Tag Archives: sweetheart

“Jagannath” by Karen Tidbeck

Twitter friend @johannthors1120140705 recently went on a “diet” of all-female authors, and one of the books he discussed on his blog was JAGANNATH, by Karen Tidbeck, featuring moody, Scandanavian stories of the fantastic. Since I had a day full of flights a week or so ago,  and my phone at hand, I decided to write a few thoughts on each short story in the collection.

The first story, BEATRICE, would be at home in the magically surreal worlds constructed by China Mieville. Eerie and infused with steampunk flavor, the piece tells the tale of two love affairs. The first is between a doctor and an airship; the second between a clerk and her steam-powered stove. The conclusion reminded more a little of themes I touched on in my own short story, SWEETHEART, namely the idea of relationships that exist between creatures of unequal power.

The second tale is an epistolary story, SOME LETTERS FOR OVE LINDSTROM. From a daughter to her alcoholic father, these letters paint a picture of their life after the disappearance of the daughter’s mother. This absent maternal figure reminds me a little of a Kelpie, although the creature referred to here is a vittra. I didn’t find this story as compelling as BEATRICE, but I’m willing to give it a second reading to see if there’s anything I missed.

MISS NYBERG AND I is an utterly charming tale that starts with a balcony full of poisonous plants and ends with a tiny creature taking up residence in a young woman’s apartment. Told from the point of view of a writer friend, the story explores how authors fictionalized their lives and the lives of those around them, asking questions about how we represent the lives and adventures of those we love. While plenty of authors joke about including people and events from their lives in their fictions, Tidbeck capture the particular ethical dilemma of creating a future for someone you know in real life.

Next up is REBECKA, and here things get dark. The story of an abused woman who can’t escape the pain her tormentors caused her, who tries to get God’s attention after repeated, failed suicide attempts. Tidbeck’s sparse prose does a service to this stark, fatalistic tale, drawing out the titular character’s anguish and desire to end her own pain in the wake of trauma. Why does God let bad things happen to people, the story asks, and does He ever answer their prayers for solace? In REBECKA, the answer is more disturbing than reassuring. If God doesn’t step in unless it’s to punish, what must one do to catch enough of His attention to be relieved of life’s pains?

HERR CEDERBERG is another miss for me, about a man who builds a flying machine. There’s something here that ties into a metaphor using bumble bees, but I’m not sure of the overarching meaning of the story. Worth a second reading, and hopefully that will uncover hidden depths. One of the frustrating things about reading books by authors in other cultures is that at times one feels as if one may have missed something through a lack of cultural literacy, and this story does give me that feeling.

Recalling both METAMORPHOSIS and a few other Kafka tales whose titles I can’t quite put my finger on, WHO IS ARVID PEKON? gives the reader a glimpse inside a rather unorthodox call center. The titular character fields a number of odd calls, but had one client in particular whose inquiries grow increasingly bizarre. Anyone who’s felt themselves disappearing into a job will recognize the deadliness of corporate culture in this short piece.

(It’s worth noting, by the way, that so far most of the stories are only a few pages long, and the mood of each piece flows well from one story to the next.)

Stories about writing are always tricky, and my feeling was that NYBERG captures the dilemmas of process more aptly than BRITA’S HOLIDAY VILLAGE, about a writer who retreats from the world to finish a couple of projects (sound familiar, anyone?) and instead cross paths with distant family. This is one of the longer stories so far, and part of me wishes there were more depth and detail about the family members. Since I’m reading this on a plane, I can’t look up what a ‘pupa’ is, but I have the feeling it may be integral to the plot.

Mental illness gets a closer look in REINDEER MOUNTAIN, about two sisters and their mother cleaning out a family home. Here, another absent matriarch – in this case, the family’s great grandmother – appeared as if from nowhere with a sense of being touched by the fairy world. The story talks about mental illness, nerves, anxiety and depression – and worse – being passed down through generations of a family, and how desperately the family tries to ignore the signs when one of their own begins a faster slide into depression and delusion. Called ‘uncanny’ in the book’s introduction, there’s certainly an air of the unusual, here. Taking on the mythic feeling of Nordic folklore, one truly feels the encroaching darkness in this unsettling tale. Family heritage is tied directly to mental illness by an old piece of clothing; it’s ultimately kept as a souvenir of the fantastical occurrence at the story’s climax.

