My Faith in Werewolves

tumblr_nmlov9kobq1s3y6tro1_1280I grew up with a dangerous love of werewolves.  I wanted to meet them.  I wanted to run with them in the woods behind the house.  I wanted them to break into my room at night and kneel at my bed and whisper all the courageous, adventurous things I could become.

I drew pictures of werewolves. I couldn’t help myself.  Especially when I was 14 and living outside of Caruthersville, MO, on the levy by the Mississippi River, where my father was the pastor of a small country church–those pictures came every day into my head and just bled out of my pencils and pens.  Most of these werewolves were kind, masculine, big brotherly, mentor-like werewolves.  I was not clued-in to my head at the time.

These werewolves came, most likely, from my deeply embedded and hidden sexuality, a love for hairy men that I could not understand–a feeling like there was a wild side of me that I must hide away.  But the werewolves at my window were always free.  Free to run.

These werewolves I drew–the first one made me weep as a teenager–there was something important in that picture, something I couldn’t fully understand growing up in my deeply religious environment.  I don’t regret the beautiful years of being deep in that family and faith (and I’m still a big part of my family and faith) but I regret not knowing what that was.  I’d have been a much different person if I had known I was gay at 15 instead of at 34.

I appreciate the magic and wonder my ignorance left me–and that’s a strange blessing to be thankful for, but it’s a blessing nonetheless. Because I could not believe in my sexuality, I believed werewolves were real.  I musta lived under some really awesome bubble of cognitive dissonance for an A+ student to believe werewolves were possible and still understand and love my science classes.  But there I was–a high school student who kept a space open in my brain for the possibility of werewolves.  It’s not so hard to believe.  For me, son of a Southern Baptist minister, I had a world with angel-demon fights, Jesus talking to you out of the air, fiery chariots racing to the sky, resurrecting dead people, talking donkeys–that’s a world where werewolves can happen, too, isn’t it?  That space I kept open–it’s a similar space open for the possibility of miracles, of faith.  So why not a …sorta faith in werewolves?

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Launching Beasts in Whitehorse at -32C.

czp-version-of-posterIt was -35C in the Yukon Territory on December 13, and Baked Cafe was still packed. It’s a testimony to great friends I have in Whitehorse and the extent Yukoners will go to support musicians and writers and artists.

I felt so privileged and honoured to launch The Angels of Our Better Beasts in Baked Cafe in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  Baked Cafe was like an unofficial office for me for many years.  I sometimes wrote there, but more often I met folks there and talked for hours.  The lattes there are perfect.  I used to order a “Husky Hazelnut” latte–which is a 2% Milk version of the Hazelnut latte.  Instead of indicating I was trying to lower the fat in my drink, though, by calling it “skinny,” I wanted to call myself “husky” instead, which is a nice way of saying, “He’s a big fella.”

Anyway, the Launch. Yes.  So happy to have Marcelle Dube and Steve Parker there to read with.  Marcelle Dube is primarily a mystery/thriller writer in Whitehorse, but she does have science fiction and fantasy stories.  Steve Parker is best known for his Skrelsaga–and we hear he’s working on a sequel.  These two writers have been my friends for nearly as long as I’ve known the Yukon.  So–reading with them, and reading in Baked Cafe was a real wonderful pleasure.

I made a video of the launch–or at least of the parts before we started reading.  I wanted to give you a feeling of what it was like to have friends be there for you in a warm space inside a cold, cold night.  Sarah MacDougall kindly lent her song, “Cold Night” to the video.

 

My Fulbright experience: Be Transformed

cropped-img_3457.jpgFulbright asked me to write a short piece on how my Fulbright experience affected the writing of my stories, and–as I took it–my development as a writer.  Though the Fulbright was only one year, I stayed nearly 10 years in Whitehorse, Yukon, and go back frequently.  The north deeply affected my writing, and helped develop me as a writer.

