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The Round House

RoundHouseCoverLouise Erdrich’s novel The Round House is currently enjoying a massive swack of literary attention and awards. This is good. This is as it should be. The book is amazing. It’s a rich and strange portrait of boyish adolescence. It’s about Star Trek, the awesomeness of Worf, and how reaching adulthood often requires imitating Captain Jean Luc Picard. It’s about ghosts that aren’t necessarily the ghosts of the dead. It’s about rez life and rez law. But over and around all other subjects and concerns, the book chronicles the aftermath of sexual assault. It also dramatizes the impossible legal tangle of that aftermath, given that reservation law could not prosecute non-Native perpetrators.

Novels usually disavow any connection to reality. The fine print reminds us that “this is a work of fiction.” But check out Erdrich’s version of that disclaimer, typed up at the end: “The events in this book are loosely based on so many different cases, reports, and stories that the outcome is pure fiction.”

Go back and read that sentence again. It handles its rhetoric like a kung-fu master, moving almost too fast to see. “This story is made-up. And yet it did happen in one way or another, over and over again, in so many different cases. And it is still happening. All of this is fiction. All of this is true.”

Now we need to talk about politics and current events.

The Tribal Law and Order Act, passed in 2010, did much to challenge the basic, fundamental injustice dramatized by The Round House: abuse and assault committed by non-Indians on reservation land became answerable to reservation law. A new provision in the Violence Against Women Act would do more. This is good. This is generations overdue. But the GOP is blocking the hell out of the Violence Against Women Act.

I’m not entirely comfortable posting about politics in a blog about kidlit, but we need to be talking about this. The Round House won the National Book Award, and yet I’ve seen zero press connecting the novel to the current struggle in the House and Senate.

Every other email asks us to call our reps for one reason or another. It’s exhausting, I know. But call your reps. Or write to them. Ask whether or not they support violent misogyny. Demand an explanation for their support of violent misogyny. Get the VAWA reauthorized. Honor the magnificent literary achievement of The Round House by answering the specific legal injustice it dramatizes. Because it’s still happening. All of it is fiction, and all of it is true.

 

Puppets & Mischief Making

My office is now backstage to a puppet theater. I suppose it always has been. curtains

When they aren’t performing, puppets will live in this pirate chest just outside the door.chest

This will obviously lead to tremendous productivity. Why keep the door closed and write novels when I could open the door to put on puppet shows?puppet

Please do not tell my editor about this.

In other news, the School Library Journal just published a long conversation between Gary D. Schmidt and myself. They also called me a mischief maker. I am extremely pleased.

Here’s a quote:

The giant mask comes from one of my favorite theatrical exercises, an especially useful one for children’s workshops. You get everybody to walk in a circle and give them vivid, impossible metaphors: “Walk like your feet weigh five hundred pounds. But you’re used to it. They always have. Now walk like your head is full of honey. Now walk like your hair is on fire, and always has been.” This is great for giving each character a distinct way of moving. One of those basic exercises is “Walk like a giant.” Some stand on tiptoe as soon as you say “giant,” but they shouldn’t. “You’re already a giant. You don’t need to stand on tiptoe. You are already very tall.” That’s a useful walk to learn. No one ever bothers you when you stand like a giant, no matter how tall you happen to be.

You can read the rest here.

Voices, News, & the New Year

Our local paper picked me as one of the Artists of the Year.

Here’s a radio interview with Write On! at KFAI. The audio is still streamable, but won’t be for much longer–though it will continue to travel through space and visit other worlds, along with everything else we’ve ever put on the radio.

Here’s another radio interview, this one with Here and Now at NPR.

Tomorrow my voice, reading my book, will go out into the world as physical CDs. Here’s the publisher page. There’s a streamable excerpt to help you decide whether or not you might enjoy listening to such an audiobook.

That’s all for now. Happy New Year, everybody. Our lives are stories that we tell both ourselves and the world, so I wish you good storytelling in the year to come.

VanderMeers & Interviews

Two new interviews just went up today. The first is by Laura Given at The Nerdy Book Club, and includes both a book giveaway and a brief video of myself reading and babbling about mask-related things. It also includes the Dust Bunny Theory of Novel Writing. The second is by Jeff VanderMeer at Omnivoracious, and includes both my astonishment at becoming a National Book Award Finalist and my further astonishment at being interviewed by Jeff VanderMeer.

I only just met Ann & Jeff a few weeks ago at the Twin Cities Book Festival, but I’ve loved his writing, her editorial vision, and their combined work as anthologists for many years. I got to introduce their presentation at the festival. Here’s what I said:

Ann VanderMeer is a prolific editor, publisher, and anthologist. During her too-brief tenure as the Weird Tales editor in chief the magazine was nominated thrice for the Hugo Award, and won that Hugo in 2009. 

Jeff VanderMeer is an equally prolific editor, anthologist, and fiction writer. He is twice a winner and twelve times a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. 

The two have collaborated on several anthologies, none more ambitious than The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. Damien Walter calls it “an anthology of writing so powerful it will leave your reality utterly shredded,” and he implores us not to read it.

Definitions of the Weird are, of course, varied and contradictory, but the VanderMeer’s is the most rich, expansive, international, and compelling approach to an unsettling and uncanny literary tradition for which the rules are not known, and cannot be known. 

The companion website to the anthology, Weird Fiction Review .com, has grown into its own institution–if the anthology is too heavy for you to lift, I encourage you all to direct your browsers there. You’ll be fine. Really. It’s perfectly safe. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honored to present Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.

It’s been a long while since I posted bedtime stories on this blog. Embarrassing, since keeping a record of notable bedtime stories is ostensibly the purpose of the blog. However, I am now honored and privileged to present the first remembered bedtime stories of the VanderMeers.

Ann remembers Briar Rose and Winnie the Pooh first and foremost. As the eldest child, Ann soon transitioned from audience member to reader and performer of bedtime stories. This gave her a considerable amount of power over her younger siblings, who could be bribed or threatened with the promise, or lack, of stories. Ann never abused her powers, of course.

Jeff remembers an illustrated book of “The Tyger” by William Blake. This explains much. He remains productively obsessed with fearful symmetries.

Ciao for now!

 

 

 

 

 

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.