“The Doorway” out today!

Content note: this post & the poem in it are about suicide and death.

As a part of Pedestal Magazine’s new site launch, they have included my parallel-universes/Tolkien poem “The Doorway” (tw: suicide) in the 78th issue! It’s an honor to be a part of such a long-running poetry magazine, and I’m totally thrilled, and a little lost at what to say about it.

Why do I call it a Tolkien poem? A couple of reasons. One; the poem quotes Tolkien explicitly:

“Farewell!” he [Denethor] said. “Farewell, Peregrin son of Paladin! Your service has been short, and now it is drawing to an end. I release you from the little that remains. Go now, and die in what way seems best to you.[…]” (Return of the King: Chapter Four ‘The Siege of Gondor’, p99 in the US 1995 Book-of-the-Month Club edition)

and two, because it is fundamentally about Númenor, the island sunken into the sea from which Denethor and all the Men of the West are descended. It is about saudades, the Portuguese sadness for a place that has never existed, hiraeth, the Welsh  longing for a home you can’t return to,  the sunken home under the sea that will never be a home ever again, but where the bones of your ancestors call to you like a siren’s song, that you hear every time you see your own face in a puddle and remember you are homeless, forever, in a spiritual level deeper than nationalities or countries can ever touch.

It is also a literal, historical poem about December 2009, where, during Christmas break, I had a dream that I lined my pockets with black stones and tried to drown myself, because in a lake I could see a city under the water and it seemed like a good, quiet way to die, but a fictional character I had written dove in after me. I was tremendously depressed at the time, functioning under sleep deprivation conditions used in torture (3-5 hours of sleep in every 24 hour cycle, 6 if I fell asleep doing my homework, and then I was punished with bad grades), at a school I hated, isolated, without proper pain control, having nightmares like I was in the middle of a warzone.  I had just turned 21, and I wanted to die. So. Very. Much. Just so that everything that hurt me would stop hurting me. I was trapped by my abusive family, and I couldn’t think of another way to escape.

When I woke up, I was actually slowly smothering myself with a pillow, and if I had not dreamed someone came after me and insisted I live, I might never have woken up at all. I was angry about it for days. Something finally clicked in my brain: I was angry that I was alive? Something had to change, and fast. It’s not normal to be angry you survive. I wish this is where I could say my family rallied around me and supported me in getting mental health care and better medical care — but it wasn’t like that. I fought tooth and nail to leave that school between semesters. I had the first — and last — fight with my father, where he tried to shame me into going back, and I told him if he wouldn’t support me, he could watch me fail the way his parents had watched him when he changed schools in college, waiting for him to fail. (Fact: my father never graduated college because he lacked parental support after leaving a prestigious school for a less prestigious one. You can see why he didn’t fight with me again no matter what his opinions were on my decisions.)

Is this important to understanding the poem? Maybe not. If you’re reading this, just know: there is a parallel universe where no fictional soldier dives into the water, and I slowly asphyxiate as I see the algae-crusted towers rise up to catch me (maybe it is a doorway, after all; maybe I would have traveled through somewhere kinder than here). Or maybe I wake up in time but go back to school and join the 4 students who died there by suicide in the 09-10 year.

Instead, I found a school where I could do what I really wanted, accommodated my disability, and because I actually had some free time, I wrote that character in a collaborative story online. My now-wife emailed me 3 months later and asked me if we wanted to write together, and shortly after she moved back into my timezone and we started spending a lot of time together. I stopped dreaming about dying — and when I did dream about it, it was something I didn’t want anymore, they were nightmares, and I woke up shaken because, suddenly, I wanted to be alive. Pain and all. Untreated mental health issues and all. I wanted to live long enough to do something: (I kept chasing short-term targets) write a research bachelors thesis, finish a storyline, escape my abusive family to go live with my now-wife, make it to that doctor who would give me adequate pain control, get into a masters program, get a diagnosis, write another thesis, get married– until I wanted to have a life of meaning and beauty with the person who loves me, until it’s neither beautiful or meaningful anymore. Then, maybe, I can find that doorway. But not tonight, and not tomorrow.

It seems important to tell this story because right now the world is cheering the eminent suicide of a child of fourteen who does not have a terminal disease and no one in her community is asking: what do we do to keep her alive? What’s wrong with her care treatments that she’d rather be dead? Why don’t her parents love her enough to treat her depression? I didn’t cross through the doorway: I live in a world where we think it’s better to be dead than disabled. Where is the soldier, diving between universes, between fiction and reality, to pound my chest until I jerk awake and throw the pillow away and cause me to choose to give living one more try? Who is diving between all these horrible publicity stunts that cheer her death to tell her: no, dammit, not yet, there is more to your life than this no matter what people say?

