Journal the Hell OUT of 2020

2020 has been a rough year for most people. We’re in December now. We can see some light at the end of the tunnel, though the light just shows us how much farther we still have to go. The vaccine, a new President and VP, restrictions lifted, theatres, friends, love… all lie somewhere in the light.

But in the darkness we have changed. We have learned things we did not know about ourselves; we learned things as a collective about the country, about the world around us. The things we thought were stable were not. 2020 was an earthquake that shook imagined securities, and they fell. Many of us also experienced hard growth as individuals. I know I’m not the same person I was in March of 2020 that I am now. We’ve learned some hard truths about ourselves, our fears, our patterns, our destructive habits, maybe–things laid bare when there wasn’t the distraction of busy-ness.

I speak from a level of privilege. I had no job, but I was able to be self-employed by selling my artwork and cashing in retirement, living on loans, the kindness of friends, etc. to survive. (I applied for lots of jobs but never heard back on most of them.) Many were not so lucky and had to be constantly working outside their homes serving the rest of us: doctors, nurses, restaurant workers, mail carriers, the essential workforce. I have no doubt they also learned things about this country, the world around them, and themselves.

We might have learned how resilient we were. We might have found courage. We might have changed our habits and our lives to survive. It was not as simple as the commercials to “Stay at Home” made it seem. It was fraught with decisions and fears. Like many, I lost income due to COVID, and debt I was trying to pay off remounted and surged. And as a queer man, the decisions made at the polls this year would have a direct impact on my life, again, as my freedoms were up for votes, and judges were appointed that might reverse past decisions—yes, all of that. I lost people I cared about–through death, but as friends too.

Journal the End

Maybe you’ve already been journaling the difficult growth of yourself and our country through COVID 2020. I have not–not in that way. But I feel compelled to write down some of the things I learned about myself and my world before I come out of this tunnel.

It will be very easy to throw off the darkness of 2020 when the vaccine comes, when the restrictions are lifted, and we see what survived in the world. People closed their businesses, many lost work permanently. This is not the world you left in March. But before it starts roaring again, before it starts leading us away from this year to forget this year completely—I think I need to journal the “Hell” out of 2020. I need to pull the truths out of the fire and apply them to my life. I need to remember what I learned about me.

I sincerely think what we learned through 2020 will be the most important thing to living a full life after 2020. If you leave 2020 the same exact person you were when you came in, where were you? I don’t know anyone who is the same.

I have friends who have moved to new cities—I see you friends in Chicago now!—and friends who have completely changed careers. I dropped out of one school and started another program. Others have started whole new lives–as if 2020 was the SCENE CHANGE part of the play. Where the lights go down and the stage crew comes and rearranges everything and then actors come back on and the program of the play reads, “One Year Later,” and all the characters are starting in new positions. New cities, new jobs.

What did you learn about yourself that surprised you? Good and alarming.

What did you learn about your government that surprised you? Good and alarming

What did you learn about your neighbors that surprised you? Good and alarming.

What do you want to change in yourself? What do you want to strengthen?

What do you want to change in your government? What do you want to fight for?

What do you want to leave behind in 2020, scraping that shit off of you forever?

What are you bringing into 2021 that is exciting and empowering?

What are you NOW looking forward to that maybe you didn’t think about much back in March?

What will you cherish more? Who will you thank more?

We can think of 2020 as HELL or we can snatch every truth out of this year and bring it with us to 2021, and leave the HELL out of our lives forever. I encourage you to grab a journal and use the rest of December, part of January, to write everything down so you can look at this later as the Year You Survived and a Learning Year. You got stronger this year, you know? You have changed. Celebrate that strength by writing it down before the noise of Capitalism and Freedom drown it all out. There will be parties next year and the next. But for now, while you have a moment, write your journey.

You really don’t want to lose this hard-earned wisdom.

Great Queer Fantasy and Science Fiction

I moderated a “Queering Fantasy” panel at the virtual 2020 World Fantasy convention that looked at the connection between adding queer characters and queering the fantasy tropes themselves.