In this piece, I encourage people to open themselves, become vulnerable, to another culture–whether it’s a short trip or a long immersion.  Culture, you’re soaking in it.

Be Transformed is up on the Fulbright blog.

For those who aren’t aware of Fulbright–they are a program that allows for an exchange of scholars to different countries.  I went to the far north of Canada.  (I was once loudly laughed at during a phone interview by a prospective college who was looking at my application to become their professor.  They wondered why I bothered getting a Fulbright to Canada.  As if we all have the money to skip across the border and stay for nine months–or as if Canada has nothing to teach us.  Believe me, my fellow Americans, you will be studying Canada in great detail in the coming years. )

For more on Fulbright in Canada, go here. I went on a Creative Writing Fulbright.  If you are currently a student, you can too.  There are also programs for scholars and teachers.

Be transformed by a place—let it sink into your bones.

 

 

They are queer Lumberjacks, and that’s okay: “A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting” by Charles Payseur reviewed

11884994176_203f040455_z_ink_liThere’s a sweet flashfiction piece by Charles Payseur on Flashfiction Online that highlights something awesome about LGBT writing today.  It deserves a read and a shout out.  “A Lumberjack’s Guide to Dryad Spotting” is probably about 1000 words, but it tells a pretty big story about two gay lumberjacks that goes beyond where I thought the story would go.

 

Be careful in these woods: SPOILERS AHEAD.  Why don’t you just go read it and come back here.

Good, you’re back.

First, let me say how happy I am to keep seeing LGBT writers in Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Flashfiction Online, and other mainstream venues even beyond the “Queers Destroy” series, and other special issues.

The story sets us up to believe how valuable Dryads are in this world, that you can monetize their parts and sell them for money.  Our heroes, a pair of gay lumberjacks who are subtle, but not that subtle, in the camp about their relationship, are presented as good lumberjacks: they get there early, they chop down trees.  They do their jobs well.  We are also led to believe that these two men have a dream that requires money.

The narrative often tells us how aggressively hostile Dryads are to humans, and how to find them and collect the money on them.

But along the way, some great narrative magic happens–and the plight of our heroes becomes the plight of the Dryads. And instead of thinking selfishly–using the Dryads to fund their escape into safety–they take the dryads with them.

I love this story because it highlights an aspect of being LGBT that isn’t often explored in fiction: that our persecution does not make us selfishly protect ourselves, but creates compassion towards others who are hunted and persecuted too.  Even though the story establishes that the dryads have a hunger for human blood, and that they can be dangerous and attack, the gay lumberjacks are saving the dryads–in exchange for the dryads helping the couple hide in safety in the future.

“Come away with me,”is a beautiful line because it is so unexpected, and because it deepens the way we understand the main characters.

I also enjoy the shout out to the diversity in the LGBT community—that these main characters are “bears” (read: big bearded hairy gay men).  I also like where this story didn’t go: The other lumberjacks could have “found them out” and hurt them and this would have been a predictable “hurt the gays” story—but the men’s reactions are complex: they both desire the freedom of these gay men to form a relationship, and also have an impression that there is a fluidity to sexuality and the man you are in camp is not the man you are back in the “real world.”  There is a strange allowance for incongruity and a blurriness of masculinity here in the forest.  But, the text still signals the danger the men are in the more the camp fills up with other lumberjacks, and they keep their voices down in the tent, and they smother the openness they had when they were alone.

It helps Payseur make the comparison with the Dryads–who are perfectly fine if no one finds them, but who are in trouble the more the men encroach upon their privacy.  These gay men are not in some gay paradise–they are in an allowed limbo that is incumbent upon tacit ignorance and acceptance–a short-lived window of opportunity.

They use it well.  In the last paragraph, just as you’ve decided these men will use the dryads to fund their escape from this tricky life of masculine conformity, they form a union with the dryads by rescuing them, and, at least in the proposition one of the gay lumberjacks offers, replanting them in a “safe space” with the lumberjacks in their new home.

