My Girl: 21 Years

This past Thursday, November 18, Sherry and I celebrated our 21st Wedding Anniversary. In hindsight, this post should have been made last year, but 2020 was a season in hell, and it slipped my mind.

Anyway, Sherry Martha Chmielewski is the best thing that ever happened to me, and I aim never to forget this.

I love you, woman; I’ve always loved you, since before either of us was ever born.

Review: Elizabeth Hand

Here is my latest book review. As many of you know, I rarely write book reviews, but when I do, they fall into one of two categories:

BOOKS I PARTICULARLY ENJOY

BOOKS WITH FALSE INFORMATION

This one falls into the former category .

An inside look into the process of a gifted author: Elizabeth Hand

(WARNING: THIS BOOK REVIEW CONTAINS SOME PARTIAL SPOILERS)

Published in 2017 by PM Press, Outspoken Authors: Elizabeth Hand is a revelation of a first-class literary stylist who is, like many geniuses, very humble about her accomplishments.


The book opens with Hand’s classic story, “The Saffron Gatherers,” which pulls you along quietly by the hand. It is ostensibly a love story, a meditation on the beauty of ancient art, and a commentary about San Francisco’s expensive housing. It is Hands poetic use of language that ratchets up the pleasure. Just as the reader thinks that this romantic fable will work out fine for both lovers, you abruptly find yourself reading an apocalyptic tale that leaves you in a state of shock.

The next story, “Fire,” has never before seen print. Without giving too much of it away, it is a tale about hope in the face of certain annihilation. “Fire,” like “The Saffron Gatherers,” seems to address apocalypse, which makes perfect sense, as in the next article, “Beyond Belief: On Becoming A Writer” and in her interview with Terry Bisson, Elizabeth Hand reveals her serious anxieties about climate change (NOTE: Hand’s groundbreaking novel, Glimmering, is the first work of fiction to directly acknowledge the reality of climate change.)

“Beyond Belief” reveals the evolution of a literary iconoclast. Her experiences, adventures, tragedies, and yes, traumas, all play integral parts in the formation of a literary artist, who places the importance of Character and Setting over Plot, contrary to the popular wisdom regarding storytelling. She is a poetic storyteller.

Hand discusses her process in “Beyond Belief” and her interview with Terry Bison, “Flying Squirrels in the Rafters.” Revision. Endless revision. She states, likely tongue-in-cheek, that she would like to be able to keep revising her books even after they have landed on bookstore shelves. To learn more about her literary ethos, writers in particular will want to read the sections mentioned above.

Between ” Beyond Belief” and ” Flying Squirrels…” is “Kronia,” a an eerily wonderful love story that jaunts through space and time. Hand’s lyrical prose style is present throughout.

Perhaps the most affecting (and tragic) pieces are her two essays, “The Woman Men Didn’t See,” and another titled simply, and affectionately, “Tom Disch.”

“The Woman Men Didn’t See” pulls back the curtain on one of science fiction’s most visionary writers, James Tiptree, Jr, who in his private life is, in fact, a woman named Alice Sheldon. Her experiences as a child are terrifying. His birth as part of the new wave in science fiction is to our good fortune, as readers of a genre which was going stale in the 1960s and early 70s would attest. Her stories were less a breath of fresh air, and more a savage multiple stabbing of the reader and the science fiction establishment, in general. Alas, James Tiptree, Jr’s story is a tragic one. For more on Tiptree Jr, I recommend purchasing Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr, a collection of 18 of the most terrifying science fiction stories you are likely to read (available from Tachyon Publications.) To learn more about the life and tragic end of Alice Sheldon, read James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, by Julia Phillips (National Book Award.)

At last, we come to, perhaps, the saddest, most personal, and loving essay about another iconoclastic writer, “Tom Disch.” One is given the strong impression that Elizabeth Hand knew Thomas M. Disch as more than merely an essay topic. His fiction largely involved contemplations of death and suicide.(Recommended works by Thomas M. Disch include On Wings of Song and Camp Concentration.)

The last pages have an extensive (and impressive) Bibliography oof Ms. Hand’s work current up till 2017.

The worst realization


I am never going to receive Medicare or Social Security. I didn’t work enough legitimate, real “jobs” to earn sufficient work credits. I was truly disabled by depression, anxiety, and social phobias by the time I was 25.

So Instead, I turned my efforts to writing and visual arts for the preponderance of my life. Usually, I worked 10 hour days at this, especially the drawings, which could be intricate and involving. I declared my paltry income on my tax returns. I sometimes received refunds (that, I will never understand) though also paltry. But most of the time, I would not be able to file b/c I have always been below the poverty line.

Because I have chosen unemployable creativity as my life’s work, my future is quite bleak. I am fortunate that my mother and my wife can pool their resources in order to buy me health insurance. Now my mother may be dying (pneumonia, again), but hopefully she will pull through, but I cannot walk downstairs to help her. Poor Sherry is sleeping downstairs to keep an ear open, should my mum call for help. Sherry is a saint, one who has saved my life (literally, not hyperbole) several times.

Today, I am reminded of the very gifted author, A.R. Morlan and her tragic end. All of that talent was insufficient to earn her enough money in order to buy health insurance. She died alone and in pain.

This is intolerable. Even when Democrats are in office and in control of both houses of Congress, this issue is overlooked. I fear that if this does not change, many gifted, hardworking writers and artists will also meet a very bad end. And I (though of mediocre talent) will almost certainly be among them.

Review: “The Shelter” by James Everington

A Coming-of-Age Nightmare

“The Shelter,” James Everington’s first novella-length publication, is proof positive that good writing can be found on Amazon’s self-publishing platform.

