Awards Eligibility Post, 2019

I only published one thing this year, 2019, but it was a big publication for me. “Postlude to the Afternoon of a Faun” was a novelette (8000 words) published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the March/April 2019 issue and is eligible for Canadian and American writing awards. It is Fantasy. It’s about the power of music, music mentoring, about the courage to go on after loss, and features jazz-playing fauns. The character is queer and disabled. He stays queer and disabled and alive through the whole story.

Below you’ll find a link to the whole story here online, or you can read an excerpt from it.

*I am a Canadian and American writer, holding dual citizenship.

Thank you for visiting my 2019 year round up page, and I hope you enjoy my story.

Excerpt:

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Postlude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Mr. Dance couldn’t keep his eyes off Eric’s clarinet. From the moment the young football player opened the black case and revealed the instrument, Mr. Dance knew that what he thought had been broken– as his legs were– or lost–as he felt–had instead been hidden for a hundred years.

He dropped his music.
“Where did you get that?” Mr. Dance asked from his motorized wheelchair.
The boy picked up the older man’s sheet music. “The clarinet? Oh, my aunt gave it to me.” He ordered the pages, and placed the music on the man’s lap. “It’s nothing special.”
Oh, but it was. Probably the most powerful magical instrument Mr. Dance had ever held.
“Who,” Mr. Dance asked carefully, “is your aunt?”

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They met through the State of Missouri’s Masters/ Apprenticeship Program. Eric and Mr. Dance had been paired because Mr. Dance wanted to teach again, and Eric wanted to escape football in his junior year at college. Mr. Dance had no idea what Eric was bringing into his house where he’d been living for the past, well, maybe for a hundred years, hidden by a horde of vines that covered the front. He was an older man now, and his house was full of things that people had brought to cheer him a long time ago, and packages that still came in the mail that accumulated on the tables, unopened.
It was a storage facility, storing Mr. Dance, and the memories of his better days, and the friends who had finally let him be alone.

But after watching another documentary on famous musicians, a brochure for the Apprenticeship program had found its way from table to table to his chair, and made him remember what LeRoi had told him before he left for good, “You may not ever be able to do magic again, but you can teach someone else to do it.”
Now here sat the most unlikely “apprentice”, Eric Elkridge, a handsome football player who didn’t want to be a football player anymore. He’d said, when asked why he was there, “No one can see the possibilities in me outside of football. I want to make my life music.”


Mr. Dance repeated the question. “Your aunt?”
“Oh, my Aunt Helen from Indiana..” He started putting the clarinet together. “I played band 7th to 9th grade, but eventually, well, I just got into football. But I heard about this program. I wanted to try it again, work under a Master.”
A Master. Eric had no idea who Mr. Dance was. Why would he? The older musician had been out of the music scene since the Accident. But he had been the inspiration for Debussy, and had helped start the Jazz revolution in America.

The boy fit the parts of the clarinet back together. He fumbled with the bell, his big boy hands too rough with it. It made Mr. Dance catch his breath.
“Can I–” his hands reached out. If he could just touch it once, it would remember who its master had been, it would remember who he was, and maybe, he could become that person again. “—hold it?”
“Sure,” Eric passed the clarinet to him.
In his hands, the clarinet had a heaviness he could not account for. It did not glow for him. It felt like a piece of wood. Stiff but not alive. What was wrong? He was sure this was his clarinet.
“It’s a very old clarinet. I’m sorry about that,” Eric said, scratching his red hair. He had a farmer’s boy face, wide, round cheeks, but very kind eyes. “My aunt got it for fifty dollars back when I was in junior high school band. She didn’t have to replace anything though. I mean, if it’s twenty or thirty years old, it sure doesn’t show it.”
“Things can be older than they seem,” Mr. Dance said.
He checked it in the three places he knew it would reveal itself: the E flat key should have a mark, a depression in the metal, like a cut–from the incident at the railroad tracks where it fell from his hands; there would be a chip on the barrel just peeking outside the ligament where he and the men fought over it; and there would be a signature inside the bell. Not his signature. But the signature of the man who stole it from him.
He turned it over, peered into the darkness of the clarinet. There, scrawled a little too elegantly, branded, was the name Billy Sunday, wrapped in darkness. “I put my name on everything I own,” Sunday had said that day. “This isn’t yours anymore. I won it in a fight. A fair fight.” Three men held Mr. Dance down on the floor of the warehouse. “This country will not belong to your kind anymore. I’m going to save their souls–all of them–and there’s nothing you or your friends can ever do again to stop me.” And then they crushed his legs.
Billy Sunday. 1913.
Mr. Dance looked up from the clarinet. He turned it over, tried to smile. The clarinet lay dead in his hand. “It’s very beautiful. I think–” he handed it back to the boy. “I think you’ll get a good sound out of it. So let’s see what you can do, shall we.”
The boy played “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
“The Benny Goodman version,” the boy said before he started playing.
“The only version,” Mr. Dance said, closing his eyes.