Not everyone gets to survive long enough to write about “the time I almost killed myself” and see it in print. I have. You can, too. Find a chatline, wherever you are in the world. I don’t promise anything. I don’t promise it gets better (the fuck is “better” anyway?) I only know it’s better to be disabled than to die because you feel trapped and stuck. Really. No matter what they tell you. God might have rigged the game against me in the genetic lottery (I don’t believe that now, but I did then), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a purpose for why you are here that you haven’t even discovered yet.

So that is The Doorway, both its roots in fantasy, and its reality. Sometimes, somebody saves you. Sometimes, that person is yourself.

Advertisements

Available Now: Myriad Lands 2 in print!

I have had the wonderful opportunity to be part of the first anthology from Guardbridge Books for their two-part anthology Myriad Lands. My story “Backgame” is now available in print as part of Myriad Lands Vol II: Tales From Many Lands (e-book coming soon).

“Backgame” is a very special story to me because it features multiple types of Own Voices representation I think highly under-represented in general: an asexual necromancer and a trans revenant and their platonic friendship, in a magical city that draws on the rich history of the Middle East.

“Backgame” is a love letter of admiration and solidarity to siege survivors and victims: the medieval women of my BA research; the survivors and victims of Russian sieges of WWII whose writing taught me to be a poet and helped me survive dark periods of my life. It is also for the refugees, victims, and survivors of contemporary siege violence in the Middle East, who I stand in solidarity with among their courage and suffering. It is my first short story to appear in print and I am thrilled beyond belief this story has found such a perfect home.

I share the table of contents with some incredible authors:

Phenderson Djeli Clark – “Redemption for Adanna”
Adrian Tchaikovsky – “The Language of Flowers”
Neil Williamson – “Darkday Night”
Terry Jackman – “Incense Shrine”
Tom Fletcher – “The Rounds”
Mame Bougouma Diene – “Night Child”
Kelda Critch (Deborah Walker) – “Song of the Ancient Queens”
Alter S. Reiss – “Shadowslain”
Samuel Marzioli – “The Last Great Failing of the Light”
Amy Power Jansen – “Life for Death”
Kristie Olley – “The Beauty of the Dance”
Lev Mirov – “Backgame”
Bejamin Jacobsin – “Hollow”
Meghan Hutchins – “Poet-Scholars of the Necropolis”
Emily McCosh – “Winged”
Katherine Quevedo – “Venom in the Cloud Forest”
J. W. Hall – “The Truth in Fire”
Melissa Mead – “God Daughter”

This is a very special two-part collection, and I encourage you to look at the first book in the collection, set in real places, Myriad Lands Vol I: Around The World.

Working with David Stokes, the editor, was a dream; his helpful edits were easy and painless and helped the story become what it really wanted to be, and his professionalism in keeping me in the loop made the experience painless and wonderful. As I await the e-book edition to become available for those of you who prefer e-books, you’ll see more exciting opportunities to buy this story, including buying both volumes at a discounted price.

I love this story with all my heart, I’m so happy my first fiction publication is in an anthology like this one, and I cannot wait for you to read it & the other stories. It’s exciting to be part of the future of fantasy in an anthology so focused on representing decentered authors and experiences.

A small but exciting and half-forgotten thing I forgot to announce at the time: EP Beaumont interviewed me for Muse Of Research: Food As Worldbuilding a while ago and those of you who read “Backgame” may see the influence of some of the recommended cookbooks listed in the role food plays in this story…

Essay: Why “Diversity” Is Like A Mix Tape

On Twitter some time ago I wrote a tweet thread about “diverse” characters and writing people who are different from you. I wanted to expand it into a post because several people asked me to. And then life happened: Acute health issues. My spouse continues to have mobility problems. Orlando. A family tragedy. The draft of this post sat unfinished. But it’s time, now, to explain why writing stories about people different from you should be like making a mixtape for a crush.

Full disclosure on why I am writing about diversity, if you’ve never seen me before: I am a queer non-cis chronically ill disabled mixed-race Filipino-American (don’t let the name throw you). My adoptive grandfather was a Mexican, my grandmother was white-passing mixed race Cherokee by way of New Mexico and Oklahoma. I am formally converting to Judaism after discovering a heritage connection, and I have Muslim family by way of Pakistan and Egypt, so when it comes to Bad Representation, there’s a lot of fuckups. As a Filipino-American, there’s also a lot of, well, nothing. I have Strong Feelings about representation.

