On Medium

Medium logoI’m experimenting with Medium as a way to share short stories. I have a couple of older pieces up there now, but my plan is to put some new content up soon. So if you’d like to read some of my short stories and flash fiction, follow me on there.

My Medium profile: https://medium.com/@ambrosehall

 

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Interview with writer M.D. Neu

Writer M.D. Neu joined me to talk about his upcoming novella, The Reunion, and writing gay fiction.

MDNeu pic

You have a novella, The Reunion, coming out later this month – a creepy tale for October. Tell me about your story.

The Reunion came about several years ago based on a larger game some friends and I played.  After the game ended I decided to write a reunion with a majority of the characters coming together one last time. The story takes place twenty years after the events of the game and was only meant to be a final goodbye.

Originally the story started out as a small 3000 word short that I got accepted to TallTaleTV.com (you can hear the short here: http://talltaletv.com/?s=The+Reunion ) but as I played with it over time the story got larger and more detailed.  I continued to work the story expanding and changing the characters.  Also, I added some new elements to round out what happens and make it creepier.  The one thing I never changed was the paranormal and ‘creepy’ aspect. In fact I amped it up. When the novella comes out on Oct 23rd (thank you to NineStar Press for accepting the story) it will be a full 21,000-word short story. You can pre-order it here: https://ninestarpress.com/product/the-reunion/ . I’m proud of the final product and I hope folks enjoy it.

Here is the summary of the story:

It’s been twenty years since the quiet Midwestern town of Lakeview was struck by tragedy.  But every year on the anniversary of the event Teddy returns home for ‘The Reunion’. Lakeview, like Teddy, has secrets and not all mysteries should come to light.

TheReunion cover

You have a passion for speculative and paranormal fiction with gay characters. Is representation a big motivating factor for your writing?

As a gay man who grew up with little queer representation in media I wanted to change that as a writer.  When I was a kid if you saw a gay character on TV or in the movies they were always there for shock value (remember the lesbian kiss on Roseanne, or Ellen coming out on her show, the media and people went nuts) or they were tragic characters (Philadelphia ring any bells) or campy fun.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love campy.  I love over the top gay. I love Drag Queens.  I love, as Harvey Fierstein once said, ‘Sissies’.  And I love the beautiful gays we see on TV now. But that isn’t only who we are.  We’re everyone.  We’re everywhere.  We’re from every walk of life, and I wanted… no I needed to show that in my writing.

In ‘The Reunion’ the main character, Teddy, dresses in drag and he lived with his partner, Lane.  They have a son, Nate, as well. Teddy is also a hairstylist. Did I hit some stereotypes, yes, but what I want people to know is that wasn’t the intent.  Teddy is based on two people from my life, a friend who passed away (hairstylist and drag performer) and my mom who also passed away (she was a hairstylist).  That is where Teddy comes from so he may be a bit of a stereotype, but for me that’s okay because I’m honoring two important people in my life.

Also, in this story I wanted to introduce a trans character. Issues of acceptance are so important these days that I absolutely wanted to include a member of the trans community and I hope I do her justice.

Lastly, why I think representation is so important is I remember reading Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with a Vampire’ in the 80s  (the book came out in the 70s) and for it’s time the gay undertones were very much there.  However, it was never mentioned and it kind of hurt, because I got to see two men raising a daughter.  Sure it was all shades of messed up, but think about it, had anyone every done anything like that before in a high profile wildly successful novel. I don’t think so.

Sorry, I know I got on a bit of soapbox, but your question was important and I wanted to really explain things.

Do you have any recommendations of things you’ve enjoyed reading that have done this well?

I mentioned Interview with a Vampire. I think did a good job for its time.  There is a lot of new stuff coming out that I think approaches the subject well, however, a lot of it is romance and erotica, which is great, but for me I want to read things that aren’t romance or erotica. I want adventure and to be frightened.  I don’t mind aspects of romance, but I don’t want that to be the focus. There is another author I know. JP Jackson’s new book, Daimonion, is excellent. The queer undertones are there and it’s not a romance, which makes it a nice change.  I’m sure there are tons of others, I’m just not thinking of any at the moment.

Like me, you’re a fan of vampires and I think you have a vampire book coming up too. What’s appealing about vampires for you?

Oh, my gosh I love vampires. Yes. My debut novel, The Calling, is all about vampires, as well as a nerdy shy, not very attractive gay man.  It comes out Jan 1st 2018.

