By willalex

Of Festivals & Kelly Barnhill

Yesterday I read from both Goblin Secrets and Ghoulish Song as at a festival of children’s authors and illustrators. The reading was fun, the festival was marvelous, and the Anderson Center has a tower in it. 

Next month I’ll be reading at the Twin Cities Book Festival, which will have a Children’s Pavilion in it.

Kelly Barnhill, author of The Mostly True Story of Jack and the forthcoming-very-soon Iron Hearted Violet, read from both books at the very same festival. She’s as good with words spoken as she is with words in ink–which is very good–and after her reading I asked my favorite question.

Her very first bedtime stories came from the Checkerbook. It was actually a well-loved and badly worn copy of fairy tales that her father rebound with a checkerboard, but she didn’t find that out until later. For years it was the Checkerbook, and the stories inside it were Checkerbook stories.

What a grand and dangerous thing to do. I wonder what sort of games the tales played inside that book.


Fang & Talon

Jacob Gulliver, writer/director of Fang & Talon and my former student, says this:

My earliest memories of bedtime stories are Batman comics–cute, kiddified Batman comics, but still comics. One of my father’s close friends was an eccentric Italian mathematician named Lino who spent a lot of time at our house working with my Dad (also a mathematician). As my Mom says, he didn’t have any kids of his own to spoil, so he would read me Batman before I could do so myself. He did all the characters voices with a heavy Italian accent. Kevin Conroy does a better Batman, but Lino does the best Two-Face.

Jacob’s webseries needs patrons. Glimpse it here, and become a mini-Medici if you like what you see.

Weird Tales

Weird Tales published my first story. Their old offices were pretty close to my parents’ home in Pennsylvania, and I used to help with the slush pile whenever I happened to be in town. We go back a bit, WT and I. The magazine itself goes way back.

Ann VanderMeer used to be the editor-in-chief of Weird Tales. Under her leadership the magazine simultaneously embraced and transcended its history and legacy. It was art. It was gorgeous. It earned its first Hugo award.

Then VanderMeer was dismissed, in clumsy and callous fashion, because some guy named Marvin Kaye bought WT so he could return it to the glory days of Lovecraftian fanfic.

[Edited to add: I should have recognized that name: Marvin Kaye is the editor and anthologist who first published Orson Scott Card’s controversial novella Hamlet’s Father, which I reviewed unfavorably last year. Since then Kaye has claimed that a) Tor forced him to publish it (even if true, this is still an unimpressive attempt to pass the buck), and that b) he didn’t notice anything particularly offensive about Card’s novella. I find that claim astonishing. Either he didn’t read it at all, or his critical reading skills are significantly lower than the average brick. Read on for more evidence of the brick theory.]

More recently, Kaye decided to publish and defend a work of astonishingly ignorant and vicious racism. N. K. Jemisin and Jeff VanderMeer sum things up nicely.

The apologies, retractions, and damage control efforts from WT HQ are now underway. None of it matters, though.

Editors are guides. They lead you to certain spots in the tangled landscape of literature and say “Look. Look at this. It will be worth your time.” Ann and Jeff are the very best guides. I trust them to show me things worth seeing. I trust them to be good company around the campfire in those few moments we have left, before some unspeakable thing emerges from the forest to devour us. I’d follow them anywhere–even and especially to places where no sensible reader would ever dare go. Check out their new and massive anthology. Browse through Weird Fiction Review. I promise you it will be worth your time.

But I wouldn’t trust Marvin Kaye to lead an expedition across an empty room.

Jemisin says this, and I say ditto:

All my pleasure and pride at having been published in WT is gone. Goes without saying that I won’t be submitting there again, ever, but at this point I’m ashamed to have my name associated with the magazine at all. And that pisses me off especially, because something I really cared about has been destroyed. I was willing to give WT’s new owners the benefit of the doubt after the regime change; sometimes change can be a good thing, after all. But this editorial, and this decision to publish such poor-quality fiction on misplaced principle, makes it clear that WT’s reputation is now meaningless. By this gesture Marvin Kaye hasn’t just slapped me in the face, he’s slapped every author the magazine ever published, every hopeful author who’s submitted during and since VanderMeer’s tenure, every artist whose illustrations ever graced its pages, and every fan who voted for WT to win that Hugo.

She posted her WT story online, for free. I won’t be doing that with mine, mostly because I’m a little embarrassed to look back at my first story–not just the first one I published, but the very first story I wrote. I was proud of it at the time, though, and proud to have published it in Weird Tales. Not anymore.

The Monster at the End of this Book

S. A. Rudek, founding member of the Unsettled Foundation and director of their live anthology, sent me this:

The first bedtime story I remember? Hmm. It’s a bit silly and not particularly mythic, but it’s probably the classic Sesame Street book called The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone, starring none other than that lovable blue dude Grover. The entire story is built around ever-mounting, meta-tastic suspense. There’s a monster at the end of the book, of course. And on each page, Grover tries to stop you in between frantic calls of warning. He directly addresses the reader and interacts with the book, trying his utmost to protect you from the monster. On one page, he’s attempting to secure the pages with rope, then he’s hammering planks into the pages. As you progress through the book, his work is destroyed and he’s left sitting in the rubble. His efforts mount with each page turn and eventually he’s building a brick wall in one final, desperate bid to stop you from turning the page. And then of course you do. And on the last page there is only Grover, and he comes to the realization that it was only himself. He was that was the monster at the end of the book. It terrified me as a pre-literate toddler — even after several re-reads. Because sure, maybe it was harmless old Grover the time before, and the time before that, and all times that I could remember. Because maybe this time it would be different, and the monster would be real and dangerous and unstoppable. And then poor Grover would just shake his head sadly — he did try to warn us, after all. It’s a pretty existential entry for a television tie-in picture book! And as I typed this up, I totally heard the voice of Werner Herzog in my head.

This one’s a part of my history. My mother used a splendid Grover-voice while reading it. Attention Werner Herzog: can you best my mother’s reading? I bet you can’t. I challenge you to try.

For those of you who enjoy glowing pages, this particular book has become an app.