Perhaps it’s the sense of hope that I love in this piece, and maybe it’s the accurate reflection of compassion over self-interest.  Either way, it’s beautiful.

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What I Learned From Making Your Beasts Come Alive

img_0018When I went to World Fantasy in Columbus, Ohio, we debuted my book, The Angels of Our Better Beasts, and as a bonus, I offered to draw a free beast of your own creation.  Many people took me up on that!   They described to me beasts and I drew them, and here are some of those beasts.  If I drew a beast for you and it isn’t present, it could be because I didn’t have a photo of it, but if you send it, I will add it to the collection of beasts.

What I learned: that we all have a favorite creature–and that we have imagined them before.  Very few of you made up something on the spot.  You were ready.  You had a Beast in Mind.  As part of our childhood, as part of our parenting, or as just something we’ve longed to see as real.  At different times as a child, I used to walk around with an invisible Pegasus, an invisible Lassie, and I can’t tell you too much more about the werewolf I thought would come for me when I was a teen–except that he was there, on the fringes of my consciousness.  I was a creative kid.  You are too.  Your beasts travel with you.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in having your Beasts.  They are often playful, sometimes scary.  But the scary ones even bring a smile to people’s faces, as if the very badass-ness of the Beast they’ve created is wonderful.

I know one man, Alex, said that he created Uber-Corgi for his son, and that they told stories of Uber-Corgi.  Maybe you’ve made up a beast for your kids too…

Most of the beasts were Whimsical which I guess means that we see furry creatures as part of a fantasy, not a horror.  I know online RPGs enjoy giving you “pets” of exotic beasts and people love collecting those.

I’m glad I could be a part of making your beast come to life!

 

So if you have a beast not pictured here, and you send me the picture of it, I’ll add it here.

I know we did about 25-30 beasts in Columbus, about ten in Toronto (one I can’t put online–you know why, Stephen!). I didn’t have a chance to capture them all–but maybe you know where the fantastic beasts are and where to find them… hehe…

Just a note: I’m not running the free beast with a book program right now.  All of you I’ve promised a beast to are still getting one, if you don’t have it already… but it was a great promotion for the launch and for the Toronto Launch too.

I will start this up as a promo later in the year with ChiZine again so watch for the chance to get your Beast realized.  Until then, please enjoy these beasts!  And let me know where to find the rest!

 

 

What have you done with 2016?

12715744_10153895453277095_8059101292263897684_nMany folks are writing up their last year’s work for possible awards eligibility, and since I did a compilation of work, I want to distinguish what’s new and what’s not.

But first can I say:  Finally, after years of writing, I published a book!  YAY!  It feels good to get something out and in a finished form. Needless to say, I’m very proud of this book.  Whatever it does in the world is fine with me.  It is a record now of what I’ve done.  I hope you like it.

For your consideration:

Collection of Stories: The Angels of Our Better Beasts, from ChiZine.

This collection pivots around beasts–the animal kind, the monster kind, and the kind we turn into with those we love–and asks questions about the influence we have on each other.

The Lemmings are really researching the Arctic biologists, the werewolves sing sweet Christian praise songs, and the signing gorilla just wants someone back in the cage for a minute or two. The Gryphon can fight your war for you, and there isn’t really a problem when the man you’ve been online dating turns out to be a bear, is there? No worries. Those old lions in the canyon aren’t up to something, are they? The doctors in the red coats just want to cure you of a terrible blood disease. Trust them. In the forest, the sasquatch has fallen in love with the cryptozoologist who follows him, while the god of the Brazos River courts the young, pretty Texas college students.

Four of the stories in this collection were new in 2016 and are eligible:

“Sam McGee Argues With His Box of Authentic Ashes” (a narrative poem)

Sam McGee is famous for his appearance in the Robert W Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee” so famous, that the real Sam McGee was once offered a bag of his own ashes when he came back to the Yukon.  This poem is him in sudden conversation with his own “famous” ashes….