CLOUDBERRY JAM is a fast, fey tale that once again touches on the pregnancy theme Tidbeck brought up in BEATRICE, that of women having unconventional, fantastic pregnancies that lead to odd, not quite human children. Here, the protagonist creates a child for herself, loving and nurturing it until it begins to grow in its own direction. It’s at this point in reading that the mismatched jigsaw of familial puzzle pieces starts to emerge as significant throughout the collection: human oddities, connected by blood and mythology.

With PYRET, Tidbeck strides straight into otherworldly horror. Structured as a report on a mythological creature, this story pressed all the buttons necessary to make the hair on my neck stand on end. The story ends more abruptly than one might prefer, but the lurch it leaves the reader in helps feed a gnawing sense of umease. The imagery Tidbeck creates here is truly chilling.

Next up is AUGUSTA PRIMA, an odd little Alice-in-Wonderland style tale (or maybe i just think that because of the croquet) about beings living in a world without time, and what happens when one of them finds a watch. It feels like the allegory/concept may have gotten a little ahead of the story; more development of the idea would have given the story greater impact. The characters don’t feel as sharply drawn as in some of the collection’s other stories, though the conceit of playing an endless game of croquet in the garden of memory is an alluring one.

With AUNTS, we return to themes of childbearing, family and unnatural pregnancies. Consumption, too, plays a role in this story, where we watch the ritual of three ‘aunts’ who seem to exist simply to eat and procreate in a seemingly endless cycle. Over and over they consume themselves, finally bursting open full of new life, only for the cycle to be repeated again. Attended by three ‘neices,’ in a secret garden, what do the aunts symbolize – if anything? This story seems to take place on the fringes of the world created in AUGUSTA PRIME – an added wrinkle of complexity that makes me want to go back and look for other connections to other stories.

With JAGANNATH, the final story in the collection, Tidbeck’s theme of unnatural reproduction is turned inward. Now we see from the perspective of a great mother’s offspring as they watch their caretaker, a “mother creature” that protects them from an unspecified disaster out in the real world, run down – along with their entire way of life. Dystopian and claustrophobic, JAGANNATH takes place in an isolated and self-contained environment that would be at home in Margaret Atwood’s MADDADAM.

I’m not typically a fan of author’s notes and afterwards, but in this case reading Tilbeck’s final notes was highly illuminating. She discusses her process in terms of the language she uses, the curious mash-up of British and American English, and how she chooses which phrases to translate from Swedish and which words must remain in her native tongue. As someone who struggles with speech patterns thanks to five years spent living abroad, it was fascinating to read how another writer deals with the challenge of locating her stories in a place where a hodgepodge of languages and dialects create their own distinct flavor of storytelling.

JAGANNATH isn’t a hard read, or a long one, clocking in at 134 pages. It took me two airplane rides to finish it, including writing these thoughts on my phone. It’s atmospheric and linguistically engaging, and the writing itself shows an artfulness.that often feels missing in newer works. By the end of the book, the stories do feel as if they often don’t quite end, instead lingering, like the concept of liminal sun mentioned in Elizabeth Hand’s introduction.

Moody and dark, the stories nonetheless hold hope for those who want to believe in an onionskin otherworld. Tidbeck has a novel coming out soon, and it will be interesting to see what she does with the longer form.

Some authors you might also enjoy:
Julian Barnes
Margaret Atwood
China Mieville
Franz Kafka
Charles de Lint

 

PS – now that the holiday shopping season is here, would you like to check out my collection of short stories, SHORT FRICTIONS? It’s currently available on Kindle and other e-readers.

SHORT FRICTIONS, Coming Up Shortly!

A robot I met some time ago, on the Upper East Side. Not in any of my stories. But doesn't he look dapper?

A robot I met some time ago, on the Upper East Side. Not in any of my stories. But doesn’t he look dapper?

For the last month or so, I’ve been receiving helpful comments from wonderful people who’ve taken time out of their lives to prepare for advance reviewing of SHORT FRICTIONS – my upcoming collection of short stories. Their assistance has been invaluable, and the book you’ll eventually read has already been made leagues better thanks to their thoughts and comments.

So when do you get to check out this fabulous new collection of stories about vampires, robots, evil corporations and more?

One thing’s for sure: it won’t be long, now!

I’ve met with the designer – the stylish Sarah Hartley (who was responsible for the gorgeous cover of HOT MESS) and she’s working on some frankly brilliant ideas for the SHORT FRICTIONS cover. I hope you’ll like it. I know I love what she’s thought up so far.

