After a long publication drought, I’m pleased to announced that my short story, entitled “Hard Times, Cotton Mill Girl,” is appearing in the latest issue of Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, a long-running publication available here in PDF, ePub or Mobi versions.
The story has its beginnings in a day trip I took with some friends to Boott Cotton Mills Museum in Lowell, Mass., a few Readercons ago. It was a fascinating visit; this is an old cotton mill that you could walk through along with a small museum that illustrated the lives of those who worked in it. (And the history of Lowell is, in fact, fascinating — it was an attempt by well-meaning people to create a relatively safe environment for young women doing factory work. If the subject interests you, I encourage you to check it out.)
One reason I was so interested in visiting the mill is this: I was brought up with a consciousness of labor history. And one of the books that I remember looking at over and over again when I was a child had a photo of a little girl in a factory looking wistfully out of a window; it was accompanied by a poem by Sarah Norcliffe Cleghorn that I learned by heart:
The golf links lie so near the mill
That almost every day
The laboring children can look out
And see the men at play.
The memory of that photo and poem, along with the tour we took at the museum, sparked the story.
Finally, when I started writing, I looked for a picture of a girl who could be my protagonist. I found this one. It was taken by Lewis Hines in 1908 at the Lincoln Cotton Mills in Evansville, Ind., and is entitled Girls at Weaving Machine.
I don’t know the name of the girl in the photo, or if there is any way of finding out who she really was or what happened to her. Everything else in the story is, of course, imaginary. But this is the girl I saw in my mind when I wrote about Emilia.
A little while ago, I was looking at a story that was published recently in Mystic Delirium called “The Ladder-Back Chair.” It describes the experiences of a woman who tries to come to terms with her husband’s death by imagining the presence of a chair she associates with their life together. And then I checked my list of published fiction, and realized that a great deal of my fiction written over the past 15 or so years — more than I thought — has been heavily influenced by a single event in my life: The death of my father in the spring of 2001.
First, a short and very incomplete bio of Bernard Krasnoff — Bernie to his friends. He was born in 1923 to immigrant parents, and grew up in Brooklyn. His college education was interrupted by World War II; he served in the Army in Europe and helped to liberate at least one of the lesser known concentration camps (and kept in touch with two young women who, much later in life, met with him and my mother when they visited the U.S. from Israel). After the war, he studied history at Brooklyn College, where he met and eventually married my mother.
His life was, by all external measures, not extraordinary. He started as a salesman in the “rag trade,” dealing in wholesale women’s clothing. One of my early memories is of visiting his workplace, playing hide and seek among racks and racks of clothes and watching as tailors with pins in their mouths cut out garments amid the smells of machine oil, dust and glue.
Later, after a brief period of unemployment, he managed a mail-order concern for a high-end men’s clothing company. After he retired, he tried out a variety of trades just for the fun of it: He freelanced as a business consultant; worked as a salesman in the men’s department of a clothing store; and became a “meter maid” for the local traffic department (he most enjoyed giving out parking tickets to Cadillacs and other high-priced cars). And perhaps more that I don’t immediately remember.
Other random things I remember: He played the guitar (until my toddler brother sat on it); listened to Woody Guthrie, Alan Sherman, and Beverly Sills; edited a newsletter for the housing project we lived in; supported the Civil Rights movement, opposed the Vietnam War, and was active in local politics; and followed baseball (the Mets), along with other sports (he even watched golf, which for me was about as exciting as watching paint dry). When my family moved from an apartment to a small house in Long Island, he took a huge amount of pleasure in maintaining the house and the garden, and raised an American flag on a flagpole whenever the weather allowed. He supported, defended and loved his family.
I still miss him terribly.
The first story I published after 2001 was called “Lost Connections” (Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, 2002) and was a time-travel story in which a woman visits both sets of grandparents in a useless effort to warn the children who would become her parents against their own futures. The next, “In the Loop” (Descant, 2003), was about a man who becomes lost in the nightmarish unreality of dealing with his father’s illness and death.
Interestingly, the one that I wrote just after my father’s death, “Cancer God” (Space and Time, 2009), wasn’t sold until eight years later. It’s about a smart-ass, aging salesman who is in the hospital and tries to fast-talk his way out of dying. “Waiting for Jakie” (Apex, 2009), was written later but sold the same year and is about the inner life of a Holocaust survivor obsessed with a young soldier she met briefly after liberation.
