2017: The Reckoning (aka my awards eligibility post)

Okay friends. Let's talk about 2017. Although this year was by and large a flaming pile of garbage for the world, it was professionally a pretty productive year for me. I hustled at my day job sharing women's stories at a feminist historical archive; I moved to Raleigh and started grad school; I wrote and wrote and revised and wrote. Some pretty exciting things happened; at the same time, some other things that I desperately wanted to happen did not, in fact, happen. But what would be the point of 2018 if everything had gone right this year? Right? RIGHT?!??! Anyway, as seems to be the tradition at this time of year, I'm rounding up my award-eligible publications for 2017. 

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First of all, my book! Speaking to Skull Kings is my debut short story collection, released from JournalStone in May of this year. Here's what Library Journal had to say about it: "Brimming with ghosts, haunted books, alternate ­dimensions, and dark fantasy in an assemblage of lyrical pieces best classified as weird fiction. The complex female characters, creepy settings, and magic-filled story lines draw in readers much like the award-winning works of Karen Russell, Jeff VanderMeer, and Kelly Link." Such kind words! The book is eligible for the Bram Stoker Award, so if the above description sounds intriguing you can check it out here

 

Now let's talk stories! One of my favorite stories I've ever written, "Evangeline and the Forbidden Lighthouse," came out this May in Interzone. If you only read one of my stories this year, please read this one! It's about female friendship and the sea and about whether it's ever too late to change the path you've set out for yourself. Tangent Online said, "It's precisely the kind of literary, plotless nonsense I abhor in SF and fantasy. And yet it works. It works wonders—to the point where I found myself staring into the distance, wondering where I could have chosen differently in my own life." What a turn! Anyway the point is that if you like literary plotless SFF, this is the one for you, and even if you don't, you just might enjoy it anyway. This one is eligible in the short story category for awards. 

I also had a novelette in Beneath Ceaseless Skies this October: And the Village Breathes, which is a story about a medieval-y village where residents sometimes fall ill with a malady that causes them to sleep for months. These sick folks are treated with respect and care--until outsiders start showing up in the village. This story is basically about xenophobia and how societies value some people and not others. I was worried about how it would be received, considering that it's my most political story to date, but so far people seem to be getting it. This one is eligible in the novelette category for the major awards, so if you like fantasy with a strong plot and a searing message, check it out! 

It seems so long ago, but I had a story out in The Dark in February: The Lily Rose, which is a piece about grief. Specifically about an orphanage headmistress whose charges drown in a shipwreck, and who starts to believe that she is being possessed by the ghost of the ship they drowned on. Also she meets some Russian aristocrats. Anyway this story is Gothic and sad and features the aforementioned Russian aristocrats so it's Very Emily if you're into that sort of thing. Also eligible in all short story categories! 

Finally, I had a story in the lovely prose-focused magazine Lackington's this May: Glasswort, Ice, which is about old age (it features two nonagenarian sisters as the protagonists) and nostalgia and fighting against social inertia oh and also ICE WHALES!! Also eligible for short story accolades. 

That's all for fiction publishing this year! Looking forward to 2018, I have a story coming out in Nightmare in February and in cream city review at some point, both of which I'm quite excited about. Oh, and if you're a non-fiction connoisseur, check out the piece I wrote for Roads & Kingdoms this spring, about the youngest deep-sea diver in South Korea. It's probably my favorite non-fiction piece I've ever written! I promise ocean shenanigans and female-centric societies. 

All right, everyone, that's pretty much a wrap on 2017! Please let me know if any of these stories sound intriguing to you but you're having trouble accessing them online; happy to send you a copy. And thanks for reading. Here's to great things in the new year.

 

 

 

Berlin: A Travel Guide, Complete with Historical Factoids

Most people who know me know that I lived in Berlin, Germany from 2014 to 2016. I tend to talk about it a lot (sorry, you all!). Now, in light of my love affair with this city, friends and acquaintances who are planning trips there often ask me for suggestions about what they should do on their visits. I'm always happy to provide, naturally, and in fact wrote up a document about what to do and see in Berlin (one visiting friend: at first I thought, she got this from Wikipedia, but as I kept reading I was like....oh, she wrote this whole thing herself). Anyway, I got to thinking: what if I put this document up on my website for ALL TO SEE AND ENJOY?! 

And so, without further ado, please peruse at your leisure: 

EMILY CATANEO'S GUIDE TO BERLIN. IF YOU DON'T LIKE HISTORICAL FACTOIDS, KEEP ON WALKIN'

Berlin is not an old city. Yes, the land was settled as far back as the Middle Ages, but the city only rose above its status as a provincial backwater during the rapid industrialization of the late nineteenth century. In 1871, Berlin became the capital of Germany, the newly united country of the Prussian kings whose militaristic ambitions would cause such strife in the twentieth century. Workers flooded the city’s tenements and artists and writers filled its cafes, while the stuffy Prussian aristocracy dined in its expensive hotels along the Tiergarten. World War I brought starvation and revolution, and when the dust settled Berlin became the capital of a republic, as well as one of the European capitals of jazz, socialism, art, cabaret, and homosexuality. Hitler hated the city for its decadence and libertine spirit, and planned to bulldoze it to make way for a new German capital, named, appropriately, Germania. Although Hitler never had time to achieve his goals, the Allies took care of it for him, fire bombing Berlin and destroying much of the city during the final days of the European war in May 1945.

In the aftermath of the war, the Soviets, French, British and Americans divided the city into four sectors, intending to keep the Germans down for good. But the relationship between Stalin and the West quickly soured. Soon the Iron Curtain fell across Europe and Berlin became two cities. That divide became physical in 1963, when the East German government built the Berlin Wall to prevent more East Germans from escaping to the West. Officially called the “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” by the East Germans, the wall encircled West Berlin and was fortified by guard towers and barbed wire. Approximately 200 people died trying to scale the Berlin Wall, and countless others tried to escape unsuccessfully and faced the wrath of the Stasi (the East German secret police).

Of course, the wall came down in 1989 and Germany reunited in 1990. Still, though, even today you will encounter Berliners and East Germans who miss the days of East Germany, who argue that life in a capitalistic society is beset with more problems, such as unemployment and crime, than life in a socialist world.

What is Berlin like today?

