Where Thy Dark Eye Glances

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.

berman-where-thy-dark-eye-glances

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.

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Sneak Peeks of Before and Afterlives (Born on the Edge)

Today’s preview from Before and Afterlives is the opening of my story,”Born on the Edge of an Adjective”. It’s a story about two lovers who can’t get it together, one of whom moves across the country to find himself, and is instead found by a different sort of love, an alien love. I mean that, too. An alien love, though you won’t be able to tell just how alien from this excerpt, which will seem fairly realistic. The story originally appeared in the very cool zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

Born on the Edge of an Adjective

“I was born on the edge of an adjective,” Neil tells me from San Francisco.  He’s calling on his new cell phone.  He bought it because he thought it would add a little something to his image, but now he’s not so sure.  “Everywhere I look, people have these stupid things,” he says.  “I didn’t realize till I had one of my own.”

“You were what?” I ask.

“I was born on the edge of an adjective,” he tells me.  “That’s for you,” he says, and pauses to drag on his cigarette.  “For your next song.  At least a line, if not the title.”

Neil’s calling from a bar called the Shamrock, which he’s frequented since leaving Youngstown behind.  In the background of his voice, the crack of pool and the sound of eighties music. I can almost smell the smoke, see the haze.  Neil hates eighties music, so I’m wondering why he’s there.  I’m wondering why he isn’t here with me.

“That’s a great line,” I say.  I don’t tell him that I don’t write songs anymore.  That when he left, the music went with him, that I haven’t written since.  “You should write it,” I tell him, and light a cigarette for myself.

“That’s your thing, Marco,” he says, and it still sends a thrill through my body to hear that name, instead of just Marc or Marcus.  Only Neil calls me something different from everyone else.

“So when are you coming back?” I ask, then immediately revise my question.  “When are you going to visit?”

“You know I can’t, Marco,” he says.  “I can’t come back, at least not for a while.  I have to find out who I am.  Ohio only obscures it.  We’ve gone over all this before.  Besides, I’m unboyfriendable.  You need someone better than me.  Someone solid.”

I nod in agreement, even though Neil can’t see.  He went a thousand miles away to find himself, which sounds lame as a talk show conversation, but he did it, and I still can’t help but ask when this self-imposed exile is going to end.  Neil might not know himself, but I could tell him.  I know who he is, he’s just not listening.  But when do any of us listen to what others have to say?  I don’t write music anymore.  I only listen.  If Neil asked me, I could sing him his song.

“I have to get going,” Neil says impatiently.  There’s the click of his lighter and the exhale of smoke.  “I have a date with this woman.  I need to meet her on the other side of town.”

“A woman?” I ask.

“She’s cool,” Neil says.  “A dancer, real light on her feet.  It’s like gravity has no effect on her.”

“So she floats?  That’s pretty amazing,” I say.

“Seriously, Marco, she made me practice lifting her for her next recital.  It was like picking up a teacup.  An empty  teacup.  You would like her.  Don’t be a cynic.  She’s our type.”

“That’s great,” I say.  I tell him, “Call me soon,” and put the phone down on its cradle.  I turn up the radio, thinking she is not our type, not mine at least, and I wouldn’t like her.  I already hate this woman, Neil, and she’s probably a bad dancer.  Her legs are skinny like a flamingo’s, and her hair is most likely blonde.  Also, she floats.  People who float aren’t people.  It’s like a law or something.  No floating for humans.

Neil likes his men different from his women.  He prefers his men quietly smoldering, with dark eyes and thick hair.  He likes his women blonde and loud as ambulances, with legs up to their chins.  He used to read books with grand plots and lifeless characters.  Now he reads books without plots that have grand characters, who think a lot throughout most of the book.

Take my hand, I want to tell him.  Let me lead you through the hall of mirrors.  I know your way.  If I were alone, I’d be lost myself.  But with you, I see the way clearly.

He wonders who he is, what it means to live in this world, how he’s supposed to be.  I’ve seen him clap his hands over his ears, as if the world grew too loud suddenly, and he sank down on my bed and curled into a fetal position.  He wants to know what he’s like, where he’s going, where he’s been.  He’s a blank slate, he tells me, a tabula rasa.  But this is not true.  A more accurate description is possible.

He was like a book left behind by some weary traveler, in a country where no one knows how to read.

Take my hand, I want to tell him.  Even though I’m blind on my own, I can see your path clearly.

