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.







What is Realms of Fantasy looking for?

The Clarion Foundation (parent of Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop) has a wonderful blog.  Douglas Cohen, an editor from Realms of Fantasy, recently wrote a guest post there talking about the view from Realms of Fantasy, from its long run in the industry, including its two recent revivals with new publishers.  There is some great insight here for those who are submitting stories and poems (yes, they have started publishing poems).  Here’s just a snippet, but the rest you can read on the Clarion blog.

1)     Fantasy is a broad genre, and it’s yet to stop expanding.  In addition to writers, editors are playing a crucial role in defining what fantasy is.  I’ve read a number of stories in our pages that I consider science fiction.  Obviously Shawna felt otherwise, or at least saw enough fantasy-related elements to justify publishing these tales in RoF.  Too often, I hear about authors rejecting themselves from certain markets because their stories are “not a good fit.”  Now, if you’re writing a hard science fiction piece in the vein of Gregory Benford or Isaac Asimov, it’s true that your story most likely isn’t right for us.  But if there is an element that could be considered fantastical in your sf story, who knows?  We just might buy it.  Did you know John Joseph Adam’s recent dystopian sf reprint anthology has a story from RoF in there?  Did you know we published a story with robots that were clearly inspired by Transformers?  Did you know we had a story about molecule memory that was reprinted in Rich Horton’s Science Fiction, Best of the Year, 2008?  I could go on.  The point—and this is something to keep in mind for all markets—is that it’s not your job to reject your stories for our magazines.  It sounds like a basic thing, but too often I see authors—including experienced ones—overanalyzing their prospective writing markets.  This is not a phenomenon unique to RoF.  It’s good to know your markets, because that might help you land a sale sooner rather than later.  But don’t be the editor for them.  I can’t stress this enough.  When in doubt, submit.  Let us decide what’s right for the magazine.  The worst that happens is that we say no.  To borrow (and probably mangle) a phrase from John W. Campbell: “How dare you reject your story for my magazine?”

2)     Shawna and I have different tastes.  Yes, there is definite overlap, and these similarities (and the differences for that matter) are why we work well together.  But I hear too many authors saying things like, “Realms of Fantasy is not a market for sword & sorcery.”  Ahem.  I love sword & sorcery.  I also unquestionably enjoy this sub-genre more than Shawna does, meaning I’m likelier to enjoy an S&S tale than she is.  But since I’ve been with the magazine, we’re publishing more in this area than we ever have before.  Not an overwhelming amount, but definitely more.  The point is that magazines change over time.  Too many people stop reading a certain venue for whatever reason, and five or ten years later, when they’re telling you their problems with this magazine, what they’re saying is no longer relevant.  Again, I see this happen with experienced writers too, so I feel I should mention it here.  So not only should you never reject yourself, but it’s also a terrible idea letting others do your market research for you.  Sharing ideas is fine, but make sure your friends are up to date on what they’re saying.  If the information is coming secondhand, make sure it’s coming from a reliable source.

There are eight more points Mr. Cohen makes–equally insightful. It behooves you (I like ‘behooves’) to run over there and check them out.  Happy submitting.

Mr. Cohen also makes a strong point about Clarion graduates supplying the magazine with quality stuff.  See that top name on the February cover of Realms of Fantasy—Desirina Boskovich?  One of my Clarion buddies.  Awesome, Desirina!

Realms of Fantasy re-opened and ready for your submissions

Shuttafly by Natassia A. Davis, from her Flickr pageIt’s official:  Realms of Fantasy is back, and expecting a ton of submissions.  I don’t think we should disappoint them.  

Note, Canadian authors: though you still have to submit hardcopy, if you supply your email, they will answer you via email.  They don’t want to work with IRCs and who does?  So, this saves us time too.  

Editorial guidelines from their link:

Editorial Guidelines

Realms of Fantasy, a bimonthly magazine, is a professional market for the best in fantastic short fiction. Stories should be no longer than 10,000 words, and can address any area in the realms of fantasy: heroic, contemporary, traditional, feminist, dark, light, and the ever-popular “unclassifiable.” What we do not want to see is standard SF (this means no alien worlds, no hard-edged technology, no FTL drives, etc.)  Additionally, ROF is not a market for poetry.  What we do want to see is the very best in the field–Realms of Fantasy is a highly competitive market.