You may have heard that Berlin is the modern equivalent of Paris in the 1920s, attracting bourgeois-bohemian creative types from all over the world to its smoky cafés and graffitied streets. That assessment is true to some extent: since 1989, punks, techno music lovers, artists, writers and photographers have taken up residence in Berlin, lured by low rents, plenty of space, a live-and-let-live mentality, and a slower rate of gentrification than cities like London or New York. But this is only one subset of Berlin’s population. The city is a huge immigrant hub: West Germany incentivized Turkish immigrants to move to the city in the 1960s and 1970s to bolster the workforce, and many of them never left. Today, you’ll find several Berlin neighborhoods where the people, shops and atmosphere look as though they were lifted straight from Istanbul. Besides immigrants, Berlin also attracts the environmentally conscious, hippie moms and young families: the city has more green space than any other in Europe, and has a bit of an obsession with vegan, vegetarian and organic (“bio”) foods. Berlin is also known as the Silicon Valley of Europe, attracting techies and start-ups from all over the world--many with a slightly revolutionary bent. It’s not uncommon to meet hackers in Berlin, and it’s no coincidence that some of the journalists who published Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA in 2013 have taken up residence in Berlin to escape scrutiny from the American government. Finally, in Berlin, you'll see evidence of the great refugee influx of 2015, in which Angela Merkel famously admitted millions of refugees from the wartorn Middle East into the country. 

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Let’s talk logistics

Berlin is a big, big city. It’s only home to about four million people, but geographically, it’s huge. This means that it takes forever to get anywhere, but it also means that there’s plenty of space for big apartments, parks, wide streets and bike lanes.

Since Berlin developed so late and underwent such turmoil in the twentieth century, it doesn’t really resemble other European cities aesthetically. It also doesn’t really resemble other German cities. Most German cities chose to rebuild their past after World War II, looking to history to meticulously recreate town squares and half-timbered houses. Berlin avoided this historical reconstruction route, instead preferring to salvage some buildings, construct some new buildings, and leave some areas of the city empty. You’ll see some neighborhoods where every street is lined with cherry trees and early 20th century buildings (Altbau buildings); you’ll see other neighborhoods where every building is a cement highrise from the 1950s.

Speaking of the rest of Germany, people joke that if Germany is a well-ordered, respectable family, Berlin is the cousin who’s always showing up hungover and 15 minutes late for Sunday dinner. A former city mayor said ten years ago that Berlin is “sexy but poor,” and I think the description is still apt. You’ll see some glimmers of the German and Prussian obsession with rules and order in Berlin, but overall the city boasts a relaxed atmosphere that you might not find elsewhere in the country.

There are four different methods of public transportation in Berlin: the S-bahn, the U-bahn (both subway systems), the tram and the bus. You can buy a weekly pass that will work on all of these forms of transportation. Biking is also huge in Berlin, and the city boasts a wide array of bike paths and lanes--you may want to consider renting bikes for your visit.

 

What can you do in Berlin?

Berlin doesn’t have a true city center: the city was divided for too long and is too geographically broad. Each of its neighborhoods is like its own small city. In my opinion, one of the best things to do in Berlin is simply to wander and see the different neighborhoods, the cafes, parks, flea markets, interesting murals and people. To that end, you’ll find a list of neighborhoods in the next section below, with descriptions of their atmosphere and major attractions. But here, you’ll find a list of the major tourist sites, activities and day trips to consider.

Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate)

Perhaps Berlin’s most iconic attraction, Brandenburg Gate was built by the Prussians in the 1700s and remains a symbol of the city until today. Worth seeing since it’s near many other tourist attractions and it’s an icon of the city.

Checkpoint Charlie

The checkpoint in the Berlin Wall where World War III nearly broke out in the 1960s; now a place where you can pose as a “sexy” guard next to some fake American soldiers. Good for historical reflection, some laughs, and to see the culture of “Ostalgia” (nostalgia for the Soviet kitsch aesthetic of the east) in the surrounding souvenir shops. The museum at Checkpoint Charlie is small, but actually quite good, and provides a quick but comprehensive look at how and why Germany split and reunified.

East Side Gallery/Bornholmer Straße

Most of the Berlin Wall was torn down in the aftermath of reunification, but pieces of it remain throughout the city. The East Side Gallery is the longest piece of the wall still standing; in the 1990s the Berlin government commissioned various artists to paint murals on this portion. Definitely worth a visit. Also worthwhile is Bornholmer Straße, the spot where the wall first opened in 1989; here you’ll find several more pieces of the wall, plus information about what happened when the wall finally opened up. Finally, in Mauerpark ("wall park"), you'll find a chunk of the wall that artists routinely spray paint and deface. 

Gendarmennmarkt

One of the most classically beautiful European spots in Berlin, this 17th century square is located near several other tourist attractions and is definitely worth a walk-through.

Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park

I’ve been to Russia, but this is probably the most Soviet thing I’ve ever seen. The Soviet War Memorial was built over a Russian mass grave in the aftermath of World War II. The windswept plaza features statues of soldiers kneeling over swords and hammers and sickles. Definitely an interesting historical site to visit, especially since surrounding Treptower Park is a beautiful wooded area for biking, walking and boating.

Tempelhof

If you want an example of fascist architecture--and indeed, a taste of what Berlin would look like if Hitler’s Germania plan had succeeded--Templehof is the place to go. Hitler built this airport in the 1930s, and the airport building itself is one of the most imposing structures I’ve ever seen. The airport was actually in use until the 1990s, and now the surrounding fields and runway are a huge park, 10 km in circumference. Recently developers tried to build luxury condominiums on the park, but Berliners protested and the park remained untouched. A great place to sunbathe, fly a kite or have a picnic.

DDR Museum

This museum explains daily life in East Germany, giving visitors a taste of the pros and cons of the DDR. 

Jewish Museum

This museum doesn’t focus on the Holocaust, instead presenting information about the lives of ordinary Jewish people in Germany from the Middle Ages through the Third Reich and into today.

Teufelsberg/CIA listening tower

Teufelsberg translates as “Devil’s Mountain.” This is an artificial hill directly west of Berlin, built out of rubble after WWII. The hill is a great place to relax and look out over the city on a summer day, and plus, it’s home to the CIA listening tower that the US government used to spy on East Germany during the Cold War--a surreal and science fiction-esque structure.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe/Holocaust Museum

This memorial is located right next to Brandenburg Tor; underneath you’ll find a free museum about the Holocaust. The museum is very moving, focusing on individual stories and lives; I would recommend a visit.

Museum Island

Many of Berlin’s classical museums are located on this island, which, like Gendarmarkt, is one of the only classic European sections of Berlin. I would definitely recommend walking through Museum Island and looking at the buildings, and visiting at least one of the museums if you have time (the Pergamon is the most impressive, housing ancient works of art, relics and portions of temples).

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Tiergarten

“The Garden of Beasts” (direct translation) was used as a hunting ground by the Prussian kings, and today functions as Berlin’s Central Park, a huge green space in the center of the city, starting right next to Brandenburger Tor and stretching all the way to the West Berlin neighborhoods.

