Let’s get scholarly!

On this website I tend to focus on my fiction, but normally my academic self is much more evident than my fiction-writing self. When I meet people, I tell them: I’m a grad student; I teach French. In addition to my current research on body-swapping narratives, I spread the gospel truth that Jules Verne was in fact French and wrote in French (you’d be surprised how many people are surprised), and that Les Mains d’Orlac by Maurice Renard is the real basis for The Simpsons Halloween XI story “Hell Toupée.” Like, intellectual stuff, dude. And this month, it happens I’ve had two academic publications, so let’s unfurl that nerd flag with pride.

First off, here’s The French Review 89.3, which includes my article “A New Genealogy of French Science Fiction: Le Merveilleux scientifique in Third Republic Literature”!!!

The French Review
In this article I give the proverbial academic finger to the fortress of Anglophone science fiction and argue for le merveilleux scientifique as a separate movement in speculative fiction that drew on parapsychology and spiritism as well as the branches of science that we more readily accept as science today. It’s peer reviewed, even! Here’s the Reviewer #1 guarantee:

Second! Back in November 2012, I attended the first ever conference dedicated solely to French and Francophone science fiction ever held in North America, kindly organized and hosted at the University of Regina. Alas, not everyone can attend these things, but we know you wish you could, so the conference organizers have published the presented essays in this fabulous collection:

My essay is on “The Challenge of the Invisible in Maurice Renard’s Le Péril bleu,” that being a pretty great novel in which an invisible menace is swiping people and animals off the face of the earth in Bugey. How do you see the truth of what’s happening when you’re trapped by your pathetic human senses?! Well, that is what (I claim) the novel is all about.

It is a sad fact that scholarly publications are hard to get for people who do not have access to a university library. If anyone out there is not so blessed and wants to read this stuff, shoot me a message and I’ll see what I can do.

So there, look how academic I am! How smart, how sophisticated, how very soignée! And now, to dispel all such notions, here is me at the Conference for French Science Fiction, discussing my deep thoughts about superpowers and life on the space station.

The eligible past, the tedious present, the exciting future

1. The Past

It’s the time of year when people run around (figuratively, virtually) blaring out how they and their stuff are eligible for this or that award. By “this or that” I mean the Hugos and the Campbell and the Nebulas, and maybe some other stuff I don’t know about. Despite my mild covert narcissism I felt somewhat disinclined to engage in the practice, because I think I’m about as likely to receive the Campbell tiara as I am to inherit Queen Elizabeth II’s heaviest hat. So why not at least pretend to be aloof and dignified about it? But my glorious SFWA overlord Cat Rambo recommends I do this, and my name got on that Campbell list at Writertopia somehow, so fine. Twist my damn arm.

If you, dear sweet reader, are considering whom to nominate for the Campbell award, I had my first pro publications this year and am thus in my first year of eligibility. If you are thinking about the Hugos or the Nebulas, I had two stories published last year that I’d call SFF and would be eligible, and that got at least one positive review. They are:

“Slow.” Apex Magazine 71, April 2015 (reviews here)

Plural.” Cosmos Magazine 61, February-March 2015 (review here)

2. The Present 

dissertation mayhem

Pretty impressive, eh? I thought so, anyway, which is why I took this picture: Look, world! I’m industrious! Well, I’ll confess, that thick monster of a book underneath La Chambre claire is actually The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson rather than some academic beasty. I made the pinaattiohukaiset (a.k.a. spinach pancakes) and some meatballs, both of which were good, and made me feel all warm and Minnesotan inside. That’s Romeo on the couch. He thinks walking is way more fun than staring at a computer screen, and he is right. Except when it’s -10 degrees, which I think it was on the day I took this picture.

