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!

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!

Taking Stock: 2011

Well, it’s that time again.  End of the year and all.  Every year I try to write down the various things I’ve done–written, published, won, been nominated for, sold for the future, etc–and lay it out like I might in a proper journal.  It’s been a while since I’ve kept a proper journal, but most likely those who read this can tell I pop up regularly when university is not in session, and when it is in session…well, I’m usually up to my ears with work to sit down and gather my thoughts about myself and what I’m working on (or wishing I could be working on) as easily.

Still…I am on break (even though I need to write a loooooong document narrating just why exactly I should be tenured next year–still pretending I don’t have to do that for another day or two) and will take the time instead to write this, for myself.

This past year I published four short stories, each of which presented their own challenges, some due to the genre necessary to work within, some because I did that thing where I followed a voice–one line alone that set me going–and chased it until the end.  Which is a difficult and challenging sort of story to write, because you have to trust your instincts instead of toying with your knowledge of a particular genre and its conventions–that has its own challenges, but uncertainty is generally not one of them, because you have those conventions of a particular genre there, acting as sort of guideposts to the territory those genres have conquered and the rules they’ve established for the conduct of their citizens.

The first story to be in 2011 arrived in the April/May issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.  “Smoke City” was one of those stories I chased after, by voice alone.  Here is its first paragraph:

One night, I woke to the sound of my mother’s voice, as I did when I was a child.  The words were familiar to my ear, they matched the voice that formed them, but it was not until I had opened my eyes to the dark of my room and my husband’s snoring that I remembered the words were calling me away from my warm bed and the steady breathing of my children, both asleep in their own rooms across the hall.  “Because I could not stop for death,” my mother used to tell me, “he kindly stopped for me.”  They were Dickinson’s words, of course, not my mother’s, but she said them as if they were hers, and because of that, they were hers, and because of that, they are now mine, passed down with every other object my mother gave me before I left for what I hoped would be a better world.  “Here, take this candy dish.”  Her hands pushing the red knobbed glass into my hands.  “Here, take this sweater.”  Her hands folding it, a made thing, pulled together by her hands, so that I could lift it and lay it on the seat as my car pulled me away.  Her hand lifted into the air above her cloud of white hair behind me.  The smoke of that other city enveloping her, putting it behind me, trying to put it behind me, until I had the words in my mouth again, like a bit, and then the way opened up beneath me, a fissure through which I slipped, down through the bed sheets, no matter how I grasped at them, down through the mattress, down through the floorboards, down, down, down, through the mud and earth and gravel, leaving my snoring husband and my steadily breathing children above, in that better place, until I was floating, once more, along the swiftly flowing current of the Fourth River. 

“Smoke City” was written after I’d read a bottom-up history of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania called The Point of Pittsburgh, by Charles McCollester, which began at its geological foundations and moved forward to the present.  I read all 500 pages in a couple of nights, and because I took it in so quickly, I began to dream about the history of the place, but in that typically surrealist fashion that dreams take on.  I was mostly caught up with the Guilded Age, when the steel industry had both made the place wealthy and ruined at the same time.  The depiction of the city was mostly in line with what many imagine Hell to look like.  And while I was reading it, I kept thinking, this is the same time period that Steampunk often settles in, but most steampunk stories and books I’ve read seem to revolve around the lives of movers and shakers, people in power or who have access to power, rather than those on the bottom, toiling for others.  “Smoke City” came out of meditating on our connections to that period of time.  The writer Paul Cornell (of Dr. Who fame!) called it “a furious critique of Steampunk.”  Thank you, Mr. Cornell!

