STATE OF THE ‘SPEC – APOCALYPSE EDITION


Well, folks, like everyone else we are hunkered down and riding out the tidal wave caused by this sh*t storm.

We are working steadily on the books we would have launched at Balticon, normally our biggest convention of the year. It is so surreal…this is the first time in seventeen years we will not be at Balticon, which we consider our home show. It will be the first time in fifteen years we haven’t had our annual launch party there. I can honestly say that one event has become the focal point of my year, prepping the books, making the food. And sadly, this isn’t the only event lost this year. If I had the time, I would be feeling adrift right now. 

Of course, I don’t, as I work in healthcare. But we aren’t going to go there.

I wanted you all to know that life goes on despite the chaos and the uncertainty. Here are some things we’ve already accomplished this year:

We have re-released books 2 and 3 in James Chambers’s Corpse Fauna Series: Tears of Blood and The Dead in Their Masses. The fourth and final book in the series, Eyes of the Dead, is due out in October of this year. Here is a guest post he wrote for Speculative Chic.


We have re-released Megan Mackie’s books Saint Code: The Lost and The Finder of the Lucky Devil. We have one more book to re-release, The Saint of Liars, then we are free to focus on her two new titles, The Devil’s Day and Saint Code: Constable. All of these books take place in an alternate, futuristic Chicago we’ve coined cyber-magical Chicago. If you aren’t familiar with Megan, here is a guest post she wrote for Speculative Chic.)

 


We released Michelle D. Sonnier’s novella, Death’s Embrace, which is a prequel to her debut novel, The Clockwork Witch. (Don’t worry, Michelle is nearly done with the sequel, An Unceasing Hunger.)


Our next re-release is Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale, written by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed. This is a steampunk retelling of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Here is a guest post that Danielle wrote for Speculative Chic.

Proof-BabaAli

What We Are Working On Now

Despite how everything has gone topsy-turvy, we are still hard at work on some pretty amazing books. 

First and foremost, we have a nearly complete manuscript for David Sherman’s military science fiction novel To Hell and Regroup, the long-awaited conclusion to his 18th Race trilogy, which also includes Issue In Doubt and In All Directions. Due to health concerns, the final volume is being co-written with Keith R.A. DeCandido.

In conjunction with the above release, we are also working on a new novel by Christopher L. Bennett, Arachne’s Crime, the first book in a brand-new duology, to be followed by Arachne’s Exile.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail is hard at work on Build-A-Book Workshop, a new volume in the Literary Handyman series. This book focuses on the elements that go into professional book design, not how to use book-design software or artistically design a book. She is also working on her first science fiction novel: Daire’s Devils.

And finally, editors Danielle Ackley-McPhail and John L. French are currently working on the upcoming anthology Horns and Halos, tales of devils and angels.

Please stay tuned for more information, and possibly check out some of the above links for great fiction from our authors. Given the need for social distancing and sheltering at home, we have put all of our ebooks on sale for only $0.99 for both eSpec Books titles and Paper Phoenix Press titles.

Not sure if our books are for you? You can still help us out! All of these links are Amazon Associate links, so we receive a portion of your sale no matter what you buy, with absolutely no additional cost to you.

Not a fan of Amazon? We have a link for that! You can order copies of all of our books via our eSpec Books Square Store and we will ship direct as long as the post office is active.

COVER REVEAL – BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN


Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn 6X9
The Clockwork Djinn (c) Danielle McPhail, McP Digital Graphics

Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet. I shall tell you a tale such as sister Scheherazade could have scarce imagined…

 In the Nejd there is nothing at all…except secrets. A band of thieves wishes such secrets to remain hidden.

In England, far from his desert home, Ali bin-Massoud serves as apprentice to the famed Charles Babbage. One night, a mysterious box is delivered by a clockwork falcon and Ali’s world is never the same again. Heartache, danger, and thieves mark his journey as Ali is summoned home at the death of his father.

It will take faith, knowledge, and yes, love to realize his destiny, and more than a little skill with steam-driven technology. Can he unravel the mystery of the puzzle box and the clockwork djinn before it is too late? An ancient legacy and Ali’s very life depend on his success.

Hear you the tale of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn…


“Rich with steampunk, magic, and an enchanting setting, this story casts a spell and won’t let go until the very last page!” —Maria V. Snyder, New York Times Bestselling Author

“Readers of steampunk and Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy alike will adore this lush foray into a world seldom explored by the genre. Buckle up for a wild ride across the deserts of your imagination!” —Tiffany Trent, award-winning author of The Unnaturalists

 “A charming retelling of the famous classic […] Whether you are a fan of Steampunk, of exotic fairytales, or just of good writing, this story should delight.” —L. Jagi Lamplighter, award-winning author

“Beautifully evocative of the fairy tale tradition in parts that the modern, steampunk nature of the tale is completely encapsulated in a wonderful adventure.” —Luke’s Reviews


Kickstarter DMcPhailAward-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (www.especbooks.com).

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and two extremely spoiled cats.

Day

Day Al-Mohamed is an author, filmmaker, and disability policy executive. She is co-author of the Young Adult novel, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, is a host on Idobi Radio’s Geek Girl Riot with an audience of more than 80,000 listeners, and her most recent novella, The Labyrinth’s Archivist, was published July 2019 by Falstaff Books. Her recent publications are available in Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Crossed Genres anthology “Oomph – A Little Super Goes a Long Way,” and GrayHaven Comics’ anti-bullying issue “You Are Not Alone.”  

Her current documentary, “The Invalid Corps” is on the festival circuit. 

