“…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.

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!

Tesseracts 15: Young Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

 

 

Tesseracts 15 is open for submissions with a call for young adult science fiction, fantasy and horror.  NOVEMBER 30 is the deadline.  Below is the call.  

NOW OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS

(Calgary, Alberta) EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing is delighted to announce that Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales, is now open for submissions.

Submissions open September 1, 2010 thru November 30, 2010.

This edition of the award winning series of original Canadian Speculative Fiction comes with a twist and touch of whimsy.

“We’ve decided to do something different with Tesseracts Fifteen.” said Brian Hades, owner of the EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing imprint. “This volume will focus on Young Adult Speculative Fiction – which can include science fiction, fantasy, and horror. However submissions must appeal to the YA audience and be PG-14 in content. As usual, Tesseracts Fifteen is open to both short fiction and poetry submissions.”

Each Tesseracts anthology since volume one (1985) has featured editors hand picked for each particular volume. For this volume,Julie Czerneda and Susan MacGregor have agreed to co-edit.

“We seek wonder and astonishment.” said the editors. “Stories that engage the imagination, inspire dreams, and leave hope in their wake.” Both Czerneda and MacGregor want all Canadian speculative fiction writers to “write what will become the classics for a new generation of readers, to be remembered, fondly, for years to come.”

 

SUBMISSION DETAILS:

  Continue reading

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.

Clarion Write-A-Thon: Helping Writers Reach their Dreams

 

Writers Andrew Emmott, myself, Desirina Boskovich and Matthew Cody at Clarion

 

I signed up for the Clarion Write-A-Thon, a fundraiser that puts a whole bunch of writers into a sensory deprivation tank while they write for six weeks.  

Oh wait, there’s no sensory deprivation tank….

But still, the writers are joining together to keep Clarion San Diego alive and well for years to come by raising money to provide scholarships.  I’ve already written a whole essay about how life-changing my Clarion experience was.  I know it has been for my whole group of cohort writers–all 18 of them.  

The Link to My Writer’s Page lets you know what I’ll be doing for six weeks, and encourages you to donate a bit of money–maybe per day, per word, or just a small sum ($20, $50, $100) in total.  All proceeds go to Clarion for scholarships, helping more people like me get to attend.  Most of us who attend a six week workshop make sacrifices to be there, and certainly the costs can be high to spend six weeks anywhere in the world (even my apartment is $1050 just in rent for six weeks), but the benefit each student receives from that time is ginormous.  

Each Student gets:

  • individual instruction from 6 major writers in the field
  • connections to agents, publishers, editors
  • advice on how to create a writerly business
  • a cohort, band of writers that encourages during the long haul
  • a lifetime of mentoring
  • six weeks of time free to write, concentrate on their art

It’s very difficult to shave off time for writing, and this six weeks is a huge jumpstart.  I have sold 4 out of the 5 stories I wrote for Clarion, and frequently I take out that notebook that I kept during Clarion to record what the teachers/writers said, and I go through it again.  You can’t GET this kind of instruction anywhere else but with publishing writers, established in their fields.  

Enjoying the 4th of July: Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, Matthew Cody and myself

 

If you have trouble imagining what this would be like (maybe you don’t write science fiction), imagine a workshop of six weeks where each week you got to spend with these people: Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, John Updike, John Irving, Kazuo Ishiguro and Alice Munro.  And then editors from Harper Collins, Random House, etc came by to chat with you and take your pitches, and agents came by, and you went to a giant convention where all the big writers hung out.  You got to eat and drink with people who were doing your career— like job-shadowing, except they became your friends–for SIX WEEKS.  It’s just like that but with the big names of Science Fiction and Fantasy!

In the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a writer learned by joining up with a pulp magazine and writing stories every week to push into those magazines–they trained with writers around them, doing the same thing, encouraging each other.  

Nowadays, we’re all trying to get stories into those “pulp” magazines, Asimov’s, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy–but we’re not in a room full of other writers writing together–we’re strung out across the world.  The only places we get that kind of training are these workshops–they stand in for the kind of on-the-job writing/training you would get at a magazine.  The intensity is the same.  I think the quality is higher.  But without Clarions, writers wouldn’t have that avenue for training, and many who might not figure out how to write for the magazines, or their novels by osmosis, wouldn’t get published. 

For the six weeks, I will be working on chapters of my first novel, chapters a publisher is expecting and has asked for.  

Please consider donating even a small amount to the cause of helping writers in the Science Fiction and Fantasy field.  We brought you space shuttles and cell phones, fax machines and computers, rockets and really great entertainment.  

If you talked on your cell phone today, hug a science fiction writer for imagining it!  

And consider a small donation to the workshop that helps the visionaries think up such an interesting future.

Is There No Wonder in Wonderland? A Review of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland

What do you want when you get down the rabbit hole?  Burton begs this question in his version of Alice in Wonderland.  Folks will probably enjoy the visuals–they are delightful to watch.  But in this age of CGI, there’s not as much fanfare left for special effects.  It’s coming down quickly to who tells a good story, and I want to examine Burton’s story here.

