Interfictions goes online


Another new development for 2013 is that Interfictions, the anthology series that Delia Sherman launched first with co-editor Theodora Goss and then with me as co-editor of the second volume, will be moving into an online incarnation, including poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and hybrids forms.

Fiction editors are myself and Meghan McCarron.

Nonfiction and poetry editor is Sofia Samatar.

Submission guidelines and the submission portal can be found by clicking here. 

But here’s the skinny: We’ll be open for submissions in the month of February. Two issues will appear online annually, Spring and Fall. We’re paying 5 cents a word for fiction, 3 cents a word for nonfiction (preferably 9n the 2000-4000 word range) and poetry honorariums of 20 dollars per poem.

Interfictions was originally published in anthology format, and included work from writers like myself, Theodora Goss, Catherynne Valente, Jeffrey Ford, M. Rickert, Alan DeNiro, Vandana Singh, William Alexander, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Brian Slattery, and Lavie Tidhar.

interfictions2The second volume of Interfictions was an Best Book of the Year.

Send us your best work, your strangest work, your most uncategorizable work, to consider.

We’re in the midst of putting together a fantastic first issue that will release in spring of 2013. See you soon!



Writing with Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning is the third artist I discovered in this paper-doll of a writing project I took on back in the early 2000s.  Just as I discovered Leonora Carrington’s art via her fiction, and then Remedios varo via a biography of Carrington, I found Dorothea Tanning by way of her relationship with Carrington’s former lover, the famous surrealist Max Ernst, who left his wife Peggy Guggenheim for Tanning.  They married in a double wedding with the surrealist Man Ray and his wife Juliet Browner.  What circles these people moved in, I swear!  If ever I had a Midnight in Paris time travel adventure, I think I’d want to go back to the Paris that these painters inhabited, and of course geek out from the periphery of their lives.  One day time travel tourism will totally be a huge industry!

Like Carrington, Tanning practiced multiple art forms:  painting, sculpture, set building for theater and the ballet (she even built a set and costumes for one of George Balanchine’s ballets, The Night Shadow), and she wrote poetry and fiction and memoir.  I’m completely baffled by this triple-threat type of person, and completely humbled.  I’ve written both novels and short stories, essays and some occasional poetry, but I wouldn’t know where to begin with visual design.  I just don’t have the skills, even if I have the desire to make visual art at times.

Tanning was the last in this triptych of artists whose work held me so intensely that I felt compelled to write stories from the experience.  And because I was working with images of the female body within a surrealist art context, it felt incredibly appropriate to end the collection with the story, “Birthday,” which was inspired by Tanning’s painting of the same name.

Here was the final image I wanted the collection to end on, a self-portrait Tanning had painted early in her career, in which she has depicted herself in an apartment room, half stripped out of a theater costume, staring out at the viewer with a strange winged creature sitting beside her feet, while a hallway of doors are opening and closing in the background.

This painting struck me as the final note to end the story cycle on, because it seemed like an image of self-actualization and potential, as opposed to the more cultural conflict and journey-driven paintings of Varo and Carrington.  This was a painting that seemed entirely bare-faced in its depiction of the female body within a surrealist self-portrait.  There are no masks, no hint-hint, it’s me coded in fantasy metaphor.  The woman is undeniably Tanning, but the fantasy of surrealism surrounds her in the form of the magical winged creature and the opening and closing doors in the background.

Max Ernst named the painting “Birthday” and Tanning thought it was appropriate.  In some ways it feels like a coming-of-age painting, a depiction of a young woman coming into her own and displaying herself unabashedly to a viewer.  A debut painting, in some ways.  And a celebration of the self.

I approached my trans-literation of this painting into story in a similar fashion to the process I went through with Carrington’s “The Guardian of the Egg”: by creating the arc of a story that would lead to this image as its final image.  To do this, I needed to imagine who this character in the painting would be.  It would not be Tanning herself, because that would have forced me into a biographical sort of recounting of her life and its various hills and valleys, and I’m always less interested in the literal than I am in the metaphorical.  So I gave my Birthday girl a different name, Emma, and decided to use the apartment setting of the painting as the nearly entire world that Emma has existed within for her entire life–in childhood, early adulthood, a marriage, childbirth, divorce, reinvention of the self, and a final coming into the self and inhabiting it with ease, as Tanning has depicted herself in the original painting.  In a way, the story reads with the feeling of a piece of autobiography.  The narrator is reflective as she recounts her trials and tribulations, but unlike a true autobiographical account, the events of my fictional Emma are quite strange.  She discovers a secret room, for instance, where the winged creature in the painting has lived for years among the denizens of the apartment building without anyone realizing.

