Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

As a way of perhaps easing myself back into blogging and doing interviews with creative folks again, I thought I’d start posting occasional book or short story reviews here that go into more depth than my planned monthly reports.

LATIN@ RISING: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction & Fantasy

ISBN: 978-609405243

Publisher: Wings Press

Edited by Matthew David Goodwin

Introduction by Frederick Luis Aldama

My Rating: Four out of five stars

My Thoughts: There are only so many books one can read in a year. My limit seems to be about 100, which barely scratches the surface of my “to be read” pile(s). So I rely on short story anthologies and magazines to introduce me to authors I’ve never heard of, to help expand the range, depth, and breadth of my reading experience. The Kickstarter for Latin@ Rising was brought to my attention through Twitter, by one of the authors involved whose work I was already familiar with. I’m glad I did.

I was familiar with the work of a relative handful of the authors between these covers (Junot Diaz, Daniel Jose Older, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Carmen Maria Machado — four out of twenty!). So the Table of Contents alone helped me to realize just how woefully under-read I am in the realm of Latin@ speculative fiction. There are a lot of authors in this anthology with whom I was not previously familiar, many of whom I suspect I *should* have at least heard of by name. Thankfully, this book came along to help me become a little bit more well-read in this realm.

The stories range in length from flash fiction to almost novelette length, plus a few poems and something akin to a photo-essay, so there’s something for every attention span. The authors are male and female, straight and queer (various values thereof). There’s science fiction and fantasy and magical realism and some stories that don’t fit neatly into any one category. Many are rooted in our real world or variations of same, some take place farther afield.

Junot Diaz’s “Monstro” posits a fungal/viral outbreak on the Dominican/Haitian island, drawing a picture of the complicated relationship between not just the two nations but between lighter- and darker- skinned natives. And he manages to sandwich a tale of unrequited love in there, too, with language that is practical and lyrical at the same time.

I can’t review every story in the book in this post, so let me concentrate on the four authors I already knew and a few of those I’m interested in becoming more familiar with:

Daniel Jose Older fills in a bit of the back-story of his Bone Street Rhumba urban fantasy trilogy in “Red Feather and Bone,” sending Carlos Delacruz on a bird-watching mission with lasting repercussions. I’ve always found Daniel’s writing to be musical, each novel in the Bone Street Rhumba series a mash-up playlist of sonic influences, and this story is no exception.

In the almost novella-length “Sin Embargo,” Sabrina Vourvoulias takes the tricks of translation and uses all of them to comment on how easy it is to misunderstand someone’s history and intent when you don’t understand which meaning of a given word they intend. The story also touches heavily on the lingering impact of the Guatemalan “dirty wars” of the 1980s, and how those who grow up in war zones never really leave.

Carmen Maria Machado’s “Difficult At Parties” broke my heart a few dozen times. I loved the way she makes the reader feel intimately connected and yet distanced and removed through use of perspective and detail. My reading experience mirrored, I think, what the main character is feeling (or not feeling). The speculative element is very subtly woven in. (Perhaps a trigger warning is necessary for this one, as the main character is a rape survivor trying to find her way back to “normal.”)

Alex Hernandez’ “Caridad” explores a world where technology allows family members to be permanently “psychically” connected to a single member who has ability to processes everyone’s experiences and opinions into a cohesive whole. Family loyalty versus wanting to be your own person is always a potent theme, and Hernandez makes it real and raw without being cloying or simplistic.  I also loved Marcos Santiago Gonsalez’ “Traditions,” which treads some of the same ground as Hernandez, in terms of family loyalty and who will carry on magickal traditions in an advancing technological society. Both of these stories have endearing teen female lead characters.

The joys and pressures of family and history also inform Kathleen Alcala’s “The Road to Nyer” and Diana Chaviano’s “Accursed Lineage,” two very different and equally effective ghost stories. Each author explores how much we understand (or don’t) that our family history, traditions and interactions affect our view of the world around us. Alcala’s story has a bit of the wistful about it, with some amazing sensory detail. Chaviano’s is also full of very different sensory detail and very definitely the scarier of the two. Also impressive is how both authors manage to keep the heaviest violence in their stories “off-screen” and yet manage to make us feel every punch, kick or fall.

