Just a note to let anyone coming across my site that two advance readers copies of my next novel, Wonders of the Invisible World, are being given away at Goodreads. Click the link below to enter to win the book ahead of its release date, September 8th, 2015. You have until August 14th to enter.
In all the hustle and bustle that lead up to the release of “Jamie Marks is Dead” I failed to report a fantastic bit of news that occurred in mid-July. As I’d mentioned in an earlier post back in May, my short story collection Before and Afterlives had been nominated for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award in the category of Best Single-Author Collection. In July it was announced that I had won the award. In fact, there were two winners: my collection and Nathan Ballingrud’s amazing collection, North American Lake Monsters.
I could not be happier to have this collection–something of a retrospective of the best of my short stories from the first decade of my life as a publishing writer–recognized with this award. Shirley Jackson’s work has been an enormous influence on me since I was a teenager assigned to read “The Lottery” in a high school English class, like so many of us from a certain generation were. Her small town spooks and just-on-the-edge-of-surreal thrills spoke to me on so many levels. To have my collection of stories recognized in her name is really, as they say, a dream (or perhaps in Shirley’s case), a nightmare come true.
I’d like to thank Steve Berman, my publisher at Lethe Press, for believing in my stories and for bringing this collection out into the world. I’d also like to thank Alex Jeffers for the gorgeous interior design, and Steven Andrew, who designed the cover, which I still look at from time to time and think, Damn, that cover is unbelievably fantastic.
Thanks, too, to the many editors of the magazines and anthologies that first published the stories individually.
Here’s a photo of the book and the award itself.
Last night I had the pleasure of watching Jamie Marks is Dead, the movie based on my first novel, One for Sorrow, in Cleveland, Ohio, with a bunch of friends and family. It was so good to finally have others who I’m close to, people from my community, see it as well. Before it had felt a little bit like Big Bird’s relationship with Mr. Snuffleupagus. No, really, there is a movie out there adapted from my novel! It’s not just imaginary!
Here is me and the director/screenwriter, Carter Smith, who made a surprise guest appearance to do Q&A with me after the screening.
The film debuted as one of sixteen competitors in the dramatic category at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. From there it went on to screen this past summer at Newfest in NYC and Outfest in LA. Now it’s in a limited theatrical release in major cities, as well as also available on video on demand platforms.
Here are the cities where it’s playing:
And here are the video on demand platforms where you can purchase it or rent it to watch in your own home:
I hope as many of you out there as possible can watch it too. It’s really a dream of a film. I mean that. It feels like a dream, or a nightmare, that you wake up from more than a conventional film. When the Washington Post reviewed my novel when it first came out, they said, “Traveling through this story with Adam is like a nightmare, but the kind that fascinates you so deeply that when you wake up, you grab the first person you see and tell him about it.” The film feels that way to me too. So I hope you enjoy the pleasures of dream logic.
The New York Times recently reviewed the film incredibly favorably. I hope you find it as fascinating as others are finding it.
It’s been a few months since I last updated here. Since “Jamie Marks is Dead” debuted at in the Sundance Film Festival competition in January, a lot of other really wonderful things have occurred.
First, I was nominated for a Nebula Award in the category of Best Novelette for my story, “Paranormal Romance”!
This is the fourth time I’ve been nominated for a Nebula Award. The first time was in 2007 for my novelette, “The Language of Moths”, and the second time was in 2010 for my novel-in-stories, The Love We Share Without Knowing. The third time was in 2011, for my novelette, “Map of Seventeen”. Clearly the novelette is my category!
I’m always honored to be named a front runner for the Nebula Award, and this time is no different.
Secondly, my collection of short stories, Before and Afterlives, has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, in the category of Best Single-Author Collection. I’m ecstatic to be nominated for this award. I started out as a short story writer, and it remains the form I feel most affection for, regardless of my becoming a novelist too. For Before and Afterlives to be nominated in the Best Collection category is the proverbial dream come true for me, both because the book collects many of the short stories I wrote over my first ten years as a writer, but also because Shirley Jackson has been a huge influence on me as writer for years and years. I constantly go back to her strange and eerie stories from the 1950s and 60s and the still hold immense power for me as a reader (and as a writer). For my stories to be recognized as a body of work for this award is really affirming for me.
