Bear in Contradicting Landscape in Apex Magazine

My story Bear in Contradicting Landscape is live as part of Apex Magazine's Issue 33. An excerpt:

L’s full name, Logos Agape Varvara, was her father’s way of protesting Vatican II. It meant something like “the wandering word of divine love.” She’d put up with playground taunts until she was twelve, then started using her initials, LAV, as her name. It didn’t take long, however, for the boys to start calling her “LAV-ia,” so she’d given up and started going simply as L, wearing black and reading books on witchcraft. By the time I’d met her, she was working as an embalmer, prepping cadavers with cosmetics and chemicals.

Also in this issue: an interview and a short fiction reprint from Maureen McHugh; fiction from A.C. Wise; poetry from Carrie Vaughn; nonfiction from Alex Bledsoe; and an editorial by the boss, Lynne M. Thomas.

The Books of Snow: A PAMPHLET

Snow is, next to fog, the most literary of weather conditions. Sleet has no attention span, wind constantly revises, and rain throws everything it writes away. Snow's success in the world of letters can be attributed to its strength as a collaborator. Over the centuries it has worked with many of the world's greatest literary geniuses--all of them, in fact, who have spent enough time at the appropriate latitudes or elevations. But since literary genius is often found huddled near a fireplace, snow works more extensively with professions not always thought of as literary--soldiers, schoolchildren, and cross-country skiers.

Sadly, much of snow's output has been lost, for reasons that should be obvious. What has been preserved is primarily in the polar regions, but many scraps have been preserved by migrating birds, certain satellites, and zephyrs. The collection is kept in the White Library, which has branches in Arkhangelsk, Ellsworth Station in Antarctica (purportedly closed, but accessible to snow-shovelers of 6th level and above), and the shady side of Mt. Everest.

Most works written in snow fall into one or more of three categories, classified as singular collected "books":

1.The Book of Travel. Eloquent in their simplicity, these texts record the movement of beasts and humans throughout history. It was from these works that Mrs. Edith Wallin of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, during a sabbatical from her position as an elementary school secretary, first derived the principle now known as the "First Walker Theory." Wallin had observed the tendency for a succession of persons to scale large ridges of snow by walking in the footfalls of a single intrepid climber. By examining the pages of the Books of Travel for her hometown in the years 1946 to 1992, Wallin discovered that these snow-stiles (as they are known to specialists) always appear in precisely the same spot from year to year, leading her to postulate the existence of a primordial snow-traveler (or travelers) in whose footsteps we are all still walking now.

2.The Book of Names. Recorded using various writing materials--sticks, shovels, mittened hands, and others better left unmentioned (it is perhaps enough to note that a majority of the names written crudely in yellow are male)--this census of the cooler climes is primarily of interest not for the fame of its signatories (few last names are recorded, either because of modesty or a loss of interest) but for the demographic trends it illustrates. For example, the unexpected popularity of the name "Nefertiti" among the Sami people of sixth century Norway, or the fact that in the winter of 1742 the name "Channing" is the only one recorded globally, occurring over 74,000 times. Fans of comic-books may be interested to know that in 1844 the given names of Marvel's Fantastic Four were recorded in mile-wide letters on the surface of Patagonia's glaciers. A few tips, should you choose to add your name to the record: choose an open area, do not attempt a cursive script, and make it large, so that it is clearly visible to birds and satellites.

3.The Book of War. These pages are often in poor condition, worn through to the grass and dirt, stained with red. They are similar to the pages of the Book of Travel in that they show the overlapping movements of men and beasts and vehicles, but the movements in the Book of War are panicked and confused, and few scholars can bear to study them for extended periods. It was in the aftermath of the siege at Arkhangelsk that the White Library was first established, by the ornithomancer Osip Kirichienko. Kirichienko had only managed to save a few of his avian assistants from the city's starving inhabitants; he sent them out to record the battlefield, hoping to create a record that would discourage all future wars. Though Kirichienko's hope was not to be fulfilled, his library still stands, and all branches are open to the general public. Just ask the birds for directions.

2012 Reading #5: Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez

1. Feral Cell by Richard Bowes.
2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf.
3. Fractured by Karin Slaughter.
4. Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin.

5. Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez. So far this year, I am reading v e r y s l o w l y. This book took me some time to finish, because Gabo's chapters are very long, and his memoir style is sprawling and not terrifically linear--not dissimilar to his fiction style, but with more names and characters who are important for a paragraph or two and then disappear. I'm sure I would have gotten more out of this if I knew more about the literary scene in Colombia in general. I did enjoy Gabo's self-deprecating tone and learning about the inspirations for Macondo and reading about his early years as a directionless, poverty-stricken journeyman writer.

2012 Reading #4: Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin

1. Feral Cell by Richard Bowes.
2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf.
3. Fractured by Karin Slaughter.

4. Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin. I wish I had a name more like Ursula, because if I was to create a fictional country and name it after myself I think the results would be less elegant and more obvious. Davidia? Doesn't work. I really like what Le Guin has done here; she takes this imaginary nation (which is located somewhere in Europe, probably Eastern Europe) and gives it a reality with stories that take place at different points throughout 800 years of its history. These are not fantasy stories (though one of them has overtones of such), and stylistically they feel a little bit different, as if the literature of Orsinia were distinguished by a sort of stoic melancholy. They aren't fantasy, but they have that flavor of regret. Malafrena, the only novel set in Orsinia, is up next.

