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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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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Write with Me at The BRAINERY workshop!

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Would you like to write a few stories this summer and work with me for ten weeks?  The Brainery Workshop has several spots still open to work with me or Valerie Valdes in times that are convenient for you!

EVERYTHING IS ONLINE.  So you can participate no matter WHERE you are in the world, as long as you have a good internet connection.

We get together once a week and work on your stories.  We also go through Ursula K. LeGuin’s workshop guide, Steering the Craft, and we use the Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremey Zerfoss’ Wonderbook.  We’ll also be reading stories from Lightspeed and other magazines.

Come join a small group online—using GoToMeeting and WetInk–to create a great place for writing!

Want to know more?:  Follow this link to the BRAINERY WORKSHOP.

Jesus in Science Fiction

I started teaching a course that looks at the character of Jesus when he shows up in SJombsfcience Fiction.  Currently the course is only 6 weeks long and only taught at the UDLLI, the University of Dayton’s Lifelong Learning Centre for Senior Adults.  We are using the following short stories and novels in the course, and I will be placing the blogposts of the course over on Wrestling With Gods website because it’s become a great place to talk about religion and faith as it appears in science fiction and fantasy.

What happens to Biblical Jesus when the narrative is continued into the future?  Is it subverted?  Are writers appropriating Christianity to rewrite it and rob the narrative of its miracle, or do they instead seek to expand the notion of Jesus to its infinite possibility?  How does Jesus fare in science fiction and what can we learn about faith when science fiction writers write about him?  We look first at the life of Jesus in the Gospels to ground us in the ur-text, try to gather the importance of him as a character and iconic figure in history, culture and religion.  How is Jesus relevant in the future?  Then we look at how authors extrapolate the future of faith, or seek to tweak history, just a bit, to get the savior they want, and perhaps we can better see what kind of culture we are in the face of our chosen Saviour.

Come follow along over on the Wrestling with Gods site.  Already the class has been exciting as these students know a lot about religion, specifically Judaism and Christianity (UD is a Catholic institution) and many retired professors attend these classes for fun (they also can be quite mischievous).

The works we’re going to explore, and I will detail in blogposts are these:

To get us oriented on Jesus the character in the Bible:

Jesus: the Face of God    Jay Parini

“The Man”     Ray Bradbury from The Illustrated Man

“Mecha-Jesus”     Derwin Mak from Wrestling With Gods

“So Loved”           Matt Hughes from Wrestling With Gods

“The Rescuer”      Arthur Porges

“The Traveler”          Richard Matheson

“The Real Thing”       Carolyn Ives Gilman

 “Let’s Go to Golgotha!”      Garry Kilworth

“The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis”   Michael Bishop (a longer work I may not use)

“Jesus Christ in Texas” W.E.B Dubois  (which isn’t exactly Science Fiction, but may prove useful in this study)

Then two novels:

Behold the Man, Michael Moorcock, 

Jesus on Mars   Philip Jose Farmer

 If we have time, “Farewell to the Master,” Harry Bates—Which becomes The Day the Earth Stood Still.  This would be delightful to show to students in a longer class.  To read the short story and then watch both films.  

I can also see adding these works to the syllabus for a longer class:

The Man Who Died         DH Lawrence

Jesus Christ, Animator   Ken MacLeod

All Star Superman       Grant Morrison

Jesus Christs                AJ Langguth

Only Begotten Daughter     James Morrow

If you have suggestions on stories, poems, or novels to add to this list, let me know. Specifically we are NOT covering characters who merely have a “savior-esque” quality to them, or those that have a martyr motif.  I want to look at places where characters are for all intents and purposes supposed to BE Jesus.

 

 

 

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

MARCH 1st deadline for Clarion Workshop 2015 application

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If you’re thinking about investing in your writing as a science fiction and fantasy writer, Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop in San Diego is a good deal–and your application is due MARCH 1st.  Six weeks of time with other writers like you, with six amazing published writers in your field.  You and your work are taken seriously there.  I encourage you to investigate the options at Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop in San Diego.