The clarinet did not want him. The clarinet did not seem to want Eric either.

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For the rest of the story, please click on this link to download a WORD (docx) file. Or you can go to the Nebula Reading List at the SFWA site.

“Postlude to the Afternoon of a Faun” published in F&SF + Some featured Jazz

My story has been published in F&SF for the March/April 2019 issue. I’m so happy about that.

An old jazz-playing faun has the chance to get back everything that was taken from him a hundred years ago, if he can take it from his only student. The story has Jazz, Mentoring and Hope as themes. It also asks the question: how do you change your own life?

My two characters, a young college football player who wants to become a jazz musician, and an old faun who just wants to be a part of the world again, struggle and fail and attempt again this massive turn in their lives, together. At one point, one of the characters says, “I feel like I’m this tiny tugboat trying to turn this massive life around.” And that’s one of the questions I wanted to pose–how do you do that? I hope you find these characters as inspiring as I did.

Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program

I mention an organization I used to work for in my twenties when I was at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program under the Missouri Folk Arts Program. An example of their work is here–pairing two musicians together, a master and an apprentice, much like Mr. Dance and Eric in the story.

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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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The Seven Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction (from io9)

Back in 2009, Charlie Jane Anders published a nifty blogpost on io9 in the midst of the BSG finale, last of the LOST episodes, and after the aftermath of Heroes, about how NOT to put religion in your science fiction.  Things she was tired of seeing, but also things she believed you might also be tired of seeing.  The blog post still feels relevant, though you can argue her points.  It challenges us to come up with ways to avoid putting faith in science fiction badly.  Try putting one of your “deadly sins” of putting religion in science fiction (or fantasy) in the comments section here–and let’s see if we can come up with our own version of this list.

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The 7 Deadly Sins of Religion in Science Fiction.  

Religion is a huge part of science fiction – and it makes the genre better and more fascinating, as Battlestar Galactica proved. But there are seven mistakes SF should avoid in portraying the spiritual realm.

BSG wouldn’t have been nearly as epic if it hadn’t included spiritual themes from the beginning. The inclusion of religious elements added a way bigger scope and grandeur to the story of humanity’s last remnants struggling to survive – and it was realistic, since you’d expect people to be asking the big theological questions in that situation.

In general, religion and spiritual topics are a huge part of science fiction – if you’re really determined to avoid them altogether, you’re probably stuck with a few golden age novels, and a handful of Lost In Space reruns. But just like other science fiction elements, like first contact, time travel and space battles, science fictional religion can be done well – or it can be cheesy and weird.

Here are seven mistakes science fiction sometimes makes in handling religion (and I freely admit I was influenced to think about this by all the comments on Annalee’s final BSG recap and some of our other posts):

1. The cargo cult. Yes, I know, the gods really must be crazy. But I’m really sick of stories about primitive peoples who discover high technology and start worshipping it. Or the descendants of high-tech people, who have become primitive and started worshipping their ancestors’ technology. Like the Ewoks worshipping C-3PO, or the desert people worshipping the spacesuit in Doctor Who‘s “Planet Of Fire.” There’s usually an undertone of “See? This proves religion is teh stupid.” Also horrible: robots worshipping the people who made them, or aliens worshipping humans. Or aliens worshipping Ferengi.

The 7 Deadly Sins Of Religion In Science FictionEXPAND

2. The cheap Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with having a messianic figure in your science fiction – I’m not trying to take all the fun out of everything here – but don’t just pull the Jesus imagery out of thin air and expect it to mean something. Yes, I’m looking at you, crucified Neo. And I’m looking at you, Jesus H. Baltar. (And even though I love the ending of Doctor Who‘s “Last Of The Time Lords,” I’m also looking at you, floaty cruciform Doctor.) The indispensible TVTropes website has a great list of “random religious symbolism tossed in for no reason” moments.