I really can’t wait to share this collection of shorts – and a play! – with all of you. Most have been written in the last few years, with one outlier that dates back to my college days. Some, you may have seen in other places in the past. Others are fresh and new and clean and excited to be allowed out into the world.

The e-version will likely debut in August on several platforms, shortly ahead of the print one, and don’t worry – I’ll keep you updated. Just enter your info into the subscription widget – upper right hand side of this blog entry to make sure you don’t miss the new release. Or give me your email address (I’ll never sell or share it), below:

 

Happy New Year! Where I’ve been, and where I’m going in 2013.

Photo Credit: Leah Alconcel

Photo Credit: Leah Alconcel

I hope you and yours had a wonderful end of 2012 and rang in the new year with more enthusiasm than I did – I conked out a little after 11pm EST and didn’t manage to greet 2013 until about 9am this morning.

Time for a quick look back, and a longer look ahead.

2012 was a packed year. I published HOT MESS, had short stories featured on blogs and in Amazon E-Book collections, put together a collection of Zombie Haiku, talked a lot about feminism and vaginas (both here and in public), organized readings, took major artists to task over unethical business practices (with results!) and more.

It was a year of both excitement and disappointment, of keeping things in perspective, of working on myself and how I relate to the world. My cousin and his girlfriend got married, and I fell off the Low Sodium wagon hardcore shortly after (funny how having a size 14 dress to fit into can motivate a girl!).

I wrote about physics, I wrote about politics, I wrote about gun control, I broke 100K tweets (don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed about that), I edited a novel, contributed to a round-robin short story, got some help prettying up the blog, shared my self-publishing experience, interviewed innovative theatre producers

In other words, it’s been a busy year.

What’s up for 2013?

For the first time in years, I’m kicking off with a more-or-less clean slate. The writing projects I had planned to carry into this year are either at good resting points, or they’re not going forward due to external circumstances. I have an idea for a feature I’d like to play with, and I’d like to do more theatre work this year (last year, my short play MILLENNIAL EX was performed as part of Glasgay UK in a program of short works on marriage equality, and that’s re-whet my appetite for playwriting after a small break for other formats). I’m going to continue publishing my produced plays, which will join POST and Playing It Cool over on Amazon, just as soon as I lock down cover art for the new pieces (and by the way, if you’re interested in doing cover art for my plays, please let me know).

As I normally do around this time of year, I’m moving diet and health back to center stage: went grocery shopping yesterday and have gone back to only buying low sodium foods and healthy, nutritious snacks. We’ll see if that lasts much beyond my first day at work.

I spent a lot of time in 2012 on my mental health and well-being, and plan to keep moving forward with that in 2013.  I’d like to travel more, and have started trying to reconfigure finances so this is more than a pipe dream. I’d like to get more involved in activism and political issues – something I did more of in 2012 than I had in 2011, but still an area where I want to contribute in the future.

Thanks to everyone who helped make 2012 a memorable year – here’s to making new memories in 2013.

 

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The Neverending Writing List

As we creep ever-closer towards the end of the year, it’s natural to look back and take stock of the plans I made, and which ones came to fruition – hopefully with just enough time left in the final quarter of 2012 to kick my butt into gear on a few of these projects.

The year started with a rush and a bang. My short story, The Tell Tale Tech was selected to launch a week of tributes to Poe, over on The Veillee Blog. Next, Sare Liz Gordy decided to put together “Sassy Singularity” – an anthology of short stories about strong single women, and my short story Sweetheart, kicked off that collection.

The next month, Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change came out. Millennial Ex, a ten-minute play about marriage equality, was given Honorable Mention at a festival in the US before later being picked up as the centerpiece for ANY OBJECTIONS? the upcoming Glasgay Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. (I also have another dozen or so plays from other entrants to read through before the selection committee makes its final decisions.)

I put both Restaurants are Rated Out of Four Stars (a foodie romance, which appeared in RJ Astruc’s collection, The Fat Man At The End Of The World, several years ago) and my first Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing It Cool up. Ran a promotion for that on Kindle Select last week, and the play was both downloaded and reviewed favorably by many. Miranda Doerfler and I oversaw the publication of Haiku of the Living Dead, Zombie haikus collected from contributors around the internet.

