Tag Archives: surrealist

The Crow’s Word

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I try not to put real people in the stories I write, especially not the fantasy bits. That doesn’t go for real places though. “The Crow’s Word” is my latest published novelette, which appears in the current issue of Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. The setting is the town where I went to college and currently reside. If you’re from around here, you’ll recognize several of the places. Those that are not actual places I’ve been to are places that almost certainly exist here nonetheless.

“The Crow’s Word” is a surrealistic piece about a young man, a crow, and Queen Mab. It’s about fantasy bleeding into real life, I think. This story was purchased by the first market I sent it to, which is a personal first for me, though it was mislaid for a while along the way. It’s also my first sale to the InterGalactic Medicine Show, but if the fantastic illustration it garnered is their standard treatment for fiction, I’ll definitely be sending them more pieces. (The artwork is by M. Wayne Miller.)

Check out that guy, his bird, and a fairy queen. Very cool. You can read the story (which is behind a paywall, but supporting the magazine means supporting the writers!) here.

The Wizard’s House

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I like the idea of flying castles. I’m a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (not technically a flying castle) and Castle in the Sky. I love the idea of something so heavy and earthbound given levity, drifting through the sky like a cloud. (There’s a flying castle at the beginning of Wolfe’s Wizard Knight series as well.)

That idea was the germ for writing “The Wizard’s House.” I wanted to play in a landscape similar to that of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (another Miyazaki film). I wrote this piece about a young man and his search for a wizard’s flying house, and then I wrote the second installment, called “The Unborn God.” It was the second installment that was picked up first and ran in an earlier issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, garnering a positive review from Locus. Now the “prequel” has appeared, and you can read it here.

I’m not sure how I’d categorize these stories. BCS publishes “literary adventure fantasy,” and that probably fits pretty well. I might also affix descriptions like “surrealist” or “magical realist” to these. I try to describe the fantastic elements in as concrete, everyday language as possible, as they would appear to the characters. And I’ve had quite a bit of fun with these characters: the timepiece, the wizard, and Sylva.

These were enjoyable stories to write, and I hope you enjoy reading them. My favorite parts are the descriptions of the clouds through which the characters pass on their travels. I love watching the skies from airplane windows; the shifting cartography of clouds and the landscape below. That’s what I’ve tried to capture here.

(Artwork above by Takeshi Oga.)

Polycarp on the Sea

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I still place the blame (or credit) on Gene Wolfe’s fiction for setting me on the literary track that led to the all classical pieces of writing that I should have read in high school, if not before. Until reading Wolfe, it had been possible to enjoy science fiction and fantasy and bluff my way through an understanding of the classical allusions writers made at times. With Wolfe’s writings though, this was no longer possible. I realized I needed at least a rudimentary basis of culture to catch what he was often laying out in his stories– or at least, to try to catch more of it.

So I read, among other things, Dickinson’s translation of the Aeneid. What particularly struck me was the story of Palinurus, the faithful but hapless navigator who was sacrificed at the conclusion of Book V to appease Neptune and allow the surviving Trojans safe passage to Italy. I wrote a story based on this episode, but in the strange evolution of ideas the character of Palinurus was replaced by St. Polycarp.

There are metaphors here, to be sure, and maybe I was even trying to make them: Polycarp at the helm of the early Church, perhaps. His journey toward Rome and martyrdom. Maybe it also had something to do with what other books I was reading at the time and the idea (surely misplaced) that could write about an early church father more easily than an early Latin hero.

In any case, I wrote a surrealist retelling of this episode from the Aeneid with Polycarp standing in for Palinurus. It was short, haunting, and (I thought) poignant–but it was also rather eclectic. Indeed, it wasn’t until Pulp Literature’s call went out for especially unique stories– I think the editors said something about “those stories that you’ve been hiding under your bed”– that it found a home and has now seen print.