The second story was “Gap Year” in the Ellen Datlow/Terri Windling edited anthology, Teeth.  This was also a voice oriented piece for me, but because the anthology was dictated by the genre of vampire stories, and vampire stories specifically in the category of YA fiction, I had a lot of those guideposts I mentioned earlier to work with.  Working within particular genres and within particular age categories does create a certain amount of things to push off from, or interact with.  You know the type of story you’re telling, and even if it’s as diverse as vampire fiction is, it’s all still there to work with:  you’re not creating out of a void, you’re not following a voice and hoping it leads you to gold instead of nowhere.  Here’s the first paragraph of “Gap Year”:

When the vampires came to town, there was an assembly in the high school gymnasium.  Retta and Lottie sat next to each other on the bleachers, like they did every day in study hall, their hands folded between their pressed-together knees.  The three vampires who stood on the stage had something to tell them.  “We’re people, too,” said the head vampire, if that’s what you call a vampire who speaks for other vampires.  He couldn’t have been more than eighteen.  A splash of freckles on his face.  Mousy brown fauxhawk.  A tight, too-short Pixies concert t-shirt showing off a strip of skin above the waistband of his boxers.  He wore jeans with a snakeskin belt hanging loose in the loops.  If you saw him in the hallway, you wouldn’t suspect him of being a vampire.  Retta and Lottie weren’t sure if they suspected him of being a vampire now, even though he said he was.

You can probably tell that the voice of this piece is just a tad bit ironic.  I think I went for the ironic voice because so much YA vampire fiction takes itself sooooo seriously, to the degree that it sometimes hurts to read it.  And also because a lot of vampires in vampire fiction have seemed to have lost their sense of danger, and can come out in the daytime nowadays, I thought they’d lost a bit of their allure (for me).  So I began writing a story where vampires are out, and fairly boring to the rest of society.  Until Retta, the heroine of the story, discovers what being a vampire can mean for herself.

That’s the fun part of working within established genre conventions:  finding ways to twist what’s already there, to write against the grain instead of with it, looking for something new.

The third story of the year appeared in Holly Black’s and Ellen Kushner’s anthology Welcome to Bordertown.  The anthology is a reintroduction to the Bordertown world created by Terri Windling in the 80s and 90s for the new generation.  I was thrilled to be invited to write in this world, as it was one I entered into with great excitement as a teen reader.  The writing process for this story is somewhat related to how I went about writing “Gap Year”.  Instead of working with a particular genre and its conventions, however, working in Bordertown provided me with the conventions of a particular world to write within.  And with any world, there are rules and regulations.  They can be broken, or twisted, of course, but you have to know them in order to break and twist them.  When it came to writing this story, I wanted to approach some of the aspects of the race and class strife that was always part of the ambient energy in Bordertown–creatures of the fae world living side by side with humans, and those born of the relationship between the fae and humans–in a fairly direct way.  So I created the character of Marius, a late teen from the human world who came to Bordertown several years before the “Way” between Bordertown and the World closed off.  So any potential for him to return to the life he fled–rejection from his family after coming out to them–was closed off as well.  When the Way reopens, all sorts of newcomers from the World arrive, and one of them is Aleksander (or “Mouse” as he comes to be called), a young man who is ready to take on Bordertown and its various social ills almost like an Occupy Wallstreeter.   Here’s the first paragraph:

I saw him again tonight, while out walking the streets of Soho: Alek or Aleksander, whatever it is he’s called now.  He’s had plenty of names since I first knew him when he arrived almost a year ago, fresh and green from the World.  One of the newcomers after the Way reopened.  Mouse.  Alek.  Aleksander.  Voice of the Nameless, voice for those who drink from the river whose waters curse them to return to it daily to forget their troubles, those who came and didn’t find what they’d been told would be a glorious place free of the World’s restrictions, where they could be themselves more than anywhere and wouldn’t have to fight for it.

Right.

Clearly, Marius is a bit jaded and cynical.  But he has a happier ending than the one he expects.

Finally, the last story of the year appeared in Apex Magazine.  “The 24 Hour Brother” is, as reviewer Lois Tilton described it, “A strange and sad fantasy of children whose lives are like mayflies.”  It’s the story of Lewis, fifteen years old, whose mother gives birth to his little brother, Joe, who grows up and goes through the various phases of life all within 24 hours.  Here’s the opening:

My little brother Joe grew up too fast for his own good.  My mom was the first to see what we were in for.  Soon after Joe’s birth, when the nurse put him in her arms, the first thing he did, still pink and slimy, was smile the gummy, wry smile of a little old man.

     “Joseph, Joe, my baby boy,” said my mother, “we’ll try our best if you will.”  She kissed his cheek and handed him back to the nurse, trying to keep herself from falling in love with someone who she realized, at their very first meeting, would only break her heart.  The first sign was in that first smile:  the old man Joe would soon become, the old man Joe would become too soon.

