Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

November 4, 2019

In Which a Writer Confesses She Has Thoughts About Desire

The look on her face? I feel this.
Cupid and Psyche by François Gérard

Last month, I was at a convention in Ottawa where I had been assigned to a panel to read a “difficult passage” from one of my works.

This was both a simple assignment and absolutely impossible. I know exactly what I find difficult. It is so difficult for me that I have managed to stay ten billion miles away from it in all possible ways.

I don’t find anything difficult but emotions, and I have gone to great lengths to avoid writing them.

It is particularly conspicuous to me that, in five years of pro fiction publishing, I have never published a story with a romance in it. I love romance. I love it so much that I have tens of thousands of pages of it in my archives, meticulously written and rewritten over years, lovingly read back just as often. I have seen my favourite sappy movies literal hundreds of times each. I have lived things that should be the red meat of any writer’s body of work, but I haven’t harvested it.

None of my heroes or heroines have ever fallen in love. They are not in relationships. Nobody kisses and they barely hug; keeping too busy for you to notice. Physical desire is awkwardly absent. I take very wide circles around the topic.

I blush when I think about this hole in my repertoire, this cowardly avoidance. It isn’t as if I am shy. If anything, I am a compulsive over-sharer. I don’t lack for inspiration, or desire to write it. I don’t doubt my skill. I happen to think my romance stories–the ones I keep for myself–are the best I have ever read.

But I am not ready to write romantic feelings for publication, not yet. Instead, I have written a version of the Classical story of Cupid and Psyche that is an effort to contend with why I find the writing of romantic love so fraught. This is ‘The Joy in Wounding’ (F&SF, Nov/Dec 2019).

Psyche Discovering the Sleeping Cupid by Luca Giordano
Psyche Discovering the Sleeping Cupid by Luca Giordano

If you are not familiar with the Cupid & Psyche story, it goes like this:

Psyche is the youngest daughter of a rich merchant, and she is very beautiful. So beautiful that men are continually throwing themselves at her, wasting away for want of her, ruining themselves in droves for a glimpse of her. Venus, the Goddess of Love and Beauty, becomes jealous of Psyche and sends her son, Cupid, to punish Psyche by using his magic to ruin her, probably by having her fall in love with some awful person or another. But, instead, Cupid also falls in love with Psyche, kidnaps her, and carries her away to his hidden palace where he “marries” her and keeps her trapped and alone.

Cupid comes to Psyche every night to demand sex, but he will only do so under cover of dark because he doesn’t want her to know who he is. She becomes convinced she has been kidnapped by a monster of some kind, and frankly, she’s right. Alone all day and raped at night, she becomes despondent. Eventually Cupid allows her to bring her older sisters to visit her, to cheer her up. But they are jealous of Psyche’s beauty and the divine palace she finds herself in, and they convince her she has to slay her monstrous husband and escape.

Psyche takes a lantern and a dagger and creeps up on Cupid while he sleeps, intending to murder him. But instead, she sees how beautiful he is and hesitates. Candle wax drips from her lantern and wakes him, and, angry and betrayed, he casts her out of his home and vanishes.

Well, as if things weren’t enough bullshit up until now, the fallout from Cupid’s tantrum make everything worse. Both Psyche’s sisters try to attract Cupid for themselves, and end up accidentally killing themselves. Psyche feels really really bad about betraying her husband, and spends the next many years wandering the earth, looking for a way to atone. She eventually finds herself working for Venus , the mother-in-law who hates her, and she manages to be such a wonderful and doting daughter that Aphrodite sort of grudgingly forgives her for being pretty and gives her back to Cupid, who has spent this whole time pouting. Hurray, they are reunited, and Psyche is elevated to the status of Goddess. She is the Goddess of the human spirit.

Here’s what galls me about this story: It is generally framed as a romance.

