Exclusive Interview: “The Chaos Clock” Editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail


In the new short story anthology The Chaos Clock: Tales Of Cosmic Aether (paperback, Kindle), writers including James Chambers, Jody Lynn Nye, and Jeffrey Lyman mix together the seemingly disparate genres of steampunk and cosmic horror.

In the following email interview, Chaos Clock editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail discusses how this anthology came together.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail The Chaos Clock Tales Of Cosmic Aether

To start, where did you get the idea for The Chaos Clock: Tales Of Cosmic Aether?

I was at a convention last year, Heliosphere, and my good friend and amazing author James Chambers came up to me and said, “What do you think about a cosmic horror / steampunk anthology? The words were barely out of his mouth when I said, “The Chaos Clock! Tales Of Cosmic Aether!”

See, I have a gift that way. Someone gives me a bit of an idea and right away my mind figures out how to spin it to make a unique and interesting project. Something I would love to work on. That’s how we ended up doing Gaslight & Grimm, and Bad-Ass Faeries, two anthologies I’m particularly known for. One of my joys as an author and an anthologist is to take a concept and find the most to-the-left, unexpected way to approach it.

As they say, there are no new stories, just new approaches.

So aside from having to fit both genres, what other parameters did the stories have to abide? Like, is there a word count limit, did the stories have to be original, what?

The dual themes was the big thing for this collection, plus one other: Every story had to have some concept of a clock or time incorporated, i.e.: the Chaos Clock. They didn’t all have to be a conventional clock, some just used the sound of ticking, or some inventive way of manipulating time, but it had to be there. The Chaos Clock is our version of the Loc-nar from Heavy Metal, the thread that binds all of the stories together.

Given that they all have the clock mechanic, does that all of the stories were written for The Chaos Clock?

Oh, these are all definitely original stories written specifically for the collection. That was the fun of it. Seeing what everyone would do to satisfy our requirements. Most of the authors were invited to the collection based on our familiarity with their work, and their familiarity with the elements we were looking for. A few others were recommended after the fact by other authors. As with all of my anthologies, the authors needed to pitch their ideas for approval so that we didn’t have too many overlapping elements or concepts.

So, did people ever suggest ideas that were super similar? Like someone using a steam-powered mech to fight Cthulhu?

I learned a long time ago to keep track of what everyone was doing. If any similar ideas had been pitched the author was asked to go brainstorm some more and submit a new concept.

Of course, sometimes it happens anyway even with our process because authors go off track or the pitch was just part of the idea, then we have to deal with the overlap in edits. I’ve been caught by this trap. Had to scrap an entire story idea of my own because one of my authors turned in something the echoed it too much, even though the pitch had seemed quite different.

As we’ve been discussing, these stories are both steampunk and cosmic horror…

Though some of the stories weighed heavier on one aspect of the theme than the other. It made for nice variety because noneof the stories felt too similar that way.

Gotcha. But are there other genres in these stories?

Not really. The guidelines really kept the authors reined in to what we were looking for. With that much going on there wasn’t too much room for anything else.

The cosmic horror genre is obviously tied to writer H.P. Lovecraft. In recent years, a lot of people who write cosmic horror stories have made them decidedly anti-racist, in direct response to Lovecraft’s racist beliefs. Are there any stories in The Chaos Clock that do this?

Well… I don’t know that any of the stories really address racism, but Jody Lynn Nye’s story “Saving Time” is set in New York with a protagonist of color; and Marc L. Abbott’s “Saving New York City” deals with classism.

Jody Lynn Nye


Now, along with The Chaos Clock, you have a number of other books either just out or about to come out. First up, the short story anthology Echoes Of The Divine And Other Steampunk Stories, which came out March 31st. We did an interview specifically about that collection, but for people morally opposed to clicking links, what is that book all about?

Echoes Of The Divine is my personal steampunk collection. Though it was not an intentional theme, all of the stories do have some aspect of the divine or supernatural, even though the stories were all written at different times for vastly different projects. I guess I have a type when it comes to steampunk.