And what lovely print it is. The folks who put together the print magazine Pulp Literature make it look easy and elegant. Their latest issue– Winter 2015— is now out and on sale, and if you pick up your copy, you’ll find my Polycarp bit, complete with illustrations.

Doooooo it. Support writers (like me). But more importantly, support the lovely people who collect stories and publish them with such love and care.

Joe the Barbarian

Joe the Barbarian Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s too not often that a book jumps off the shelf and grabs me, even though I always walk by bookshelves slowly enough to give the books plenty of opportunity. This usually happens when my wife and I find ourselves at our local Barnes and Noble. I used to feel I needed to spend time here in the history, science, or philosophy sections, just in case any students happened upon me. Now I gravitate more or less unashamedly to the graphic novels. I get grown-up books through inter-library loan when they’re not available in the public domain online, and it’s unlikely that B&N would have anything as specific as what I’m looking for anyway. But for an hour or so of casual perusal, something light, look for me in the ever-expanding graphic novel section.

Joe the Barbarian jumped off the shelf because it looked compelling and was a single volume stand-alone. (Who has the time to get invested in a serial? It’s all I can do to keep up with my beloved More than Meets the Eye.) The art is fabulous and the story is the perfect surrealist-fantasy trope, blending the lines between realism and magic in the way especially suited for graphic representation. I read half of it in a single sitting. A month or so later, when it was time to buy comic books for my brother-in-law’s birthday, I picked up two obligatory Batman titles and then perched in the magazine section with this volume once again. After getting about two-thirds of the way through it, I realized he would love it as much as I did. So I bought it, brought it home and read it, made my wife read it, and only then wrapped it.

It really is nearly flawless. Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy create a tale in which the boy-hero’s real-world home flows seamlessly into a fantasy world that mirrors and epically extends his house. The main character is Joe, who upon waking from a nap in his attic bedroom finds that he may be having a diabetic episode caused by lack of sugar or may have been transported into a magical realm. Or both. Aspects of both worlds blend back and forth. Joe has to make his way downstairs to get a soda, or he has to free the realm in which he finds himself from the darkening grip of Lord Death. Either way, the lights are going out, and Joe wanders downward through rooms and corridors and crypts and wastelands. His pet rat, Jack, becomes his companion, guide, and defender, the warrior-rat (very like I always imagined my Battle Beasts) Chakk. In the bathroom, he meets Sewer Pirates. Near the fireplace, he rests at Castle Hearth. The wonder of seeing a home through a child’s eyes, of watching Joe move back and forth between his real house and its fantastic echo, somehow reveals the magic hidden in the walls of any safe and beloved place.

There are darker aspects at play too. In the background, behind the very real crisis of Joe being home alone and possibly in serious medical trouble, there is the larger situation: his father, a soldier, has died, leaving him and his mother with a home they may not be able to save. Joe’s powerlessness in the face of these circumstances is mirrored in his hallucinations. In the magical realm he is known as the Dying Boy, a hero foreordained to defeat Lord Death, though he does not know how. There is a quest. There are friends and foes. There are spectacular vistas. There are broken doorways and falls down staircases and all the perils of childhood.

The graphic novel this reminded me of most was I Kill Giants, though whereas that was a sketch of childhood fear against the threat of cancer, this feels more complete, drawn out, and—in reality—far more colorful. It also reminded me of Gene Wolfe’s Peace, the novel in which the dead narrator wanders through rooms in a mansion that may simply be memories in his own dead skull, or The High House by James Stoddard, in which an English mansion contains limitless worlds.

I finished this book with tears in my eyes. That doesn’t happen often.

Driving East

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Well this is sort of a creepy guy, huh? He graced the cover of Lore, volume 2, issue 3, which was published back in April of 2013. Lore has an interesting flavor to it. It’s a sturdy, perfect-bound journal paying professional rates and publishing semi-regularly. The stories in it (or at least in this issue, I confess I have not read others) tend to be polished and subdued but also haunting and sometimes grotesque.