The semester at Youngstown State University, where I teach fiction writing, has finally ended, and I’m looking forward to a productive summer of writing. More news when I have any to share. Until then, I hope everyone reading this has a great summer.
And good luck to all of those nominated for the above awards.
This past weekend, I had the privilege of seeing my first novel made into a film that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The novel is called One for Sorrow. The film is called Jamie Marks is Dead. Early on in my novel, the narrator, Adam McCormick, observes in his high school yearbook after Jamie Marks is found murdered, that he and Jamie share the same page, the same square even, but Adam’s photo is on one side of the page, and Jamie’s is on the other. For me, coming away from watching Jamie Marks is Dead feels similar to that moment of two people’s souls blurring and mingling into one.
Carter Smith, the director and screenwriter for the film, kept that moment intact, actually, as well as a lot of the novel. Though there are some changes, the story has retained the essence of the book for me. I’ve already noticed some fans of the novel online who had managed to see it at Sundance mention the changes from book to film, but that’s the nature of novel adaptations–they modify a very large story, 320 pages in this case, to fit into an hour and forty minutes of screen time. Novels and films are two different forms, and taking a novel into the film format will, by necessity, mean some things will have to change. Unless the adaptor is doing a literal translation of book to film, which for me always falls flat, simply because the two forms don’t do the same things, don’t function in the same ways (though they do have crossover points, obviously).
So in this adaptation of One for Sorrow, you’ll see that it’s a troubled single parent household instead of a troubled two-parent household, that Adam comes from. There’s no grandmother in Adam’s memory who taught him how to count crows to the counting crows nursery rhyme, which explains the change in title. And instead of squatting in an abandoned church, Adam squats in an abandoned warehouse. Some events in the book have been collapsed, or moved around in time. There are some pieces of dialogue that have been moved from one scene in the novel to a different placement in the film. And there’s even at least one entirely new scene that Carter created for the script that I absolutely love (involving the ghost of Frances Wilkinson), and that feels entirely organic to the story, made from the same essence of how I imagined Frances in the novel.
I loved every moment of it, even the changes. Carter created a visual poem using the imagery and motifs of the novel, and watching the film was absolutely fascinating for me to see all of those codified metaphors and symbols unfold on the screen like one of those flower teas that, once dropped in water, seem to bloom and bloom again, until they fill their container.
The film focuses on the relationships between the teenagers in the novel, so other side storylines have been pushed into the background or excised altogether, and that, I think, was the entirely right choice to make. Those were the relationships and that was the storyline that were the center of the novel, too. Novels have room for background characters and side plots that might make a film feel clunky and overpacked if absolutely everything was brought over in the transfer.
This movie is dark, cold, blue and green. It holds the essence of winter and death and regret and longing inside it. And somehow, hope flowers in its darkness. That’s the book, too, really, or what I hoped I’d achieved as the tone and essence with the novel.
So I feel like I couldn’t have asked for me and my story to have been placed into better hands. Carter and his cast and crew made something I can feel good about being a part of. I can’t wait for people to see the absolutely gorgeous cinematography that Darren Lew brought to the film, too. It’s dark magic, the look of the entire thing.
Park City is unlike any place I’ve ever visited, and is the complete opposite of my daily life in the declining town of Youngstown, Ohio. A tiny skiing town nestled in the mountains, where Christmas apparently never goes away. Lights were strung from street corner to corner, throughout the trees, ever so precious that even the bulbs in the trees were made to seem like seeded berries. The people at the festival seemed professionally beautiful, as if they’d stepped out of magazines, and they lined the streets waiting to get into overfull restaurants and huddled around each other in the hopes of getting off the wait list for certain movies.