And I can’t end the review without mentioning the really unique bit of alternate history about the Moon Landing by ADAL, the “photo-essay” (for lack of a better term) I mentioned earlier. The story has a ton of impact, with a bit of humor, using very few words. Speculative fiction, after all, is not limited to the printed word, and ADAL shows us that the way a story is told can be as important as the story itself.

The stories that I enjoyed the most may not be the same ones you would enjoy most. That’s the great thing about multi-author anthologies: something for everyone, and your mileage may vary. But I highly recommend checking out Latin@ Rising. The variety of voices, all grounded in what is unique and shared about the Latin@ experience, is well worth listening to.

 

 

Share

This blog post is part of the NEXT BIG THING meme. No, not Radio Disney’s Next Big Thing — I know a number of former contestants on that (Hollywood Ending, Kicking Daisies, Matt Johnson, Palaye Royale (back when they were “Kropp Circle”)), but that’s a music competition, and this NBT is about writing. The idea here is to talk about a book you’re working on, to generate interest in it and perhaps jumpstart your creativity a bit. I was tagged to be a part of this by my friend Shay Darrach, who in turn was tagged by our friend Sabrina Vourvoulias, and our friend Kay Holt has taken part as well. Our other friend Day al Mohamed was also tagged by Shay, and when she posts her installment, I’ll add the link to this.  They are all wonderful writers who regularly blow my mind, so check their blogs out for what they’re working on.  And then scroll down the bottom to see who I’m going to tag (and if/when they post their responses, I’ll link to those from here as well).

But first, my responses to the 10 questions asked of every Next Big Thing participant:

 

1.What is the working title of your next book?

THE MANY TORTURES OF ANTHONY CARDNO

2.Where did the idea come from for the book?

Last year, Brian White ran Kickstarters for each individual issue of FIRESIDE magazine. Among the “perks” for backing was the chance to be tuckerized into an author’s story as one of the main characters – not just a one line mention, but an actual part of the story. I chose this option for all three issues, and ended up in stories by Christie Yant, Damien Walters Grintalis and Mary Robinette Kowal. In the fall of 2012, Brian was teasing me and said that if I backed enough projects, we could put together a whole anthology of such stories. I thought the idea was so good that I asked a bunch of other authors if they’d be willing to play along and donate their stories so that the proceeds from the book could be donated to the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, in honor of author Jay Lake. This was before Jay officially got his terminal diagnosis, of course.

3.What genre does your book fall under?

Short Stories. Haha. That may seem like a cop-out answer, but the stories in the book are covering almost every genre – time-travel, horror, crime, hard sf, fantasy, even “literary fiction.”

4.What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh man. That would depend on the story.

In my own contribution, “I’m” a teenager, and I’d have to choose Austin MacDonald, whose most recent credit is as a teen serial killer on the episode of HANNIBAL that NBC famously pulled in the wake of the Boston bombings, as “me” and Brandon Tyler Russell (from the movie SMITTY) as the other main character.  In other stories? I see John Krasinski as the “me” in Damien Walters’ Grintalis’ story (as a husband who is largely clueless about what his wife is going through), and Neil Patrick Harris as the “me” in Christie Yant’s (a drunk in a “dry” town in the California of the late 1800s). I think Mary Robinette Kowal’s story would call for someone a bit more pompous, John Laroquette, maybe (an egotistical actor partaking in an “extreme dining” adventure), while Sabrina Vourvoulias’ version of me conjures up images of Robert Carlyle (a US government operative in Central America who has seen things one shouldn’t see). In Jay Lake’s story of a young man drawn back to the ocean he was forced to leave as a child, I picture Freddie Highmore. In Joseph Pittman’s latest Todd Gleason crime story, Stephen Fry would be perfect. I could go on.

5.What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

To paraphrase Parke Godwin: “Who you are depends on who’s telling your tale, and boy do these authors have tales to tell about me.”

