Rosh Hashanah, basements, and birds

Over the course of the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday, I followed along online with the services at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan (they were lovely), but also spent a little time to do some necessary work in the basement.

It’s always interesting when you are forced to go into a chaotic basement to reorganize because of a flood (yeah, that happened a few years ago, don’t ask), or because there are repairs needed. In this case, we’re getting a new furnace, and we need to move a bunch of stuff, including an overloaded bookcase, to make room for the old furnace to be removed and the new one put in — and we also need to move everything that’s in front of the bookcase. And to do that, we need to find space to put all that stuff.

The evil Empire meets WBAI

So far, in the act or reorganizing, I’ve found some old speakers that I meant to recycle years ago (and which are going into the trunk of my car for the next time I pass a Best Buy), two foldable mike stands, one foldable music stand, and an Empire officer’s cap that I scored at a performance of The Empire Strikes Back. This is the unexpected stuff; I’m not even going to start with the extra juice and wine glasses, the ancient wire recorder, or the Russell Wright dinnerware that I rescued a few years ago from my mother’s house.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist trying on the officer’s cap — which still fits — so Jim took a photo, with the proviso that I also show off the WBAI tee shirt I happened to be wearing (the design is by our friend Sidney Smith).

On Tuesday, Jim and I decided it would not be counter to the holidays to spend a little time walking in a park, and so we went to the relatively recent Shirley Chisholm State Park along the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn.

Shirley Chisholm State Park

I’d been really curious about that park; it was built over landfill not far from where I spent my adolescence in East New York; it took several years for the park to take shape and whenever I drove past, I noted how the formerly brown piles of new ground was slowly turning green. We had a lovely walk (although I had to run back to the car when I realized I left my phone there), including a conversation with a woman about non-electric scooters, and views of seagulls and cormorants. We also killed a spotted lanternfly (inspired by a couple of signs we saw along the way) and tried to get a decent photo of a Yellow-rumped warbler that led us a chase for at least a quarter mile (we never got the photo, but it was a beautiful bird).

And I ended the holiday with a conversation about The History of Soul 2065 that will be edited into a podcast by the Strong Women Strange Worlds literary group, probably sometime in February.

Take care, y’all.

Pro-choice horror authors roundtable

I was pleased to be invited to participate in an online discussion of abortion rights by horror authors on Gwendolyn Kiste’s blog. The blog offers the opinions of a diverse group of writers who express their anger, fear, and determination — I was really impressed with the wide range of reactions, experience, and information that was expressed.

I don’t have much more to say; I think the best thing to do is to recommend it if you’re interested in knowing what at least some people — most personally affected by the Supreme Court decision — have to say.

(And yes, I suppose that I am a horror author, although I didn’t consider myself one until a couple of years ago, when somebody pointed out that at least a few of my stories definitely qualified me for membership in HWA…)

Five of my favorite Jewish-themed SF books

I was recently invited by Shepherd, a website that asks authors to pick their five favorite books around various themes and topics, to pick a topic and pick the “Five best books.” I chose as my topic Jewish-themed science fiction, and picked out five books — two anthologies and three novels — that I especially liked. If you’d like to see which books I’ve picked, and why, you can find them here:

The best books of Jewish science fiction and fantasy

I do want to emphasize that, while the title of the page says “The best books,” I would have (given my druthers) called it instead “Some of the best books.” There are a lot of great books out there, many of which I would like liked to have added — and in fact, one of the reasons I chose two anthologies was to acknowledge all the various authors whose work I admired, and whose novels I couldn’t fit in the required list.

Interview on Kaleidocast tomorrow, Aug 17th

I’ll be interviewed tomorrow by Randee Dawn (a talented writer in her own right) tomorrow, Wednesday, August 17th, at 7 pm, to help encourage subscriptions for Kaleidocast, a podcast series that features short stories by a wide variety of science fiction & fantasy writers. Back in season 2, my story “Sabbath Wine” was read for Kaleidocast by Kim Rogers; but there are a whole lot of great stories featured on the site.

