Crawford Award

Congratulations to M. Rickert, whose first collection Map of Dreams is this year’s winner of the Crawford Award!  The Crawford Award is given to a fantasy novelist whose first fantasy book was published during the preceding 18 months. It’s one of several awards presented by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, and is presented at the conference each March in Ft. Lauderdale.

Since Mary doesn’t have her own website or online journal (yet, I have plans to build one for her this summer) feel free to congratulate her here.

Yay, Mary!

Ytown on Stage

Last night at the Stage was just the most wonderful experience.  There were so many people there, so much talent and creativity and expression, and so much of it just really really good.  My friend Brooke does the most amazing things for this city and I sometimes wonder if enough people actually understand it.  I hope so.  She’s created a space where people can gather together and feel like a strong family, supporting each other in creative endeavors of every kind:  acting, music, visual art and design, literature, dancing, musicals and filmmaking.  Youngstown has so much talent it makes me not sick but deliriously appreciative of being here and being a part of making this city into something good.  My mom came to the Stage with me last night, and before and after the show we walked around in the downtown together.  She hadn’t been there in years, and commented on how there were actually people walking the streets again, and storefronts with actual stores open inside them, and how things just felt so much different, more like what she remembered from decades ago, before the steel mills pulled up and out of here, before government officials started using the town and the people for their own personal benefit and gain rather than being responsible community officials.  It’s true, too, because in my lifetime I’ve never seen Youngstown so alive and full of a hopeful wind blowing through it, I’ve never seen so many people coming together before to take the city back into their hands and make it into home again.  We’d been cut off from doing that for so long because of the corruption in the government.  I can’t wait to see what happens here in the coming years.  There was a great video montage of moments from the past year of Stage events at the Oakland Center for the Arts shown last night, too, and I want to get it up on Youtube so other people can see it too.  Youngstown’s a place with a lot of potential because it is so undefined, and I can see it as a place that people of the right spirit and inclination to create will come to because of that in the future.  Artists of all sorts, after all, want a blank canvas.  And this city has more than enough room to make room for new life.

I’ll be there.

Stop by and have some fun this Friday at The Stage at the Oakland Center for the Arts. I’ll be reading a short short story called “The Flood” (which is being published in Foundation’s 100th issue this August), and there’ll be comedians, dramatic monologues, crazy improvised hallucinogenic music-video imitations, tap dancing, independent film trailer releases, poetry, song and art. Watch or get up and strut your stuff. It’ll be a blast, as usual, in downtown Ytown.

Work in progress meme

Via Ms. Bond, a work in progress meme:

Turn to page 123 in your work-in-progress. (If you haven’t gotten to page 123 yet, then turn to page 23. If you haven’t gotten there yet, then get busy and write page 23.) Count down four sentences and then instead of just the fifth sentence, give us the whole paragraph (that it comes from).

From my third novel, “Yesterday’s Child”:

I was on my way to joining the world it seemed everyone else lived in. It turned out I could pull it off, this human thing. By the time we reached my house, I felt like I’d figured something out. This was how people were, I thought. I felt the glow of hope spread through me, a hope that I wouldn’t always be at the edge of things because of who I was. As Jerrod’s mother backed the car onto the road, as Jerrod gave me a wave as they drove off, I thought the world I was becoming a part of right then was far better than the world’s shadow, where my mother dwelled.

The Language of “The Language of Moths”

I’ve been asked to write a short essay on “The Language of Moths” for the Nebula Awards, which has placed me in the awkward position of talking about one of my own stories, which I don’t usually do, or like to do, for various reasons.  This is my first stab at it, though.

 *Revised with thanks to Jackie

The Language of “The Language of Moths”

Traditional fantasy holds up the natural world as better than the modern, postindustrial one we find ourselves living in these days. However, in writing “The Language of Moths”, it wasn’t a goal of mine to look backward into an agrarian past viewed by some as golden and pure. Instead I wanted to write about how language is a subjective matter, how even when people share a language, communication is often not achieved, how even within the traditional unit of the nuclear family, with its narrowly defined borders of membership, difference and otherness exists and is often misunderstood. 

It’s possible to read the autistic girl, Dawn, in my story “The Language of Moths” as yet another magical fool in the history of fantasy archetypes. While writing it, she didn’t feel magical at all; for me she only spoke a different language from ours. If anything feels magical to me in this story, it’s the setting—more importantly, the relationship Dawn has with the setting—the place where she is able to understand the world around her for the first time in her life. Autistic authors who have found ways to bear witness to the conditions of their lives describe relationships with animals and nature that sound like utter fantasy but must be accepted as their reality. The autistic author Temple Grandin, for example, reported she could “see through a cow’s eyes,” which lead her to become an important designer of livestock restraint systems and slaughterhouses. 