Next, you have two other collections of steampunk short stories: Other Aether: Tales Of Global Steampunk, which came out June 1st, and A Cry Of Hounds, which will be out August 1st. What is Other Aether about, what is A Cry Of Hounds about, and what makes them different from each other as well as from The Chaos Clock?

Other Aether is a project I have been wanting to do for some time, and the perfect opportunity arose. The theme for the collection is steampunk stories set anywhere but Victorian England. That could mean time or place, since steam technology was developed at different points in history around the world. I like to call the collection steampunk inspired by Jules Verne.

Now, A Cry Of Hounds is actually the second volume in a new series we created in conjunction with the Tell-Tale Steampunk Festival. Each year they have a literary theme and hold a scavenger hunt during the event. This year’s theme was Arthur Conan Doyle, so the anthology was inspired by his work and themed based on the Hound Of The Baskervilles. To that end, all of the stories had to include some kind of legendary hound. They could also be inspired in some other way by Doyle’s beliefs or other aspects of his writing. At the Festival, the organizers hid 3D printed hounds around the event space along with a plaque bearing a QR code that took attendees to a website with an excerpt from the story containing that hound. They had to collect them all for a chance to win an amazing prize basket.

As if that wasn’t enough, you also put out a collection of your flash fiction and poetry out June 1st called In A Flash 2024. First, for people unfamiliar with the term, what is flash fiction?

Flash fiction is generally stories of 1500 or less words. Also called drabbles or microfiction, and probably half a dozen other names by now. When I left college I found I wasn’t writing anymore so I joined an online writers forum called the Amazing Instant Novelist on — gasp — America Online. Every week they had two contests, each with a set theme. One was 250 words, the other 1500 words, max. I wrote a lot of my flash fiction during that time, but occasionally I get an idea even now that comes out short and…sweet.


And then are the poems in this collection flash poems?

No, flash poetry is not a thing, that I am aware of, unless you count a haiku, which has a short set structure of three lines in a 5-7-5 syllable pattern, or sometimes 7-12-7. These are just poems that hold a special place in my heart from a time when I wrote that structured. When I was younger, as young as twelve, poems were almost all I wrote, unless it was for school. Now that I am older, I tend more toward prose, and longer works.

So, how many of the stories or poems in In A Flash 2024 are steampunk?

If I remember correct, there are something like 31 stories and poems in the collection, and it is just over 100 pages. They range from fantasy, to steampunk, to horror and sci fi. I even have a section called Realism because a few of the works weren’t a speculative genre.

Going back to The Chaos Clock, are there any stories in this anthology that you think could work especially well as a movie?

Oh… Oh my. I expect all of them, with perhaps the exception of “The Thirteenth Hour,” and that’s only because it is an epistolary story; told all through letters. Of course, I am sure there is a director out there that could make even that one work, with some creative voice-over and a pretty divergent screen play to fill in visuals and such for the events talked about.

I think the ones I would most love to see would be Jeffrey Lyman’s “The Ring Of Hours And Seconds,” which would be visually stunning, and James Chambers’ “Accelerando” which would be a gripping performance piece.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail The Chaos Clock Tales Of Cosmic Aether

Finally, if someone enjoys The Chaos Clock, what other short story anthology that you’ve edited — but is not steampunk or cosmic horror — would you suggest they check out?

Hmmm…that is rough. We’ve done a lot of steampunk lately.

Well, if they can find a copy, Bad-Ass Faeries is a classic. We were among the first to deDisneyfy the faerie, and that is the collection that started it all. We also did a really fun superhero / super villain collection called The Side of Good / The Side of Evil, and besides being a great collection, it is also an actual flipbook, like the old Ace Doubles, where the sides are inverted from one another so you have to flip the book over to read the other half. One side heroes, the other side villains.

Sadly, that book never got enough love. We had two more planned, but didn’t move ahead on them because we couldn’t get the first one to perform decently in the marketplace, and it just doesn’t feel right for the authors to put their hearts into a story when the book might not sell.



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