Bruecke Museum & Berlinische Galerie

The Bruecke Museum, near the huge Gruenewald forest on the western edge of Berlin, is full of German Expressionist works and was famous for inspiring David Bowie when he lived in Berlin. The Berlinische Gallerie has a small but lovely permanent art collection as well as rotating modern exhibits. I liked both of these museums (especially the Bruecke) because they're both pretty manageable blasts of the Berlin art culture/scene.

Outside of Berlin

Here are some suggestions for day trips or overnight trips beyond Berlin’s borders.

Swimming in the city’s many surrounding lakes

Berlin is surrounded by forests and lakes, which offer summer-weary visitors an opportunity to cool off. You could easily bike or take public transportation to one of these areas--just get ready to see lots of nudity (nude sunbathing was a huge part of DDR culture).

Potsdam

Another European-classic area, Potsdam is the town directly east of Berlin, where the Prussian kings built their baroque palaces in the 1700s. It’s basically the Prussian answer to Versailles, but less opulent. I greatly enjoyed my visit to Potsdam because the palace park (they’re all in a giant park) is beautiful, and it’s quite pleasant to walk around outside, have a picnic and admire the opulent gardens, fruit trees and buildings.

Neighborhoods

Now let’s talk about neighborhoods. As I said above, I really encourage visitors to Berlin to just walk around and investigate these different parts of the city. Remember that all of these areas will contain multitudes of small cafes with outdoor seating, little bars with cheap beer, small cafes that become little bars at night, vintage shops, junk shops, stationery shops, bookshops, murals and street art and little parks and squares. Poking around these various elements is one of my favorite things to do.

Prenzlauer Berg (former East)

Prenzlauer Berg is my former neighborhood (or my “kiez,” as the locals say). The area was a traditional working-class neighborhood in the early 20th century and escaped the war largely unscathed, so most of the buildings here are early-20th century tenements renovated and converted into apartments after the fall of the wall (for example, my building was a former tenement from 1904). In the 1990s, Prenzlauer Berg was really cool, home to punks and techno fans alike! But sadly, Prenzlauer Berg is gentrifying, and yuppies pushing strollers are a more likely sight now than artists. But the neighborhood is not without its highpoints. The Kollwitzkiez area in particular is a lovely spot to stroll around. The Mauerpark Flohmarkt is Berlin’s biggest and best-known flea market, and it happens every Sunday just steps from my apartment. A great place to browse crafts and trash-treasures, enjoy some delicious food, and settle down on an amphitheater to watch tourists and locals alike try their hand at karaoke. Besides Mauerpark, Prenzlauer Berg also boasts several biergartens, including one in a castle park about 20 minutes north of my apartment-- a great place to have a beer, relax, then walk around the gardens. I would also recommend the weekly Sunday food market at the Kulturbrauerei, an old beer factory turned into a culture hall!

Neukölln (former west)

Neukölln is one of the neighborhoods where Turkish immigrants settled in the 1960s and 1970s. Five years ago, Neukölln would not appear on this list: the area would have been considered too dangerous. And indeed, some today would say that Neukölln is a little rough around the edges. But I disagree; Neukölln is actually one of my favorite neighborhoods in Berlin. Artists and writers live side-by-side with Turkish immigrant families and young people. The streets smell of incense and shisha, kebab and falafel shops abound, Turkish wedding shops appear on every street corner--and some of the city’s best bars and cafes are tucked in among them. 

Kreuzberg (former west)

Kreuzberg, like Neukölln, saw an influx of Turkish immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s, but it also saw an influx of anarchists, punks and other alternative types who moved into its abandoned buildings and squatted in the 1980s and 1990s. Now most of those punks are grown up and have children, so Kreuzberg is gentrifying, like the rest of the world. But its streets are still worth a visit, a great place to people-watch and explore. Kreuzberg’s Markthalle Neun, a traditional early 20th century food market, hosts an international street food fair every Thursday, which is definitely worth a visit. 

Friedrichshain (former east)

Directly across the river Spree from Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain is a neighborhood of hipsters, artists, tourists and some yuppies too. The first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to Berlin, Friedrichshain boasts the usual combination of shops, art, cafes and restaurants--plus an all-you-can-eat cake and coffee place in an old gymnasium. One street of historical note in Friedrichshain is Karl Marx Allee. This street was home to some of Berlin’s most radical socialists in the 1920s and 1930s. When the Nazis came to power, they cleared the street, bulldozed it and built their own residences. When the Allies bombed the city during the war, they targeted the street, and every building was destroyed. The street passed into Soviet hands, and they built what was then called “Stalinallee,” an imposing street lined with Moscow-style buildings. The street was intended as a gift for Stalin, but alas, he died before he could ever see it.

Mitte (former East)

Mitte is one of the swankiest neighborhoods in Berlin, with much of its former gritty charm gone (most of the city’s infamous cabarets were located here in the 1920s and 1930s, and the neighborhood was also home to many of Berlin’s wealthiest Jewish families). Still, Mitte is a centrally located district and it’s worth seeing, especially sites such as the Moorish-style Neue Synagogue, one of the only pre-war synagogues in Berlin, and Klarchen’s, a turn-of-the-century ballroom where modern visitors can dine and dance.

Ku’damm/Charlottenburg (former West)

Unlike Kreuzberg and Neukölln, the Ku’damm (Berlin’s answer to the Champs Elysées) and Charlottenburg are true West Berlin, and as such, perhaps lack some of the East's and anarchist West's gritty charm. But I would recommend visiting the Ku’damm just to contrast it with the rest of Berlin, and because the street is home to a slick but hip (as opposed to grungy but hip) rooftop bar with delicious cocktails that overlooks the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a church that was bombed during WWII and never repaired (a deliberate choice to remind the city of the horrors of war). Also in this area you'll find the Schwarzes Cafe, which was once the only spot in West Berlin open all night, and thus attracted artists, prostitutes, and other late-night characters. A good spot to stop for a slice of cake!

Food & Drink

Beer flows pretty freely in Berlin, and it’s rare to head off on any sort of excursion without first stopping into a Späti (a late-night convenience shop) and picking up a Berliner Pilsner for a euro. Besides beer, you’ll find a proliferation of donor kebab and falafel. I can’t say you feel great about yourself after eating a donor, but it is pretty delicious, and I would recommend a visit to my favorite donor restaurant in Kreuzberg near Kottbusser Tor (Hasir). Berlin has also seen something of a hamburger renaissance in the past five years, taking an American tradition and putting a delicious spin on it. My favorite burger place is International Berlin Burger in Neukölln. Currywurst, which is a traditional German wurst with Indian curry powder on it, is available on many street corners, and definitely worth a try. As for traditional German food, Markthalle Neun runs a companion restaurant that serves traditional German-Austrian fare for reasonable prices, and the Drei Schwestern biergarten in a nineteenth-century former hospital is also a good spot to pick up traditional food. Finally, Germans are obsessed with eating cakes, so definitely stop into a bakery, especially on a Sunday, for that true German experience. 

