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.

My official 2020 eligibility post

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.

Reading The Queen’s Gambit

Cr. CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX © 2020

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.

Finally fixed my short story page!

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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…)

Capclave online convention

Capclave dodo

While I don’t normally attend a lot of conventions, one that Jim and I have gone to faithfully for the last few years is Capclave, which takes place around this time in the Washington DC area. We like it because it’s a nice-sized, intimate con where we can hang out with lots of friends (including some close friends in the area with whom we love to spend time with).

Like most events, Capclave is not happening in person this year. It’s an especial pity because this year they were going to feature Guests of Honor from previous Capclaves, which I was looking forward to. However, there will be a virtual version October 17-18, and I will be participating, both as a panelist and as a reader. So if you’d like to zoom out (instead of hang out, I guess) with me, here is my schedule for that weekend. I’d love to see you.

Saturday 4:30 pm: Centennial Superstars (Ends at: 5:25 pm)
Participants:Walter H. HuntBarbara Krasnoff (M), Ian Randal Strock
Bradbury, Asimov & Sturgeon were all born 100 years ago. How did they impact the genre of speculative fiction, either directly or indirectly? Are they still readable today, or outdated? Which of their works still deserve to be remembered? What can today’s readers and writers learn from them?
Saturday 7:30 pm: Kaffeeklatsch (Ends at: 8:25 pm)
A small-group discussion on anything of interest. Limited spaces, advanced sign-up required.
Saturday 10:30 pm: I Hate Myself for Loving You (Ends at: 11:25 pm)
Participants:Day Al-MohamedJim FreundBarbara Krasnoff (M)
Guilty pleasures and secret fandoms. Why are we ashamed to admit we like something if we truly enjoy it? Considering how we feel when non-fans mock us for reading/watching “that Trek Wars stuff” why do we do it to ourselves? Is there a status hierarchy among fans and who is at the bottom and the top?
Sunday 11:00 am: Author Reading (Ends at: 11:25 am)
I haven’t picked a short story to read yet…

New story: “Dead Time on Hart Island”

Space & Time

My story “Dead Time on Hart Island,” which has just been published in Space & Time Magazine, is not based on any real events. But it is based on a real place.

Hart Island, for those who may be unfamiliar with it, is the “Potter’s Field” of New York City. It’s the place where the poor, the forgotten, and the misplaced have been buried since the late 19th century. For years, the island was under the administration of the Department of Corrections and the coffins placed in mass graves dug and filled in by inmates.

For most of that time, the family and friends of those who were buried on Hart Island were forbidden to visit by the Department of Corrections. Until a photographer named Melinda Hunt, who first visited the island in 1991 to record “a hidden American landscape,” made it her mission to obtain the records of those buried there (many of which were destroyed by a fire in 1977) and to enable their friends and relatives to visit.

Photo: Erlend Bjørtvedt (CC-BY-SA)

Using volunteer attorneys and the Freedom of Information Act, the Hart island Project eventually loosened the secrecy around the island. On the Hart Island Project website, you can now search out the stories of many of the AIDS victims buried there, and add any information you may have. You can also search a database of records beginning with 1980 to find out if anyone you know was interred there. The island also became much more accessible to the public, and in December 2019, a bill was signed that transferred control of Hart Island to the Parks Department.

For now, of course, ferry service to the island has been discontinued. The only people visiting Hart Island these days are the private contractors who have been hired to bury the dead — including some of the nearly 24,000 people in NYC who have died as a result of the coronavirus. And, perhaps, a few ghosts.

Confronting the wall

Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

It’s often difficult in hard times not to just put your head under the covers and refuse to come out. And these days, it feels as if the reasons to despair are piling up, like one brick after another, building an unsteady but increasingly taller wall.

There are the public bricks. Trump’s election: a brick. Trump’s past Supreme Court assignments: two bricks. COVID-19: a boulder-sized brick. The normalization of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQ, and other anti-human philosophies: several bricks. And now, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: yet another brick. And those are just a few; please forgive me if I’ve left out any bricks that affect you personally. I’m sure they’re there, somewhere in that ugly wall.

And then there are the personal, private bricks, which I won’t enumerate here.

So what do you do? There are currently hundreds (probably thousands) of online exhortations to not give up, not despair, call your senators, give money, gather and demonstrate, vote. Do. And this is the philosophy that I was raised up in, and which I usually attempt to follow, at least as much as I can: Do.

But I have to admit that, faced with all those bricks, there is a huge temptation to say: I’m done. I’m staying away from the news, I’m staying away from Twitter, I’m staying away from everything and everybody. I’ll sit on the couch and eat too much and watch old movies. The world can go screw itself.

Maybe I’ll do that, for at least one Sunday.

But after that, after taking a breath, I’m hoping I’ll be able to shake myself, and face what has to be faced. I’ll concentrate on my job, push ahead on my writing, handle family matters, and around the corners of those tasks, do what I can to pull at least one or two bricks out of that damned wall.