How do you queer Fantasy and Fantasy tropes? Is it dropping in a queer character into an otherwise fantastical plot? Slipping in a positive queer romance? Or is it dismantling, changing, altering, and questioning the tropes that have been present in Fantasy for decades? Is it queering the way power is distributed in a society, or queering character goals and story endings? Does it touch how we build a Fantasy economy, a government, a landscape, a culture? We would say it includes all these things. Queer characters invite complete queer make-overs of Fantasy tropes. We’re here to discuss that– discussing the contributions of LGBTQIAA2S+ authors to the field; we want to give you plenty to look at and consider. Heck, we might, at the end, even compose multiple queer “I want” Disney songs for the Fantasy stories we want to create or see created–ya never know. Whether you’re an activist or an ally, we welcome you.

We had a great time–and if you went to WFC2020 and didn’t see it, it is recorded. We could have talked another hour on these themes. Part of our takeaway for guests to that panel was a list of great queer fantasy and science fiction. We placed it in the Session Pages section of WFC 2020’s online presence at Crowdcast. We had originally just been thinking of fantasy, and then it expanded to include SF and then horror, steampunk, etc…. but here is the list (with a few more edits by me).

Caveats: This is NOT a list of every queer story out there–by no means–but was a list that four panelists Corry L. Lee, Cheryl Morgan, S. Qiouyi Lu and I could come up with over a couple of days to hand to people when they got done with the panel.

It’s intended to be a starter list–a recommended reading list. These are books we’ve read and recommended. It is limited by our personal reading. It will have holes (not enough of us read YA and MG) and S. didn’t get a chance to put aer complete list with ours, but I hope ae does and then I will add aers to the rest.

I chose representative covers with complete randomness, not as any statement.

There are many great reading lists for queer books–this one is ours.

So, from the “Queering Fantasy” panel at the 2020 World Fantasy Convention, a list of their recommended reading:

Great Queer Fantasy and Science Fiction

Feel free to circulate and add your own–or let me know! Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow!

Recommendations by Corry L. Lee, Cheryl Morgan, Jerome Stueart, and S. Qiouyi Lu

Key: SF = Science Fiction, F = Fantasy, YA = Young Adult, MG = Middle Grade, H = Horror, SP = Steampunk, SH = Superheroes, GN = Graphic Novel SS = short story collection

Adult:

  • Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee (SF)
  • The City We Became – N.K. Jemisin (F/contemporary)
  • The Perfect Assassin – K.A. Doore (F)
  • Raven Tower – Ann Leckie (F)
  • Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie (SF)
  • A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine (SF)
  • The Future of Another Timeline – Annalee Newitz (SF, Alt Hist)
  • Weave the Lightning – Corry L. Lee (F, novel)
  • Dhalgren — Samuel R. Delany (SF, novel)
  • Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand — Samuel R. Delany (SF, novel)
  • The Affair of the Mysterious Letter – Alexis Hall (F)
  • Will Do Magic for Small Change – Andrea Hairston (F/contemporary)
  • Silver in the Wood & The Drowned Country – Emily Tesh (F, novellas)
  • The Seep – Chana Porter (SF, novella)
  • Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner (F, novel and the whole Riverside series)
  • The Outremer Series – Chaz Brenchley (F, 6 novels in US, 3 fat novels in UK)
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The Virtue of Virtual Conventions

I’ve just been to my second virtual convention. I went to SFWA’s Nebula Convention and now World Fantasy Convention. I enjoyed both. The first is an industry convention, focused on writers as professionals–so the focus is on contracts, agents, as well as craft; the second more a fan-run, but fan and author centered convention more about what is being published, talking about great stories you’ve read, and working with themes of that particular convention.

I used to go to about three conventions a year— World Fantasy, Can-Con, SFWA/Nebulas, and maybe AWP, sometimes. I’ve been to one WorldCon, a couple of smaller local conventions–Confluence, and Philcon. I did this to see friends, but mostly I did them as a professional writer–someone wanting to get better at writing, meet other writers, get to know publications, publishers, editors and agents that I might like to work with. Friends are a benefit of going to the cons. They are often a lot of fun too. But fun is expensive too.