For stories under 7,500 words, rates begin at 6 cents per word for new writers and move upward as a writer gains recognition. For stories over 7,500 words, the rates break at 7,500 to 4 cents a word. Thus, a 10,000-word story by a newcomer would pay $550. Again, for established writers, the rates will be proportionally higher.

All submissions must be typed in a 12 pt. serif font such as Courier or Times Roman, double-spaced, and accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope large enough to hold your manuscript.  Manuscripts not typed and double-spaced will not be considered.  Manuscripts without return postage will not be returned.  If you wish us to discard the ms. and reply only by letter, you need only enclose a letter-size (#10) envelope and mark your ms. DISPOSABLE.  Your name, address, email address and phone number should appear on the first page of the text, not on a cover sheet, as cover sheets can easily get separated from the rest of the ms.

International authors must still submit hardcopies of their stories but we will respond via email rather than regular mail, assuming that you do not require your ms. to be returned to you.  We do not accept multiple or simultaneous submissions.  Response time is ordinarily 8 to 12 weeks.  We regret that the majority of our responses must be in the form of pretyped letters.  This in no way reflects on your work, only on our time and work load.

Thank you for your interest in Realms of Fantasy, and we look forward to seeing your work in our pages.

Shawna McCarthy 
Editorial Address: Realms of Fantasy P.O. Box 527 Rumson, NJ 07760

Now, go give them what they want!  Good Yukon Stories, or stories from Yukon authors.  


Bondsmen, my story, up at Metazen: James Bond meets himselves

secret-agent2My story, “Bondsmen”, is up at Metazen.  The story–meant to be a comedy– is a bit surreal, having the latest James Bond (an actor beyond Daniel Craig) really stifled by all the things he has to do as James Bond—he just wants to be himself, dang-it, but he finds himself trapped in the character roles that have been played in the past by other actors….  This is a story of a man who wants to be an individual, not controlled by things he can and cannot do.  James Bond ends up quarreling with all the other actors who’ve ever played Bond–or rather, all the other versions of Bond.  It is meant to be parody, but also a way to think about living life suppressed, even when you’re a dangerous secret agent.  Does James Bond really get a choice to be anything else?

Metazen, ” is an online fiction zine that publishes short fiction and poetry by various authors. Metazen is a fly trap for metafiction, existentialism and  absurdism. It harbors all kinds of filth such as neurotic characters, obscure philosophies, love for inanimate objects and quests toward enlightenment. Metazen occasionally follows the real life, meta-fictional exploits of Frank.  Metazen is edited by Frank Hinton, Jessica Alchesse and Dylan Cohen.”

Enjoy the story!

Fantasy Magazine Interviews Me: Writing the Other

DSC_0360_255Fantasy Magazine, which published my short story,  “The Moon Over Tokyo Through Leaves in the Fall,” did a companion interview, which I thought was incredibly thoughtful.  When you write a story, you always hope for questions like this–that someone will ask what you meant when a character said this or that, or ask how you go about writing the story.  

And secretly too, you hope you don’t sound like a dork.  

I appreciate the interviewer, TJ McIntyre, and the work he put into the questions.  Thank you.  



An excerpt

There have been many controversies over the years relating to writing the “Other” or writing with a voice outside of one’s own natural experience. “The Moon Over Tokyo Through Leaves in the Fall” is written from the point of view of a modern Asian-American female. Did this create a challenge for you? What steps, if any, did you take to verify the authenticity of your voice in this piece? What tips do you have for other writers out there working on pieces where they are writing from the perspective of the “Other?”

Hmmm . . . This is a hard question for me because I think every character you write about is an “Other.” I do understand the argument, that writing something completely different from you is more challenging. But unless you are writing memoir, the characters have completely different childhoods, desires, relationships — all the characters, not just the POV one. So they all take a lot of work to understand and “get right,” so to speak.

But if someone wants to write a character which is “other” I wouldn’t stop them. Instead, I would encourage them to stretch themselves. I certainly don’t immediately identify with, or always find accurate to my experiences, the white, rural, college-educated, religious gay male characters I find. And I don’t always want to write that character. I would hate to stop someone else from writing them though.

So I think that’s my first tip: Feel free to be whoever you need to be for the story, without holding yourself hostage to criteria. Criteria can turn into stereotype. I remember once writing a poem about Theodore Roosevelt surviving the Amazon River. A fellow writer said that I had no albino catfish in the poem and that it was a weakness. If I didn’t mention them, I would be called on the authenticity of place. Even worse may be the authenticity of race or gender or sexual orientation — since we are multi-faceted people. I go back to my first statement: Everyone in your story that isn’t yourself is an “Other” . . . and you are required to be careful with all of them.