She is an active member of Women in Film and Video and a graduate of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.  However, she is most proud of being invited to teach a workshop on storytelling at the White House in February 2016.

Day is a disability policy executive with more than fifteen years of experience. She is currently a Senior Policy Advisor with the Federal government. She has also worked as a lobbyist and political analyst on issues relating to Health, Education, Employment, Technology, and International Development. For more information on work in disability policy, please check out: http://www.DayinWashington.com.

                 Day presents often on the representation of disability in media, most recently at the American Bar Association, SXSW, and New York ComiCon. A proud member of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 24-01 (5th District Southern Region), she lives in Washington DC with her wife, N.R. Brown and guide dog, Gamma. She can be found online at http://www.DayAlMohamed.com and @DayAlMohamed.

GUEST BLOG – DAY AL-MOHAMED


I’m grateful to Dani letting me indulge a little and share with you some of my favorite “Book Secrets.” Think of them as the “Extras” on the DVD. 🙂  

One of the most fun things about steampunk novels are the airships, right? So of course, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn HAD to have an airship. But I didn’t want this to be something “just made up” so was determined that our “Thaddeus Lowe” would be designed off of a REAL airship. But which one? The Hindenburg was the largest, the British R101 was the most luxurious, but the one that I fell in love with, that the whole world at the time fell in love with, was the Graf Zeppelin.

Graf Zeppelin over Jerusalem

 I owe a lot of thanks to airships.net. I cannot say enough about this great resource that introduces airships in all their beauty and complexity in a way that lets you really understand the impact they had on the world. The site was the first place I read about the Graf Zeppelin and fell in love with her. To quote their website:

The most successful zeppelin ever built, LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin flew more than a million miles on 590 flights, carrying over 34,000 passengers without a single injury.

During its nine-year career, Graf Zeppelin made the first commercial passenger flight across the Atlantic, the first commercial passenger flight around the world, flew a scientific mission over the North Pole, made the first regularly scheduled transatlantic passenger crossings by air, and aroused intense public enthusiasm around the globe.

Graf Zeppelin over Pyramids

 Even today, there is significant interest in this specific zeppelin.  There are so many photos of her trips. In fact, I’m willing to bet, 90% of the iconic airship photos you’ve ever seen have all been the Graf Zeppelin: Over the North Pole, with the pyramids in Egypt, by the mountain ranges in Japan, celebrated in New York City…

With the increasing use of airplanes, the Graf Zeppelin was retired and set up as a museum. Sadly, with the advent of World War II, on March 4, 1940, Hermann Goring, Germany’s Air Minister ordered her melted down for parts to feed the German military machine.

Graf Zeppelin Sleeping Quarters (Poor Ali got stuck with the top bunk)

 In addition to images of her exterior, there were shots (and video) of her interior, which a goldmine of information. So yes, our descriptions in the book will mirror very closely some of these photos.

Graf Zeppelin Dining Quarters

 A friend accused me of having a bit of a crush on the Graf Zeppelin and I can’t say that he’s wrong. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a few more “Book Secrets” and letting you inside the workings of the text. It’ll be fun! Let us know what you think in the comments.

I hope you enjoy this Update. If so, please feel free to Share it and our Kickstarter with friends, family, groups, and communities who might be interested. Spreading the word is what makes the difference.

http://kck.st/31N0rSQ

Best,

Day Al-Mohamed

eSPEC EXCERPTS – BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN


Our campaign is one week in and nearly 300% funded. I can’t tell you how excited Day and I are to bring this book back to the fans. It has always been one of our most popular titles as authors. With three weeks to go, we are hoping we might add illustrations this time around as the book just cries out for visuals to go with the rich language and fairytale esthetic. Currently, we are just $190 away from adding our first two illustrations. For those not familiar with the book, we thought it would be nice to share an excerpt. We hope you enjoy. And if you are curious about the campaign for Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, please do click the link. If you are particularly moved, please consider sharing this excerpt or the link with the world. We would be quite grateful for the boost.  


BabaAliandtheClockworkDjinn
The cover of the previous edition, artwork by Autumn Frederickson

An Excerpt from Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

The moon lit his way as he scurried down to the oasis. His first instinct was to fill his goatskin and flee back toward Wadi Al-Nejd before the night grew any older, but as he knelt beside the pool, he could not control his gaze. At first, it merely darted toward the dune and back again. His eyes locked upon the slope a while longer, his mind furiously working on the puzzle of how the dune hid a cavern. He longed to go in, to explore. To know for once and certain that this was the place he sought.

The next he knew, Ali stood where the lead thief’s footprints still shaped the sands, between the rock outcropping and the arta bush with the twisted trunk, his hand toying with one of the robust red blossoms from the branch in his hands as his teeth worried his lower lip.

He should not do it. Allah knew he should not do it.

“Open, Sesame.”

The words were but a whisper across his lips, barely spoken before the sands again separated to reveal the rock outcrop. His eyes widened as next the stone facing slowly slid beneath the desert. Ali forgot once more to breathe. He had not believed it would work. He had been sure the sun had baked his brain. But there it was: the secret cavern, spilling its steady light upon the oasis.

The blossom snapped off in Ali’s tightened grip. He barely noticed as he crept into the cave. As he passed the entrance he noted two divots in the chamber floor that mirrored where he’d stood outside. Ali stopped and turned toward the oasis. It would be best to not betray his presence. “Close, Sesame,” he murmured, recalling the leader’s words; hoping they would work from the inside.

And the earth swallowed Ali whole.