In this issue you’ll find a surrealist piece I wrote called “Driving East.” It’s about the commute I made weekly during the first couple years of graduate school. It’s also about (maybe) dying. I’d like to think the ending has something Wolfean to it, that it’s my attempt at his type of endings that are really just beginnings. It’s also the sort of story that makes my friends and family (the ones who read my work) pause and say slowly, “Well, that was interesting. But I didn’t really understand it.”

Neither did I. Sometimes they just need to be written.

To read “Driving East” you need to get your hands on a copy of this issue of Lore, which you can do here. You should do it. You’ll be supporting a smart magazine, and you’ll have that guy up there staring at you for a while.

Sword and Laser Anthology

Sword & Laser AnthologySword & Laser Anthology by Veronica Belmont

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please, judge this book by its cover. Because it is such a wicked cool one. And in this case, it’s a good indication of what you can find inside.

Sword and Laser is a “science fiction and fantasy-themed book club, video show, and podcast,” featuring Tom Merritt and Veronica Belmont, the editors of this anthology. The anthology itself consists of twenty stories split between “sword” (fantasy) and “laser” (science fiction). It is, as a good anthology should be, a hodgepodge, rough-and-tumble collection of stories with as many polished faces as jagged edges, sparking with ideas and a lot of raw enthusiasm. Its aim is showcasing new voices in the science fiction and fantasy community.

The enthusiasm is indeed palpable and refreshing. I suppose that’s what happens with a choir of fresh, new voices. Not every story is fantastic, but many are. And the beauty of an anthology is that each reader will likely differ about which stories to put within each category. If you’re a science fiction and fantasy fan, you’ll feel like you’re in a room with a bunch of friends. And they’re telling their best stories.

The ones that stood out to me were by writers who obviously know how the genre works and can have fun with it. In this vein “Partly Petrified” by Auston Habershaw, “The Same International Orange” by Luke R. Pebler, and “Honeybun” by Austin Malone were fine examples. “Honeybun” in particular I thought was a good representation of a lot of this anthology: potential. The bones of some excellent ideas that, perhaps catalyzed by inclusion in this anthology, could spiral out into something deeper and bigger. In this respect, the cover of this work is truer than perhaps anticipated: like the shelved world-bubbles in the image, there are a lot of seeds planted here.

There are glimmers of deeper waters as well. Perhaps because I’m in the midst of stitching together the bones of my own deep space endeavor, my sympathies in this anthology leaned toward the “laser” end of the book. The concepts in “Jonah’s Daughter” by Adam Callaway, “False Lights” by Victoria Hooper, and the very strong finish to the volume, David Emery’s “Only Darkness,” sounded the depths of the weirdness and the wonder that makes great science fiction shimmer.

Then there was my piece, “How Fox Fixed the Sky,” nestled in the final half of the “sword” section. It’s a fablesque epilogue to the story of Chicken Little. What if Chicken had been right and the sky was really falling? What if Fox made a knife from a fallen fragment of sky? What if he climbed through the hole to see what was beyond? I’m probably borrowing tone from Miyazaki, but Fox’s character was put to paper before I ever saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox (though if Miyazaki were to animate this story, Clooney would be a great voice for Fox). It’s surrealist and fun, maybe even a bit haunting, and if you pick up this book I hope you like the bit I contributed.

As far as I know, the anthology isn’t yet available for general purchase. I think it’s gone out to the contributors and the folks who backed Sword and Laser’s next season via Kickstarter. Check back here for updates though, because as soon as I know how you can get your hungry mitts on a copy (besides coming over here and borrowing mine), I’ll let you know.

UPDATE: Sword and Laser Anthology is available for purchase (electronic or traditional format) here. Buy a copy! Support fledgling writers and good science fiction! If you buy a paper copy I’ll promise not to drive its value down by trying to sign it.