For me vampires represent the fringe of society.  Some can pass as ‘normal’, but they don’t fit in and they never will.  Vampires had to learn to work within the confines of society, but because they are different they have to live in the shadows and hide.  Throughout history they’ve always been there, but for most people they have no clue.  Vampires either hide or fit in and hide that way.  You see where I’m going with this, right? Vampires are the perfect metaphor for queer society.  The other thing about vampires I find so appealing is, of course, they are sexy as hell (well at least mine are).

What are your biggest writing influences?

My biggest writing influences, wow I have a lot.  I love Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Harvey Fierstein, Anne Rice and Kim Stanley Robinson. All these people have shown us various worlds that I find exciting and appealing.  I can only hope that my works can stand in their company.

Thank you for having me.

M.D. Neu is a LGBTQA Fiction Writer with a love for writing and travel. Living in the heart of Silicon Valley (San Jose, California), he’s always been fascinated with what could be. Growing up in an accepting family as a gay man, he always wondered why there were never stories reflecting who he was. Constantly surrounded by characters that only reflected heterosexual society, M.D. Neu decided he wanted to change that. So, he took to writing, wanting to tell good stories that reflected our diverse world.

 When M.D. Neu isn’t writing, he works for a non-profit and travels with his biggest supporter and his harshest critic, Eric his husband of eighteen plus years.

 Links:

www.mdneu.com

https://twitter.com/Writer_MDNeu

https://www.facebook.com/mdneuauthor

Interview with Poet Kristin Garth

hand shadowHere’s an interview with poet Kristin Garth about her recent work. You can read some of her poetry linked in the interview below and more on her blog (also linked below).

You’re a self-proclaimed prolific vixen and have had lots of poems published recently. Which are your favourite three, why and where can we read them?

The prolific vixen job title (my occupation I list on Scribophile, our mutual writing site) is not actually a self-proclaimed title. One of my best friends called me that one day, and I loved it so much that I adopted it as my occupation. The prolific part fits for sure. The vixen part is aspirational, but it sounds great.

As for my three favorite poems I have written, this is a hard question because I truly love all my sonnet offspring. Slut Shame, Slender Secrets and Maudlin Mermaid are three current favorites. Slut Shame I love because it speaks to how women are so easily scapegoated and shamed. Slender Secrets I wrote from the point of view of a teenager with schizophrenia, a girl who attempted to murder a friend for the Slender Man. I’m proud because I felt a real responsibility to nail these, and the response they get makes me feel I lived up to that.

Maudlin Mermaid, I love because she is new and was an easy birth in a bubble bath. I stayed in a bubble bath extra long until she was done, and she was scooped up and adored by a publication right away. She has a message, a fable about girls who are dark and sad sometimes. Perhaps we live in a world that is dark and sad, and we are sensitive enough to realize that and acknowledge it.

Slut Shame is available on Occulum: https://occulum.net/2017/09/13/two-poems-by-kristin-garth/

Slender Secrets you can read here on Anti-Heroin Chic: http://heroinchic.weebly.com/blog/poetry-by-kristin-garth1296483

Maudlin Mermaid will be published in The Mystic Blue Review, Issue 2, in late October. Here’s a link to their site:

http://themysticbluereview.weebly.com

What are your main artistic drives?

Oh, I have a lot of drives. I’m a complicated girl. I was a victim of sexual assault who is also very sexual, so I embrace and write everything from erotic poetry to transgressive to feminist themes to sexual bondage and submission. I even write horror, erotic horror and true crime. My main drive is to write every day, but I never know what’s going to come out on that screen and stare me back in the eye.

Who are your main influences?

My favorite male writer of prose is Bret Easton Ellis. I love his dark sensibility and the way evil and privilege are almost mundane. Joyce Carol Oates is my favorite female writer. She’s the role model of prolificness, and she has a gothic tone and a dark eroticism to a lot of her works that I’ve always been obsessed with. As far as poets, 99 percent of my works are Shakespearean sonnets so Shakespeare is my literary master, of course. Though I have a huge affinity for Poe and e e Cummings.

Your work is often sexual. Have you come up against resistance in portraying female and submissive sexuality and what do you feel about this?

This is an excellent question. I absolutely have struggled in some venues of publishing for my subject matter. I think it’s the combination of my writing in a formal style that isn’t commonly used for provocative art. I wrote a sonnet called Rejection (Translation) in which I reference this dilemma I face: some of the people who would like my subject matter don’t like what they consider to be a conservative, restrictive form. And sometimes the formalists don’t really like my subject matter.