His first impulse was to pound upon the rock, to order it open once more. Instead, he turned and allowed his gaze to sweep the cavern. He could see no sign of the guardians his father’s letter had warned about. Perhaps they had been released by his grandfather’s passing, for they were not here. Still, Ali’s hand crept down to rest upon his satchel, which contained the puzzle box, the travel diary, and his father’s letter. Reassured, he took in the wonders of the cave. The first thing he noticed was the camelids standing in ranks against the far wall, their curved brass flanks dully gleaming. He gasped as he realized these were the ‘ships of the desert’ mentioned in his grandfather’s diary. The ache to explore their inner workings was so strong it was almost physical.

Knowing he could not, Ali dragged his gaze away to examine the rest of the treasures. What he saw dazzled his eyes. Without a doubt, this was Nader Shah’s treasure. A jewel-encrusted platform stood in the center of the cavern. Twelve pillars—each capped by two peacocks with fanned tails—supported a canopy, the underside of which was covered in rubies and diamonds, emerald and pearls. The whole of it rested on four gold feet. Ali shivered in awe at that splendor alone. He had heard of the fabled Peacock Throne, but it had not occurred to him that it would be the centerpiece of his family’s sacred charge. Closest to the platform rested elegant urns filled with chalices and golden platters, some plain, others likewise encrusted with gems. Stacked around these were chests made of precious metals and rare wood. Ali marveled at the finely carved cinnabar and ivory that filled them. Part of him had scarcely believed he would find the treasure of Nader Shah hidden in the heart of the Rub-Al Khali. It was evident that part of him had been wrong.

On the fringes of the shah’s treasure, the thieves had piled canvas sacks and ceramic jars brimming with more pedestrian blessings: common-day coins and costly spices, aromatic perfumes and sparkling jewels, bolts of silk and casks of fine tea. There, shoved to the sides, blanketed in dust, he spied bundles of glass, copper, and brass piping that set his artificer’s heart tripping. The things Ali could make with such supplies! He closed his eyes and turned from the sight, lest avarice take root in his soul. If he was meant for such wealth, Allah would provide.

In the corner beyond the camelids, Ali noticed a workbench the likes of which he’d only seen in his dreams. This, more than even the shah’s treasure let him know that he had found the secret place his father had been searching for.

Charcoal sketches similar to those in Al-Jazari’s book were pinned to a board that leaned against the cavern wall, their black marks softened by a thick layer of dust. Half-finished inventions resembling sketches from his grandfather’s diary gathered dust on the work surface. He sighed, knowing he dare touch nothing, lest he betray himself in some way to the thieves.

His fingers hovered above delicate tools and sturdy spanners his meager coin could never afford. Even these were coated in fine dust and sand, as if long without use, though surely the camelids required maintenance. Glancing more closely, Ali could discern initials engraved on the handles. Were these his grandfather’s tools? They looked to have been well-used at one time, but obviously, that time was long past.

With all his heart, he vowed to reclaim his family’s legacy.

Beside the workbench stood a vat of oil and two barrels, one filled with copper gears, the other black tar for fuel. Beyond that, in the shadows, someone had piled a junk heap of scrap metal and defunct parts next to which stood one of the camelids, its body darkened by smoke residue along one side and the torso open on its hinges. He peered within and noticed a bent cog had twisted one of the shafts. A simple enough thing to fix, and yet it was clear by the coating of dust on the camelid’s back that the thieves had neither interest nor skill for such things. Ali resisted the urge to make the repair himself, instead examining the mechanism with a careful eye. Even damaged, the inner workings of the construct enthralled him. The design was similar to some he had seen at Ustad Babbage’s side, but this was more elegant; as much art as engineering. Inside, a compact copper boiler connected to narrow pipes that led from the tank to an intricate assembly of gears, rods, and pistons, two to each side, corresponding to where the legs attached. Another rose through the aperture where the construct’s neck connected to the body. He could not identify what directed the locomotion, but what he did see gave him some understanding of how the smooth, league-spanning stride of the camelid’s walk was achieved. Ali avidly studied the design, storing the knowledge for future use…assuming he ever had enough coin to do more than dream of crafting such complex engineering. Since Kassim had ordered Ali’s return to Wadi Al-Nejd, there had been little opportunity—or coin—for true invention, only the tinkering that supplemented his dwindling reserve. Sighing, he turned away from the workbench, lest he be tempted to touch.

Oh, what Ali would give to linger in this place for the rest of his days, creating magnificent constructs. But no, he had already lingered too long. Even now, his shoulders tightened and he caught himself darting glances around the room.

It was as if eyes were upon him, causing the skin across his back to crawl. Ali turned to examine the cavern in its entirety, rather than just the riches it held. He spied no one, but for the first time, he took note of the cave itself, marveling at the workmanship. This was no natural cavern but had been crafted by human hands. He could almost make out tool marks, likely from some rock-boring construct. The walls were only partially visible for the lattice of steam pipes crisscrossing overhead and down to the floor. Most of them were copper, but intermixed were glass tubes emitting a soft yellow light from no source Ali understood. Those pipes framing the entrance to the cavern were all glass, thick and gleaming, with brass fittings. To either side of them, Ali saw a complex assembly of great-toothed gears in a variety of sizes, interlocked and showing signs of wear. They appeared to operate a pulley system as a massive metallic cable ran up to the ceiling and down into the ground. He recognized elements of the design from The Book of Knowledge. He would have examined these workings more closely as well, only a sudden movement distracted him.

Inside those pipes by the entrance swirled lavender mist too delicate to be mistaken for steam. For a brief instant, Ali would have sworn there was a flutter, as of eyes blinking. Surely he was mistaken…and yet, the sensation of being watched increased.