6.Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published in e-book format only so that we can get the largest number of stories into the book. I’d love to be able to do a run in print, but that’s going to be expensive (unless some lovely publisher reading this would like to donate a small print run as a collector’s item…). I currently have folks donating their time to do the e-book formatting and such to help me out.

7.How long did/will it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Technically, it’s been over a year since Christie’s story appeared in Fireside #1, but really the idea came into focus in November of 2012 and I anticipate offering the book for sale in September of 2013, so about a year.

8.What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m not really sure.  There’s been a push lately, with anthologies like Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrontonio’s STORIES and magazines like Fireside, to move away from “genre” boundaries and just publish good stories across the spectrum. This anthology falls in line with that goal.

9.Who or what inspired you to write this book?

If I was going to do this, it wasn’t going to be a self-aggrandizing attempt to make money for myself. I knew immediately the proceeds would go to cancer research, in honor of not only Jay Lake, but so many other friends and relatives who are battling or have been lost to cancer: my friends Karen Jenkins, Kristin Meyer, and M. Denise Barnoski, all taken too soon. My cousins Chrissy and Jimmy Hajkowski and my almost-sister Michelle Moklebust, amazing fighters. And of course my parents and maternal grandparents, all lost to one form of cancer or another. Folks like Jay and my cousins inspire me with their willingness to share the details of their fight, even the bad times, and how they do their damnedest to not let cancer rule them.

10.What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Hopefully, it’s the variety of authors involved that will bring people in, as well as the good cause. Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Christie Yant, Damien Walters Grintalis, David Lee Summers, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Joseph Pittman and Kaaron Warren are the most well-known among the authors who have already sent stories, as well as songwriters Barry Mangione (of The Dalliance and Apply The Graft) and Frank Dixon. It occurs to me that with Kaaron and Frank in the mix, we’ve got authors from two different continents involved, another nice selling point.

 

I don’t typically do the “I tagged you, so you HAVE to play” thing. However, there are a few authors I hope will play along. I’m not giving them specific dates to post, either.

1. Dennis Miller, author of  ONE WOMAN’S VENGEANCE, a wonderful Western with a female protagonist who, yes, starts out as a victim but who does not allow the label of “victim” to become her identity. Dennis’ book is brutal and beautiful at the same time.

2. Sidney Bristol, author of UNDER HIS SKIN and other erotica. Sidney is one of the “Crazy Writer Ladies of DFW” who I adore, and her work is so completely different from mine and Dennis’ that I cannot resist tagging her.

3. Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author of THE DAVI RHII SAGA, a great space opera based on the story of Moses. Again, someone completely different in style and tone from the preceeding two authors.

I hope all three authors will play along!

Share

I met Sabrina Vourvoulias through the weekly Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Chat (#sffwrtcht) on Twitter a bit more than a year ago. We clicked right away, sharing a sense of humor and a near-fatal dislike of outlining (which eventually led, with several other folks, to the formation of The League of Extraordinary Pantsers). We finally met in person at last year’s Readercon, just about the time the uncorrected proofs of her novel INK were available. We’ll be meeting up at Readercon again this July, and from the conversation below, it looks like there will be reading, writing, and … dancing??

INK by Sabrina Vourvoulias

INK is a novel set in the near future, in an America where immigrants (South/Central American in particular), whether they are legal citizens or not, are being “inked” as a method of population control and tracking. The novel follows a diverse set of characters as their lives are undone and remade, politically, socially, scientifically and magically, by these events.

ANTHONY:  Sabrina, thanks for taking some time to chat. INK has been out for several months now. How has the reaction been?

SABRINA: It has been so positive. The vast majority of readers who’ve left comments on Amazon, Goodreads and Librarything have had lovely things to say, and I’ve been absolutely blown away by some of the attention it has garnered. That a review of it would appear in the Los Angeles Review of Books, for example, when I’m a first time novelist from a small press … I’m very, very gratified.

ANTHONY: What was the initial impetus for INK?