Saying that, though, I think writing a nasty, mean, selfish gay character might be an accurate representation of one particular person, and might make a funny character, but I would trust that character more in the hands of a gay man who knows the consequences of pushing a bad stereotype in a culture that seems to want to believe the stereotype, than in someone else’s hands. I tried hard to be sympathetic to both Matsui and Yumi equally — showing their flaws, their desires, and hopefully helping a reader side with both at different times.

So, not that you have to always treat your Other characters with kid gloves, but that you make everyone understandable and as authentic as a human being as you possibly can through research, and through infusing them with your own flaws/desires. I infused Yumi with some of my own doubts about my relevancy/impact on the world, my own relationship experiences, the sometimes clash of cultures I find with people older than me. The story doesn’t have my exact experiences, but the shades of feelings are right, the tone is right, the need to be loved and validated is right, I think.

Run the draft through a close set of writerly friends to check for bias. I did run this through Clarion 2007 in San Diego, past a rigorous group of fellow writers, half of them women, who had some questions about the way I wrote Yumi, and I followed their advice. Not that a character can’t make bad decisions, or have perceptible flaws, only that they should be unique, individually motivated and free from OBVIOUS bias.

Be open to learning what it’s like to be someone other than you. It’s really difficult to shed Jerome in order to take on Yumi or Matsui, but I try. Like an actor taking a role.

I think if we only wrote within our experience we’d really limit our stories, and ourselves. I remember once writing from the perspective of my brother, and I learned a lot about what it felt like to have to make some of his decisions. The story moved radically away from my brother’s actual deeds, but the writing process allowed me to feel empathy and understanding for him in a way I had never felt before writing about him.

The process allows a writer to “put themselves in someone else’s shoes” and that’s good, both for the writer — who learns something outside him/herself — and the reader — who doesn’t have to put up with a bunch of main characters who are sci-fi movie buffs. Viva l’Other!


Read the whole interview on the Fantasy Magazine Website here.

Realms of Fantasy Folds: Is it Past Time to Save A ‘Zine?

Very ,very sad to announce that Realms of Fantasy is folding.

The news broke yesterday.

Realms of Fantasy has been with us for fifteen years and “was coming up on its 100th issue,” Cleveland said. “We were excited about the special Halloween issue we’d been planning, which would have been our first.” The staff is obviously harried by the news, and that it’s become public so quickly. Cleveland had been hoping to tell the authors and artists the news before it broke publicly.

Realms of Fantasy has been one of the anchors of the Fantasy short story publishing industry.  As a print magazine, Realms was billed as “the largest magazine in the world devoted to Fantasy”.  It was part of the big four anchor magazines of the industry (the others being Asimov’s, Fantasy and Science Fiction and Analog) partly built on the venue–a large glossy magazine (not a small pulp), its reputation for helping careers begin, the high distribution from subscription, and the amount it paid for stories. Editor Shawna McCarthy was recognized as one of the best editors in the business (and she will be here in the Yukon in April!–I hope!!).  Will all venues and markets go web-only?  Is that an answer to part of it–or is it about advertising, and since you’d have to have advertising either way, are closings inevitable?

With Fantasy and Science Fiction going bimonthly, Realms‘ closing narrows the market for writers of short FSF considerably.  If this is the beginning of the economic crisis, recession, depression, etc., then this isn’t a good sign.  Two out of four of the big anchor markets down or downsized?   I’m assuming Realms thought of all options–bimonthly, web-only zine, etc.— so I’m not gonna try to come up with suggestions for fixes…

However, now is the time to save a ‘zine.  If the economic crisis is just going to get worse, is there a way to help ‘zines as fans and writers?  Can we donate money? Tell us.  Can we help support in other ways?  Tell us.  Can we ask universities to adopt a Zine for a short period of time?  I was never one to subscribe much–mostly because I moved around every couple of years, and my subscriptions had a hard time finding me, and because I was often broke.  When I could I bought from the newsstand.  But if I can help by choosing three zines to subscribe to in order to save them from oblivion–let me know.  I should have been doing that all along.  However, if I thought it was balanced on my subscription, I would have done it earlier.  And I suspect many writers would feel the same way—that if people needed to borrow from us, they could.

Is there a way to stop the closing of Realms of Fantasy?  Is there a way to stop the decline in markets and venues and places to read great science fiction/fantasy?