Flashback to 2008: “Marrying the Sun”

For a while, I was linking weekly (from my twitter and facebook) to stories of mine from the past decade. I let it lapse, but I thought I’d pick it up again on some Mondays. So:

Marrying the Sun,” published in 2008 by Fantasy Magazine.

I wrote this story because of a prompt from Vylar Kaftan. She gave me the opening line:

The wedding went well until the bride caught fire.

I’ve been obsessed with Greek mythology since I was a kid, which might be why my first, strange thought was to pair the burning bride with the Greek sun god, Helios.

marked for reuse from this site: http://moonstarsandpaper.blogspot.com/2006_10_01_archive.htmlBridget’s pretty white dress went up in a whoosh, from train-length veil to taffeta skirt to rose-embroidered bodice and Juliet cap with ferronière of pearls. The fabric burned so hot and fast that it went up without igniting Bridget’s skin, leaving her naked, singed, embarrassed, and crying.

Of these problems, nudity was easiest to cope with. Bridget pulled the silk drape off the altar and tied it around her chest like a toga.

“That is it,” she said. She pried the engagement ring off her finger and threw it at the groom. The grape-sized diamond sparkled as it arced through the air.

Gathering up the drape’s hem, Bridget ran back down the aisle. She flung open the double doors, letting in the moonlight, and fled into the night.

The groom sighed. He opened his palm and stared down at the glittering diamond, which reflected his fiery nimbus in shades of crimson, ginger, and gold. His best man patted him on the shoulder—cautiously. The bride’s father gave a manly nod of sympathy, but kept his distance. Like his daughter, he was mortal.

“Too bad, Helios,” said Apollo.

The groom shrugged. “I gave it my best shot. I can’t keep my flame on low all the time. What did the woman want? Sometimes a man’s just got to let himself shine.”

I don’t do a lot of humor, but with that opening line, what can you do?

I workshopped this during my last semester at Iowa where it got good reception from the other students. No one seemed to mind much that it was fantasy. I really do think the boundaries are dissolving–which I love, because I hope it means more people will be able to find more fiction they’re excited about.

Also, that means it’s been 8 years since I graduated from my MFA. Weird.

This was one of my first breakthrough stories, though the big breakthroughs–“Eros, Philia, Agape” and “A Memory of Wind”–came out the next year. Jonathan Strahan picked it for his Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 3.

If you read it, I hope you enjoy.

 

Kind Words for My Stories

Thank you to the reviewers.

Quicksip reviews writes about “Love Is Never Still:”

It’s mythic in its scope and in its characters but there’s also something deeply human about it (something that can be said about a lot of Greek mythology, I suppose), something that shows how love can lift up and love can shatter. The characters are compelling even as they are presented in breathes, brief touches that become a tapestry of longing and violence and design. The two storylines balance each other quite nicely, showing love as pursued, and women especially as objects that aren’t really considered people, are there to be fought over or prayed for.

John Wiswell writes about “Between Dragons and Their Wrath:”

No short story has haunted me more in the last month than this. The dragons are a metaphysical terror, casting a shadow of mutations across the landscape of two absolutely lovely characters. With scenes whipping by, each has a punch, even in the last line.

Reviewing The Nebula Showcase 2015, Craig Owen Jones writes that “The Nebulas are not about elitism, but about giving a platform to good sci-fi stories.”

As usual, there’s much here of worth. The winner of the Best Short Story category, Rachel Swirsky’s ‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love’, is a moving and elegiac tale of lost love. Elegantly expressed and formally perfect, it builds delightfully to its poignant climax.[.]

 

 

New to the Net: “Monstrous Embrace”

Continuing my theme of reporting late on my news–for the first time, “Monstrous Embrace” is online in print, courtesy of Lightspeed Magazine.

The first line came to me in one of those strange, clear moments:

The_Perilous_Compassion_of_the_Honey_Queen_by_Carrie_Ann_BaadeI am ugliness in body and bone, breath and heartbeat. I am muddy rocks and jagged scars snaking across salt-sown fields. I am insect larvae wriggling inside the great dead beasts into which they were born. Too, I am the hanks of dead flesh rotting. I am the ungrateful child’s sneer, the plague sore bursting, the swing of shadow beneath the gallows rope. Ugliness is my hands, my feet, my fingernails. Ugliness is my gaze, boring into you like a worm into rotting fruit.

