Wyrd Words 2015

Wyrd Words Moonrise 2015 (photo by Stephen H. Segal)

It’s nearly the Autumn Equinox, and I’ve yet to write about so many Summer adventures.

After more than a year of planning and months of drafting, revising, and exchanging manuscripts, the inaugural Wyrd Words Workshop was held in July. We ate, drank, and danced around the kitchen (Well, ok, maybe that was just me); we workshopped brilliant beginnings and provocative plots; we used technowizardry to traverse miles; we strolled under the full moon, and we sauna’d; we talked about creativity and inspiration, punk rock and K-pop, politics and fairy tales. There were bees, rockets, and skeletons in the trees…

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Most importantly, we did good work. I’m so excited to see the books that will eventually make their way into the world from this workshop. Such good stories. Such excellent writers. Such dear friends.

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Writers spend so much time alone at the laptop that in-person connections of quality are a real gift. Thank you to everyone at the workshop and behind the scenes who gave it shape and filled the weekend with such wonderful, wyrd words. 

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I’m going to quote from one of my favorite children’s books, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, because it fits so well for this dear group:

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

Wyrd Wordians, you are both. Thank you.

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Writing Process Blog Tour

This post is part of a blog post relay on craft, which the wonderful Nancy Hightower invited me to join. Nancy is the author of Elementari Rising. She has a poetry collection, The Acolyte, forthcoming with Port Yonder Press, and her short story collection, Kinds of Leaving, was shortlisted for the Flann O’Brien Award for Innovative Fiction.

My take on craft:

1) What am I working on?

While my second novel, The Supper Club, is out on submission, I’m working on my third novel, Mother Christmas, a historical fantasy set in Ancient Turkey. I’m also writing the script for a graphic novel, Sticks & Bones, with artwork by the incredible Madeline C. Matz. The story follows displaced house spirits/household gods (brownies, domovyky, the tomte, etc.) who are being hunted in America.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My writing falls under the category of speculative fiction, more specifically magic realism, but I draw from an Eastern European folkloric tradition rather than a Latin American one. I enjoy looking at the mundane world through the lens of myth and fairy tale, bringing those magical stories into a contemporary context. In my work, I explore moments of revelation—epiphanies that come to light when two seemingly contradictory elements (like the magical/realistic) intersect. Those liminal spaces are my creative obsession—the places where ideas meet, where personalities collide, the crossroad moments in history.

3) Why do I write what I do?

What I write has been called “diaspora literature,” especially my first novel, The Silence of Trees. Diaspora literature is primarily concerned with the individual’s or community’s attachment to homeland. It is born from their sense of yearning for that homeland, an attachment to its traditions, religions, and languages. The diaspora writer creates from the threshold, from the border.

My grandparents came to America from Ukraine after WWII. Like many Ukrainian Americans, my sister and I were raised with one foot in each world: speaking Ukrainian at home, going to Ukrainian school, church, and dancing on the weekends; but also participating in modern American culture.  The Ukrainian language and traditions of our ancestors were being wiped out in the Soviet Union. We were taught that it was our responsibility to keep those traditions alive in America. Typical of the Diaspora experience, we were raised to retain a collective memory/vision about our ancestral homeland. I have no doubt that this is where my fascination with “the threshold” was born.

This directly ties into magical realism—with its crossing of borders that allow the writer to celebrate the myths and folklore of home, while creating tension in the story that echoes the experience of being ex-centric, out of the mainstream.

Ultimately, I think I write what I do to explore the paradox of the union of opposites.

4) How does your writing process work?

Most of what I write begins with a question, and those questions come from so many places: reading books or articles, people-watching, going for a walk. I usually write to explore the possible answers: What makes some people bury the past, while others celebrate it? When faced with cruelty, how can two people have such a dramatically different response? What happens to all those teeth? How might the ancient gods of the ocean respond to a devastating oil spill? How might house spirits communicate with one another? For me, the act of writing is the joy and magic of exploration.