First of all, I have a few things to say about “diverse” writing. One is that it’s absolutely crucial. Western English-language writing has been dominated by cis, able, heterosexual white men for a long time. Adding cis, able, heterosexual white women did not diversify it very much. If you are any combination of those, that’s no shade — but publishing is VASTLY dominated by these voices at every level, especially when it comes to who makes decisions of what gets published. These experiences and voices are overwhelmingly “centered” in publishing, pushing everyone else to the edges of the field — commonly called “marginalizing” them or making them “minorities”, or, as I prefer, “decentering” them.

A word about why this language: marginal, marginalized, the margins, comes from the concept of a book. Every life is a page in a book. You, your life, is at the center. The things that directly impact your life are the circle around you. In circles, slowly moving outwards, are people you know, things you’ve seen, the global news, issues you care about but don’t directly impact you. If you’re a cis white heterosexual person, the Pulse shooting in Orlando isn’t center and forefront of your life experience the way it is for a gay or trans Puerto Rican living in Orlando. If you’re a white middle-class Brit, the life of an immigrant of color to Australia is going to be so far on the edge of the page as to be just a tiny blip, unless you’re very close to one personally. The farther from your life experience a thing is, the less centered it is to your reality, until you hit the edges, the margins of the page. The page is only so big and eventually, things don’t fit on the page at all — the average reader of my work has never been to Abkhazia, for example (and is probably going to google it right now). But flip the page. Another writer — a disabled bisexual immigrant multigender Muslimah living in a rural southern US town (example is drawn from my circle of friends. This is not a theoretical person. Identities are as my friend uses them.)– is now the center. The last page, suddenly, is on the edges. This lived experience puts the other two experiences on the edges of life knowledge, learned about through film and book– set up as normative, even, but never experienced.

The need to diversify publishing at every level is hugely important, and involves involving disabled, trans, LGB+, asexual and aromantic, and non-white people of every culture, class and religion at every level of publishing. The OwnVoices hashtag coined by YA speculative writer Corinne Duyvis, took preexisting conversations and gave it a convenient hashtag: the idea that people of “marginalized” or, as I prefer, “decentered” writers can, and should, write about their experiences, and that their own voices should be supported, promoted, and generally prioritized over that of people centered by publishing who are, ultimately, GUESSING what it is like to live with an oppression as part of daily life. This is not without conflict of its own– two people with identical labels will have different experiences and points of view, but that’s an inside discussion. OwnVoices is a way for writers to assert over their own work: “this story is about my world, my lived experiences,” without constricting that to pure autobiography.

 

To those white/able/cis/het/western & otherwise traditionally centered writers, I have two pieces of advice:

Do not try to write an Issues Story about an experience you don’t have. What do I mean? If you’re a white cis woman, don’t try to write the coming out of a black trans woman. If you aren’t a gay Latino, don’t try to write about the struggles of a gay man trying to be accepted by his immigrant Brazilian family. These pieces are often called “Identity Stories” because they focus so heavily on the struggles of the main character to reconcile their identity to the mainstream culture that alienates them, and there is really only one set of people qualified to write them: the people who live these experiences of identity. If your story totally falls apart without you explaining what it’s like to be an X, and you’re not an X, (a somewhat famous non-speculative example: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, about intersex identity and gender transitioning written by a self-identified cis man) this story is not your story to tell. You are guessing, based off things you’ve read, people you’ve known, twitter threads, sociology textbooks — if you did you research, which many authors don’t. It is possible to write an “Identity Story” that isn’t terrible (parts of Middlesex genuinely moved me as an intersex person who was wrongly assigned at birth), but “isn’t terrible” is a low bar and you should calmly, quietly, clear space for identity stories that reflect actual lived experience and do your best to root on people who have stories to tell of their own.

That said, you should, by all means, write people different from you in your stories. To do this, though, provokes incredible anxiety in many writers — often, the anxiety of doing harm. Good, you should be anxious about that if you are historically centered by publishing, your literary forebears have historically hurt us a lot with your portrayals of us as recently as yesterday (JK Rowling, ahem). Awfully, sometimes, the fear is of criticism and bad book sales if representation is wrong, rather than fear of harm. To that end, I have written a checklist to help you determine if you are ready to write a story about or featuring a marginalized person (hopefully persons, plural, we tend to travel in groups, belong to families, have friends, know people, it is weird to have The One Gay Friend or the Token Latinx in your story). If you are afraid of criticism, this post is not for you. If you are afraid of harm, keep reading.