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Nightlife

Confession: I went clubbing once when I lived in Berlin. It was my second week there. It was a sex club. I left early. Anyway, I hear that Berghain, a club on the border between KreuzBERG and FriedrichsHAIN (get it?) is Berlin’s most notorious partying establishment, and indeed, perhaps the most notorious partying establishment in all of Europe. My favorite nightlife activity in Berlin is to simply visit one of its many cool, laidback bars. You won't have trouble finding one of these. Trust me. 

So there you have it! If you're going to Berlin, I am envious of you, and I hope you find my suggestions and historical factoids of great interest and help. Have fun! 

 

WisCon 2017: the Schedule

I'm heading to WisCon, the feminist science fiction and fantasy convention, in Madison this weekend! I'm so very excited to catch up with old friends from Odyssey, Clarion, AND my online writing group--and for my first paneling experience! Here's my schedule of events:

PANELS: 

Wait...This is About Sex?      

Saturday, May 27, 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., in Capitol A. 

All about secret sexual symbols and themes in our favorite fairytales.

Red as Blood: Women and Gothic Horror      

Saturday, May 27, 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., in Caucus

All about women in the Gothic, and where we see this oh-so-delightful genre heading in the future. 

EVENTS:

All Our Favorite Nightmares, Obsessions, and Inhuman Familiars    

Saturday, May 27, 4 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. at Michelangelo's Coffee House

I'll be reading with my critique partners Julie C. Day, Kat Köhler, and Sarah Read. Come for the cool dragon poster (seriously, it's really cool); stay for the dark literary feminist fiction. 

Book release fête: Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories

Saturday, May 27, 8 p.m., location TBA 

I'll be celebrating the release of my first short story collection, Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories. The location is TBA (stay tuned), but there will definitely be free drinks and snacks, as well as frolicking. 

Hope to see you there! 

 

RELEASE DAY FOR SPEAKING TO SKULL KINGS

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Well, friends, the day has arrived. Today, May 19, 2017, marks the release of my first book into the wild. Yes, it's true: Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories is now officially for sale at JournalStone and Amazon. That means that if you ordered an ebook, it should be on your e-reader right now, and if you ordered a paper copy, it should be on its way to you as we speak. 

I want to give a shoutout to Jess Landry over at JournalStone for inviting me to send her a collection so many months ago, and for all of her invaluable comments and insights during the editorial process. There are many, many other people to thank, and you shall see them in my book acknowledgements (which, as my husband says, are long enough to be a story unto themselves) but I want to extend a general thank you to everyone who is reading this and everyone who has ordered or is planning to order the book. I hope you enjoy it! Don't forget to head on over to Amazon and/or Goodreads to tell the world what you thought of it! 

Also, if you're like, who is this Emily, and why is she always going on about matters both eldritch and writerly, well, check out the interview I did with Hellnotes earlier this month (in which I talk about feminism, journalism, and witches) and the interview I did with Simon Bestwick's The Lowdown last week (about my favorite piece of published writing and Berlin and a haunted healing spa in the Mojave desert). 

Also, if you are a New England personage, don't forget that I'm doing a book reading/Q&A/signing at Trident Booksellers on Newbury Street on June 20. Tell all your friends! And come on by and ask me anything! I will also be at WisCon next week (more details on that forthcoming) appearing on panels, reading from the book, and perhaps having an impromptu book release party, so, if you are a Midwest personage, I hope to see you there! 

And happy reading! 

 

 

  

 

March 2017: the Happenings

Hi all! I decided to start a new feature wherein I use this blog to round up all my writing-related news each month--and, perhaps most importantly, to talk about all the great books I read every month in my quest to read 70 books this year (I know, it's not THAT much for a writer, but, I work full-time, so cut a girl some slack). 

March 2017 is a particularly splendid month to start, given that I recently announced that I've placed my first collection of short stories with the publisher JournalStone, and that it will be coming out in May! The book is called Speaking to Skull Kings; it contains ten reprints and two original stories, and you can preorder it here. I wrote all these stories between 2012 and 2014, a time in my life when I was obsessed with abandonment through death or otherwise. In those years, my beloved grandmother, who made peanut butter sandwiches for the squirrels so they wouldn't starve in the snow, died before my eyes at my parents' house; my other grandmother died four months later. My first boyfriend, who I'd dated for four years, dumped me; subsequent adventures in dating proved no less painful. My college friends left Boston, and I made new friends and they left too. I was in this crucible when I crammed all these emotions into fever dreams of old Europe and haunted New England and wrote these stories. They are laced with all the feelings that made me into a (sort of, loosely speaking) grownup. I hope you enjoy them. 

In other news: I placed two stories this month. The first, Seven Steps to Beauty for a Girl Named Avarice, is coming out in John Joseph Adams' Nightmare sometime later this year. This story is a twisted fairytale that I will synopsize thusly: "What if witches, but also murder?" But really, this story stemmed from me mulling on female beauty standards, and the trope of the old witch woman losing her beauty and committing magic crimes to get her beauty back and then getting punished hard for it, and the way that ladies' bosoms are always shifting beneath their dresses in fiction, even now in the year of our lord 2017. This is my give-no-fucks story and I hope you will give no fucks too and read it. 

The second story, Evangeline and the Forbidden Lighthouse, lives very close to my heart, and is perhaps one of my favorite stories I've ever written. Oh, and it got me into Clarion last year! It takes place in a seaside community on the coast of Maine, a part of the world where I've spent much of my life, and it tells the story of a friendship between a girl who vacations at the beach every summer and a girl who lives there year-round. It's about this fraught, intense relationship between the two girls, and the sea, and growing up and fate and choice and of course ocean magic. The story will appear in Interzone in May of this year, which, I would just like to point out, is a magazine that once published Angela Carter.

On the non-fiction side of the tracks, my interview with Loren Coleman of the International Cryptozoology Museum went up in the Financial Times this month. You can read it here. Loren is a fascinating fellow: since the age of 14, he's been researching, writing about, and chasing cryptids (animals unknown to science, such as Bigfoot or the yeti). I spent about three hours with him at his museum up in Portland, Maine last October, during which we talked about topics ranging from the Feejee mermaid to the creepy clown epidemic of 2016. 

Finally, I read six books, many of which I loved!