SABRINA: I had been interviewing and hearing stories from undocumented immigrants for a number of years when I ran across a small newspaper article tucked into the back pages of a Spanish-language newspaper. It was about an undocumented immigrant who worked with a landscaping company in the suburbs of New York who had been “given a ride” by a couple of guys on the way home from work one day. Except instead of taking him home they took him over the border with Connecticut and dumped him there without money, cell phone or any identification and warned him to stay out of their state. According to the article he wasn’t the first undocumented immigrant to experience this kind of “border dumping.” It was horrifying and fascinating enough to kick my imagination into overtime.

What if it was over an international border? I thought. And how bad would the tensions that already exist between immigrant and non-immigrant have to become to make it likely, or viable?

The other manifestations of the dystopia came about the same way — I looked at what has already has been happening, or has happened in the past, and nudged it over the edge.

ANTHONY: INK is set in the near-future, which makes it frightenginly real despite the magical elements that appear. How realistic, or perhaps I should ask how possible/probable, do think the socio-political events of the novel are?

SABRINA: Possible, but I hope not probable. On the other hand, some of what I describe is only one or two steps removed from what has been (or is being) proposed in some omnibus immigration bills in some states. And other things — the forcible sterilizations, for example, were part of U.S. programs in Puerto Rico and Peru as recently as the 1970s.

ANTHONY: Although INK is essentially near-future dystopian fiction, it’s also very much in the realm of magical realism. What’s your definition of magical realism, and how does it differ from, say, “urban fantasy?”

SABRINA: One of the foundational Latin American writers of magical realism called the genre lo real maravilloso,  the marvelous reality, and so it is. For me it is about creating a world that reads true to our own and imbuing it with a type of magic that isn’t a learned system but something much more organic. Some manifestations of the magic in INK are culturally grounded, others are elemental, and still others are devotional or vocational.

Magic realism similar to urban fantasy, though without quite so many tropes. I always think of UF as requiring the setting to be as much a protagonist as the characters. Because I needed my characters to move — by choice or by force — to different locations, and because the feeling of being uprooted had to be a big part of things, I couldn’t afford to make either Hastings or Smithville as important as they would have had to be if INK were urban fantasy.

ANTHONY: The magic in INK works on a very personal/character-centric level. I wanted to ask about that choice. How did you decide which characters would have/recognize their personal magic, and why doesn’t magic seem to be more wide-spread in this world?

Character is what interests me most. I start and end everything with character.

Magic is tied intrinsically to “noticing” in my book. So Del’s magic is all about noticing what others wouldn’t in his woods. That “seeing what others don’t” becomes a dialogue and a knowing. All of the magicks in the book follow this same pattern, even Mari’s. So I created situations in which it is clear that while some people see, others don’t. Maybe they don’t want to. Or they see but deny.

Obviously, this applies as much to justice as it does to magic. In fact, the two have been tied together often in fiction, though more frequently in the sense of retribution being exacted magically (an aspect which doesn’t interest me in the least).

Meche, Mari, Del, Abbie, Chato, Chema and Remi all have magic of some kind in INK, and I have to say I’m glad it’s not more characters than that!

ANTHONY: There is a lot of Guatamalan folklore woven into the book. What, if any, liberties did you take in incorporating that folklore into the world of the novel?

SABRINA: The nahuales are a living belief — though probably not as widespread as it was at one time. The stories about them I remember are more like anecdotes. There was this girl named Margarita who was maybe four or five years older than me who told me that one of her relatives, whose nahual was a raccoon, woke up one morning with the injuries his nahual had incurred the night before. This always impressed me. I hate magic that is all-powerful and unassailable because it’s fundamentally boring. The really intriguing stuff always lives in the flaws.

I took liberties: imagining what it might be like to have a nahual, and what it might be like to be one, and then playing with the symbiosis.

ANTHONY: Thinking about the book months after reading it, it occurs to me that what I remember the most is the relationships. I feel like you took the macro (societal upheaval) and worked it at the micro (character) level, which made it all the more effective. The relationships also seem to be largely triangular: Del/Cassie/Meche, Abie/John/Tono … even the Finn/Mari relationship is essentially a triangle, with the third point alternately being the newspaper, the government and eventually the baby.  Was this geometric pattern a conscious decision and if so how did it affect the plot development?