The way I have broken through this is sheer persistence. I am as prolific in my publishing efforts as I am in my writing. I send something out at least every other day. Recently I had one of my most politically incorrect poems My Sex Has No Safe Spaces published in Quail Bell Magazine. Quail Bell is very feminist. The editors are women, and they ran my ode to submission. I’ve managed to find people who get me, but I’m always looking for more.

Trauma plays a big part in your work, which can be challenging subject for writers. What approach do you take to conveying trauma?

I’ve written a lot of poems about trauma, some personal, some invented and some belonging to other people. When I write about my own trauma and abuse, it’s a fine line you know between being maudlin and being honest. I am sure I’ve failed but I strive to err on the side of relaying information and not caving into the obvious emotion. That’s the goal.

When I’m writing someone else’s experience, especially a real life individual I feel the pressure even more. My nightmare is to write about someone’s pain and it be totally inauthentic to them. It’s the kind of fear that can make you not want to write, so I have to eventually let that go and do my best. I think that pain is universal and having lived through a lot of trauma, it gives me a shorthand in speaking this language. But I always write from a perspective of respect to the victim.

Kristin Garth is a poet from Pensacola, Florida. Her sonnets and other poetry have been featured in Anti-Heroin Chic, Quail Bell Magazine, MookychickInfernal Ink, Digging Through the Fat and No Other Tribute: Erotic Tales of Women in Submission, an anthology.  Follow her on her blog at https://kristingarth.wordpress.com/ or at twitter.com/lolaandjolie.

Queer Book Club: The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

The Magpie Lord cover

The Magpie Lord is an adult M/M fantasy romance, set in an alternative regency era Britain where magic exists. Magician, Stephen Day, is employed by Lucien Vaudrey, Lord Crane, to resolve a curse. Lucien’s late father and brother ruined Stephen’s father and he’s not keen to work for Lucien, but it seems that Lucien also suffered and was exiled at their hands. Having spent most of his life in Singapore, living on his wits, Lucien turns out not to be the typical spoiled aristocrat Stephen expects. And Stephen’s father is not the only one to have suffered at their hands.

I picked this up as I read a review that suggested it was the M/M romance version of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, one of my favourite books. It isn’t that. It’s much more straightforward and less detailed than Susanna Clarke’s novel, but it’s probably an unfair comparison. The world building and magic is still well done and makes up the majority of the plot. I found the curse and its origins to be interesting and complex enough to hold my attention throughout. The magical world is original and fully realised. I always enjoy a fantasy setting the breaks from the traditional medieval one.

Although there’s some steamy chemistry between the two male leads, it’s one of those romances that teases much more than it delivers. There was also more of a hint of power exchange in the relationship than materialised, although I still enjoyed it. This is part of a series (A Charm of Magpies) and I’m told there’s much more smut in follow-ups. I’ll admit to being a little impatient where this sort of thing is concerned, so it might not bother other readers. There’s plenty of plot to keep you entertained, anyway.

Overall, it’s worth a look for the fantasy side of things and if you like romance that teases and makes you wait. I enjoyed the dynamic between the two leads, though I felt some of the chemistry was created by a promise that wasn’t entirely delivered upon.

Review: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

The Dreamquest of Vellitt Boe cover

Weird fiction novella inspired by Lovecraft’s dreamlands story, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. When her student, Clarie Jurat, goes missing from college, Professor Vellitt Boe of Ulthar Women’s Collage goes on a quest to find her, through the dreamlands and out into the unfamiliar waking world.

I love the premise of this story—a weird fiction odyssey with an older woman protagonist, redressing the complete absence of women in Lovecraft’s original, and a switch around of what is strange and other, with Vellitt coming from the dreamlands and braving the waking world for the first time.

The story didn’t hook me at first. The beginning set-up section feels a little clunky to me, but once Vellitt’s journey begins, I love the descriptions of the dreamlands from her perspective and the stories of her adventures as a younger woman. The story retraces some of the journey taken by Randolph Carter in the original, and he features a little, but there’s a lot that’s new, and it’s all from a very different perspective. The later section, when Vellitt reaches the waking world and discovers it for the first time, is excellent. For me, that’s the high point of the story. There’s a sense of strangeness about details that are usual to us, but also a sense of relief that the fickle gods are not breathing down her neck.

