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Recommended reading, or How I wrote a labor fantasy

One of the joys of fiction is making certain concepts and histories accessible to new audiences. With the release of The Factory Witches of Lowell, the time is ripe to share some of my essential nonfiction sources for information and inspiration.

If the story of Judith and Hannah sparks your imagination, if you wonder where it came from, if you’re writing your own strike+magic story, may I recommend…

Loom and Spindle, or Life Among the Early Mill Girls by Harriet Hanson Robinson

Robinson’s memoir of her years working as a mill operative is a window into the daily experience and inner lives of workers in 19th-century Lowell. The independent spirit of Robinson and her coworkers, their warmth and camaraderie, bleeds through every page. She describes her own childhood and youth, and includes character sketches of her peers that were invaluable in creating my fictional girls. Also a great source for writing style and language!

The Belles of New England : The Women of the Textile Mills and the Families Whose Wealth They Wove by William Moran

Excellent secondary source for the history of women workers in Lowell and the surrounding towns, with an eye to both the liberation and oppression inherent in these new opportunities for employment.

Charity and Sylvia : A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
by Rachel Hope Cleves

The most romantic nonfiction book I have ever read.

Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake met, fell in love, and set up house in Weymouth, Vermont, in 1807. For forty years, they lived as a couple, recognized and accepted by their neighbors. Though neither worked in a mill town like Lowell, their life together is a testament to the historical possibility of a Judith-and-Hannah-ship, and a refreshing reminder that LGBTQ individuals have found ways to survive and thrive in every era. Also a go-to for period details and language.

The Half Has Never Been Told : Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist

The story of Judith, Hannah, and their comrades sits within the context of transatlantic slavery. It’s vital not only to tell their chapter, but to face head-on the fact that the cotton which the mill girls wove each day started in the hands of kidnapped Africans. The Half Has Never Been Told puts the narratives of enslaved people front and center, supported by macro-economic analysis to show not only how New England factory towns and Walls Street owe their existence to southern slavery, but the full horror of economic powers transforming human beings into mere figures on a balance sheet.

Baptist’s language is beautifully expressive, and my conception of Hannah’s Sight owes a great deal to him, particularly in his “Breath” section, which puts the term “genius” in context; and the description of slave auctions, which appear in Hannah’s flashback in Chapter 2 of Factory Witches.

Caliban and the Witch : Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation
by Silvia Federici

In the economic history of the world, the division of the population into Owners and Workers didn’t just happen, it took generations of terrorizing semi-autonomous communities. Federici looks into the particular role European witch hunts played in destroying peasant resistance, which set the stage for the rise of capitalism throughout the world — including in little witch-phobic Massachusetts. Her fellow historian Peter Linebaugh sums it up:

Federici shows that the birth of the proletariat required a war against women, inaugurating a new sexual pact and a new patriarchal era: the patriarchy of the wage. Firmly rooted in the history of the persecution of the witches and the disciplining of the body, her arguments explain why the subjugation of women was as crucial for the formation of the world proletariat as the enclosures of the land, the conquest and colonization of the ‘New World,’ and the slave trade.

Wage Labour and Capital / Value, Price and Profit by Karl Marx

Like the mill girls, workers throughout the 19th century recognized that it was their labor power which built the fortunes of their employers. Marx crystallized this recognition in the Labor Theory of Value — e.g., it was the time, energy, and skill of the mill operatives that made the fabric they wove more valuable than the bales of cotton that arrived in Lowell.

While Marx’s fullest analysis wouldn’t come until his masterwork Capital, these two pamphlets introduce the basics of his thought, along with showing that wages aren’t fixed: workers organized together can win higher wages and benefits — in essence winning back (some of) the value they give to the company, which is mythologized in Factory Witches as the “genius” which Hannah can See.

Need a listen?


The Factory Witches of Lowell coming at you.

Class warfare + witchcraft + f/f romance

Find it through your local book store or library, where all best books are found.

Cover Reveal!

Check it out, The Factory Witches of Lowell has a cover.

We’re not going to talk about a certain pandemic here.

Instead, I’ve got some publishing news and updates for ya:

The Factory Witches of Lowell, my historical fantasy about 1830s labor organizing, is forthcoming from Witches! Kissing! Strikes! Textiles! I am ECSTATIC to share this story with the world and I hope you’ll be even a teeny tiny fractionally bit as eager to read it. Coming in November 2020…

My short story “They Are Still Building It” appears in Earth Day anthology Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change from Alternating Current. A big thank you to Clarke Doty and the team over at Apparition Literary Magazine, who first printed the story and have been its supporters from the beginning.

Founding editor Jonathan W. Thurston Howl has turned over the keys of Thurston Howl Publications to the new editor-in-chief Cedric G! Bacon. All best to you, Cedric! I too am parting ways with THP. But copies of Fire & Locket are still available, while supplies last.

I s’pose I’m a debutante

Because my debut novel is now in print!  Say hello to Fire & Locket.