Trying to ignore it, Ali continued wandering. Repeatedly, he had to remind himself not to touch each new thing he discovered. He told himself he was blessed just to be here in the secret place his grandfather had created and his father had long sought; it was enough to feel surrounded by their spirits, to see such glorious things, to smell the fragrance of the spices and costly perfumes that sweetened the chamber. Almost, Ali believed the lie. Thinking of the thieves, he fought the urge to lash out. This was his family’s responsibility, his family’s charge, his family’s treasure to guard. That last bore remembering. These riches were not his and never would be, but he could not help but wish just once to hold such wealth in his hands, to know, however briefly, what it felt like to be a rich man. No. No good could come of such thoughts.

Ali sighed. The sound echoed in the chamber until he nearly overlooked the softer sigh that followed his own. And then the light brightened and Ali stiffened as a woman’s voice filled the cavern.

“What have you in your hand, Child of Adam?” The voice was like the crackle of a fire, darker notes beneath the light.

Ali spun. He saw no one.

“What have you in your hand?” the voice repeated. Sweeter than a nightingale, the surging power in that voice sent Ali to his knees, fervent supplication to Allah on his lips, though he had no breath to utter them. His gaze fell upon the glass pipes by the entrance where the roiling mist had taken on a darker, violet hue.

“Tell me!” All sweetness and light fled both the woman’s voice and the chamber.

Ali thought desperately. He did not pick up anything. He purposely had not touched even one piece of treasure. No, not even the bent cog. In the darkness, he focused, startled to realize he did, in fact, cup something in his right hand. Slowly, he reached over with his left and ran his fingers across the sturdy anthers of the arta blossom he had plucked from the bush outside the cavern.

He tried to speak and it was as if the desert itself once more filled his throat.

The darkness took on more weight at his continued silence, but the voice did not speak again. Ali frantically coughed and cleared his throat.

“A flower…” His voice sounded harsh and grating to his ear.

A gasp answered him. The longing in that single sound tightened his chest. Light once more flooded the chamber. Before him, the mist swirled in agitation. Following instinct, Ali crept forward, still on his knees, and laid the flower beside the pipes, the small anthers only slightly bent for having been clutched in his hand.

When he looked up, a woman formed out of the swirling mist; perfect in all proportions, but no larger than a ferret, her body cloaked in smoky robes. The glass tube held a djinni. Her solid black gaze locked on the blossom. Here, at last, one of the guardians of which his father wrote, though Ali wondered how well she could guard from within her encasement.

“He planted them for me,” she whispered. “My master planted them for me. It has been so long since I have seen evidence of his gift. Not since his passage into Death’s Garden.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER – BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN


 

We’re at it again. In the next day or so we will be launching a campaign to fund Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, a unique retelling of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, written by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed. Previously published by Dark Quest Books, the title has been out of print for a number of years, but interest has never seemed to wain. We plan to re-issue the novel under our Paper Phoenix Press imprint. Below is the cover from the previous edition. Sadly, we can’t afford the artist’s price to reuse it, though it was custom art for this book. However, we’re sharing it here because it is lovely and we don’t have anything to replace it with yet (thus the need for funding 😉

We are hoping to raise enough money not only for new custom art but also interior illustrations, which we weren’t able to include the first time around. If we do real well we will also fund a new novella by Michelle D. Sonnier set in the same universe as her novel, The Clockwork Witch… If we do crazy well beyond our wildest imagination we may just do a limited edition numbered hardcover edition…heck…maybe even a handful in full color! Why not? If the funds are there we are more than glad to reach for the moon! Can you help us get there? The campaign isn’t live yet, but please feel free to share the link in this post with your friends if you think they might be interested in Middle Eastern Steampunk or Faerie Tale retellings with a mechanical flare. Once the project goes live, this link will redirect to the active campaign page.

BabaAliandtheClockworkDjinn
The cover for the previous edition, art by Autumn Frederickson.

Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet. I shall tell you a tale such as sister Scheherazade could have scarce imagined…

 In the Nejd there is nothing at all…except secrets. A band of thieves wishes such secrets to remain hidden.

In England, far from his desert home, Ali bin-Massoud serves as apprentice to the famed Charles Babbage. One night a mysterious box is delivered by a clockwork falcon and Ali’s world is never the same again. Heartache, danger, and thieves mark his journey as Ali is summoned home at the death of his father.

It will take faith, knowledge, and yes, love to realize his destiny, and more than a little skill with steam-driven technology. Can he unravel the mystery of the puzzle box and the clockwork djinn before it is too late? An ancient legacy and Ali’s very life depend on his success.

Hear you the tale of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.


Praise for Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn

“Rich with steampunk, magic, and an enchanting setting, this story casts a spell and won’t let go until the very last page!” —Maria V. Snyder, New York Times Bestselling Author

“Readers of steampunk and Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy alike will adore this lush foray into a world seldom explored by the genre. Buckle up for a wild ride across the deserts of your imagination!” —Tiffany Trent, award-winning author of The Unnaturalists

 “A charming retelling of the famous classic […] Whether you are a fan of Steampunk, of exotic fairytales, or just of good writing, this story should delight.” —L. Jagi Lamplighter, award-winning author

“Beautifully evocative of the fairy tale tradition in parts that the modern, steampunk nature of the tale is completely encapsulated in a wonderful adventure.” —Luke’s Reviews


Kickstarter DMcPhail

Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (www.especbooks.com).

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, and three extremely spoiled cats.

To learn more about her work, visit www.sidhenadaire.com or www.especbooks. 