The story of Cupid and Psyche betrays Psyche in so many ways that you could be forgiven for missing half of them. For the crime of being sexually desirable, Psyche is besieged, kidnapped, imprisoned, raped, spited by her sisters, exiled, enslaved, and finally claimed. Her sisters are killed. She wanders the earth for years living as a beggar, looking for a husband who ensorcelled her. And that makes her the essence of the human soul.

I can’t dismiss the hold this story has had over Western culture as anomalous. It reigned as the paragon of love and desire for a solid 1,800 years and I am not convinced it won’t come back en vogue. You can find stories like it in cultures all across time and place. Beautiful women, chosen by powerful men, tolerated only so long as they remained untouched, and punished mercilessly for the desire they inspire in other men.

How romantic.

I am not sure I can publish a story that is soft, comforting and vulnerable when I am still fundamentally so angry.

On one hand, ‘The Joy in Wounding’ was born of that anger, and frustration in how we have remembered Psyche’s story. What I glossed over in my synopsis above, and what most people have never heard, is the second half of the original tale. After wandering the world for years, serving personally multiple goddesses, Psyche ends up in the service of Venus, who is intent on punishing her still. She sets for Psyche a series of impossible tasks, each of them properly Herculean, including collecting black water from the river Styx, facing down dragons, and entering into the underworld. Psyche does it all, and more.

What if we remembered that Psyche? What if her sisters hadn’t leapt to their dooms out of jealousy? What if the villain of the story were the actual cause of Psyche’s misery: the unchecked desires of men?

Yet, I’m not very good at staying angry. I don’t want to inspire anger, I want to illuminate other paths. I wanted ‘Joy in Wounding’ to be about love–just not about male desire. Melantho–sister of Psykhe, and hero of my story–is very much my surrogate for what I am willing to share of my romantic self with the world. There is family and love and maybe something more, but there is no space yet for the rest. We have trust to rebuild. We have foundations to lay. We have to fight to be safe enough for vulnerability and submission. We’re not ready for that yet.

I’m not ready for that yet. Maybe that’s what I have to say about that.

October 16, 2019

Can*Con 2019: Performances, Readings, D&D and more!

Can-Con is the best convention running north of [somewhere far south] right now, I’ll say it. I’ll stand by it, too. The concom’s goal for the last few years has been to build “Readercon North” with an emphasis on professional development for writers. If you’re starting to feel like the panels at your local conventions are a bit too 101, this is where you go for 201, 301, and graduate studies. I love it.

I’m heading up on the train Friday afternoon with half of Toronto, it looks like – are you on Train 42: Nerd Train to Somewhere? Get in touch! We have cookies! Not that I will be hard to find after that. I have a marathon schedule of readings, performances, panels, and more. PLEASE NOTE that I am not an introvert, so don’t take my busy schedule to mean I don’t want to have coffee with you. I love coffee! And people! I would love to see you.


First thing in the morning I will be having breakfast and coffees with folks – if you are a Codex member, check in to the forums! If you aren’t, see above about saying hi anyway.

My one (1) panel is at 1pm: Escaping Ageism in SFF. I am absolutely looking forward to discussion with these incredible people.

My Reading is at 4pm. This is a panel-style event where several writers will be reading “difficult passages” from their work and talking about the process of getting the hard parts down. Hopefully we’ll get some good discussion going and answer some questions about the trickier bits of the craft.

Then, at 6pm — D&D! This live game is counter-programmed against the Auroras, so if you are wondering what to do with yourself while others are at the fancy party, come watch us goof around in *looks at notes* a magical boarding school for adventurers? Anyway, I am super excited about this one.


I have the honour on Sunday of moderating one of Can-Con’s science track panels, this one on the depletion of water resources. One of the amazing things about Can-Con is the number of experts, scientists, policy-makers, and academics they recruit, and this year, they’ve put together a genuinely impressive track for them. I’m going to get up there with my sad little Resource Management BA and guide the brainiacs through an accessible but no doubt weighty conversation on the future of clean water in Canada and abroad.

PodCastle! Live! With Foley! Produced by KT Bryski, this will be a radio-play style performance of a HILARIOUS new work by Derek Kunsken, recorded live for PodCastle. The rest of us are actors in this comedy – I expect this to be a riot. There is a small amount of AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION. I do hope you will come.