“Heartbreak, Gospel, Shotgun, Fiddler, Werewolf, Chorus: Bluegrass”

Always loved werewolves but wanted to play with the trope.  This werewolf is hiding in a gospel bluegrass band as the lead singer and banjo player.  The other members know, and they keep him shackled on moonlit nights, but they won’t kill him because the band is the best-selling, triple platinum soul-winning force for Jesus.  And though he’s killed two people, they are saving souls and doing good in the world and maybe that balances out two murders…

“You Will Draw This Life To Its End”

Auguste Rennault is an older  painter famous for his depiction of our human advance throughout the solar system–but he wants to retire to a mining colony in Jupiter-irradiated space around Ganymede to be with a man he loves.  The art community and his funders resist so he creates a great work to paint the miners, living with them, knowing it will be his last.  Instead of retiring, he starts using his fame to change the balance of power between miner’s unions and corporations, illustrating the Miner’s Strike,  trying to see how far the corporations will go to protect the famous painter in a dangerous place.  But it’s not easy to ascribe fame onto others, or use your fame for social change, and there are limits…

“Awake, Gryphon!” 

A young prince awakens to find his Holy City under siege, his father and brothers and sisters dead in a battle and himself as the recipient of the crown and the “great wisdom” that is said to pass from King to oldest surviving heir.  But are all his choices now coming from “the wisdom”?  And is it wise to awaken the unpredictable Gryphon to save the Holy City?  Everyone seems to have a plan on what to do for him, but none can really trust a prince who wants to wake the Gryphon.

I wrote one flash fiction piece, “Your Weird Aunt Pollymorph Says Hello,” that appeared inflight-full-cover FLIGHT: the Queer Scifi Flash Fiction Anthology from Mischief Corner Books and won first place in the contest they had.

It’s about a sentient holographic computer interface that can take on the shape of the person best suited to work with you, but who is struggling to understand who to be for a ten year old girl whose mother has taken her from her friends and brought her on the ship.

I also was able to write a couple of good blogposts, namely “My Mother, My New Club, and the Swastika On My Shoes” and “Wealth has always been the greatest (unspoken) superpower”

Since I’m both American and Canadian, my work is eligible for Auroras and Sunbursts as well as World Fantasy and LGBT awards.

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Overall, this year was a production year of getting the book ready to be published and then getting it in front of as many eyes as we could.  I moved Dec 30-31 of last year to a new place–so I was in Kettering when this year began.  An upstairs lofty, quirky kind of bedroom and outer-room that became an office.  From January-February, I was packaging the book together to give to Andrew Wilmot, my amazing editor, working at the behest of ChiZine.  I wrote two of the stories then–the long ones.  We had to make decisions at the end to not finish a couple I’d have loved to have in there, but they were long and they were taking a lot of time to get finished and would have made the book unbalanced.

I taught a class for the Lifelong Learning Center on Jesus in Science Fiction, which went over really well, and was also a guest speaker for the Fantasy And Science Fiction Appreciation Club on the University of Dayton campus and started a Science Fiction Writing Workshop Club on campus after being a guest speaker at LitFest in April.  I teach there as an adjunct.

After Andrew sent the manuscript back with edits, I worked on it even more through April.  Then in May I moved back into IMG_2923my friend’s house in Vandalia and drew 15 illustrations for the book.  My banjo playing werewolf from “Heartbreak” is one of them:

 

 

 

Once I sent those off, I went off to see my birthmother in Daleville, IN, some friends in Chicago, and then off to a novel-writing workshop in Kansas–met Kij Johnson, Andy Duncan, Chris McKitterick and a lot of wonderful new writers.  It was a hot, muggy, but informational two weeks where I learned a lot about myself as a writer and what I was prepared to do to write a novel.

img_3237When I returned from that, I taught a six week research writing course at UD and then moved into my new place in August in the Fairview area of Dayton.  Sept-Dec was teaching, teaching, teaching, and grading, grading, grading and taking on a new job as a Marketer for ManCo Property Services.  I market their property and work on their Salem Avenue Peace Corridor newsletter.  In October, my book came out!  I took it to World Fantasy in Columbus and launched it there (even though it wouldn’t be available in the US till Dec 13, another two months), then went to Toronto for the Canadian book launch of AoBB, and Texas for Thanksgiving to see my folks, followed quickly by a long trip to Whitehorse, YT and Calgary AB to see friends and recuperate from a long year.

