On superheroes, deification, and the relationship between writer and reader

Today’s the day! My short story “The Crafter at the Web’s Heart” is up at Apex!

I wrote the first draft of this story at Clarion West 2017, which makes it the second CW story to appear, the first being “The Good Mothers’ Home for Wayward Girls.” It started out as a challenge to myself to build a secondary world. I began with an image–a city suspended on a spider’s web–and combined it with some questions I’d been pondering about how to craft magic systems.

When my amazing classmates read the draft, they gave me excellent feedback on how to make it into a workable story. A few of them noted that it felt to them like a superhero origin story. I could definitely see that, even though it wasn’t what I’d intended. But then, readers often find things in stories we don’t intend. It might be that writers cannot fully comprehend everything that shapes our writing. Certainly, letting the critical part of your mind dominate too much early in the process can make writing impossible (at least for me; I don’t know how widely this is true).

So my classmates’ reading wasn’t wrong–in fact, all that was certainly in the story, given that multiple thoughtful readers had come to that conclusion. But only one, Robert Minto, articulated a reading that matched my own: that “Crafter” is a story not about becoming a superhero, but becoming a god. It’s a story about deification (or apotheosis, if you prefer).

What makes a god (and who makes a god) are fascinating questions for me, and that’s an question tied to how I think about this story. There’s only one kind of god that can be the deity of Traverse, and only one kind of person who fits the bill.

This is also, for me, a story about transition, and embracing your true self, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that point.

I don’t know whether other readers will see the story the same way I and Robert do. I rather hope that there will be a diverse set of readings, which is a sure sign that people are finding something to engage with in the work.

But for me, it will always be a story about gods and the situations that create them.

If you liked this story, then stay tuned: I have another story set in this world in the forthcoming anthology Maiden, Mother, and Crone: Fantastical Trans Femmes.

2018 Awards Eligibility Post

Though I can hardly believe it, awards nomination season is upon us. The Nebula Awards have begun accepting nominations (note that this year, both Active and Associate members can vote!). Others will follow before we know it, as time continues to behave in ways both inexorable and strange.

This year I had several works published that are eligible for awards consideration. In addition, this is my first year of eligibility for the Campbell Award.

Unplaces: an Atlas of Non-existence” – 1,750 word short story in Clarkesworld, March 2018.

Excerpts from the First Edition, with handwritten marginalia. Recovered from the ruins of Kansas City. Part of the permanent exhibit of the Museum of Fascisms.

(This story has been called Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Science Fantasy. Categorize it as you will.)

The Good Mothers’ Home for Wayward Girls” – 3,500 word short story in PseudoPod, March 2018. Horror.

Kate hangs back and stage-whispers: You’re not going to survive, new girl. The Mothers will punish you or you’ll slit your wrists. Kate is brave because there are Mothers watching us, one in the doorway to the kitchen, one clinging to the ceiling, leaving a puddle of ichor on the moldy tile of the hall. We will need to clean up that mess later.

No. We will make the new girl do it.

Ports of Perceptions” – 300 word flash fiction in Glittership 53, March 2018. Science Fiction.

Chase had come down with both kind of viruses, and worried Hunter had been growing distant, so Hunter suggested they indulge in some PKD. While the drug kicked in, they sprawled on the mattress in Hunter’s flat and exchanged.

Their Eyes Like Dead Lamps” –  3,000 word short story in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet No. 37, March 2018.

If all this had happened two years earlier, I’d have accepted it easily. But the world starts to narrow, and by the time someone–your mother or your aunt or whoever–sits you down for The Talk, everything has calcified. If I’d been younger, I would probably remember all this as play, or as a trick my mind played to cover for what really happened. If I’d been older, maybe I wouldn’t have seen anything down by the bank besides Cassie.

That night I lay in bed, listening to the thunderstorm that swept in, as they often did, from the south and west, and thinking of those shapes along the bank, imagining sharp teeth, eyes like dead lamps. No one ever built a fort because the world was safe.

“Pelecanimimus and the Battle for Mosquito Ridge” – 4,100 word short story in Crossed Genres’ Resist Fascism, November 2018. Fantasy.

When I think of the look in your eyes, I feel as though I’ve been sliced open. But I believed in this cause then, and now I have seen proof with my own eyes: we must stop the Fascists here, or they will spread across Europe. There are German bombers overhead and Italian arms on the other side of the lines. I long for your arms, my Eli, but I fight to make the world safe for us, and I have seen soldiers (of all genders) fight on despite worse injuries. I believe we will triumph, and I will return to you. Should we fail, I take comfort in this, that the struggle is worth all.

