A new story of mine is in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #184, called “Unearthly Landscape by a Lady.” It’s about a wealthy Victorian lady named Flora who does ladylike things like paint china teacups. It’s creepier than it sounds, since it’s a dark fantasy about empire: Flora’s paintings– her unearthly landscapes–may be conventional on the surface, but there’s violence in their depths.
This idea of a Victorian woman doing something unsettling with parlour crafts came came to me after re-reading Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. There’s a scene where Rochester quizzes his new employee about the paintings in her portfolio, which are full of corpses, shipwrecks, icebergs, and the aurora. He suggests she couldn’t possibly have dreamed up these unsettling images on her own:
“Where did you get your copies?”
“Out of my head.”
“That head I see now on your shoulders?”
“Has it other furniture of the same kind within?”
“I should think it may have: I should hope—better.”
Jane confides in us– her readers– regarding the pictures’ origins:
The subjects had, indeed, risen vividly on my mind. As I saw them with the spiritual eye, before I attempted to embody them, they were striking; but my hand would not second my fancy, and in each case it had wrought out but a pale portrait of the thing I had conceived.
“Unearthly Landscape by a Lady” started when I read that passage and imagined what might arise in the “spiritual eye” of a woman who seems conventional, but contains something terrifying.
ETA: For those who like to listen, the story is now up in the BCS Podcast!
“Unearthly Landscape by a Lady” was written with the support of a grant from the Ontario Arts Council.
Lackington’s published a story of mine in their last issue. It’s called “The Glad Hosts” and is one of several stories and images Ranylt Richildis selected to explore “Skins” as a theme. It is, according to readers, a piece of parasite body-horror.
I say “according to readers” because while I wrote the story because I’m curious about parasites, I did not consider it body horror until I saw the responses. Yes, it describes the transformation of a woman’s bodies in multiple ways, but horror?
After the issue went live, a friend of mine posted a link to a metafilter discussion which included a series of insightful and amusing responses that indicated yes, I had written a horror story while I thought I was writing a story about transformation and distance and family.
(I particularly liked this one: “Are there parasites around that will remove this story from my brain because it was horrifying?” from jeather)
Since then other people have responded in equally interesting ways. At Marooned Off Vesta there’s an extensive and considered discussion about free indirect narration and what it does to storytelling, as well as some good points about the challenges of authorial self-consciousness. Charlotte Ashley over at Apex makes some interesting observations about what the story says about subjectivity. There are similar points over at Susan Hated Literature, which suggest it’s a story about the limits of such subjectivity, and where (exactly) we locate the self.
This is all less about “The Glad Hosts” than it is a reminder to me that while my writing life is spent mostly alone doing work that is invisible and unread, there are actually people out there who might catch a story at the right moment and read it and respond. This makes me very happy because it makes me part of a conversation. And it leaves me feeling lucky, too, that Lackington’s exists as a place for us to meet up.
“Sarah and the Body” just went live in Scigentasy # 3.
It’s a sad story, so I feel like I should put a trigger warning on it– for body horror, for medical violence, and for the ravages of degenerative neurological disorders.
It’s about a cyborg, but it’s not what you’d call “hard” science fiction, and doesn’t present realist possibilities for bio-medical enhancement. When I was thinking about cyborgs, I was more interested in the physicality and the intimacy of their relationship with technology, which is a little different than our own, but only because it’s more obvious. That blurred line– that interface– between what’s “us” and what’s “not-us” seems particularly relevant to me, now, with my enormous external & collaborative memory (you know, google), and my dependence on the products of industrialization. I mean, we’re all entwined with our machinery, all extend our perceptions and our abilities with pharmaceuticals and eyeglasses, bicycles and pacemakers and smartphones. The Cyborg just wears those enhancements where we can see them, and maybe has lost the opportunity to withdraw– or escape?– from her relationship with technology.
So. After a slightly chaotic and blog-free summer, I thought I’d update with two things. First, we moved to Windsor for some teaching work. Second, I’ve added a page to keep track of forthcoming stuff. I feel this may be a little optimistic, considering I only have a couple of short stories coming out. That’s not actually a lot to keep track of.
I want to write about Windsor. Or, to be more accurate, I want to write about staring across the river at the Detroit Skyline, which leads to a lot of contemplation, especially regarding those disaster-pornish photographs of decaying public buildings that flood instagram and facebook. In pop culture Detroit seems to exist exclusively as a dreadful-but-fascinating warning, a place for post-Fordist disaster tourism, rather than an actual community. Creepy. It’s shockingly beautiful from across the water, especially at sunset.
As for the stories—I seem to have officially crossed some genre-line into the land of awesome known as contemporary Speculative Fiction, which was something I should have done a while ago, since Angela Carter, and Ursula K. LeGuin, and John Wyndham have always been important to me. One of the stories is about an AI suffering from debilitating nostalgia, and the other is about a cyborg. Fun!
I really didn’t want Where is Here? to turn into a Bunch of Links About That Book I Wrote, though that seems to be where it’s headed these days. Not forever, I hope. I went to the Bicentennial “celebrations” for the Battle of Fort York last weekend, and I had a lot of thoughts, but they’ve mostly bypassed the blogging stage and leapt straight into the chapter about The War of 1812.
So, instead of my peculiar “insights” into military commemoration in Canada, here are some links about that book I wrote! It was officially out yesterday (I confirmed this through a visit to the bookstore. It’s definitely and for realsies out now) and it has collected two reviews:
Laura Frey at Reading in Bed says some really smart things.
So does Kyla Neufeld at The Winnipeg Review.
In both cases I feel lucky that the readers approached the book so thoughtfully, and with such generosity.
Yesterday when I came home there was a big box from NeWest waiting in the hallway outside our apartment– 20 copies, bound in this lovely, slightly nubbly coverstock. I’m still a little shocked to find that I’ve written an actual book. Unreal! It almost makes up for the grotty weather, which seems to have regressed to some miserable day in early March.
I added a page with some info about the book, should anyone want to hear more.
The Last Temptation of Bond. Kimmy Beach. 2013. University of Alberta Press.
My friend Kimmy Beach has a new book out this month called The Last Temptation of Bond (U of A Press). She’s started a tumblr for some of the material she collected as she was writing it. I’m looking forward to this book because I like the way Kimmy writes, but in this case her topic is also really intriguing to me. I’m interested in how we talk about espionage & covert actions, whether it’s cold war paranoia, or pop culture, proxy wars, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or The Prisoner. Bond manages to contain both the trauma and absurdity of that era, especially in the most recent film– Skyfall. I’m pretty sure The Last Temptation of Bond will also be full of labyrinthine psycho-sexual issues and black humour, too, because that’s what Kimmy does best. Her work is always sexy and fun, and it draws on the iconography of 20th-cent pop culture without turning into a catalogue of temporary culture. And did I mention “sexy”? And “fun”?
And– the excellent book blog Slightly Bookist has an interview series called “The Three Rs.” I’m the latest entry, over here.