It was going so well until Great Aunt Agatha up and died…

At all of sixteen, Lisbeth Pennyroyal is the only educated member of her family, her mind set on being more than a dress- and corset-maker like her sister Rachel. She has no intention of becoming a witch like her late aunt, either. Magic, Lissy knows, is trouble any way you slice it.

Then Rachel inherited that uncanny locket….

To fulfill their aunt’s last wish, the sisters must travel to meet the uncle they didn’t know they had, in the heart of the nation’s most magical municipality. With the locket around her neck, Rachel exhibits a worrying new taste for masquerade balls and bonfires. But Lissy is determined to protect her sweet sister both from roguish dance partners and from a legendary sorceress, who might not only want Rachel’s locket–but also her life.

Being the smart sister has never been so tiresome.

Currently you can find Fire & Locket through Thurston Howl Publications (with less expensive shipping costs) or Amazon.

I want to thank the hard workers at THP, especially my editor Rachel, who understood the characters immediately.  And John Musco for the cover artwork, which literally dropped my jaw.  And the many friends who read and commented on drafts along the way, very especially Ms. Taylor Rhodes.  You made it happen.

I am not yet a Nebula Award nominee…

…but this feels as good: the hardworking folks over at Apparition Lit nominated “They Are Still Building It” for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award:

The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards honor outstanding works of science fiction, fantasy and horror which include significant positive explorations of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered characters, themes, or issues.

It’s especially rewarding because I didn’t set out to write a story about queerness; I wrote about climate change, the mental and emotional costs of activism, and what it means to be deeply in love.  In early drafts, the central couple were cis/het, but as the characters took shape, they defied tropes and identified themselves as two married women.  Who is the writer to argue?  Importantly, their sexuality and gender isn’t the sum of who they are, but a piece of the puzzle.  Unique and individual.  Relatable and universal.  If I’ve represented their experience in a way that feels accurate, respectful, and positive, there’s no better validation.

The full list of nominees will be available soon!  Meanwhile, you can read my story along with others in Vol. 3 of Apparition Literary Magazine.

And if you like queer-themed speculative fiction, may I also recommend Broken Metropolis from Mason Jar Press?

Monday Night Lit #18!

Just in time for Election Day in the U.S. of A., my flash fiction piece “Race to the Bottom” has arrived in Monday Night Lit #18.  If you have two minutes after you’re done voting for the lesser of two evils, take a look.  It might even elicit a wry smile.

Book Review – Aphro-ism

Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two SistersAphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters by Aph Ko
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars because everyone should read and consider it.

For some years, sisters Aph and Syl Ko have been blogging under the title Aphro-ism about black veganism (and other related topics); Aph also started the Black Vegans Rock! website. I knew of them, but hadn’t sat down with their thinking before this book. Here they collect and revise some of the key posts from the blog.

One of the running themes is the human-animal binary, a conceptual framework that they trace to the colonial, Enlightenment era. As such, the term “human” signifies not only a member of the species homo sapiens, but a culturally specific view of the ideal human: male, white, European, [capitalist]. In this mode of thinking, anyone who deviates from this standard “human” falls — to greater or lesser degree — into the Other category “animal,” essentially exploitable and marginalized.

Thus, the Ko sisters argue, animal advocates and anti-racists must disturb and re-imagine this binary. It’s a challenging task, and the essays presented here are only a starting point. Aphro-ism isn’t a historical investigation, or a presentation of the alternative modes of thinking that the human-animal binary cries out for — and it doesn’t purport to be. Instead, the book is a an attempt to fully understand the conceptual problem that lies at the heart of animal exploitation and white supremacy. Along the way, Aph and Syl pause to comment on trending topics, like the Black Lives Matter movement, the killing of Cecil the Lion, and the rise of social media stars. Their writing style is inviting and sharp, with Syl diving perhaps more often into the heavy philosophy. [Reading her pieces, I often felt like I was back in grad school.]

As a sincere attempt to re-think a problem, you won’t find that changing one’s mind, or harboring doubts, are signs of weakness here. Nor do Aph and Syl insist that their way of thinking is the only workable approach, but they find that it is the most workable approach for them. It is an approach that I believe has the power to re-inspire vegans and animal activists old and new, provided we are ready to understand the roots of racism and to care about human beings as fiercely as we care about chickens and rabbits. As Carol Adams does in the afterword, I urge you to read it with an open mind and open heart.

View all my reviews

The Compassion Anthology is here!

My short story “Phoenix Cross” was recently reprinted in the summer edition of The Compassion Anthology!  This issue’s theme is compassion and appreciation for the natural world, and I’m pleased that a story about (mostly) domesticated farm birds made the cut.  You can check out the story online, and if you are so moved, consider donating to the art fundraiser for The World Wildlife Fund.

I’d like to express my thanks to my friends at Ashland Creek Press for submitting the story.  You are champions for all species.

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