The Story Behind “An Awfully Big Adventure”

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Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection

Background info for “An Awfully Big Adventure,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065. Note: This is being presented a bit out of order because the story has just been posted on the Mythic Delirium website and can be read there for free. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
A young boy finds that he need to call on his family and his own inner resources to fight a malicious demon.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
I was eight years old when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. I have a clear memory of sitting on the rug in our darkened living room, my parents on the couch behind me, and watching President Kennedy address the nation. I didn’t understand everything that was happening, but I understood enough to know that things were really serious. I asked my father if there was going to be a war, and he said, “I don’t know.”

This paragraph in the beginning of “An Awfully Big Adventure” describes pretty well how I felt, with five-year-old Ben standing in for the eight-year-old Barbara: “And with those words, the bottom dropped out of Ben’s world. A simple fact of his life had been that his father knew everything, could explain everything, and could make everything better.”

I’d always wanted to write a story based on that memory, and had made several unsuccessful starts. When I needed a story to fill out The History of Soul 2065, I was able (with Mythic Delirium publisher / editor Mike Allen’s able help) to finally bring it together.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
While the story’s origins lie in my memory of  watching President Kennedy’s address with my very American parents, Ben’s mother and father (whom I’ve named Gretl Held and Wilhelm/William Weissbaum) are loosely based on the parents of my partner Jim Freund, both of whom escaped from Hitler’s Germany.

Jim’s father, like Ben’s, was in the OSS (the organization that eventually became the CIA) during the war. I’ve been told that he spent time as an underground operative in Europe. Like many war vets of his generation, he didn’t talk about it much.

Jim’s mother, along with her brother, managed to avoid the concentration camps when they were smuggled out of Europe by a network of Catholic religious workers, eventually meeting their parents in Morocco. In my story, Ben’s mother was not so fortunate; her experiences more reflect those of a neighbor I grew up with who bore fading blue numbers on her arm.

Ben himself (as mentioned in the entry about “Hearts and Minds“) is based somewhat on a talented young man I worked with back in the 1980s named Mark. The child Ben, however, is completely fictional.

Ben’s Grandmama Sophia is, yes, the same Sophia we meet as a child in the first story in the book, “The Clearing in the Autumn.”

Carlos is someone we will meet more fully in another story. He is a mashup of two or three friends of mine.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
The Cuban Missile Crisis may still be the closest we ever came to nuclear war (at least, the closest we know about). It was just lucky that the men in charge of the two opposing nations had the maturity and intelligence to pull away from the brink. I shudder to think of how a similar situation would have been handled by some of today’s leaders.

Azazel and Shemhazhai are, in legend, two fallen angels who went to live among the people of Earth. Azazel is usually portrayed as male, but I saw no reason why an angel couldn’t be female, both male and female, or neither.

Finally, the nightmare that Ben has is the same one that I had for weeks after that frightening night in front of the TV set. I haven’t had that nightmare since I was a child, but I still remember it.


Want to read The History of Soul 2065? Here are some links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s | Google Play

More links, and direct purchase of ebooks, can be found at Mythic Delirium.


Some Award Recommendations

I’d feel selfish if I didn’t recommend some of the great books and stories I’ve read over the past year. I do want to apologize in advance to anyone who is not mentioned here; I have not kept the list of what I read that I promised myself I would (and I’ve done a lot of backreading of novels I’ve meant to get to last year and hadn’t), and as a result, there are probably lots of works that are missing. And because I haven’t had time to do all the reading I wanted to, there are also probably lots of stories and novels that I shoulda/coulda read that I haven’t. With any luck, I’ll do better next year.

I’ve put in the categorizations for the Nebulas, but these are general recommendations. In no particular order:

Norton Award

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Novels / Collections

…And Other Disasters by Malka Older

Desdemona and The Deep by C.S.E. Cooney

Snow White Learns Witchcraft by Theodora Goss

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Novella

Catfish Lullaby by AC Wise

Novelette

His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light by Mimi Mondal (check out that great illustration as well)

Bird Thou Never Wert by James Morrow (SFWA members-only link)

The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye by Sarah Pinsker

Short stories

Sin Embargo 2019 by Sabrina Vourvoulias (another great illustration)

A Catalog of Storms by Fran Wilde

The Brightest Lights of Heaven by Maria Haskins

Crossing the Line by Lawrence M. Schoen (SFWA members-only link)

How the Trick is Done by A. C. Wise

The Angles by A.T. Sayre

 

 

 

Yes, I’ve written an awards eligibility post as well. So sue me.