Vellitt is a well-realised character and a nice change for a speculative fiction protagonist. Kij Johnson focuses more on the fantasy aspects of the setting, rather than the horror. If that’s your thing, it’s definitely worth a look. Features obligatory cat appreciation, though not to quite the degree Lovecraft takes it.

(There is a minor queer character in this book, but not enough to stick it under my Queer Book Club heading. I occasionally do other reviews, particularly horror/weird fiction. Just a heads up.)

Queer Book Club: Nina is not Okay by Shappi Khorsandi

nina is not okay cover

Nina is not Okay is a contemporary fiction novel with a YA protagonist, though it doesn’t hold back on content, so I reckon it’s aimed at older YA and adults.

Seventeen year old Nina is struggling to cope with her boyfriend leaving the country and then leaving her for another girl. She’s hitting drink hard and losing control. When she’s thrown out of a nightclub for inappropriate behaviour, she loses the rest of the night. All she knows is that some guy put her in a taxi home with her knickers in her hand. Nina continues to spiral out of control as she tries to lose herself in alcohol and casual sex, still unable to resolve that lost night.

In many ways, this is a heavy read. It’s hard to watch someone lose control of their life and hurt themselves over and over again. It’s a book about rape and alcoholism, which is obviously not going to be a walk in the park. However, Nina is a very sympathetic, smart, funny character, and even when she’s behaving like a complete idiot, I still found myself rooting for her. I loved the unflinching honesty of it all and the flawed characters (including the adults) who are all muddling through, making a mess of things. I love that Nina is bisexual and just figuring out how that works for her amongst all the other chaos of her life. It’s an emotional read, but hugely rewarding, especially if you had (or are having) a shambolic teens.

This is the second book I’ve read by this author. Her autobiography, A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English, about leaving Iran as a child and moving to Britain, is also brilliant. I’m beginning to think she’s a bit of a genius.

(NB to US readers: The book is set in the UK. For context, the age of consent in the UK is 16, the age you can legally drink is 18, and we have different rape laws.)

Queer Book Club: Nik’s Revenge Road Trip Mixtape by Jack Swift

niks mixtape coverA transgressive adult novel. When a voice from his past intrudes on his fragile recovery, Nik hits the road in his Dodge Dart and begins his revenge road trip, accompanied by the perfect mixtape and the ghost of his dead friend.

This is an incredibly intense, almost feverish tale of Nik’s attempt to get even with his past, from his abusive relationship with ex-boyfriend, Harley, to the depths he sank through his heroin addiction, and the horrific act he can never forgive his ex-band members for. It’s an amazing read from start to finish, sometimes disturbing, sometimes extremely moving. I cried a couple of times and wanted to puke a few others. It’s definitely full on, but I like a book that makes me feel something. Jack Swift experiments with non-standard narrative techniques to express the experience of trauma; the portrayal  works so well because it’s delivered within the tight structure of the road trip revenge spree.

A story with a trans guy as a main character, written by a trans writer. If you’re bored by the current fad for queer fiction full of sunshine, lollipops and mainstream wish fulfilment, this is a good antidote. A story where people are allowed to be just as messed up as reality. Full disclosure—I first came across this novel as an earlier draft, through a writing group. I fell for the writing first, before I became friends with the author,  so I feel I can recommend it in good conscience.

I wish there were more books like this—honest and raw, with an uncompromising punk rock sensibility. Nik’s Revenge Road Trip Mixtape tackles trauma, addiction, recovery and the possibility of redemption without sentimentality, but with humanity and dark humour. Definitely worth a read.

(TW/SPOILER: This story is part rape revenge fantasy.)

Nik’s Revenge Road Trip Mixtape is released in ebook format on 24th May 2017. You can order it here. Or you can buy the paperback here.

Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom coverI’m reading a bunch of horror and weird fiction and not so much queer fiction at the moment. (If only I could combine the two more often.) As I’m editing some at the moment and want to get in the right head space, I’ve been hunting down modern Lovecraft inspired stuff, particularly written from the point of view of marginalised groups. I may post more about that in general, at a later date. For now, here’s a review of Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, which was recently voted a Hugo finalist.

The novella is a retelling of Lovecraft’s short story, ‘The Horror at Red Hook’. The original is considered to be one of Lovecraft’s most racist and xenophobic stories, so LaValle has taken it and switched it, with Tommy Tester, a black hustler from Harlem as the main character. The story is split between Tommy Tester’s point of view and that of the original Red Hook character, the white Irish police detective, Malone.

