From a 2011 BLDGBLOG interview with China Miéville:
. Novelists have an endless drive to aestheticize and to complicate. I know there’s a very strong tradition—a tradition in which I write, myself—about the decoding of the city. Thomas de Quincey, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Iain Sinclair—that type-thing. The idea that, if you draw the right lines across the city, you’ll find its Kabbalistic heart and so on.
The thing about that is that it’s intoxicating—but it’s also bullshit. It’s bullshit and it’s paranoia—and it’s paranoia in a kind of literal sense, in that it’s a totalizing project. As long as you’re constantly aware of that, at an aesthetic level, then it’s not necessarily a problem; you’re part of a process of urban mythologization, just like James Joyce was, I suppose. But the sense that this notion of uncovering—of taking a scalpel to the city and uncovering the dark truth—is actually real, or that it actually solves anything, and is anything other than an aesthetic sleight of hand, can be quite misleading, and possibly even worse than that. To the extent that those texts do solve anything, they only solve mysteries that they created in the first place, which they scrawled over the map of a mucky contingent mess of history called the city. They scrawled a big question mark over it and then they solved it.
Arthur Machen does this as well. All the great weird fiction city writers do it. Machen explicitly talks about the strength of London, as opposed to Paris, in that London is more chaotic. Although he doesn’t put it in these words, I think what partly draws him to London is this notion that, in the absence of a kind of unifying vision, like Haussmann’s Boulevards, and in a city that’s become much more syncretic and messy over time, you have more room to insert your own aestheticizing vision.
As I say, it’s not in and of itself a sin, but to think of this as a real thing—that it’s a lived political reality or a new historical understanding of the city—is, I think, a misprision.
BLDGBLOG: You can see this, as well, in the rise of psychogeography—or, at least, some popular version of it—as a tool of urban analysis in architecture today. This popularity often fails to recognize that, no matter how fun or poetic an experience it genuinely might be, randomly wandering around Boston with an iPhone, for instance, is not guaranteed to produce useful urban insights.
Miéville: Some really interesting stuff has been done with psychogeography—I’m not going to say it’s without uses other than for making pretty maps. I mean, re-experiencing lived urban reality in ways other than how one is more conventionally supposed to do so can shine a new light on things—but that’s an act of political assertion and will. If you like, it’s a kind of deliberate—and, in certain contexts, radical—misunderstanding. Great, you know—good on you! You’ve productively misunderstood the city. But I think that the bombast of these particular—what are we in now? fourth or fifth generation?—psychogeographers is problematic.
“Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar:
I hate selkie stories. They’re always about how you went up to the attic to look for a book, and you found a disgusting old coat and brought it downstairs between finger and thumb and said “What’s this?”, and you never saw your mom again.
I work at a restaurant called Le Pacha. I got the job after my mom left, to help with the bills. On my first night at work I got yelled at twice by the head server, burnt my fingers on a hot dish, spilled lentil-parsley soup all over my apron, and left my keys in the kitchen.
I didn’t realize at first I’d forgotten my keys. I stood in the parking lot, breathing slowly and letting the oil-smell lift away from my hair, and when all the other cars had started up and driven away I put my hand in my jacket pocket. Then I knew.
I ran back to the restaurant and banged on the door. Of course no one came. I smelled cigarette smoke an instant before I heard the voice.
I turned, and Mona was standing there, smoke rising white from between her fingers.
“I left my keys inside,” I said.
In her series Psychopomp, author Amanda Sledz takes a literary approach to writing about urban shamanism, magical thinking, tarot, telepathy and other themes usually reserved for the fantasy genre. The series follows four characters: Meena, a woman who has experienced a break with reality; her parents, Frank and Esther; and Lola, a teenager who is becoming a shaman whether she wants to or not.
The first book in the series, Psychopomp Volume One: Cracked Plate, explores mental illness, empathy, our differing experiences of place, immigration and cultural identity, and the way our experience of family shapes our identity — without resorting to the cliches of genre fiction or descending into boring academic prose.
Amanda was raised in Cleveland and now lives in Portland, OR. She is self-publishing Psychopomp, but her work has appeared eFiction Horror and various small literary magazines. You can also check out some of Amanda’s works in progress on her site.
I recently caught-up with her to talk about Psychopomp, self-publishing and more.
Klint Finley: I understand you wrote a first draft of the first book in college — can you walk us through how the book evolved?