Here’s the thing: I’m one of those ridiculously shy writers who (a) know that they need to promote their work so that people will read it, and (b) don’t want to promote their work because, well, it’s just, you know, not polite. Or called for. Or something.

However, on the other hand, I’m sorta proud of my first real, name-on-the-cover book, The History of Soul 2065, which appeared this year, and so I thought I’d write an awards eligibility post along with all the other writers (many of whom I admire greatly) who are writing theirs.

So here it goes. One book and a short story. (And I promise that the next blog post will be about a few of the books and/or stories I enjoyed this year…)

The History of Soul 2065

The History of Soul 2065My mosaic novel, which was published in June by Mythic Delirium Books, tells the history of two Jewish families, starting with two young girls who meet in a magical glade in 1914 and become friends. They swear to meet again, and while war and circumstances prevent that from happened, the promise travels down the generations though their families. Each story is intertwined with the others; you meet some characters at different times in their lives; others are featured in some stories and in the background of others. I was honored to get an introduction by Jane Yolen, and blurbs by Samuel R. Delany, Jeffrey Ford, C.S.E. Cooney, Carlos Hernandez, Richard Bowes, and James Morrow, who described it this way:

“Like all good mosaic novels, The History of Soul 2065 rewards its readers with both a beguiling narrative arc and a succession of individually riveting stories—in this case, twenty cannily uncanny tales involving ghosts, gods, demons, dybbuks, magic jewels, and time-bending birds.” 

If you are a SFWA member, you can find a copy here.  If you’d like to buy a copy, you can find links to various sources here.

“Blaming Caine” from Lost Signals of the Terran Empire

Lost SignalsThis was an interesting challenge for me. Chuck Gannon has created a fascinating science fictional universe, well-populated with aliens and spies and adventurers.. But while I enjoying reading his works, they are not the kind of story I would usually try to write. So when Chuck asked me if I wanted to try to write a story for an anthology he was putting together, I decided I’d give it a try. I’d never written in somebody else’s universe before, and it was a real challenge — in other words, it was really hard — but I was ultimately glad I took it on.

“Blaming Caine” is about a young woman whose parents are lost in one of those disasters that are rife in science fictional tales. Ships blow up, whole worlds are destroyed — and Our Heroes continue on their tale, leaving behind hundreds and thousands of lost and grieving people whose stories are not considered important enough to be told. I decided to try to tell the story of one of them.

If you are a SFWA member, you can find a copy here.  If you’d like to buy a copy, you can find links to various sources here.

 

 

 

Appearances and conventions

mdeLife can get very complicated, and when that happens, it’s easy to let other things slide. Things like readings, and conventions, and book bargains — oh, you know.

I was recently reminded that it’s a good idea to let folks know what I’m up to. So here are a few of the genre-related stuff that’s going on with me right now.

A Reading at the KGB Bar

I’m really excited to be reading at the Fantastic Fiction reading series this Wednesday, October 16th, at 7 p.m. It takes place at the historically decorated KGB Bar under the direction of Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel. I’ll be appearing with wonderful writer (and sister-in-Mythic-Delirium) Nicole Kornher-Stace.

The KGB Bar is located at:
85 East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
(Just off 2nd Ave, upstairs)

Visiting Washington DC for Capclave

I’ll be appearing (along with partner Jim Freund) at the Capclave SF/F convention this coming weekend. Capclave is a small but worthy literary genre convention that is a great place for panels or just hanging out. Here’s my schedule:

Friday

8:00 pm: Real Religions in Fiction (Ends at: 8:55 pm) Monroe
Panelists:Sarah Avery (M), Tom Doyle, Bjorn Hasseler, Barbara Krasnoff, James Morrow
How are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions treated in SF/Fantasy? Is sf/fantasy anti-religion (or neutral at best?). Do writers prefer to create their own gods and goddesses rather than use real religion/mythology? Do religious readers shy away from sf/fantasy? Why are rapture/religiously theme sf/fantasy considered to be separate from regular sf/fantasy?

10:00 pm: Books v Hollywood (Ends at: 10:55 pm) Eisenhower
Panelists:Keith DeCandido, Thomas Holtz (M), David Keener, Barbara Krasnoff, Will McIntosh
How can a book compete with a Hollywood blockbuster? Disney will spend millions on bigger than life special effects while a book just has text. Are movies/TV providing enough of what people used to get only through reading sf/fantasy?