For most of the premiere day, I was nervous and felt like I was swimming through a haze, couldn’t collect my thoughts well, and kept bumping into things or feeling dizzy, much like Adam in the novel does after the body of Jamie Marks is found. But when I arrived at the theater, Carter appeared out of a knot of people and when I saw his smile everything seemed to go back into focus. I went through the media tent with him and the actors, who happen to be some of the nicest, warm people I’ve met, and any nerves I might have had that day were just gone in an instant. It helped to see the actors and Carter himself also felt anxious. I think being around everyone who had a stake in the film allowed for an easier pre-show experience of butterflies.
The lights went down, the lights went up, and everything afterward has felt a little altered for me. I’ve felt a bit like the character Adam in the days since, feeling like I’m seeing two worlds merging together in front of me, back and forth, one laid over the other. I feel stunned, to some extent, but in a good way. My vision will come back into focus again at some point, like it did when Carter came out to greet me and the proverbial light from the lighthouse brought me back in to shore safely.
Other than life (thanks Mom and Dad!), I think this may be the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. In the book, Adam gives words to Jamie to help him sustain a meaningful existence in his afterlife. At one point, Adam learns the power of the words, Thank you, which you would think a simple thing. But simple things are reduced in significance by overuse, a flattening of meaning by the scripted nature of our daily lives and that’s a loss for all of us when we fall into routine engagements with the world.
I learned the significance of Thank you some years ago, when I needed the help of other people to get through a dark period and other people did, in fact, help me, even when I felt at my most alone. I learned the power that connecting with others can have, with making friendships and relationships that make life worth living. And I learned that giving back and forth, that exchange between our individual spirits, binds us together.
To see and be seen, to be understood and to comprehend another.
This has been one of the most meaningful exchanges I’ve ever experienced.
So I want to say thank you to Carter Smith, who has given my words back to me in a different form.
In an interview he did at Sundance, he said after reading One for Sorrow, he was haunted. After seeing Jamie Marks is Dead, I want to say, Likewise. I’ve been bumping into things in the days since I left Sundance. Walls, lockers, people. Doesn’t matter what, I’m walking into it.
And I’m glad it was you.
A new awesome thing:
My story “Invisible Men” (originally published in Jonathan Strahan’s Eclipse Online and reprinted in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction) is a finalist for storySouth’s Million Writers Award!
The award is given out annually to celebrate the best short fiction published online. Needless to say (but I’ll say it): I’m thrilled to be recognized, and for that story to be recognized especially.
So here’s the thing. A jury selected the top ten finalists, but the winner is selected by popular vote. So if you’re reading this, please consider the list of potentials and vote.
Vote for my story, of course! ;-)
Thanks for voting!
I have good news (following on the heels of a rough past two months). Today it was announced that my next novel, Wonders of the Invisible World has been acquired by Knopf Books for Young Readers!
Melanie Cecka at Knopf has acquired a debut YA novel from adult novelist Christopher Barzak, called Wonders of the Invisible World. In it, a teenager must unravel a generations-old family curse before it destroys those he loves. Publication is set for fall 2015; Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary brokered the deal for North American rights.
To say the least: yeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssss!!!!!!
Hi all. I’m sorry this note is short, but I only have the use of one hand right now. A lot of friends have emailed or messaged to ask what happened to me in NYC and how I am doing. This is the short version, due to my not being able to type with both hands. And it’s hard because of that to reply to everyone individually.
On Sunday night, after seeing a movie with my friend Rick and some other NY friends, I walked Rick home to his building late at night, then headed off to the apartment where I was pet-sitting for a friend for ten days. On my way back to my place, I took Bleecker Street, a street I’ve always taken since I started visiting NYC twelve years ago on a regular basis. In the blocks between 7th Avenue and Perry Street, I was attacked by two young men. One in particular did the attacking. The other stood in shadow for most of the time. I didn’t even know he was there initially.