Right, I have a panel to plan, some lines to memorize, a character’s props to gather, a reading to choose, and macarons to bake, so with no further ado – see you there!

October 16, 2019

The Satyr of Brandenburg Pt. One Now Up at PodCastle!

Well, I did say it would be up really soon. Three weeks from acceptance to publication – that’s a new record for me! And for a podcast at that!

You can listen to (and read) ‘The Satyr of Brandenburg’, Pt. One now!

And in case you missed it – you can listen to (and read) the first adventure of La Héron and Alex, ‘La Héron’, here as well.

Stay tuned for Part Two!

October 6, 2019

Ending 2019 With a Whoosh-Bam!

Whoosh-bam, that is the official sound of publications dropping, in case you are unfamiliar with it. The whooshing is the mind-blowing speed with which they arrive, and the BAM is the magnificent weight of them landing solidly on, hopefully, your reading list. Six months ago, I had nothing in the pipe. My, how things change.

Satyr of Brandenburg at PodCastle!

I’m pleased to announce that ‘The Satyr of Brandenburg‘, the sequel to ‘La Héron‘, will soon appear as a 2-part podcast on PodCastle. It was originally a published in the Mar/April 2018 issue of F&SF (above) but this is your chance to read it online even if listening to audio storytelling isn’t your jam.

I can’t say for sure when it will broadcast, but there’s a rumour that it will be coming up really, really soon. Watch my Twitter feed for details when I get them.

I like to think Satyr stands alone as a story, but La Héron is fun and easy prep, if you haven’t read it yet. Fairies, ogres, treachery and dueling – I got ’em all and more.

The Joy of Wounding out soon at F&SF!

Meanwhile, November 1st marks the drop (BAM) of my latest F&SF story, ‘The Joy in Wounding.’ This is a exploration of the Greek tale ‘Cupid and Psyche’, delving into the time Psykhe (and her sisters Lalange and Melantho) spent wandering the earth after being thrown out of Cupid’s palace.

Needless to say, they become mercenaries. I am nothing if not on-brand.

I’ll post my schedule soon, but I will have copies of both stories with me at Can*Con in Ottawa, Ontario the weekend of October 18th-20th, as well as heaps of my book, Archipelago. I’ll be reading there, though I can’t say what – more on that later.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

May 19, 2017

In Which That Escalated Quickly

I’ve said before that I enjoy collaboration. I am not a cabin-in-the-woods writer (unless that cabin has five bedrooms and a huge kitchen, for parties) – I write better with company, with a sounding board, with exchange. I really found my feet as a writer when I joined a local writing group, because even chatting for two hours about writing once a month was enough to open my brain up. I find collaborating energizing.

Which is all very well for me, one of the rare “extroverted writers” of the world, but I worry about my collaborators. Sometimes, I wonder if they regret what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Let me give an example. Let me talk about The Archipelago.

Last year, Andrew Leon Hudson contacted me and asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a Patreon account. By pooling our audiences, multiple authors would reach more readers than just one, he reasoned. And readers, they’d get three stories for the price of one! We’d just have to commit to producing regular material over a long period of time.

Sounds good, right? Sharing, my favourite thing! This should have been an easy ask.

Sure, I replied. But instead of just releasing, you know, ANY OLD WRITING, why don’t we collaborate on the world instead? We could release serial novels in a shared world.

Andrew hesitated, but agreed. He had been burned by a shared world project in the past, but maybe if we were more diligent…

BUT WAIT, I no doubt ploughed right over his concerns. WHAT IF our shared world was COMPETITIVE? People could pick a faction/writer to support, and we could write our stories tactically, like a role playing game!

To his credit, Andrew rose to the occasion, and the Archipelago was born. But our ambition didn’t stop there.

We had soon brainstormed the beginnings of our world and recruited Kurt Hunt to the cause. “This should be easy,” we thought. “A chapter a month, a few thousand words… I can do this in my spare time.”