Come by if you’d like and listen! It’s at patreon.com/kaleidocastnyc. And if you become a patron, you can ask questions and give opinions (favorable ones, I hope!).

Mammograms as necessary irritants

I don’t know what it is about getting my yearly mammogram that is so damned frightening. Of course, the spectre of breast cancer hovers over the entire procedure — how can it not? And considering how prevalent breast cancer is among women, it’s not surprising that the yearly reminder of one’s vulnerability can be nerve-wracking.

But there are other annual medical check-ups that I go through that, although they have their own nerve-wracking aspects, don’t seem to make my stomach churn quite as much. There are the annual checkups by my GP and the all-revealing blood tests. There are oh-so-much-fun gynecological exams and their accompanying Pap tests. There are the eye exams, and the visits to the dermatologist — I take all of these in my stride. But the annual mammogram makes me go into what I call “efficiency mode” — completely concentrated on the task at hand in the most emotionless fashion possible in order to get it done and finished.

This may be because I actually found a small lump in one of my breasts when I was 23, and it was removed and biopsied. With today’s technology, the procedure wouldn’t have been needed or even considered. But back then, it was performed “just in case,” and meant an overnight stay in the hospital, a couple of weeks of discomfort, and several days of waiting to find out the results. When word came finally came that it was benign, I told my parents (with whom I was living at the time) and then went up to my bedroom and wept for a solid ten minutes in a paroxysm of relief and released terror.

So there’s that.

And of course, it doesn’t help that mammograms are damned uncomfortable. For those lucky males who have never had to suffer one, it means you have to stand while twisted in a totally unnatural position with your arms placed just so, your head turned to the side, and one of your breasts painfully squeezed between two cold plates. And then you are told not to move or breathe for several seconds. Then comes position number two, which is even more unnatural than position number one, and here come the heavy plates, and you’re wondering what you’ll look like with completely flat breasts. “All right, stand still please. Don’t breathe. Okay, you can breathe now.”

And then you get to do it all over again on the other side.

And then you get to wait to find out whether there’s anything to be really worried about.

This year, I made my appointment for early in the morning, 7:45 am, so that I’d lose as little time at work as possible. It was, as I discovered, early enough so that most of the other women in the waiting room were there not for exams, but for surgery. The staff did their paperwork quickly and efficiently, reassured them of the skills of the doctors and staff, and hurried them back so that they wouldn’t have to sit worrying for too long.

And I sat and waited for my name to be called, and wondered what my tests results would be this year, and if I’d ever find myself once again to be one of the women who were coming in early to see the surgeon. And wished them all well.

Strong Women – Strange Worlds

Greetings! Tomorrow (Thursday, May 21st at 7pm) I’m going to be part of a fascinating project called Strong Women Strange Worlds, twice monthly (first Friday, third Thursday) science fiction readings by a group of creative women writers. The organizers are extremely well-organized (which isn’t always the case with a reading, online or otherwise) and very nice, and I’m really looking forward to it.

If you’d like to attend, please do! We each will have eight minutes to read, chat, or whatever; I’m going to read “Rosemary, That’s For Remembrance” from The History of Soul 2065, which I timed out at exactly 7 1/2 minutes — so I’m going to dive right into it and hope I can finish it in time. (If you’re interested in the background of that story, you can find it here.)

The online event is free, but you do have to pre-register — which you can do at the SWSW website. Hope to see you there!

Coming up: New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst

I’ve recently sold stories to two independently-published anthologies: New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst, edited by Elizabeth Crowens, and Unbreakable Ink, edited by Shebat Legion.

Both are deserving of separate blog posts. For no particular reason, I’m going to start with Elizabeth Crowens’ upcoming large-format photography book New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst. Sponsored by a grant from the City Artist Corps Grants program, it is filled with fabulous photos of New York City by Elizabeth, along with commentary, stories, and other writings by several authors — including yours truly.

Basically, Elizabeth emailed me a photo and asked me to write something inspired by it. I was provided with a photo of a fishmonger looking with approval upon his wares — and immediately wrote a story entitled, appropriately, “The Fishmonger.” I tried to make it a little weird and a little unexpected; I hope I succeeded.

