Tag: Carmen Machado (page 1 of 2)

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Have you preordered this book yet? It’s the debut collection by one of the best writers of short fiction alive, and it comes out on October 3rd. Inside you’ll find stories playful and dark, sexy and heartbreaking, so structurally inventive they’re like nothing else you’ve seen. Also, it happens that it was just among the ten books longlisted for the National Book Award. If you like fiction but aren’t reading Carmen Machado’s then you are making bad life choices.

The Coode Street Podcast with Jo Walton and Me

itunescoodestreet

At WorldCon in Kansas City I got the chance to join Jo Walton on the Coode Street podcast, hosted by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe. We talked about writers that characterize different eras of science fiction, how science fiction differs rhetorically from fantasy (more detail on that here), and whether there’s a difference between the kinds of literary experimentation in the past and what is pursued today. As tends to happen, I fell a little bit into just listening to Jo be enviably clever, but I did get a chance to talk about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s modern support for genre writing, and contemporary writers who inspire me (going on for a bit about  Carmen Maria Machado and Meghan McCarron and Carola Dibbell). You can listen to the episode on the Coode Street site, on your podcast player of choice through iTunes, or via the embedded player below.

Even More Kind Words About “The New Mother”

The nomination period for the Nebula awards closed a couple of days ago, and in the lead-up to that deadline many people said awfully nice things about my story.

  • Morgan Dhu reviewed it at length on her book blog, concluding that it’s, “A profoundly thoughtful, elegantly written work.”
  • John Chu included it in his “Stuff I want people to read” blog post.
  • Rachel Swirsky recommended it for Nebula consideration, saying it’s, “the best riff on ‘disappearing male’ stories I’ve ever seen, a smart story that accomplishes both literary and speculative goals in a sharp, well-characterized, traditionally ‘what if?’ SF way.”
  • Joseph Tomaras put it at the top of his list of tentative Nebula nominations.
  • Carmen Machado tweeted that it deserved a place on the ballot.
  • Aliette de Bodard helped spread the word on Twitter also.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to read “The New Mother,” and for sharing your appreciation. I’m really touched to see that it’s connecting with so many people.

Latest Love for “The New Mother”

A few more people have been publicly kind about “The New Mother” recently.

As ever, my thanks for spreading the word.

My Friends Write Things: Hurricanes and Hauntings

Fiction

  • Kingdom by the Sea” by Amy Parker – I was lucky enough to see an early draft of this story, a glorious, intense reimagining of Lolita. It’s like a literary vivisection, using scalpels historical, critical, fictional to slice away twitching layers of Humbert Humbert and extract a personal narrative for Dorothy Haze.
  • The Invention of Separate People” by Kevin Brockmeier – Kevin is one of our greatest living fantasists, and if you’ve never read him before it’s time to start. This story was originally published in Unstuck, and is about a world where people are themselves, yes, but also everyone else. Everyone is one person, until someone (everyone) begins to learn how to be separate.
  • Skin Suit” by Janalyn Guo – The main character is a lump of dark, amorphous matter that must wear taxidermied suits to appear human, but its parents are two planes of brilliant light, and it’s time for a family reunion.
  • Horror Story” by Carmen Machado – This time Carmen’s penned a creepy tale of crumbling relationships and haunted houses. Read it in the dark.
  • The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link – It’s a Kelly Link story. That should be all you need to know, but I’ll add that this story is Kelly’s take on space opera, and dedicated to Iain M. Banks.

Nonfiction

Poetry

Recommended Short Books by Women

Yesterday I asked the internet for recommendations of short books written by women, with no criterion for what constituted “short.” Here’s what people offered. Books I’ve already read are in bold. (Recommenders are in parentheses.)

  • Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red. (Carmen Machado)
  • Willa Cather, A Lost Lady. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Willa Cather, My Antonia. (Sarah Boden)
  • Kate Chopin, The Awakening. (Rebecca Coffey, Krystal Rios)
  • Marguerite Duras, The Lover. (Diana Spechler, Josh Rhome)
  • George Eliot, Silas Marner. (Amy Parker)
  • Marian Engel, Bear. (Carmen Machado)
  • Louise Erdich, Love Medicine. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Elena Ferrante, Days of Abandonment. (Amy Parker)
  • Carolyn Forché, The Country Between Us. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm. (Jed Hartman)
  • Carolyn Ives Gilman, Halfway Human. (Jeanne Griggs)
  • Nadine Gordimer, July’s People. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Helene Hanff, 84 Charing Cross Road. (Jed Hartman)
  • Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Amy Parker)
  • Rachel Ingall, Mrs. Caliban. (Carmen Machado)
  • Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. (Rebecca Coffey, Amy Parker, Carmen Machado, Maureen McHugh)
  • Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived In The Castle. (Amy Parker, Maureen McHugh)
  • Tove Jansson, Tales from Moominvalley. (Jed Hartman)
  • Sesyle Joslin, The Spy Lady and the Muffin Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Hitomi Kanehera, Snakes and Earrings. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy. (Valérie Savard)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees. (Patrice Sarath)
  • Nella Larson, Quicksand. (Alea Adigwame)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Fish Soup. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ursula Le Guin, Very Far From Anywhere Else. (Jed Hartman)
  • Tanith Lee, Don’t Bite the Sun. (@Rwenchette)
  • Doris Lessing, Memoirs of a Survivor. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child. (Amy Parker, Rebecca Coffey)
  • Denise Levertov, Collected Earlier Poems. (Joseph Tomaras)
  • Bertie MacAvoy, Tea with the Black Dragon. (Dana Huber)
  • Katherine Mansfield, At The Bay. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Katherine Mansfield, Prelude. (Debbie Kennedy)
  • Patricia McKillip, Stepping from the Shadows. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jane Mendelsohn, I Was Amelia Earhart. (Stephanie Feldman)
  • Naomi Mitchison, Travel Light. (Jackie Monkiewicz)
  • Katherine Faw Morris, Young God. (Nick Mamatas)
  • Toni Morrison, Sula. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jenny Offill, The Dept. of Speculation. (Josh Rhome)
  • Yoko Ogawa, Revenge. (Alexandra Geraets, Joseph Tomaras)
  • Sharon Olds, The Cold Cell. (Jed Hartman)
  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea. (Valérie Savard)
  • Joanna Russ, Picnic on Paradise. (Karen Meisner)
  • Joanna Russ, The Female Man. (Jed Hartman)
  • Ruth Sawyer, Roller Skates. (Jed Hartman)
  • Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. (Monica Byrne, Justin Cosner, Carmen Machado)
  • Cynthia Voigt, Dicey’s Song. (Jed Hartman)
  • Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome. (Amy Parker)
  • Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang. (Maureen McHugh)
  • Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry. (Jed Hartman)
  • Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse. (Amy Parker)
  • Margarite Yourcenar, Coup d’Grace. (Maureen McHugh)

I already own a copy of the most recommended book, The Haunting of Hill House, so that’s in the stack (as are several others). I think the first new one of these I’ll add is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Carmen Machado’s “O Adjunct! My Adjunct!”

I’ve often been asked lately whether I miss teaching. My standard answer is to say that I miss teaching very much, but I don’t miss all the things around teaching: the low pay, the lack of benefits, the constant feeling that I’m complicit in the adulteration of a once-great intellectual tradition. Which is all to say, I miss teaching, but not adjuncting. The work itself gave me profound satisfaction, but the working conditions were an affront to my pride. It was nothing like the vision of academia I received as an undergraduate; I went to a small liberal arts university which I’m not sure even had any adjunct professors. I certainly never had one. So while I now know the adjuncting experience from the faculty side, I have only my evaluations to suggest what it’s like for a student.

