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.
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.
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.
I’m really pleased to announce that my short story “Dead Time at Hart Island” will appear in the Autumn issue of Space and Time Magazine.
Hart Island is a real place. It’s a small isle off the coast of NYC where those who couldn’t afford funeral costs, or who were without friends and family, have been buried for decades. And for years, relatives who found out that their loved ones were buried there weren’t allowed to visit, because the island was administered by the Department of Corrections, and burials done by prisoners. Hart Island is due to be turned over to the Parks Department — mostly due to the work of the Hart Island Project — and had been opened up to a limited number of visitors before the pandemic hit.
I’ve been fascinated with Hart Island for years, and in fact am currently experimenting with a longer form — maybe even a novel! — that features it as a main plot point. In the meantime, I’ll let you know when the short story is available!
It’s been a while since I paid appropriate attention to this blog — you’d think I’d have the time to write for it, considering how much time I’m spending at home, wouldn’t you? However, I thought that I should at least break my silence to promote a reading that I’ll be doing on Zoom this Tuesday, June 16th, at 7 pm for Galactic Philadelphia with well-known SF author David Mack.
Galactic Philadelphia is a relatively recent reading series organized by Lawrence M. Schoen and Sally Wiener Grotta, and which usually takes place at the Philadelphia Free Library. However, obviously due to current circumstances, the readings will instead be done via Zoom.
Here are the details. Feel free to come by and watch!
Meeting ID: 796 1284 3124
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Aware that I haven’t been very active in my blog lately, I thought I’d start by just bringing anyone who was interested up on my latest activities. Namely, I’ve got three upcoming appearances if anyone would like to join me there:
On Tuesday, February 11th, I’m going to be part of an evening of horror readings by female writers from Horror Writers Association-NY Chapter, emceed by Carol Gyzander and James Chambers, in celebration of Women in Horror Month. The line-up of readers includes Randee Dawn, Amy Grech, Carol Gyzander, N.R. Lambert, K.E. Scheiner — and me! It’s happening at the KGB Bar, 85 East 4th St., NYC from 7-9 pm.
On Sunday, March 8th, from 2-3 pm, I will be leading a discussion of my book THE HISTORY OF SOUL 2065 with the Eastern Connecticut Hadassah Book Club. It will be happening at the East Lyme Public Library, 39 Society Road, Niantic, Conn. If you’d like to attend, you can register for the event here.
On Tuesday, June 16th, I’ll be reading at the Galactic Philadelphia reading series along with one other writer (I think I know who it is, but it hasn’t been announced yet, so I’m holding off until I know for sure). That will be happening at the Free Library of Philadelphia at 7 p.m.
I’ve finished my website dedicated to the backstories of the tales in THE HISTORY OF SOUL 2065. It basically talks about what inspired each of the stories, who the characters are based on, and what historical events are depicted (and how true they are to the actual events). I’d welcome any feedback / questions / etc.
Right now, it looks as if I’ll be going to Capclave and Readercon. We don’t have any other cons on the agenda for now, but we’ll see if that changes over time.
Just a short blog entry for anyone who happens to be following these: My explanations about how I came to write each of the stories in The History of Soul 2065 will no longer appear on this blog. Instead, I’ve created a new site where I’ve put descriptions, background, and perhaps a video or two for all (you saw that right: all) of the stories in the book.
If you’ve already read the book, you may enjoy knowing some of the personal and historical background of each story. If you haven’t read it yet, maybe this will make you want to? At any rate, you can find my new site at HistoryOfSoul2065.com.
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.
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:
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:
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…)
My 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.
This 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.
Life 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:
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?
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.