  1. Are you friends, or have you been friends, with a person from your decentered character’s background or who shares in their marginalization in a significant way?
  2. Are you writing the book or story with the desire (whether possible/advisable or not) to give it to them or someone like them with pride to say, with excitement and a little anxiety, “hey, I wrote a character for you!” with the hope of a reaction of “wow! I never see people like me in stories!”?

If the answer of either of these questions is “no”, you need to go change your book or story idea or friends circle until the answer is “yes”.

 

I know this is a huge statement. Let me explain.

  1. If you are not actual friends (internet friends count if you actually talk to each other — one-sided following of someone you’ve never had a private convo with does not) or family with someone you want to represent on the page, you are not close enough to the subject to EVER research it enough to be true to life if you are trying to represent a modern culture (even in a historical time). Where would you even begin to understand what’s inherently offensive, what stereotypes are exhausted, what’s untouchable, what’s not for outsiders, ever?
  2. (More important, really.) If your primary imaginal audience is a person who is just like you, your representation will not center the people you are writing about — it will Other them. We will become objects of the Othering Gaze, as you explain how weird and different from your presumed audience of Normal White(/Cis/Straight/Able) People. You will not mean to do this. But it will seep into every part of your story and word choice and plot concepts and it will hurt your readers who ARE that demographic, because we will see ourselves through your eyes, and your eyes will be fixated on Difference, and we will feel alienated and objectified.

I do not write exclusively OwnVoices stories. I sometimes write characters who do not share my religion, or who are from a different part of the world than my family, or have a different disability or gender or sexuality. I often do this and give them a struggle of my own simultaneously, because writing straight up about myself is not a thing I enjoy doing (if I did, I’d write autobiography). But I write them with someone in mind: a specific reader who is from that demographic. The goal, my goal, is to theoretically give it to that reader and say “I wrote this character for you”. Not based off them or a copy of them! For them to read and see someone like them — with their sexuality, their gender, their skin color, their cultural heritage, their disability — as a good person who they can identify with or who somehow reflects their reality, who exists in MY imaginal world, a place they can see they exist in. When you are decentered constantly, you want to exist, somewhere, without something Fucking Awful happening to you like a plot-contrived reason your girlfriend has to die. In reality, you do not maybe want to give your lesbian romance to your Desi aunt who is a conservative Christian (maybe you want to give it to your bi friend dating a Desi girl you’ve met twice, instead), or don’t talk to that friend anymore for one reason or another — but the idea of your character causing them emotional distress should upset you enough to be determined to do the best you can.

Your feelings, when writing a story containing someone who is decentered or marginalized, should evoke the anxiety of making a mixtape for your crush. You want them to know how you REALLY feel about them — and that feeling should be “you are wonderful and I am happy you exist”. If you want to include decentered people for any other reason– just stop. If you want to do it for money or because it’s a trend or ANY reason other than love of SPECIFIC humans who you feel would be completely remiss if they were absent from your book because they’re in YOUR world, stop and write an autobiography. You should do things you think will make your specific, real, actual human reader happy; even if they NEVER READ THE STORY or you are telling a story they wouldn’t want to read anyway, you should treat your act of representation as compiling that mixtape you are going to give to your crush to show how much you like them and how well you know what they like to listen to.

If there isn’t a real actual human in your life past or present you would be anxious about reading your story and worry about causing feelings of hurt by what you wrote, you are not close enough to the subject to write it. Every act of representation should be an intentional gift to SOMEONE from that group — because if it isn’t, you will inevitably, by default, end up writing about your idea of what life is like for that group for readers Just Like You, with your prejudices, biases, and preconceived ideas about what that group is like. And you will be wrong, and we will be hurt, and sad, and wonder what the fuck. 

This “WTF” isn’t a theoretical response and isn’t limited to things like Nazi romances or anti-hero leads who belong to hate groups or books that misrepresent marginalized religions, or the trend for murdering black lesbians on TV (though all those things contribute). It happens pretty much constantly, because the decentered subjects of a story are not considered the audience.