Amanda Sledz: I started working on it during my last semester of graduate school. I’d finished the entirety of an MFA in nonfiction writing, and thought I’d try my hand at fiction before escaping the clutches of academentia. There were a lot of subjects that I wrote about in my master’s thesis that were perceived as being unbelievable, because magical thinking as a means of interacting with hardship was described as a natural way of operating. The tone of the thesis (which was a memoir) became very self-conscious, with the over-awareness of the audience that’s required for decent nonfiction writing. I found myself longing to write something uncorked that still utilized the same themes.
I finished the first draft, which consisted of a shorter version of each section, very quickly. The editing and perfecting and development of repetition took a long, long time.
I abandoned it after wrangling it and getting sections of it published in small literary magazines. Then just over a year ago I was cleaning off my hard drive and thought doing nothing with it would be a waste.
And, in a way, as Grant Morrison might say I had myself locked in a hypersigil. I’m fairly certain my writing career would be permanently stalled if I didn’t let it escape.
A chapter from the novel Psychopomp Volume One: Cracked Plate
Lola, get out of bed.
It’s time to measure your standards.
The Official SAT Guide For Absolutely Everyone was pocked with portraits of thumbs-up enthusiastic sweater-decked white people. Endorsements from Ivy League colleges in bold-faced type offered assurances that somewhere in the page flipping Lola’s brain would flush electric. SCORE BIG TODAY! It demanded with caps lock ferocity. The antagonism of the fiery font left her terrified to perform otherwise.
Lola decided to ignore the taunts of the front cover adorned with individuals unfamiliar to her, and turned to the back cover to hunt for the token black or Asian or multi-racial friend positioned on the manicured lawn beside people in Polo shirts, laughing about their collective conquer of the universe. There. Perfect teeth, hand jammed into the pocket of pants likely called trousers, navy blue sweater knotted at his muscular shoulders, charmed and chuckling alongside the descendents of his former masters.
Oh, fuck this.
Lola’s attention shifted to the book’s contents, for the secrets her public school education denied her. Lola turned pages and let her finger find her fate, and she pressed down and the turning stopped and she opened one eye to spy her finger’s verbal-section divination. The word was davenport.
Lola said it aloud this time as she returned the book to the library shelf. She decided to take her chances on the outskirts of Ivy League Utopia; the tucked away temples of non-aristocratic orphans and otherwise-inclined refugees from academentia, born far away from the privileged promises of ivory gates and teeth.
In other words, Lola figured she’d think about state schools.
She thought of her Granny, with a face that seemed locked at exactly ancient, every picture revealing the same blacker-than-black skin and well-worn roads of wrinkles traveling forever north. Her smile was the fierce grin of a black woman who didn’t take any shit. One day she asked Lola: “Alright, girl. What do you want? Not the little want, but the big one. Tell me girl. Tell me!”
Lola didn’t really want green pastures and gothic buildings and well-groomed friends who strum guitars and laugh about obscure philosophical references and the people who don’t get them. She didn’t want to surround herself with individuals who seemingly skip over adolescence in favor of immediate adulthood and ambitions to obtain millionaire status prior to legal drinking age – or for that matter, anyone who observed material prosperity in and of itself as the ultimate objective, as the dividing line between success and failure, making it and just waiting for death.
Not what you don’t want, girl. What do you want?
She wanted unexpected physical arrangements reflecting all the colors of her original 64 pack of crayons, and backpacks loaded with buttons like bumper stickers, declaring allegiances and outrage for a cacophony of causes and crimes, faces fixed with the gaze to melt the uninitiated. People who read by compulsion not requirement, who coax forward portraits spun from naked elation, each scene framed by stark experience. She wanted friends who wouldn’t perceive visiting her house as missionary work, friends who doubled as muses and observed the uncharted nuances of others with appreciate eyes, friends who laughed too loud and got pulled over too often and had the habit of getting things done anyway.
Girl, you’re just coloring the circle around you. What do you want?
That is what Lola wanted.
Ms. Clark, the guidance counselor, was not interested in what Lola wanted. She wore a daily safari-type uniform of khaki pants and khaki shirt to match her khaki hair, and a wristwatch with a plain black strap that squeezed her wrist like a tourniquet. The calendar tacked to a bulletin board directly behind her head offered a generic nature scene, was one month and two years behind, and revealed nothing about her daily activities. Every pencil in the jammed pencil holder on her desk was nibbled right down to the graphite. She was held in place by a protective triangle of empty paper coffee cups that left her whole office smelling of sour syrup.
