“Rabbit Test” on the BSFA Longlist!

I was very excited this week to learn that “Rabbit Test” (Uncanny Magazine Issue 49, November/December 2022) is on this year’s longlist for The British Science Fiction Association awards! It is a super awesome list including Marie Vibbert, R.S.A. Garcia, Aimee Ogden, S.B. Divya, Jordan Kurella, John Wiswell, Vanessa Fogg, and a whole bunch of other people I admire. I’m stoked.

The full list, including information for BSFA members to vote down to the short list, is here: https://www.bsfa.co.uk/bsfa-awards-longlist

😀

Rabbit Test Reading List

New story day! “Rabbit Test” is now available in Uncanny Magazine Issue 49, free online here. It is about the past, present, and future of abortion rights in America. Genre-wise, this one is a real departure for me. I tend to stick to fantasy, telling whatever story I like on the surface and embedding something personal in the metaphorical underground. But in the case of “Rabbit Test” I wove real history all throughout the narrative, because I couldn’t separate my feelings from reality.

And frankly? History is broader and weirder and messier than anything I could make up, and I had to leave out as much as I managed to shove in. I wish I’d made more room for birth control, for instance. The trifecta of birth control, pregnancy testing, and abortion have been intertwined through all known human history, but this thing was already pushing 7K words and decisions had to be made!

Anyway, if you’d like more background on nineteenth century sex scandals, abortionist nuns, the ongoing frog apocalypse, and a few bits that I dearly wish I could have found room for but didn’t–take a look below.

And if you’re looking for ways to give or get help, the National Network of Abortion Funds to be a really great resource for findings groups that are already doing work on the ground, as well as a simple way to donate to multiple groups at once.


This story began with my interest in the history of pregnancy testing. There’s a detailed timeline of the development of the home pregnancy test on the NIH website, including the work of Judith Vaitukaitis and Glenn Braunstein in the 1970s to develop a new assay for hCG, as well as a look at magazine advertising (which sent me down a Mademoiselle rabbit hole) and pop culture references.

The Harvard blog has an overview of historic urine-based tests, from the barley seeds of the Egyptians to the piss prophets of Europe to rabbits, frogs, and finally the modern pee-on-a-stick. (And there’s a more conversational overview of the same over at Gizmodo.)

The Atlantic has a great article about the invention of the first at-home test. Here’s one of the bits I didn’t manage to work in: it was a woman named Margaret Crane (a freelance designer hired to work on Organon Pharmaceuticals’ cosmetic line) who spotted the lab’s row of pregnancy tests while touring the facility and thought, couldn’t we do this ourselves at home? She made a prototype out of a plastic paper-clip holder, a mirror, a test tube, and a dropper, and presented it to the company a few months later. Blammo, patented and into development. (And then, in this article at IBMS I found a description of that two-hour, nine-step home testing process complete with vial of sheep blood cells. We’ve got it easy these days!)

So: on to the poor mice and rabbits of the title. The Washington Post has an article about the work of Aschheim and Zondek with mice, and Friedman’s work with rabbits. I didn’t understood the Aerosmith lyric “you can’t catch me cuz the rabbit done died” when I was a kid, but now I sorta do! (Aside: I also learned the very unfortunate fact that Billy Crystal’s first movie was a comedy about “the world’s first pregnant man” called Rabbit Test, directed by Joan Rivers, universally panned upon its release in 1978 as a “trivial and tasteless little movie… nothing more than a series of tired ethnic insults and vulgar sex jokes.” Ouch. I wonder how Junior has held up.)

And then, of course, there are the frogs. Ed Yong wrote a highly entertaining article at The Atlantic about the history of frog-based pregnancy tests and the resulting frog apocalypse that is now underway as a result. It also includes this amazing quote from an animal rights protester: “First time stealing a frog, but strangely not my first time fighting a pregnant woman.”

Full up on weird pregnancy testing trivia, I then moved on to abortion. I had heard of Madame Restell, the Wickedest Woman in New York, but didn’t know about the end of her life, hounded to death by Anthony Comstock. And I had never heard of Asenath Smith, whose mistreatment at the hands of philandering preacher Ammi Rogers was used to justify the first abortion law in America in 1821–which was really just a means to push midwives out of the practice and leave it to the newly minted doctors of the American Medical Association.