Saturday

10:30 am: Reading: (Ends at: 10:55 am) Wilson
(I haven’t decided what I’m reading yet — suggestions are welcome!)

2:00 pm: Points of View (Ends at: 12:55 pm) Eisenhower
Panelists:Sarah Avery, Keith DeCandido, Barbara Krasnoff, Fran Wilde (M), Karlo Yeager Rodriguez
There are single and multiple point of view stories. The switch between characters can be jarring or smooth. How do authors use point of view in their writing? How can POV help the reader keep track of multiple characters? Which stories work best single versus multiple POVs?

10:00 pm: Some Books Age Like Wine, Others Cheese (Ends at: 10:55 pm) Washington Theater
Panelists:Leslie Burton-Lopez , Craig L. Gidney, Barbara Krasnoff (M), Darrell Schweitzer
Why do so books/authors age better than others? What are some classics that are unreadable today and why? What concepts in today’s books will future audiences find laughable? What books from your childhood have been hit by the ‘suck fairy’ and what still retain their sense of wonder?

A sale on The History of Soul 2065 ebook

Weightless Books is having a sale on The History of Soul 2065, charging only 99 cents for the ebook. The three-day sale started yesterday and, from what I understand, will go through tomorrow.

And that’s it for now!

 

The Story Behind “The Red Dybbuk”

radical gravestonesBackground info for “The Red Dybbuk,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
A woman starts to suspect something strange is happening when her daughter begins acting out of character.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
Back in 1987, my great-aunt Razel, my grandmother’s sister-in-law, died, the last of her generation. There were only a few of us at her funeral; she had no children and few relations left.

When we went to the cemetery, I was astounded at what I saw. I expected a series of modest headstones like those at my grandmother’s cemetery, or perhaps a confusion of old stones with Hebrew prayers and ancient symbols. But instead there were, side by side with the more traditional headstones, marble elaborately carved with memorials to their comrades’ fights on behalf of the working class, Yiddish poetry extolling radical social change, statues of rebels with raised fists, and unembarrassed engravings of the hammer and sickle.

I really wanted to know who these people were and what their lives had been like. I even hatched a plan with a photographer friend to create a book in which we’d hunt down their relatives and write what was known of their histories, accompanied by images of the gravestones and any family photos that we could discover. We applied for a grant but didn’t get it, and then life intervened, and the project was put away and never resumed.

The project faded, but not my impression of the place.  I kept thinking about all those strong, rebellious spirits and wondered how they could rest with their tasks undone and what they would think of the politics of the late 20th century. And that led to “The Red Dybbuk,” which was published in the Crossed Genres anthology Subversion: Science Fiction & Fantasy tales of challenging the norm in December 2011.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
Chana SchwartzChana is based on my grandmother, whose name was actually Chana (Anna in English). She was a tough, radical woman who survived pogroms in Ukraine, nursed soldiers in WWI Russia (and, later, the children of her Brooklyn neighbors), worked in some of the first birth control clinics in New York City, and guided me stubbornly through cursing crowds when we attended pro-civil rights events. She died shortly after I graduated from college, and the thing I remember most from her funeral was an elderly man telling stories of how he remembered her as a vibrant, fearless young girl ice skating on the lake near their home. If I had had a daughter, I would have named her after my grandmother.

Becky is very loosely based on my mother, who did indeed live through McCarthy’s red scares of the 1950s (which affected more than just movie stars and famous writers).

Marilyn is of my generation, and so I know her well; but my life and hers parted somewhere around college.

Annie is completely fictional.

NOTES ON THE PLACE
The cemetery where half of the story takes place is based on a small part of the very large New Montefiore Cemetery in Suffolk County where my Aunt Razel and Uncle Morris (and, I think, other family members) are buried. The fact that all those radicals were buried in the same area of the cemetery is not a coincidence. Many Jewish immigrants belonged to burial societies sponsored by others who came from the same Eastern European towns or by their synagogues. It was a form of insurance; you paid a certain amount every month and you were assured a burial plot and a proper funeral.