2012 Reading #3: Fractured by Karin Slaughter

1. Feral Cell by Richard Bowes.
2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

3. Fractured by Karin Slaughter. After the insane events of Beyond Reach it's perhaps inevitable that this transitional novel would be a little bit of a letdown. It's not that it isn't good, just that there isn't as much history with these characters, and that I miss the folks from Grant County. The next novel will integrate the two, and I'm looking forward to it very much.

2012 Reading #2: Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

1. Feral Cell by Richard Bowes.

2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf. I am overwhelmed by this book. It is smart, wry, fanciful, gorgeous, insightful, and whimsical--the scalpel of Woolf's intelligence that she wields so well in Three Guineas and A Room of One's Own turned playful without becoming frivolous. But that doesn't really do Orlando--the book or the character--any sort of justice. Maybe, given a great deal of time and a reread or two, I could say more and better, but for now all I can say is that I wish Woolf were alive so I could write her an email and tell her how much I loved her book.

2012 Reading #1: Feral Cell by Richard Bowes

1. Feral Cell by Richard Bowes.

After I read Rick's story "I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said" when it was published in F&SF, I wrote him a little fan email. In his response he mentioned that the story was in part autobiographical, and that the narrator's reference to a novel he was working on was a reference to this novel. (Whether you read this novel or not, you should read the short story at the link above. It's excellent.) This novel seems sort of personal too, at least, a little more so than the Warchild/Goblin Market duology. It's about a world in which those who are close to death, particularly those suffering from cancer, can cross into another world that overlaps this one, and how the interaction between the two has begun to create instabilities of climate and governance. It reads sort of like a dream (or, at times, like a nightmare), as the protagonist, Robert Leal, slips between realities and, incidentally, away from people and connections. A lovely, lonely, melancholy book.

2011 Reading Summary

I read 123 books this year. (This is not a lot; someone on my f-list posted the list of books they had read this year, and it was over 700.) My number went up, I think, because I took more advantage of the comics available at the library. I have considered, at times, not including comics in these posts, but the reasons for that seem to boil down to snobbery and I can't get behind that. (I have also considered posting about the movies I watch, but I'm afraid that that way lies madness.) The number does exclude my online and magazine-based short fiction reading, since the idea of discussing every short story I read in any sort of detail is overwhelming.

Last year at this time I said that I planned to read "another Dickens, The Canterbury Tales, and, for the first time in more than twenty years, The Lord of the Rings." I read Oliver Twist but was disappointed by it, and I didn't care for the majority of The Canterbury Tales at all. Re-reading Tolkien, though, was a definite highlight.

I continued my "project" reading, that is, working through at least the bulk of the oeuvre of a couple of authors at once. I started on Ursula Le Guin's work last year; I didn't finish it in 2011 but I probably will in 2012. The other project slot has been rotating. I read Patricia Highsmith's major works and some of her minor ones, but I got a bit worn down by her worldview and decided I might come back to her works later. I started working through my collected Ted Sturgeon volumes, but found that reading him all at once was detrimental to my enjoyment of his work. I finally settled on Karin Slaughter's novels, which are dark, violent mystery-thrillers. I'll run out of these soon, and I think the next author I pick up for the project will be Louise Erdrich.

Something surprised me about gender balance this year. I had guessed that, because of the project reading and the number of books by women that had stuck with me from earlier in the year, I might have read more books by women than books by men. As it turns out, by my count it's almost even; 62 entries about books by women and 61 about books by men. An object lesson, I guess, in perception not tracking with reality.

Besides finishing up Slaughter and (hopefully) Le Guin's works and starting on Erdrich's, I plan to read (or at least attempt) Joyce's Ulysses, Suzette Haden Elgin's Ozark Trilogy, Wuthering Heights, and Cold Comfort Farm. Plus, 100+ other books.

Over the past couple of years I haven't been able to pick an overall favorite, but this year there was one standout, a book I read in January that is still my favorite thing that I read all year: The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss. God, what a book. And if I could pick a favorite new (to me) author for the year, that would have to be Virginia Woolf. The rest of my favorites for the year, in no particular order, are:

Mammoths of the Great Plains by Eleanor Arnason
Sandstorm by Christopher Rowe
A Brood of Foxes by Kristin Livdahl
Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge
Noise by Darin Bradley
Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine
What I Didn't See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler
Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison
Shadow Man by Melissa Scott
Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects by Mike Mignola
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
Warchild and Goblin Market by Richard Bowes
Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male & Female by Phyllis Burke
The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Robert Fitzgerald

Thinking Out Loud About 2011

First off, I apologize for subjecting you to yet another retrospective.

I never have "good" years or "bad" years, I don't think. I have mixed years. This year I was probably more broke than I have ever been--still am, frankly--and yet I finished a novel, figured out some important things, and had some excellent times with friends. I managed, for the second year in a row, to stave off any major bouts of depression with the simple help of a solar alarm clock. I sold a couple of short stories after a long dry spell. I got to spend some time with my nephew and niece and fell in love with them both. There are other good things that are more personal that I'm not ready to talk about here.

Here's what I hope for 2012: That I can sell that novel, do better financially, and get into that MFA program I applied for. (That last is probably a long shot, since I happen to have heard how many people applied.) To have things continue to go well on the personal front. To keep figuring myself out, and to be braver.