Speculating Canada reviews my story, “One Nation Under Gods”

Really thrilled that Speculating Canada reviewed my short story, “One Nation Under Gods” which appeared in Tesseracts 14. It’s hard to get short fiction reviews and they are so valuable.  The SF/F/H community should hold tight and nurture as many reviewers as we can. With a growing market of books, the discerning reader looks to reviews to help choose what to read.  And reviewers who choose short fiction, new authors, and anthologies help support beginning writers who are starting their careers, hoping that someone notices.  So we can’t fete reviewers enough–we need them, we love them, we should be very kind to them.

I’d say this for any thoughtful reviewer, even if Derek had NOT liked my work.  It’s the way he liked my work that makes me happy. 

Speculating Canada has a really great aim:

This site has been created in response to the overwhelming number of people who are surprised that Canadian literature includes the fantastic. Canadian SF, fantasy, and horror have been cast into a literary ghetto under the power structure of CanLit, and cast as either inferior literatures, or literatures that are not ‘of here’, i.e. from abroad. Yet, Canadian speculative fiction has a long history in Canada and engages with ideas of Canadian identity, belonging, and concepts of nationhood, place and space (both ‘the final frontier’ type, and the geographical).

Realist fiction is often seen as the only ‘truly’ Canadian fiction, but even realist fiction speculates, postulates and creates a fantastic idea, just one that is based more closely on the normative world around us than most SF authors are inclined to do.

Canadian SF allows for the engagement with ideas such as What is Canada? What does belonging mean? What is the nature of ‘human’? Why are things the way they are? How do we change things? Can things change?

The appeal of Canadian SF is not just regional, but has implications for a wider audience. Canadians, long un/comfortable with our identity as a hybrid of the American and English, Francophones and Anglophones, Aboriginal and settlers, and the multicultural mix that is embedded in our philosophy, means that we are comfortable with questions of identity and the exploration of our place, ideas that naturally lend themselves to science fiction, fantasy, and horror. We live in a world that is unsure of itself, and uncomfortable with ideas of belonging, and Canadian SF plays with ideas of belonging, disrupts the normal (or what has come to be seen as normal) and allows for a new way of experiencing the world.

As for the review–well, I’ll let you read most of it as his site, but here’s a nice chunk:

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“…his cultivation of genuine menace…”: a review of “One Nation Under Gods” at Portal

Val Grimm, over at the Portal, gave me a good review for my short story, “One Nation Under Gods”!  Thanks, Val.  I’m always thrilled that there are people who will review short fiction, and anthologies.  Thank you, Val!  Val reviews the whole anthology, Tesseracts 14, story by story.  Here is his review of mine:

The author of “One Nation Under Gods”, Jerome Stueart, emigrated to Yukon from the States in 2007, and his former citizenship is evident in the themes and content of his story. I’m not biased in its favor because of my nationality, nor simply because its dark vision seems in concord with my fears. This story succeeds, in my eyes, because of his detailed worldbuilding, the realistic relationship between the narrator and his sister, and his cultivation of genuine menace, an evocation of the way people can be treated as things. In the world of this story (which in outlook and some tropes puts me a bit in mind of Steve Darnall and Alex Ross’ 1997 comic Uncle Sam) concepts like Freedom and Patriot are incarnate as deities, administered by priests and priestesses, and the Statue of Liberty herself is known to walk abroad. The history of the gods is the history of the country, and its people are required to memorize that catechism or pay with their lives in particularly grotesque ways; if a child fails the standardized test which is a mandated rite of passage, he or she is transformed into a public object, anything from a soda shop to a garbage can. Stueart skillfully incorporates the conflict between individuality and vested religious and political powers; the way those powers can intertwine and what that merging means; the clash between idealism or perception cultivated through propaganda and reality, between history as the study of people in power versus the study of the people’s past; and the transformation of people into instruments, people into numbers.—Val Grimm at the Portal.

Moon Over Manifest Wins 2011 Newbery Medal for First Time Novelist, Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest, the debut novel by Clare Vanderpool, just won the Newbery Medal.  According to the website for Newbery, “[the medal] is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

From the description on Clare’s site about the book:

Eleven-year-old Abilene Tucker, the only daughter of a drifter, and therefore a drifter in her own right, has just arrived in Manifest, Kansas during the Depression while her father works a railroad job back in Iowa.  Having heard her father, Gideon’s stories of the town in its 1918 hey-day, Abilene looks for the sign with big blue letters but finds the sign shot up so bad, all that was left read: “Manifest – A town with a past.”   She is disappointed to find that Manifest is just dingy and dried up like most other towns.  But her disappointment quickly turns to intrigue when she discovers a hidden cigar box that contains old letters, a collection of mementos, and mention of a spy known as The Rattler.

Abilene and her friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, embark on an honest to goodness spyhunt that ends up with someone leaving a note on their treehouse cautioning them to Leave Well Enough Alone.  But Abilene sets caution aside when she ventures down the mysterious Path to Perdition and ends up at Miss Sadie’s Divining Parlor.  Abilene isn’t sure if the Hungarian woman is really a diviner or just an old woman who tells stories of the past.  But through Miss Sadie’s stories, Abilene searches for the boy her father once was and the meaning of home.