The language I used to write the story doesn’t reflect the unhappy circumstances of the characters. I used a more fanciful, florid language to emphasize the hopeful aspects of a story about characters who are dealing with many unfortunate life circumstances. I felt that a light-handed language could be interesting in contrast to events that might normally be portrayed with a starker language.  It’s noted that, once the Carroll family returns home at the end of the story, Dawn, though able to make simple sentences depending on context and circumstances, is still not going to live a full life according to how we define that for “normal” people. There’s an elasticity and semi-meaninglessness to the social language of humans that surrounds her that’s never going to change for her. Dawn’s brother, Eliot, has been placed in therapy, that last-straw institution where people go to speak and be heard when no one else seems capable of hearing and comprehending them. Though there’s a promise that life will get better for Eliot in the future, he still has many years of unhappiness to endure before he finds what he needs. The father and mother continue on in their own lives, enjoying some success in their academic ventures. What they fail to do, though, is comprehend the lives of their children. All of this, for me, adds up to a downbeat vision of a life where we are most alone when surrounded by the people with whom we’re supposed to have our first experiences of love and loyalty. 

The language of the story, then, was part of my attempt to write a story that felt like a children’s picture book with adult themes, though without any actual pictures. I think I managed that, but I think this may not be the story’s most obvious effect. That’s the sort of thing I like to do: create new reading effects without drawing direct attention to them.  While I wrote, I imagined “The Language of Moths” as a small book, with accompanying illustrations, the sort that appear in books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. A friction, a force that tugs and pulls at the same time, exists between scenes in which fireflies speak (the way animals and creatures do in fairy tales and fables) and scenes in which adolescent boys encounter a fraught, somewhat dangerous sexual experience in a summer cabin while parents huddle around a campfire outside, mere yards away, discussing their own problems (the way adolescents often encounter such things in coming of age stories). For me, finding a language to write a story that incorporates both kinds of story—fable and realism—was the goal.
It is, in fact, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that inspired me, in part, to write “The Language of Moths”. It’s why I named the family the Carrolls. It’s why I chose to see through Dawn’s eyes as well as Eliot’s, trying to explore the story through her vision of life as well.  I saw her as a young woman who has fallen down a rabbit hole; but instead of entering a land where logic and language are suddenly turned on their heads, disorienting her, she enters a world where things suddenly make sense.


inter1.jpgI’ve certainly been writing a lot about anthologies that are out or that are coming out in the near future recently, and here’s another one, Interfictions, due out next month from Small Beer Press.  It has a gorgeous cover, and the editors, Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, have gone above and beyond and around and over whatever borders they had to cross in order to gather together a collection of narratives that will provide readers with an example of what the Interstitial Arts Foundation has been referring to as “interstitial” writing for the past few years.  Now a new blog for the anthology has appeared, including an interview with the editors as part of its contents, as well as links to the online presences of its contributors.  I’m one of those contributors, and happy to be included in this launching of a barometer (not a movement) that intends to engage with and recognize works of art that fall between traditional (and in some cases, abitrary) marketing categories. 

As a writer who’s been publishing for the past seven years in the realms of the Speculative Fiction publishing industry, I find it easy to see that even within that one category alone there are so many sub-genres, modes, and movements that exist and move within (and sometimes outside of) the borders of the term SF.  Lifting our heads above the treetops even a little more will prove to reveal that even the broad SF border is one that we often impose on ourselves, rather than seeing it as a conversation with all of literature–with all of the arts–in general.  Hopefully this will be the first of many projects the Interstitial Arts Foundation has planned for the future.

Best American Fantasy

BAFAnother anthology of the “Year’s Best Fantasy” you may be asking?  Yes, but, if we can judge by the contents of the recommended reading list for the Best American Fantasy, which has gone live recently, it’s probably not like any of the current anthologies that present themselves as Year’s Bests.  My story, “The Creation of Birds”, which appeared in David Moles’ and Susan Groppi’s anthology, Twenty Epics, has been included in the recommended reading.  It’s an interesting list, so take a look.  It seems series editor Matt Cheney, along with editors Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, have not only searched through materials from a wide expanse of fantasy, but (again, judging from the recommended list of stories considered but not chosen for inclusion for a variety of reasons) have selected fantasy fiction that appeared in a variety of sources: academic-oriented literary journals, commercial genre magazines and anthologies, and online venues as well.  I have high hopes the anthology will provide a wide perspective of what is occuring in fantasy fiction these days, since so many different kinds of fantasy are appearing in the balkanized world of publishing.  It may provide a reading experience that helps bring together the various conversations that are being held in different rooms of the same house, so to speak.