2015 Writers teaching include (straight from Clarion’s website):

Christopher Barzak.

Christopher Barzak is the author of the Crawford Fantasy Award winning novel, One for Sorrow, which has been made into the recently released Sundance feature film “Jamie Marks is Dead”. His second novel, The Love We Share Without Knowing, was a finalist for the Nebula and James Tiptree Jr. Awards. He is also the author of two collections: Birds and Birthdays, a collection of surrealist fantasy stories, and Before and Afterlives, a collection of supernatural fantasies, which won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Collection. He grew up in rural Ohio, has lived in a southern California beach town, the capital of Michigan, and has taught English outside of Tokyo, Japan, where he lived for two years. His next novel, Wonders of the Invisible World, will be published by Knopf in 2015. Currently he teaches fiction writing in the Northeast Ohio MFA program at Youngstown State University.

 

Saladin Ahmed.

Saladin Ahmed was born in Detroit. His first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, praised by George RR Martin as “old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery adventure with an Arabian Knights flavor,” was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and British Fantasy Awards, and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula Award, and he has twice been a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New SF/F Writer. His essays on fiction, video games, and comic books have appeared in Salon, BuzzFeed, and NPR Books. Saladin lives near Detroit with his wife and twin children.

 

James Patrick Kelly.

James Patrick Kelly has written novels, short stories, essays, reviews, poetry, plays and planetarium shows. His short novelBurn won the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Nebula Award in 2007. He has won the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award twice: in 1996, for his novelette “Think Like A Dinosaur” and in 2000, for his novelette, “Ten to the Sixteenth to One.” His fiction has been translated into eighteen languages. With John Kessel he is co-editor of the anthologies Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology, Kafkaesque: Stories Inspired by Franz Kafka, The Secret History Of Science Fiction, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, Rewired: The Post Cyberpunk Anthology and SFWA’s Nebula Awards Showcase 2012. He has two podcasts, James Patrick Kelly’s Storypod on Audible.com and the Free Reads Podcast. He writes a column on the internet for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and is on the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. He is proud to have graduated from Clarion and has taught at the workshop many times.

 

Karen Joy Fowler.

Karen Joy Fowler has written literary, contemporary, historical, and science fiction. Her short stories have won Nebula and World Fantasy awards. Her novels include SARAH CANARY and THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB. Her most recent novel, WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES, won the 2013 PEN/Faulkner, the California Book Award, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Award. She has taught at Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, and Cleveland State..

 

Maureen McHugh.

Maureen McHugh has written four novels and two collections of short fiction. She won the James Tiptree Award for her first novel, China Mountain Zhang. She was a Finalist for the Story Award for Mothers & Other Monsters, and won a Shirley Jackson Award for her collection After the Apocalypse. After the Apocalypse was also named one of Publishers Weekly’s 10 Best Books of 2011. She was born in a blue collar town in Ohio. She’s lived in New York City, Shijiazhuang, China, and Austin, Texas. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California where she is trying desperately to sell her soul to Hollywood but as it turns out, the market is saturated.

 

Margo Lanagan.

Margo Lanagan is a four-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, in the novel, novella, collection and short story categories, and her work has won many Aurealis, Ditmar and other Australian awards, and been shortlisted/honored in the Tiptree (twice), the Shirley Jackson (twice), the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, Bram Stoker, International Horror Guild, Los Angeles Times and Printz awards, as well as several British awards. She’s written fantasy fiction for children, young adults and adults. Her most recent full-length works are the crossover novels Tender Morsels and The Brides of Rollrock Island, and her most recent story collections are Yellowcake and Cracklescape. Margo lives in Sydney, Australia.

 

Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy Afterschool Program?

crocodile_hunter, mauro liraI would love to start teaching an afterschool program for teens to write science fiction and fantasy.  I have often taught this at a local school library–with snacks–once a week for high school students.  If you know of a way to contact or approach Dayton/Vandalia area high schools, or program coordinators at high schools, let me know.  I’d love to be able to offer these classes again.

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