Dystopia via Plattsburgh, Montreal, and Points Beyond

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Welcome to Dystopia: 45 Visions of What Lies Ahead

“People ask me to predict the future, when all I want to do is prevent it.” … With these words from Ray Bradbury, editor Gordon Van Gelder extends his Welcome to Dystopia: 45 Visions of What Lies Ahead—a new anthology of short (and very short) fiction from OR Books. And when I say “fiction”, I feel compelled to add “alleged”. Because let there be no doubt, the “45” in the title is no accident.

Ray Bradbury
Gordon Van Gelder

In the wake of the 2016 US election, many individuals of a certain social or political persuasion would argue that Bradbury’s preventive efforts (Fahrenheit 451, The Pedestrian, and A Sound of Thunder among them) succeeded only in part and only for a time. If the future he feared isn’t upon us in its grim entirety just yet, there’s no missing the feeling it’s fast approaching.

With Welcome to Dystopia, Gordon Van Gelder enlists a varied group of writers to take up Bradbury’s mantle. As he states in his introduction, “Happy endings are scarce in these pages. The stories gathered here are angry, bold, snarky, defiant, nervous, and satiric … I like to think that readers of any political stripe will find this book interesting, but fans of our forty-fifth president will definitely be put out … Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

I’m happy to say my short story, SNEAKERS, has somehow been included in the mix. Or, at least, I think I’m happy about it. Then again, perhaps “happy” isn’t quite the right word. More like … uh … terrified?

Dystopia, Now! Or Kafka Wears Sneakers

SNEAKERS is the charming tale of two young lads from Montreal’s West Island who head off to Plattsburgh, NY, to buy … you guessed it! … sneakers. Nothing unusual in that, eh? Cross-border shopping is as Canadian as hockey, poutine, beavers and, of course, BeaverTails®. It’s been a pastime since John A. MacDonald went searching for Zagnut bars in Massena, NY.  Except for one tiny detail: This is now. And as America steamrolls to renewed greatness, any number of surprises await the unsuspecting, the Plattsburgh-bound protagonists of SNEAKERS leading the oblivious pack.

Welcome to Dystopia: 45 Visions of What Lies Ahead is available now, directly from the publisher. From dark and dangerous to laugh-out-loud funny and dangerous, the collection makes for compelling reading. Harry Turtledove’s The Terrific Leader. Jay Russell’s Statues of Limitations. Lisa Mason’s Dangerous. Paul Witcover’s Walls. Ron Goulart’s The Amazing Transformation of the White House Dog. Marguerite Reed’s Notes on Retrieving a Fallen Banner. Janis Ian’s His Sweat Like the Stars on the Rio Grande. Richard Bowes’ The Name Unspoken. Barry Malzberg’s January 2018 … If I keep this up, I’ll end up listing the full table of contents. So let’s make it simple: Buy it. Read it. And hope that every author’s “vision of what lies ahead” has totally missed the mark.

Dystopia in Brooklyn on February 6, 2018

Should you be in the NYC area on February 6, The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings series will be hosting an evening of Dystopia, with several authors whose work is featured in the anthology. Curated by Gordon Van Gelder, writers confirmed thus far are Richard Bowes, Jennifer Marie Brisset, Deji Bryce Olukoton, Leo Vladimirsky, and the estimable Paul Witcover. Location: Brooklyn Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Avenue. For more information on this and other upcoming events, click here 

Publishing news! Hollywood North novel sells to ChiZine

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1. Hollywood North set to get the ChiZine treatment

After weeks of dedicated sighing and moping, as I struggled to keep my publishing news restricted to family, close friends, and the entire population of the Eastern seaboard, I am now at liberty to announce the sale of my novel, HOLLYWOOD NORTH: A SIX-REELER. It has been bought by Sandra Kasturi, editor and co-publisher of ChiZine Publications. No word on publication date, as yet, but you can be sure I’ll keep you in the loop. For more on the novel, including my ChiSeries Ottawa reading of an excerpt, check out my previous blog, Hollywood North, The Realist, and Flin Flon.

The only other thing I can add at this time is the following warning: Visit Trenton, Ontario, while you still can. For your own safety, do not mention my name.

2. Okay, so let me tell you about ChiZine

As their website sums it up, “ChiZine Publications (CZP) is a British Fantasy, World Fantasy, and HWA Specialty Press Award-winning independent publisher of surreal, subtle, and disturbing dark literary fiction hand-picked by co-publishers Sandra Kasturi and Samantha Beiko. ChiZine Publications also includes young adult imprint ChiTeen, mystery imprint ChiDunnit, electronic-only releases under CZP eBook, graphic novel imprint ChiGraphic, and poetry imprint KQP.” But this only begins to tell the ChiZine story.