Listen to me, my prince. Tomorrow, when dawn breaks and you stand in the chapel accepting your late father’s crown, your fate will be set. Do nothing and you will be dead by sundown. Your kingdom will be laid waste, its remnants preserved only in the bellies of carrion birds.

There is another option. Marry me.

The voice on this story was driving. It forced me rapidly through the story. Although I did a lot of revision later, I wrote the whole first draft in a few fluid hours. That’s rare enough for me to savor.

You can also find an audio version at PodCastle.

New Story: “Between Dragons and Their Wrath”

February is always one of the busiest months for me. This February was so busy that I didn’t remember to click “post” on the entry I’d written about my new story in Clarkesworld Magazine, “Between Dragons and Their Wrath.” I wrote it with my former student, An Owomoyela.

Fourteen-year-old Domei lives in a world jagged with the dangerous, magical scraps from someone else’s war:

Henri Rousseau, Il Sogno, cropped

In the forest, scales are most common. If they cut you, the cut will never stop bleeding.

If you step in a place where a dragon has defecated, food will stream through your body, and you will always be hungry. If you pass a place where a dragon breathed fire, your skin will forever blister and heal and then blister again. If you touch a dragon’s blood, you’ll go mad.

As for me, I was harvesting scales. With a scale, you can till the land faster than anyone using an iron hoe. You can butcher meat in a tenth the time it takes to use a knife. There are good things about dragon leavings, and for those good things, I usually get paid enough to eat.

Scales are common. Everyone knows about those. It was something else that got me.

This story began with a draft An wrote years ago. Last summer, they handed it to me, and I worked on the plot and characters. It was interesting starting with material that wasn’t mine, trying to understand the inside of the story enough to be able to continue and enhance the work that’s already there. I don’t think of An and myself as particularly similar writers, but I think we may approach structure the same way. It’s easier for me to put myself intuitively into their stories than it has been for other people I’ve tried this exercise with. (I do hope that some of those attempts will lead to other published stories also.)

Another excerpt (almost totally written by An):

red dragon cropDuring the war, the Andé slaughtered a big dragon the size of a mountain. They dropped its liver and gall on Hizhang. Bile poisoned the earth, poisoned the air, poisoned the people and the children of the people, and is still poisoning them now. People born in Hizhang have probably never seen a dragon, but they don’t need to.

Every dusk, the cows start lowing from Hizhang. But there are no longer cows in Hizhang.

You see, we were lucky.

The story is also available in audio, narrated by Kate Baker.

Favorite Fiction Recommendation: “Her Husband’s Hands” by Adam Troy-Castro

Her Husband’s Hands” by Adam Troy-Castro, originally published in 2011, was honored with a Nebula nomination. The story was one of my picks as well as that of the membership at large. It’s a disturbing story, no doubt about it. At the time, I wrote (rephrased somewhat to make the writing sharper):

A war widow receives bad news from the front: her husband is dead. However, they’ve managed to save his hands, and only his hands… It’s dark, intensely written, and intimately and compassionately characterized

From the story:

Her husband’s hands came home on a Friday. Rebecca had received word of the attack, which had claimed the lives of seven other soldiers in his unit and reduced three others to similar, minimal fractions of themselves: One man missing above the waist, another missing below, a third neatly halved, like a bisected man on display in an anatomy lab.

The Veteran’s Administration had told her it could have been worse. The notification officer had reminded her of Tatum, the neighbor’s daughter so completely expunged by her own moment under fire that only a strip of skin and muscle remained: A section of her thigh, about the size and shape of a cigarette pack, returned to her parents in a box and now living in their upstairs room, where it made a living proofreading articles on the internet. That’s no life, the notification officer said. But Bob, he pointed out, was a pair of perfect hands, amputated from the body at the wrists but still capable of accomplishing many great things. And there was always the cloning lottery. The chances were a couple of million to one, but it was something to hope for, and stranger things had happened.

Around 2011, there was a strong trend of stories about processing PTSD. It’s still a theme now, but it was even more dominant then. At 6,000 words, it’s a lot of emotional impact in a small space.

