Notes from the Deep End

Lately an itchy feeling has been growing somewhere deep in my brain, a weird little mosquito bite bump with a tiny toothy mouth and scary smudged lipstick, sorta like in that Beckett play, and it says to me, Haven’t updated your website in a while, have you? People will think you’re one of those lazy non-website-updating jerks who start websites and then don’t update them. Also you look weird in that photo from last time. You want people to think you’re a hardworking writer/grad student, you better get typing. And then the freaky talking mosquito bite starts cackling because it knows it has hit all the anxiety buttons, and I become terribly anxious to prove that I am not only semi-normal-looking and hardworking but also not as crazy as this whole paragraph seems to prove. Thus, this post.

First, some actual news! Blurring the Line is now available for pre-order, and you can see the full contributor list, and there’s a lot of cool people in it, way cooler than little old me, and yeah! Buy it, if you’re interested, and it will show up on your electronic reading machine on November 26th.

Other news! I have received and corrected galleys for my article on the merveilleux scientifique in Third Republic French fiction, which is set to appear in The French Review next March. Yep. I’m pretty excited about it.

Mostly! I am working on my dissertation, and trying to eke out stories bit by bit, and sending them out to editors on little gusts of hope, and you know what editors do with hope, don’t you? … I was going to tell you that they toss it in a blender with fresh kitten blood, three shots of Everclear and a dollop of mascarpone, but that’s not true. They don’t care nearly that much.

In addition! I’ve been learning to swim. Yes, yes, I know, swimming’s easy, nobody taught you, somebody just threw you in the pool and you’ve been paddling around like a goddamn golden retriever ever since, so what am I bragging about? Well, I’m not bragging, but some of us have never been quite so confident in the laws of physics or our own ability to manipulate them. Nor had I ever seen much evidence that I possessed any natural buoyancy (in fact, the contrary seemed true), so I approached the idea of floating much as I did the idea of levitation: Nice trick, if you can manage it. 

But I am pleased to report that I am as buoyant as the average person, and proper arm-waving and leg-kicking have the predicted effects, and I can now sort of do the front crawl. So if someone threw me in the deep end, the last you saw of me would not be just my middle finger slowly sinking under the water as I drowned. No, I would splash victoriously to the surface and swim (very slowly and awkwardly) away into the sunset, and never speak to that evil Lia-throwing person again.

Lastly! To counteract the idea that I looked weird in the previous photo, here’s another picture! in which I look really, really weird.

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Here I am with a giant puffball mushroom, pretending like I am an intensely fascinated forest creature, or maybe a zombie mistaking it for brains, or something like that. The mushroom was kinda old and smelled like rotting feet. Photo by Jeff Mitchell, taken in Lake Elmo Park Reserve, October 2015.

why counteract the idea if it’s true, eh?

Doings, post-Spring-semester

If you’re looking at this site, it may be because you’ve read something I wrote or run across me somewhere on the internet, and now you’re wondering, What does this person do? Of course, if I haven’t posted anything recently you might then think the answer is not muchBut, dear reader, I am pleased to tell you that this is not entirely true. So, here are some things that I’m doing:

The Bread Loaf Translators Workshop: You may have heard of the Bread Loaf Writers Workshop, which is for poets (I assume they do lines and brawl) and prose writers (who mostly drink and plot) (okay, pardon my puns, I’m out of coffee and trying to subsist on tea, it’s like I’ve got no… oh god forgive me, I can’t help it… filter). Yes, that all sounds fun, too. But what I’m attending is the first Bread Loaf workshop for translators, so for a week I’m going to play around in the mountains with this totally obscure French spec fic novel from 1914, plus a bunch of other writer/translator types, and I think I will learn a lot.

Horror films: My dissertation research involves the early cinema, and lately I’ve been reading a lot about what’s sometimes called psychocinematics and neurocinematics, which is basically thinking about cinema from a cognitive psychology or neuroscience perspective. So there I am, reading an article about eye tracking experiments with film viewers, and suddenly this scene from It Follows popped into my head. You know the one, where they’re doing this 360-degree pan and the follower person is way in the background and suddenly you’re doing googly eyes trying to decide where to look? Yeah. And since my advisor mentioned to me, way back, that maybe I should write a paper on more recent films (he probably meant French ones), I grabbed that wild hair and am chasing it (which would make more sense if it were a wild hare, wouldn’t it? I’ve been looking up this idiom and it makes no damn sense).

The Garden: It’s almost June! My vegetable patch is still full of weeds! I’m not a great gardener, but spring weather inspires a great deal of enthusiasm: the perennials are coming up, those rotten kids are pulling the heads off my peonies again, I’m making quiche with the dandelions and the lambs-quarters… it’s all very lovely and happy, and I try to do a little every day. So for the moment the garden provides my brain-resting activity. That and rewatching Parks and Recreation on Netflix, but I can’t weed at night, can I?

So you see, although I’m not teaching this summer, I actually have a lot to do. I didn’t even mention the dissertation! Once I get this horror film bug out of my system, my main summer project is, of course, the diss. And fiction, always, as that particular bug seems to be a chronic condition.

Nice things people have said about “Slow”

A couple nice reviews were posted about my story “Slow,” along with the other works in Apex Magazine’s 71st issue (which contained a lot of great stuff, so you should check it out if you haven’t already). It’s interesting and gratifying to see the different ways people interpret my work, and I appreciate the thought these reviewers put into it. So here are the reviews:

Clancy Weeks at Tangent Online says “Slow” is “beautifully horrible”. This phrase gave me a small heart attack when I first read it, but after that the praise is less ambiguous. For him the story is about the huge personal investment of the artist in the work.

Charles Payseur at Quick Sips Reviews calls it “A story about art and longing and a sort of sentient and parasitic stone” and thinks about bad relationships, art, and the Orpheus myth.

There’s so much good short fiction being published in the spec fic world these days that it takes a pretty heroic effort to keep current; it’s amazing that these reviewers manage to write something thoughtful about each story. So, many thanks to Mr. Weeks and Mr. Payseur. Thanks also to everyone who read the story and commented, or even just gave it a thumbs up or a star on whatever social network. Every little bit of support means a lot.

I’m getting towards the end of the semester here, running around with a little swirl of dissertation pages stormclouding around my head, so this page may be a little static for a while. But if something awesome happens, obviously, I’ll tell you.

ETA May 2nd: One more review, from Sam Tomaino at SFRevu.com. He says it is a “great story” with a “very chilling end”. Thank you to Mr. Tomaino, as well.

ETA #2, May 27th: More good thoughts from Joyce Chong and from Fantasmorgsbord.