“Upstart.” “Top-notch.” “Inspirational.” “Thoughtful.” “Outstanding.” “Innovative.” “Gutsy.” “Quality.” … This is just a sampling of reviewers’ comments about ChiZine and its unique approach to literary genre fiction. Yeah, damn right I’m excited to be part of this dynamic and decidedly creepy organization.

3. ChiZine is also the publisher behind Chiaroscuro Reading Series (aka ChiSeries)

I haven’t done a ton of public readings over the years. The ones I have done, well, you’d understand why I might be a tad gun-shy. At my World Fantasy Conference reading in 2015, for instance, three people showed up and I had to beg two of those (stragglers from the previous reading) to stay. Worse, midway through my reading, one of the detainees raised a hand to interrupt. “I think there’s a disconnect in your text. I’d like you to read it again,” she said. I smiled, tried to not come off as defensive or arrogant, and boldly replied, “Um … uh … gee … uh … no.” I carried on, as she huffed and puffed and glared her displeasure until I was done. My ChiSeries experience was a major step up.

The audience was large. I did not have to beg anyone to stick around, not even my wife. And everyone in attendance, including the host (Hello, Matt Moore!), was warm, welcoming and responsive. (The fact Sandra Kasturi offered me a publishing contract immediately after my reading didn’t hurt, either.) I hope I’m invited to read at a ChiSeries event again. But right now, ChiSeries needs our help.

4. ChiSeries even pays its author-readers. Imagine!

ChiSeries is held on a regular basis in cities across Canada. It is the country’s only national reading series dedicated solely to speculative literature. What’s more, they pay their authors an honorarium to present. No small gesture, trust me.

ChiZine and other small presses donate a substantial amount to the series. The Ontario Arts Council has also played a critical role. Here, I pass the torch to one of the founders, the ubiquitous Sandra Kasturi: “Last year we were denied funding by the Ontario Arts Council, the body that gives government support to arts projects. (We had previously received funding every year.) I put together an even better and more thorough submission this year—and we were denied again. This may be due to genre bias, which of course is rampant in the arts councils and non-genre writing world. But it’s also due to the fact that there is more competition for money than ever, and many organizations that once received funding now do not.”

Kickstarter and Go Fund Me campaigns will gear up shortly. I’ll let you know when. Meanwhile, please check out and LIKE the ChiSeries Facebook page.

C’mon! What’s easier than pointing and clicking? Besides, you’ll make me look good (or, at least, no worse) in the eyes of my new publisher.

Hollywood North, The Realist, and Flin Flon

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1. Hollywood North out loud (two chapters, anyhow)

Back in June, I was invited by Chizine Publications to a ChiSeries event in Ottawa, where I read from my novel, HOLLYWOOD NORTH: A SIX REELER. The novel takes my 2014  novella (see Story Gallery) and blows it up, dropping the reader into the front row of an old movie house, a cavalcade of characters flickering across the dusty screen. It’s a cross-genre tale with a decidedly coming-of-age fantasy and horror bent, where first love, unexplained mysteries (Oak Island Money Pit, anyone?), and warped, small-town nostalgia percolate throughout. Cameo appearances abound. Frankie Laine, Queen Elizabeth II, The Three Stooges, Rod Serling, Rusty from Rin Tin Tin, Vincent Price, Burt Lancaster, The Hardy Boys, Gene Tierney, Jimmy Cagney, Aimee Semple McPherson, Sonny Liston, and many more. You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll have a sudden yearning to visit Trenton, Ontario, where the novel is set!

Rusty (Lee Aaker) "Rin Tin Tin"The Hardy Boys "The Tower Treasure" coverGene Tierney "Leave Her to Heaven"

I should have more news about the novel soon, so watch this space. Meanwhile, for a taste of where the story goes, here’s my ChiSeries reading, featuring a mash-up of two early chapters:

 2. My unliterary literary influences

At a current average of every twenty-seven months, I’ll be asked to name my literary influences. Typically, the question pops up after the small talk has run its course and brains are scrambling to fill dead air.

Now I could easily list my favorite authors—mainstream, genre, Stratemeyer Syndicate, and so-called literary fiction. And some day I will. But if I’m being honest, my most notable “literary” influences were comic books, TV Guide, MAD magazine, Screen Thrills Illustrated, and The Realist. I apologize for this, especially to those who naively expected more of me. And I understand fully, at this point, if you choose to exit this site without reading another word of mine. Anywhere. Ever.

