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.


 

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Upcoming reading at the Twenty-Sided Store

So I’m going to be part of this reading in the highly fashionable neighborhood of Williamsburg in the highly fashionable borough of Brooklyn at the newly fashionable Twenty-Sided Store, where the highly fashionable go to game. (No, really, I understand it’s really a neat place.)
 
I will be reading alongside a bunch of highly talented writers, including Chris Kreuter, Carlos Hernandez, C.S.E. Cooney, and Rob Cameron.
 
It’s all happening this Thursday, December 22nd, at 7 pm. The Twenty-Sided Store is located at 362 Grand Street in Brooklyn. It sounds like it’s gonna be a lot of fun. Drop on by if you can.

I’m going to read at NYRSF!

image01February is almost here, and on Tuesday, February 2nd, I’m going to be doing a reading at the NYRSF Readings series with one of my favorite writers, Richard Bowes.

Rick and I have been part of the same writing group (currently called Tabula Rasa) for a few years now, and he is the author of several excellent novels and short stories, including one of my absolute favorites (and the best 9/11 story written, in my opinion), “There’s a Hole in the City.” Appearing on the same bill with him will be great.

I’m still back and forth about what I’m going to read: Right now, it’s between a maybe-it’s-real-and-maybe-it’s-not story that I recently sold to Mythic Delirium called “The Ladderback Chair” and a science fiction tale that just appeared in Abyss and Apex called “With Triumph Home Unto Her House.” I probably won’t decide until I absolutely have to (the same way I sometimes decide what to eat at a restaurant; wait until the waiter shows up and then pick one).

So come on by if you can. With any luck, at least some of the snow will be gone by then:

NYRSF Readings
Tuesday, February 2nd
Doors open at 6:30 pm; begins about 7 pm
The Brooklyn Commons
388 Atlantic Avenue  (between Hoyt & Bond St.)

 

 

54 Below Sings Starmites

What with a full-time job, an attempt to keep my writing up and other obligations, I haven’t done a lot of “going out” lately. So it was really nice to to be able to treat ourselves to 54 Below Sings Starmites, a cabaret-type performance of a 1980s comic-book musical called, yes, Starmites. It was directed by Pat Cerasaro & Barry Keating; Keating wrote the music and lyrics; he also wrote the book along with Stuart Ross.

Starmites

54 Below is a nightclub in the lower level of what was, of course, the former and notorious Club 54 (the upper level is now a theatre owned by the Roundabout). We had a somewhat expensive but extremely yummy dinner; then an enthusiastic and very talented cast and band performed the musical numbers on a dangerously small stage while the story (such as it was) was narrated by Liz Larsen, a member of the original cast.

It was a huge amount of fun. The whole cast was great (and negotiated their way through a few mistakes and glitches with professionalism and humor). I was especially impressed by Cheryl Freeman, who belted out a song called Hard To Be Diva with incredible energy, and Brian Charles Rooney, who played the bad guy with relish and sang The Cruelty Stomp wonderfully, throwing in some jazzy riffs that that directly referenced Cab Calloway, among others.

Many thanks to Sheri Lane and Barry Keating for helping us discover this event.

Mythic Delirium 2.1 — with my story “Sophia’s Legacy — is now available

The latest issue of Mythic Delirium is now on sale with, as editor Mike Allen says, “three tales of magical protagonists haunted by past events” — including my story “Sophia’s Legacy,” which is based (extremely loosely) on a story my grandmother once told me about her mother.

Mythic_Delirium_1_4_coverHere’s the description as found on the website:

We join a vampire moving in the worlds of high fashion and higher powers; a sea witch crashing a royal wedding with a (familial) blood score to settle; an enchanted chess game with life-and-death consequences, with the opponents separated by a century.

Our poems in this issue add new chapters to the tales of Oz and The Tempest, grant new coats to villains and secret lives to cabinets, discover new senses and damaged but working hearts.

The stories come courtesy of Sara M. Harvey, Cassandra Khaw and Barbara Krasnoff, while Jane Yolen, Sandi Leibowitz, Shira Lipkin, Hannah Strom-Martin, Anne Carly Abad and Alicia Cole provide the poetry. Our spectacular cover art, inspired by Cassandra’s story, comes from Paula Arwen Owen.

The print publication is available now through Amazon or Weightless Books. My story will be available online in September (although Sara Harvey’s story and two of the poems are available now). Enjoy!

