PodCastle 480: All of the Cuddles With None of the Pain

Show Notes

Rated PG

All of the Cuddles With None of the Pain

By J. J. Roth

What is a Reborn?

A Reborn is an artist-enhanced baby doll that looks and feels lifelike. Artists create Reborns as one-of-a-kind collectibles, often from ordinary play dolls transformed into art suitable for hands-off display—or hands-on cuddling.

While reasonably durable, Reborns are not children’s toys. Rough play may damage them.

How do the dolls become “reborn”?

An artist re-paints each doll with more lifelike skin-toned paints, mixed to achieve the actual skin tones of real babies across the racial spectrum. Delicate veins and blue wash undertones give the newborn baby a more realistic appearance. Hair is sewn strand by strand into plastic bald or molded hair-grooved heads through a process called micro-rooting. Glass beads weight the baby’s body, head, and limbs for the authentic feel of holding a living infant.

Electronic devices can be added that mimic a heartbeat and respiration. Other devices can make the baby warm to the touch, or make it emit infant sounds. Magnets can be inserted in the mouth and glued onto on an actual baby pacifier (Nuk, Avent, Gerber, etc.). When the magnetized pacifier sticks to the magnet in the mouth, the baby appears to be sucking on a binkie, just like a real baby.

*WARNING*: Strong magnets! Can be harmful to pacemaker wearers and others with medical implants.

Why are Reborns so expensive?

BabyMakerTM uses only real glass eyes imported from Germany, the best mohair available, aquamarine glass beads from the Czech Republic for weighting, and rare earth magnets for each baby. Art, packing, and shipping supplies also contribute to the cost.

Each baby takes a minimum of three weeks to create, and goes home with its own layette, which includes a three-piece outfit, sleeper, hat, diapers, and receiving blanket, as well as birth and adoption certificates.

Where can I buy a Reborn? What sort of person buys a Reborn? How lifelike are they?

Most Reborns are sold through online nurseries, such as BabyMakerTM, or at art conventions and fairs.

Almost all purchasers of Reborns are women, though we do have customers of other sexes and genders. Some customers collect Reborns as they would regular dolls. Often, older, single women treat Reborns as substitutes for the children they cannot have. Some customers who have lost a child, or have become empty-nesters, find adding a Reborn to the family comforting. Cuddling a Reborn, like cuddling any baby, causes a release of the hormone oxytocin, which produces a sense of emotional well-being.

Reborns are so lifelike they are sometimes mistaken for real babies. A few have even been “rescued” from parked cars after passers-by called the police.

I want a baby so much I feel as though I have a hole in my heart, but I’m forty-four, had several miscarriages back when I was married, and now find myself without a partner. I don’t have the money to adopt or to pay for artificial insemination through an anonymous donor. I know it’s a lot to hope for, but what are the chances my Reborn will become real?

Think long and hard about what you’re asking. Reborns never need diaper changes, feeding, or bathing. They never vomit all over their beds in the middle of the night. You’ll never have to endure tantrums, visits to the principal’s office, or screams of “I hate you.”

Your baby may be stolen, but will never be kidnapped. Reborns never suffer broken hearts, and never grow up to become drug addicts or criminals.

Best of all, your child will never fall victim to an untimely death. Reborns provide all of the cuddles with none of the pain.

*WARNING*: Consult a health professional if you find yourself socializing only with your Reborn.

Okay, I’ve thought long and hard about it (not that it’s any of your business, but I’d thought long and hard about it before I asked the question the first time, and there’s no need to adopt such a patronizing tone, thank you very much), and I can’t quench this longing for a real baby. What are the chances my Reborn will become real?

It depends.

Though we cannot make any guarantees, reports of Reborns becoming real are not infrequent. If you truly love your Reborn, if you treat it the way you would any baby you birthed or adopted, it can become real.

Though every parent-child relationship is different, to maximize your chances, we recommend adopting an attachment parenting method. Tune into your Reborn, imagine what the child within could be communicating to you and respond with sensitivity. Provide skin to skin contact as much as possible. Wear your baby in a sling and provide frequent hugs and snuggles.