I won’t name the story or venue, but an author who does not ID in public as disabled wrote a story about losing a limb and acquiring prosthesis. A disability story! I thought. Until I read it. The dream prosthesis functioned perfectly, replicated a lost limb perfectly, caused no pain, and was acquired in a way without trauma. As a person with severe pain issues, that sounded like a fantasy I could only hope for. Instead, this was framed by this able author as a horrible, monstrous, terrible loss and an alien pathogen on their character’s body. Prosthesis as dehumanizing. Amputation as monstrosity. My stomach sunk. How had the editors let this side? Couldn’t they see how offensive it is? I have friends with prosthesis (and use assistive devices). A prosthetic limb that works exactly indistinguishable from a real one and causes no pain is a dream come true for an amputee. But this was a horror story. The horror of amputation– a disability that in no way altered the life of the main character– that centered people afraid of becoming disabled as the primary audience. This is an Issue Story gone horribly wrong — an actual amputee would have quite different feelings about such a prosthetic, which, at the time of writing, still exists only in dreams, because prosthesis aren’t like Star Wars; they hurt, they’re uncomfortable, they take time to learn, they never duplicate having the limb back. The whole piece was about the horror of a perfectly functioning prosthesis which mimicks a limb in every way– not about the frustrations of bad prosthesis, not about the difficulty of life with imperfect technology, not the traumatic events of the loss: simply the premise that prosthesis is horrifying and alien even if it is perfect. I felt sick for days and couldn’t stop thinking about this story for all the wrong reasons. Why hadn’t anyone else seen how offensive it is? Why didn’t the editor stop them? But none of the editors publicly identify as disabled, either, and clearly did not think how amputees would feel reading such a story about their bodily trauma that turned it into a dehumanizing and alien experience that made them less human and alien in the text.

To take another example, a famous magazine published a horror piece about Haitian Voudou that replicated basically every old stereotype about Voudou from the 1800s, including brutal, cruel Haitians and violent dangerous “gods” who were framed as monsters. How could such a prestigious magazine have accepted such a piece? The author admitted they had never been to Haiti, did not know any Voudou practitioners and had never met a Haitian person. I can only presume none of the other editors had either — or they would have been ashamed to have any part in a story a Vodouisant or Haitian might read. Jesus Christ Vampire Blood Sucker is clearly offensive, or Murder Buddha, and if you aim to offend, well, that’s one thing — but it was clear no one had intended to publish a controversial piece. If anyone had been thinking of Haitian readers at all, that story wouldn’t have existed, period.

 

When a decentered reader picks up a story that promises representation, we hope for a couple of things. We hope to exist in a way recognizable to us. We hope not to be disappointed by stereotyping. We hope to be fully realized people and not Issue Characters. Many of us hope for happy endings, or at least, not to suffer inexplicably more than the centered characters of the text (don’t believe me this happens? Watch a horror film sometime and see how many black people make it out alive with all their family. Watch any 2016 TV show with lesbians and watch them die like fruit flies in a vinegar trap, often in cruel and sadistic ways.)

If you love the idea of your story but you don’t have a specific ideal reader in mind, someone who twists your stomach into knots at the idea of reading it and hurting, maybe put that story on the shelf. Maybe bring it closer to home and see if you can change aspects of your decentered characters to reflect the people you ACTUALLY know. And always, always, ask yourself: is this a story that someone else should write, because they live through the things in it every day, and I’m just watching from the sidelines and guessing?

 

Speculative fiction is about the possible and what we can dream of. Trans astronauts and black dragon-riders and disabled knights can be written respectfully and thoughtfully by cis and non-black and abled people. But if you really want to avoid harm, if that is truly your goal, write them in there out of love for fellow humans. Take extra steps to make sure you aren’t hurting people like asking for (and paying) sensitivity readers early in your process. Your stories are a gift to the world, and representation is a gift to the communities you represent. That should make your stomach flutter a bit in a nervous way. You would go out of your way to give your best friend a present that reflects their actual tastes and wants and desires. You wouldn’t buy them a present your annoying racist auntie would like. Don’t write about us like you’re writing for Aunt Gertrude to avoid a holiday fight. Write FOR us, the readers you are choosing to represent. Or write something else for people like you, leave us out of it, and clear some space for us tell our own stories. Honestly, we’d like to spend more time writing than we do telling other writers why they’re hurting us.

 

Did you find this essay helpful, thought provoking, or validating? Please consider tipping me via Paypal.

Poetry Sale: ‘The Doorway’

I’m excited to announce I’ve sold the poem “The Doorway” to Pedestal Magazine, to be published early in July for their summer issue! The Doorway is an interesting poem for me to have sold at this time, because I wrote it after revisiting what I consider to be my adolescent body of work from 2007-2010, a period where my PTSD was fresh and new and I wrote hundreds of poems a year as a tactic of survival (nota bene: not a recommended way to learn how to write poetry). The original version was a scant few, angry lines about a dream I had. This version — well.