The people in my aunt and uncle’s section were neither landsmen nor were they from a synagogue; they were all members of the International Workers Order, a social organization that was a radical offshoot of the socialist Workman’s Circle. It was not just a burial society; it sponsored educational activities, medical clinics, summer camps for the kids — and, of course, political activism. The IWO was disbanded in 1954 because its radical politics were too dangerous for the times; however, its former members still held the rights to the burial plots that they had paid for through the society.


Want to read The History of Soul 2065? Here are some links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s | Google Play

More links, and direct purchase of ebooks, can be found at Mythic Delirium.


 

 

 

 

The Story Behind “The Sad Old Lady”

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Artist: Henriette Browne

Background info for “The Sad Old Lady,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
Sheila has a vision of herself as a lonely old woman, and tries her best to change her fate.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
When I was an adolescent and then a young adult, I would sometimes have night terrors during which I would be overwhelmed by the certainty of death. There was nothing I could do about it; death would one day come for me, and I as a thinking, conscious individual would no longer exist. I would no longer be, and I wouldn’t even be aware that I was no longer, and ever had been. I was absolutely horrified by the prospect.

My certainty of what death was, and what it was not, probably dates from a day when I was sitting in the car with my father. I don’t know what brought up the question, but I asked him, “Do you believe in life after death?” He didn’t pause, he didn’t consider, he simply said, “No.” He probably spoke not only from his feelings about religion, but also from what he saw as a soldier in Europe during WWII. And he spoke with such certainty, that I fully believed him.

Eventually, I don’t know why, those moments of night terror went away. When I started to write “The Sad Old Lady,” I tried to recapture those feelings in print, but couldn’t figure out how to end the story properly. Finally, I tweaked it so that Sheila’s night terrors come from a different source. She has, somehow, been granted a foretelling of what to her as a child seems to be a hideous fate, and she becomes obsessed with trying to avoid it.

“The Sad Old Lady” appeared in an unfortunately short-lived publication called Voluted Dreams in July 2013.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
For the most part, the people in this story are completely fictional. There are aspects of Sheila that come from my own experience — the fear of what is to come in the future, and the little tin box full of childhood treasures (which I still have, by the way). But she is of my mother’s generation.

Sheila’s son Carl’s experience with schizophrenia was taken from what happened to a friend’s brother when I was not long out of college.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
My mother was lucky in that both her brother and the man who was to be her future husband both returned from World War II alive and physically intact. But many didn’t, and I wanted to show that in this story


Want to read The History of Soul 2065? Here are some links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s | Google Play

More links, and direct purchase of ebooks, can be found at Mythic Delirium.


 

The Story Behind “The Ladder-back Chair”

chairBackground info for “The Ladder-back Chair,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
Joan becomes obsessed with a ladder-back chair that was used by her recently deceased husband Morris.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
“The Ladder-back Chair” is one of the more recently written stories in the book, although it takes place only a couple of years after “In the Loop,” which was written several years earlier.

I’ve seen many articles out on the web that urge you to simplify your life by divesting it of things — “things” being all the clothing, keepsakes, books, holiday cards, old photos and other stuff you tend to collect over the course of a lifetime. It is better to live simply, these people tell us, rather than be surrounded by a crowded and chaotic environment full of things you don’t really need.

The problem is that many of these things may not have any practical use any more (if they ever did), but they can have strong emotional resonances, and often it is difficult to dispose of something, however useless, that reminds you of the place you bought it, or the person who bought it for you.

But you know, even if that jacket, or book, or toy, or chair is physically gone, you can sometimes reach out somewhere within your mind and try to recreate the missing object in order to remember what you were like, and what your life was like, when it existed. There are times when I can think back and remember good things that happened, and the moment is so strong that I can almost taste, smell and feel what it was like.

“The Ladder-back Chair” was originally published in Mythic Delirium Issue 3.4,
April-June 2017.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
While Joan’s experiences while caring for a dying husband, and living through his funeral, are based on personal family history, both Joan and Morris are fictional, as is Gail, Joan’s friend. Marilyn and Annie will appear — and will be described more fully — later in the book.

Although he remains offstage in the story, Steve is based on Terence Gazzani, a neighbor’s son, who was lost on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Tower.

NOTES ON THE PLACE
As I wrote this, I pictured the house in Long Island where my parents lived for about 40 years, and which is still very clear in my memory. But you can picture any home that you like.


Want to read The History of Soul 2065? Here are some links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s | Google Play

More links, and direct purchase of ebooks, can be found at Mythic Delirium.