How long will it take before I know whether my Reborn will become real?

Again, it depends.

The earliest reported time is about six months, but a number of years is more common.

Please note that when Reborns become real, their mental ages are not directly aligned with their physical ages. A Reborn’s body starts growing from doll form as soon as the Reborn becomes a real baby, but the mind begins from the point at which nurturing began.

For example: if you begin nurturing your Reborn as a real baby the first day of purchase, and the Reborn becomes real three years later, your baby will have a three-year-old’s mind in an infant’s body. This means that your Reborn may be able to speak to you in full sentences before being able to sit up.

Some parents find this disconcerting at first, but even among those who do, most find the early verbal ability an advantage. You won’t have to guess whether a cry means hunger, pain, exhaustion, or a soiled diaper.

OMFG, my Reborn, Jenny, became real this morning! I’m overjoyed! Now what?

Your Reborn’s three-year limited warranty excludes service on real babies. Consult a pediatrician or parents’ group for further questions.

I thought you might like some pictures of my Jenny for your testimonial page: one eating cake at her first birthday party with thirty of her closest little friends at MyGym, one making sand castles at a Half Moon Bay beach, and one on her first day of pre-kindergarten. Where can I upload them?

Thanks so much! We always enjoy seeing photos of the happy families we’ve helped create. Upload them right here.

(Please be sure to click “accept” on the photo release or your upload won’t go through.)

Where can I find other real Reborns and their parents?

We look forward to seeing you in our online community forum. We have a special section just for you called Real-Baby Reborn Chat. Tell us a little about yourself in your initial post and dive right in!

(Although BabyMakerTM representatives moderate the forum and attempt to answer any questions that go unanswered for more than forty-eight hours, the views of BabyMakerTM-tagged moderators are their own and not those of the company.)

Hi forum! My name is Jenny. I’m five in body and eight in mind. My favorite book is The Velveteen Rabbit and my favorite movie is Toy Story. Last winter, my ballet class danced The Nutcracker with real, grown up professional ballet dancers!

Anyway, my mother tells me I started out as a BabyMakerTM Reborn. What can you tell me about where I came from?

Nice to meet you, Jenny. You can find information about BabyMakerTM throughout our site, but please don’t browse without a parent’s supervision. If our site doesn’t answer your questions, we’re sorry, but it really isn’t our place to tell you where babies come from. Have you asked your mother?

Hi. Jenny again. Do I have any brothers or sisters? I’d really like a big sister. I have to be in kindergarten instead of second grade because my body age is only five, and all the girls just want to talk about Disney princesses. I’m so over that.

According to our records, your mother only purchased one Reborn from BabyMakerTM. All our Reborns are individually hand crafted. I’m afraid you don’t have any siblings (that we’re aware of).

It’s Jenny again. My mother is the meanest mother in the neighborhood. She won’t let me have play dates on school nights, Cokes, or an iPod Touch until I’m ten in mind. Can I get another mother?

Your mother sounds like she’s doing a great job. We’re sure she’s only trying to do what’s best for you. Perhaps some of our other members can share their experiences growing up, so you’ll know you’re not alone (c’mon folks, help me out here! Breathe some life into these boards!).

Jenny, sweetie, stop bothering the nice people. This is between you and me. Let’s go for ice cream and have a little chat.

Thank you, Jenny’s mom. We at BabyMakerTM sympathize. We know parents of real children have the hardest job in the world, which is why we feel privileged to offer an alternative. We wish you and Jenny the best of luck.

Hi. My name is Jenny, and I last posted here a number of years ago.

I am now seventeen mind age and fourteen body age. I’m feeling really down. My mom and I are having trouble. Mostly over Craig, this boy I met playing basketball at the youth center.

He’s eighteen. I’m almost eighteen too, in mind. We get along really well. But my stupid body won’t be eighteen for more than three years, and that’s all stupid society seems to care about. So my mom won’t let me date him.

When my mom and I fight, we both say things we don’t mean. At least I think we don’t mean them. I don’t mean them, so she must not either, right?