“The Doorway” is both a love song about two people in parallel universes and what it takes to go between them, and is an exploration of saudadeshiraeth, and all those other words English doesn’t have, a longing for a time and a place you can never go or return to. “The country to which there is no returning”, as it was once said to me. Exile, longing, death, and survival.

It is also another piece inspired by the works about JRR Tolkien, and is quite explicitly (for those of you who are meta-nerds like me), about the sinking of Númenor and wrestles with themes of drowning and suicide. After living through the spring I just had, in an apartment where the air was poisoning my wife and having a severe impact on my health, a poem which, ultimately, is about survival and rescues and near escapes, feels fitting at this particular moment in time as I settle into my newer, safer home and make transitions of all kinds.

Exciting big news coming soon, which some of you have probably guessed following my twitter timeline — but more on that soon!

“The First Wife” now available!

Last year, the poet Elizabeth R McClellan injured her shoulder and steadily accumulated bills for a painful health problem that still isn’t resolved. At the time, to help her pay her bills, Alexandra Erin came up with the idea of a chapbook to pay her bills. Elizabeth’s poetry had previously spoken to me, and I had no money to offer her, so I did the best I could: I donated a poem.

That poem, many more, and prose pieces by some incredible authors, is now available for purchase and immediate delivery as the anthology Angels of the Meanwhile.

“The First Wife” is a retelling of the Garden, of Eve and Lilith and the dark spaces a broken relationship leaves — and the possibilities dark spaces open. It is only available in this anthology. Buy a copy and receive work it’s an honor to be listed among, including Bryan Thao Worra, Lisa M. Bradley, Catherynne Valente, Kythrynne Aisling, Sonya Taaffe, and many many others who are probably already your favorites.

“Death by Three Senses” out today & other news!

Strange Horizons has published my poem Death By Three Senses today. I’m THRILLED this poem has made it out into the world, it was an impulse submission of a poem I found tucked away in an unusual spot (at the bottom of a document where I had been doing finances) and is based on an important event in the mythological world of my poetry, told from the point of view of a necromancer who sacrifices everything to save a man he loves and almost gets it right.

Almost being the key word that drives this poem. It is, like many of my poems, an attempt to invert the “tragic queers” trope — the two men who drive this poem find a way, even if it is an uncomfortable and awkward one, to be together and not to let death be the end. It is, in a way, a sort of portal fantasy, too — in the mythic landscape of my poems, death is the doorway to other universes, a one-way trip that can take you anywhere.

Strange Horizons has also bought another one of my poems, “My Heart Is Set On Wandering”, set to come out later this year. It is about the history of Filipinos in Louisiana, colonialization, and my own family history. It is set in the “Ethical Necromancy” universe, where several short stories I’m working on have also been set, in which dead spirits and revenants reappeared in the early 2000s in the “Great Awakening” and the rest of the world must somehow cope.

I also found out that “The Woman Sings Her Marriage Into Being” was nominated for the short form Rhysling. I am so thrilled that this happy love song has resonated with so many people, especially since its ultimate roots are secretly Tolkien fanfiction. Two Rhysling nominations is a TOTAL surprise to me, and it means the world to me that the discerning readers of science fiction and fantasy poetry have chosen two poems of mine that are about death, love, and happiness for gay and lesbian people usually denied it as their nominations from last year’s body of my published work. Thank you.

Finally, though this deserves its own post, I have sold my first piece of fiction! “Backgame”, which is about a necromancer in a magical siege who brings a friend back to life, has been sold to the second volume of Myriad Lands by Guardbridge Books! When I know more about when the anthologies will be coming out, you will hear more! “Backgame” being my first fiction sale is especially exciting to me because it stars a trans narrator and centers on his friendship with an asexual woman, and there’s just not enough queer friendship representation, period.

If I had any more news to fit in this post, I don’t know that I could! Thank you for your continuing support. Because I am currently in a precarious financial position (described by my wife here), I have instituted  a tip page to my paypal (you can write in any amount in the box). I have discovered mold in my apartment is making my wife very ill & we need to move basically immediately (literally, we were in the ER yesterday for emergency treatment, this happy post is very weird to write) and if my poems or activism speaks to you, any money shared to me is being used to feed my wife and I as we attempt to use what is left of her student loans to move to a new mold-free home.