3. The dumb space gods. Whenever we actually meet a god or gods in science fiction, it’s almost always a letdown. (There are exceptions – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine managed to have our heroes meet the timeless Prophets inside the wormhole, without ever losing their mystique.) Usually, though, when we meet a god or a godlike alien, it’s a cheesy old guy with a funny beard. Or it’s Jodie Foster’s condescending dad.

For the other 4 deadly sins…. seek out this link:  http://io9.com/5185748/the-7-deadly-sins-of-religion-in-scien

A Flood of Great Writing Techniques in Noah: (Re)-Writing/Expanding Sacred Stories

Russell Crowe as NoahLet me praise Aronofsky’s Noah for its fleshing out of an iconic thin narrative of Noah in the Bible and making it a story.

The story of Noah in the Bible is relatively sparse.  Noah never says anything.  God does all the talking.  In the movie, well, God may be doing some communicating, but since the narrative is told more from the ground, from Noah and his family’s perspective, Noah is the main character, making choices.

Making choices.  I think that’s an important thing to highlight.  One of the strange ironies of religious life, it seems, is that the closer we get to our God, whomever that may be, the seemingly fewer choices we get–until we are the Hand of God, the Feet of God, the Puppet of God.  I don’t think this is really the case.  But depiction in movies and books sometimes have us think characters who are devoted to their god cease to think and act based completely on the commands of God.  One should add “the interpretation of what they believe to be” between “on” and “the” in that last sentence. Because in many cases, believers have to do a lot of interpreting.

The movie holds out that question to answer.  Certainly Noah has to decide HOW he is hearing God.  He gets parts right—there is going to be a flood.  God wants him to build an ark.  The animals are going to come and get on board the boat.  After that, though, Noah is subject to some speculation and extrapolation when he can’t really hear a clear answer from God.

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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.

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Writing Courageously Through the Lenten Season

abstract trees grass sacred skyscapes photomanipulations 2560x1600 wallpaper_www.wallpaperhi.com_54Writing is a Sacred tradition in many cultures.  We revere the books that come from these cultures.  It’s also a very sacrificial act, one that takes a lot of courage, honesty, and time.  I’d like to talk about writing during Lent.

Traditionally, Lent gives some 46 days to prepare for Easter, a time of preparation for Christians for the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on the cross (and the subsequent cool resurrection part).  The idea was that you were not just shocked, surprised, pleased, and quickly through Easter, but that you could think –over 46 days– about the impact this one act of self-sacrifice did for your faith.  It’s mirrored in some ways by Advent.

But whereas Advent is about preparing for joy–a baby, a baby! Lent is about preparing for death and transition.

Christians often give up something for Lent–so that whenever they crave it, they will think of what Christ gave up for them.  Chocolate and Life are not comparable; however, the idea is to be aware of the season through this sacrifice.  Call it the best mindfulness exercise the Christians have come up with yet.

That said, whether you are Christian or not, we can take the Lenten Season to think about Faith, and perhaps, write about it.  Or at least ask ourselves to write with more courage, more honesty, and more faith than we have in the past.

Writers are plagued with insecurity and negative thoughts.  Let’s put those on the altar of Lent and say, hey, no more of these.  We are afraid sometimes of writing our Truth and giving it to others.  And we often have a lack of faith in our own abilities and ideas.

Lent leads us up to celebrating Life from Death.  I don’t want to co-opt Jesus’s very big moment, but he too had a very big mission, and it got harder and harder to be honest, to be courageous and to follow through on what his mission was.

What I want to do is to ask writers to write for 46 days– science fiction, fantasy, memoir, essay, poetry–and write with more courage, more honesty and more faith than you ever have before.  I also challenge you to write a little about faith.

It’s important for us as writers to believe in ourselves and our writing, to give up negative thoughts and insecurities, preparing our hearts to more honestly talk about Life.  There is a lot of struggling that goes on in writing if we are to be honest–and struggling with being honest–and so, for 46 days, let the honesty flow.  Be yourself.  Be creative.  Be courageous. Be honest.  GIVE UP negative thoughts that question YOUR mission, and Create and GIVE something honest and courageous to the World.