This was perhaps the most fun of the three stories to write.  Even now, as I’ve searched out images online to include in this post, I’ve felt like I’d like to do more stories inspired by these artists (and perhaps a few other artists I’ve encountered in the years since I completed these stories).  Tanning’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” always spooks me when I look at it, for example.

Who knows? Maybe I will.  I’m usually the last person to know what I’ll write next.

Thanks for reading about these painters, these paintings, and the stories I wrote from them.  I hope you enjoy the book!

Writing with Remedios Varo

I stumbled upon Remedios Varo‘s art by accident.  A happy accident.  While I was in grad school (the first time, back in the early 2000s), I came across a surrealistic novel by Leonora Carrington called The Hearing Trumpet.  The book’s cover was amazing:

So I looked into the cover artist’s background.  It turned out that the writer of the novel had also painted the cover.  I’d never heard of Leonora Carrington before, so I quickly began looking through the university library stacks to investigate further.  It was in one of the books about her and her work that I discovered Remedios Varo, who was one of Carrington’s best friends.  Before I knew anything else about Varo and her work, I knew her by the image of just one of her paintings that the writer of the book on Carrington had included when she made mention of their friendship.  It was called “Creation of the Birds”:

And it was after I saw this painting that I quickly forgot about my research on Leonora Carrington.  For a while at least.

I had never seen surrealist art that looked like this before:  so precise, as if the artist was not so interested in tearing apart reality, but creating a new reality instead.  Modernist surrealism was more about distortion and alienating effects.  It walked the line of grotesquery, transfiguring reality and the received notions of reality we all have into a strange, often uncomfortable scenes of breakdown.  I’m thinking of Dali at the moment, and his famous melting clocks in a desert landscape, for instance.  An arid world where time no longer matters.  That, in a way, was really typical of surrealist art at the time.  But Varo, who was making art at the same time, didn’t seem interested in the breakdown of concepts like time or landscape or the human body.  She seemed interested more in the creation of new notions of time, landscape, and in the invention of character and narrative in her paintings.

I was immediately hooked by her, and my research on Carrington went to the side temporarily, so I could seek out more and more of Varo’s work.

As mentioned, I was working on a Master’s degree at the time, and was in my second semester, taking a poetry workshop with the poet William Greenway, who had focused his workshop on the process of ekphrasis:  the writing of poetry in response to paintings or visual art.  I spent a lot of time that semester looking at paintings and writing (mediocre) poems in response.  But I was really invested in the process I was learning.  I was excited, even if my poems wouldn’t have seemed exciting to anyone who read them.  I’m not a poet, and while I appreciate and love poetry, I always feel like I’ve been strait-jacketed whenever I’ve tried to write a poem.  I’m more inclined to prose and narrative, and so, when it came to the final project for the class, I asked Will Greenway if I could write a short story in response to the visuals of Remedios Varo, rather than doing a series of poems.  Will gave me permission, and it was then that I started to put together a story in a very different way than I ever had prior to that course.

Because Varo’s work is so character and place based, with inferred narratives clearly occurring within each painting, I felt like I could easily access those stories.  I’d been looking at her paintings for several months by that point, and several revealed themselves to me as somehow being connected (though, really, all of Varo’s paintings feel connected to me, as if they are simply windows onto different personages and places in the fabulist landscape she created).

The first was “Creation of the Birds,” pictured above.

The second painting that felt like it was the inverse of “Creation of the Birds” was “The Star Catcher”:

In the first painting, it was clear to me that the Owl or Bird Woman of the painting was using celestial light to create, whereas in this one, the Star Catcher was imprisoning and collecting celestial bodies.  They seemed to me like the perfect oppositional personages.  They would be my protagonist and antagonist, respectively.