Day

Day Al-Mohamed is an author, filmmaker, and disability policy executive. She is co-author of the Young Adult novel, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, is a host on Idobi Radio’s Geek Girl Riot with an audience of more than 80,000 listeners, and her most recent novella, , was published July 2019 by Falstaff Books. Her recent publications are available in Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Crossed Genres anthology “Oomph – A Little Super Goes a Long Way,” and GrayHaven Comics’ anti-bullying issue “You Are Not Alone.”  

Her current documentary, “The Invalid Corps” is on the festival circuit. 

She is an active member of Women in Film and Video and a graduate of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.  However, she is most proud of being invited to teach a workshop on storytelling at the White House in February 2016.

Day is a disability policy executive with more than fifteen years of experience. She is currently a Senior Policy Advisor with the Federal government. She has also worked as a lobbyist and political analyst on issues relating to Health, Education, Employment, Technology, and International Development. For more information on work in disability policy, please check out: http://www.DayinWashington.com.

Day presents often on the representation of disability in media, most recently at the American Bar Association, SXSW, and New York ComiCon. A proud member of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 24-01 (5th District Southern Region), she lives in Washington DC with her wife, N.R. Brown and guide dog, Gamma. She can be found online at http://www.DayAlMohamed.com and @DayAlMohamed.

michelle d. sonnierMichelle D. Sonnier is a fiction writer with a specialty in mythic fiction, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, and classic horror. She delights in giving a giggle and a shiver. Her debut novel, The Clockwork Witchreleased through eSpec Books in 2018. Look for upcoming projects from Sam’s Dot Publications and Otter Libris.

TODAY’S GUEST – DANIELLE ACKLEY-McPHAIL (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Once Upon a Time…

by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Way back when Gaslight and Grimm was first conceived I was enthralled by the idea and excited to embark on the project. More importantly, I was excited to participate. Though the title gives a nod to the Brothers Grimm, as editor I had always intended that the collection would have a broader scope, encompassing the cherished fables and faerie tales of our youths.

For me, my most cherished tale was “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”. Originally I was to have a story in this collection based on that tale. I know…what happened, right? 

Do you know how difficult it is to tell a classic faerie tale in short story length? I started writing my story and brought Day Al-Mohamed on board first as a cultural consultant, then as a co-writer. By the time we finished our first iteration of our story–in as bare-bones a form as we could and still tell the tale–it was over 17,000 words long. 

Yeah…not too short. See, when the original tales were told storytelling was a very different process. In fact, much of the time these tales were orally told. Told being the key word. These days we are drilled over and over to show, don’t tell. You know what happens when you do that? Your story balloons!

When we told the publisher who was originally intended to publish G&G how long our story had grown he said, “That’s not a story, it’s a book. Go finish writing it.”

And that, is how my novel Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn was born and why you won’t find a story I’ve written based on “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” in Gaslight and Grimm. However…. Gaslight and Grimm is funding on Kickstarter right now, and if you back our project and we hit high enough in our stretch goals, you could get a digital copy of our novel for free.

Here is an excerpt for your enjoyment.


BabaAliandtheClockworkDjinn_lg

An excerpt from Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet.
I shall tell you a tale such as sister 
Scheherazade
could have scarce imagined.
A tale 
of wonders,
of deeds both great 
and grievous,
of courage that
defies description, and above all,
Child of Adam,
I shall tell you a tale of love.

 The night is for the telling of tales of which
the morning may bear 
Truth. In the oldest of days
and 
ages and times, there was, and there was not, a great evil that reached across the desert and beyond…

Chapter One

Ali bin-Massoud ducked his head and made his way down Dorset Street at a brisk pace, hunching his shoulders against the damp chill that clung thick upon his person. Though he was but eighteen years of age, on days like this his bones ached as if he were a graybeard. His woolen white thobe and the darker besht robe he wore over it protected him from the worst of the weather, as did the chafiye wrapped about his head, but they also marked him as an outsider. At times that made things difficult for him. In the three years since he had come to England, Ali could have chosen to adopt this foreign land’s manner of dress but he was not willing to forgo any remaining shred of the culture he still cleaved to in this wet and foggy place. His soul ached for home and his family…his father.

Ali shivered as a late-spring drizzle pelted his skin and held the package of instruments he had fetched from the blacksmith for his teacher tight against his chest. The sun drifted lower in the sky, casting dark shadows from the buildings that edged the street. Ali felt crowded and smothered by them, so different from the open desert that surrounded his home in Wadi Al-Nejd. Lengthening his stride and keeping his head down, he hurried toward Professor Babbage’s home, eager for the shelter it offered. He hesitated, though, as the swift clopping of hard-soled shoes approached.

“My word! Two in one day. It is a veritable infestation,” the stranger muttered. “Out of my way, golliwog.”

Before Ali could step aside, the man shoved past him. Ali’s feet slipped off the edge of the wooden walk. He fell toward the cobbles and into the street. Pain shot up his leg as his knee struck the hard stone. Angry yells and the clamor of hooves and wheels shattered the quiet calm of Dorset Street. Mud splattered his besht and covered his one hand where he had tried to catch himself. With his free hand, Ali clutched his package more tightly and whispered a prayer to the Almighty. He scrambled to the safety of the walkway, his body trembling as the carriage raced by without even slowing, the driver yelling maledictions as he passed. Ali’s cheeks burned at the stares of those few people on the street.

With quiet dignity he shoved down his anger and continued on his way. Pride forced him to take slow, normal steps, though bolts of pain from his knee coursed through him with each stride. Ali could do nothing else; any response or complaint would be twisted and misconstrued. He had seen this too often and would not let his honor, nor that of his teacher and his family be sullied so, though the injustice burned him like the noonday sands.