The other day I said she should never have been a mom. That she should have thought about how she’d be sixty before I was done being a teenager, how she’d be too old to understand me. I didn’t mean it, but I was so fucking (pardon my language) furious.

She said all kids feel like their parents are too old to understand them regardless of their parents’ age, and that’s why they call it a generation gap.

But then she said maybe I was right she was a bad mom. That maybe she wasn’t cut out for it after all, and she was sorry.

She looked like she might cry. That scared me. I’ve never seen her cry before.

So then I screamed, “I wish I’d never been born!”

Which I certainly didn’t mean because it makes no sense in my case. And most of the time I really love my life.

She said I’d got my wish because I hadn’t been born, I was only alive because she loved me, and how could I be this way after all she’d done for me, and blah blah blah.

I ran to my room crying and slammed the door. My insides felt all wrong, like cold, hard balls were rolling around inside me. A muffled clicking sound came from my tummy when I moved, like the sound door beads make when you walk through them, only far away. Sores popped up in my mouth, on the insides of both my cheeks. They weren’t like any fever blisters I’d had before—slick and square and stuck to my mouth, like peanut butter. Only I couldn’t move them with my tongue.

My head started itching. When I scratched, I felt little bumps all over my scalp. All in rows, like someone put them there on purpose. I started wheezing and couldn’t catch my breath. My crying went high and thin and didn’t sound like my voice.

I thought I was going crazy.

Later, my mom and I made up, and all the weird feelings went away just like that. But sometimes now I feel like she’s looking at me differently than she did before that big knock down drag out, and then I get some of those strange sensations I felt during the fight, only not as strong. I wish I knew how to make them stop.

What should I do?

Welcome back, Jenny. It’s not unusual for teenagers to have conflicts with their parents. Nor is it unusual for teenagers to need some time to get used to the changes in their bodies during puberty, or to struggle with their emergent independent identities.

Is there a school counselor or other adult with whom you feel comfortable talking? An aunt or uncle, perhaps? A teacher? Unfortunately, we here at BabyMakerTM are not equipped to offer more than a recommendation that you seek help from an adult you trust. Please do that, Jenny.

Dude, this is major. You need to find someone besides your mom who loves you right away! IM me @ pinnochio2001 and I’ll walk you through what’s going on. What’s happening to you is something they don’t tell you about being a Real-Baby Reborn. If you don’t take steps to fix it now, things will go from bad to worse. People have died. Really, I mean it. IM me.

pinnochio2001 is full of shit. He’s a well-known troll around here and just trying to scare you. Don’t listen to him. But he’s right about one thing—it helps to have friends who love you when you’re having conflicts at home. Would you be interested in coming to our RBR support group? I’m about your mind and body ages, and I live in San Carlos, too. I organized a support group that meets Wednesday evenings at 7:30 in the basement of the First Tongan Methodist Church on Chestnut Street. Mail me if interested, we’d love to have you! raggedyann@iloveyou.com

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Hi, I’m Jenny and I posted here when I was fourteen body age and seventeen mind age. Now I’m twenty-two body age and twenty-five mind age.

First, I want to say how grateful I am. If it hadn’t been for this forum, I would not have found Annie or her Real-Baby Reborn support group. We have since become best friends -– more than friends, really—and the support group and especially Annie have helped me through some dark times.

My mom adopted another Reborn four years ago when I went away to college so she would have someone to keep her company while I was away. This Reborn has not become real, and my mom says she’s keeping her emotional distance from him as she does not want another real child. She says I broke the mold for her, and all the difficulties we’ve had over the years are not things she cares to repeat.

But I fear she’s also keeping her emotional distance from me. My mom and I have always been close despite our differences. Lately, I’ve been having a recurring dream and I wake up feeling as though she’s shut me out of her heart. I know it’s only a dream, but sometimes I have weird symptoms like the ones I mentioned in my last post here. Plus my skin gets slick like plastic and all my blemishes fade away. Which would be a good thing, except that the other symptoms are more unpleasant. My heart rate slows so much I’m afraid my heart will stop, and I have to remind myself to breathe.

