Dystopia via Plattsburgh, Montreal, and Points Beyond


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 

Wedding Small Talk and Cultural Appropriation


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?


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.

Blogging, feedback, and the perils of both


As the frequency of my posts reveal, you can probably tell I’m not what you’d call committed to this blogging thing. It comes down to choices, where I can best allocate my time. And when I’ve got a project underway, especially a big one, like now, I look to minimize the distractions, which puts this blog on the back burner behind the back burner. Still, today was a good day of writing (quota met) and I figure I’d better squeeze this in before the stretch between my posts stretches any further.

Feedback proves that launching a new website is fraught with risks

Mariam Kirby, a visitor from Texas, felt the photos of me were too dark and moody, conflicting “with the wry humor of your blog. In general, they do not reflect your personality.”

Well, sure, that’s easy for you to say, Mariam; you don’t live with me. Ask my wife, Pat, about dark, moody, wry humor and me. What’s more, had you looked closely at the photos, you would see that I am, indeed, chuckling heartily. I have always been deceptively photogenic in this way. (N.B.: Since this was first posted, the moodiest of the moody photos has been replaced with that thing of me poking myself in the side of the head, whatever that’s about.)

No threats against birds and other helpful observations

Another visitor, a Canadian residing in Japan, wrote: “The website looks good . . . it’s not blaring music at me or threatening to murder my bird if I don’t subscribe. It’s not addressing me as ‘My Lovies’ or ‘Dear Ones.’ There isn’t any chain mail terrorism or empty weekly bullshit writing memes . . .”

My response is clear: Wait. Wait. Give me time, especially with the empty “bullshit writing memes.” I got a million of ’em. My favorite is to keep your mouth shut about the stories you’re working on. While I know a lot of writers like to workshop their fiction or chat it up with friends, describing this character or that character, outlining every plot and subplot, the approach has never worked for me.

The more I used to talk about my works-in-progress, the more bored I was when it came to sitting down and putting words on the page. I’d not only talked the ideas out, I’d talked them to death. These days, not even my wife knows what I’m writing until it’s done. This applies to short stories and novels. Not only does the method keep the ideas fresh, it serves to motivate, pushing me to get the story finished so I can have people read it and, with any luck, gush about how freaking wonderful both me and my story are. God, I love that! And if there’s a pay check involved at the end of it, well, all the better.

Speaking of writing . . . go watch TV

California’s Amy Stirling Casil has written a nifty little essay on her website. While I’ve never met Amy in person, we share SFictional roots. We both appeared in the July 1996 “new writers” issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. My story was SITTERS, while hers was the impressive JONNY PUNKINHEAD. Check out her essay, The Path To Publication May Take Many Forms, at Book View Café, by clicking here, and read how her first published genre story came to be. As you’ll see, rejection isn’t always rejection. Her essay neatly complements my own, GENREALITIES button above, which, I guess, in certain ways, relates how my first story came to be.

Okay. Enough blogging, if that’s what this is. And if you haven’t watched seasons 1 and 2 of the FX series FARGO, please do so soon. Best thing on TV. Of course, I watched it long before I got wrapped up in the big thing I’m currently wrapped up in. Honest. I swear. Which brings me to a Stephen King writing meme: “Stop watching TV. Read instead.”