New Story: “Love Is Never Still”

Love Is Never Still” just came out in Issue 9 of Uncanny Magazine, a story about Galatea and Aphrodite, and their broken, bittersweet love affairs. The story begins with the sculptor’s perspective:

Pygmalion & Galatea“I’ve loved other sculptures. Though I’m not yet old, I have worked diligently at my art, and so have loved hundreds. I have loved leaping horses and dour-faced spearmen and exotic animals pieced together from sailors’ descriptions.

Galatea is my culmination. From the beginning, winnowing the ivory to her form has felt more like discovery than invention. Our bodies move together in conversation; mine contorts as I twist and crouch to discover precise angles, and she emerges from my labor.”

This took me about four months of intense concentration to write because it features about fifteen perspectives (the number went up and down while I was drafting) and the writing is very precise. Sometimes it felt like I was writing a really long poem. I actually wrote part of the story in verse (iambic pentameter), but my friend Barry Deutsch rightly convinced me that it slowed the story way down.

I’ll try to tempt you to read with another passage, this time from Galatea’s perspective:

Forms of AphroditeBirth is pain, and I have been twice born. First I was an egg of ivory until he struck away the pieces that were not me and cracked me open. Later, the goddess touched me with her fiery fingertips and melted away the good, solid quiet of my soul. She made me into hot, fragile skin, always beating with blood.

What misery it is to crack at the seams, to be forever bending and reshaping. Once, my body held its place in the world; once, it stood in perfect, unchanging balance. Now I am walking, stumbling, falling, sitting, smiling, resting, startling, kneeling, offering, dressing, approaching, avoiding.

My sculptor is nearby, but turns his face away. I chew a cube of cheese and swallow. Even my insides move.

Read here.

2015 Recommendations for Young Adult and Middle Grade SF/F Novels

(I was reading this year for the Norton Award. For those who don’t know, the Norton Award is given annually by SFWA (alongside the Nebulas, although it is technically not a Nebula award) to a young adult or middle grade novel that has science fiction or fantasy themes. This year, I read about seventy-five young adult and middle grade novels that met the criteria. Some I solicited and some I bought, but most were review copies or ARCs sent by publishers for the jury to consider.)

As always, I didn’t have a chance to read everything I wanted to (although I got a lot closer with this category than I have in previous years). And because of the way I organized my reading, there are some books around the house which are by friends  and by people whose writing I’ve enjoyed in the past, which I still haven’t read. Also, as always, there are more wonderful things than I can possibly do justice when writing a single post.

Take My Breath Away

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (young adult) – After seeing his good friend Rosza kidnapped by a mysterious man, Finn is viewed with suspicion by his small rural town which thinks he’s lying about what happened. I can’t do justice to the plots and characters in this book with a short review; they are so intelligent and unusual. Brushing in a few points: Finn’s girlfriend is an exceptional character. I was impressed by the sustained emotional strength of Rosza’s perspective during the chapters in which she is imprisoned, and doubly impressed by the way Ruby writes about sexual abuse and trauma in a pragmatic, realistic, non-romanticized or -eroticized way. (It strikes me that people who liked that about Jessica Jones will likely find interesting parallels here.) Finn himself is an excellent, unusual character, with a very different voice than Rosza’s. Finn is also rendered with an intelligent eye toward avoiding stereotypes of men–for instance, he seeks creative solutions instead of using violence as a first resort. My favorite piece was how deep his friendship was with Rosza, even though it wasn’t romantic. I could write at length about that if I were inclined and willing to include spoilers. Anyway, this is a smart book with absolutely beautiful prose, intelligent storytelling, strong imagery, unusual characters, and an unpredictable, thoughtful plot. It’s not structured perfectly, but it’s excellence on other points drowns that minor objection.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (young adult) – This story is told from the alternating perspectives of two young women, one a prisoner and the other a ballerina. Their lives are tied together by a third young woman–Ori, also called the “bloody ballerina.” Once, Ori and the ballerina main character were friends, but after Ori was convicted for murder, she was plucked from her dancer’s life and put into the prisoner’s cell. Both perspective characters love Ori, but the way they treat people is very different. This ghost story works because of the close, detailed characterization of the two point of view characters. Their similar traits and similar drives are initially masked by differences in their accents and attitudes, but slowly revealed as the tension rises. The two unreliable narrators do their best to obfuscate, forcing the reader to almost fight against them as they read, trying to get a clearer picture of events. Ori is never seen in herself, always pinging back and forth between the idealization of first one main character and then the other, a sort of pixie dream girl concocted by their mutual imaginations. The whole book is a game of secrets–characters lying to themselves, others, history–disposable lies, treasured lies–events that are hidden, or misportrayed, or misunderstood. My mental image of the book is of looking at a beautiful nighttime scene through misted glass, watching as it slowly, mostly clears. The prose is gorgeous. The audio recording is excellent, too.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge (young adult) – This was a fragile, dreamlike sort of novel that I have trouble keeping altogether in my head–pieces of it seem to slip away, and other pieces are vivid images, disjointed. That’s pretty apropos given the subject of the book, which is about a fairy changeling inhabiting the body of a constructed doll which has been set in the place of a kidnapped girl. At first, she does not know who or what she is, and the book follows her confused emergence from what she thinks is a “fever.” It soon becomes apparent that her confusion is more than a mild physical ailment, but a magical problem–her first clue is an eerie scene where porcelain dolls try to attack her. The Victorian mood and setting details enhance the story, evoking older children’s stories where adults and children are in different spheres. Despite that barrier, the relationships between the family members were a great element of the book: the doggedly loving (if necessarily clueless) parents, often a rarity in YA, and the strong relationship between sisters. The novel’s mood and characterization are excellent, and the language remarkably lovely.