And there was no way around the fact that these early anti-abortion campaigns were rooted in white supremacy and anti-feminist backlash, just as they are now. The head of the AMA’s campaign in the 1910s, Dr. Horatio Storer, was candid about this when he said things like, “Shall these regions be filled by our own children or by those of aliens? This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.” Madame Restell was a threat because her clients were primarily white Protestant women. And as bad as that was, it was nothing compared to the treatment of Black women, from the terrors of slavery to the development of modern gynecological tools and the racism that fueled campaigns to ban midwifery.

I looked earlier, at abortion practices in early America, and found so many common abortifacients in use by Indigenous tribes that it was a struggle to narrow things down to a pithy montage. I was particularly struck by the long history among Hawai’i’s Indigenous people, and this detailed report by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs included some great historical anecdotes about the gossip that would ensue if a woman didn’t properly space her children out. “They would say, ‘Why, the walewale (lochia) for this child hasn’t even stopped, and she’s having another child on the end of it…’ Any wahine (woman) who had too many babies in too little time was fair target for every waha ko‘u (clucking mouth) in the neighborhood.” (page 50)

In another case of I wish I’d worked this in, I found an article in The Lancet about naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, who embarked on her own scientific voyages with her daughter beginning in 1699, and documented the use of the “peacock flower” among the Indian and African slave populations in the Dutch colony of Surinam, who were partly practicing abortion to protest slavery (all the content warnings on that link). I don’t think it is possible to understand the history of abortion without understanding the history of personal autonomy.

In original documents, I found a number of ads for Dr. Reynolds’ Lightning Pills in the 1920s, as well as the full text of the extremely popular home medical handbook The Poor Planter’s Physician (check out how to fix the SUPPRESSION of the COURSES on page 40), which, by the way, I failed to mention was updated and distributed for American audiences by Benjamin Franklin.

And though most of my focus was on dispelling the Supreme Court’s laughable assertion that “a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s histories and traditions,” I couldn’t resist following the trail of Catholicism backward to Saint Hildegard, a renowned medical practitioner who didn’t shy away from describing or providing abortions to her community.

Finally, I roped my book club into reading The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan, all about the legendary abortion underground in Chicago in the years leading up to Roe v. Wade, as remembered by members of the group. That book is also where I learned about the Clergy Consultation Services, which I hadn’t heard of before. And I looked for resources in a post-Roe America, as well as how things will shake out along state lines in its absence.

In the end, I couldn’t possibly fit everything into one story–and that’s what I tried to convey, as the narrative breaks down entirely, interrupting itself with anecdote after anecdote: that there is more variety and more history than you could possibly summarize in one place, because we are talking about billions of people over the entire scope of human history, trying to control the courses of their own lives.


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Mrs. Cat takes a writing retreat!

Mrs. Cat standing in front of a road with hills in distance, clear blue sky, and bright clouds overhead
Mrs. Cat hits the road.

That’s right! Mrs. Cat was long overdue for a writing retreat, the last one being in the long hot summer of 2019. It’s summer again, it’s hot again, and this time instead of being cramped in a desert tiny house with minimal allowed A/C use, I trekked all the way to the mountain town of Idyllwild to stay in a friend-of-a-friend’s cabin, with shade trees and moderately more A/C!

Mrs. Cat lounging on a deck rail, pretty trees in background
Mrs. Cat takes some air.

This retreat was a long time coming. After the long awful year of 2021, it felt like my brain would never recover. I spent the first three months of 2022 laboriously finishing a novel edit that I’d begun the previous August and then put on hold during The Terrible Times, well aware that the book would be forever etched in my mind as The Book I Edited While Big Sis Was Dying. The editing went so slowly, I began to worry that this was my new normal, just fits and starts of brain power at a fraction of the speed I used to work.

But I sent the book off to my agent, and I spent the next couple of months on a deliberate break. I squeezed one short story in there, realized I was making a mistake even trying to force that out, and then stopped writing shorts as well. For the rest of the time, I read sea monster books and took notes and let my brain percolate on something brand new, something not bogged under the stress that The Book I Edited While Big Sis Was Dying had suffered from.

And folks.

I think it worked.

I have an outline that I’m very excited about. I have characters and the characters have voices. (Yessss this is the project that I mentioned in my last post.) I had a start and a course of action and an end goal, and that meant I was ready to dive in.

Close up of chipmunk eating a nut on a large tree stump
Ms. Chipmunk says hello.

Enter: writing retreat.

Forty-eight entire hours without interruption. Forty-eight entire hours to get momentum going on the sea monster book and also to take several quiet naps! Heaven.