First, Alexander Chee's Queen of the Night, a meta-opera Second Empire/Third Republic Paris extravaganza of intrigue and brothel and velvet. My Clarion friends described this book to me as "Emily catnip," and boy, were they right. This book is so over-the-top that it makes Phantom of the Opera look like a restrained, hyper-realistic work of minimalism. By which I mean I LOVED it.

Second, Leaving Lucy Pear, by Anna Solomon, a historical novel about two women's interconnected lives in 1920s Massachusetts. Points for portraying the travails of New England assimilationist Jews and for dealing with oft-untouched historical topics such as contraception, sexuality, and mental illness. Points off for not being weird enough for me, and for a pretty problematic plot twist. Overall, though, a perfectly pleasant read.

Third, Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay, which is Gay's new short story collection. I loved this book, as I love pretty much everything Gay touches. It was funny, and heartbreaking, and so compulsively readable, and the characters were so human. Highly recommend. 

Fourth, Margaret the First, by Danielle Dutton, a stylized account of the life of Margaret Cavendish, an influential female writer of the 17th century. This book is another one of those historical novels that's written with inventive prose and deep interiority; Wolf Hall comes to mind as another one in this category. I found the book perfectly enjoyable, and it certainly deals with an important topic, but also, I finished it like two weeks ago and can barely remember it, so that probably doesn't say great things about it. 

Fifth, In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders. Confession! I had never read George Saunders until I opened this tome! I wasn't sure if I was going to like it, and to be honest, the first story did nothing to assuage my fears. But I'm pleased to report that I did, in the end, like it! George Saunders can write a mean dystopia-that's-hilarious-but-also-makes-you-want-to-cry. It is a skill I greatly admire in an author. 

Finally, Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh, a "literary thriller" about a misanthropic 24-year-old woman living in a small Massachusetts town in the 1960s who gets sucked into a CRIME. I'm not sure what a "literary thriller" is--I think it's just, like, a thriller, but it's okay for literary people to like it? Whatever, marketers. Anyway, I won't hold that label against it: Eileen was great. I loved reading about a female character who was really, truly, deeply unlikeable, who was 24 and unmarried and didn't have her shit figured out at all. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Read the book. You'll see what I mean. 

Anyway, that's all this month, my friends. Here's to surviving and fighting the current political climate, to good books and spring.  

 

 

 

Behind the scenes with Irmela Mensah-Schramm

My article about Irmela Mensah-Schramm, a Berlin woman who's spent the past thirty years altering and removing rightwing graffiti in Germany, came out in the Financial Times today. Although I wrote in the article about the challenges that Irmela faces in the course of her missions, I didn't have the opportunity to describe the encounters that I personally witnessed during the afternoon I spent with her, and how she responded to altercations with irate bystanders and with the police (spoiler alert: she responded with nothing short of sheer badassery).

I met Irmela in Zehlendorf, an upper-class former-West neighborhood, all villas and apartment blocks hastily erected in the 1950s to accommodate the American military members living near the airbase there. She's a short woman with white bobbed hair, glasses, and a canvas tote bag on which she's written "Gegen Nazis" (against Nazis) in Sharpie. She immediately brought me and my husband Nate (the photographer) to a scrawled marker pen message on a column in a walkway next to the subway station: "Islamismus muss raus." (Islamism must go). Smiling and chatting, Irmela brandished her own pen and changed the graffiti to say "Islamophobia must go." To tackle another "Islamismus muss raus" on a nearby street sign, she clambered up on a cement wall. "Not bad for a seventy-year-old, eh?" she said, grinning.While Irmela was removing and altering these Sharpied messages, I noticed she was attracting dirty looks from several of the people passing through the walkway. She ignored them, for the most part, rolling her eyes at me when she received one particularly foul grimace.

Once she'd finished with the anti-Islam graffiti, Irmela asked us to take the bus with her to another part of Zehlendorf, where she'd heard someone had spray painted "Merkel muss weg" (Merkel must go, a rightwing slogan) on a cement wall. En route, she showed us a stack of photographs of all the graffiti she'd found lately, as well as pictures of her cats and pictures of her favorite flowers she'd seen that spring.

We hopped off the bus on the side of a road running parallel to the highway leading out of Berlin. The road cut through one of the birch and red-pine forests on the city's western edge, with high-rise apartment buildings along one side. On the far side of the highway, we could see the now-decommissioned checkpoint that had divided West Berlin from East Germany in the days of the wall.

Irmela pulled out her pink spray can and bent to work. She explained that she was changing "Merkel muss weg" to "Merke! Hass muss weg!" (Remember! Hate must go!) But while she worked, a middle-aged man in a black jacket appeared from the park around the high-rise apartment building. "What are you doing?" he asked her. He threatened to call the police. He aggressively asked me who I was, why I was taking notes, why Nate was taking pictures. He threatened her.

And she did not care.

She told him to call the police. "They know who I am," she proclaimed. She waved him off, kept spraying. Another woman pulled off the highway to scream at us and take pictures, presumably for evidence. Unfazed, Irmela finished what she was doing and led us into a pedestrian tunnel under the highway off-ramp. As we walked through, she noticed another, "Merkel muss weg" on the cement wall. She pulled out her spray can.

Then the police officer showed up.

He asked what we were doing, why we were vandalizing the tunnel. He took all of our identification cards (Irmela threw hers on the ground at his feet instead of handing it to him). He escorted us out of the tunnel. He told me that it angered him personally that Irmela had defaced the tunnel, since it's very expensive to clean off graffiti. "Then where were you when this said 'Merkel muss weg?'" Irmela shouted at him.

The officer called for back-up, two younger officers in a car. Nate texted four of our friends: "We are about to be arrested. Call us in an hour to make sure we're not in jail." After some confusion, some frenzied radioed conversations, the older officer left, leaving his two colleagues to deal with us.

And over the course of the next ten minutes, I watched Irmela completely and utterly charm them.

She showed them her photographs of the graffiti she had defaced. She pushed them, kindly but firmly, into saying what they thought of each of the defacements. "Should I have vandalized this slogan?" she asked. "How about this swastika? What do you think? Come on, you agree with me, don't you?" I watched the officers' body language relax into sympathy and identification. "All right, personally, I agree with you," one of them finally conceded. "I just have to do my job."

They eventually let all of us go, but told Irmela they would have to send her a fine in the mail. We climbed on the bus to the next subway station, Irmela excited but unfazed. She grabbed both our hands and squeezed tight before we caught the train back to East Berlin and home.

Over the course of the summer, Irmela and I stayed in touch as I finished the article; she told me about the other graffiti she's found, the "Fuck Asyl" (fuck asylum seekers), the new "Merkel must go," the swastikas and the 88, which is a neo-Nazi symbol for the Heil Hitler salute.

