Advanced Reviewers Wanted

Dear Readers (specifically, dear book review bloggers),

As a lead-up to the release of my first full-length collection of short stories, I’ll be giving away an advance review PDF copy to book bloggers who promise to write an honest review of the book in the months prior to the release date.

Before and Afterlives will release on March 18, 2013. I’d love to give away enough advance review copies that would enable a book review per week between the months of January and late March. If you review books regularly, and aren’t back-logged, and would be able to read and write a review of the collection within that period of time, please contact me at christopherbarzak AT gmail DOT com.

I’m excited for this collection to appear.  Here are the two initial blurbs from the authors Jeffrey Ford and M. Rickert:

“Although Christopher Barzak is now better known as a novelist, I’ve always been an admirer of his short stories. His new collection, Before and Afterlives, will make you one too. This generous offering of his best work displays impressive range, depth of feeling, a sharp sense of humor, and a fantastic imagination both lyrical and dark.”

-Jeffrey Ford, author of Crackpot Palace and The Physiognomy

“How to conjure souls? Resurrect the past? Speak to the dead? Christopher Barzak has a talent for ghosts. In a world composed of more than its material aspects, Barzak seems to know that the things unsaid are what haunt us most. He offers his considerable gift of story as a talisman. Before and Afterlives is a generous contribution to the art of being human.”

-M. Rickert, author of Map of Dreams and Holiday

I’d love to have reviewers join into the conversation about the book as it gets nearer to launch date. So please send me an email with a link to your book blog to join in.

Thanks very much, and feel free to link to this post in your own networks.

Before and Afterlives Coverings

I’m so excited to see my full length collection of short stories, Before and Afterlives, coming together in advance of its March 2013 release. Below is the pre-visualisation for the cover, front, back and spine, by the book’s designer.  It will of course later have a description of the contents added to the back and blurbs, but this is the general look. I’m really excited to see it out.  Can. not. wait.

You can click to make the image larger, of course.

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!

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 Amazon.com (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 Tor.com, 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.

Turning Points

This post is short, but I wanted to point any of my readers over to the blog of writer Nova Ren Suma (author of the fantastic novel, Imaginary Girls), where I’ve guest blogged in Nova’s Turning Points series.

My turning point:  turning from writing the short story to the novel, and then from the novel to a novel-in-stories.

There’s also a giveaway for copies of both of my books, so do leave a comment to be entered!

Attack of the Killer Collections

Every year around this season of gift giving, I see lots of posts by writers and readers and online stores, advising people what books would make great gifts.  Usually, these lists consist entirely of novels.  I’m a big fan of novels, but I might be an even bigger fan of short story collections.  But even I can be swayed by novel-fever, and in the past (not the recent past, but back when I did blog regularly past), even I’ve recommended buying novel A and novel B, etc.  This year, I’m recommending three killer short story collections that I’ve read in 2011.  Of course they’re all published by small presses, because the large press publishing industry has this idea that people don’t want to read short story collections.  I think that’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, but that’s another blog post.  For now, here’s my advice:  buy these three collections.  They’re awesome, and they each have killer covers.

Collection A:  After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh

Maureen McHugh is well known in science fiction circles, mainly in the circles that admire high quality, character centered scifi.  Back in the 90s, she debuted with a hugely awesome novel-in-stories (before that term was conceived of) called China Mountain Zhang (read that book, too!).  She went on to write a number of other novels, and one other collection (Mothers and Other Monsters, also recommended), and has been spending time writing Alternate Reality Games and is now writing film scripts.  So the scifi short story world is always very eager to read when a story of hers appears.  This collections revolves thematically around the idea of apocalypses, endings, both literal and metaphorical, both in the epic scifi sort of way, and in the ordinary individual’s self-implosion sort of way.

Cover comment:  Fantastic design that makes the book look old and battered, but isn’t in fact.  Very cool.

Collection B:  Unpossible, by Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory and I won the same award (the Crawford Award) for best first fantasy book.  Different years, of course!  His first novel, Pandemonium, reminded me of a newish, leaner, sometimes scarier (is that possible?  or unpossible?) Stephen King.  His follow-up novels were just as good as the first, but I’d never read any of Daryl’s short stories until this collection came out from Fairwood Press last month.  The stories range from good to great, and a couple are straight-up knockouts.  Really idea-oriented speculative fiction that doesn’t lose sight of its characters and the human drama unfolding around them.

Cover Comment:  Fantastic.  This is a wonderfully weird piece of art.  If Gregory’s previous books hadn’t already sold me on him in general, I would have bought this book for the cover alone (yes, I’m one of those sorts).

Collection C:  Sleight of Hand, by Peter S. Beagle

Does Peter S. Beagle really need an introduction?  Probably for some.  Can’t I just say, The Last Unicorn, and leave it at that? (And if you haven’t read The Last Unicorn, do yourself a favor and get it too).

Beagle has made something of a comeback in the last decade, publishing several short story collections with Tachyon Publications, and all of them bear the hallmarks of his wit, wonder, and deep sympathy for ordinary characters caught up in extraordinary fantastical events.  This particular collection seems to revolve mostly around magicians, dragons, gods and enchantresses.  There’s light and dark both in these stories, a wide range of types of fantasy stories.