Ha ha ha.

Then we decided to create a three whole side-plots, for readers who wanted to “declare fealty” to one faction.

Then we decided to properly brand ourselves, and invest in art and design.

Then we decided to allow audience interaction.

Then we decided to launch with a Kickstarter campaign.

Pretty soon, we were committed to at least 5k words of fiction a month, much of it written on the fly, maintaining a Wiki, publishing ebooks, commissioning artists, writing world guides, and more. “Spare time,” indeed.


Do I have any regrets?

Absolutely none.

Here’s the thing about Archipelago: every time I mentioned to someone what I was working on, their eyes went wide. Every time I sent a draft to a reader, they returned it covered in exclamation marks. My cousin started writing Archipelago fan-fiction before we had even finalized a chapter.  Something about the world, about the project, just sings to me. I have had more fun writing over the last six months than I had in the preceding two years. I’m buried in it, but happily. There is treasure here.

Today, BlackGate.com are kind enough to host my first Archipelago story, “The Ur-Ring.” This is an introduction to my Nation, Al’Tahj, but also a stand-alone story in its own right. Kurt called it “our banteriest story yet,” and it is, indeed, very banter-y, but also marvelous and mysterious, I hope. You can read it here.

I hope you’ll read along. Starting June 1st, subscribers to our Patreon will receive three Archipelago stories per month. You can subscribe for as little as $1/month! You could also support us at our Kickstarter campaign this month for bonus material and an early chance to have a character, ship or even an island named after you.

Obviously, it serves me entirely to say this story is going to be great, but I’m sincere as well. It’s going to be great. It already is. I am so glad Andrew talked me into it. I hope he and Kurt forgive me for taking them into so much more!

Follow The Archipelago on Twitter and/or Facebook for updates!

May 2, 2017

“Sigrid Under the Mountain” is now a Podcast!

It’s new publication day! Are podcasts publications? I’m new enough to this technology that I don’t know the terminology yet – I must be getting old. :/

Sigrid is also old, but, like me, she is too cranky to know it, and wouldn’t care even if she did. I love her, you will love her – I hope you’ll give it a listen.

“Sigrid Under the Mountain” read by Nina Niskanen @ PodCastle.

June 29, 2015

Every day I’m publishin’

June 2015: I have to remember this month. It has been a serious banner month for me as a writer, and I’m only just beginning to really digest it all!

I’ve had two stories published!

The first, “Sigrid Under the Mountain,” is in the Summer 2015 issue of The Sockdolager. This is a light and funny story about a feisty and rather cranky woman just trying to live an ordinary life in a world filled with magic, monsters, heroes and villains. “What’s the point of marrying a great, celebrated hero if he won’t even keep kobolds from harrying your cow?” Indeed.

The second, “The Posthuman Condition,” is in the Summer 2015 issue of Kaleidotrope. This is the story of Jesse, an unpaid intern at a transhumanist nightclub, having the worst night of her life. It lands somewhere between splatter horror and cyberpunk with a dose of myth thrown in. TW: suicides. “The God of Post-Man: Who Chooses the Posthuman Condition? A Folly by Jesse Bauman. And Friends.

I’ve also sold three short stories this month!

I have sold my alt-history Revolutionary-era Quebec novelette, “More Heat Than Light,” to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This will be my second appearance in F&SF and I’m OVER THE MOON about it. Publication date unconfirmed, but possibly early 2016.

I sold another alt-history, “Eleusinian Mysteries,” to Luna Station Quarterly.This is the story of a Javanese-Dutch mapmaker who discovers a map of a city on the moon, and a secret Dutch East India Company plan to travel there. Publication date September 2015.

The third sale is still a secret, but I hope the TOC will be announced soon! I like having announcements. This is a thing I could serious get used to…

November 20, 2014

My 5 Canada Reads Picks!