I napped and watched birds and chipmunks and ground squirrels and ate in the sunshine and sat on a couch typing until my hands went numb, and it was great. The book is past the 10K mark and I’m feeling good about it.

I’ve also spent some time pondering this here blog! It’s time for a bit of reconfiguring. Now that I’ve put short stories on hold, there’s a short-form-sized hole in my attention span. I’ve got ideas for blog series on music, B-movies, and crafts that I can pepper in between writing news. They’re gonna be great.

Goodbye, cabin! Till next time, Mrs. Cat out.

The back of Mrs. Cat in focus as she looks out at sunset behind leafy trees
Mrs. Cat says goodnight.

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I kept busy all right

One year and 16 days ago I said, “I really hope that my next update is, “hooray, my kids are vaccinated!!” 

😒

I didn’t realize there would be delay after delay, staggering kids out a handful at a time for a solid year after adults got their shots, BUT SO IT WAS, and HERE WE ARE, and today at long fucking last, my youngest child is getting her first covid vaccine!!

🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

Tada and hooray and party poppers galore!

I have one niece who still needs an appointment, but she is eligible, we’re here, most of the country moved on and tried getting back to normal in the meantime, but whatever, you do you, I spent an extra year at home nervously testing every runny nose. I’m going to continue staying mostly home and testing every runny nose, but if the virus catches up to us at last, I at least want to go in with the best armor we’ve got.

Last time I was here I declared OPERATION: KEEP BUSY, and it is true, I’ve been hella busy, there are five kids in the house and I keep overcommitting at the day job (did I even mention that one year ago I picked up a very part time day job??). I’ve also made a heck of a lot of crochet animals, sent a second book off to my agent, and sat around for a lot of hours crying to my husband that I’m still not getting enough done.

It’s my way.

In the interest of being honest about my abilities and the amount of free time available to me, I’m extending my short story hiatus to focus on my next book. My brain just can’t split in any more directions, so this week I’m trying to finish my last in-progress short story draft– and if I don’t get it done, oh well Sam, it has to go on hold. Then I’m going to spend two weeks in research and outline mode to flesh out some vague worldbuilding in Sam’s Sea Monster Book #1 (working title), AND THEN I am going away for a 48-hour writing retreat to get some momentum going on the draft.

After much hemming and hawing, I think I have the voice of the first main character (there are four):

Text in Word doc: Chapter 1 Maia Kelani, former captain of The Wretched of the Sea, the woman who had crossed the Keening Strait without losing a single crew member, the woman who’d single-handedly fought a red-throated cephalobeast and won—Maia Kelani, that Maia Kelani, was bound in chains and headed for the dread prison island of Ghistain. That she would escape, she had no doubt. It was only a matter of how long it would take for her crew to find her. She knew, with the conviction of righteous fury: there would be salt, and there would be blood, and at the end of the chaos and the noise she would sail away victorious with her loved ones at her side. She was Wretched Maia, and no land-born magistrate could lock her away for long.

I am excite. 🤓

the problem with knowing the end

I’m an outliner.

Mostly. Pretty much.

Anyway, I start with an outline! And then about halfway through drafting a new book, I come up with all sorts of better ideas, and I retool my outline, and I slap a big notice in yellow highlighter on page 180 or wherever I am: “FROM HERE ON OUT, FOLLOWING OUTLINE #2.”

Cuz who cares? Making the first half match the second half is Future Sam’s problem!!

Let’s just say it: Past Sam is a reckless monster. A heartless villain. SHORT SIGHTED.

Here is my blessing and my curse: I’m an outliner, and my outline is stronger in the second half. I know the ending, so I backtrack through a series of complications that need to happen in order to land that ending. And then somehow I (by which I mean: my hapless mark, Future Sam) need to stitch these intro chapters to that row of endgame dominoes without it seeming super obvious that they never fit together naturally in the first place.

It’s the beginning that’s the real end, the last thing I need to make work in order to set up this grand finale I’ve supposedly nailed with all that seamless action in the second half. But here’s the trouble with endings: they don’t land on their own, not without expectations raised and backstory planted, not without the tone well-tuned and the atmosphere maximally atmospheric.

Oh my god, it’s torturous.

I’m doing it right now (revisions, hiss, spit, etc) and I’m kicking my feet and wailing on pretty much a daily basis. “Please,” I’m begging these characters that I made up, “please, don’t just wander around learning the things you need to know by the end! Make the decisions that will lead us there! In retrospect!!”

