Upcoming appearances

512px-Sappho_frescoAware 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.

Other news:

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.

That’s it for now!

 

 

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.


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.


 

The Story Behind “Hearts and Minds”

playing-cardsBackground info for “Hearts and Minds,” one of the stories in The History of Soul 2065.

THE STORY IN BRIEF
Abe, Ruth, Paulo, and Ben are sitting around outside a candy store, bickering about politics and playing cards, when they are interrupted by an irritating stranger.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
Let me start by saying I love “Hearts and Minds.” It’s one of my favorite stories to read out loud because, well, it’s just so much fun to do the characters. And it’s one of the few where I came up with the punchline before I wrote the story.

But what really inspired this story was an experience I had while working at a tech publication. I was being shown a new genealogy program that had been developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as the LDS or Mormons), and noticed that one of the people in the family tree onscreen had a baptism date later than his date of death.

“You’ve got a mistake there,” I said, always trying to be helpful.

“That’s not a mistake,” said the woman. “He was baptized by proxy after his death, according to the wishes of his family.”

I smiled, thinking it a joke. “And what if he doesn’t want to be baptized?” I asked.

“He can always refuse it,” she said. She was absolutely serious.

I later found out that the LDS folks were posthumously baptizing people into their church en masse (including a large number of  Holocaust victims). Once this was discovered, there were, as you can imagine, protests. Finally, in 1995, the LDS church created rules against inappropriate retrospective baptisms. (Apparently, those rules didn’t stick.) I had to write something about this weird (to me) phenomenon, and the result was “Hearts and Minds.”

It appeared in Weird Tales #336 in 2004.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
As I think I mentioned before, Abe (whom we have already met in “Sabbath Wine” and “Lost Connections”), is loosely based on my grandfather, or on what I imagine my grandfather was like (although he was never as stout as Abe eventually became, and probably not nearly as rambunctious).

Ben, whom we meet for the first time here and who is the narrator of the tale, is a combination of several people, depending on which story you’re reading and how old he is. Here he is somewhat based on a work friend I had back in the 1980s named Mark; a very laid-back, sweet guy. One day Mark asked if I’d meet him for lunch, and it was obvious that there was something he wanted to talk about — he was unusually quiet and solemn — but by the end of the meal, he had never actually told me what he actually wanted to say. I didn’t push him. I wish I had, just a little.

To this day, I wonder what he was afraid to tell me. That he was gay? (I knew that already.) That he had AIDS? This was when many AIDS patients were isolated and blamed for their illness, so it isn’t unlikely.

I’ve always regretted that I wasn’t insightful enough at the time to realize that he was ill and what he was going through. Mark left work soon after, for reasons that were never said out loud. He died shortly after that. I attended his memorial and sewed a square in his name for the AIDS quilt. But that wasn’t nearly enough.

All the other characters in “Hearts and Minds” are completely fictional.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
There isn’t any specific moment in history referenced here. All four of the main characters — Abe, Ruth, Paolo, and Ben — represent fighters for justice from various times and places.

THE SONGS
Finally, I thought it would be nice to let you sample the songs or artists that are mentioned in the story.

Moonglow / Benny Goodman Quartet

 

Minnie the Moocher / Cab Calloway

 

Union Maid / The Almanac Singers
(I couldn’t find a YouTube video of Woody Guthrie singing the entire song, but this is a version by the Almanac Singers, a group co-founded by Guthrie and which also included Pete Seeger, Lee Hays and a bunch of other left-wing folkies of the time.)

 


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 “Lost Connections”

Brooklyn street 1920s
Photo courtesy NYPL

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

THE STORY IN BRIEF
Marilyn Feldman, Chana’s granddaughter, takes a virtual journey back in time to see her parents as children.

HOW IT WAS WRITTEN
I started writing “Lost Connections” when I was recovering from my father’s death in May, 2001. I wrote it very quickly while still coming to grips with the impermanence of life, and musing on how so many things can set our lives on courses that do not meet our own expectations. It was accepted and published in a wonderful specfic / literary journal called Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet from Small Beer Press in June 2002. It has been tweaked somewhat to fit into the book’s family trees and timeline.

One note of interest: The book itself was originally called “Lost Connections,” but as the manuscript progressed, a change of title seemed called for.

NOTES ON THE PEOPLE
The two families in this story — that of Chana and Abe Hirsch, and Millie and Sam Feldman — were based very loosely on the families of my mother and father. I emphasize loosely because none of what’s told here is based on real events; all the dialogue, personalities, thoughts and actions were generated completely by my imagination.

NOTES ON THE PLACE
The story takes place in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in the late 1920s. When I wrote about the Hirsch apartment, I pictured my grandparents’ apartment as I remember it from when I was a child. The Feldman apartment is completely imagined.

NOTES ON THE HISTORY
There was a huge push to organize mine workers during the 1920s by the United Mine Workers of America and the more left-wing National Miners Union, a push that resulted in a good deal of resistance (to say the least) by mine owners and operators. In Kentucky, this eventually led to violent and deadly clashes between the mine workers and company men in Harlan County, Kentucky in 1931, although there were plenty of smaller clashes in the years leading up to it, as described by Abe. (I remember sitting in my grandparents’ apartment listening to an old recording of “Which Side Are You On,” a song about the Harlan County strikes.)


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.