News for the New Year

I hope everyone had a happy new year.  I had a few friends over my place, and yes Blade Runner was watched.  I am not ashamed.  Though what happened before and after I cannot be responsible for.  😉

Anyway, surprisingly I have a lot of news today, considering it’s been a holiday.

First up is Sybil’s Garage, praised by Rich Horton in his year-end fiction round-up.  He says: “It’s a stylishly put together magazine, There’s plenty of poetry, art, and nonfiction in addition to the stories.  My favorite was Anil Menon’s “The Poincaré Sutra”, which I called (in Locus) “a perkily told but rather dark story of a 16-year-old Coptic girl in Israel, who falls in love with a Jewish boy while her father’s past pushes him in a different direction.” I also enjoyed stories by Swapna Kishore, Sam Ferree, Alex Dally MacFarlane, A.C. Wise, E. C. Myers, and Amy Sisson.”  I’m glad these stories are getting noticed because they are all really very good.  (Yes, I know I am biased, but I believe they all deserve wider looks.)

On the personal front, Lois Tilton reviews my story “The Suffering Gallery” in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and says, “Kressel’s piece is definitely a parody of sword-and-sorcery fiction, but it is otherwise true to the S&S conventions and winds up with a very satisfactory conclusion.”  It’s interesting in that I didn’t intend the overall story to be parody, but I did want the repartee between the antagonists to be darkly humorous.  In fact I had in mind the cartoon crooks Boris and Natasha from the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show.  I also wanted to play with point of view.  In a fantasy story, we usually expect the hero to succeed in his quest, and so I tried to play with those expectations.  It’s up to you to decide if it works.  You can read it here.  Or listen here.

And over on the Ordinary Day Anna the Piper reviews Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft.  Overall, they give the anthology 4 of 5 stars.  And of my story, she says, “Matthew Kressel, in “The Hands that Feed”, brings us a solid little tale of a shopkeeper with hidden talents, and the seemingly innocent young woman she comes to love. Our two heroines are Jewish and Hindu, as well as separated by thirty years of age, which makes for quite the unusual pairing indeed.”

So that was a nice way to ring in the new year!

Year-End Update

Just a few tidbits before the end of the year.  Most recently, Rich Horton lists my story, “The History Within Us,” as one of the “strong stories” from Clarkesworld Magazine this year.  The magazine is chock-full of amazing stories, so I’m honored that he thought mine was one of the best.

Also, just released this month, The People of the Book, which contains a reprint of “The History Within Us.”  With stories from Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, Peter S. Beagle, Jane Yolen & more, this anthology looks fantastic.  It’s next on my to-read list.

Over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Scott H. Andrews has released a podcast of my story, “The Suffering Gallery.”  The production quality of the podcast is high, and I was pleasantly surprised by the audio effect Scott uses near the end to emphasize a particular aspect of a character.

Forthcoming from me in 2011, I have a story “The Hands That Feed” in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, which comes out in January.  I have “The Bricks of Gelecek” coming out in July in Naked City, edited by Ellen Datlow.  “Bricks” takes place in the same secondary world as “The Suffering Gallery,” and close readers will notice the overlap.  And sometime in 2011 I’ll have a non-fiction piece, “Mitigation Strategies” in Weird Tales #357. I’m also working on a redesign of the Weird Tales website, which we hope to launch soon.

Lately I’ve been working on a post-apocalyptic YA story, which is near finished (just needs one more read through), and been pecking at my novel for the past few days, cleaning up sections of the story with additions to the plot.  And Mercurio D. Rivera and I are working on a science-fiction graphic novel.

As of today, I have not scheduled a reading period for Sybil’s Garage.  Issue eight will go forward, but the reading period may be a little later than last year.  This is mainly because the editors and I all have been very busy.  When things settle down early in 2011 I’ll announce a date.

Until then, have a happy new year, and may you have much success and happiness in 2011!

Growing up Jewish in a Christian Neighborhood on Long Island

My father grew up in Pelham Parkway in the Bronx in a Jewish section of the neighborhood.  Nearly all of his friends, and his parents friends were Jewish.  He said he could tell the Jews from the gentiles (whom the Yids of the day called ‘goyim’) by the color of their shoes.  Jews always wore black shoes, the goyim, brown.

But in the early seventies he moved to Massapequa, Long Island to work for a law firm .  And that’s where I grew up.  I’m not sure what the demographic is today, but when I grew up, Massapequa was mostly Italian, followed by Irish, with a smattering of Jews.  Take the number of Jews, divide by two, and that gave you the number of Asians.  My high school graduating class had only one person of African descent.  My town was very white, very European, and very Christian.

Because most of my friends were at least part Italian, there were a lot of Roman Catholics among them.  But a few were Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Protestant.  I remember, a few years before I was to be Bar Mitzvah’d, my friends asked me in front of my house why I didn’t want to be baptized.  They suggested I sneak off to their church and get baptized without my parents knowing.  When I politely refused, I got the sense that deep down that’s when they realized I wasn’t like them.