Elizabeth’s book will be available October 25th; the Kindle version is now available for pre-order at Amazon. The hardcover version — which is the version you want if you’re looking to get this as a gift or just as something really cool to look at — will also be available at Amazon, but once it goes on sale, you may want to check it out at The Mysterious Bookshop, either in person or online, because they will actually have autographed copies available.

One new mention and one lost website

Just a couple of quick notes:

Unfortunately, the site where I was storing many of my stores, Curious Fictions, is now defunct. As a result, several of the links to my short stories that is on this site won’t work. I’ll fix the situation asap, but meanwhile, your patience is appreciated. (And if there are any stories that you especially want to read RIGHT NOW, contact me and I’ll see what I can do.)

I’ve got a new entry in a series of Inside the Emotion of Fiction, where I was interviewed about my story “The Ladder-back Chair,” which is part of THE HISTORY OF SOUL 2065. Feel free to check it out…

Barbara works as a narrator under unexpected circumstances

First admission: I’ve got a Brooklyn accent. At least, I have an accent that I acquired by growing up in the Canarsie and East New York sections of Brooklyn; there may be as many different accents in Brooklyn — depending on your background, your neighborhood, and your generation — as there are in entire U.S. states. My own voice has the kind of inflections that probably reflect the accents of my city and my Eastern European Jewish grandparents, perhaps with a little flavoring from the many different ethnicities of my friends.

Second admission: I’m not an actor. Oh, I wanted to be one when I was growing up — what kid doesn’t have at least a moment when they want to be an actor? — to the point that I joined the drama club in junior high school. But while I enjoy reading my own stories to an audience, and try to flavor them with a bit of drama, I can’t come even close to the talents of a real actor.

But because I enjoy breaking out of my comfort zone occasionally, I was delighted when Podcastle recently asked me to do the narration for Rebecca Fraimow’s delightful story “Shaina Rubin Keeps Her Head Under Circumstances Nobody Could Have Expected.” It’s the third in Fraimow’s series of humorous fantasy stories told by her protagonist, Shaina Rubin, and it’s the kind of story where those Eastern European Jewish intonations that creep into my voice come in handy.

So, what could you lose? Give it a listen….

Quick thoughts on Fast Color

Fast Color

Several years ago, Jim and I happened, by almost pure chance, upon a strange and fascinating little science fiction film called Cold Souls, about a writer who puts his soul in cold storage (to better help himself get over writer’s block) and then has to try to retrieve it when it is accidentally sold. It was a wonderfully quirky science fiction film that, it seemed, few people had ever heard of; we spent the rest of the year urging all our friends to seek it out.

Here’s another one.

Last night, Jim and I watched a low-key but very well made science fiction film called Fast Color. Made in 2019, it had a very brief and limited run in a small number of theaters, but is now available on Amazon Prime, where it is well worth checking out.

Fast Color is a tale about a family of three — grandmother, mother, and young daughter — who live in an isolated community amid a drought-ridden US, and who, like all the women in their family, have inherited special abilities. Through the generations, they have tried to stay under the radar. Now, it has become harder to stay unnoticed — and harder to decide whether they should.

This isn’t a loud, action-packed superhero saga of derring-do by costumed superheroes. It doesn’t even have the weird quirks of Cold Souls or Being John Malkovich. What it has is a slowly developing story, wonderfully written characters portrayed by excellent actors, and a satisfying conclusion (although final scene leads a little too obviously into the series that is being planned for Amazon). There are some special effects, but the CGI serves the story rather than the story serving the CGI.

As Fast Color unfolds, we slowly learn who these strong-minded women are (including the young daughter, who has her own opinions on things), their separate backstories, and how they can clash and still remain a family. There is a wonderful scene in which, having disagreed vehemently the night before, the three storm silently through the kitchen and dining room making breakfast. They are furious with each other to the point of not talking, but they are still a family.

If you’re a Prime subscriber, think about putting this on your watch list.