There are others that I never finished, or never sold (including a very angry revenge story about one of his doctors that I will probably never publish). But now, after “The Ladder-Back Chair,” and as fond as I am of the stories I’ve written over the last 15 years, perhaps I should experiment a bit — try to see if I still have the imagination and skill to work in a wider arena.
I’ll let you know if I succeed. Or, perhaps, you’ll let me know.
Because it’s that time of the year: One of my favorite and most personal stories, titled “The Ladder-Back Chair,” was published this year by Mythic Delirium, and so I thought I’d invite you to read it, if you’d like. (And as long as you’re at Mythic Delirium, look around — there’s some excellent stuff there.)
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t kept good track of some of the stories I’ve read and enjoyed this year; but I’ll be coming back sometime later with at least a few recommendations.
I’m especially pleased because it is appearing alongside a wonderful poem called “Grave Robber” by Jane Yolen. I had the honor of sitting next to her during the author autographing session at last month’s Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh, where she was Grand Master; she’s not only a great writer, but a lovely person.
The June online edition also features a poem “bn ʾdnbʿl bn ʾdrbʿl”by the talented writer Sonya Taafle.
So I hope you enjoy these, and the other now-online stories and poems in the issue.
I was very pleased just now to get an email informing me that an anthology of stories from the website Triptych Tales has just been released — an anthology that includes my (hopefully creepy) story “The Waterbug.”
Triptych Tales specializes in “stories that take place in our world, our world with a twist, or our world as it could be in the very near future.” (The way U.S. politics are going these days, I’m beginning to feel like I’m living in “our world with a twist,” but that’s a blog entry for another time.) Besides my story, there are stories by a variety of excellent authors such as Liz Kershaw, David Steffen, Kenneth Schneyer, and others.
I’ve been going through several of the posts recommending genre work that has been published throughout 2016 and promoting their own, and I’m really impressed with the all the great stuff out there. (And getting ready for a reading frenzy.)
So I thought I’d contribute my own, much shorter list of my own eligible works and a few of the works that I’ve read and enjoyed over the past year.
Sabbath Wine Clockwork Phoenix 5
This story, about a father trying to put together a Sabbath meal for his daughter and her new friend during Prohibition, is one that I’m especially proud of.
Unfortunately, it’s not available to read online. SFWA members can find it as a PDF attachment in the Short Stories 2016 area of the SFWA forums. Otherwise, there is a video of me reading it at a recent NYRSF Readings session. (Or, of course, you can always buy the book! <g>)
With Triumph Home Unto Her House
Abyss & Apex Near-future science fiction with a bit of social politics thrown in. A middle-aged middle-class woman tries to work her way back after a series of financial disasters and learns that following the rules doesn’t always work.
Unfortunately, it’s been a busy year, and I haven’t done nearly as much reading as I’d like, but here are some that come to mind. (Hopefully, I’ll add more over the next few days.)
El Cantar of Rising Sun by Sabrina Vourvoulias Uncanny Magazine #13 A lovely, poetic and tragic story. One of my favorites of the year.
Wilson’s Singularity by Terence Taylor People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! / Lightspeed I have to say that I’m prejudiced in favor of this one because it was workshopped in my writers group. It’s a great story of how change can have society and personal effects.
Breathe Deep, Breathe Free by Jenn Brissett People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! / Lightspeed Two kids text each other in a world that is uncomfortably possible.
A Handful of Dal by Naru Dames Sundar People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! / Lightspeed A recipe changes through the generations but still helps keep descendants rooted.
The Book of May by C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez Clockwork Phoenix #5 Not going to say anything except this one made me cry and smile at the same time. Really.
Things With Beards by Sam J. Miller Clarkesworld #117 A wonderful, frightening and touching follow-up to The Thing (1982 version).
Novels and Collections
Bone Swans by C. S. E. Cooney
A lovely collection of stories; it won the 2016 World Fantasy award.
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
I’m not usually a fan of novels where “apocalypse” is part of the story description, but I’m glad I made an exception for this one.