Sometimes it came from my own pocket. Sometimes I had department money (when I was a lecturer or sometimes as an adjunct teacher). Sometimes I was helped out by Yukon funding–through CITF (the Cultural Industries Training Fund, which allowed artists to go outside the Yukon [Territory in Canada] to receive training). Each of these conferences was expensive in its own way. Travel, hotel, food were all the same—near $1000 these days, but higher when I lived in the Yukon (travel to get out and back to the Yukon was $500–and that was only to 6 major cities at the time, so + more to get farther), and varied registration costs, some lower, which helped some of the smaller cons be more affordable.

I always had a great time, though! I always made new friends and had experiences and memories I will keep with me forever.

But there are virtues to Virtual Cons, and I want to talk about that.

Virtual cons are completely online, and have the same programming and panels–and many of the same features–as a F2F conference. They usually have spaces for panels, for readings, and bar/patio lingering. And John Scalzi has deejayed two dance parties for SFWA already. These cons are usually held on Zoom (or Crowdcast–which uses Zoom). They last as long as F2F conventions. So–much is very similar, content wise. How do they stack up to F2F conventions?

The Virtue of Virtual Conventions

Cost efficient (conventions are often $1000 with flights, hotels, meals, and registration) reduced to $150 or lower just to attend from your bedroom at home.

ADA accessible –those with mobility issues or accessibility needs can go to these conventions because they don’t have to face travel, hotels and convention spaces that are often not accommodating to their needs

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MY PATREON

Hairy Fairies in the gardens! The Gardens of the Mythbegotten, my current name for this little bit of joy and peace in the midst of 2020 chaos, is the Patreon place where I create small watercolor paintings of fairies playing and misbehaving and having a great time. Occasionally satyrs, Minotaurs, centaurs join them…. and it’s light hearted. I sell the paintings, and I also have really cool incentives to stay in the gardens for awhile.

Leaf-Surfing!

Here are some of the things you can get:

  • All the photos of my paintings as they are completed. You’ll see them first before I post them on Facebook or Squarespace or Redbubble so that if you want to buy one, you can. You get first choice.
  • Process photos—how I make them and what my thoughts were going into the painting.
  • Little meditations on art (famous art, but also my friends’ art because they deserve some cool essays AND you get to find out about art you might not know about that is deserving a look!
  • Weekly Tarot for Creators—a spread of cards for your week as a creator, with enough to inspire your work, OR to give you a head’s up about the week AS a creator. What energies are there for you as a creator?
  • At some levels you get a card mailed to you every month, a print, of one of the paintings.
  • Time-lapse videos of a painting
  • Stickers!
  • Stories about the Gardens with new illustrations
  • T-shirts, mugs, buttons!
  • Commissioned pieces!

These gardens are queer friendly, racially diverse, age diverse, and body diverse, and sex positive. While there are no depictions of sex happening—the often nude bodies and playfulness of characters suggest it happens. 

For $1 a month, you can have my pictures emailed to you, and the other tiers are affordable for so much garden goodies! Check out the Patreon and see what’s happening in the Garden!

Patreon.com/jeromestueart

Big Bear Tarot–a new gig

Summer 2020 has been difficult. With layoffs, festivals canceled, limited teaching, I’ve found it harder to make money, but I have been keeping busy. I’ve been learning new skills in watercolor painting, taken classes in figure drawing and fiction, painted acrylic paintings, started a work out program, ended a workout program, quit art school, started a new program at a different school, taught kids how to write online, watched a lot of great online discussions from authors, started doing small watercolor paintings, opened a patreon—and built about five websites! LOL.

I also took my interest in tarot cards to another level, training with classes from a well known, experienced Tarot Card Reader, The Tarot Lady, Theresa Reed.

And now I’ve started doing readings so that I can become better.

The official site is BIG BEAR TAROT and you can check it out at that link.

