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!).
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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.
I’m beginning to see eligibility posts popping up on Twitter — posts listing the books and stories and poetry that people have had published over 2020, in order to remind their friends, readers, and acquaintances that awards season is nigh. So this is mine:
I’ve got two eligible stories this year:
“Dead Time on Hart Island,” published in Space & Time #138 in September. A convict working on burial detail finds he has more in common with the dead than the living.This is not available without purchase (although it is certainly worth it; other writers in the issue include Kate Ellis, Gordon Linzner, and Daniel M. Kimmel). SFWA members can find a copy at the SFWA forum.
“Slow Fade,” published in Legendary Tales #1 in October. A woman gradually becomes lost within her life. It is available online here.
I’ve just finished reading The Queen’s Gambit, the novel by Walter Tevis that is the basis for the marvelous Netflix series of the same name starring Anya Taylor-Joy.
First, if you haven’t seen the series, and if you subscribe to Netflix, watch it. It may be the best thing you watch this year.
That being said, I was completely astounded by the novel. Not so much by how well it’s written — I knew Tevis was a fine writer, and The Queen’s Gambit is every bit as good as I expected, if not more so. It was published in 1983, a year before Tevis died, when his skills were obviously still at their peak. But what really surprised me was how faithful the series is to the novel. Scene by scene, character by character, even line by spoken line, I found myself recognizing each scene from the series as I read through the novel.
There are, of course, a few differences, but they are so small as to be negligible. One of the male characters is slightly elevated in importance. The circumstances of how Beth was orphaned (this isn’t a spoiler; we find out she’s an orphan in the opening scenes) is very slightly tweaked. There are a few other small changes. But not many.
I have seen many other interpretations of novels by movies or TV makers, and many of them are wonderful. David Lean’s film of Great Expectations may leave out large swaths of Dickens’ novel, but it is a classic film in its own right. There have been several remakings of Little Women, three of which I really like — the 1933 version (because, well, Katherine Hepburn is Jo), the 1994 version (which was skillful and faithful), and the 2019 version (which I thought was a really original and wonderful re-interpretation). And there are, of course, many other novels, some much more recent, that have been suitably transferred to the screen.
But on the whole, The Queen’s Gambit has got to be the most faithful transference of a novel to a filmed drama that I can recall experiencing.
Part of the reason it works is due, of course, to the way Tevis structured his novel. It is written from the point of view of its protagonist, chess genius Beth Harmon, and the novel offers us, in clear, straightforward prose, her thoughts, her fascination with the game, and her impressions of everything that happens to her. Because she is intensely honest about herself — including her need to win and her reaction to her failures along the way — we can trust what we are told.
Scott Frank, who directed the Netflix production and co-wrote it with Allan Scott, also obviously trusted his material, and it shows. The writing and the acting is tight and masterful. Taylor-Joy is wonderful as Beth, as is the young actress Isla Johnston, who plays Beth as a girl. The hardest thing for the director and cinematographer to try to reimagine, I would guess, would have been visually conveying Beth’s fascination with chess and her ability to think out the possible moves that she and her opponents might make. But it works — while they illustrate it in various ways, the most striking has Beth lying in bed watching as giant chess pieces goes through various plays across the ceiling.
In short, I loved both the series and the novel. I saw the first before I read the second. I would be interested to know if the series holds up as well for those who are already familiar with the novel. I would suspect it does.
Greetings, all! This is a very short entry just to let you know that if you’ve looked at the blog’s listing of my short stories, and got frustrated because the links were wrong, or the images overlapped, or it was just plain ugly — sorry!
I’ve now spend several days reworking the page — adding photos, fixing the links, and adding others. So if you want to read some of my available short stories, or (maybe) buy the anthologies / magazines they appear in, you can! Just go to the “Published Short Stories” in the link on top of this site, and things should work! (And please let me know if they don’t…)