Walking to school one day during Passover, I showed a friend of mine a Bazooka bubble gum comic which was written in Hebrew.  He swore and swore again that it was Chinese, and not Hebrew.  I protested, but he did not believe me.

Once in a while I heard a lame and cliched joke about Jews being cheap, and for years I didn’t pick up change on the sidewalk for fear people might think I was a penny-pinching Jew.  But for the most part, I never encountered much anti-semitism growing up.  I believe part of that was my light hair and blue eyes, plus my ethnically ambiguous last name which made people assume I was just another one of them.  In a Jewish day camp I remember being asked dozens of times,  “Really?  You’re Jewish?  You sure you weren’t adopted?”  People always were surprised.  I didn’t fit the stereotype.  (Ironically, I have encountered more anti-semitism as an adult in New York City; people assume I’m not Jewish and sometimes say racist things before I make them eat their words.)

I’ve been asked if Christmas was ever painful for me, and it never really was.  The only thing I ever missed was Christmas morning (brought to life by the famous Christmas Story film), and the excitement of waking up just after dawn to a glowing tree and a floor full of presents.  But I knew early on there was no Santa Claus, and my mother warned me not to tell my friends, not to spoil it for them.  So I watched in quiet enjoyment as my friends explained, in elaborate detail, how they saw Santa once eating cookies by the tree, or flying over their house.

Hannukah for me was always a time of closeness with my family.  We’d light the candles together every night, and because it was cold and dark outside, everyone stayed home, for the most part.  I remember the bright colors of the Hannukah candles, and the excitement of wondering what gifts I might be receiving that year.  And my Christian friends seemed jealous of me, because I received one gift per day, for a total of eight.  A few friends would count off the number of gifts they received, in order to make sure I understood they received more than eight.  But it was always a gentle rivalry, never vindictive.

As I got older, I’d get invited to friends’ houses on Christmas Eve or Day, and I was flattered that they’d allow me to take part in their holiday experience.  In my late teen and early twenties, Christmas time was a time to get wasted, and I remember many nights wandering in a drunken, stoned haze past rainbows of holiday lights around my neighborhood.  The colors swirled in my vision, but I always felt safe and warm.  I felt like I was participating in the celebration too.

Christmas and Hannukah share a lot of similarities.  The public display of lights, the act of gift giving.  And both are celebrations of a miracle.  Hannukah, the victory over the Greek armies and the consecrated oil which lasted until new oil could be found.  Christmas, the miracle birth of Jesus.  I’ve always felt them to be sister holidays, that even though they are of different faiths, that they share a common goal, to bring families and friends together, to take a pause at the end of the year, a breath, and return to what really matters.

So I just wanted to take this time to say, in a rather long-winded way, Merry Christmas to all my friends.  I hope the new year brings you much happiness and joy.

Sybil’s Garage Film Shoot

Last night I trekked up to the north end of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn for the Sybil’s Garage film shoot.  A start-up film production company offered to make a promo film for us as a way to build their resume.  We bounced ideas back and forth.  They sent me a script, I sent them my comments.  And before no time at all they were shooting.

I arrived at the set, made to look like a graffitied parking garage, in their office studio:

I know when working with creative people, it’s best not to micromanage.  Better to let their subconscious have free reign.  In my version of the film, people would be sitting across from each other in a kind of competition as they’d read sections of stories to a greater audience.  The one who moves the audience the most, “wins,” the metaphor being that each piece of Sybil’s Garage is more moving than the last.  This vision of the scene was confirmed when I saw the director writing out scripts like this*:

But then something happened.  I’m not sure what.  Somehow the scene ended up being shot like this:

A screaming, shouting, cussing, drinking mini-riot.  A literary rumble.  Not exactly the solemn affair I’m used to at KGB.  I decided to just roll with it.  I was not going to interject, like the school librarian, and say, “You know, these things are usually much more staid affairs.  Maybe we can tone it down?”  No way.  People were having too much fun, and so I stood there in my PJs (yes, I wore PJs; we were supposed to dress “eclectic”) as we shot the scene from about a dozen different angles.  The directors promised me an awesome promo film, and I trust them, even though our visions differ.  And you know, it got me thinking, maybe exactly what literature needs right now to make it hip and relevant is a little punk rock.  I’m looking forward to the finished product.

Oh, and doesn’t Paul Berger look totally f’n awesome here?  I’d hire him to solve a murder.  Or maybe commit one.

* The story is E.C. Myers’ “My Father’s Eyes”

Catherynne M. Valente at Wold Newton Reading Series

My friend Cesar Bustamante made this cool video of Catherynne M. Valente reading from her new Prester John-themed novel, The Habitation of the Blessed.* She recently read at Word Bookstore in Brooklyn as part of the Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza, with music by Brian Francis Slattery and the West Constantinople Squeezebox All-Stars, as well as dancing by Jezebel Wood, Mary Cyn, and Katie Lennon.  I’ll be reading there as part of the series with Rick Bowes in February.  I’m not sure if there will be belly dancing yet.

* Website designed by yours truly 🙂