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.

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.

The Story Behind “An Awfully Big Adventure”

1024px-Women_Strike_for_Peace_NYWTS
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.


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!

 

Apologies and a promise

IMG_20190503_082134I just want to apologize to anyone who may be following this blog. I haven’t been updating it. Hardly at all. You would think, wouldn’t you, that anyone who had a book coming out within a couple of months would be doing everything she could to promote that book, wouldn’t you? Like, for example, keeping her blog updated? On at least a weekly, if not a daily, basis?

Well, I haven’t. And I need to. And I will. I promise.

Here are my excuses, as lame as they are. First, despite all the evidence — the rewrites and final edits, the pre-sales announcements, the lovely blurbs and comments by people who have already had access to the book, my own lame attempts at PR — despite all these, I am having trouble believing that I’m actually going to have a book out in a very short time.

Second (and slightly less lame): I’ve been busy dealing with a new job (which I’m doing my best to do my best at), keeping up with household and family issues, and trying to get some additional writing done. I’ve been extremely bad at this last bit, and am very embarrassed by that. And so I avoid talking out bit.

So, here’s what I propose: The book coming out, The History of Soul 2065, is made up of interconnected short stories, many of which were based on family tales, personal history, etc. So when June (and the book) hits, I’m going to use this blog to make available a series of explanations, one for each story, of how it got written, why, and what got left out. (Sort of what I’m doing for the short stories that I’ve been posting at Curious Fictions.) That may be interesting for readers, and it will be an incentive for me to get something done.

How does that sound?

(The photo on this page, by the way, has nothing to do with the blog entry. It’s simply a nice photo I took recently. I thought you might like it.)

Short musings on community

Erewhon reading
Left to write (uh, right): Liz Gorinsky, Nicholas Kaufmann, Ilana C. Myer.

Last night, I attended a literary salon sponsored by Erewhon Books, a new independent specfic publishing house headed by Liz Gorinsky. The salon took place in their Manhattan offices, a nice open space that seems to be a combination office and living room. It featured writers Ilana C. Myer and Nicholas Kaufmann (both of whom turned in great readings, by the way; as a result, I have just started reading Last Song Before Night, the first book in Ilana’s trilogy).

About halfway through the reading, while I was listening, I let my eyes wander around the room. There were about 30 or 40 people present, sitting on chairs, couches, and the rug; listening, occasionally nodding, and sometimes laughing at inside jokes that we all got. Everyone seemed comfortable, easy, and happy to listen to some excellent prose by people whom they knew and liked.

cofAnd I realized that I was also enjoying the evening, relaxing despite all the various stresses that I (like so many of today’s adults) deal with. That even though I didn’t talk to many of the attendees on a day-to-day basis, this was my community, the people with whom I felt the most comfortable. And that it was nice to know they were around.

We all need communities, and most of us are lucky to have one — and often, several. It could be a community made up of our families, of neighbors, of college friends, of people at work, of people who share our interests, of the people who we meet every day walking their dogs in the park. These days, very often, these communities can be made up of people whom we never meet in person, but who we know from the back-and-forth of online social groups.

But whether online or in person, communities are important. And I am very grateful for mine.

 

Next week: The Heliosphere con

Heliosphere is a nice local con that Jim and I have gone to for the past couple of years and enjoyed — and we’re going again this year. If you’re in the NYC / Westchester area on the weekend of April 5-7 and would like to spend a weekend with some science fiction / fantasy fans in Tarrytown, NY, then come over and say hi.

The con starts Friday evening; we’ll be there Saturday and Sunday. Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, April 6th

11: 30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.
The Anniversary Year Panel
Ballroom 1
W/Darrell Schweitzer, Barbara Krasnoff (M), Keith R.A. DeCandido, Ken Gale, Daniel Kimmel
Come and discuss all the movies, books, series, etc. which are enjoying a major (or minor) anniversary this year.

Readings
5:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Ballroom 4
W/Lorraine Schein, Alex Shvartsman, C.S.E. Cooney, Barbara Krasnoff

Sunday, April 7th

11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
Can You Succeed As A Writer If You’re A Recluse?
Ballroom 1
W / April Grey, Barbara Krasnoff, Mike McPhail, Russ Colchamiro

Of stories, novels, birthdays, and the New Year

fireworks-3816694_1920Since this is the New Year and the time for looking ahead, I thought I’d write about a few thoughts about and upcoming events in 2019.

The first thing I’m looking forward to is the birthday celebration of Richard Bowes, one of my favorite writers, this coming Tuesday, January 8th, at the NYRSF Readings series (The Brooklyn Commons, 388 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, doors open at 6:30 pm). Rick is an elegant and fascinating writer whose stories look on reality with an urban fantasy twist, reflecting both his past in New York City’s underground cultures and more recent events. We’ll be looking back on his work, I’ll be interviewing Rick, and he’ll read a few short pieces. It should be a great deal of fun — please come.

And then there’s my book The History of Soul 2065, which is coming out from Mythic Delirium Press this coming summer. It will be my first full-length work after a rather slow several years of occasional short stories, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Anyone who has read other of my stories may recognize some of it; it’s what is called a “mosaic novel,” made up of a group of short stories that have been tweaked to form a (hopefully) unified whole. Please keep your fingers crossed for me.

As far as short stories are concerned, I’ve produced my first work that takes place in another writer’s universe: “Blaming Caine,” which will appear in the anthology Lost Signals of the Terran Republic, part of Chuck Gannon’s Caine Riordan universe. It’s the first published story I’ve ever written in someone else’s playground (the Blake’s 7 fanfic that I wrote many years ago for my and my friend’s eyes only doesn’t count). It was both difficult and fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in print. I’ll keep you all posted.

I’m not a fast writer, and so I had only two stories published in 2018: “Hard Times, Cotton Mill Girl” in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #71 and “In the Background” in Resist Fascism  from Crossed Genres Publications. (Neither, unfortunately, is available online, but feel free to purchase either of those publications.) I don’t know how many stories I’ll be able to produce this coming year; most of my concentration right now is on a new job as Reviews Editor at The Verge, a publication which centers on how technology will change and is changing our lives. It’s an exciting — and slightly daunting — new venture for me, and the offices are filled with frighteningly talented people.

I am slowly republishing my older short stories — the ones that don’t appear in The History of Soul 2065 — on the site Curious Fictions, which is providing a central place for writers to recycle their published fiction. I just put up my third story, a science fiction tale about an older woman who is shipwrecked on an alien planet. You can find that, and another two stories, on my Curious Fictions page.

If a new idea should strike and demand to be written, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I’m still producing my Backstories on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (although I may be running out of photos!), so that, at least, is something.

A very happy New Year to all, and I hope we all do well, and that things improve both in our personal lives and in the wider world.