Some Favorites

Wonders of the Invisible World by Chris Barzak (young adult) – When Aidan’s childhood best friend returns to town, Aidan doesn’t recognize him. Then, he does. As a sort of forgetting spell tatters, he learns about pieces of his life he’s forgotten, magic he can do and has seen done, his family history, and secret worlds. The characterization is slow and detailed, drawing each character in a carefully observed way. Language is honed to convey characters’ moods and thoughts through their descriptions, speech, and word choice, giving the book a subtle and layered texture. For me, the book was too bulky in sections, and I think a trimmer version could have retained the intricate characters while eliminating some repetition.

Fallout: Lois Lane by Gwenda Bond (young adult) – I rarely read tie-in novels as an adult, but this is an example of how good the genre can be. In Fallout, Lois Lane–a high school student reporter with a record for being resistant to authority–stakes out her own identity as a character. She’s driven and smart as she sets her sights on injustices and pursues them with vigor, regardless of physical danger. The little descriptions of the classrooms, clothing, and high school life place the reader strongly, and the technology in particular gives the old comic book world a new gloss. Writing that’s good, intelligent fun sometimes gets short shrift–and this is a great example of good, intelligent fun.

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (young adult) – This strongly voiced historical novel tells the story of a young woman who can magically sense gold the way a dowser can magically sense water. Her parents know the talent is dangerous, but they haven’t disguised her abilities as well as they think they have–one day when the main character comes home, she finds her parents murdered. After their deaths, she’s pursued by their killer, who intends to use her talent for his own purposes. Dressing as a man to avoid capture, she travels west by covered wagon to join the gold rush. The characterization is good here, as are the main character’s voice, and the historical language and descriptions. The plot is tense, often on a razor’s edge as anyone who’s ever played Oregon Trail knows–anyone could die, anytime, of so, so many things. It felt a bit overwritten to me; I would have appreciated it more in a somewhat sleeker version. Also, for readers who are interested in such things, the speculative element is very light; the historical content is more dominant than the fantasy.

Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish by Barry Deutsch (middle grade) – I’ll stipulate here that Barry is a very good friend of mine so I’m not objective here at all. That said, I really adore the Hereville series which is about the magical adventures of Mirka, an eleven-year-old Hassidic Jewish girl who wants to wield swords and find monsters. Magic isn’t all the glamor and fun that adventurous Mirka wants it to be; instead, she finds herself in irritating tangles that magic only makes messier. In How Mirka Caught a Fish, she and her five year old sister, Layele, encounter a fish who has both the capacity to grant wishes–and a thirty-year grudge against their family. The book is warm and humorous, and this entry in the series has particular emotional depth as a marker on Mirka’s path to adulthood.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Gaudin (young adult) – Yael wants to kill Hitler. And yes, it is a good novel anyway. This novel presents an alternate timeline where Hitler won the war. Instead of extrapolating into the present day, Graudin chooses instead to write about the European resistance movement that would have followed Hitler’s rise to power. The book avoids the weird moralizing of most alternate universe and time travel Hitler-killer stories by being set where and when it is. Yael is a Holocaust victim seeking revenge in her immediate life; she isn’t relating to Hitler as an abstract symbol of evil. In the camps, Yael was subject to Nazi experiments which made her a shape-shifter–and the perfect person to assassinate Hitler. For various plot reasons (the novel’s action often stretches the probable, but not in a way that seems inconsistent with genre norms), in order to get close to Hitler she has to disguise herself as a motorcycle rider and win an important national race. Yael’s active, competent, stoic character provides a compelling point of view that keeps the discussion of motorcycle mechanics interesting. One of the most palpable joys of this novel is the sensory and setting descriptions of the cyclists’ journey across the continent. Wolf by Wolf is a great blend of fun and smart.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (middle grade) – The darned thing about graphic novels if you make them is that they take so long to draw. The nice thing about graphic novels if you read them is they take such a light, enjoyable time to peruse. (And are often rewarding on reread.) Nimona has an art style that looks effortless, but no doubt requires hours of intense labor–which I can breeze through in minutes. Nimona, a teenage girl, wants to be evil. Specifically, she wants to be a villain’s sidekick. She doesn’t have the same ethical barriers that he does, though, and he has to train her how to be a moral villain. There’s a strong backbone of story, and the characters are evocative and easy to empathize with. I got a bit teary eyed at the end. In addition to the emotional substance, there are also a lot of sly snickers, like scenes with Nimona and the villain watching a movie together.

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (middle grade) – This middle grade book is sprinkled with illustrations by the excellent, quirky, and hilarious artist/author. As a great fan of Ursula Vernon’s, I expect they are wonderful. However, I read a version without them, so my experience of the book was incomplete. As I read Castle Hangnail, I couldn’t help picturing an animated version. Perhaps Pixar? Oh, better yet, stop animation like Wallace and Grommit. The novel tells the story of a young girl who has come to take possession of Castle Hangnail, a villainous lair which is on the verge of being shut down if it cannot find a resident evil person to master it. She volunteers, but the staff suspect of her not really being a witch, which she isn’t. Her struggles to conceal her lack of a magical nature, while simultaneously performing feats of “magic,” ensue. The characters are distinct, colorful, and loveable. The humor is downright silly, but also sometimes sly, giving the narrative a hint of Roald Dahl edge. This book didn’t quite make it to “transcendent” for me, but it was pretty darn great.

Great Reads

Nomad by William Alexander (middle grade) – Sequel to Ambassador which I reviewed in last year’s list. It’s still “a contemporary and fanciful science fiction novel about a young American boy with Mexican parents who is chosen by a strange alien creature to become the ambassador for the earth”–only this time, instead of fumbling to learn what’s going on, he’s out in space negotiating with aliens. It’s still whimsical and fun, and still has a smart, caring main character who often solves problems with logic and empathy.

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet (young adult) – Our main character, a young woman, lives in a town recently exhausted by war. Even her brother-in-law was claimed as a soldier, leaving her very pregnant sister alone, and making it difficult for them to manage the farm. Their troubles worsen when the main character discovers a “twisted” creature from some kind of fae-like dimension beyond ours. Where the two worlds touch, they spread contamination and destruction. The main character’s dogged attempts to save her farm in the face of supernatural dangers are interesting, but I was most interested in her relationship with her sister. I found the climax a little strained, and started to lose interest in the adventure plotline, but that’s common for me. Interesting world-building detail tucked in the background: it seems to be a post-apocalyptic setting.

Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly (young adult) – Tina brings her charming brand of humor to young adult novels with this story of a witch’s unwilling apprentice who has to balance life in servitude to an evil witch with A) her conscience, and B) high school. The main character and the voice are charming, and I enjoyed many of the background details about the world. It was a fun reading experience, but looking at it with a more critical eye, there were a number of gags I’d seen before, and the book invoked some stereotypes about high school. So, I have some complaints, but it was good fun.