Witch’s Brew is out today! & a Rhysling nomination

The much-anticipated Hope issue of Stone Telling is out today, featuring both my poem Witch’s Brew and my first review of a poetry collection, a review of Sonya Taaffe’s Ghost Signs. Working with Rose, Shweta, and Bogi helped create what is one of my favorite poems to date — their editorial suggestions helped make it a very special poem to me.

Witch’s Brew is about a lot of things dear to my heart; exile from the homeland, and being from the generations that have never seen the homeland. It is about magic — real magic, the magic that saves you. It is about choosing to embrace your heritage, and finding “your people” — things I once never imagined were possible for a third-generation American like me. To be featured alongside the breathtaking,  powerful, shattering poems of M Serano, Kim Eun-byeol,  Sonya Taaffe, and so many others is incredible. It’s an incredible issue. I am so proud to be a part of it. Take the time to savor  the beautiful poetry here, hold it close to your heart, keep it for a dark day when the world seems dim and in need of a little light.

I also recently found out that my poem An Unexpected Guest in Liminality 5 was nominated for the Rhysling long-form. This is a complete surprise to me, and a huge honor I can barely wrap my head around. To be considered among the many fantastic, excellent poems published last year, and to be on such a list is huge for me. Thank you.

I would like to make a small correction note about the original version of that particular poem as it was published:

the ghost who appears in the poem is an artillery lieutenant, not a sergeant. His name was Earlston L Hargett, and he was the first lieutenant of the 150th Field Artillery, called the “Rainbow Division”. According to local newspapers, he died Sept 30 1918 in a military hospital in France where he was also buried. It is my deep hope his mother, Emma Amelia, has heard or will soon hear the message he seeks to bring her. My apologies to them both I did not get it quite right at the time I submitted the poem.

I have more poetry coming in February, and other good news I hope to share soon! Thank you so much for such an exciting start to 2016!

Free Poem: Florida Water

In keeping with a promise I made in 2015, the first poem of 2016 is being released freely. I have exciting news about other projects coming soon.

Special thanks to EP Beaumont and my wife India Valentin for assistance. Thanks also to the unknown seller in the French Market who sold me a steel ring promising it would bring us both good luck — it certainly made me lucky that day, and I hope it did the same for you.

Content notes: violence against women, bodily mutilation.

Florida Water
to E.D.

The sky had split into a thousand kinds of dark
when I first saw her, all shining silver plate, her dark braids loose down her back.
Later, I said: like Joan of Arc astride before the French Market
but then I only saw the side on which she wore her three red marks:
an angry scratch made by a story of jealousy or the fear of death.
She raised the sword and struck the earth and music played
the avenging angel of the apocalypse, here to make right
what the revolution had gotten wrong.
I woke to cold sweats, all filled with light, my heart beating a new rhythm
that my thoughts could barely follow.

The second time she came to me, I heard her voice: her tongue not cut
but split in two, to speak the language that I wished to cross.
Men think they can silence a woman with pain but they do not know
the things they do to tell the truth of what’s been done.
No knight, this time; but dressed up in a suit of blue, tied with a knot to make a dandy proud
and finished with a hat she must have borrowed from the Baron
for an occasion with the dead.
“So you wanna be transformed?” she said. “Well: l’ll make you new
but you gotta promise me some things first, ‘cause
life ain’t fair, but you’d better be.”

You have to understand, I didn’t mean to be a groom–
I didn’t mean to take a revolution’s fire for my lover.
I’m not the type who takes the spirits to my bed
(well, I denied it, then: but still I wore the ring).
These days the Three of Swords shows up in most draws
and young men tell me all about the mother of us androgynes
(I know the father, too, but, I swear, this isn’t how we’re usually born.)
I keep my candles burning when I can, and leave some spice
among the blue and gold.
Sometimes when the peppered rum gets low
I hear her whisper that it’s time to come–
and so I go, where I am rocked upon the heartbeat of the world.

“Dionysus of the Downtown” & 2015 in review

Just before Christmas, when I was preparing to go on my belated honeymoon with my wife, my poem Dionysus of the Downtown was published in Liminality Magazine’s Issue Six.

Dionysus and Ganymede, in this poem, are reinterpreted as figures for modern queer folks — Dionysus as a trans man, Ganymede as a figure familiar to me in both real life and literature, someone whose first queer partner was not a Happily Ever After, but instead, a nightmare. I first met this Ganymede in the writing of my wife, India Valentin, and we explored some of these themes when writing in a shared universe invented by our friend BB. Since I fell so hopelessly in love with Dionysus Liberator, who comes bringing inner freedom and whose ancient myth cycles are full of unexpected gender upheavals, and with Ganymede the Barista, who promises you can survive anything (yes, even that), I wrote them this poem. I hope this is not the last time we will see them; I have vague thoughts on short stories, still in the roughest stages, not even an outline.