He understood that his father had sent him to this cold place out of desire for a better life for his second son than he would find in his brother Kassim’s shadow. But the well-meaning exile…apprenticeship, Ali corrected himself, weighed heavily on his soul.

His feet longed for the shift of desert sands beneath them. His skin ached for the hot rays of a brilliant sun. His heart cried out for people who would accept him as he was and not give him baleful looks for skin that was more brown than pale. But more than anything else, he longed for his family. Neither he nor his father had realized how ill-received he would be by the English artificers and engineers, unable even to enroll at University despite a sharp mind, innate talent with mechanical things, and his father’s deep pockets. If not for Professor Babbage accepting him personally as an apprentice—an offer made out of gratitude for a past kindness…and perhaps a more recent exchange of coin—Ali would have found his time in England unbearable. Allah be praised, his situation was not so. The hours spent studying with the artificer filled Ali’s mind with wonder and his heart with joy. The man’s mind was a puzzle of machines and engineering and designs that made Ali desire only to sit at his teacher’s workbench and create them. Such knowledge more than made his venture to this land of the English worthwhile.

Today they were to experiment with a new variation on a machine his teacher called a “difference engine.” Ali’s heartbeat sped up and a faint smile appeared at his lips.

Finally he reached the wrought-iron fence surrounding One Dorset Street. As Ali passed through the gate, his shoulders relaxed and lowered. His head rose, and his chest loosened enough for him to draw a more comfortable breath. Before he could knock, Babbage himself opened the door, his forehead creased and his brow heavy as he scowled. His gaze took in the limp and the torn and dirtied state of Ali’s clothing.

Babbage’s lips pressed tight. “Again?” He glared down the street; first one way, and then the other.

“I am fine, Ustad.”—Honored teacher. “The Almighty’s blessing upon your household,” Ali said in English. His words were clear and unaccented. He and his brother Kassim had learned the language, as well as many others, at their merchant father’s tutoring. Ali bowed as he handed his teacher the package he carried, along with a letter he’d collected from the postmaster. Babbage’s scowl deepened as he read the sender’s name: The Honorable Lady Chadsworth. He humphed as he slipped the envelope into his coat, then turned to stride down the hall.

“Well, come on in then,” Babbage said over his shoulder.

Ali followed, pain forcing him to walk slowly. No doubt he would awaken with significant bruises tomorrow. Despite this, his fingers clenched as if already a spanner weighed upon his palm, all memories of his encounter temporarily forgotten.

Babbage waved toward the stairs. “Why don’t you take a minute to wash up?”

Ali glanced down at himself, his cheeks flaming in shame at his disarray. He bowed quickly before hurrying to the scullery that held the house’s single pump for fresh water. Collecting a pitcher, Ali carefully filled it and made his way upstairs to the attic chamber granted him as a part of his apprenticeship, along with meals.

Once in his room, Ali removed his clothing and made his ablutions. He winced as he gently dabbed at his throbbing knee with a damp washcloth. It was swollen, the skin scraped and oozing blood. Each step up the stairs had been painful, but it looked like the injury wasn’t serious. Ali changed to a clean thobe. Eagerness to return downstairs to begin his lesson with Ustad Babbage spurred his pace.

Babbage was waiting at the door at the back of the house, his tall, lanky form tense. Without a word, they stepped out under the covered walkway that led to the workshop, a two-storey affair that seemed a palace in itself compared to how most people in Ali’s home city of Wadi Al-Nejd lived. As they entered the workshop Ali moved to the coldbox in the corner, where they kept items for quick meals. He took out a small pitcher and poured milk into the bowl he’d reserved for the household’s brownies. He had learned of the English’s magical faeries in a book he’d found in the library. It had comforted him to discover that this soot-grey city, in some small way, echoed the magic of his far-off homeland. Being conversant with tales of the fickle, and at times, malevolent ways of magical creatures, even foreign ones, Ali made certain to ensure these were kept happy.

As he placed the saucer just outside the workshop door Ali sensed Babbage’s usual disapproval. He grinned up at his teacher, knowing the complaint. After three years of this ritual, it no longer needed to be voiced—science versus poppycock and ignorant, savage superstition. Yet his teacher never stayed Ali’s hand, his tolerance good-natured though his manner remained gruff. Ali had to admit he had yet to see a being that resembled the images from the book, but set out his saucer all the same. Faith required belief, not proof.

His task complete, Ali rolled up his sleeves in preparation for work. His gaze went to the roof, constructed from sheets of clear glass. The rain tapped against them in a steady patter. Soft light bathed the chamber, but the hour grew late. They would need lanterns to see their work.

Ali sighed, not overly fond of the paraffin lanterns. He missed the fragrant lamp oils of his homeland. The English paraffin stank and smoked. Straightening his shoulders and shrugging off his distaste, he circled the room, using lucifer matches to light the many lanterns until the workspace fairly glowed. Once the task was complete, he joined his teacher at the workbench where Babbage had already opened the package of custom-made tools Ali had been sent to collect. They were truly things of beauty, not just tools for efficiency. Wood handles, with cold steel working parts—a mainspring tightener, a brand-new indicator, a set of collets, indexible turrets, and an oddly shaped ratchet. Ali recognized Babbage’s own designs among the more standard implements. While many were familiar, several were not. He would no doubt learn the purpose of the others as they proceeded.