I’m so lucky I got into the same college in New York as Annie so we could be together. I’m a senior now. Annie graduated last year but her job’s in the city so we’re living together. She reminds me how loved I am and things get better, though never quite the same as before all this happened with my mom.

Seems like being loved by others can keep Real-Baby Reborns going, but something about a parent’s love makes us whole.

Yesterday, my mom called to say she’d found a lump in her breast. She said, “I didn’t want to tell you until I knew for sure, but I’m going to have surgery, and after that radiation and chemo.” She’s trying to be optimistic, I can tell. But I’m afraid she’s going to die.

What happens to Real-Baby Reborns when the parent who loved them into being real dies? I mean, if I can feel less real while my mom is alive but doesn’t seem to love me like she used to, will I turn back into a doll when she dies?

Annie says not to worry, but if it makes me feel better I should ask here. So I’m asking.

Hello again, Jenny. This is a conundrum new to these boards. I’m afraid BabyMakerTM doesn’t have any answers, but since we haven’t had this question come up before in all the years the company has been in existence, I feel sure you can rest easy that the answer is no.

Not gonna lie, it can happen.

I personally know two Real-Baby Reborns who went mannequin after the death of their love-alive parents. One froze up on a park bench, and some local artists made an installation out of him, the bench, and some pieces of found scrap metal and spray paint.

The other reverted in the middle of a busy street. A car (a Highlander hybrid if I remember right, in any case, big car) ran her over and the guy who hit her peeled her off his bumper and tossed her into a dumpster behind a Mexican restaurant. Was on the news—a busboy thought he’d found a body and called the police, but haha everyone laughed because it was ONLY a mannequin (NO, assholes, it was HANNAH)!

I’m gonna keep saying this any chance I get, you gotta find other sources of love. This is key to the long-term survival of any Real-Baby Reborn. Even with other people who love you, once your love-alive parent is gone, things won’t be the same. You’ll always feel just a little off. That’s my experience anyway, and my mom has been dead for five years. IM me if you want more info @pino01

As if we can’t tell that pino01 is a sock puppet for pinnochio2001. Still, he makes a good point. There’s nothing like the unconditional love of a parent for a child, and once your parent dies you’ll feel that loss forever. But not all of us are lucky enough to have been loved unconditionally, and we muddle through somehow. Remember, I love you. Not the same as your mom’s love, but I promise it will keep you from turning unreal. Yours always, Annie.

My dear Jenny, I am so sorry to have caused you this worry. I will try hard not to die. Please know that I do love you very, very much. — Mom.

Strength and comfort to you and your family, Jenny. — Corolle.

You are in our thoughts. Take care, Huggums and Bitty.

Resurrecting this dormant thread to thank everyone for the good wishes and support. I’m sorry to tell you my mom lost her struggle yesterday afternoon.

Please don’t send flowers. To honor her memory, please contribute to the charity of your choice.

Hello all. I’m Matt, and I may be a first around here, judging from what I’ve read in other threads. I’m nine body age and twelve mind age, and I’m a Real-Baby Reborn even though I never met my mother. She died before I became real.

I know my mom loved me, but I’ve learned that she was holding back, so I didn’t become real for her. Then she got really sick. She was cuddling me—well, not cuddling, she didn’t have the strength—but I was in the hospice bed with her when she died, nestled against her ribs. I felt the last breath leave her body.

Then the instruments started to beep and nurses came in and put me on a table across the room behind two large bouquets of flowers where I couldn’t see what was happening. My mom’s body had warmed me and in the open air I got cold. Icy cold. I will never forget that chill.

I remember all this as part of my nurturing, though I didn’t become real until a few years later.

After a while, my sister, Jenny, and her wife, Annie, packed up our mom’s things: all the roses and orchids, the cards, the stuffed bunnies and bears and the Mylar heart-shaped balloons that people had sent to brighten Mom’s room. Jenny picked me up and started to cry. I wasn’t sure why, but I was sad I’d made her sadder when our mom had just died.