*

     Where are you going?  Where have you been?  These questions were our constant conversation.  The first time we met, we were both at The Blue Note, one of the bars where the band I wrote songs for sometimes played.  They still have an ongoing gig there, but I don’t stop very often.  They leave messages, various members of Winterlong, the lead singer, the bass guitarist, the piano player, Harry, who always says they’re going downhill and need an injection of something new and different.  “Give me a call, Marcus,” he says.  “Let’s get together on something.”

Neil was standing at the bar, in front of an empty stool, drinking from a pony-necked bottle.  I sat three stools down.  Finally, after the band took a break, he walked over, sat beside me, and, without looking at me, said, “The songs are good, but they need a new singer.”  I laughed involuntarily, almost spitting out a mouthful of beer.

“Really?” I said, grinning.

“Most definitely.”

“And the songs?  What makes them more deserving?”

“They’re full of raw emotion.  The lead singer doesn’t know how to get that across.”

It was something I’d heard other people say about someone else’s music.  Something you might read in a review, or hear on a college campus amongst earnest but not so humble students.  But Neil was flattering.  This quality is a necessary attractor.  I was attracted, I cannot lie.

We went home that night together, after the band stopped playing, after closing down the Blue Note, and when we woke in the morning, him lying on his stomach, me flat on my back, his arm flung over my chest, I told him that I was the song writer.

“I knew that,” he said.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you knew I knew.  Really, don’t act so innocent.”

Sneak Peeks of Before and Afterlives (The Language of Moths)

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll  be posting previews from the 17 stories in my new short story collection, Before and Afterlives. If you like what you read, take a hop over to your favorite online bookseller and purchase either the print book or the e-book, and leave a review when you’re finished reading. It helps other people figure out if they’d like to read the book (and strokes my ego, at least when they’re good reviews). ;-)

Today’s preview is the opening to my novelette, “The Language of Moths”, which was a Nebula finalist in 2006.  It’s a story about a family from Boston who travel to the Allegheny Mountains, where the father, an entomologist, is seeking out a moth he remembers seeing as a young person when his family camped there, one that he knows has not been identified before. What they find, however, are the fault lines in all of their relationships as a family. And in the case of some characters, they find a new language to speak when they encounter a deeply magical place.

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The Language of Moths

1. Swallowing Bubbles

The four of them had been traveling for what seemed like forever, the two in the front seat rattling maps like they did newspapers on Sunday mornings.  They rode in the wagon, her favorite car, the one with the wood paneling on its doors.  The wagon wound through the twisty backroads of the mountains, leaving behind it clouds of dust through which sunlight passed, making the air shimmer like liquid gold.  The girl wanted the wagon to stop so she could jump out and run through the golden light behind her.  She climbed halfway over the back seat and pushed her face against the rear window, trying to get a better look.

The little old man beside her shouted, “No! No! No! Sit down, you’re slobbering all over the glass.  Sit down this instant!”  He grabbed her around her waist and pulled her back into a sitting position.  He pulled a strap across her chest, locking it with a decisive click.  The little old man narrowed his eyes; he waved a finger in the girl’s face.  He said things at her.  But as his words left his lips, they became bubbles.  Large silver bubbles that shimmied and wobbled in the air.  The bubbles filled the car in mere moments.  So many words all at once!  The girl laughed delightedly.  She popped some of the bubbles between her fingers.  Others she plucked from the air and swallowed like grapes.  She let them sit sweetly on her tongue for a while, before taking them all the way in for good.  When the bubbles reached her stomach, they burst into music.  The sound of them echoed through her body, reverberating.  She rang like a bell.  One day, when she swallowed enough bubbles, she might understand what the little old man beside her was saying.  All of the time, not just now and then.  Maybe she’d even be able to say things back to him.  She wondered if her own words would taste as sweet.  Like honey, maybe.  Or like flowers.

2. Being Selfish

Eliot is watching his mother hang bed sheets from a cord of clothesline she’s tied off at two walls facing opposite of each other in their cabin.  “To give us all a sense of personal space,” she explains.  Eliot tells his mother that this cabin is so small, hanging up bed sheets to section off rooms is a futile activity.  “Where did you learn that word,” his mother asks.  “Futile.  Who taught you that?”

“At school,” Eliot says, paging through an X-Men comic book, not bothering to look up.

His mother makes a face that looks impressed.  “Maybe public school isn’t so bad after all,” she says.  “Your father was right, as usual.”

