Author Archives: thelionmachine

About thelionmachine

Poet, story-teller, medievalist, disabled dandy, licensed necromancer.

Updates!

My poem The Doppelganger and the Ghost has been nominated among the 2016 Rhyslings. This is exciting and unexpected, and I’m very proud to be featured among friends and favorites for this year’s Rhysling considerations.

The Sunvault Anthology has released the full table of contents. I am excited my story “The Desert, Blooming” (a prequel to the time-travel novel set in the world of Azemur and Garnatah) is there among some of my favorite writers (and am pinching myself excitedly that I will get to be there!) In a lovely symmetry, my husband Aleksei also appears with a poem.

For more info on what I was up to in January, see this free-to-all Patreon post about having H1N1 and writing during the flu.  The Patreon also features free art and is where some poems will have their first debut. Our Patreon funds have dropped slightly so if you’ve been on the fence about supporting our long-term work, the tier after the grocery fund will allow us to release short stories from the archives, which means more stories for you.

If monthly funds aren’t in your means but you’d like to help us keep writing or appreciate my twitter activism, please consider tipping me on PayPal. Thank you always for your support and readership.

Backgame, Revisited

The author and queer activist Claudie Arsenault wrote an important, interesting post on an unfortunate trend in representation of asexual characters in fantasy: linking them with death. Especially in the THE books that everyone recommends as asexual representation. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to see why, especially for aromantic readers, a link with death is a negative connotation: frankly, done wrong, it’s a bit dehumanizing.

In 2013, I wrote a story about an aromantic asexual Necromancer set in a fantasy city of the Middle East (a bit of Damascus, a bit of Jerusalem, a bit of Antioch) raising a fellow wartime magician — their best friend, a trans man — in a city under siege, specifically to grant him a second chance at life in a body without the interruption of dysphoria. In 2015, after several near-misses, I submitted it to the Myriad Lands anthology and it came out in 2016. I got a paper check (which I still have!) and my authors’ copy of both beautiful volumes, and I danced around, because I was ecstatic to have a prose story out in the world, especially an ownvoices story with both asexual and non-cis representation and 0 white characters (it was not diversity bingo, but getting that clearly across to the reader took some editorial work).

Other things were published in 2015 and 2016 too. They were, maybe, not so positive about death, or the power of friendship enduring beyond death, or friendship being a powerful enough bond to be the humanizing sustenance to keep two embattled people living, not just alive, in a terrible place and time.  And into that soup of representation went Backgame. While all reviews of Backgame itself have been positive about its representation and the story itself, it doesn’t exist in a contextless vacuum. In the greater picture of searching story after story for asexual aromantics and finding only death, death, and more death, that representation which, in 2013, was radical to me as an asexual-spectrum person, came to be a bitter pill for other people.

While it is posted at Claudie’s blog as part of the ongoing conversation as a reply, the formal apology I wrote to aromantic readers who are disappointed that Backgame contributes to a sense the world sees them as lifeless and dead is copied here for posterity. If you like friendship stories about dead people getting happy endings and second chances, you’ll probably like Backgame. But this is about people who need something else from their representation, who look at an aro-ace character named “the Necromancer” and go “ugh, really?” For you guys: I’m sorry.

As the author of the short story mentioned in this post (“Backgame” in Myriad Lands) I wanted to issue an apology to any aromantic readers who feel it contributes negatively to stereotypes of aromantics and asexuals in fantasy literature. When I wrote the story in 2013, I had no idea putting a theme of huge personal relevance to me in an own-voices story as an asexual, writing about the kind of friendships that sustain people and my own complex feelings about death, would end up contributing to a harmful pattern of associating aromantics and asexuals with death and lifelessness because of its release date. At the time I wrote it, there WAS no significant canon rep of which to speak, so I edited the story to make asexuality a more explicit theme.

I can’t speak to the aromantic experience, but I can imagine how harmful and disappointing it must be to pick up my story and find the aro-ace character is a necromancer and yet again this is a story about death. If my story left you feeling wounded instead of healed, please accept my deepest apologies. I will try to do better by you next time, aromantic readers, by continuing to write non-romantic humans with full, vibrant relationships and networks as part of my writing. I appreciate all of you who discuss how these themes and archetypes make you feel, and I’m listening & learning from part of the asexual experience I don’t have. Thank you for speaking out, and refusing to settle for less than excellent representation.

Special thanks to Claudie for discussing this trope and the other thought-provoking comments it sparked. I intend to reexamine some of my unpublished work set in the “Ethical Necromancy” universe as that had also been intended to be asexual representation — but maybe that’s not the right place for that particular marginalization, at this exact moment in publication. Maybe when we have more, better asexual and aromantic stories, a few necromancer buddy cop stories won’t hurt. I’m not aromantic (I used to believe I was, but I am not) and it’s more important not to do harm than to excuse my work as different or special because I used to ID that way. Asexual spectrum characters frequently appear in my work, and one is a point of view character in the first of (hopefully many) adventures in the universe of Azemur and Garnatah. I intend to keep writing  asexual and aromantic characters– and more importantly, to do better with the next one.

