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by Caroline M. Yoachim

I met Tina at the Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2006, when both of us were students there. I was new to writing at the time, but Tina had already put in years of work to develop her own unique voice. The stories she wrote at the workshop were vivid and imaginative, lyrical and compelling. Five of the stories in this collection had their beginnings at the workshop, and I remember them clearly even ten years later—that’s how good they are.

Tina lives in Portland and I live in Seattle, so we’ve had some chances to get together after the workshop ended. It was at one of these early get-togethers that we decided to collaborate. We’d never had much luck with the sort of collaboration where each person writes a scene or two before passing the draft back, so we decided to try something a little different. We each wrote an outline, and then traded—she wrote my outline and I wrote hers. Then we traded again for revisions, back and forth until both of us were happy with the stories. The process was slow, but ultimately good: “Flash Bang Remember” appeared in Lightspeed in 2012, and “We Will Wake Among the Gods, Among the Stars” came out in the January 2016 issue of Analog. For fun, and because we both love flash, we also wrote a flash piece together: “Coin Flips” came out in Daily Science Fiction in March 2015.

Now, ten years after Clarion West, we both have short story collections coming out, and after all the collaborations we’ve done and the friendship we’ve formed, it seemed only fitting that we trade introductions. I’ve always been drawn to shiny ideas, and Tina’s collection is like a treasure chest filled with gems, with story-jewels in every imaginable hue, and all of them polished and sparkling. Tina writes an incredible variety of things. Her novels, of course, aren’t included here (if you haven’t already read them, you should! I recommend starting with Ironskin), but on these pages you’ll find poetry and plays, humor and heartbreak, breathtaking secondary worlds and innovative flash.

Tina comes from a background in theater, which shines through in her amazing characters and authentic dialog. I love the relationships she creates between her characters (like the sisters in “Facts of Bone”), and the fascinating jobs she gives them (like coaxing cyborgs into consciousness, in “On the Eyeball Floor”). Tina then takes her wonderfully compelling characters and puts them into difficult situations. She forces them to make the hard choices. In “Selling Home” the protagonist must decide what they would do to take care of a sibling. “Old Dead Futures” is about what we might sacrifice if we knew the future. “Hard Choices” gives a more humorous take on difficult decisions, but as with many of Tina’s stories, this CYOA is a mix of dark and light.

Some writers focus on a single type of story, but one of the things I love about Tina’s stories is her amazing range. She can write a hilarious story as a series of emails (“Super-Baby-Moms Group Saves the Day!”), a bittersweet and nostalgic story divided into four seasons (“On Glicker Street”), and a dark and gritty science fiction story (“Turning the Apples”)—and despite how different the stories are, she pulls them all off beautifully.

One of the reasons Tina can pull off such a wide range is that she creates the perfect voice for each story, be it snarky young adult (see “That Seriously Obnoxious Time I Was Stuck at Witch Rimelda’s One Hundredth Birthday Party,” a short story set in the world of Tina’s Seriously Wicked novels) or gritty with futuristic slang (see “Bitrunners” and “Turning the Apples”). Tina’s exceptional ear for words may come from her background in theater, or her poetry background, or perhaps her experience as a narrator for multiple podcasts. (If you want to hear one of Tina’s fantastic narrations, you can find her on Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and at Podcastle, and of course on her very own dark, twisted, crispy-gooey flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.)

Tina and I are both quite fond of flash fiction, which is an idea distilled to its essence, and many of my favorite flash pieces are included here. I have already mentioned “Hard Choices,” which condenses the CYOA format usually found in novels into a mere 750 words. The aptly titled “Left Hand” is told from the point of view of someone’s left hand, and “Ten” is told from an even more unusual perspective. “Recalculating” captures the frustration so many of us have felt when dealing with our GPS.

There is a playful blurring of forms in so many of Tina’s stories—flash told as GPS directions or CYOA, stories in the format of plays (“How Frederika Cassowary-Jones Joined the Ladies’ Society of Benevolent Goings-On”) or instructions for pregnant women (“Standard Comfort Measures in Earthling Pregnancies”).

Tina’s stories sometimes verge on being poetry, the language is so gorgeous. “Moon at the Starry Diner” opens with “Air like a mushroom. Dense. Pocketed with holes, moments where Jem could breathe normally. She filled her lungs, drinking in the new atmosphere, dazzled by the blue-black sky. Starlight like diamonds, winking around her feet.” I love the poetry of Tina’s stories, and I love the stories that are woven into her poems. My favorite poem of Tina’s is “A Million Little Paper Airplane Stories,” which so perfectly captures the elusiveness of the tales we try to tell.

Elusive though the stories may be, Tina hunts them down expertly. She comes up with fascinating starting premises. Can you think of a good deed that has never been done? (“One Ear Back”). What if you had the power to change the future? (“Old Dead Futures”). What is the nature of fairies? (“As We Report to Gabriel,” and if you love this story, definitely check out her Ironskin novels). Tina’s stories are dense and richly imagined, the sorts of stories you can re-read again and again, finding something new each time.

There are seeds of truth in Tina’s stories, no matter how fantastic the setting or the premise. Her worlds are imaginative and strange, but we as readers are grounded by the fundamentally human issues her characters face—lost love, the bonds of family, and the consequences of the choices that we make.

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