Told from the point-of-view of Alan Dean, a boy on the cusp of adolescence, it initially recounts how he and his closest friend, Duncan, have been unaccountably befriended by two older boys who once delighted in bullying them. It’s clear that on some level, Alan and Duncan are flattered by this strange bonding, one between two otherwise lonely pairs. That the two older boys, who still occasionally pick on the younger ones, might grow bored with them altogether, is a worry for Alan. There is, however, another dynamic in play: the smarter of the elder boys seemingly has an affinity for Alan, the second most intelligent of the four.

The day they set out to examine a WWII air-raid shelter, Alan knows something dark awaits them there. As they walk the long distance to this site, there is some discussion about a local boy gone missing. Once the boys reach the eponymous shelter, the pace quickens, but with a steady hand. In the end, the lives of these four are changed irrevocably, and Alan traumatized by what he finds in the dark, both figuratively and literally.

The inevitable comparisons to Stephen King’s “The Body,” another coming-of-age tale, begin and end with four boys setting out on an adventure. “The Shelter,” however, has an altogether darker tone. The children seem far less innocent, the destination painted by a presentiment of coming terrors, and cruelty honed to a significantly sharper edge. Everington manages all this admirably, with perhaps a bit too much foreshadowing, but still an enjoyable descent into nightmare country—certainly moreso than “The Body.”

Clearly, James Everington is a name one can expect to hear for some time to come.

The Art of Mary

This post is all about drawings based upon the fiction of Mary SanGiovanni.


This older author portrait shows us Mary’s first successful entity, The Hollower.

Hollower Author Portrait

This next one was the result of a sudden inspiration.

The Lovecraftian Portrait

This next drawing was inspired by Chills, the very first Kathy Ryan novel.

 

 

This was inspired by Savage Woods.

Savage Woods

 
The following was my artwork for Mary’s chapbook “The Thirty-Seven Parts of Albie Meunsch,” my first successful collaboration with Mary:

The Thirty-Seven Parts of Albie Meunsch

  • Back of Albie Meunsch chapbook.

It’s Finally Here…#139

So here it is at last, Space & Time #139 (Winter 2020), and because of havoc caused by a US Mail bending under the strain of COVID-19, S&T suffered some monetary losses that nearly forced this iconic magazine to close its doors. I urge you, if you can spare $10, click on the cover image and buy a copy.

It’s got a considerable amount of content, including my short story “Sacred Glyphs,” for which I also did the illustration.

I hope to continue doing art, and publishing the occasional story with Space & Time into the indefinite future!

More At Stake Than Just Good Writing

On my very worst writing days, I can still hear John, a member of a long defunct critique group, chastising me. “Where’s the emotion?”

“What, no emotional reaction?”

“Emotion! He has to have an emotional reaction.”

This was during the heady days when I still believed I was a great writer. Our critique group had gathered in the cafe of the late, lamented Borders Books and Music in East Brunswick, New Jersey — the bookstore where, in 1993, I met the woman who would become my wife.

Any writer knows how brutal a critique session can be. One by one, the other group members slowly, methodically, murder your “baby” with an unfeeling brutality akin to the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs, when Michael Madsen cuts off an unfortunate police officer’s ear. I can hear “Stuck in the Middle” as they point out all of those weaknesses in my plot, or the illogical actions and reactions of my beloved protagonist. “Where is the emotion?” John asks, until I wish I could go back in time and murder him in his crib.

The thing is, John was right, as he invariably is (not to mention generous, kind, and exceedingly skilled in the use of the English language.) Without his input, I would likely have sold less than half the amount of  stories that I had published during the 90s (30, but who’s counting?).

I recently looked at some of those old stories, and suddenly, all of those flat emotional non-responses glared back at me, so very obvious. Over the following days, I turned those weaknesses over in my mind. I found it disturbing that my characters — my protagonists!— lacked any significant emotional responses, often to horrific events. Gradually, the truth emerged.

I was mortally afraid of my own emotions.

During the era of those critique sessions, it was still only a handful of years ago that I had attempted, twice during the same year, to end my own life. A sadness and anger that ran deep beneath the waters of my consciousness had led me to those two fateful decisions. Was it any wonder, then, that my characters avoided feeling…well, anything really. For years, I thought of it as equanimity, but there is a vast chasm that lies between evenness of temper, and outright numbness.

One thing stood out for me in Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, though in a different context than that intended in the film. Barbara (played by actress Patricia Tallman) stands over a funereal pyre, her face gilded by reflected flames, and watches the zombies burn. She utters the cryptic line, “They’re us. We’re them and they’re us.”

That is the crux of the matter: we are our characters, and they, in turn, are us. If you’re a writer whose characters remain obstinately two-dimensional, take some time to examine your own feelings. If the view of your own past makes you flinch, talk to somebody about it. There may well be more at stake than the verisimilitude of your characters.

Weird Horror #1

The much anticipated Weird Horror #1 is now available. Subscribe here!

Undertow Publications’ Weird Horror #1

My short story, “The Night Kingdom” (some of you may recognize that title, there is no connection between the two projects) is included, right before that of the exceptionally gifted John Langan. Does talent transfer through proximity? We can certainly hope!

The entire cast has provided stellar performances. Editor Michael Kelly is certainly to be congratulated. You can also purchase a copy on Amazon(available October 6th). Try it on. If it fits, if it makes you feel comely, then subscribe!

Our Exquisitely Gifted Cast  includes fiction, commentary, reviews, and art:

David Bowman, Shikhar Dixit, Steve Duffy, Inna Effress, Tom Goldstein, Orrin Grey, John Langan, Suzan Palumbo, Ian Rogers, Naben Ruthnum, Lysette Stevenson, Simon Strantzas, Steve Toase. Please do check it out!