2015 also saw the sale of another poem at the very tail end of the year. I sold “Witch’s Brew” to Stone Telling for their forthcoming “Hope” issue, which should be appearing very soon. Witch’s Brew is a love song to spiritual traditions of resistance, and the magic of the oppressed to find justice and make right, especially in immigrant communities where justice is often more of a pipe dream than a reality.

I wrote a lot more than I thought I did in 2015; approximately 41 finished poems (possibly more drafts, depending on how we count them), scattered here and there. I sold or donated as charitable gifts 10 poems from Jan 1-Dec 31 in 2015, self-published 2 poems, and was solicited for one book review about poetry. I sent out submissions of 50 poems in various groupings to 14 markets.

I also wrote 9 short stories from start to finish, ranging from 2000-10,000 words (average length: 4-6k, after editing, with the exception of flash pieces, of which I wrote 2). I started 11 other short stories (as far as I can tell; this number does not include any stories of which I wrote outlines but less than 500 words.) 6 of the finished pieces went out to 19 magazines and anthologies as 26 submissions. Several of these submissions were shortlisted and half of them which received responses (11) received personal, specific, positive feedback (often the very flattering yet frustrating “I liked it BUT” rejection)  or invitations to submit future work; one is still being held for consideration, and 2 were withdrawn from unresponsive markets.

With India, working on various shared projects, we won NaNo all 3 times and continued to write at a pace of approximately 30k cumulative words a month. We started and trunked 6 novels in our Faeries Run the US Universe, before setting each one aside and picking up a different version of that story (cumulatively 158,323 words exploring characters and variations on the setting); half of our Secondary World Steampunk Regency Al-Andalus queer poly romance (115,550 words); began a medieval prequel in that setting (28,554 words); wrote half of our Ghost Romance (47,210 words in November before we took a break); and various other projects that brought us up to an exciting 358,000 words, more or less. (If you split it down the middle, that’s around 15,000 words each month we both produced on top of my other writing, and her graduate career, with more during NaNo months. Damn. Go us!)

2015 was a large year in other ways; I continue to struggle with debilitating pain and the constant necessity of being a disabled caregiver for someone who shares my disability. There is no off time between my body and the work of feeding myself and others. The year was hard; very hard physically and emotionally and financially, despite the ups of publications and the very high quality of my friends who supported me through that difficult time. I look around somewhat amazed that I survived — but that is due to the amazing support of many wonderful people, especially in the writing community. 2016 is shaping up to be more of the same — endless doctors appointments and difficult decisions to make ends meet and use my limited energy wisely — but I intend to keep writing and keep working.

My big goal for this year is simply to track things; doing this retrospective has taken days of labor because I am somewhat scattershot in my organization. I’d love to sell my first short story, and I’d love to finish a novel. Other than that; I can only keep writing, keep submitting, and keep working. That’s my big goal. To keep working, and to be kind and gracious with myself when so much of this is an uphill struggle for me. I preach the gospel of achievable goals and hard limits, and I’m trying to practice it, too.

Stay tuned, 2 poems at least should be coming out in 2016, and I hope to have new sales to announce soon!

Poem Sale: ‘Death By Three Senses’

I’m excited to announce I’ve sold another poem to Strange Horizons. A.J. Odasso has announced they bought my horror poem “Death By Three Senses” for the spring season. I’m excited by the news Strange Horizons will also be publishing more poems by  Layla Al-Bedawi and Bryan Thao Worra in the spring, and I am excited to discover all the poets who are currently new to me who will also be in spring issues.

“Death By Three Senses” is another one of my ghost stories, naturally, but ghosts take a sharp turn into what I consider one of my first successful ventures into poetry of the horrific — an exploration of necromancy, sacrifice and the things we do for love, and not to be alone. It will appear in 2016.

As a belated note, my poem “I Am Alive” was also featured in the Strange Horizons podcast, read by Julia Rios. Rose Lemberg also reads their poem “Ranra’s Unbalancing” in this podcast; I was fortunate enough to be an early reader of Ranra’s Unbalancing and am thrilled to be appearing alongside it. It was also reviewed by Charles Payseur in a Quick Sips write-up of Strange Horizons.