Eliot doesn’t know if his father is right, or even if his father is usually right, as his mother seems to imagine.  After all, here they are in the Allegheny Mountains, in Pennsylvania, for God’s sake, hundreds of miles away from home.  Away from Boston.  And for what?  For a figment of his father’s imagination.  For a so-called undiscovered moth his father claims to have seen when he was Eliot’s age, fourteen, camping right here in this very cabin.  Eliot doesn’t believe his father could remember anything that far back, and even if he could, his memory of the event could be completely fictional at this point, an indulgence in nostalgia for a time when his life still seemed open in all directions, flat as a map, unexplored and waiting for him.

Eliot’s father is an entomologist.  His specialty is lepidoptera, moths and butterflies and what Eliot thinks of as creepy-crawlies, things that spin cocoons around themselves when they’re unhappy with their present circumstances and wait inside their shells until either they’ve changed or the world has, before coming out.  Eliot’s father is forty-three years old, a once-celebrated researcher on the mating habits of moths found in the Appalachian Mountains.  He is also a liar.  He lied to his grant committee at the college, telling them in his proposal that he required the funds for this expedition to research the habits of a certain species of moth with which they were all familiar.  He didn’t mention his undiscovered moth, the one that glowed orange and pink, as he once told Eliot during a reverie, with his eyes looking at something unimaginably distant while he spoke of it.  Maybe, Eliot thinks, an absurd adventure like this one is a scientist’s version of a mid-life crisis.  Instead of chasing after other women, Eliot’s father is chasing after a moth that, let’s face it, he probably imagined.

“There now, isn’t that better?”  Eliot’s mother stands in the center of the cabin, which she has finished sectioning into four rooms.  The cabin is a perfect square with clothesline bisecting the center in both directions, like a plus sign.  Eliot owns one corner, and Dawn, his sister, has the one next to his:  That makes up one half of the cabin.  The other half has been divided into the kitchen and his parents’ space.  The sheet separating Eliot’s corner from his sister’s is patterned with blue flowers and tiny teacups.  These sheets are Dawn’s favorites, and secretly, Eliot’s too.

Eliot’s mother glances around, smiling vaguely, wiping sweat off of her brow.  She’s obviously happy with her achievement.  After all, she’s an academic, a philosopher, unaccustomed to cleaning house and rigging up clotheslines and bed linen.  The maid back in Boston–back home, Eliot thinks–Marcy, she helps around the house with domestic things like that.  Usually Eliot’s mother uses her mind to speculate on how the mind works; not just her own mind–but the mind–the idea of what a mind is.  Now she finds herself using her mental prowess to tidy up a ramshackle cabin.  Who would have guessed she’d be so capable?  So practical?  Not Eliot.  Certainly not herself.

The door to the cabin swings open, flooding the room with bright sunlight that makes Eliot squint.  He shields his eyes with one hand, like an officer saluting, to witness the shadowy figure of his father’s body filling the doorframe, and his sister Dawn trailing behind.

Dawn is more excited than usual, which has made this trip something less than a vacation.  For Eliot’s father, Dr. Carroll, it was never a vacation; that was a well-known fact.  For Dr. Carroll, this was an expedition, possibly his last chance to inscribe his name in History.  But the rest of the family was supposed to “take things easy and enjoy themselves.”  When Dr. Carroll said that, Eliot had snorted.  Dr. Carroll had placed his hands on his hips and glowered. “Why the attitude, Eliot?” he’d asked.

“Take it easy?” Eliot repeated in a squeaky-scratchy voice that never failed to surface when he most needed to appear justified and righteous.  “How can you expect us to do that with Dawn around?”

Dr. Carroll had stalked away, not answering, which didn’t surprise Eliot at all.  For most of his life, this is what Eliot has seen whenever he questions his father:  his father’s back, walking away, leaving a room full of silence.

Dawn pushes past Dr. Carroll and runs over to Eliot’s cot.  She jumps on the mattress, which squeals on old coils, and throws her arms across the moth-eaten pink quilt.  The quilt smells of mold and mildew and something a little like mothballs, as if it had been stored in a cedar chest for a long time.  Dawn turns to Eliot, her wide blue eyes set in a face as white and smooth as porcelain, and smiles at him, her blonde hair fanning out on the pillow.  Eliot considers her over the top of his comic book, pretending not to have noticed her.

Dawn is autistic.  She’s seventeen years old, three years older than Eliot.  But when she’s around, Eliot feels as if he’s already an old man, forced into an early maturity, responsible for things no fourteen year old boy should have to think about.  He blames this all on his parents, who often encourage him when he pays attention to Dawn, who often scold him when he wants something for himself.  “Being selfish,” is what his mother calls that, leaving Eliot dashed to pieces on the rocks of guilt.  He feels guilty even now, trying to read the last page of his comic book instead of paying attention to Dawn.