Carmen, though, has lived at both ends of the adjunct’s college classroom. She wrote about it for the New Yorker with exquisite clarity. Read about the pathology of placing students’ formative experiences in the hands of those with “great responsibility, precariously held.”

“O Adjunct! My Adjunct!” at the New Yorker.

My Friends Write Things: Pains Real and Imagined

As I’ve spent most of my reading time this year in books, I’ve gotten way behind on the things my brilliant friends have published digitally. So here’s a slice of 2015 writing worth  catching up on, with more to come.

Fiction

  • Descent” by Carmen Maria Machado – Newly Nebula-nominated author and all-around force of nature Carmen Machado, with a horror story about women haunted by death.
  • Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar – A story about the quiet magic of reaching your hand in your pocket and pulling out something you never put in, that’s also an extended metaphor for the act of making a piece of art and sending it out into the world. (Disclosure: I gave the author some advice that informed the scientific testing scenes in this story.)
  • And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead” by Brooke Bolander – A pulpy, profane, bloodslicked story of cyborg assassins and data thieves who don’t give a damn about anything but each other. Like Battle Angel Alita and Ghost in the Shell got addled on bourbon, had a stumbling fuck in an alley, and couldn’t look one another in the eye the next day.

Nonfiction

  • A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity” by Carmen Maria Machado – Because she’s as adept with a personal essay as she is with a short story, here’s Carmen again, revealing that she was once an earnest, purity ring-wearing 13-year-old, and how she became the queer, sex-positive feminist she is now.
  • Kidhood (Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall)” by Rebekah Frumkin – The latest installment in Rebekah’s continuing column for McSweeney’s about psychoactive pharmaceuticals, and the insider’s view of the cognition that makes doctors hand them out.
  • In Manila, Two Seasons, No Regrets” by Laurel Fantauzzo – A Modern Love article about falling into a relationship while traveling, the kind of relationship that’s everything it can be, but not everything you want it to be.
  • Reflections on a Dirty Dog” by Lisa Wells – A kaleidoscopic, hypnotic essay of suffering for the sake of experience, or for no reason whatsoever, on cross-country Greyhound bus trips.

Poetry

Reading 2015: February

FebuaryBooks

Travel and illness slowed me down a bit this month. I had a lovely trip back to Iowa City, several less lovely trips to doctors’ offices and med labs, and a fully unlovely bout with strep throat and fever. As such, a lot of my downtime was spent on mentally undemanding television rather than books. Thanks to having read nine books last month, and by leaning towards graphic novels and shorter collections, I’m still on pace for 100 for the year. But I’ll have to pick it up in March (which was my best month last year).