This is a story more in line with “Smoke City”.  A story in which I create my own world, follow the voice of the narrator, and found my way through based on the rules I was making for myself.

That’s it for publications this year.  My story “Map of Seventeen” was nominated last spring for the Nebula Award for Best Novelette, which means I’ve been nominated for a Nebula three times now.  I can no longer say “Third time’s a charm!” unless I adopt a sarcastic tone of voice. 😉

Right now, I’m looking forward to putting 2011 behind me, and working into the future.  2012 and beyond.

Happy holidays, and happy New Year.

 

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 24 Hour Brother

Just a heads up for interested readers:  my short story, The 24 Hour Brother, is now available to read in the new issue of Apex Magazine.

You can read it by clicking here.

The story is an odd one.  Two things formed the story initially: one for form, one for feeling.  1.) I’d been wanting to write a story in which the life cycle of a human being was completed within a very few pages, and to hopefully, maybe, achieve some kind of emotional resonance over the occurrence despite the brevity of their stay.  2.)  With that in mind, I happened to read an essay by Joyce Carol Oates in which she talks about the “life-lie” we all tell ourselves.  The necessary delusion that lets us go on living as we live, doing what we do.

It’s not a terribly uplifting story, I’m afraid, but I hope it resonates, even if it doesn’t uplift.

 

Thanks for reading.

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.

Nebulated

And now it can be told:  my novelette “Map of Seventeen” has been nominated for this year’s Nebula Awards.  This is the third time for me to be nominated for the Nebula.  The first time was in 2007, when I was also in the novelette category with my story “The Language of Moths”. The second time was last year, when my novel-in-stories, The Love We Share Without Knowing, was nominated in the novel category.  Is third-time’s-a-charm for real?  I don’t know, but I’m honored as always to be included as a writer in these awards.

Here’s the press release for the awards, along with all of the other nominees.  Congratulations to everyone.  See you in D.C. at the ceremony.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is proud to announce the nominees for the 2010 Nebula Awards.

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of SFWA. The awards will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet (http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-weekend/) on Saturday evening, May 21, 2011 in the Washington Hilton, in Washington, D.C.. Other awards to be presented are the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Science Fiction or Fantasy for Young Adults, the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation and the Solstice Award for outstanding contribution to the field.

Short Story
‘‘Arvies’’, Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine 8/10)
‘‘How Interesting: A Tiny Man’’, Harlan Ellison® (Realms of Fantasy 2/10)
‘‘Ponies’’, Kij Johnson (Tor.com 1/17/10)
‘‘I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno’’, Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed Magazine 6/10)
‘‘The Green Book’’, Amal El-Mohtar (Apex Magazine 11/1/10)
“Ghosts of New York’’, Jennifer Pelland (Dark Faith)
‘‘Conditional Love’’, Felicity Shoulders (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine1/10)

Novelette
‘‘Map of Seventeen’’, Christopher Barzak (The Beastly Bride)
‘‘The Jaguar House, in Shadow’’, Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 7/10)
‘‘The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara’’, Christopher Kastensmidt (Realms of Fantasy 4/10)
“Plus or Minus’’, James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine12/10)
‘‘Pishaach’’, Shweta Narayan (The Beastly Bride)
‘‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’’, Eric James Stone (Analog Science Fiction and Fact 9/10)
‘‘Stone Wall Truth’’, Caroline M. Yoachim (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 2/10)

Novella
The Alchemist, Paolo Bacigalupi (Audible; Subterranean)
‘‘Iron Shoes’’, J. Kathleen Cheney (Alembical 2)
The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
‘‘The Sultan of the Clouds’’, Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 9/10)
‘‘Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance’’, Paul Park (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 1-2/10)
‘‘The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window’’, Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Magazine Summer ’10)

