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.

 

 

 

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”

Browne,_Henriette_-_A_Girl_Writing;_The_Pet_Goldfinch_-_Google_Art_Project
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.


 

The Story Behind “In The Loop”

Belt Parkway
Copyright 2019 Google

Background info for “In The Loop,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
Morris’ life begins to unravel as he confronts a weird passenger in his car.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
In some ways, “In The Loop” is one of the most autobiographical stories in this book. For the last six months or so of my father’s life, I spent the greater part of my days (and some nights) driving back and forth to accompany my parents to doctors’ offices, then to sit with my father in hospital rooms, and then to help care for him at home when aides either didn’t show up or couldn’t be found.  And then, eventually, to help with all the errands demanded after a death. It all became a numb blur of trips back and forth.

Occasionally, I wished (rather guiltily) for some kind of escape. Or for everything that I, and my family, was going through to be done with and part of our past. From that came this story.

“In the Loop” was accepted by Descant, a quarterly Canadian literary publication that was looking for stories for its Fall 2003 special science fiction issue. The magazine, which had started publication in 1970, shut down in 2015.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
As described above, Morris’ experiences are not completely fictional. However, Morris is. As is his visitor.

NOTES ON THE PLACE
Morris is driving along the Belt Parkway, which runs along the west and southern shores of Brooklyn. There are a few rest stops along the parkway that lead onto small parks along the shore or, in a couple of cases, actual beaches. At the time this was written, which was in the early 2000s, these rest stops were not terribly well maintained.

The shopping center mentioned is the Gateway Center in East New York, which took several years to be built and opened in 2002.


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 “Cancer God”

hospital room
Photograph courtesy Tomasz Sienicki

Background info for “Cancer God,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
Jakie, a sharp-tongued retired salesman who is in the hospital, meets a man who claims to be the god of cancer.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
My father was a wonderful, ethical, funny, and loving human being, and when he died, my world was badly shaken. Several of the stories I wrote over the next few years were informed by his life and death. “Cancer God” was the first; I started sending it out in August of 2001, three months after he died. It racked up an impressive number of rejections. However, I was absolutely determined that it would see print, either on paper or online. It was finally accepted by Space and Time Magazine and published in July of 2009.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
As implied above, Jakie is loosely based on my father. Like Jakie, my father fought in the European theater in WWII. After the war, he worked as a salesman for wholesale women’s clothing companies in the 1950s/1960s NYC “rag trade” (although he eventually ended up in charge of a mail-order operation for a high-end men’s clothing company). And like Jakie, he knew how to get along with almost everyone, but didn’t take shit from anyone.

As mentioned in the entry for “Hearts and Minds,” Ben as an adult (who is only present offstage here) is somewhat based on a talented young man I knew in the 1980s who was lost in the AIDS maelstrom.

Ben’s partner Carlos is completely fictional, although if you squint hard enough you’ll probably find bits and pieces derived from several of my friends.

NOTES ON THE PLACE
The hospital is — a hospital.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
Jakie is a man of his time: A veteran who came home, happy to have survived; he married his childhood sweetheart, had a couple of kids, worked hard, smoked a couple of packs a day, and hoped to eventually retire and grow comfortably old (a hope that was probably cut short by those couple of packs a day). He’s cynical, innately honest, kind without admitting it, foul-mouthed when he wants to be, and unwilling to talk about the war. He’s seen enough in his life not to reject any experience — no matter how strange — out of hand.

 


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.