I do not know when this letter will reach you. I cannot send it now, for fear of revealing too much to the enemy, and knowing that I have expressed my love for you in a way many of my Comrades would loathe. I will keep this letter to myself and, if G-d wills, find a way to get it to you soon.

Resist Fascism is out now!

Travel and work obligations have kept me busy of late, and I’ve been remiss in not mentioning here that Crossed Genres’ micro-anthology Resist Fascism it out now! It features awesome stories from 9 authors, including me.

My story, “Pelecanimimus and the Battle for Mosquito Ridge,” takes place during the Spanish Civil War. An American volunteer in the conflict takes time to write home to his boyfriend even as he battles fascists. Oh, and did I mention there are dinosaurs? There are! And they’re cute.

This story also features my favorite last line in anything I’ve written to date.

Grab your copy now! If you buy the ebook, it’s less than $0.50 per story.

Good News

I’ve been remiss in not updating this blog with good news I’ve received of late (and one piece of good news I received a while back and forgot to mention here). Here goes!

“All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From” will appear in a forthcoming issue of Fireside Magazine. It features simulated realities, uncomfortable mother/daughter dynamics, and a particularly unflattering portrait of my hometown. Also featuring: queerness.

“The Crafter at the Web’s Heart” will appear in Apex. A 2nd World fantasy story, this one features a spider god, unplanned transformations, a precarious city and queerness.

“A Dinosaur Without Feathers Is No Dinosaur at All” will be part of the wonderful Robot Dinosaurs! project. A hopepunk story about two teen girls rebuilding their friendship and building a dinosaur. Also: queerness.

“Pelicanimimus and the Battle for Mosquito Ridge” will be part of Crossed Genres’ Resist Fascism: An SFF Call to Action. If you’d like to read this story, part of 30,000 words of SFF against fascism, please consider donating. This story is set during the Spanish Civil War and includes dinosaurs, anarchists, and (IMHO) the finest final sentence I’ve ever composed. Also, naturally, queerness.

“This Next Song Is Called ‘Punk Rock Valhalla'” is forthcoming from the A Punk Rock Future anthology. It’s got a Norse god, antifascism, possibly-unwise tattoos, and unimpressed ravens. No queerness in this one, though.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding. It’s full of queerness.

That’s the good news, folks. I couldn’t be more excited to share these stories with y’all.

What I’m Reading (June 2018)

I meant this to be a monthly series, but that was always too ambitious, especially given the rhythms of the academic calendar. Here’s a sampling of my favorite reads from the last few months, in no particular order.

Mr. Try Again” by A. Merc Rustad: “Six-year-old Violet Wellington was the only child to come out of the swamp. The boys were gone forever.” So Rustad begins, and the tension and horror spin out from that gripping opening, elegantly and precisely leading us into the swamp, preparing us for what we’ll encounter there. Rustad’s breathtaking skill at horror is on full display here, and I wait hungrily for their next story.

Flow” by Marissa Lingen: this story was on my “to read” list for a few weeks before I found the time, and then immediately regretted that I hadn’t got to it sooner. Naiads, conservation, disability, and community come together in brilliant and unexpected ways throughout this tale. To say much more about it would be to spoil some of the effect, so I’ll just add: go read it.

Burning Season” by C. L. Clark: a translator with exceptional linguistic abilities tries to survive in the wake of the latest conquest of her home, and struggles with her own losses and guilt. This is a wonderfully complex and thoughtful story, working brilliantly as a narrative and also bringing deep insight into matters of postcolonialism and queer relationships. It’s also extremely well performed, if you prefer to get your stories in podcast form.

Every Black Tree” by Natalia Theodoridou: a man cursed with immortality seeks death. An always-pregnant woman tries to survive others’ hate and raise her daughter. Both are struggling with the horrors of the past, and seeking to navigate the complications they’ve brought into one another’s lives. An elegant and deeply moving story that explore the complex ties that bind us to the living and the dead.

From the Root” by Emma Törzs: our narrator is a Regenitrix, able to regrow body parts, recover from almost any wound. Only two natural causes can kill one: old age or childbirth, both inevitably fatal. When our narrator’s ambitions cross with a doctor’s and a fellow Regenitrix (pregnant and preparing for the end), none of them can predict what will come of it. A compelling exploration of pregnancy, 18th century medicine, and the choices women make to try to protect themselves from men. Törzs’ narrative is wonderful and kept me guessing throughout, and her prose is scalpel-sharp.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: McGuire breathes new life into portal fantasies by imagining what happens to those who have been through doorways to other lands–and then, sometimes years later, found themselves back in our world, desperate to return. One of these unfortunates has founded a school to help them work through their loss. New student Nancy is just trying to settle in when a murder puts everything and everyone at risk. McGuire portrays her characters deftly, and the cosmology of her multiverse is wonderful, inventive, and thought-provoking. I adored this novel about home, friendship, and the power of knowing oneself.