  1. Tenth of December by George Saunders – As I expected from how celebrated it was when it came out, this collection is Saunders at the height of his incomparable game. The standout story for me was “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” a science fiction tale with as nuanced a look at poverty as any I’ve read. Other memorable pieces were “Escape from Spiderhead,” which I’ve previously quoted on this blog, and the titular “Tenth of December,” which I had read before on it’s initial publication in The New Yorker. I also found myself tearing up occasionally, notably during the story “Exhortation,” which adopts the voice of an abusive person in power exhorting propriety when the request itself is really a plea for absolution, one that carries with it the sense that, just by making the plea, absolution is earned. The subtext, “I’m hurting you, but I know I’m hurting you and I feel bad about it, so that makes it sort of okay, right?” is one that reminds me of some of the more severe times I have found my trust misplaced, and so his fictional evocation of it hit hard.
  2. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud – There are few things I enjoy more than huge, trope-aware graphic novels that use narratives of waxing and waning interpersonal relationships to explore complex, clever themes. Books like Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, Jeff Lemire’s Essex County, and David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. This new book by McCloud, his first fiction in 20 years, hits somewhere near the center of that aesthetic target. The main character is David Smith, a down-and-out, nothing-left-to-lose sculptor offered a deal by the personification of death: he can have the power to perfectly sculpt anything in the world using just his imagination and bare hands, but he will die in 200 days. What follows is a story of an artist interrogating what he values about art and life, and how his answers change when their relation to mortality is concrete rather than abstract. The story frequently seems only a step or two away from being overwrought, but for me it avoided ever tumbling over that edge. The art is a consistent pleasure, the story heartfelt. This is a completely earnest book, which redeemed narrative moves that I might have found cliched from another author.
  3. Get In Trouble by Kelly Link – I had read four of the nine stories in this collection before, because I am nowhere near patient enough to wait until the books come out to read Kelly Link. I’ve bought entire anthologies just because they contained a new short story of hers. It’s hard to pick standout stories from this one, because everything Kelly writes is so weird and fascinating. But “The Summer People” is a rare treatment of fairies that I don’t find annoying, “Secret Identity” and “Origin Story” are superhero fiction like nothing you’ve ever read before, and “Light” is basically what Welcome to Night Vale would be if it were exactly as crazy and yet somehow subtle at the same time. This is fiction to get lost in and come back changed. (A funny thing: I write these little capsule reviews after I finish the book, and post them at the end of the month. Since I wrote the preceding, my friend Carmen Machado has published a much more in-depth review for the Los Angeles Review of Books, in which she expressed an almost identical sentiment to my last one.)
  4. The Deep by John Crowley – Earlier this year I started reading Crowley’s World Fantasy Award-winning novel Little, Big. I got about 80 pages in, and thought the writing was great but the story mildly irritating. It seemed coy, like it was likely to be 500 pages of tiny glimmers of fairyland shining through the worn fabric of the mundane world, which I was not in the mood for. (As mentioned previously, fairies are a hard sell for me.) I’ll likely revisit it someday soon, but decided instead to go back to Crowley’s first novel, something more SFnal and thus more aligned with my aesthetic preferences. My copy of The Deep carries a glowing blurb from Ursula Le Guin, which makes sense; it has a lot structurally in common with Left Hand of Darkness. The writing is crisp and frequently lyrical, and the plot skips along at great velocity. Political schemes and reversals of fortune that would unfurl over 200 pages in, say, Game of Thrones happen in mere paragraphs, and the whole book is less than 200 pages long. Crowley also does a fascinating thing where early in the novel we are introduced to what strikes the reader as a primitive cosmology destined to be overturned by the visitor from space, but in the end, this cosmology is basically correct, and it’s the reader’s assumptions that are unfounded. But while I found this book intellectually interesting, I remain somehow passive to it. I feel the same way about a lot of Le Guin’s work, too: clearly brilliant, inspires great admiration, but fails to enflame my imagination the way my favorite fiction does.
  5. The Wilds by Julia Elliott – I was not previously familiar with Julia Elliott, but this was recommended by Janalyn Guo, who’s a fan of her stories. As am I, now. This is an excellent collection, and one that seems to be mostly off the radar of the Spec Fic community, despite many of these stories being science fiction. (I’d say entirely off the radar except the VanderMeers did publisher her in the inaugural Best American Fantasy.) It’s very “literary” science fiction, by which I mean that these are interiority-driven stories with ambiguous endings that resist plot resolution–cadences that are more common to realist fiction than SF. But here’s an incomplete list of the speculative conceits in this book: powered exoskeletons for the elderly, nanotechnological cures for dementia, urban society overrun by wild dogs, a biological regeneration spa that medicinally afflicts clients with suppurating infections, a mutated form of toxoplasmosis that causes internet addiction, a robot subjected to iterated biochemical simulations of love as its language database is constantly upgraded. She has a novel coming out soon, The New and Improved Romie Futch, which I’ll definitely be reading.
  6. Mail Order Bride by Mark Kalesniko – This graphic novel was bad in ways that make it tempting to psychoanalyze the author. The titular mail order bride is a Korean woman who moves to Canada to marry a 39-year-old, comic book store owning, geek loving, jock hating, virginal manchild. Obviously, he has an Asian fetish too, and spends two-thirds of the book volubly exoticizing her and complimenting her on stereotypical Asian traits she doesn’t actually possess. While his racist fetishizing and disinclination to learn anything personal about his new wife is positioned as a character flaw and the main driver of the book’s conflict, this criticism is undercut by the fact that the narrative never reveals any of his wife’s actual identity. This might work if the story was from the husband’s point of view, but it’s primarily from hers, and while she grows to hate her husband’s blunt objectification, “Doesn’t enjoy being objectified” is very nearly the only thing the reader learns about her that her husband doesn’t. In the end, after a violent confrontation, they are both too cowardly to leave each other, and persist in a loveless marriage. This unambitious, repetitive story is perpetrated at such length and with such little subtlety that I came away feeling like the whole thing was an act of self-flagellation. Looking around online, most of the contemporary reviews of this book are positive, which I can attribute only to the OGN readers of 2001 being so eager to celebrate the “literary” within the medium that even a work this meager–but with nudity and without triumphalism–would be feted as mature.
  7. Trash by Dorothy Allison – I had read about half of this before, and finally finished it. It’s a largely autobiographical collection of stories about poverty, abuse, and 1980s-era lesbian culture. The first story, “River of Names,” about how differences of class and traumatic history separate two women in love, was among the more memorable assigned in my first college creative writing class. My other favorite one was “Violence Against Women Begins At Home,” about schisms within progressive communities and how people grow apart. Some of the stories didn’t strongly grab me narratively, though I understood their importance as part of the thematic and autobiographical project of the whole. Tonally, I was more able to appreciate what Dorothy Allison was doing by having read Alison Bechdel’s Dykes To Watch Out For, the early parts of which depict a contemporaneous community similar to the ones in Trash (and were also published by Firebrand Books).
  8. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard – I’ve now read this book every year for the last three. I guess I like it.