“I’m leaving,” Dr. Carroll announces.  He’s wearing khaki pants with pockets all over them, and a wide-brimmed hat with mosquito netting pulled down over his face.  A backpack and sleeping bag are slung on his back.  He lifts the mosquito netting and kisses Eliot’s mother on her cheek and calls her Dr. Carroll affectionately, then looks at Eliot and says, “You take care of Dawn while I’m away, Eliot.  Stay out of trouble.”

He walks outside, and all of them–Eliot, Dawn and their mother–move to the doorway.  As if magnetized by Dr. Carroll’s absence, they try to fill the space he’s left.  They watch him become smaller and smaller, a shadow, until he reaches the trail that will take him farther into the graying mountains, where his moth awaits.

“Good luck,” Eliot’s mother whispers, waving goodbye to his back, his nets and pockets.  She closes her eyes and says, “Please,” to something she cannot name, even though she no longer believes in higher powers, ghosts or gods of any sort.

A free read of Map of Seventeen

I’ve posted my Nebula nominated story “Map of Seventeen” on my website for interested readers.  You can find it on the page tabs overhead.  I’ll take it down soon after the Nebulas, around the end of May, but here it is for a limited time for free.  If you like it, please drop me a note.  And get the anthology it was originally published in, The Beastly Bride (a theme the story centers around).  It’s a great collection of stories altogether.

A repeal

I hereby repeal my obviously premature congratulations to the state of Maine, which I gave out all too naively this past May.

Now, instead, I’d like to say good luck to those Mainers who want a better, inclusive, love-supporting culture in which to exist for their and their children’s futures.

I feel sorry for everyone, even for those who voted in the spirit of exclusion and inequality.  I really do think they don’t understand what they are missing.  They see their decisions as a protection and defense, but all they are defending are walls that separate people, rather than unify.  When they’re able to coexist in a mature manner with people who are unlike them, perhaps then Maine will be ready to be a better place, and a better people as a whole.

It’s not really Maine specifically, though, and I’m disturbed by all of the Twitterers and Facebookers and other online social groupers who are taking their disappointment and disgust out on Maine alone.  This is really how the majority of the United States still feels on the subject.

There is still a lot of work to be done.  And even if all of the U.S. acknowledged the rights of gay people to marry, there would still be problems with the culture’s general destructive nature towards LGBT people.  After all, look at what’s occurring in Merry Olde England, where gay marriage is legal.

Changing the law is one thing.  Changing a culture is another.  Of course changing the law is the beginning of something.  But it’s the first step on a long road to come.

Outrage

Author Nicola Griffith has blogged a call to action, which you can find here, in regards to a woman dying in the hospital whose same sex partner and children were not allowed by law to see her or receive any updates on her condition.  The hospital was later sued and the state awarded the hospital the win.  Complete insanity, complete and utter discrimination, all made somehow legal.  A woman died alone without the ability to see her loved ones, her children, because she was a lesbian.  That’s it, that’s all.

As another writer, Jeffrey Ford, states in his blog, “I’m sure many of those enforcing this law think themselves “good Christians,” but that’s the problem with too many Christians these days — they know all the dogma but forget about Christ’s most important message — Compassion.  There were also those involved, no doubt, who let the stupid Law grind itself out because they couldn’t think through to the point of how heinous it is.  I didn’t see anything about this case on the news — just endless stories about the publicity stunt with the kid in the UFO.  Sometimes I just get disgusted with America.  The open and government sanctioned persecution of gays in our culture shows us at our absolute worst.  Here we are in the 21st century and this situation, instead of getting better, is a Civil Rights crisis.”

Go read Nicola’s blog first, then blog about this crime yourself.  Yes, that’s what it is:  a criminal act justified as legal by an unfair, discriminatory legal system.

Late to the party

Apparently on September 1st a little something called “The Outer Alliance”–a group that advocates for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish, and support it, whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation, and make sure their work and actions reflect this support–made it’s debut on the internet.  Late to the party I am, as usual.  So here’s my banner of support:

oalpridebannerDC

And, as spec-fic writers I know have been doing, here’s a link to a couple of my short stories which reflect my engagement with these issues in some way:

Born on the Edge of an Adjective

The Language of Moths (Nebula Nominee)

Caryatids

And, since I’m a week late, I present you with this very cool advertisement for gay marriage from Ireland:

Sinead’s Hand