They worked for hours, constructing first paper, then wooden templates from Babbage’s notes and assembling them, working out the calculations precisely. That was where Ali excelled, in the implementation of Babbage’s designs. Taking something from the theoretical and making it real. Ali felt a small bubble of pride as they tested elements of the machine. He longed to take up the new tools and construct the whole of this difference engine, but that was forbidden him for now, though an entire clean-room remained sealed at the back of the workshop, eternally waiting for the master’s grand invention. Even dust was not allowed entry.

In his secret thoughts, Ali feared his teacher would never venture forward, would never take the steps to realize his dream, his spirit broken by an earlier failure many years before, the specifics of which were never discussed. Nevertheless, Ali sought to become a master artificer. There was yet much for him to learn of theory, mathematics, and engineering through the smaller efforts completed under his teacher’s tutelage.

This is what Ali’s father wanted for him. The skill of the artificer, the knowledge of the scholar, the vision of the inventor; tools with which he could build a future outside of the family business that would be his brother’s inheritance. As the younger son, it was necessary that Ali seek his own destiny. On his own, Ali would have become little more than a machinist or tinkerer. Blessed with this opportunity to work with Ustad Babbage, Ali had the chance to achieve the dream his father held for him, which, in his heart of hearts, Ali wished for himself.

Content, he settled into his work, pausing only for his evening prayers. Other than Babbage’s instructions, neither of them spoke. Just as well, Ali found it hard to breathe, let alone talk; the fumes from the lamps and their work made the air heavy. The third time Ali strangled a cough, Babbage ordered him to open the “damnable” window. The air outside was scarcely any better, but at least the evening breeze and the damp from the recent rain freshened the stifling room and cooled Ali’s brow.

After several hours, they stopped for a bit of bread and tea, Ali preparing a blend his father regularly sent him from his far desert country. Happily, Ali’s teacher was quite taken with the full-bodied flavor of Indian First Leaf and so the evening break was a time of comfort and peace in their day. To make it doubly pleasurable, during that time, Ali had the opportunity to ask questions about the mathematics and philosophies that formed the foundation of the work they were doing. Babbage spoke broadly about the theoretical underpinnings that every artificer needed to know. Time flew quickly and soon they returned to the workbench, ready to toil well into the night.

Before they could take up their tools, something clattered on the windowsill. As one, Ali and Babbage turned to behold a fantastic sight. Perched upon the sill was what appeared to be a falcon. Not one of the small English kestrels. This creature rivaled those of Ali’s desert home.

Head tilting for a better view, Ali stepped forward. The movement took him out of the path of the light, allowing the warm glow of the lamps to fall full upon the form in the open window. Gem-bright eyes flashed at him from a sculpted avian face. Drawing a sharp breath, Ali stopped still.

“How extraordinary,” Babbage murmured softly. Silently, Ali agreed.

Other than its form, this bird had no foundation in nature. Both “feathers” and “flesh” seemed purely mechanical, finely wrought from the most delicate of clockwork and hammered metal. Ali noticed a series of gears beneath the wings. They moved both seamlessly and silently. Feathers of fitted bronze, copper, and tin in their natural colors, undimmed, fluttered flat against its back with faint clicks. Ali longed to examine the inner workings.

Both he and Babbage stepped closer. But as a shape moves, so does its shadow; their own reached out to the marvel before them. The construct gave a sudden cry at their motion and hunched upon its clawed feet, wings sweeping out and upward until they stretched wide into the room.

“Allah, protect me!” Well aware of the damage that could be delivered by claw and beak from hunting falcons, Ali ducked, using his arms to protect his head, expecting to be attacked. Beside him, his teacher swore and picked up the heavy lever from a pullback motor. But the bird did not strike.

Ali peered past his arms, watching as the falcon launched skyward, disappearing into the night, further establishing its unnatural state. The sill bore deep gouges in the wood and an ornate bronze puzzle box remained where the falcon had lit.

The air grew still as neither of them moved. A frown puckered Ali’s brow as he turned his gaze to his teacher. Babbage merely stood there, rigid, his features pale. He gripped the lever so tightly that his hand shook. The man swallowed hard, as if forcing something bitter past his throat.

“Fetch it, lad.” Despite his lack of tone, the words were the words foreboding.

Ali’s jaw tensed at the diminutive form of address used by the older man. In light of the earlier encounter on the street, he had to remind himself that in this there was no malice. Ustad Babbage had the habit of calling any man younger than he, ‘lad.’

Ali moved forward, careful step by careful step, though the raptor had already flown away. For a moment, he thought he saw something move in the darkness beyond the window, but could not be certain. Recalling the bird’s razor-like claws, Ali’s hands clenched into fists. He shook them loose, then reached for the box with one hand as he closed the window with the other. Turning toward the nearest lamp, he brought up his right hand to trace the engraving: his name, scribed in his own language, with a flourish that seemed familiar. Surrounding his name, intricate scrollwork ran from the edges of the top of the box, down each side. His vision blurred as he stared down at the marks, as if the design rejected his gaze. Ali shook off such foolishness. Surely the oily lamp fumes had addled his thoughts.

Ustad Babbage…?” Ali didn’t understand the significance of the box but perhaps his teacher would. After all, the mechanical beast had come to his home, left the box on his sill. All Ali had done was retrieve it. The lighting dimmed, or perhaps just his vision, and the room swayed.

Babbage’s eyes dropped to the box and then lifted back to Ali before sliding away, avoiding Ali’s questioning gaze. His lips drew down at the corners. “I would say we are done for the evening, lad. Go on to bed.”

Ali held out the puzzle box.

“Take it with you. It is clear whom it is meant for.”

“But…this…” Ali fumbled over the English words. His mind raced and he couldn’t translate his jumbled thoughts and emotions quickly.