Screen Thrills Illustrated No. 5Screen Thrills Illustrated No. 4Screen Thrills Illustrated

Still here? Good. Chances are, you’re familiar with the influences I’ve mentioned above. Okay, maybe not Screen Thrills Illustrated or The Realist. While I won’t get into the former this time around, the latter is what inspired this entry. All issues of The Realist are now archived online.

The Realist Archive project

The natural successor to MAD magazine, The Realist and its founder/editor Paul Krassner took satire and counter-culture criticism to a jarring new extreme. Strangely, I bought my first copy on a train from Trenton (Ontario) to Montreal in 1963, which is in itself a mystery. I mean, how did family-friendly CNR come to sell this blatantly subversive  and sexually explicit magazine? Not that I cared, then or now. I loved it from the start, whether I fully grasped the contents and references or not. For a portrait of the underground movement of the ’60s and ’70s, you won’t do better than The Realist. The good news is, every issue is now available for free online, trigger warnings be damned. Your Realist indoctrination begins here.

 3. Am I the only person who didn’t already know about Flin Flon?

While doing a bit of research, I stumbled across the fact that the city of Flin Flon, Manitoba is named after a character from a 1905 science fiction novel—prospector Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, the hero of The Sunless City by J.E. Preston Muddock. (No, I’d never heard of the book, either.)

Accounts vary, but the gist of the story is that Flin Flon was founded in 1915 by Thomas Creighton, a real-life prospector and fan of the novel. If you’ve got three minutes, this 1978 short from the National Film Board of Canada will fill you in on the improbable details.

I can think of only one other place named after a fictional character and that’s Tarzana, CA. If you can add to the list, let me know.

Wedding Small Talk and Cultural Appropriation

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1. A writer and an accountant walk into a wedding … 

I was at a wedding on Labor Day weekend, when a chartered accountant I’ve met on occasion started chatting with me. He wanted to know if I was still writing (clearly, a huge fan) and how it was going. “Pretty good,” I told him. And then he began to tell me how he’d been thinking of writing a book about his life, and I was suddenly mesmerized by the tray of glazed hors d’oeuvres passing by atop a waiter’s hand. Alas, before I could chase after the waiter, the accountant latched onto my forearm and reeled me in. “We need to sit down and talk,” he said, as he fished out his phone, clicked to his calendar. “You wouldn’t believe the stories I’ve got to tell. You can be my co-writer.” I told him biographies were not what I wanted to be writing at this point in time. I was polite. I swear. Honest. But he was clearly offended. Possibly hurt. I can’t recall his words exactly, but they went something like : “You’re missing out. But if that’s the way you want to be …” He avoided me the remainder of the evening.

I’ve been having second thoughts ever since. Maybe I should have listened to him. Maybe I’m an effete asshole. Maybe we should have gotten together. Maybe he did have stories to tell that I “wouldn’t believe”. But then, what if he didn’t?

2. “I hope the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad.” – Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver is the author of WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, among others. Her POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD is a favorite of my daughters. And lately, if you have somehow missed it, she has been the subject of considerable controversy. If you haven’t yet read the text of her keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival, I urge you to do so here and now, because there’s no way any précis by me would do it justice.

She raises several disturbing issues, as ideology and identity politics attempt to infringe upon the realm of art (not to mention cuisine and fashion), in what I see as a hugely misguided attempt to dictate who should be permitted to create what. It’s all part of the same restrictive (sensitive? oversensitive?) mindset that demands trigger warnings and safe spaces——all part of this Age of Outrage, where every public and private misdeed or affront, major or minor, real or perceived, egregious or exaggerated, is immediately followed with lynching by Facebook, tyranny by Twitter. Mob rule rules the Internet.

“What next—language?”

Dissenting opinions on Shriver’s speech are easily found, from Newsweek to the New Yorker to countless blogs. Still, no matter how hard I try (and I have tried), I cannot accept the other side of the argument. Not on any rational, historic, multicultural or literary level. Even were I to see the light, where does one draw the line? And how long would it take for the line to be moved until there is no line at all? What next—language? An expunging of all words from your vocabulary derived from languages other than your mother tongue? Extreme? I don’t think so. Not in an era where serving sushi in a university cafeteria is subject for debate.