In unrelated news, our Patreon has risen over $90 and we are preparing some of our monthly updates and rewards now to be ready for February. Check it out if you haven’t! Patreon readers will be the first to get to see, well, pretty much everything. One-off tips via PayPal are much appreciated and, like Patreon support, are time spent writing instead of working.

Thanks for reading, and for all your support, and special thanks to those doing the hard work of holding me accountable each and every day.

2016: Round-Up & Review

2016 was a huge year for me in a lot of ways. First short story publication! Two Rhysling nominations! Poetry publications of deep meaning to me! A dozen people, many from Twitter, turned up at my house to help my spouse and I move when the house was literally killing us! I crowdfunded a wheelchair for Aleksei! I sold another short story to an anthology! I finished the first draft of a novel that will come out in 2017!

And I started a patreon. The patreon is for longform work by my spouse Aleksei Valentín and I, but is also a platform to publish poetry and short stories if it becomes profitable to do so on a month-to-month basis. I write poems because I have a compulsion and send them out for publication because I like money, but I write short stories for paychecks, usually. If I think a short story won’t sell, I often don’t even finish it: I’d rather expend my energy on the long form work which is my relaxing hobby with my spouse than rack up rejection after rejection because my work isn’t in line with current magazine editorial taste. If the Patreon funding hits a high enough point, I’ll begin publishing short fiction on the Patreon instead. Many people have asked if there is a way, in addition to Paypal, to support my work on a more regular basis. The Patreon, which is based on a monthly model of funding our work, is that way.

To launch off the Patreon, I’ve begun by releasing my only poem that was behind a paywall and not for charity (the remaining poem, ‘The First Wife’, continues to benefit Elizabeth McClellan and so I have not reprinted it). The Lessons of the Knife, originally published in the anthology ‘Spelling the Hours’, is now available for free. Please read and enjoy. I have wanted to make it free for such a long time, because of the subject matter’s importance and because it’s one of my few poems that’s had a lot of popular demand!

For those who do awards nominations and the likes, this is 2016’s body of work:

Fiction, Short Form:

Backgame, in Myriad Lands II

 

Poetry, Long Category (50+ lines)

‘My Heart Is Set On Wandering’ in Strange Horizons

‘The Doppelganger and the Ghost’ in Eye To The Telescope

‘The Lessons of the Knife’ first in Spelling the Hours

 

Poetry, Short Category (1-49 lines)

‘The Lost City’ in Remixt Vol 1

‘The Doorway’ in Pedestal Magazine

‘Death By Three Senses’ in Strange Horizons

‘Witch’s Brew’ in Stone Telling

Florida Water (self-published)

 

Essays

Why “Diversity” Is Like A Mix Tape

 

Thank you very much for your continued support and enthusiasm in 2016. I have heard wonderful, beautiful things from you about these poems (‘The Doorway’ especially seemed to be a favorite) and I look forward to sharing much, much more work with you in 2016. Please consider helping fund my continuing work in both long and short form via Patreon — in the first 12 hours we are halfway to being able to post a new poem each month on Patreon  available for free. If you enjoyed my work this year but don’t have the funds to commit to regular Patreon gifts, please consider tipping me a one-off gift. They do, indeed, make a huge difference in my quality of life.

See you in 2017!

Reviews & podcasts!

Several of my pieces have been reviewed over the past few weeks. I’ve collected the links here:

Charles Payseur reviewed My Heart Is Set On Wandering in Quick Sips as part of his review of Strange Horizons. Delighted to be featured with EP Beaumont in the review. Strange Horizons’ October poetry podcast also featured Ciro Faienza reading the same poem, alongside EP Beaumont’s chilling, “Their Song”,  a timely examination of how real history becomes retold as myths and fables, just a few weeks ahead of the contentious American election. (I am a distant poem-uncle of this piece, and am frequently blamed for making EP into a poetry writer, so it thrills me to see such an important poem so warmly received.)

Editor Shannon Connor Winward wrote a lovely, long series of posts (begins here) about the poems in Eye To The Telescope’s Ghost issue, including her thoughts on choosing my poem “The Doppelganger and the Ghost” among the series. It’s lovely when an editor immediately grasps a poem on multiple levels, and Shannon clearly understood the way a folklore monster story-poem came to stand in for the experiences of dysphoria and social death that haunt many trans people. (Мind the trigger warnings for dysphoria and transphobia in the poem & its write-up.)

Finally, in an exciting first for me, Gillian Daniels reviewed my first short story “Backgame” in Myriad Lands II for Fantastic Stories of the Imagination with great sensitivity and thoughtfulness, exploring the apocalyptic elements of the story & tying them to the bigger trend of asking “how do we live after/as it all falls down?” in post-apocalyptic stories. Available from Amazon as a paperback or kindle copy (affiliate link!), it’s also available in other formats and from other retailers for global readers. If you haven’t picked up “Myriad Lands II”, it’s full of wonderful stories set in fantastical landscapes that aren’t quite familiar.