Death Marked by Leah Cypess (young adult) – I really like Leah’s YA. I think I’ve had one of her books on my list almost every year. (I wrote about the first book in this series last year.) The sequel is about a young woman who is at the center of an anti-imperial resistance movement. (Now I’m starting to sound like Star Wars. Sorry.) Anyway, she’s a sorceress who has been trained in elaborate spellcasting techniques, but has no power of her own–only she can fight the empire with magic. In the previous book, she was learning about her place in the world while she lived among the assassins who, like her, opposed the empire. In this book, she has infiltrated the empire as one of its top students in magic. As she meets the people her revolution wants her to kill, she has to grapple with her conscience, knowing neither choice is clean. I think I liked this one better than the first which is rare for me. The scenes where the main character is learning magic are particularly interesting; I’m a sucker for those kinds of scenes in lots of books. Leah does secondary world, epic fantasy really well.

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst (middle grade) – Sarah Beth Durst is a delightful writer who tackles different subjects and moods in almost every book. In The Girl Who Could Not Dream, she’s writing humorous urban fantasy for a middle grade audience. The main character can’t dream herself, but she comes from a family of people who collect, distill and sell dreams. Because she can’t dream, she has a special power: She can bring pieces of other people’s dreams to life. Sometimes that’s okay, such as when she brought forth her quirky and useful pet Monster. Other times… The story begins when someone wants to use her as a weapon, to bring those “other times” through into the world. A great, fun, funny adventure read, which I definitely recommend for bringing to kids who like magic and reading and silliness. I suspect it would overlap well with Harry Potter.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (young adult) – A dying teenage girl has a rare, undiagnosable disease, which is causing her to drown in the air. She’s in love with a boy, but they both know it’s doomed, the moreso as her symptoms get worse. She’s dreaming of sky cities, and coughing up feathers, and hearing birds talk to her. He finds a description of mythological sky cities populated by bird people. Though they dismiss the possibility, when the main character dies, she finds herself alive again among the city bird people, breathing freely for the first time in her life. The language is clever, with Headley’s skill at choosing the right words to be razors while others are sly and clever. The imagery is beautiful. The main character is melodramatic as hell, but has a right to be as a teenager with a fatal illness. She seemed very true to the kind of artsy, emotional teenagers I knew, although thankfully we weren’t tested by such extremity. I found myself much less interested when she went into the sky. I don’t know if that’s because the language changed (it wasn’t as sly or referential since her experiences were no longer earthbound), because I’m sometimes adventure-averse (I generally find characters more interesting), or because the two pieces just didn’t fit together (I may have impressed on the first part and not been ready to leave). The book didn’t work for me as a whole, but it was interesting.

Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kohrner-Stace (young adult) – This was among the first young adult novels I read this year,so I don’t remember it very sharply. I remember liking the main character, and also the world. The story moves through two major parts–one is a post-apocalyptic landscape in which the main character is a ghost catcher. (She has some really cool interactions with ghosts.) In the other, she enters the afterlife. The first sections were much more interesting to me; I was compelled by the mix of magic and post-apocalyptic signs. The ghost realm was nicely enough done, but seemed less unusual, and I found it a disappointment after the first, vivid setting.

Razorhurst by Justine Larbelestier (young adult) – The novel follows impoverished teens through a violent neighborhood in 1930s Australia. Great historical stuff, neat language, some really nice character moments. Moved a bit slowly for me, and I wasn’t interested in the main plot. I was much more interested in the speculative element which I hope is featured more strongly in the next book.

Mad Hatters, Jews, and Aliens: What I Published in 2015

I didn’t publish much in 2015. People who know me well will know that I’ve been dealing with health issues (and related writers block) for a few years now. I hope last year was the nadir, as far as publishing goes–I already have three stories scheduled for 2016 so I can hope the trend continues! But on to 2015:

Have you ever wondered who would win in Jews versus Aliens? I haven’t, actually, but apparently Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene did. The resulting book is a charity anthology, supporting caretakers and children who have been sexually abused. My entry, “The Reluctant Jew,” is about a starship engineer who is drafted against his will to explain Judaism to many-tentacled aliens who prefer to eat the yamulkes.