Ms. Clark sat Lola down and told her in measured tones that not wanting the prestige and pedigree of the Ivy League was all fine and good, but there was no choice when it came to this test and being tested. None. She drew a zero in the air for emphasis, and her glasses slid a notch down her nose. Ms. Clark assured Lola that an excellent score would increase her chances of getting into college, (“Any college”) and so long as Lola remembered to study something that doesn’t interest her, there might even be employment afterwards.
“These grades, they just won’t work. This is just not good enough. You need to focus and get your act together so that you’re ready for a Real College Experience,” Ms. Clark emphasized, pressing a finger into a stack of papers. Lola’s confusion about the mediocrity of a 4.0 grade point average followed the tip of Ms. Clark’s finger right to the name typed on the side of the manila folder.
It wasn’t Lola’s.
Lola realized exactly then that she didn’t consider Ms. Clark to be a woman who reeked of life expertise. She seemed more like a woman who wanted to disappear.
Still: Detroit was a broken town where unemployed factory workers and overworked guidance counselors occupied porches, nursing cool glasses of little to hope for. It was a place where her mother sat similarly, sipping her own glass.
Lola squinted to look beyond the glare of Ms. Clark’s glasses to spy the crow pecking time along her eyes. She was a woman rarely asked how she was doing, and whom Lola wanted to hug. To Ms. Clark’s surprise, she did.
Then Lola signed up and arrived 30 minutes early with two #2 pencils sharpened to perfect points.
The monitor said good morning and didn’t mean it, and Lola took a booklet and a scantron worksheet and her seat. In three turns of the page the test placed Lola in a train heading west at 80 miles per hour while a rival train traveled east at 60, and the 20 mph face-off ended with mutual shrugging and one train saying, Go ahead while the other countered, Nah, after you. Then they met grills and shouted: BORED! and then they laughed and agreed to sit and wait it out until the scenery and story got a bit more interesting.
Lola whispered, “Where the hell are you two going?” and the first train huffed, and the other rolled his passenger car.
Then both started arguing about the logic of weighing mind-meat with a test that neglects the metric system, while never daring the test-taker to join the debate about whether the USA has snubbed it for nationalism purposes, or because the powers that be just thought the majority of chaw-chewing ‘mericans would be threatened by a challenge to their measuring sticks.
“There is no circle to mark for that!” Lola hissed at the trains, and the monitor shushed her and another student looked up, doe-eyed hopeful that six hours of circle-slog boredom would be interrupted by some soul violently ejected for the ruler-whack sin of cheating.
Then the end of the pencil blinked alive and said: Shaman, what are you circling?
Lola squeezed the pencil to see if it would say ouch. It didn’t.
So she asked her newly minted totem or guide or holy guardian angel or higher self: “What did you say?”
And the scantron worksheet, eager to chime in on this pivotal conversation, said: Shaman. What are you circling?
Having had it up to here, Lola spat, “I’m trying to take a test!”
Pencil sighed. This is the test.
Through it all, the other pencil was silent.
Lola felt a twinge, a familiar tweak of her cheek and so she got up to leave. The monitor barely looked up when she returned her booklet and threw the scantron in the trash. Lola thought about Detroit, how the bodies of her Irish and African ancestors were stacked like concrete blocks, their curved backs reinforcing the steel of this city. She waved when she felt them watching her, and sometimes they returned the favor, but mostly they just watched her retreat.
Lola, are you listening?
Your brother needs you.
Lola stopped in the bathroom to collect herself and wipe the diagramed sentences from her eyes. She inhaled a puff from the useless inhaler with a propellant that had supposedly been altered for environmental reasons, and frowned at its failure to open her asthmatic airways. A second inhale further confused the formula as her lungs expanded with stagnant lavatory fumes and the remnants of someone’s aerosol hairspray. Still, she had to linger just a bit longer because sometimes she knows and that time, she knew: her phone would ring any second.
Lola met her own eyes in the mirror and shipped thoughts to the something that lies beyond the first layer of screen: I know you’re there. I can feel you coming. Then her cell phone sang the lost notes of rotary phones and Lola kept exchanging information pools with whatever set of eyes resides on the other side, and she didn’t break the eye-lock when she held the electronic device to her face and said, “Hello?”