Melodrama aside, there is a light at the end of this tunnel, and it is called self-awareness. (That’s right, there is a beam of light which embodies the conscious knowledge of one’s own behaviors, and it is located at the end of a tunnel, keep up.) I’ve become intimately aware of this problem, and I am now giving my future outlines a very stern look.

Moving forward, I am trying to–get this–fix the outline before I rough draft. A shockingly novel approach, I know! But I can no longer rush through my beginnings under the assumption that I always rewrite them aaaanywaaaay, because Future Sam is actually really busy these days and doesn’t want to write the book three times to make it work, she just wants to write the damn book.

And that means, well, kind of pantsing my outlines. I have to resist the impulse to leap to the ending first and then backfill the setup. I have to get better at carefully laying interesting pieces on the board, and then following through on the ramifications of what my characters initially want and probably won’t get–and if I do this tinkering and stream-of-conscious writing at the synopsis level, I’ll get the best of both worlds: the natural progression of pantsing + the steady guiding hand of an outline. Right?? Oh lord I hope so.

But first I need to finish this (last?) torturous revision.

Kiki’s on the Locus list! :D

In very exciting news:

Kiki Hernández Beats the Devil,” originally in Translunar Travelers Lounge, has been included on the 2020 Locus Recommended Reading List! I am in amazing company with a whole lot of my favorite stories of the year. 😀

Anyone is welcome to vote in the Locus Awards, and the poll is now live. Subscription to the magazine is not required, though subscribers’ votes count double. The poll even has a write-in option if you don’t see your favorites on the list. And if nothing else, it’s a great list of recommendations if you are looking for new novels, stories, anthologies, and short fiction to read!

2020 Eligibility Post!

Oh sweet mercy, it’s that time of year again!

This was, um, not the greatest year for me producing new work, but thanks to a little buildup from the before times, it was a really satisfying one for publication!

I have three short stories I’d like to highlight for consideration. They have three drastically different vibes–something for every mood! ;D

Without further ado…


If you’re looking for cathartic rage and fierce triumph:

The Limits of Magic
–In which you have run away from an oppressive regime, only to realize that saving yourself isn’t enough–you have to fight for those who cannot save themselves.

Originally published in Apparition Literary Magazine, Issue 11: Redemption, July 15, 2020 [available online]


If you’re looking for rip-roaring rock and the power of giving a shit:

Kiki Hernández Beats the Devil
In which Kiki Hernández, rock legend of the Southwest, finally bites off more than she can chew. Come for the devil-fighting guitar, stay for the chonky hellhound.

Originally published in Translunar Travelers Lounge, Issue 2, February 15, 2020 [available online]

And reprinted in text and audio in PodCastle, Episode #639, August 11, 2020 [available online]


And if you’re looking for something weirder and gentler and deeply heartfelt:

Anchorage
In which a very messy space family visits a floating library and the anchoress walled up within it (with bonus! narrator who doesn’t understand how metaphors work).

Originally published in Uncanny Magazine, Issue 36, September/October 2020 [available online]


I will now commence a much-needed reading retreat, because I already have SO MANY great recs piling up for my forthcoming 2020 awards recommendation post, and there are still SO MANY MORE amazing-looking reads piling up between my bookshelves, browser tabs, and twitter bookmarks, so farewell, I am now sinking beneath the waves of awesome, tell my family I love themmmmmm–

Samtastic News!

colorful banner with words "samtastic news with mr. and mrs. cat"

I’ve finally started a mailing list!

You can sign up at samtasticbooks.substack.com and get all my bloggy content, reading recommendations, and writing news straight to your inbox. I’ll be posting on an as-needed basis for now, which won’t be more than once-per-month. You can either check here for my usual blog posts as they come up, or wait for the emailed digest version. There’s something for everyone!

And I do have news!

photo of New Voices of Science Fiction anthology next to Mr. and Mrs. Cat

My proud parents. :’)

This month marked the release of the anthology The New Voices of Science Fiction, edited by Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman. Spoiler: I’m in it!!

Description from Tachyon Publications: In this daring anthology of cutting-edge short stories, new science fiction luminaries including Rebecca Roanhorse, Amal El-Mohtar, and Sam J. Miller, are showcased with the rising stars that are transforming their genre. Discover exciting writers who are already out of this world, in this space-age sequel to the 2018 World Fantasy Award-winning anthology, The New Voices of Fantasy.