Babbage met Ali’s gaze and held it. “It is your name on the box. And no creature, neither mechanical, nor natural, could have found this place, could have found you by accident. Do you understand Ali bin-Massoud?” It was the first time Babbage had used his full name.

Before Ali could inquire further, Babbage turned away, discouraging any further conversation as he set about tidying the workbench and extinguishing the lamps. “Goodnight, Ali.”

Bowing once more, though his teacher did not see, Ali left the workshop, noting in passing that his offering of milk had been consumed. Any other night he would have searched the foliage for the brownies. Tonight, remembering the flutter of movement he saw out the window, Ali hurried back to the house. 

~*~

The story continues in Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn

EDITOR SPOTLIGHT – DANIELLE ACKLEY-McPHAIL (GASLIGHT AND GRIMM)


Dmcp copyeSpec Books interviews Danielle Ackley-McPhail, co-editor of Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales with Diana Bastine, http://tiny.cc/GandG.

eSB: What was your favorite faerie tale growing up and why?

DAM: When I was young my mother worked for CBS Records (yes…actual vinyl) running one of their injection molds. Each year the employees received an allotment of albums. they could choose from anything CBS produced. When I was about five or six one of my Christmas presents was the album equivalent of an audiobook. One side was…well…some story I can’t remember…maybe “Beauty and the Beast”, I think, but the OTHER side was “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”. Can I tell you, I played that record until it warped and the Ali Baba side was my favorite. I don’t know why, really. Maybe it is because it was a different kind of tale, or maybe it’s because the reader used an accent, but in any case the tale stuck with me. You’ll learn just how much later in this interview.

eSB: What is your favorite faerie tale retelling…and why?

DAM: Robin McKinley’s Deerskin. In part it was because her writing has always been magical and beautiful, but never shied away from the darker, grim…or should I say Grimm aspects of life. It was also because I was unfamiliar with the tale before I discovered her version and I love discovering new things.

eSB: What classic tale would you say is required reading for faerie tale fans?

DAM: My response to this is not a specific tale, there are too many out there that are gathering dust to pick just one. Instead I would say the originals should be brushed off and taken up again. So much of what is printed today of the “classics” are watered down versions of tales that were very grim in deed. I think that is a travesty. I had never read the original Cinderella until I went to college and it was required reading for one of my English classes. Let me just say that it was a vastly different experience than reading the clean-scrubbed version I had access to as a child. And, as many of these tales were original told and not written, there are a wealth of variations out there for people to find and enjoy. Got to your library, or a used book store…one big, old places with books everywhere and you need a map to find anything specific, and go digging…look for the oldest faerie tale book you can find, with the tattiest cover, and sit down and read.

eSB: What modern tale would you say is required reading for faerie tale fans?

DAM: Again, I would direct your attention to Robin McKinley. I first discovered her work when I was a young girl. The first books I found were The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. Both are written in the same universe, deal with non-European culture, and weave such a masterful tale very reminiscent of those original, classic faerie tales…on a grander scale. She has also done quite a few actual retellings, but her original tales will always be my favorites.

eSB: What faerie tale did base your story on and what challenges did you face ’punking it up?

DAM: Well, on this book I am the editor, but originally I was intended to be a contributor as well. I sat down to write my version of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” both because it was my favorite and because I saw so much potential for non-eurocentric steampunk…little did I know how right I was! I asked my friend, Day Al-Mohamed to be my cultural consultant because I really wanted to do this right. In the end she became my co-author.

Let me tell you what we discovered. Do you know how hard it is to translate those original tales in short form today? Back when they were written tales were told, not shown. So a story of just a few pages is actually packed with occurrences that really draw out the word count in the modern style of writing where we are told to show, not tell. No matter how much effort we took to condense the action and the description, or story continued to grow until it was over 17,000 words long, and bare bones in spots, at that. The intended publisher at that time looked at us and shook his head, saying…It’s a book now, go finish it. That book became Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, and that is how I became a mere editor on this wonderful project :::grin:::

eSB: What are some of your own works readers can look for?

DAM: as a writer, I have a trilogy of novels based on Irish mythology, The Eternal Cycle series (Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise), I have two novels in the Bad-Ass Faerie Tale series that grew out of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies (The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen), and I’ve already told you about Baba Ali. For my short fiction I have three solo collections: A Legacy of Stars (science fiction), Consigned to the Sea (nautical fantasy), and Transcendence (urban fantasy). As an editor, I’m the senior editor of The Bad-Ass Faeries anthologies (fantasy, mostly), Dragon’s Lure (fantasy), In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk (steampunk), The Society for the Preservation of CJ Henderson (mixed genre), and The Side of Good / The Side of Evil (superhero fiction)

eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?

DAM: On the writing side (grin) I am working on a short story for Zombies Need Brains’ collection Were– and for a shared-world project by Steven H. Wilson, also I am working on a novella, Eternal Wanderings, which is the first in a spin-off series of the same name, in the same world as my Eternal Cycle novels. Sadly, life events have gotten in the way of all of that and I am very behind. From an editor standpoint I’m working on sequel volumes to The Side of Good / The Side of Evil and scheming on a few more that I’m not ready to talk about yet J

eSB: How can readers find out more about you?

DAM: My name is very distinctive so a web search will turn up LOADS of hits…but they can also go to my websites (www.sidhenadaire.com, www.badassfaeries.com) or look me up on social media. There are no books I am aware of…yet. :::grin:::

SOCIAL MEDIA USER IDs

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http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-Ackley-McPhail/e/B002GZVZPQ/  

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