I will always find the cards fascinating. I love the symbols and the way the symbols create a narrative out of your situation. As a fiction writer and artist–the images and the narrative and symbols appeal to me. I find it fascinating that I can randomly draw three cards from a deck of 78 and be able to talk about the things that are really on my/your mind. I do draw them for myself too… and they help me have a conversation about things I need to think about. I think it is uncanny. I cannot explain it. But I trust it.

I do email readings right now, or I will give you a video if you prefer.

I’m especially hoping to reach out to the queer community, bears, etc. I’ve noticed a lot of my bear friends having it rough emotionally and psychologically. If I can help by being intuitive for them, I want to do that.

Original Art Available on Squarespace

I have put my available original artwork on Squarespace. All my watercolors of fairies in the garden, Gardens of the Mythbegotten, and all the Yukon Cornelius paintings as well as my more controversial paintings of police action in Columbus.

You can follow the link to Squarespace here.

Remember too, that if you want any of these images on magnets, buttons, aprons, pillows, journals, that you can follow my link to Redbubble here.

Happy 100th Birthday, Ray Bradbury!

Ray Bradbury’s 100th birthday is August 22, and he has always been a huge inspiration to me.

I borrowed my older brother’s copies of Bradbury’s books the first time and couldn’t stop reading his short fiction. I loved his passionate characters who believed so deeply in something they were willing to fight for it.

I read R is for Rocket, S is for Space, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, even later, The Toynbee Convector. I loved the way he wrote—the prose just sings with joy! And I love the monologues of characters on the brink of getting what they need! I have taught The Martian Chronicles as a perfect short story collection—connected, multi-character, and those stories have affected my stories.

I got the amazing chance to meet him when I was 21, (I think I was 21), when he came to Lubbock, Texas. He spoke at length about his garage doors he designed for the Smithsonian exhibit, and about writing the screenplay for Moby Dick, the movie. He also talked a little about Mars. Afterwards, I stood in line to get my book signed, The Martian Chronicles, and to meet him. Just as I got to the front of the line, as I was about to say something to him, a woman butted up in front with a stack of opened Bradbury books, about ten of them, slapped the stack of books on the table like a tower, said to him that this “wouldn’t take long” ( she might have been part of the team responsible for the event. I don’t know) and urged him to sign them quickly. But then she grabbed her daughter and gave her a camera and pulled Ray to the side, as he was trying to sign the books, for a photo with her, swiveled him around in the chair like a puppet, threw an arm around him and smiled big.

When he had finished signing, finally, and she had gone, he looked at me and I guess somehow we connected, and he decided to make up for her rudeness by spending extra long with me. I mean there was a line behind me, but for a moment, we were conspirators in the slog she made him go through before he could talk to me.

Me: I read all of your work. It’s amazing. It inspired me to be a writer. I write stories too. I am a writer because of you.

Ray: Are you sending your stories out?

Me: (stuttering, faltering) Well…I

Ray: I wrote a story every week. I started on Monday and ended on Saturday and mailed it off. Now all of them weren’t that good. But I had a better chance of making a sale if I kept writing anyway. If you are writing 52 stories a year, a few of them have to be pretty good, right? I had a better chance with 52 of them in circulation than I did with one or two.

He looked me in the eye, “Send your stories out.”

I feel like I got a blessing from Ray Bradbury that day. A challenge. The gauntlet thrown!

I’ve never written a story a week! Lol. But I would like to push myself more.

I felt like he encouraged me to believe in myself, anyway, no matter how good or bad I thought a story was.

This little interview with him below is wonderful! I hope you enjoy his spirit and his love of life! I felt this was something about Ray I resonated with. That love. I miss his writing. He died at 91 years of age.

Happy Birthday, Ray! Thank you for your stories, your love of life, and for those precious, life-changing few extra minutes with me.

Why Pilgrimages Can Be Good For Us: My Pilgrimage to the Brandywine Museum of Art

Me geeking out at the NC Wyeth Exhibit at Brandywine Museum in Chadd’s Ford, PA.