The third painting that I decided to utilize for the creation of my story was “Spiral Landscape”:

This is a small image, so I’m not sure how easily viewable it will be on-screen, but essentially it presented me with my setting.  And because I’m often inspired by setting as more than just the background wallpaper of a story, but as a thematic or sometimes conflict-driven aspect of narrative, I was attracted to “Spiral Landscape” as a potential embodiment of the conflict of cyclically toxic relationships, which the story presents.  Opposites like the Bird Woman and The Star Catcher do attract from time to time, and they tend to have explosive relationships and histories that are hard to escape.  The setting for these two characters would itself become part of their conflict.  (I also just thought it would be pretty cool to live on a spiral shaped island).

So I had a setting and two characters with a relationship problem, which might have been enough.  But I wanted to do more with it.  I wanted to inject something into the narrative that also was indicative of modernist surrealism and the culture that surrounded it at the time.  Since I was going to write about an essentially bad romance and relationship issues, I thought it might be fun to dig into psychoanalysis, Freudian thought, etc, which was so prevalent in the circles these artists ran in.  And luckily, I discovered the fourth painting that I would work into the fabric of my story when I saw Varo’s “Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst”:

I loved the idea of leaving a psychoanalyst with his head (head shrinking), his thoughts, his interpretations of your problems, rather than your own.  In the painting, the woman’s hair is completely twisted, and she’s about to drop the psychoanalyst’s head (as I interpret it) into a well.  Good riddance.  I didn’t utilize this painting in a direct equation in my story, though.  I placed the Bird Woman instead in this position, and created a third character, the Psychoanalyst, who she seeks help from to resolve her relationship issues with the Star Catcher.  He serves to be a bit of a comic character in my story, and a good “extra” that allowed me to get outside of the Bird Woman’s interior space every now and then, as he literally becomes a “talking head” in my story.

I’d never conceived of a story in this way before, and it was really one of the most fascinating processes I’d ever gone through at that time in my experience as a writer.  I’d been used to writing from within my own interior/emotional imaginative landscape.  This process compelled me to absorb someone else’s world, to inhabit it, to figure out how it might “play” in a prose narrative.  I still needed to invent, but I had to work with materials borrowed from a visual artist.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, and I discovered that was pretty much true, though sometimes a picture can take more than a thousand words.  The story I made, “The Creation of Birds” (just a bit different from Varo’s original title), was a bit over six thousand words in length, made from these four paintings filtered through my imagination.

Note: I’ll be back in a couple of days to talk about Leonora Carrington, who I returned to after my research into Varo.

The Birthday of Birds and Birthdays

Birds and Birthdays has officially released into the wild.  It’s been available directly from the publisher for the past couple of weeks, but will be appearing in other marketplaces now, like (where they say it’ll take 1 to 3 weeks to get the book, but that’s only because they’ve just recently placed orders for stock with the publisher themselves).

Surprisingly and already, the book has received its first review yesterday as well!  It’s over at, and it’s a good one.  So if you can’t take my (very biased) word that the book is good, take this reviewer’s.

I’m excited to have this book made real.  For a long time, I’d thought it would be very unlikely to find a publisher for it, even a small indie press, who might be interested in a collection of three short stories and one essay, centered around the surrealist art of three women from the early half of the 20th century. But while that was a realistic doubt, it proved not to be true.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be occasionally blogging here and in some other places about the book, its conception, the process I went through in researching and writing of each of the stories, the artists whose paintings inspired these stories, and how I went about organizing the book itself.  It’s a small book, just a little over 100 pages, which seems as small as a grain of sand in a world where hugely huge epic page-turners pound the pavement around it.  But I’ve always been fond of small things, the contained and hermetically sealed worlds of snow globes and dioramas, and I know there are folks out there who like things like this too.  So I’m hopeful this small book might reach their attention, despite the clamor and bustle of the giants lumbering around it.

If you’re interested in reviewing the book, contact me by email and I’ll see about getting a copy into your hands.  And if you read and enjoy the book, and feel so inclined, please help me tell other people about its existence.  Share links to it on your social networks, review it on Amazon or Goodreads or other places.  I appreciate any help my readers can lend me.

