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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The Book of Birmingham: Adding Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the Bible

Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an eventI would like to see Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963) added to all new Bibles.

I don’t propose this lightly.  Three times in the Bible, in three different places, listeners (and they wouldn’t have been readers) are exhorted not to add to, or take away, from specific books.  One is about Revelation, one is specifically to the Israelites in Deuteronomy to listen to the law, and the other is in Proverbs: “Every word of God is true….do not add to his words, lest you be proved a liar.”  I think it’s safe to say that I won’t propose adding any new words of God to the Bible.  I’m advocating something less radical.  If we can have letters from Paul, we can have letters from Martin.

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Imaginarium 4: Table of Contents revealed

10982867_10153036781103855_735786566531418969_oVery honoured to be chosen to work with Sandra Kasturi of ChiZine Publications as a guest co-editor for Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing which features, yes, as advertised, the best speculative writing of Canadians from 2014.  This will be published in September, I think.  Follow the link above to see the Table of Contents.

Believe me, there were more amazing stories and poems than we could have possibly picked for one volume. These were hard choices, some of them, frankly, excruciating–but a 600 page volume was something that ChiZine said wasn’t possible for us at this time.

Congratulations to all who were chosen for this volume.  There is a significant list of Honourable Mentions that you’ll see in the book.

Damn, but Canadians are writing well.  That’s all I can say.

So happy too to have Margaret Atwood writing the Introduction to this collection.

For the Table of Contents please follow this link:

Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing

Jerome in the Yukon Writers Festival

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A really nice article by Dan Davidson appeared in the Whitehorse Star on Friday, April 19. Alistair Maitland did the photo. I appreciate them both. I think this Festival will be a lot of fun. It’s always good to get to teach Yukon high school students as part of the Young Authors Conference as well.

The Festival starts with a big reading at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre Tuesday night at 7pm. The Young Authors Conference is held the next two days after that in FH Collins Library and then we head off Friday to Haines Junction for a reading.

Organizer Sara Davidson has done a great job at gathering diverse writers together. Yukoner Dennis Allen, as well as Drew Hayden Taylor and Carrie Mac and Beverley Brenna.

If you can, come and enjoy the readings with us.

Bless You, Ray Bradbury

I was sad to hear of the passing of Ray Bradbury, a giant in my life.  He was 91, so he lived a good long life, and he gave us amazing writing like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451.  But I will always remember him for his collections of short stories, The Illustrated Man, Martian Chronicles, R is for Rocket, S is for Space, Medicine for Melancholy, and others.  They fueled my imagination–as I’m sure they did many people.  But I can truthfully say that Ray Bradbury–with his lyrical writing, his vivid description and interesting stories–shaped me as a writer. I heard he was one of those bridge writers–the ones that transcended genre.  But that didn’t matter.  What mattered was that he took me places, expanded my imagination, urged me to tell stories.

We met once.

I was in Lubbock, working, I think, on my last year at a degree at Wayland Baptist University.  It was 1992.  Ray was speaking at a Young Author’s conference, but also as a public speaker.  I was there to meet my hero.  I brought a copy of Martian Chronicles with me, and the picture of him in the paper.

He talked about his time working for the Smithsonian, designing famous garages of inventors; his work on the Moby Dick screenplay for John Huston.  He didn’t talk much about making science fiction…  but I was rapt nonetheless.  This man had produced so much.  His imagination was so vivid.

Afterwards, there was of course a line up to get signatures. Ray sat behind a small table, and I worked my way up to him.  While I was still a couple of people away, a woman came out of nowhere and jumped the line–with a stack of ten books, all open to the front page.  These she plunked down in front of Ray, saying “These won’t take you but a minute.”  Then she grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him sideways so her daughter could snap a picture.  I think Ray was a bit miffed–a whole line of people trailed out in front of him.

After quickly signing all her books, while she babbled, he turned back to the line with a huge amount of graciousness for our patience.  When I got up there, I put my newspaper and book in front of him, and said, “You’re the reason I started writing.”

He looked up.  “Are you sending stuff out?”