Germany is, for obvious reasons, a country that understands the dangers of the creeping and insidious power of fascist and xenophobic discourse. "Citizens! Do not allow the intellectual and soulful climate of our country to once again become poisoned by right-wing nationalist ideology!" read a sign outside an art school in Dresden that I saw earlier that spring. Germany also understands the power of stickers, stamps and other ephemera to influence public opinion and political discourse; I learned about Irmela in the first place at an exhibit at the German History Museum about that very subject. Irmela is an example of someone who understands all of this and who long ago decided that she cared more about shaping this discourse than about following the law or even her own personal safety. She refuses to take the safe road, to defer to any authority other than her own system of graffiti removal and alteration that she designed thirty years ago. She started seeing these symbols, and now, she can't stop.

Chiral Mad 3

Guys, I'm late to the party here, but the anthology Chiral Mad 3 hit Amazon and bookshops on March 28. The anthology contains my story "The Black Crow of Boddinstraße," one of the first pieces I wrote after moving to Berlin in 2014. It's the story of a Nebelkrähe (gray and black crows that you often see picking through trash or fluttering around Berlin) looking for a home during one of those impossibly dark, why-do-we-live-so-far-north German winters. Also the Nebelkrähe might be a ghost, obviously, because it's pretty impossible for me to write a story without at least one ghost or haunting. I didn't make this lamp for my old apartment for nothing:

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1509150_10201548984669575_1058627094_n.jpg

But I digress. Go forth, check out the anthology and its impressive lineup!

This is the right way to LARP the Victorian era

So I think we can all agree: it's kind of the worst that that couple who's chosen to live in the 19th century haven't acknowledged that the Victorian era was rife with social problems, racism, poverty, sexism, and all that decidedly non-cosplay-worthy stuff.

But I'd also like to point out that, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Chrismans have chosen to embrace all the LAMEST parts of Victorian times, while ignoring all the awesome parts. Let me put it this way: when I read Victorian novels, I don't read them for their celebration of virtuous bourgeois morals.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if I were going to LARP the Victorian era, it would look something like this:

Portraits of his first wife hang all over the manor. When I hurry through the halls at nights, the portraits' eyes follow me.

Once I'm out from under my governess' thumb, I'll start wearing bloomers and reading shocking novels, like a regular Gibson Girl.

I wander the cliffs by the seawalk on foggy nights, crying out for my lost lover. As the years go by, I start to wonder: was he ever a man, or was he always a ghost?

Absinthe.

The plucky journalist knocks on my door, requests an interview. "Aren't you worried that your involvement with the suffragette movement will damage your reputation?" she asks. It's only after we become fast friends that I discover that she has a terrible secret of her own.

The cemetery calls my name at night. I've started to answer it.

I take a hansom cab to the East End. I'm late for a mysterious meeting at an opium den in the docklands.

The spiritualist's eyes widen, fearful, when she touches my hand.

Vivisection.

Dracula.

Sale: Hungry Ghosts to Black Static

I'm so pleased to announce that I've sold my short story "Hungry Ghosts" to the superb British horror/dark fantasy market Black Static. This is my first sale of 2015 and the first time I've sold a story that takes place in my homeland (my homeland referring in this case to the forests of northern New England).

The story is currently slated for release in March, both in print and online. It's a story about alienation and fitting in (or not) and family curses and the particular nature of New England ghosts. The haunted house in the tale--all faded wallpaper and creaking floorboards--is based on a house where I once lived, outside Boston. I hope you all like it (the story, not the house. The house was both a miserable and magical place to live).

Sale: The Emerald Coat and Other Wishes

I'm excited to announce that my short story "The Emerald Coat and Other Wishes" will appear in the spring 2015 issue of Interfictions Online: A Journal of Interstitial Arts. Interfictions and the Interstitial Arts Foundation promote exactly the sort of art and literature that I'm interested in: unclassifiable work that straddles boundaries. Besides, Interfictions produced several great anthologies and now publishes fabulous authors in its online magazine, so I'm quite excited to contribute to it.

I found the inspiration for this story over the summer while reading about the dark side of Victorian fashion: garments that poisoned their owners because they were treated or manufactured with arsenic or other poisons. The result is a tale about museums, London, death, World War I, family curses, immortality, and, of course, the dark side of Victorian fashion. You know. The usual.

Sales: The City Dreams of Bird-Men & Speaking to Skull Kings

I'm pleased to close out the month of May by announcing two more sales. "Speaking to Skull Kings," a strange slipstream-y dark fairytale about two lost children in the woods, will appear in Betwixt Magazine in July 2014. And "The City Dreams of Bird-Men," a dark fantasy set in early modern Prague and involving bones, plague and heartbreak, will appear in Fantasy Scroll Magazine, a new market that's already published lots of award-winning and exemplary authors. I'm very excited to have found a home for both of these stories, and to appear in these exciting new markets.

Sale: Not the Grand Duke's Dancer

I'm quite happy to announce that my short story "Not the Grand Duke's Dancer" will appear in issue #5 of The Dark, an online magazine of dark and strange fiction. This is my first Odyssey story to find a home-- the story began its life as a much shorter piece that I read at the Odyssey Science Fiction and Fantasy Slam. This is a tradition at the workshop where halfway through the hectic six weeks of writing and critiquing, Odyssey students take a break to road trip from Manchester, N.H. to a Barnes and Noble in Nashua, N.H., where they read flash fiction pieces. This was one of my first experiences reading my writing out loud, and while it was nerve-wracking (my parents were there!), I do think it's an essential skill for any writer to develop. At any rate, when I returned home from the workshop, I expanded the piece to its current form, and here we are.

This story contains many of my favorite things: bones! Train travel through Europe! A veiled reference to Rasputin! It also switches settings quite a few times in its 3400 words. I'm a very visual person/writer, and I love designing sets and settings and scenery for my stories. When I was writing this story, I referenced several places and cities that I've visited. As a preview of the tale, I thought I'd include some of the photos that I used to write the story:


Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, an important setting in the story.

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DSC01153

Also pictured: 18-year-old me, imagination whirring, no doubt. 

Hot air balloons rising over Stockholm. This image has always stuck with me--I took this picture on a lazy summer evening, at about 9 p.m., because it stays light quite late in Scandinavia in the summer. I was sitting with one of my best friends by the water, eating violet ice cream. I'm glad I was able to insert such a happy memory into a story.