In a day or two, I’ll begin posting about the topics I mentioned above, but for now, if you want a sneak peak at one of the stories in the book, you can read the second story, “The Guardian of the Egg,” for free at The Journal of Mythic Arts, where it was reprinted several years ago. That story was written in response to a painting of the same name by the artist Leonora Carrington.

And be prepared for a giveaway soon, too.

Happy birthday, Birds and Birthdays.

Birds and Birthdays Cover

It’s finally here, the cover for Birds and Birthdays, the 34th volume of Aqueduct Press’s ongoing Conversation Piece series.

The design is a standard for the Conversation Piece series, but the image on the front cover is one made by the artist Kristine Campbell (you can find more of her work at her website by clicking here).  It’s really such an honor for me to have this particular image as the cover for this particular book, because Kristine and I go back a ways, back to the year 2000, when both of us were working as library assistants in Lansing, Michigan.  I was a writer who hadn’t really published a lot of writing yet, and Kris was an artist who had made quite a lot of art and had had a lot of exhibitions around the country and in other countries, too.  Kris let me see some of her work at one point, and I immediately fell for it.  She has this amazing ability to match up different kinds of textures and styles into this surreal fusion with an underlying mythic power.  Back then, she had this long hanging that was made almost like a quilt, and it featured this red dress that was one of her obsessions at the time.  I wasn’t able to afford it, though, and eventually, in 2001, I moved back to Youngstown, Ohio, wondering if I’d ever come across Kris and her art again.

Thanks to the internet, in particular social networks, that became a mundane possibility, keeping in touch with old friends.  After I sold this little book to Aqueduct Press, I happened to see new images of Kris’s art appearing in the feed of my Facebook, and when I saw this one, I stopped, dropped, and rolled.

It was really perfect in ways that won’t be apparent until you read the stories in this collection (and I do hope you read them, you wonderful person reading this post at this very instant).  The image is called “Birds are Not the Target” but for this book, this image hit the bullseye.

The physical book will be available in mid-August, and the e-books will be available in September.  Once the book releases, I’ll be doing some more posts about the book, the stories, the essay, the artists, and how I put this particular collection together.  I’ll catch you all then.

Thanks for reading,


Birds and Birthdays Cover Copy

Just received the cover copy for BIRDS AND BIRTHDAYS, which will be out next month (already!). Here’s the publisher’s book description:

Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning: three of the most interesting painters to flourish in male-dominated Surrealism. This is Christopher Barzak’s tribute to them: three stories and an essay that enter into a humane surrealism that turns away from the unconscious and toward magic.

Sometimes the stories themselves seem to be paintings. Sometimes painter and writer may be characters, regarding each other through a painful otherness, talking in shared secrets. Barzak’s stories are huge with the spacious strangeness of worlds where there is always more room for a woman to escape her tormenters, or outgrow an older self. Here we find:

A bird-maker and a star-catcher whose shared history
spills over into the birds and the stars themselves.

A girl who outgrows her clothes, her house, and finally
her town—and leaves to find her body a new home.

A landlord, whose marriage, motherhood, separation,
sexual exploration, and excursions into self-portraiture
all take place within a single apartment building.

In “Remembering the Body: Reconstructing the Female in Surrealism,” Barzak comments on the images that inspired these stories and discusses his own position as a writer among painters.

I can’t wait to hold the book itself in my hands.

Cover image to come!

A few items of summer

It’s been a while since I last posted the picture of my cat screaming, and various things have occurred both before and after that, which I am aiming to catch up with and report here, in this dusty corner of the internet.

Item One:  As of this summer, I have new literary representation in the very fancy domain of the Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency , with Barry Goldblatt taking up the cause of furthering the publication of books by Christopher Barzak.  For years, Barry and I had circulated among a lot of the same folks, and occasionally I would hear through those same folks about how much he loved my writing, and in particular my debut novel, One for Sorrow, at which I would always blush like a school girl and wonder how could he possibly?  And though we seemed to always be missing each other at conventions, when the opportunity arose for a change of representation, Barry was one of the first people to come to mind.  Very happy to finally have had the chance to hang out with Barry in person at length over the past weekend, when I spent four days with him and twenty-some of his other clients at an agency retreat in southern Illinois.  If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might have caught me talking about owls and cats and cicadas, all of which were aplenty in that wilderness.  Along with many taxidermied creatures peering out from walls and corners of the lodge.