What happened was, I was looking at my cell phone and as I stepped up onto the curb, the attacking young man came out of a shadow and punched me in the face. On my chin, specifically. It was the hardest hit I’ver ever felt in my life, not that I’ve felt many. It took me up off my feet. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my flip flops flew off, and so did my glasses. I landed on my back, hard. But also on my left arm, which I instinctually used to try to brace the fall. I saw stars, literally, and my vision went in and out. When I finally had it back, seconds later, the young man was standing over me. He said, “Give my your phone.”
I was in shock, pretty stunned, and I had damages I didn’t register already. But somehow, for some reason outside of myself, I pulled myself up from the ground, dragging my left knee and foot against the sidewalk as I did so, because I couldn’t use my left arm, which resulted in some bad road rash, and stood in front of him. In a fit, I began hitting him across his face with my phone, saying, “You want my phone, here’s my phone.” This went on for a while. I said some other things while I was swinging, like, “Who do you think you are?” and “What kind of person jumps at someone and hits them in the middle of the night?” I swear, I was like an outraged granny with a handbag, except I had an iPhone. And I wasn’t a granny, and my swings fell hard.
The guy eventually jumped backward, out of my range, and looked off to the side. He said, “Aren’t you going to help me?” and it was only then that I realized there was a second guy with him. I do remember thinking, Oh god, please don’t come help him. I quickly looked where he was looking, and saw the second guy crossing the street away from us, shaking his head, saying, “You picked the wrong dude.”
The guy who attacked me then looked back at me. I was still swinging wildly and cursing at him. I’m good at cursing, especially when I’m afraid and pissed off. He shook his head like he couldn’t believe this is how things went, and then he turned around and ran away from me.
It was only after he ran away and turned a corner that I realized I was barefoot, and that one of my feet was bleeding bad, and that I couldn’t see well, because my glasses, too, had flown off in the hit and fall part of the incident. I got down on all fours, found my flip flops and put them on like I was in a horror movie, frantically, afraid, and then started looking for my glasses, which I was sure were broken, but turns out, when I found them, they weren’t.
I got up, turned back in the direction I came from, saw the friend of the assailant crossing the street back to my side about block down, and thought, Oh Christ, just leave me alone! He started coming toward me. I held up my cell phone and shouted that I had called 911 and to come for it. The fact was, I had tried to dial 911 but my phone had clicked off in the fight because my thumb had covered the top button thing and when I tried to call it up I couldn’t get a screen. Frantic, I faked it. Then the “friend” of the assailant turned down a street corner too.
I huffed it back to the apartment where I was staying, angry and scared, and locked myself in once I got there, and tried to reach my friend Rick, whose phone was off because of the movie we’d gone to, and he’d forgotten to turn it back on. My arm, I realized only then, was beginning to swell and had stabbing pain going through it. I iced it and talked to my partner on the phone, and kept trying to call my friend Rick. I was sort of out of my head, afraid to leave the apartment at that point. I decided to wait until morning to get medical attention.
So I spent the night in a lot of pain, with my arm turning colors and swelling to a point where I thought the skin would burst and weird alien worms would swarm out of it. Then in the morning Rick got my messages and came to my place with a cab and took me to the emergency room. I have a fractured left humerus, right beneath the ball that locks into the shoulder socket. My arm is really crazily black, bruised from the fall it took for me.
I had to return home the very next day, and when I did, I went to get follow up care with an orthopedic trauma specialist. I’ll be in a sling for 4-6 weeks, and on some pain meds that are making me woozy. So while I’d like to respond to all of my friends individually, I hope you’ll understand that I can’t right now. I love you all to pieces, but it’s taken me forever to write this with one hand. I hope you understand.
I’m incredibly grateful for the outpouring of support in this time for me. I’m on an emotional rollercoaster, and I appreciate all of the kindness people have shown me in the wake of this event. Right now I’m trying to come to terms with the event beyond the event itself, and trying to stop thinking about all the pieces of that incident that fling themselves back into my vision at odd moments. It all feels a bit like a nightmare. I’ll try to be in touch as soon as I can. Thanks again for caring.
Until then, love to you all.