Cover Comment:  Gorgeous.  That is all.

Now, go forth and buy short story collections as gifts.  For yourself, and for others.  Because, really, collections rock, and these ones are killers.

The road not taken

Today is the day.  Welcome to Bordertown is officially out.  And today is also the day to announce the winner of the Bordertown Lives pendant Mia Nutick has so graciously offered for my contest.  And the winner is: Kathy Barreca.

If you haven’t taken a little dip into the contest entrant’s pool in my previous post, please do.  ALL of them were great, but Kathy’s hooked me because of the magical device she used as her way to get to Bordertown:  Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken.  It was simple yet totally evocative, and I think poems are magical routes to other places.  Sometimes into another person’s psychic landscape, and sometimes into more easily visited places.

But you should go read all of the entrants’ posts because they’re all good in so many different ways.  One writer even has television writing credits in her background and didn’t enter to win, just to participate in a round of storytelling fun, which is totally a Bordertown thing to do. 🙂

Congratulations, Kathy.  I’ll be getting you in touch with Mia shortly, and congratulations to all those readers who have been eagerly awaiting the new anthology, and congratulations to the editors and writers who all had the opportunity to work on bringing the place back for a spell.

Pre-viewing, pre-ordering, pre-mourning

There have been lots of pre-reviews of this anthology popping up in the past month or two, all of them positive. I’m happy to be included in this review as one of the reviewer’s “favorites”. If you go to Amazon.com right now, you can pre-order the book at an extremely reduced price.

Incidentally, this story is also a story thread of the YA novel I’m working on at the moment.  It’s been great fun to write so far, and I’m two-thirds of the way into it.  I’m actually pre-mourning the day it’s done.

Holiday

Last minute shoppers, looking for a good book to give at the holidays?  Take a chance on M. Rickert’s new short story collection, Holiday.  Mary Rickert’s stories are absolutely full of wonder and frightening circumstances, sometimes creepy and other times sad or joyful.  She’s one of the best short story writers out there, period, in the category of fantasy and out.  I can never get enough of them.  Highly recommended.  For a limited time the publisher, Golden Gryphon Press, is selling all of their books at a 50% discount, so please take advantage of the sale!

From the publisher:

HOLIDAY by M. Rickert

Ghosts and mythic beings populate this holiday-themed collection of eleven tales to read by candlelight. “Holiday,” where a story of all holidays for a dead girl and the man who sees her, is followed by New Year’s Day and “Memoir of a Deer Woman,” a woman’s transformation into a deer leaves her husband desperate for her words. Valentine’s Day is celebrated with “Journey into the Kingdom,” winner of the World Fantasy Award, where a young girl falls in love with a ghost. A May Day wedding in “The Machine” is a tale of innocence lost and terrible revenge, a story not for the faint of heart. Mother’s Day brings us a future where women who have had abortions are punished in “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter’s Personal Account.” Father’s Day is marked by asking what is lost forever when a stolen boy returns, in “Don’t Ask.” In a story for Independence Day, a nine-year-old girl’s first act of independence is also an act of revenge, in “Traitor.” Not all anniversaries are happy occasions and in “Was She Wicked? Was She Good?” one family copes with the damage that remains after being victims of a home invasion. A surreal Halloween story, “You Have Never Been Here,” asks if the body is the mask we all wear. A Veteran’s Day story, “War is Beautiful,” features a soldier in the Vietnam War who befriends a local girl-or is she a ghost? The collection ends with a Halloween to Christmas tale, “The Christmas Witch,” where a lonely, little girl struggles to survive in a town of children that collect bones. Holidays are days of honor.

These eleven tales, eerie, mysterious, and creepy, honor the human experience of death and redemption. They might keep you up at night, but why not extend the celebration?

As an added bonus, each story has two illustrations by Thomas Canty.

To order single copies, order them at our website
(www.goldengryphon.com), or send $24.95 (no shipping charge) to:
Golden Gryphon Press
3002 E. Perkins Road
Urbana, IL 61802-7730
(217)840-0672
We also accept MC/VISA.
Send name of cardholder, card number, and expiration date.

You can also purchase the book at sites like Amazon and Powell’s.

One for Sorrow the film?

I’ve been sort of running around like crazy today, as my friend and former editor, Juliet Ulman, sent me a photograph she took of her copy of Elle magazine’s September issue.  It’s a photograph of the contributor’s page, where the photographer and film director Carter Smith is asked what he anticipates doing this fall, and he states that he hopes he’ll be directing the film adaptation of “Christopher Barzak’s book One for Sorrow“.

I about fell out of my chair.  Mr. Smith indeed purchased an option to make my novel into a film last year, but you know, these sorts of things sometimes happen and most of the time they don’t.  It still may not happen, but if he’s finished the screen adaptation of the novel, it probably means he’s still planning on it.  Here’s hoping that he can make it happen.  I would love to see how he translates the story to the screen.

Here’s the photo Juliet sent me.  I’m still always surprised by the interest people have taken in this book.  It’s very gratifying.  🙂