Along with that, I had the pleasure of a guest in the writer Richard Bowes for a week or so in June, when we explored the city of Pittsburgh a bit, and also further south of Pittsburgh, went on a pilgrimage to the Frank Lloyd Wright House called Fallingwater.  Here are some pictures of a.) Pittsburgh (from the very cool installation art museum called the Mattress Factory), and b.) installations within the Mattress Factory, and c.) Fallingwater:

a.) Pittsburgh








b.) Me, in an installation








b.) creepy masked musician installation








b.) cubes!








c.) Fallingwater








Another venture this summer was doing new things to the house.  If you’re someone who used to be a regular reader of this blog (back when I was an actual blogger and not just a irregular updater), you’ll know I purchased a home several years back, and have been restoring it slowly but surely, as I can afford it.  Here are some photo updates from various places in and around le maison:

Front patio








Front walk (patio hiding behind bushes)








Back patio (and new stone garden)








Various pots of things we’re growing, like asparagus and onions, and purple fountain grass!





A side garden








And another of the side gardens








Front gardens (this keeps changing, depending on the month and season)








And the front of the house (new trim as of last year)








Lots of other things are afoot:  novel writing, novel rewriting, story drafting, etc.  One thing that I wrote this summer was a blog post for the literary journal, Tin House, which features a series of articles on independent book stores throughout the country.  When asked to write one, I had few choices, as Youngstown only has one indie bookstore left in existence (as far as I know, that is, and I’m fairly certain at this point).  So I wrote about Dorian Books, a place near and dear to me, which I also featured as a set piece in my novel One for Sorrow.  You can click here to read my article in full.

And lastly, because I know how much so many of you like cat stuffs, I am including a short video of my cats upon receiving fish-shaped catnip holders from their grandma in Japan.  Clearly, they are crazy:

Until next time, which may be a while, as August is in gear.  Time to prep for classes which start in a few weeks, and to get as much writing done as possible in what’s left of the summer.  Cheers.  I hope everyone out there is staying cool

Gettin’ Interstitial with the BBC

As mentioned in a previous post, I did an interview with the lovely Jamillah Knowles of the BBC this past Sunday about the second volume of Interfictions, which I co-edited with Delia Sherman, and now it’s available as a podcast.   Here’s a link to it, but, just so you know, it’s a conglomeration of subjects she’s covered. My interview comes in around just over the halfway mark, if you want to skip ahead.

Happy listening.

Love it or hate it?

The other night, pre-viral infection, I was in a bookstore and was stopped in my tracks by a book I’ve looked at too many times in too many similar covers:  Wuthering Heights.  It was face out and had a beautiful cover design, full of color, with a Tim Burton-esque rendering of Cathy on the front cover.  I took it down off the shelf to see the wraparound from back to front, a whole landscape of the book done in the same style really, and was really toying with the idea of buying the book just for that cover.  I put it back, though, and then suddenly, five minutes later, found myself stopped once again, this time by another stunning cover on another classic standard, The Scarlet Letter.  Quickly I began to search the shelves to see how many others had been designed this way, and the only other one that I discovered was Pride and Prejudice.  All of them had been designed by fashion designer Ruben Toledo through Penguin Classics.  You can take a look at them by clicking this sentence and visiting a website that has more info on the designs, but really, come back and tell me what you think of them. Am I crazy for loving these new spins on familiar novels?  Or are they refreshing, as my own instincts and sensibilities decree?  I have a feeling they’ll be that sort of thing where people either love ’em or hate ’em.

Sort of like how people are reacting to the movie Paranormal Activity. 🙂

Oh heck, why don’t I make use of that nice polling function wordpress offered a year ago?

And while we’re at it, why not another?  (I’m starting to feel like my friend Chance, who holds regular polls on her livejournal). This one about Paranormal Activity, which I did manage to see.  Uh, I guess if you haven’t seen it, there is a spoiler in the poll, so just a warning.

Now back to recovery.