I have been working away at the ol’ diss, which means all kinds of innocent, well-intentioned people have asked me things like, “So what are you working on lately?” and then I start rambling about daguerreotypes and spiritism and body swapping, and how I really wish there were a better term than body swapping, I thought metempsychosis maybe but no, that’s different, and yeah, I’m writing about Gautier’s Avatar right now, oh it sounds interesting but actually it’s pretty terrible, ha ha, never never read Gautier unless you have to, except it’s useful, yeah…

So it’s probably a good thing I’ve started teaching again, which means I’m forced to try to express myself in a clear and accessible manner for at least fifty minutes a day.

It’s difficult for me to write both fiction and non-fiction in the same 24-hour period—they work related, if not the same, brain bits, I guess, and those can only generate so much intelligent verbiage per day. I’ve got a few different fiction-stews on the backburner and once this chapter gets done, I will get them bubbling and add salt and butter and see what I can serve up. But for the moment, it’s me and Gautier and Barthes and Kardec in a bizarre and debilitating mindmeld from which only one of us will emerge, and I’m the only one still alive so shit, it better be me.

3. The Future (is full of big stunted butterflies)

Despite all the dissertating, I managed to write a few things last year and at least two of them are going to burst gloriously from the chrysalis of my skull into the world and I am predictably very excited about them. The short story “Skills to Keep the Devil in His Place”—which a couple readers may recognize as the piece from which I read an excerpt at the Midwestern Gothic reading in September—will appear in the always gorgeous Shimmer magazine. A short, creepy fictional monologue about rats and secrets is also forthcoming at Pseudopod, and I am really excited to hear someone read it aloud as a podcast.

Crossing my fingers for more good news, and I’ll let you know if there is some.

Ici, c’est Paris

Sunset in Paris from the Parc de Belleville, with moon and Eiffel Tower. Photo by Jeff Mitchell, April 2011.

I lived in Paris for the 2010-2011 academic year, in the 11ème, about a half block from the Bataclan concert hall where, the day before yesterday, so many people were shot and killed, after others were shot and killed on streets and in restaurants nearby, after explosions at the Stade de France, as well as in Lebanon and Baghdad, where still more people were killed. And I’m not qualified to diagnose the world’s ills, I don’t understand it and I won’t pretend I have any idea. But Paris is on my mind—our tiny apartment and the old neighborhood, the market where little old French ladies elbowed my large, polite husband out of their way, the dirty streets, the protests that filled Boulevard Voltaire every couple weeks.

Americans have a lot of fantasies about Paris. Beautiful, romantic, sophisticated, liberated or libertine, home of the finest food, art, and fashion, home of philosophers and poets and painters… or, for some people, the center of effète snobbery and elitist crap. I’m not sure why, but Paris exists for many of us as an ideal, mythical place, and that fantasy place isn’t entirely fictional, either. Paris is all those things—it’s got the art, the food, the poets and philosophers and snobs. So I think Paris holds a place in the American imagination that other cities do not. Attacks on Paris are attacks on our dreams.

But Paris is also a city made of people, millions of people who live and work there and have all their lives, for whom the city is not a fantasy but a real place, a tricky and twisty place that must be managed and manipulated, that can be enormously frustrating. It’s filthy, expensive, polluted and overpopulated; you have to wait in lines, watch for pickpockets, watch your step. If the weather’s bad and you’re trapped in the cold, damp 15 square meters that constitute your temporary home, it can start to drive you a little crazy. And Paris has been a battlefield many times throughout its history, during the Wars of Religion, the many Revolutions, the Commune. It’s a city that suffers, and bleeds, and endures. People are lost, and that is tragic and cruel; but Paris isn’t going anywhere.

But if you’re an American reading this and mourning the dream, here’s an idea. Next time the weather’s good enough, grab yourself a friend–or a lover, or a book, either way; a blanket or three (it’s November, after all), a bottle of wine, some bread and nice cheese. Go find a sunny spot to lie in. Snack and talk and get a little tipsy, check out the world around you, the people and the sky. That was always the beautiful life in Paris, for me.

Napping on our yellow piquenique blanket in the Jardin de Reuilly. Photo by Jeff Mitchell, whose shadow is visible on the upper right. April, 2011.