Jenny and Annie kept me on an old wooden rocking chair in the corner of their bedroom. They cuddled me every now and then, but they forgot about me for long stretches. I wanted so much to talk to them, to let them know how much I missed Mom, and how much I wanted to be loved. I hung on to awareness, like Mom tried to hang on to life. Sometimes my mind went quiet for hours and only the memory of Mom’s held-back love kept my awareness from fading into nothingness forever.

Then one day, I heard Jenny say to Annie, “Do you remember being aware, but not real, during your nurturing? I wonder what it was like for Matt, never being loved quite enough. Poor little guy. He never had a chance.”

After that, Jenny held me a lot more. Annie cuddled me, too. They even bought me a crib and sang me to sleep each night.

They snuggled with me, and spoke to me, and I could tell I had a calming influence on Jenny. Jenny’s heart beat against my glass-filled chest and her cheek nuzzled my head, and I knew. I knew she loved me as much as any sister ever loved a brother.

About five months later, I opened my eyes one morning to find my crib sheet wet against my skin. Skin! I had skin! (Apparently, I had kidneys, too.)

I called out, “Jenny! Annie! Please help me, I pee peed in my bed!”

And they both came running. Jenny laughing, Annie crying—both of them giving off rays of light and warmth, like little suns.

Whew. Well, that’s probably more than the FAQ meant when it said tell a little about yourself.

Here’s my question. My sister and Annie are thinking about having a baby. I mean, the biological way, through a sperm donor.

I’m feeling weird about it. Even though I’m Jenny’s brother, she’s been like a mom to me, too. I’m worried that they’ll love the baby way more than me and I’ll go mannequin.

Anyone have any experience with this?

Welcome, Matt. Alex here. I’m a new BabyMakerTM employee, but I’m also a Real-Baby Reborn.

My mom got married after I became real and later had a baby with her husband. Like you, I was worried they’d love the new baby more than me. My mom laughed when I admitted my fear. She grew up with two brothers and a sister, and she said all kids worry about whether they’ll still be loved when a new baby arrives. Even if they aren’t Reborns.

And I’ll always remember the next thing she said: “Sometimes it may feel like the new baby gets more love, but it won’t be true. I’ll tell you three things that are true, though. The universe can hold an infinite amount of love. The amount of love in the universe grows whenever you love or are loved. And there’s more love to go around for everyone once a new baby arrives.” So far, she’s been right.

Of course, YMMV.

About the Author

J.J. Roth

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J.J. Roth lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her partner, two school-aged sons, and two geriatric cats. She parents the kids and cats, practices law at a tech company, and squeezes writing into the interstices. Her work has appeared in Nature, Urban Fantasy Magazine, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and a number of small press venues. J.J. is an associate member of the SFWA and a member of the Codex writers’ group. For more information and updates, please visit her web site at www.jjroth.net, follow her on Twitter where she is @wrothroth, or find her on Facebook where she is JJ Roth.

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About the Narrators

Steven Capps

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Picture Bleaker from Juno running around in the background of Black Hawk Down, and you’ll get Steven Capps. He is a father of one, an Infantry Sergeant, and a SFF writer. Steven graduated with a B.A. in English from the American Military University, and teaches high school English with Teach for America: South Carolina. His short story “Lux Nauta” won Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future, 3rd Quarter 2016, and his nonfiction articles have ranged from SaaS companies in Silicon Valley to ballistic plate manufacturers in Ohio. When not writing or reading, he’s playing with his son, exercising, or being distracted by social media.

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Eleanor R. Wood

Eleanor Wood Staff

Eleanor R. Wood writes and eats liquorice from the south coast of England, where she lives with her husband, two marvellous dogs, and enough tropical fish tanks to charge an entry fee. Her stories have appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, Diabolical Plots, Nature: Futures, The Best of British Fantasy 2019 and Best of British Science Fiction 2020, and various anthologies, among other places.

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Eleanor Wood Staff

Marguerite Kenner

Marguerite Kenner (she/her) is a California transplant living in the UK city named after her favorite pastime.

