New to the Site: Free Fiction

I’ve decided to place some of my shorter stories on my website. The first is a tiny mite (that bites): 300 words inspired by the life of James Tiptree Jr.

This flash was written after I’d finished reading Julie Phillips’s James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, one of the most fascinating biographies I’ve read. Clearly, I was still reeling from it. Phillips’s biography captures in an exploration of Sheldon’s life what Tiptree’s stories did in fiction?—a sense of profound alienation and longing, self-doubt, but also a stunning and strange hopefulness. Sheldon’s life, in the end, mirrored her art.

My tiny story, “Wherein Alice Finally Gets the Body She’d Always Wanted,” I hope is seen as a gesture of love toward one of my favourite writers.

The Cicada Year

I’m pleased to announce that my short story, “The Cicada Year,” has been published by Bundoran Press in their anthology 49th Parallels: Alternative Canadian Histories and Futures.

In a response to Canada 150 (the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, for any non-Canadians who might read this), Bundoran Press put together a collection of stories and poems from across the country comprised of visions of Canada’s past and future.

scientific cicada illustration
Cicada illustration from: ’A monograph of oriental Cicadidæ’ By W.L. Distant

“The Cicada Year” came together at the axis of two intersecting narrative lines. The first was a story told to me by a friend, like so many stories we are hearing lately, of an aggressive professor pursuing a student—and how the ways in which women are taught to respond to such aggression (with politeness and deference usually) can trap one in a timeline over which one often feels little control.

Similarly, the second story line—about the effects of climate change and how narratives around climate change are being talked about for various political aims—is one about how attempts to control a narrative often lead to unintended consequences.

This is an early story of mine and the first in which I tried to ratchet up the tension for a thriller-like pace. I’m pleased it’s found a home with so many other great Canadian stories.

Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo Reader Reactions

As “Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo” is my first story in a professional publication and, therefore, first to receive a fairly wide readership, it is also my first story to garner reactions from people who are not friends and family. It’s very exciting to have strangers react to one’s work. It’s especially exciting when the emotions elicited are the ones intended.

Here are some reader reactions to the story so far. First, from the Escape Pod forums:

I loved this story!
The world of the story felt very real, and certain details really stuck with me. The fact that the vardos were supposedly secondhand, for example. The romani people were so mistreated that even in a fantasy of the best-case scenario, the government still skimped on the vardos, getting them cheaper and second-hand.

This one had a delayed reaction for me, the true horror didn’t hit me until later. Still not sure what was up with the children. Loved it all the same.

I almost didn’t listen to this story, because I assumed the title referred to the historical, 20th century Holocaust. The story is disturbing as much for what it omits as for what it tells about this kinder, gentler, campaign of extermination. How long have they been in their Matrix-style suspended animation/virtual reality at the Static? How many of the characters are real, and how many exist only in virtual reality? Are the children real? How did Peter get into the Romani women’s “world”?

From post comments:

Truly beautiful and haunting story.

From Twitter:

From Email:

Wow, my friend, that story is intense! I really enjoyed it! I’m still wrapping my head around it – deserves a re-read/re-listen.
Thank you to everyone who has read the story so far. I’m so pleased that readers seem to be both captivated and horrified by it.

“Baro Porrajmos, or Love in the Vardo” is out!

Today, my first fiction publication went live.

This story is a result of me putting in some real effort to learn more about my Romani grandmother. Because of how my brain works, these efforts produced a near-future dystopia.*

In “Love in the Vardo,” I attempted to tap into what little I know of the Gunnell/Lee line, which I think comes out in the details included about Shuri’s father, Anya’s sardonic humour, and Edingel Lee’s gentle authority. There is a lot of my family in this piece, though it is perhaps fairly well hidden to all but me.

Many hours of research went into Romani language and religious customs for this piece. For this I got a lot of information from essays in the book Gypsy Law: Romani Legal Traditions and Culture—specifically from Dr. Ian Hancock’s contributions.

There are a few tropes I play with in this story—tropes which any Romani person would immediately recognize, but someone outside of the culture would probably accept as rote. The first (and probably most offensive) is the idea of the “dirty gypsy”. In the book We Are the Romani People, Ian Hancock writes about this trope. Even though hygiene is extremely important in Romani culture, often poverty and outright persecution resulted in reduced access to running water and other resources:

Given equal access to the normal amenities, we are a people who are fastidious about personal cleanliness and hygiene. The time spent in the concentration camps during the Porrajmos was unbearable for our people, as it is today in refugee centres, where little or no provision is made for maintaining strict hygiene or for preparing food in a ritually clean way.

Shuri’s memories of her father are very much rooted in memories of my own father. I grew up in a working class family, which meant that my father worked outside the house and also did a lot of his own maintenance and construction at home. My sister especially helped him with home renovations. I remember him being very eager to try to fix anything, sometimes more successfully than others. But, of course, he always washed up afterwards, just as Shuri’s father does.

Another trope in the story is that of the wandering gypsy—a person who just cannot settle down, must keep travelling, whose “home is the open road”. It is true that travelling is a part of Romani history, but the other side of this coin is that much travelling is done because of local legislation which results in evictions or being forced to keep moving through towns and cities. Other travelling is done to find work. The romantic idea of the restless soul is, in reality, overshadowed by practicalities. In this story, Shuri’s people keep moving in response to their former captivity.

This story was never meant to be an accurate depiction of the lives of present-day Roma—rather an extrapolation of future Romani culture after continuous fracturing akin to what many communities have already experienced. I do try to be true to present realities in my future conjectures.

If you do listen to it, let me know what you think.

*In the midst of my research for this story, I also read Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed” (1972) for the first time. To say I was quite taken with this story would probably be an understatement. It is definitely peeking through “Love in the Vardo”.