I have been a big admirer of the works of NC Wyeth for a long time. You might remember his illustrations from your favorite classic YA adventure novels (now assigned texts in college 19th Century and turn of the century literature classes), books like Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Last of the Mohicans, A Boy’s King Arthur, Kidnapped, The Yearling, Robin Hood, The Deerslayer, etc. Very popular books in the early 20th Century with themes and storylines still made into movies today.

I loved his style! BIG color, lots of drama, action, adventure, stunning landscapes. I wished I could paint like that ever since I saw my first Wyeth up close at Texas Tech University. But I was a cartoonist at the time, and an occasional portrait artist, and I was working towards a PhD in Creative Writing. I wasn’t thinking of myself as an Artist, nor was I think of myself as an Artist who was going to study Wyeth.

As a gay man, growing up so Other from other boys, I had a peculiar relationship with the World of Boys and Men (which I will write about more in a later post) and that was a world that belonged to Wyeth as well. I had felt excluded for a long time from that world, and made up for it by being in other worlds. But I lingered outside the borders often and looked in at Things Which Were Not For Me.

So I pursued writing and teaching as a career, making art wait.

But in the last few years, my teaching situation changed, and it was difficult to find work as an adjunct teacher. I also continued to almost make it in the job market for tenure track positions. So i decided to make a change in my life–to build my art career–because I needed the money, a new source of income, and my art had waited long enough.

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Family and Community in ZZ Claybourne’s “The Air in My House Tastes Like Sugar” (GigaNotoSaurus, March, 2020)

Y’all, I read this awesome story, and I want to tell you about it. It’s about a mother and daughter who are witches, tired of having to move from town to town to hide their identities. They finally say, no, and decide to push back on all the rumors, fake stories, and prejudice so they can stay in community with the town. They’re happy there, to an extent, but negative rumors about witches and children and ovens are spreading in the city about them, so they have to take action. Mother takes her daughter into town to confront those rumors head on! And she is not someone to be messed with. Does she use witchcraft to get her way? She does not. She uses reason.

Along the way, she discovers a bigger secret hiding in the town, and must be the witch the town needs in order to survive.

I loved this story for many reasons.

Yes, it has a trope I love—family. I’m a sucker for brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, any combo of family. So I’m already biased going in. Family for me comes with its own stakes already in place. In nearly every family story there is a question of “how do we keep the family unit intact?” How do we survive together? The characters are not just strangers, or friends, or a D&D Party (all good groups!), but have shared history together that an author can explore, and a familiarity with each other that can really aid a story. I think Zig Zag Claybourne uses all these positives to his favor in this story.

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Fairies in the Garden, my newest painting series

I recently started a new series of paintings about fairies and gardens. This has been a breath of fresh air for me, as I can complete a painting in a couple of hours, and they bring me a lot of joy.

This summer has been a hard summer for everyone, and getting paint supplies and committing to a large painting has been a bigger endeavor than it usually has. But also, America’s MidLife Crisis, it’s 250th anniversary of the Revolutionary War period (some call it America’s Pluto Return, as the planet Pluto comes back to the same place where it was during that time), and it is still dealing with some heavy karma from slavery and injustice to black people, as well as the xenophobic genocide of Native Americans/Indigenous peoples of North America. Protests and police brutality, a pandemic, rampant unemployment, and everyone in lockdown for months. It’s not life as usual, and so my painting took a different turn.

I took a break from the Yukon Cornelius paintings in May, and did a couple of paintings in response to the protests and police reaction. These felt good at the time–though I was scared of voicing my anger and disappointment., fearing reprisal. Frankly, those paintings were emotionally draining. I had to keep my anger and frustration at a roar to complete them, each over about a week. Columbus has been engulfed in police pushback. And I was afraid for weeks if I said anything (while that might have been wild to think, the police have been appearing at people’s homes to arrest them for participating in protests).

I have been doing little paintings and drawings for a penpal in Vegas, and one of those took a fairies in the garden turn:

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