She runs Escape Artists with her partner Alasdair Stuart, and practices as a technology lawyer in London. She loves to voice minor characters in podcasts and play video games, often where people can watch.

Her contributions to genre fiction include being a 2021 Hugo Award Finalist, editing Cast of Wonders from 2013 to 2019, project groups for too many industry orgs to count anymore, community organising, mentoring, and teaching business skills to creatives.

You can follow her adventures across various social media platforms.

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Matt Dovey

A head shot of author Matt Dovey. Matt smiles for the camera. He is wearing a grey vest, a white shirt, and a purple tie and had medium-long brown hair.

Matt Dovey is very tall, very English, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. He has a scar on his arm from a ritual performed unto the Watchers Just Beyond, imploring them for the boon of great knowledge, but all he got were the lyrics to Dashboard Confessional’s album The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most stuck in his head forever. He now lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife & three children, and despite being a writer he still hasn’t found the right words to express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement.

His surname rhymes with “Dopey” but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He’s an associate editor at PodCastle, a member of Codex and Villa Diodati, and has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place, including all four Escape Artists podcasts, Analog, and Diabolical Plots. You can keep up with it all at mattdovey.com, or find him timewasting on Twitter as @mattdoveywriter.

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A head shot of author Matt Dovey. Matt smiles for the camera. He is wearing a grey vest, a white shirt, and a purple tie and had medium-long brown hair.

Graeme Dunlop

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Graeme has been involved with Escape Artists for many years, producing audio, hosting shows, narrating stories and keeping the websites going. He was born in Australia, although people have identified him as English, American and South African, amongst other nationalities. He loves the spoken word. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and beautiful boy dog, Jake.

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Alasdair Stuart

Alasdair Stuart is a professional enthusiast, pop culture analyst, writer and voice actor. He co-owns the Escape Artists podcasts and co-hosts both Escape Pod and PseudoPod.

Alasdair is an Audioverse Award winner, a multiple award finalist including the Hugo, the Ignyte, and the BFA, and has won the Karl Edward Wagner award twice. He writes the multiple-award nominated weekly pop culture newsletter THE FULL LID.

Alasdair’s latest non-fiction is Through the Valley of Shadows, a deep-dive into the origins of Star Trek’s Captain Pike from Obverse Books. His game writing includes ENie-nominated work on the Doctor Who RPG and After The War from Genesis of Legend.

A frequent podcast guest, Alasdair also co-hosts Caring Into the Void with Brock Wilbur and Jordan Shiveley. His voice acting credits include the multiple-award winning The Magnus Archives, The Secret of St. Kilda, and many more.

Visit alasdairstuart.com for all the places he blogs, writes, streams, acts, and tweets.

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Dagny Paul

Dagny Paul

Dagny Paul is a lapsed English teacher, failed artist, and sometimes writer who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has an unhealthy (but entertaining) obsession with comic books and horror movies, which she consumes whenever her six-year-old son will let her (which isn’t often).

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Dagny Paul

Summer Fletcher

Summer Fletcher (they/them) has written for major and indie games, and narrated over 30 short stories for various fiction podcasts. More at summerfletcher.com

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Jen R. Albert

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Jen Albert is an editor, writer, and former entomologist. She works full-time as an editor at ECW Press, an independent publishing house based in Toronto, where she enjoys working on books of all kinds, including speculative fiction, popular science, and LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction. She became co-editor of her favorite fantasy fiction podcast in 2016; she now wonders if she still allowed to call it her favorite. Along with her co-editors, Jen has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award for her work on PodCastle.

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Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and three children. By day she works as a breast oncology nurse. At all other times she juggles, none too successfully, writing, reading, gaming, and gardening. She has written one novel entitled An Unproductive Woman available on Amazon. She has also been published in or has stories upcoming in Escape Pod, Diabolical Plots, and FIYAH. Khaalidah also co-edits podcastle.org where she is on a mission to encourage more women to submit fantasy stories. Of her alter ego, K from the planet Vega, it is rumored that she owns a time machine and knows the secret to long youth. She can be found online at http://khaalidah.com and on Twitter at @khaalidah.

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