First she heard laughter, and then shut up yawl, and then the laughter was louder and she was on speakerphone so she didn’t say anything. She waited. Finally a voice barked: “Yo, your brother’s whacked out over at Jimmy’s house. Come collect his ass.”
Laughter, shrill and ripe all over again.
“Alright then,” she said, hanging up before their sickness infected her trance. She twisted at a few stray strands of reddish-brown hair escaping her thick braid and returned phone to pocket. Lola connected the dots of her freckles with invisible lines, wondering if dots could be beautiful. If she connected them to the north they looked like a sparrow; to the west, a pair of hummingbirds. She checked her back pocket for the pencil as the gap between her two front teeth winked her awake and away. Pea had the same gap. She called it the door their souls snuck through, the one that also swung the other way to facilitate their escape. She wondered if anything else could sneak in.
Pea preferred to call it evidence they were missing something .
Pea. Her brother. Right.
Published October 2012 by One Eye Two Crows Press
Copyright 2012 by Amanda Sledz
i09 reports that Neil Gaiman announced at Comic-Con that he’s writing a prequel to Sandman. J. H. Williams III of Promethea fame is set draw it. Here’s a transcript of part of Gaiman’s pre-recorded announcement:
When I finished writing The Sandman, there was one tale still untold. The story of what had happened to Morpheus to allow him to be so easily captured in The Sandman #1, and why he was returned from far away, exhausted beyond imagining, and dressed for war.
I haven’t read Sandman since I was 15 - about half my life ago. I have no idea if it’s actually good - it was the best thing I’d ever read up to that point (other than Watchmen), but I hadn’t read all that much. I think it’s time for a re-read.
Sean Witzke reviews the first two issues of Heavy Metal magazine:
The first issue of Heavy Metal is shakily put together by the offices of National Lampoon. Equal parts translated reprints from Metal Hurlant, American underground comics, and new work, which is how the book would eventually move forward throughout the years. The first issue isn’t quite sure of the tone it wants to set or the kind of material they’d be interested in publishing. Metal Hurlant had a very vague definition of “science fiction”, one that the uncredited introductory editorial at the start of the issue pokes fun at. Heavy Metal is just a name for the book, and the material inside may have an emphasis on science fiction it is by no means a collection of science fiction or fantasy. Instead it a showcase of the kind of talent and the kinds of comics that would become the magazine’s standard – here in the first issue are Moebius, Druillet, Corben, Mezieres, and Vaughn Bode. All make their first appearances to herald a defining run on the series where for YEARS in every issue, at least one story was made by an absolute genius of the medium, even if it was a two page gag strip.
Fantasy author Jim C. Hine tries posing as both male and female characters from fantasy novel covers. His conclusions:
- Men on book covers are indeed posed shirtless in ways that show off their musculature. However…
- Male poses do not generally emphasize sexuality at the expense of all other considerations.
- Male poses do emphasize the character’s power and strength in a way many (most?) female cover poses don’t.
- When posed with a woman, the man will usually be in the dominant, more powerful posture.
- Male poses do not generally require a visit to the chiropractor afterward.
Jennifer Stevenson is the author of 'Trash Sex Magic', and most recently wrote a trilogy of sexy, funny, romantic fantasy, the first of which was recently released called 'The Brass Bed' (Ballantine Books). She’s been writing for 25 years and lives in the Chicago area with her husband of 30 years and her two cats.
The Brass Bed begins with the heroine, Jewel Heiss, a tough fraud cop investigating a fake sex therapist, Clay, who has been using an antique brass bed to lure his customers. Trapped inside the bed is Lord Randall (Randy), who in 1811 was cursed and turned into an incubus by his magician-mistress for being lousy in bed. The curse was this: satisfy one hundred women or be trapped in the bed forever. Lucky Jewel was number one hundred, and Randy becomes her personal sex slave. The choice: Clay or Randy? This is where the fun really begins.
I don’t usually read much fiction, but found myself flying through all three books ('The Velvet Chair' is the second [coming out in late May], and 'The Bearskin Rug' is the third). There’s plenty of humor, sex and magic to keep anyone reading into the wee hours. The ending in the last book ('The Bearskin Rug') was a bit of a surprise. If you like funny romantic fantasy, you’ll love this series.
I sat down with Jennifer to discuss her new book, and to get some of her views on magic, and sex demons.
The full text of the gnostic sci-fi novel A Voyage to Arcturus, a book Alan Moore cites as one of the best underrated books of all time, is available for free on the Gutenberg Project.