I’m among the …AND MORE! 😀 “Strange Waters” was originally published in Strange Horizons in April 2018, was reprinted with the Podcastle treatment in August 2019, and now has a gorgeous paperback home with fantastic company. Go, little story, go!

And in even more spectacular news (I’ve definitely buried the lede here, I know):

🎉🎉🎉I’ve just signed with a literary agent! 🎉🎉 🎉

I’m now one of the supremely pleased clients of Lisa Rodgers at Jabberwocky Literary Agency. That’s right! To actually try to sell some of my samtastic books! Will my blog title finally become a reality? Well… stay tuned here or sign up for my mailing list to find out. XD

All that said, the blog will be fairly quiet on book news until there is book news to share. This part of the journey can be just as long as the whole rest of it, and I’ve got some strategizing and prepping and editing to do, but… woo! It sure is exciting to reach the next step.

Till next time!

2019 eligibility post!

It’s that time of year again! Panic rain falls gently from the calendar sky, and up springs a crop of nervous-but-eager eligibility posts.

Astounding Award Eligibility:

That’s right! I’m still a sweet, sweet baby in the grand scheme of things. This is my second and final year of eligibility for the Astounding (née Campbell) Award! If you’ve enjoyed my weird overbuilt worlds so far, I’d appreciate the consideration.

As of this typing, the Writertopia list hasn’t been updated for 2020, but you can keep an eye on it as the season progresses–and also this fabulous Hugo Awards (2020) Google Spreadsheet, which includes recs for the other categories as well!

Short Stories:

I had four short stories out this year! If you are interested in reading only one, I’d especially appreciate a look at “Four of Seven.” It was my nearest-and-dearest for the year.

Four of Seven
In which a pair of sisters attempt to reach a hospital after curfew, in a mining colony company town in spaaace (with bonus college woe and messy family solidarity).
Escape Pod, Episode #687, July 4, 2019 [available online]

Laugh Lines
In which a far future vat baby has some strong words to say about her mother.
Daily Science Fiction, June 10, 2019 [available online]

One Part Per Billion
In which humanity is invited to make first contact, but alas, we are put in charge of selecting our own representatives for the journey.
Diabolical Plots, Issue #50, April 15, 2019 [available online]

Adrianna in Pomegranate
In which a reclusive calligramancer grows obsessed with casting a very particular spell, and his ex-wife is determined to stop him.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue #271, February 14, 2019 [available online]

IDEAS – by that one recipe reviewer, you know the one

I’ve finally done it. I’ve finally figured out my go-to metaphor for how an idea becomes a story.

I’m that one recipe reviewer who pops up on every blog and recipe aggregate website you’ve ever been to. You know the one. She swapped in Italian breadcrumbs for panko and eggplant for chicken and made her own sauce and put cheese on top and baked it instead of frying it–and now she’s giving this fried chicken recipe 4 stars but she’s clearly attached a photo of eggplant parmesan.

That’s me!

If you ask me where a story got started, you might get a very pat, incomplete answer like, “I was watching my kids play,” or “I had a dream.”

But the real answer is much sillier, and more convoluted, and there’s no real point telling the entire thing except to illustrate how little that initial kernel of an idea matters–because it’s not the idea itself, but the thought process it sparks that ultimately gets you something story-shaped. The only trick is learning how to let your mind wander, to see what it churns up.

So.

Last week I had a dream about spies in a space station.

And I actually woke up on my own for once, not from my 4yo climbing in next to me, or my 2yo hollering from her crib, but actually on my own, so I laid in bed for awhile, sleepily thinking about that dream.

And I wondered: what were the spies doing there? who were they after? what was their history?

And then I thought: oh, oh, wait, what if instead of a spy, it was an ordinary woman conning her way into this station to get revenge.

And what if, instead of a space station, it was a secret luxury resort built by this billionaire she hates. Right? Because he made all of his money using people like her friends and family as guinea pigs for his medical empire. She’s coming to kill this guy.

And instead of being in space, this place is built into a mountain. A hollowed-out mountain full of mazes and decadent parties and everybody who’s anybody, all in one place.

And instead of that other spy being her partner, he’s her competitor: his friends are trying to kidnap this dude, not kill him. But maybe they can work together, temporarily, to find him…

 

Ta da! I’m outlining a book. And if this weird magic-infused science-fantasy revenge story ever gets in front of other people’s eyeballs, and they ask how it started, I’ll get to say: I had a dream about a space station.