In September I did an overhaul of this website, but will do another in a few days.  I’m making a promise to use blogging more this year and Facebook less.  Facebook is ephemeral and it’s hard to recapture what you did unless you want to scroll back through everything slowly….

2017 will be a huge production year too as I get One Nation Under Gods written and finished by the Fall for ChiZine, as well as a couple of stories that have been waiting a long time to be done.  I want them done by February.  I take on a new editing project–more on that in April–and some new changes in the Fall of 2017 for me, most likely.

In all, I got work to do.

So this was my year!  It was a good one.  We’re gonna make another one like this, but better for 2017.  Thanks for being a part of it!

My Mother, My New Club, and the Swastika on my Shoes

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I first saw this picture through Natalie Laurel on Facebook.  She advocates turning the swastikas we are seeing into other things. 

It was 1978.  I was in fourth grade. I wanted to belong to something so badly. I was invited into my first club at school. Now, understand, our family had been Navy for 20 years, so in my young life, we moved around a lot–every year, sometimes. I had already lived 6 places on two coasts, and I was 9. So being invited into a club was a huge thing! It meant I was accepted–even as an outsider–even in a new small town in Missouri. A beautiful town.

I don’t know if it was a joke played on me, or not, this club–this acceptance. If it was real, then it gives me chills now. “Yes, you can be in our club,” an older boy said, someone who was in seventh grade, maybe. He was so tall. And I was so hungry for acceptance. He knelt down and he drew something on the front of my shoes. The new symbol for our club, he said.  When I went home that day, I said, “Mommy, I’m in a club! I’m in a club!” And I must have been beaming with that acceptance.

My mother took one look at my shoes–the only pair of shoes I had for school because we didn’t have a lot of money. And it was in ink, this thing. The boy had drawn a swastika on each of my shoes. I thought it was a cool club symbol because I was young, but my mother saw it for what it was.  She was shocked.  She knelt down to look at it.  She could not erase it–she must have known it would show up anyway. So she carefully made it a box, a four squared box. I was upset that she had done that–at first. I don’t remember if I cried, or tried to stop her–She was ruining the club symbol! She was marking on my shoes! — I’m sure I put up a little fight. “No honey. Not this symbol,” was what she said to me. “I don’t want you in that club.” I don’t know if she explained to me what that symbol meant–I think she must have tried.  But I can’t remember.  I did it for my mom more than for my fourth grade understanding of hate symbols.  It meant so much to my mom, that I didn’t pursue that club.  I don’t even remember if the club was really a club, or some cruel joke they were playing on me. I never saw any club meetings, any groups with swastikas on their arms or shoes. Never.

My shoes had a foursquare box on them for the rest of fourth grade. I made up a new club for people with glasses, and I forgot about the old club. We had three guys in the glasses club.

It’s our job to not let little children (or anyone) have to see that symbol everywhere.  Even if they don’t understand why.  This symbol is getting a revival.  If you see it, be vandals and change it.  Don’t let that symbol stay.  It’ll burn into the walls.  It’ll burn into our minds.  Turn the swastikas into boxes, Windows Logos, or brightly-colored boxes. Turn them into pinwheels, gift boxes, chessboards.

Turn them into windows that look out onto a better America.

*thank you, Mom.

 

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(this post was inspired by Natalie Laurel’s Facebook photo of the Windows logo shared by many. I know the original might be photoshopped, but buy a can a paint anyway, eh? )