“Well, I’m trying to…I mean…” I stammered.  I wasn’t a very confident writer in 1992, with no sales to my name, but thirty bad stories completed and sitting around somewhere.

“You have to send them out.  Send one out a week.  That’s what I did.  I wrote one story a week–started on Sunday and mailed it on Saturday.  I did this for years.  That way I had 52 stories in the mail and some of them had to sell!”

He laughed.  He shook my hand.  I assured him I would do that. I didn’t keep that promise.  I went on to college, studied writing, but never writing one story a week–until I got to Clarion Writing Workshop and had to write one story a week–(I got five out of six weeks!)

That day back in 1992 I felt blessed by Ray Bradbury.  My hero took time with me, gave me advice.  Perhaps he was fueled by the woman who had taken the time he wanted to give us–maybe he felt an extra special need to be encouraging to me.  I don’t know, but I’ll never forget it.

Bless you, Ray Bradbury.  Bless you for blessing me that day.  And bless you for all the wonderful stories and novels and essays you left us.  And how you crafted magic out of an ordinary day.

Writing Faith Workshop begins, Feb 10, 5-8pm, Whitehorse United Church

  How do you write about your “faith”?  How do you describe the indescribable, the ineffable, the otherworldly? the grief or joy or miracle or peace or disappointment that you have because of your faith?  Everyone can argue about the value or lack of value in “religion”–and it’s an easy connect-the-dots to create your own pictures of what organized religion has done in the world.  It’s harder to write about personal faith or your personal interactions with religion–what keeps you going, what happened to you that you know no one would believe, about the anguish of trying to live in a real, faulty, fragile world, when others ask you to strive for peace, patience, happiness, even joy.

This writing workshop will explore how people write about these very personal experiences, or their thoughts about faith and religion and its very real presence in their lives, or the lives of those around them.  We’ve had students write about their relationships with their parents, their children, their grandchildren, experiences in nature, in confronting others who aren’t on the same page.  We have had students who are believers, non-believers, unsure, people of various faiths.  All faiths are welcome–come with what’s important to you, open to what is important to others. This isn’t a dogma class.  It’s not a class to teach you from the top down.  It’s for you to teach us from the ground up through your experiences, your writing.

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My Year of Canadian Reading: what stories are you made of?

As I’m approaching an inevitable embrace of Canada (oh, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!) I’m aware that I have very little knowledge of Canadian literature.  A poor citizen is one who does not know his country’s stories. It is how we speak to one another–a cultural physiography and language that connects Canadians together.  How can I become a citizen without learning this cultural language?  Sure I could take a class, I suppose, from a Canadian university online, do some papers, etc.  But I thought a more creative way would be for Yukoners to suggest Canadian books that meant something to them–then it would be more personal.

So I went on CBC with Dave White and we came up with a plan for book suggestions–a reading list of sorts–so that I could become more literate about Canada.  We are getting great results, but please call in to Dave and suggest more books.  I’d like to build a canon, of sorts, of Yukon-suggested Canadian literature.  Right now I’m looking mostly for fiction, poetry and drama—but I have decided that a few creative nonfiction pieces are a must, a Pierre Berton, a Farley Mowat, even a Kevin Chong (go, KC!).  I built a blog to read and discuss this literature.  It’s called “A Year of Canadian Reading” and you can follow the link to see what I’m reading, what I’m up to, and what I thought about books you suggested.  Follow along if you like.  Read them with me.  I want to get an idea about Canada from its literature.  I want to understand you through your stories.  I think when we understand a culture through its stories, we are more able to speak to and hear from its citizens, and as citizens we’re more able to understand each other.

I don’t have any intention of stopping reading after the Year is over—but an actual year is a start.  I’ve read some Canadian Literature.  I came in with knowing only three authors: Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje.  But I’m aiming for the depth and breadth of Canadian Literature, even the heart of our warm, warm country.

Let me know if you want to play.  Follow these links if you want to:  SUGGEST A BOOK FOR ME, or find out WHAT I’M GOING TO READ.