My Readercon Schedule

Readercon is in a very few days and I’m very much looking forward to it. Folks who may want to say hi will be able to find me either lurking in the halls, making notes in the audience, or part of the following panels/readings:

Thursday July 09

9:00 PM    ENL    How to Write for a Living When You Can’t Live Off Your Fiction.  Leah Bobet, John Crowley, Michael Dirda, Barbara Krasnoff (leader).You’ve just been laid off from your staff job, you can’t live on the royalties from your fiction writing, and your significant other has taken a cut in pay. How do you pay the rent? Well, you can find freelance work writing articles, white papers, reviews, blogs, and other non-SFnal stuff. Despite today’s lean journalistic market, it’s still possible to make a living writing, editing, and/or publishing. Let’s talk about where and how you can sell yourself as a professional writer, whether blogging can be done for a living, and how else you can use your talent to keep the wolf from the door. Bring whatever ideas, sources, and contacts you have.

Friday July 10

1:00 PM    ENL    The Works of Joanna Russ. Gwynne Garfinkle, David G. Hartwell, Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Scott Lynch. Joanna Russ (1937–2011) was, arguably, the most influential writer of feminist science fiction the field has ever seen. In addition to her classic The Female Man (1975), her novels include Picnic on Paradise (1968), We Who are About to… (1977), and The Two Of Them (1978). Her short fiction is collected in The Adventures of Alyx(1976), The Zanzibar Cat (1983), (Extra)Ordinary People (1984), and The Hidden Side of the Moon (1987). She was also a distinguished critic of science fiction; her books include The Country You Have Never Seen: Essays and Reviews (2007). Of her works outside the SF field, she is perhaps best known forHow to Suppress Women’s Writing (1983). Join us to discuss her works.

3:00 PM    G    Women of Technology. Karen Burnham, Barbara Krasnoff (moderator), Shariann Lewitt, B Diane Martin, Fran Wilde. Current technology is the handmaiden of hard science fiction. What can SF literature learn from the women who have made a difference in tech today? What have been their challenges, experiences, and frustrations? How can we use them as prototypes for the inhabitants of our imagined futures? And from the point of view of women in scientific and technical fields, what science fiction works have succeeded (or failed) in extrapolating not only future technology but the role of women within it?

8:00 PM    CO    Dealing with Discouragement. Susan Bigelow, Michael J. Daley, Scott Edelman, Barbara Krasnoff (leader), Shariann Lewitt. As writers, we learn very early on to handle rejection, but how do you handle it when a story you’re sure is good is rejected by 20 different publications? Or when your carefully crafted novel is shrugged off by five different agents? Or your self-published novella is bought by only 25 people, all of them friends and relatives? Or your fantasy novel disappears from public view after a couple of weeks? We’ll explore personal strategies to deal with disappointments, rejection, and other setbacks.

Saturday July 11

9:00 AM    F    The Author’s Voice. Barbara Krasnoff (leader), Kate Marayuma, Tom Purdom, Paul Tremblay, Gregory Wilson. An old writing advice chestnut is that you should read your work aloud; supposedly this will help you notice awkward phrasing. Let’s dig a little further: when, how, and why do writers do this, if at all? How has it helped—and has it ever hindered? Do authors who are performers have the opposite problem, where their ability to make something come alive in a reading obscures the fact that it’s a bit dead on the page? How does reading aloud square with things like footnotes, parentheticals, illustrations, digressions, or visual representations of dialects? Is anyone emphatically against the practice of reading aloud as an element of process?

10:00 AM    EM    Tabula Rasa. Jen Brissett, Barbara Krasnoff, Terence Taylor. Tabula Rasa Group Reading

Sunday July 12

9:30 AM    ENV    Reading

Didja know that women were closer to the primitive than men? Didja? Hah?

Sometimes, it’s fun — and occasionally necessary — to see where we came from so that we can have some perspective on today’s battles. Just by chance, browsing through a table of free used books, I picked up a science fiction novel called Sign of the Labrys by Margaret St. Clair, copyright 1963. I don’t remember ever reading one of her works (although I read so much science fiction/fantasy when I was a teenager that I may simply not remember the book). But besides the interest of reading something new that was published back then, I knew I immediately had to take the book when I turned it over and looked at the blurb on the back cover.

And had to show it off. This was considered a positive way to market a skiffy book by somebody who was female and actually admitted to it by not changing her name or using initials. Women are writing science fiction! Really! And because they are closer to the primitive than men, they possess a buried memory of humankind’s past! So this has gotta be a great book!

(Actually, this is apparently one of the earliest uses of Wiccan themes in a speculative fiction novel, so the marketing is understandable. But still…)

I bring you, ladies and gentlebeings, 1963:

"Women are closer to the primitive than men."
“Women are closer to the primitive than men.”