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.

Quick Notes: Poetry Planet podcast, & Tiptree Anthology 99 Cents

A few quick notes for this week.

Poetry Planet podcast

Diane Severson puts together the poetry planet podcast that aired recently in this episode of starship sofa. She includes my poem, “Terrible Lizards,” which is about — as you might expect — dinosaurs. She asked me to include an anecdote about it:

Dinosaur eye1) I love dinosaurs. I never went through a dinosaur phase as a kid, but my husband never got over his, so when I met him in college, I got to have a late dinosaur phase, which we still enjoy together.

2) I was driving cross-country through the midwest (well, my husband was driving and I was passengering) and staring out of the windows at all the flat land, and trying to visualize cool things walking through it, which my husband can do and which I mostly can’t. Then I saw one of those huge irrigation devices and realized it was about dinosaur-sized. I never got the visualization trick down, but I can do the imagining with words thing.

Listen here.

Tiptree Anthology available at 99 cents:

Last year, I was honored to participate in the anthology project Letters to Tiptree.

Letters to TiptreeFor nearly a decade, between 1968 and 1976, a middle-aged woman in Virginia (her own words) had much of the science fiction community in thrall. Her short stories were awarded, lauded and extremely well-reviewed. They were also regarded as “ineluctably masculine”, because Alice Sheldon was writing as James Tiptree Jr.

In celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Alice Sheldon’s birth, and in recognition of the enormous influence of both Tiptree and Sheldon on the field, Twelfth Planet Press has published a selection of thoughtful letters written by science fiction and fantasy’s writers, editors, critics and fans to celebrate her, to recognise her work, and maybe in some cases to finish conversations set aside nearly thirty years ago.

I gave my answer in the form of a poem.

If you’re a Tiptree fan, now is the time to buy the book–until March 31, it’s available at 99 cents.

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.

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.