This month brings out an interesting anthology from Lethe Press, edited by Steve Berman. Entitled Where Thy Dark Eye Glances, the anthology collects stories from writers who are engaging with the work of Edgar Allan Poe in a queer manner.
The anthology is divided into sections that categorize the type of interplay you’ll see from the writers working with Poe’s stories and poetry: Poe the Man (the man himself as character), Poe’s Writing (retellings), and Reading Poe (stories in which reading Poe is integral to the plot or characters).
I have a story of my own in the Poe’s Writing section, (“For the Applause of Shadows”) retelling his famous doppelgänger story “William Wilson” from the point of view of the doppelgänger, which, in my version of things, isn’t a doppelgänger at all, but a real person with whom the William Wilson who narrated the original story has had a sexual relationship, and in an attempt to bury that relationship, murders him. It rewrites the original tale, which is almost always read as a story about a narcissist whose double, representing his conscience, haunts him for his bad deeds. I’ve literalized that haunting, and have hopefully added a different dimension to the story by reading it as a tale of spurned love and revenge.
The anthology has a lot of wonderful stories in it. Richard Bowes’ story, “Seven Days of Poe” has got to be one of his finest pieces of fiction to date, and I seriously hope readers seek the anthology out for this story alone, because it deserves to be read and to be awarded things for how good it is. Matthew Cheney appears with his own retelling of “William Wilson” that is so completely meta, I felt truly disembodied while reading it. And Steve Berman himself puts a really cool spin on Poe the man, especially facile with writing in a Victoriana manner, with “Poetaster”.
One of the very cool things about this anthology is that it’s actually a part of a kind of series. Lethe Press has previously published a similarly themed anthology of queered revisions called A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes, in 2011. And after this Poe anthology, Lethe will be releasing another Queering the Canon anthology that employs the Bram Stoker’s most famous creation, Dracula. That anthology, Suffered from the Night, is due out next month, and I’m happily reading a pre-release copy at the moment (stories by Livia Llewellyn, Laird Barron, and Lee Thomas all really excellent).
Talking with Steve Berman recently, he plans to continue the series with an anthology dedicated to Arthurian Legend. A Good Deal More Than a King should release in 2015, and I’m reallylooking forward to it.
I’ve been remiss in blogging all of the reviews that Before and Afterlives has brought in. And while reviews don’t always interest everyone, they usually interest the writer of a book. So either indulge me or flee as fast as you can! One only has a book come out every so often (at least if you write at my pace), so I’m trying to enjoy the first several months in the life of my newest.
Last month, Lambda Literary reviewed the collection, and said this:
Barzak has a talent for pulling you into a story within the first two or three paragraphs. All writers strive to accomplish that, but few do with such regularity and finesse as Barzak. He weaves complex plotlines into a short space and brings to life an assortment of characters and personalities that each stand on their own as unique and believable, even amidst the supernatural hauntings.
Likewise the book lover Curt Jarrell had this to say:
Reading these tales is akin to consuming a literary banquet. You will be rewarded with the rich blend of fine, often lyrical writing, touches of the otherworldly (i.e. ghosts, mermaids, etc.), subtle plotting and characters you’ll identify with, people who will touch your heart.
The collection also contains a story I consider a masterpiece.Each detail, every word and description build images and emotions that linger in the mind and heart long after reading.
“The Boy Who Was Born Wrapped in Barbed Wire” is a beautiful and terrible tale of a child born with a unique affliction. Easily the most lyrical of the collection, the story overflows with joy and sorrow, blood and laughter, love and loss. It is thought provoking and emotional. It reminded me of a story Flannery O’Connor might have written. I was dazzled, moved by it’s beauty and brought to tears at it’s conclusion. Wow!
And over at the Lit Pub, Eddy Rathke reviews the collection too:
Who is to say that the unreal and the real cannot inhabit the same pages? Barzak’s skill here is making a foundation in reality so solid and believable that when the world’s glimmering shifts fantastic you are so swept up in it that it had to be that way. His fiction does not contain magic and monsters to illustrate magic and monsters but to show how beautiful and unknown and haunting our world is.