I’m exceedingly proud of my other short story, “Tea Time,” which came out in Lightspeed in December. I wrote a bit about it on my blog:  It’s an R-rated Alice in Wonderland riff about the Mad Hatter’s love affair with the March Hare.

Begin at the beginning:

His many hats. Felt derbies in charcoal and camel and black. Sporting caps and straw boaters. Gibuses covered in corded silk for nights at the theatre. Domed bowlers with dashingly narrow brims. The ratty purple silk top hat, banded with russet brocade, that he keeps by his bedside.

The march hare, each foreleg as strong as an ox’s, bucking and hopping and twitching his whiskers. Here, there, somewhere else, leading his hatter a merry dance between tables. Rogering by the mahogany slipper chair. Knocking by the marble bust of the Queen of Hearts. Upending rose-patterned porcelain so that it smashes on the grass, white and pink fragments scattering like brittle leaves.

Fur, soft and lush. Warmth like spring. That prey-quick heartbeat, thump-thump, thump-thump.

I started writing something absurd because I love absurdity, but it became a meditation on time and love. I hope people enjoy reading it; I enjoyed writing it.

New Story, “Tea Time,” in Lightspeed Magazine

A new story of mine, “Tea Time,” is now available from Lightspeed Magazine.

It is never polite to go out-of doors without a hat. One’s hat should remain on one’s head no matter the extremity. Even if the rest of one’s clothing should happen to be removed by some improbable whim of the weather, such as a particularly dexterous gale with a penchant for buttons, one must be sure to hold one’s hat fixedly on one’s head.

 

The hatter is a poor man. He has no hats of his own. Those he keeps on his head or in his house are merely inventory, soon to be shuffled away when a purchaser is found.

“Tea Time” is a retelling of sorts, about the Hatter and the Hare from Alice in Wonderland, and their endless tea time. Alice in Wonderland is one of those stories that always gets in my head and stays there. My parents are fans. I have an annotated copy from just after my father was born, filled with pencil notes, which my parents gave me while I was writing this story. When he was in college, my father colored a black light poster of Alice on the chess grounds, which still hangs in their kitchen.

As a child, I watched many televised Alice retellings. I’ve always been fond of retellings because of the way different people — and different actors — choose to reinterpret a text; there’s so much living, interesting variance. I had Alice Blue Dress, Alice Disney, Alice Orange Dress (it was a bit of a revelation to realize she didn’t have to be in blue!). Carol Channing was in one of them as the White Queen. My favorite these days as an adult is a Broadway production from 1983 featuring Nathan Lane as a rat who is almost drowned by Alice’s tears. It’s a somber, adult version of the tale, which begins with Alice smoking as she stares into her dressing room mirror, somber if not dead-eyed.

Alice is a story that translates well from young to old, innocent to mature. Unlike The Wizard of Oz (which I also like quite a bit) in which Dorothy is repeatedly described in blushing, innocent, girlish terms, Alice is unsentimentally portrayed. She’s an interesting but flawed heroine, not sugar and spice. I have a particular love for child characters who are written as sharp and strange, the way real children are, rather than the rosy cherubs we adults want them to be.

Rereading Alice in Wonderland as an adult also shows how sharp and intelligent the prose is! There’s a reason the story works on a lot of levels, and that’s because it was written that way. There’s the adventure, but there’s also strange meditations on the nature of reality and growing up, and it hasn’t lost any of its edge since it was written.

“Tea Time” isn’t about Alice — she shows up a couple times in the background as an annoyance to the Hatter and Hare. Instead, it’s about the two of them, and how characters might navigate a surreal, inconsistent world. I started writing something absurd because I love absurdity, but it eventually tracked into a meditation about love and time.

Q: Why is a raven like a writing desk?

A: Because they both have quills.

 

Q: Why is a vain woman like a hatter?

A: Because they both love their hare.

 

Q: Why is tea time like eternity?

A: One begins with tea and the other ends with it.

You can read the story for free online, or listen to the podcast narrated by Stefan Rudnicki (available on the same page).

CW: Rated R, lots of Victorian slang about sex.