I love the premise for this and I love the first half, where Tester hustles on the edge of the occult world, passing dubious items across New York’s different neighbourhoods, using his guitar case as transportation. Tester wants a different life from his parents, who broke themselves working hard manual jobs for white men. When Tester meets Robert Sudyam, a wealthy occultist, he’s invited into the heart of Red Hook’s occult scene.

The story plays with ideas of otherness and monsters. The original Lovecraft story is invested with a powerful sense of alienation and Lovecraft’s trademark fear of the unknown. LaValle challenges the whole concept of the unknown in his story—showing the neighbourhoods he frequents as homes and communities, rather than seething pits if horror, as Lovecraft saw them, and celebrating the diversity within.

When police brutality and corruption pushes him to the edge, Tester embraces his monstrous identity and uses his power for revenge. The story poses and doesn’t resolve the question of what is the right way to live under the sort of systemic abuse Tester and his parents experience and I think that lack of resolution works well for the tone of the story.

I think the retelling is successful, both as weird fiction and a way to explore these themes, but the second half for me was a bit weaker. It focuses on Malone, but is often omniscient. It felt a little distant and not quite as intense as I’d hoped in the horror sections. Saying that, it’s still a good story, but the first half is much stronger. It’s also satisfying to see writers being uncompromising about the broken aspects of early spec fic writing, whilst also paying them homage; it’s a tricky balance and I think LaValle gets it right.

Queer Book Club: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers cover

The Gracekeepers is a fantasy novel set in a flooded future world, though the fantasy elements are quite low key, reminiscent of fairy tales. Callanish works as a Gracekeeper, performing death rites for those who live at sea (known as Damplings). North is a performer in a floating circus, who dances with a bear. Although they live very different lives, they’re joined by secrets and the dangerous superstitions of those who live on land (known as Landlockers).

I picked this up on the strength of a short story collection of Kirsty Logan’s (The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales), and wasn’t disappointed. Logan writes beautifully and I found myself once again clicking with her style and subject matter. The floating circus is a mess of simmering rivalries and conflicting ambitions, as they float from island to island, shocking and titillating the conservative Landlockers with their mix of gender bending and satire.

Beyond the style, the world building really grabbed me. There are lots of little details and observations which brought the flooded world alive, particularly around beliefs and superstitions.

The story is told in third person, from various different points of view. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that every character has a yearning and every character is keeping secrets. Despite the various points of view, North and Callanish are the best developed and deepest characters, and it’s really their story. There is a striking sense of loneliness and isolation, of people misunderstanding one another and failing to communicate.

It’s quite a difficult book to talk about without running into spoilers, so I’ll make this a short one. The Gracekeepers is a mournful book about finding your place in the world, even if that place is only one small island and one small family you choose yourself.

Gods and Insects Playlist

Simon_Renard_de_Saint-André_Vanitas

Vanitas by Simon Renard de  Saint-Andre, Public Domain

I know a lot of writers like to work to music. I tend to write best in silence, which is not very exciting. I do occasionally put together playlists for inspiration (and procrastination). However, I get to be extra lazy here, because my friend has made an amazing one for me, to go with one of my vamp novellas. Here’s the gothtastic playlist for my second vampire novella, Gods and Insects, in all its glory, courtesy of Johnny Truant.

Gods and Insect Playlist on 8Tracks.

As 8Tracks has a weird licensing thing outside the US, here’s a track list, in case anything skips (it does for me, in the UK).

  1. Spellbound – Siouxie and the Banshees
  2. Nocturnal Me – Echo and the Bunnymen
  3. Kill Your Sons – Rozz Williams
  4. The Fix – Bloody Dead and Sexy
  5. The Sanity Assassin – Bauhaus
  6. Figurative Theatre – Christian Death
  7. Radiant Boys – The March Violets
  8. Man on Fire – Silent Scream
  9. His Box – Dalis Car
  10. Lion King – Ghosting
  11. Day of the Lords – Joy Division
  12. Ruins – O. Children
  13. Cernunnos – Faith and The Muse
  14. Penance and Pain – Soper Aeternus and The Ensemble of Shadows
  15. Sebastiane – Sex Gang Children
  16. Sharp Fangs, Pale Flesh – Coliseum
  17. The Drowning – Christian Death
  18. My Kingdom – Echo and the Bunnymen