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муми 023

A view of Munich. One pivotal scene in this story takes place in a cursed church in Munich, which I based on the Frauenkirche, the church on the left in this picture, which has several interesting legends attached to it.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Highgate Cemetery in London, which I visited when I was studying abroad in London, because I do love visiting cemeteries (to no one's surprise). Karl Marx is buried here, and many people believe it inspired several scenes in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

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30549_1308842644247_7235582_n

Of course, this story isn't all fun and games and frolicking through Europe on a magical tour. I also drew on negative and bittersweet experiences--especially those involving relationships-- to write this story. Which just goes to show you that the old cliche is true: no experience is ever wasted for a writer.

Anyway, I'm pleased this story found a home, and I hope you enjoy it when it comes out in August.

Sale: The Rondelium Girl of Rue Marseilles

So very pleased to announce that Michael Bailey of Written Backwards has accepted a story of mine, "The Rondelium Girl of Rue Marseilles," for his upcoming horror/science fiction anthology Qualia Nous. Michael Bailey is the editor extraordinaire behind Chiral Mad 2 (my first professional sale) and I'm honestly so excited to appear in another of his anthologies, alongside other Chiral Mad 2 authors and plenty of other wonderful writers.

I came up with the idea for "Rondelium Girl" while reading The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era, a history book that I reviewed for the Christian Science Monitor while wearing my journalist/book critic hat. In the book, author Craig Nelson mentions an American dancer, Loie Fuller, who was famous in Belle Epoque Paris for performances that incorporated billowing phosphorescent veils. At one point, Fuller asked Marie and Pierre Curie for advice on creating "butterfly wings of radium" for her performances. Well, at the phrase "butterfly wings of radium," my imagination was off to the races. You'll have to read the story to find out which direction I headed off in (hint: it includes nostalgia and regret and mad science and chestnuts).

Here's one of the reference images I used while writing, a painting of Loie Fuller by Austrian artist Koloman Moser:

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Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 11.53.32 PM

And here's the Bois de Vincennes, a large park on the eastern side of Paris (its western counterpart is the more famous Bois de Boulogne) and an important setting in the story.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here's to spring and story sales and the dollar oysters and gin & tonic that I'm going to go consume tonight to celebrate!

Apply to Odyssey. Now.

A year ago today, I was sitting at my desk in my old office, obsessively checking my email as the work day wound down. I had applied early decision to the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and according to the website, on Feb. 28 I'd find out whether my application had been accepted early or held over for the regular decision period in April. How would I find out, I wondered? A phone call? An email? A letter waiting for me in my mailbox when I returned to my apartment that night? AN OWL?! 

At last, at nearly 5 p.m., my stomach roiling, I clicked over to my Gmail tab and saw I had three emails. From Odyssey leader Jeanne Cavelos. I had gotten in. I had gotten in! I raced out to the office parking lot to call my dad and tell him the good news, and for the first time in my post-college young professional life, I found myself crying tears of joy in my office parking lot.

Now, a year later, I can say with confidence that leaving my job, my apartment, and my life in Boston for the summer to attend Odyssey was one of the best decisions--if not the best decision--I've ever made. Here's how Odyssey works: you spend six weeks living at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., taking classes, writing, and critiquing your classmates' work. At Odyssey, I learned more about writing than I ever thought possible. I met wonderful guest authors. I made friends who I still critique with, rant about rejection letters to, go to for writing advice. At Odyssey, I barely slept or worked out or ate anything but bacon and kettle corn for six weeks, but it was all worth it.

Thanks to Odyssey, I have the tools I need to become the writer I want to become. Yes, there's still a long road ahead, but if it weren't for Odyssey, I wouldn't even be on that road.

So if you're at all serious about writing, you should apply to Odyssey. You can find all the information here. The early application deadline has already passed, but regular applications aren't due until April 8. I realize that not everyone is 24 years old and has the flexibility to pick up and leave for the summer, but if you are in a place in your life where you can, do it. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Chiral Mad 2!

This week, I had the exhilarating experience of seeing a short story of mine in print for the first time. Chiral Mad 2 was released on Dec. 13, and while my copy hasn't arrived yet, I was able to take a look at my aunt's copy, which arrived when I was staying at her house on Tuesday. I can't wait for my own copy to arrive so I can read all the stories, but for now: this book looks glorious, and I am so excited that my story is part of a collection with so many talented and wonderful authors. Last Christmas season, I was scribbling the first draft of "Henley House" in my notebook in a cafe in Copley Square; this Christmas, I get to see it in this book. I can't think of a more fitting end to what has surely been the craziest and most eventful year of my life thus far.

In other news: the Kickstarter for Steampunk World, which will include my story The Firebird, was fully funded last week! But the fundraising continues--the editors have set several stretch goals, which include the possibility of a volume two and interior illustrations for the book (read more about the stretch goals at editor Sarah Hans' blog). The editors have offered some great backer rewards, so check it out if you are so inclined.

Sale: The Firebird

Today I found out that my short story "The Firebird" will appear in the forthcoming anthology Steampunk World, edited by Sarah Hans. The philosophy behind this anthology is that steampunk should be more inclusive and not simply focus on Victorian England. And while anyone who knows me knows I have some serious Victorian England love, I also completely agree that steampunk--and every genre, for that matter--should branch out and focus on other cultures and settings. So I was very excited to hear about this anthology, and I am even more excited to learn that my story is going to be a part of it.

firebird
firebird

This news was especially exciting for me because "The Firebird" is my first published story that takes place in Russia. I've been fascinated by Russia since I was a child, and my first trip overseas was on a three-week Russian exchange program in high school. This story takes place in the city where I stayed on that exchange program. Veliky Novgorod is one of the oldest cities in Russia, situated on the road between St. Petersburg and Moscow. It's ringed in by a kremlin, presided over by the gold domes of St. Sophia Cathedral. The image to the right is a postcard I purchased when I first visited eight years ago, showing St. Sophia's. The image above the postcard is a word cloud I made of "The Firebird" (by "I," I mean Wordle). The story takes place in the later years of the Russian Revolution, and involves revenge, romance, a Russian countess with a jewel-encrusted brass bird tail,  a revolver-cuff, and lots of snow. To write it, I read the book Former People, by Douglas Smith, an account of what happened to various members of the Russian nobility during and after the Revolution. I gathered plenty of fascinating details from that book for this story, and I would encourage anyone who's interested in this period to read it.

At any rate, I'm very excited for this story to appear in Steampunk World. The anthology is being funded by a Kickstarter campaign; more details on that to follow.

Write for your life

The first of the month just passed, which meant it was time to make my monthly story list. I've been making lists of all the final and rough drafts I want to complete every month, to keep myself on track for my goal of sending 20 completed stories out to market by the new year.