I had intended to release a poem around my birthday and haven’t quite gotten around to it yet but look soon for what’s probably my last poem (re)release of 2016. I’m also building material for the launch of a patreon with my spouse, Aleksei I. Valentin, hopefully in December. A busy end-of-the-year, but rather behind the scenes!

‘My Heart Is Set on Wandering’ & ‘The Doppelganger and the Ghost’ out today!

Strange Horizons, one of my favorite venues, has published a semi-autobiographical ghost poem of mine, “My Heart Is Set on Wandering” as their first poem on their beautiful new website relaunch, and as part of Filipino-American History Month I’ve decided to write about it a little bit.

This poem originally began as a companion piece to an untitled short story in a universe I call “Ethical Necromancy”, but quickly spiraled out from the POV of the fictional necromancer Magdalena and became my own. At its heart, the poem is about the community of St Malo, Louisiana, and the yearning to see and hear what stories that community might tell. It’s also autobiographical in another sense; it is about my grandmother’s family’s choice not to register on the Dawes Rolls and be counted by the US Government among the Cherokee Nation (a decision that has repercussions for my family to this day, including falsification of her obituary to keep her Native ancestry a secret), the discovery of my grandfather’s gravestone and my search to learn about his circuitous journey from Santa Catalina as a boy of 15 through the US West Coast before it was cut short by cancer, probably caused by the pesticides sprayed on the fields where he worked as a laborer picking everything under the sun.

For me, no love song about Louisiana’s dead is complete without the spiritual traditions of New Orleans, where I did, indeed, see the Baron in bright sunshine on a Thursday afternoon in September while sitting in Jackson Square.

This poem shares so much common ground of ancestry, identity, and dead-ness with “The Doppelganger and the Ghost” in Eye To The Telescope Issue 22 that it would be odd not to mention them together (TW: transphobia, dysphoria). Late October/early November might be the Season of Spirits in the Catholic religious calendar but it’s also a time of ancestral memory and remembering; here, the fraught matter of immediate family becomes tangled up with monsters and true identities, and how dysphoria and transition can lead to both deep betrayals and freeing truths. There is not always a simple resolution to the pain of family, and there’s not one here; but perhaps “My Heart Is Set On Wandering” offers the balm that if the immediate dead do not understand us, Ancestors know more than we might think.

 

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Poetry Sale: ‘The Doppelganger and the Ghost’

I’m excited to announce I sold ‘The Doppelganger and the Ghost’ to the “Ghosts” issue of Eye to the Telescope, which will be published on October 15. Later this month you’ll also see “My Heart Is Set On Wandering” in Strange Horizons, another ghost poem about Filipinos in Louisiana. Strange Horizons is currently fundraising, and I encourage you to go throw some pennies at a magazine that is gearing up for its THIRD publication of my work. Strange Horizons takes interesting risks, publishes first-time authors, and is just one of those special venues whose archives have something for every reader of the speculative.

‘The Doppelganger and the Ghost’ leans more heavily into “horror” than anything I’ve published to date, but it is not exactly a supernatural haunting. This poem may have special resonance for my trans readers, or anyone who has felt forced to suppress their real identity in favor of a false image. It was a poem I figured was near-unsellable, so I’m excited to be bringing it to you soon.

I’ll also be re-releasing a special poem currently unavailable online a lot of people have asked about on October 16 when rights revert back to me, so the poetry news this month flies fast and thick!

If you’d like to support my writing, please consider tipping me.

Fiction Sale! ‘The Desert, Blooming’

I’m excited to announce I’ve sold my short story ‘The Desert, Blooming’, to the Sunvault Anthology of Solarpunk and Eco-Fiction. When the project was first announced, one of the editors sent me an encouraging message on twitter inviting me to throw my hat into the slush pile — much to my excitement, I had already been working on a story concept for a larger universe that fit neatly into the idea of Eco-Fiction, and after a few false-starts, have produced a story I’m incredibly proud of. Many thanks to EP Beaumont, India Valentin, and the editors themselves, who worked with me to create a satisfying exploration of an alternate-future where modern afforestation techniques being pioneered in sub-Saharan Africa and Israel are an important part of the reclamation of an alternate-universe Sahara in North Africa.

This science fiction story is a character prequel to the first novel in the Azemur universe, a magical reimagining of the ancient cultures of the near East, and the collision of religions, cultures, and peoples of medieval al-Andalus. If you follow me on twitter, you might have heard me refer to the novel as the “time travel story” but while the story creates to the greater whole, there’s neither time travel, nor magic, in this short.

Excitingly, this will mark the second time I appear with my wife, India Valentin, whose poem about remaking Israel and keeping sacred plant traditions of Judaism alive is also part of the anthology. When the final Table of Contents and pre-order info for Sunvault are announced, you’ll hear about it here!

In other fiction news, “Backgame” now comes in e-book form as part of Myriad Lands II for only $3.99! (Amazon, or DriveThruFiction for other formats). If you’ve been holding out for a digital copy, I hope you enjoy this fascinating compilation of short stories. You’re getting almost 20 stories for $4! (UK friends can order through Guardbridge Books)

If you’d like to support my writing, please consider tipping me.