Clare is a mother of four children.  The book took five years to write, and now she’s in the New York Times talking about it.

“Ms. Vanderpool, the Newbery winner, said she wrote “Moon Over Manifest” over five years, beginning in 2001, stealing bits of time while raising her four children.

“I would write during nap times, during ‘Sesame Street,’ that kind of stuff,” said Ms. Vanderpool, 46, by telephone from her home in Wichita, Kan., where she was born and reared. “It was just a nice little escape, a nice hobby. Then fortunately this year it got published.”

This particular Newbery winner means a lot to me because Clare is my friend.

I told Clare that I’d be cashing in all my “I knew her when” chips now!   Here I was scanning the New York Times and saw that the Newbery Medal was out, and WHOP!  I jumped up from the couch and said, “The NEWBERY!  SHE WON THE NEWBERY!!”

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EVOLVE anthology covered in depth by Temple Library Review

I got a thorough review in Temple Library Review–and so did everyone in the Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead.  Read the conclusion of his review of me here, and then go to the link to find the rest.  It’s really nice to have anyone review an anthology in this much depth.  Thanks!

How Magnificent is the Universal Donor does what few short stories manage. It remains strong on all fronts. Well developed characters, a clever and unorthodox world and enough suspense all result in a must-read page turner. It’s a true gem that fulfills the anthology’s theme and delivers a lot more.

Read his entire review of “How Magnificent is the Universal Donor” here.  

Inhuman anthology includes Whitehorse writer, Dave Strachan

You might recognize Dave Strachan as the guy who helps you with your Arctic Cat snowmobile needs at Listers Motorsports (that is not him on the cover of the book there).  I know Dave more as a science fiction writer and friend.  I’m THRILLED to say that Dave made it into the Inhuman anthology put out by Absolute XPress, a Direct-to-Reader press owned by Hades Publications, which specializes in scifi, fantasy, horror e-books and paper-books.  

The anthology is made up of flash fiction–stories under 1000 words–part of the Flash Fiction #4 Challenge that Absolute XPress issued earlier this year.  The stories discuss what it means to be human from an inhuman POV.  Some stories are all from that POV, and some have characters that are inhuman chatting about humanity.  I was the guest editor who helped choose the stories, but I’m proud to say that the judging was blind and that his story was chosen by all three judges.  I had no idea if we were going to end up with Dave’s story in the bunch.  There were a lot of great entries and we couldn’t put everyone in–but collectively we ended up choosing great stories.   

Thank you, everyone who submitted.  I’m proud of the stories included in the anthology.  You can order the anthology on their website, or through Amazon.com.   

And, Dave…. way to go.

Harry Potter Diary: Harry, the Suppressed, Closeted Wizard

At 41, I’m reading the Harry Potter series for the first time.  Outside the demographic for the book, I was wondering what I would latch onto as an adult.  What would speak to me?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, HP1, gives us a kid whose true identity is being suppressed.  His muggle guardians KNOW he is a wizard, but they are hoping that he will just not learn about this heritage, and certainly won’t become a wizard.  They never mention his parents were wizards, never tell what really happened the day his parents died, and they never want to hear if he has any wizard “tendencies”… and they punish him severely whenever those “tendencies” appear—when Harry acts on his wizarding nature.

I always found the scene when the owls try to deliver his welcome letter from Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft to be quite moving.  While on the surface it looks like the Dursleys are merely being subverted in their plan to keep Harry from knowing the truth–it is a moment where Harry learns WHO he is and that he has great potential.  Without this moment, there is no Harry Potter or Harry Potter series.

The urgency with which the owls start tossing their letters into the house; the extremes that the Dursleys go to hide away from the letters finding Harry; this is no small event.  I would say it is the biggest turning point in Harry’s life–because afterwards he will understand who he is, and be given the skills to fulfill his destiny, while before he is humiliated and punished when any sign of his true nature reveals itself, and living as a secondary person, almost a slave, in the Dursley household.  He lives in a closet under the stairs!  (I mean, really, people… a closet???)

It’s hard for me to escape seeing this as a coming out moment for Harry, or see this as a metaphor (at least for me) of a boy society has been trying to make more and more “straight”–who just can’t help certain natural tendencies.  As a gay man, I saw myself in Harry.  Society hides our history from us, brands us as immoral, makes us feel humiliated for being who we are–if we even get to know that information–and somewhere along early puberty, the signs start coming in unusually fast… the letters telling us who we are and what we are capable of start flying in.

I had great parents.  No, they didn’t know what to do either when I started exhibiting behavior outside of what they had expected.  I don’t think they ever tried to hide who I was, though; they were afraid to mention anything, uncertain if this might be a tipping point where I would start to explore what this meant.  But certainly my religion tried to separate me from the immorality of a whole group of people, convincing me that I could never be a “homosexual”– because I was a good boy, a good Christian.