Canada Reads has not been interesting to me for several years, in large part because the crowd-sourcing of recommendations has led to a lot of predictable, already-lauded frontlist books being chosen to represent the year’s theme, no matter what it was. For anyone who follows CanLit, the lists for the last three Canada Reads have been deeply boring. Deserving, sure; but dull.

There is something about this year that has roused my optimism, however. “One book to break barriers,” they want. Surely this theme, of all themes, lends itself to new, unexpected, barrier-breaking nominees? They want challenging books. They want – now, don’t get cynical here on me. We’re still in the honeymoon phase – to upset the status quo.

In the wake of the Ghomeshi scandal, Wab Kinew is not the ideal Canada Reads host. Don’t get me wrong – I love Kinew to pieces and think he will do a brilliant job. But given all that we have learned about institutionalized sexism and cultures of harassment over the last weeks, Canada Reads – and Q – really needed a woman at the podium.

But Canada Reads isn’t about the host. It is about the books, and there is absolutely no reason this year cannot be a slate of fresh, challenging, smart, and feminist Canadian books.

While we’re breaking barriers, let’s break a few more. It’s high time Canada Reads had more of our incredible range of literary speculative fiction on its slate. It’s time for our outstanding Young Adult authors to have a place. Sadly, they are not inviting short story collections this year – fie – but non-fiction is welcome at the table.

I have a few ides.

vN by Madeline Ashby (Angry Robot Books)

Toronto’s Ashby writes science fiction which deftly goes out of its way to do exactly what science fiction does best: turn societal norms inside out to show us how messed up things are here and now. Her struggling android protagonists expose smart truths about race, gender, and power without losing sight of the tight, thriller-like plot.

The Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet (ChiZine)

Sweet’s debut novel is a dark fantasy filled with magic and monsters, but at its heart is the story of a vulnerable young woman who finds herself under the power of an abusive teacher. Sweet uses fantasy to explore the complexities of how powerful (and charismatic) man can trap and harm even the most talented women. Topical? Yes.

 Above by Leah Bobet (Scholastic)

Bobet’s debut young adult novel is rich not only in wonderful, poetic language, but in what it has to say about identity and belonging. Her “Freaks” live deep beneath a city that does not love them, a sort-of-Toronto every bit as problematic as the one we have here. Despite jacket copy tat makes it sound like a boilerplate YA paranormal romance, Above is philosophically nuanced and emotionally demanding of its readers.

Among Others by Jo Walton (Tor)

Jo Walton’s “science fiction with a fantasy problem” novel is another example of rich language layered on enchanting worldbuilding and exciting plot with a painful story of a young woman who has lost so much at its core. It is also funny, touching, whimsical and a delight to read – but the biggest barrier it pushes is in how this is very much a story about women, and only women. Witches and fairies, yes, but mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts.

Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto (NeWest Press)

Hiromi Goto’s 1994 classic about three generations of Japanese-Canadian women is so much weirder, more wonderful, and more experimental than I had expected. Another story of “identity and belonging”, Canada’s favourite subject, this one is infused with Japanese folklore in a distinctly postmodern sort of way. Stories are couched within stories, blurring the lines between whose story if being told and whether anything being told is a story. In addition – this is an older classic of Asian-Canadian literature from a small Canadian press. Just the sort of thing Canada Reads is meant to help readers discover!

So, from now until November 30th 2014, Tweet, Facebook or email your suggestions to the CBC! I won’t tell you what I’m going to put forth, but spoiler: it’s on this list. I hope you’ll follow my lead!

February 5, 2014

Under Construction!

After nearly a year on hiatus  I am almost ready to relaunch the blog! What have I been up to? Writing, mostly. While I’m rebuilding, I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @CharlotteAshley! You can also read my short story review column, Clavis Aurea, at ChiZine.com.

See you soon!

February 23, 2012

Today in literary mashups…

(Courtesy of my friend Steve Tassie, who I hope is hard at work writing this literary masterpiece! Steve is a comedian, game designer, pirate and sometimes even a teacher! He can be found in comedy clubs and board game cafes around Toronto, from time to time.))

Next Page »