Novel
The Native Star, M.K. Hobson (Spectra)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit UK; Orbit US)
Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
Echo, Jack McDevitt (Ace)
Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)
Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud (directors), Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (screenplay), Sergio Pablos (story) (Illumination Entertainment)
Doctor Who: ‘‘Vincent and the Doctor’’, Richard Curtis (writer), Jonny Campbell (director)
How to Train Your Dragon, Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (directors), William Davies, Dean DeBlois, & Chris Sanders (screenplay) (DreamWorks Animation)
Inception, Christopher Nolan (director), Christopher Nolan (screenplay) (Warner)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright (director), Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright (screenplay) (Universal)
Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich (director), Michael Arndt (screenplay), John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, & Lee Unkrich (story) (Pixar/Disney)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
White Cat, Holly Black (McElderry)
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press; Scholastic UK)
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, Barry Deutsch (Amulet)
The Boy from Ilysies, Pearl North (Tor Teen)
I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett (Gollancz; Harper)
A Conspiracy of Kings, Megan Whalen Turner (Greenwillow)
Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse; Simon & Schuster UK)

For more information, visit http://www.sfwa.org/

About SFWA
Founded in 1965 by the late Damon Knight, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America brings together the most successful and daring writers of speculative fiction throughout the world. Since its inception, SFWA® has grown in numbers and influence until it is now widely recognized as one of the most effective non-profit writers’ organizations in existence, boasting a membership of approximately 1,800 science fiction and fantasy writers as well as artists, editors and allied professionals. Each year the organization presents the prestigious Nebula Awards® for the year’s best literary and dramatic works of speculative fiction.

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.

Another piece of the map

For those of you who may have read the vignettes in Map for a Forgotten Valley that I published last month, another piece of that map has recently been published by Muse, a Cleveland magazine.  You can read the whole issue of Muse by visiting their website and downloading the pdf of the issue.  Along with my story, “The B&O, Crossroads of Time and Space,” the poet Nin Andrews has interviewed me for the issue as well.

Here’s a link to Muse.

And here’s a direct link to Muse 12 JAN11.

Thanks for reading!

Fall Recap

The end of autumn.  It’s been a busy semester.  The student group I advise has created an awesome new online literary magazine called “jenny”.  I posted about this a little over a month ago, and now the site is live.  We had a launch party with over a hundred people in attendance at Dorian Books on the Northside this past week, and presented the site and held excerpt readings from those writers in the issue who were local or who traveled to be at the launch.  It was an awesome evening, and the magazine has been well-received so far.  We’ve received a lot of support in the local community and people from other states and even countries (!) have sent us email saying how much they like the magazine.  We have probably a 75/25 ratio of local or regional writers to writers from the wider world in this issue, and hope to bring it to a 50/50 balance as we continue to produce more issues.  One of the main goals in the magazine is to bridge the local with the global, if possible.  I keep hearing that we live in a global world–it’s all over the internet and in magazines and newspapers, right?  But I also keep hearing this call for local cultures to be lived in, embraced, encouraged, from buying locally grown food to growing a local literary culture.  Jenny will hopefully serve to be a bifocal lens, through which we can see the local and the global in one place.  Do take a look at the first issue.  It’s really beautifully designed and I think we’re going to just keep getting better.  You can read it at www.jennymag.org.  For those readers of my blog who love SF, at least three or four of the stories in this issue should ring some of your bells.

Otherwise, my fall was busy for reasons beyond launching a new magazine.  Classes, classes, and more classes.  Lots of local events to attend and support.  I remember a time in my life not long ago when I had buckets of free time to sit within and dream for hours, but that seems like another life to me right now.  I’m looking forward to the winter break to rejuvenate and replenish my well.

I was also busy, though, because I did some rewriting on the novel I’d finished a first draft of this past summer, and I started writing a new one not long after.  A young adult novel.  I’m three chapters in and really having so much fun with it.  Not going to say much about what it’s about, though, until I get further in.  Mum’s the word for now.

Soon my Map for a Forgotten Valley series of flash nonfiction or meditations or vignettes (I’m not sure what to call them) will be published by the New Haven Review and Muse (in December, I believe), so I’ll be popping back in here to point you in the right direction soon.

Last week of classes this week.  I’m pumped for the holiday break, but I’ll also, as always, be sad to not see some of these people I’ve spent the last fifteen weeks with as often or possibly ever again.  It’s weird, being a teacher, getting close to people quickly, lots of people, and then saying goodbye to the majority of them four months later.  And then, a month after that, starting up that same process all over again.