If I’d only had a list of the great gay and lesbian people of history, or that so many of our revered American writers were gay or lesbian.  If only I’d realized how much we contributed to history.  Or known what was happening to me physically and mentally and sexually.  I’m glad that Mason Crest Publishers recently announced a line of books for middle-schoolers about being gay, about coming out, about gay and lesbian role models, history, religion.  Like 15 letters!  I want to own those books.

In my life, though, the letters stopped coming, the owls gave up.  I never realized I was gay until I was 34.

But in Harry Potter, the Dursleys can’t prevent Harry from knowing who he is because a giant comes through the door.   Hagrid—man, would I love my own Hagrid!—breaks down the door of the shack on the island where the Dursleys and Harry have hidden.  And he is angry when he finds out that Harry’s history has been suppressed, that Harry’s true nature has been ridiculed and been denied him.  There is triumph and relief in that moment of comeuppance for the Dursleys.  Not only have they been shamed, but Harry has seen them as they are— as no longer the standard or authority for telling him who he is.  He cannot be shamed.  Hagrid has revealed a higher truth.  Harry is allowed to break free of their mental tyranny–because Hogwarts, a place designed for people just like him, is waiting for him.  They value him.

Now, at Hogwarts, everyone treats Harry as someone they love.  Yes, a few treat him like a superstar, but I’m amazed at how loving and caring all the characters are towards Harry–especially the adults.  They become his new family.  Dumbledore and McGonagall serve as surrogate parents, and Hagrid as a protective big brother.

We see the Dursleys as comedic backdrop, but I think, in some ways, they are as dangerous to Harry as Voldemort is.  While Voldemort wants to take Harry’s life, the Dursleys also want to take Harry’s life–his soul, his self-worth, his personhood.  Whoever would rob you of who you are, or try to shame you for being who you are–that is a dangerous person.  If the Dursleys had been successful in keeping the truth from Harry, it would have robbed him of a joyful, adventurous life.  Those who want to keep their children from realizing who they are–and the joys of being that person, the contributions that other people like ourselves have made to history–are extremely dangerous people.  There is nothing wrong with being gay.  And great people in history have been gay.  It is extremely important for every person to have role models.  We spend an inordinate amount of time in Christianity talking about our role models, and in American History about role models, and in sports about role models.  Gays have been hidden from history for a long time.

Oddly enough, we were handed a great role model when Dumbledore was outed by JK Rowling.  Such a huge moment–that a beloved character could be gay and still be the wisest, most caring, fatherly, most powerful character in an already beloved series.  We were handed a beautiful role model, who doesn’t have to just be “gay”–he’s allowed to do other things with his character.   And it completes my attachment to this scene.  Harry is saved by Hagrid, a man of the woods, an earthy gamekeeper, in service to the Head Wizard himself, who is gay, and finally taken from the suppression that had marked his whole life.  Harry is given a new start as a Wizard, in a place that values him, and this makes me cheer.

I’m not implying at all that Harry is gay, only that this scene–where the truth is revealed, and assumption that Harry is worthless is wrong–resonates with me as a 41 year old man.  And that there is a whole hidden history, a whole place where people value who you are–who’d have thought?

It never would have occurred to me at 10 or 12 even… but there is something powerful in these books even for us 41 year olds.

Harry Potter Diary: Outside the Demographic Looking Inside Hogwarts

I decided to read the Harry Potter Series this summer, for the first time.  After 10 billion people were happily served by the boy wizard and his pals, after the series was put to rest by JK Rowling years ago, and just as the film franchise explodes to a close, I decided to read the books.

Some questions immediately pop to mind: Why didn’t I read the books years ago?  

1.  I’m not a fad kind of guy, so having millions of people read the books actually made me feel less like becoming part of the phenomenon.  

2.  I actually loved the movies.  I did read HP 2 after the first movie came out, and before the second movie.  And loved it.  But when I watched the film, I was terribly disappointed that a whole mess of story was eliminated as if it didn’t count.  I vowed then and there to see the movies first, and then I would read the books to add in parts that the movies had left out.  This is actually a decent strategy.  

And why now??

Well, the end of the era is around the corner…. by summer 2011, the films will be done.  But I think it’s more because I really want to read the books.  I want to see how Rowling built the arcs, how she developed series characters, and how she managed to maintain the hook for so long.  It’s okay to admire the books on a “how are they written?” sort of way.  

I want the magic too.  Even though, now, I know at least where the movies have taken me.  Now I want to see where the books take me.  

I’m not the demographic JK Rowling was aiming for.  Her 9-17 age bracket probably resonated with the idea that children can have power too; that magic exists under adult noses; that the world doesn’t have to be like their parents told them it would be–office buildings, stock markets and 2 hour commutes.  

So what would a 41 year old, single, gay writer and English teacher living in the Yukon Territory–with no children– get from reading the Harry Potter series–besides how to create a blockbuster series?  It’s a good question to think about.  How does a book transcend its ideal market, appeal across the board to adults and children alike?  What will be the pull of the series for me?  (I already loved the movies—but why.)  

I’m keeping a Harry Potter Diary as I go to ponder things about the series along the way.   Just reactions to, thoughts about, resonances with the series.  

There’s a spot at Hogwarts for me–and I’m going to find it.