As far as process, I most often write at night. I put the kids to bed, wrap up mundane tasks, and brew a pot of coffee. The nighttime has a natural air of magic and mystery, which makes it easier to leave the “real” world behind and slip into the world I am creating. The “writing witching hours” are usually 10pm to 2am. In the morning, after getting up and dropping the kids off at school, I tend to the business of writing. That’s when I do most of my editing and revision, emails, etc. Then I try to get in another four hours of writing in the late morning/early afternoon. Generally, the more I write, the happier I am. I feel like there are so many stories to tell, and I’m trying to find the time to get them all down.

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Next up on the Writing Process blog tour are two fabulous writers: Brooke Bolander and Amelia Beamer! Look for their blog posts on May 19th!

Brooke Bolander‘s work has been featured in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Nightmare, among other venues. She writes stories of indeterminate genre that some might classify as slipstream, although simply calling them weird would probably do just as well.

Look for Brooke’s post at: http://brookebolander.com/

Amelia Beamer is the author of The Loving Deadthe number two zombie novel of the past decade according to Barnes & Noble. She works as an independent editor and proofreader with major publishers including Shueisha English Edition, a new general imprint of popular Japanese titles translated into English. She built her publishing career working as an editor at Locus for seven years, and for three years before that as a student assistant at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. She publishes short fiction, book reviews, poetry, and cultural criticism. Her most recent short fiction appears in Psychos: Serial Killers, Depraved Madmen, and the Criminally Insane, and Zombies vs Robots: Women on War!  

You’ll find Amelia’s post at:  http://www.ameliabeamer.com/

Things Literary and Fantastic

This past weekend I returned to New York City to spend time with the wonderful Nancy Hightower (who just signed her poetry collection, The Acolyte, with Port Yonder Press).

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I also met with my new literary agent, Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Sara represents children’s fiction and adult fiction and non fiction. Her clients include NYT Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry and USA Today Bestselling author Jeff Hirsch; her authors have been nominated for Edgars and the Morris Award, and have been on the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults list and in the Top Ten. She is consistently ranked among the top three YA and MG agents in Publishers Marketplace.

We had a lovely chat, and I know that my next book, The Supper Club, is in good hands.

Following our meeting, I headed to WORD Bookstore in Brooklyn with Nancy and Brooke Bolander to attend Jeff VanderMeer’s reading from his new book, Annihilation.

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Jeff is a terrific reader—clever, witty, and well-spoken, and it was a fun event (so be sure to attend a reading and get your book signed if he comes to a town near you). I love stories where the setting is a character, so I’m especially excited to read Jeff’s newest novel, set in an eerie version of southern Florida’s wild coastline.

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Friday was all about Electric Velocipede. Run by John Klima for twelve years, the beloved magazine published quality genre fiction by more than 250 writers, including Catherynne M. Valente, Jeffrey Ford, Rachel Swirsky, Jeff VanderMeer, and Jay Lake.

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A release party/memorial service at Bluestockings Bookstore celebrated the 27th and final issue of Electric Velocipede and featured readings by ten writers who have been published in Electric Velocipede over the years:

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After Bluestockings, people were invited to an after-party at David Edison’s place in the East Village. Earlier in the day, with the help of Stephen Segal, Nancy, Brooke, and I had gotten to work transforming David’s apartment with red lights, blue lights, and hanging skeletons.

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The space invites that kind of playful decoration, so we turned the three floors into a “Danse Macabre” backdrop for writers, editors, and other creatives to gather and celebrate John’s magazine and the excellent writing he published over the years. It was a full house and a joyful last hurrah.

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The following day, we were lucky enough to enjoy a lazy afternoon with friends, the perfect way to wind down and end my visit.

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I caught the plane back to Chicago early the next morning (narrowly avoiding the next snowpocalypse-vortex), to come home to the family and a visit from the lovely Maura Henn, who was traveling through Chicago on her way to Minnesota.

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I think back to 2008 when I was living in Germany and feeling such a lack of creative community. Just over five years later, and I am grateful to be surrounded by talented, innovative, imaginative writers, editors, agents, and artists. Some are in different cities and others are in the same neighborhood, but we are a community.

It is certainly possible to navigate these waters alone, but for me, it’s so much more enjoyable to have a cherished circle. We do the work, we make our art, we tell our stories, we support one another when we can, and when we come together, sometimes we make magic. Together, the journey becomes as meaningful as the destination.