“Goodbye Shakespeare …”

As friend and author, Barry Malzberg, said in an email to me (used with his permission): “It is to laugh or weep or scream.  Goodbye Shakespeare, goodbye ANOTHER COUNTRY, goodbye my own story TURPENTINE (it’s in STONE HOUSE), goodbye CAPRICCIO ESPAGNOLE and RHAPSODIE ESPAGNOL and I WILL FEAR NO EVIL. Goodbye MADAME BOVARY  Goodbye goodbye to all that; goodbye to art, science and the annual Temple Brotherhood (sic) Service.” (By the way, Malzberg’s IN THE STONE HOUSE is a master class on the art of the short story. And if you’re in any way into genre, his classic essay collection, BREAKFAST IN THE RUINS is a must-read. You will not always agree with Malzberg, that’s a guarantee. He might even piss you off. But you will be consistently challenged and rewarded.)

Another writer friend, Florida-based James Ladd Thomas, has also allowed me to share his thoughts on the issues Shriver raises. I leave the last word to him. (For now, anyhow.)

“Any writer worth her salt will not allow that type of thinking to enter her fiction.”

“All my fiction is set in the South. I was born and raised in the South, which makes me a Southern writer. Anyone has the right to set their fiction in the South, but that doesn’t make them a Southern writer. However, a Southern writer setting their fiction in the South doesn’t make the fiction true, authentic, genuine. The work should be judged by the quality of the work, the story, the characters, the language, the art.

“I’ve received a couple of emails that were very critical of my novel (ARDOR). The people were Southerners, and they thought that the story wasn’t true of the South. I was a liberal who focused on tearing down the South, even though I’m a Southerner. Honestly, I wrote Ardor as a feminist novel. I’m sure some feminists would rage at me for that, ‘You don’t have permission to do that.’ The two emails didn’t talk about the writing, the story, the characters; they just thought the story didn’t tell the type of story they liked.

“To scream injustice about writers writing stories outside of themselves is nonsense. I’ve had men and women tell me how much they admired my ability to write from a young Southern woman’s point of view. I don’t really care if some people don’t think I have permission to write outside of myself. That’s what writers do. Any writer worth her salt will not allow that type of thinking to enter her fiction. I believe that would impede the very first step in the creation process. A writer doesn’t have to be real in her work in order for the work to be good; a writer needs to tell the truth, which is as ugly as it is beautiful.”

3. Oh, yeah! I’ve also completed a novel.

It is free of cultural appropriation. I think so, anyhow. Time will tell, I guess.

Hey! Did you hear the one about The Grocer’s Wife in Asimov’s?

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This one qualifies more as news than a blog, so should you feel offended or misled in any way, I will understand your rapid retreat to a safe space.

For those without a safe space to run to…

Considering all my blabbing about it on Facebook, this website, and other venues, real and imagined, you should be well aware by now I have a new story in the February 2016 issue of the esteemed Asimov’s Science Fiction. This marks my first appearance in Asimov’s and, after so many years of reading the magazine, it is undeniably exciting to be a part of it. If this is the first you hear of it, please do yourself (and my ego) a favor by rushing out immediately and buying the magazine. It’s digest size, costs about the same as a Starbuck’s Latte in a Venti cup, and looks like this:

Asimov's Feb 2016

Squint. (If you need to fetch your glasses to read the fine print, don’t worry, I’ll wait.) See, that’s my name on the cover. That’s how you’ll know for sure it’s the correct issue. Better yet, there’s a lot more to read inside than just me. You can’t help but get your money’s worth.

While I talk briefly about the story elsewhere on my website, I figure a few points are worth repeating, especially because I don’t want this post to be overly short.

Compassion. Terror. Mindfulness… Everything  you want a good read to be.

THE GROCER’S WIFE (ENHANCED TRANSCRIPTION) is another of those tales that floated around my brain for a few years before being put to paper. The seed was planted after I accompanied my mother to a clinic for a geriatric assessment. That’s where the opening “drawing the clock” scene of the story comes from. But the story didn’t come together until a more recent conversation with a friend, Robert Paris, a management consultant who specializes in mindfulness training and education. If you’re not sure exactly what mindfulness is, I suggest you head over to Psychology Today by clicking here. You may still not fully grasp the concept, but at least you’ll possess sufficient superficial knowledge to bandy about the word the same as I do.

Sheila Williams, Editor of Asimov’s, has described THE GROCER’S WIFE (ENHANCED TRANSCRIPTION) as “compassionate, yet terrifying.” From my perspective, that pretty much sums it up. As they say, old age ain’t pretty.

Anyhow, get your hands on the magazine. Read my story. Review it with a critical eye. And then be sure to tell me how much you loved it…even if you didn’t. No writer ever asks for more.