What I like about the story of Alice in Burton’s Wonderland is that we get a detailed look at Alice’s life before the rabbit hole–especially her cloying debutante-shuffling world, where so little was expected from women, and so much was expected from their cooperation.  I like the summer dance on the lawn, the hordes who like to watch when she’s proposed to.  I like Alice.  I liked that narrative so much that I was expecting more of it when we got to Wonderland and it wasn’t there, not immediately anyway.    When I realized that Wonderland was reflecting her own re-vision of a forced duty, then it got more interesting–but that time in Wonderland feels off.

Two things happened when she got into Wonderland.  I got confused, and Wonderland was reduced to a strip of land between two kingdoms.  The premise of this movie is that Alice has been here before.  In fact, she has recurring nightmares throughout her childhood and young adulthood, and yet nothing in Wonderland sparks her memory?  Even a memory of the dream?  I don’t buy it.  If I was haunted by something, I would start recognizing people and things.  She acts like she’s never even SEEN the place.  Why doesn’t anyone try to jar her memory when they pull out the Calendria?  (When we do see her previous journey in montages it looks vaguely like the same plot…and boring)

This plot seems very focused on the end of the movie.   It’s like one big long foreshadowing.  She has to fight the Jabberwocky–everyone tells her this.  All the beautiful weird dialogue of Lewis Carroll is gone, pared away to focus on an ending that’s so inevitable we might as well have just skipped to the end.  All the characters are focussed on Alice.  This is so unlike Carroll’s version where everyone was focussed on themselves.  Alice was merely observant.  Here she does only what we expect her to do; she goes through the motions of the Eat Me/Drink Me sequence, a moment with the Mad Hatter, a second with the Cheshire cat.  She’s not even curious anymore.  Where’s Alice–Carroll’s Alice?  

Wonderland really takes on the rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary, two queens that duked it out after Henry VIII died.  I didn’t buy the petty rivalry of sisters.  What’s there to fight over?  Two courts, fully intact.  The flashback involving the Jabberwocky smoking a White Queen party—well, there weren’t any consequences.  The White Queen had a new castle, attendants, and enough white to choke the Arctic.  I didn’t get the queens at all.  There’s no reason for them to be upset, and in fact, the White Queen seems devoid of any will to fight–she has to be saved.  Her court resembled the starchy-white English party Alice just left.  And we hated that.  

Remakes where characters revisit their original stories can be good.  Hook is an excellent version of the grown up Peter Pan visiting Never Never Land.  The script was brilliant.  Burton’s Wonderland has very little wonder left–even for the characters involved.  

Yes, Carroll’s original story is obtuse and playful–it isn’t easily figured out.  But Burton scrapped the multiplicity of places in Wonderland, the depth of odd characters, and Alice’s curiosity in favor of a plot.  If you’re going to put all your money on a plot, it better work.  This one is so muddly in the middle, I just waited for there to be a reason for Alice to do something….until we see her realize that everyone is telling her what to do–in both worlds, and then she goes and does something else.  But it’s not enough.  She hurries through the epilogue in the world’s longest/shortest “I need a moment to think.” 

I liked Burton’s rescuing of Alice’s real world experiences—though she doesn’t talk about them much in Wonderland any more.  I like the ending, I like the beginning, but her time in Wonderland plays like nobody wants to be distracted by wonder anymore–they want the big battle.  Carroll’s Wonderland was about the wandering, about the figuring things out, about the wonder— but this one had few choices for Alice, a lot of inevitably and no wonder.

“One Nation Under Gods” finds home in Tesseracts 14

My story, “One Nation Under Gods,” was selected to be part of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology, Tesseracts 14, edited by Brett Savory and John Robert Colombo, due out in September 2010.  The Tesseracts series is devoted to Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy and Horror, and has had, as you might have guessed, 14 other volumes (a Tesseracts Q was for Quebec, and the requisite 1-13 which came before). 

You might have caught me reading a portion of this at the Yukon Writers Festival a couple of years back.  It involves two kids and a history test, and a complete restructuring of the United States based on values Americans, like me, hold sacred: patriotism, freedom, the just war, independence, religion.  I just personified them a bit.  I’m very pleased it found a home.  I’m now going to start work on the novel version of this story.  

The picture on the left is the construction of the Statue of Liberty, a figure which looms large on the landscape at the beginning of my story.  And as I was now an immigrant to Canada, the Statue of Liberty loomed large on my new immigrant’s mind…what a dramatic beginning to a new life for those coming to America.  For me, I saw her on my way out.  On my drive from Texas to the Yukon, I parked my red truck in Calgary for one month, flew to Vermont to be part of a writer’s colony, and in that time, snuck down to see her.  Like some mistress I was breaking up with.  

How do you explain to her that you are leaving?   

I put her in my story, though, and so in this way, she haunts me.