When Creation Falls

I’m delighted to announce that my poetry collection When Creation Falls is now available. I’m so pleased to be able to share it with you, and I think you’ll agree with me that Meadowlark Books did an amazing job with the design.

This collection is both deeply personal (beginning with my childhood in Kansas) and political (because there’s no way to disentangle the personal from the political). It arises from my fury at the injustices and horror in the world, but does not, I hope, give into cynicism or despair.

Here’s what the poet Eric McHenry had to say about it:

Izzy Wasserstein is broadly and deeply learned, but also committed to the clear utterance. The poems in When Creation Falls are as transparent as glass—not a window, but a corrective lens, restoring detail and dignity to world of distortions and cynical simplifications. This is a poet furious at injustice but suspicious of fury. I kept thinking, as I read, of Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939’—‘All I have is a voice/ To undo the folded lie’ —and it was satisfying to discover that poem’s last line in one of this book’s last poems: ‘Show an affirming flame.’ Auden, of course, infamously renounced the poem, and Wasserstein acknowledges that fraught history in order to craft a durable new affirmation for her-self: ‘And if my words/ become ugly, if I recant/ every last kind thought,/ if the lines of my face/ twist in cruelty,/ may these soundings/ outlast me.’ In a poem addressed ‘To the Child I Will Never Have,’ her final piece of advice is ‘Make something beautiful.’ Someone must have told her the same thing.

When Creation Falls is available through Meadowlark Books, Amazon, or order it through your favorite bookstore. If you’d prefer a personalized copy, and don’t mind that I’m not Amazon Prime and have to charge for shipping, reach out to me through my contact page.

The Good Mothers’ Home for Wayward Girls

My horror story “The Good Mothers’ Home for Wayward Girls” is now available in audio and full-text from PseudoPod.

It’s a story that is dear to me, in part because I wrote the first draft at Clarion West 2017, so it will always be associated for me with my wonderful experiences there, and the amazing friends I made. Unlike Clarion West, though, the housing in my story isn’t very pleasant.

The narration by Tatiana Grey is amazing, everything I could have hoped and more. I found myself experiencing my own words in a new and breathless way.

What horror have you read recently that’s stayed with you, dear reader?

What I’m Reading, March 2018

This morning I want to share with you all some fiction that I’ve read and loved over the last few weeks. There’s no particular order here, just words that have been on my mind.

A Witches Guide to Escape: a Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” by Alix E. Harrow. Witches, libraries, endangered adolescents, and a defense of escapism. I loved this story, and if you’ve ever had a kind librarian give  you just the book you needed, I bet you will too.

And Yet” by A. T. Greenblatt. I was fortunate enough to get to see an early draft of this story at Clarion West 2017. It’s a haunted house story, a multiverse story, and a moving contemplation of just what cost we might pay to try to fix horrors from the past. You may think you know what’s coming here, but you don’t. Greenblatt keeps us guessing right to the very end. Come for the haunted house, stay for the keenly observed sibling relationship.

Like a River Loves the Sky” by Emma Törzs. Another story that I first saw as an early draft at Clarion West (Team Eclipse, you are killing it!), “Like a River Loves the Sky” explores questions of friendship, loss, loneliness, and what it means to truly love something. That may sound like well-trod ground, but not under Törzs’s deft hand: she makes it new, breathless, moving. It’s the rare story that features dead dogs that can win me over, but this one absolutely does.

Amatka by Karin Tidbeck. It’s nearly impossible to describe the brilliance of Tidbeck’s novel without spoilers. There’s a city where objects continue to exist only if people habitually re-affirm their existence, an increasingly oppressive government, and a growing sense that what has long been barely controlled will soon be uncontrolled. Tidbeck’s novel takes on systems of power, queerness, and the power–and limitations–of language in ways that I’ve never seen before.


Those are some of the pieces that have most stayed with me of late. What have you been reading?

Unplaces: an Atlas of Non-Existence

I’m pleased to be able to share with you my story of Unplaces, antifa, queer love, and the importance of memory, “Unplaces: an Atlas of Non-Existence” at Clarkesworld.

It’s a story that brings together many of my obsessions, and includes references to two stories I love, Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and Theodora Goss’ “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology.” You don’t need to have read either story to make sense of mine, but they’re both fantastic, so you should read them anyway. 🙂