These lists represent something that I've realized about writing this past year: writing is a job. Not a hobby. Not a bohemian art best pursued in a coldwater garret. It's a career like any other, except it's much harder and far more competitive than most careers.

It took me some time to realize this. For most of my life, I thought I could write during summers home from college or here and there for an hour or two after work. I didn't understand that if I wanted a career in this field, I needed to invest the time and resources that I would have invested in any other potential career. If I'd decided I wanted to be, say, a social worker, I would have quit my job as a journalist and gone back to school for social work. But for some reason I was dense about the time and commitment it takes to become a writer.

Unfortunately, society at large seems to have a tenuous grasp on this notion of writing-as-career. Writers who have "made it" enjoy tremendous cultural cache, but new writers often must face the fact that some of our acquaintances, friends and family simply don't care or understand what we do with our time. For example: I applied to the Odyssey Writing Workshop in winter 2013 to figure out if I actually wanted to pursue a career as a fiction writer. When I was accepted into the workshop, I began to make plans to leave my journalism job. I received a variety of responses from the people in my life. The majority were quite supportive, but a few implied that I was throwing away my journalism career and turning my back on my responsibilities. Others congratulated me in an odd way: they lauded me for leaving my job to go "be young," as I had started working right after college and never had the chance for a free-spirited phase. I think some of these well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning people thought that Odyssey was the equivalent of a six-week basket-weaving camp, not an intensive program that, to me, was the equivalent of going back to school for a career change.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what these naysayers think or how they perceive the choices writers must make to build fulfilling and productive careers. What's important is that you view writing as your career, and that you are willing to invest the necessary resources in it.

(A caveat: for some people, writing is a hobby, something they do when they're feeling inspired or want catharsis. That's absolutely fine. But if you want to write as a career, you cannot treat it as a hobby).

So if I could give advice to anyone who's where I was a year ago: spend time writing, revising and submitting. Self-identify as a writer. Apply to Odyssey, Clarion, or another intensive workshop. Ignore the people who accuse you of eschewing the responsibilities of adulthood to go pursue some hobby. Writing is a career. Invest in it.

Philadelphia & the importance of travel

Besides writing and reading, traveling is probably the most important activity for my writing career. Anyone who knows me knows I love to travel--I'm always packing up my ridiculously oversized hiking backpack for a weekend trip to a different city in the Northeast or for some European extravaganza. But although I love to travel, I don't equate it with going on vacation: for me, traveling is part of my work, an opportunity to overload my senses with new places, buildings, natural vistas, people, food, etc., then go back to my hotel/hostel/friend's couch at the end of the day and scribble new story ideas and observations in my notebook until I collapse into sleep. I think some people view traveling as a frivolous activity, but for me, it's an integral part of my writing process. I'm a visual, setting-oriented writer, and I don't think I would have written 90 percent of the fiction words I've written if I hadn't invested so much time and money in traveling over the years.

On that note, I visited Philadelphia for the first time last weekend, to spend time with my dear friend Laura who moved there for graduate school and to see the city. While there, I visited two museums: the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Mutter Museum.

At the UPenn Museum, my friend and fellow Odfellow Brad Hafford showed me around the collections. I learned about the culture of ancient Ur and about Ur's tombs, such as the "great death pit" where archaeologists found dozens of bodies of people who may or may not have committed suicide so they could journey to the after life with their queen. Naturally, these tombs, combined with the culture's overall aesthetic (limestone statues, ram's heads on the arms of throne chairs, make-up pigment stored in shells, lapis and carnelian cloak-pins) gave me an idea for a story called Girl Guards of the Afterlife, which I will be working on this week.

The next day it was off to the Mutter Museum, the famous museum of medical oddities that I had been waiting forever to attend. This 19-century-style museum features cramped shelves and rooms full of objects of the macabre, creepy and just plain gross variety.

I saw a liver that had been mutilated by a corset; the body of the Soap Lady, a woman whose body turned entirely to soap after she died; the largest skeleton on display in North America; dozens and dozens of white polished inner ears displayed in tiny bell jars; and, perhaps the most macabre part, fetuses with birth defects, all floating in glass jars and displayed in one corner of the museum's downstairs room.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the wall of skulls, collected by a 19th century scientist in Eastern Europe. Each of the skulls had a placard describing what was known about these people before they shuffled off their mortal coils. Some of my favorites:

-Prague, age 19, suicide by potassium cyanide because of unfaithfulness of his mistress. -Famous criminal, guilty of many atrocities, captured with his band of 10 and hanged in a castle. -Ravenna, age 20, embroiderer in silk, died of tuberculosis.

Needless to say, I came up with some story ideas at the Mutter Museum as well.

I spent the rest of the weekend strolling the streets of Philadelphia with my lovely friends. Philadelphia's City Hall has ravens on it! Ravens, I tell you! (They're up around the base of the tower, in case you can't tell from this picture).

So yes, this is why I travel: because it invariably piques my imagination and leaves me pondering new story ideas on the bus/train/airplane/car ride home.

Of course, it's not always practical to live the life of a traveler: we all have homes, and responsibilities. But I think it's possible to live as a traveler even in your own city: keen observation, curiosity and a sense of adventure can turn up inspiration in even the most familiar of places.

Hello to the wide world of blogging

I can no longer contain myself: it's time to start blogging.

I've wanted to start a blog about my nascent writing career for awhile, but the time never seemed right. It's easy to stumble into the rabbit hole of productive procrastination (and I am quite the expert on procrastination) and spend too much time blogging about writing and not enough time actually writing.

But at the same time, blogging can be a great way to keep in touch with other writers. I also think it's important for writers to chronicle our careers, to talk about the pitfalls and successes and truths of the trade. A year ago,  I was determined to embark on a fiction writing career but had few connections, no beta readers, no guarantees I was going to get into a workshop for the summer of 2013, and no idea how to push forward with my career. Reading blogs by other writers in various stages of their careers was invaluable for me as I sorted out how to proceed into the mysterious world of fiction writing.

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Image

So I weighed these pros and cons, and decided I would allow myself to start blogging when I made my first pro-rate short story sale. And, lo and behold, at the beginning of the month Michael Bailey of Written Backwards bought my short story "A Guide to Etiquette and Comportment for the Sisters of Henley House" for the Chiral Mad 2 anthology. I am, needless to say, extremely excited about this, and I've decided that now is finally the right time to start blogging.

On this blog you can expect to read about my fiction writing career; thoughts about the art and craft of writing (especially the three-act structure. I have MANY thoughts about the three-act structure); my travels and how they inspire my fiction; books I'm reading; my obsession with the darkly beautiful and the macabre; and, occasionally, my other interests: fiber arts and running.

So welcome! Let us embark on this strange and haunting journey together.