I started a Pinterest and a Tumblr and a Goodreads account. I learned how to use InDesign well enough that I could make book covers that weren’t completely embarassing (you can see an example on the Playing it Cool cover on Amazon). I edited Eric Sipple’s first novel, Broken Magic. Got a couple interviews about my work published on a few different websites. Helped organize a massive political protest along with Eve Ensler and grassroots activists from around the country.

You’d need chocolate, too.

But it’s not enough.

There are projects I want to do that still aren’t done. And I wanted them to be done before the end of the year. There’s my AI collection, which will take both The Tell Tale Tech and Sweetheart and pair them with a number of original short pieces pondering alternative and artificial intelligences. I have partial drafts and sketches for a number of these shorts, including some pretty extensive drafts. But there’s more work to be done there.

Next, there’s Electalytics, the 30K novella I said I’d write in thirty days back in July. Currently hovering at about 27.5K, I’m tightening up the rest of the draft before going on to write the final parts of the story. I had wanted this piece to be up in time for the 2012 elections, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that would require rushing it out. So I’ll pick my way through it carefully and I’ll keep making slow progress.

There are two more projects I would very much have liked to complete this year, including the play that kicked me off down the AI collection road, a full-length three-hander called Process0r, about collaboration and language and technology.

So what gives? What’s holding me back? Why aren’t all these pieces done so I can scramble ahead to the next thing?  Aside from the blog updates, the social network building, being interviewed, contributing to charity fundraisers and more?

Life. That’s what. That messy, wonderful, horrible, ever-drumming thing we call life. The saying talks about the best-laid plans of mice and men, but writer’s best-laid plans often go astray as well. Coping with this fact? Not something I do especially well. When I have a plan, I want that plan done. And when it doesn’t get done, I start getting agitated.

So that’s what the next three months are for. It might seem as though the things I’ve already done this year would more than make up for the pieces I still want to finish – but they don’t. When I distill the list down and hold it up against the “life” things happening between now and December 31st, it looks a little like this:

1. Finish the first draft of Electalytics.

2. Create covers for Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings (video), so I can put them both up on Amazon alongside their fellow Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing It Cool.

I want to add, “Finish AI Anthology” and “Finish Processor” to the list, but given the two solid goals mentioned above and a third, more ephemerous goal I haven’t been specific about, I feel like sticking those two on the list would be a great way to get overwhelmed. So for now I’ll save those two projects for 2013, which – as far as I can tell – still offers twelve months of unspoken-for time.

This is a totally realistic plan.

Right?

Free! Feminist! Robots! SASSY SINGULARITY is free-for-a-day on KDP

Last week was National Robot week, and I really meant to give you all something cool to read about robots. Luckily, I came home tonight to see a note from Sare Liz Gordy, letting me know a promo was about to start on a project we worked on several months ago.

In February, I took part in an anthology titled Sassy Singularity, about the strength of singledom. Most of the writers came from the romance genre; most of the stories reflect the conventions of that genre. All of the stories were written by women, and they cover multiple points of view and approaches to story.

My contribution to the anthology was a little…shall we say…quirky. Titled Sweetheart, and told from the perspective of a former Service Bot (I’ll let you read between the lines as far as what type of service), it’s about a future where a rogue hacker disrupts an artificial offshoot of the world’s oldest profession.

On Wednesday, 4/18,  Sassy Singularity will be on an Amazon Kindle Select promo for one day. If you’re interested in reading Sweetheart, it’s not currently available anywhere else, and you’ll get a handful of other romance stories along with it.

So if you have a Kindle and you feel like taking advantage of one of SASSY SINGULARITY‘s free promo days by downloading a copy of the book…do it.

FOR SCIENCE.

(And if you enjoy Sassy, check out my other Kindle work, including recent release Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate changetoo!)

Selecting Not To Select Kindle Select

I re-joined the gym yesterday. I’ve gone twice so far. I feel unbelievably good for having done so. It’s not going to be cheap, so if you feel like supporting my good health habits, start saving your pennies for a copy of Hot Mess, releasing later in March.Speaking of which.
I’ve been involved with a couple of e-publishing projects in the last month or so, and have been trying to get a good idea of exactly what the costs and benefits to the independent author are when using e-distribution; read on for my thoughts on the matter and details of HOT MESS’ release.

“Sweetheart” to published in the SASSY SINGULARITY anthology

It’s been a busy beginning of the year over here on rlbrody.com, and the pace is only going to get more eventful in the next few months. Next on the docket? My short story “Sweetheart” will be appearing in Sassy Singularity, an anthology being edited by Sare Liz Gordy.
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