon me
and has maimed me with an immutable deformity,
then I do not wish to remove it.
And the sorrow of the impossible
is a human pain that nothing will cure
and for which no comfort can be found.
So, I will bear and suffer
until I die and wither in the ground.
And since I have learned from the tradition
that we bless both the good and the bitter,
I will bless in a voice, hushed and weak,
Blessed are you, O Lord,
who has not made me a woman.

Judaism has traditionally recognized 6 different genders. But it was the rabbis the determined a person’s gender, and whatever gender you were assigned is what you were stuck with.

Was Kalonymus ben Kalonymus Transgender?

We’ll never know for certain if Kalonymus ben Kalonymus was a gender other than the one assigned to him. He may have used satire and humor as a mask and balm for his pain–a tactic familiar to many who struggle with internal pain they have no cure for. Or he may have been exactly what history has always thought him, a brilliant male satirist.

But it is certain that there were many folks through out history who were forced to act out a gender not their own and who will never be known. Far to many transgender children today and in recent history have been dismissed as having “such a wonderful imagination!” or “how funny! you’ll be quite a comedian one day.” Scattered through out history we will find more like Kalonymus, more who may have been speaking out of great inner pain and longing. And if they were, have been patted on the head by history “what a brilliant satirist.”

We have chosen to use he/him pronouns here as those are the pronouns (or rather, the accurate translations of the pronouns) Kalonymus ben Kalonymus used for himself. It is possible that if the possibility had been known to him, Kalonymus would have chosen to use other pronouns. But we can never know.

Last Chance to Support Inclusive and #OwnVoices Novels!

Lad Day of Cuil Press’ Crowdfunding Campaign

Today is the last day of our crowdfunding campaign. We’re $401 short of our goal and the campaign closes at midnight Pacific Time.

The Early Bird Book Lover’s perk is gone, but the regular Book Lovers perk (in 5 book and 10 book versions) is still available. There are also 2 original short stories up for grabs and some cover-art related perks.

Grab them while you have the chance!

But Priorities Matter

That said–every day we see folks who are trying to raise money to keep from being homeless or to pay for necessary medical expense. Folks who need any money they can get to be able to survive.  Because we believe in community, we recognize that direct need takes priority. We have raised enough to do most of what we need to do & can figure out the rest. So if you don’t have enough extra to grab a perk and help the folks in need, we’d rather you choose to help alleviate an emergency.

For a bit of fun

Rather than going into all the reasons you should give your money to us and other folks who need it (which you totally should!) we’re doing a meme dump. Have a look, have a laugh. (and then donate 😉