Read My Clever Friends

I have many of them, and they just keep on writing things you should read. Also I’m instituting an new tag, My Friends Write Things, to link all these posts together. I’ve propagated it back through my archives, so clicking that will lead you to a trove of work from my most-loved people.

Fiction

  • The Husband Stitch” – Carmen Machado, one of the best fantasists writing today, in Granta with a gorgeous story inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
  • Mothers” – Carmen Machado again, because she is a force of nature. This time in Interfictions, with a story about two women in a broken relationship who make a baby. Carmen has put personal experience at the service of fiction with astonishing force and efficacy. You can read a little about the writing of this story on her blog.
  • Becoming” – Anna Noyes in Guernica with a story from the point of view of a chimpanzee being raised as a human. I was lucky enough to see an early draft of this memorable story in workshop, and am thrilled it’s found a home.
  • Quality of Descent” – Megan Kurashige in Lightspeed with a story about a man meeting a woman who definitely has wings, and may or may not be able to fly.
  • Ideal Head of a Woman” – Kelly Luce in Midnight Breakfast with a story about a museum employee who has an unusual relationship with a piece of sculpture.

Nonfiction

  • The Gospel of Paul” – Ariel Lewiton writing in the LA Review of Books with a profile of bookseller and new author Paul Ingram. In addition to being a gorgeous portrait of a fascinating man, this is also the best record of the culture of Iowa City that I’ve read.
  • Did Eastern Germany Experience an Economic Miracle?” – Ben Mauk writing in the New Yorker about regional economic variations in Germany 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Freedom to Fuck Up” – Thessaly La Force interviewing Merritt Tierce about her novel Love Me Back, discussing pregnancy, abortion, and sex in fiction.
  • Reconciliation” – Monica Byrne on the need for reconciliation between the United States and Iran, and how that can begin with connection between individuals. If you’re an American and her article makes you want to visit Iran yourself, she’s also written a how-to for U.S. citizens on her blog.

Poetry