SABRINA: Well, yes. Everything I write is really focused on our interactions and connection to each other individually or as groups and communities. Everything else is secondary.

Hah! I hadn’t even noticed the triangles. But it is interesting… I like threes. You put three elements in an arrangement on your mantel, or in the composition of a painting, and suddenly it becomes more aesthetically pleasing and more dynamic. It creates a lovely sort of tension, but at the same time there is a stability to it. It doesn’t teeter.

Look, romantic triangles are the stuff of a million books and even more lives. But none of the ones in my book are “Oh, the spark is gone, I’m bored of you” or “I just can’t decide between the werewolf and the vampire” type of triangles. The Del/Meche/Cassie one is on some level a triangle formed by the tensions between belief and disbelief. Or, on a more mundane level, lives sealed off from the cares of the world and those busted open by them.

Abbie/Toño/John are a triangle formed by socio-economic class and racial/ethnic expectations. But it’s funny, because that triangle could also be Abbie/Toño/Neto, in which case it is a triangle fraught with the tension of remembered versus actual.

In the last instance, I think you’ve got the triangulator (!) of Mari’s and Finn’s relationship wrong. It isn’t Finn’s job or their son that forms that third angle, but something much stranger: home. Mari’s really is the immigrant’s story over and over: have a home, leave a home, make a new home. Step and repeat.

So, what do you sacrifice when you stake a claim, put down roots, say no to yet another border crossing? For Mari the choice to not cross finally into Canada exacts a huge cost. And yet, when you see her with her son and the other character’s children later, you know she’s ultimately found a literal home (and a figurative one in her stories).

ANTHONY: You’ve said the main characters of INK are not based on real people, but your personal experiences growing up in Guatemala influenced the tone of the book and some of the choices the characters make, right?

SABRINA: Indeed. Growing up under a repressive government makes you wary and suspicious. It took me a long time to learn to trust — and I’m still painfully aware of those moments when our government takes away civil liberties, or tries to institute policy that controls the flow of information in the name of curbing piracy on the web, for example. All of that feeling — paranoia, wariness, mistrust — underpins the dystopic society I’ve created in INK.

The state of emergency, the civil patrols, the guns on the street and the siege-mentality and routine in the novel — all of that comes from my experiences living in a country at war with itself.

But there is much that is positive in this book that is informed by my life in Guatemala and my life here, as well. My understanding of community and the ways groups of people stand up to much greater powers, for one. The way networks of support are built for another.

But it is not only my experience that informs INK. It is the lives of the undocumented immigrants I know. And the people I know who live in towns like Smithville. And practically every young reporter at the small newsrooms I’ve worked in.

What informs a novel — or a life — is a menjurje, as we say in Central America. A mess of ingredients all macerated together until they cohere into something else: bitter medicine, enlivening draught, a soup that sustains.

ANTHONY: Since we’re both members of the League of Extraordinary Pantsers, I have to ask what the process for writing INK was like, and how (if at all) it differed from your other fiction.

SABRINA: I write a lot on a weekly basis — newspaper op-eds, columns, blogs — and yet I am such a slow fiction writer. I was more obsessive about my novel than I usually am with my short stories, but that’s really the only qualitative difference in how I write. In both forms I start with characters and perhaps only an inkling of what I’ll be putting them through. But as the characters reveal themselves (sometimes in quite astonishing ways) their trajectory through the novel or story changes too. So I don’t write to hit markers. Truthfully, I’m a slow writer because I enjoy the process of writing too much to want to zip through it. And the regimentation of X number of hours a day or Y number of words per week makes me want to run howling into the night.

You know I dance when I write, don’t you? I’m an utter writing hedonist — has somebody claimed that term yet? — if not, it’s mine. 😉

ANTHONY: I love that about you. Haha. “Now is the time in writing when we dance!” We should have a “Dance-While-You-Write-A-Thon” at the next Readercon! Your other fiction is largely short stories. Are they the same sort of science fiction / magical realism mix, or do you veer into other genres?

SABRINA:  I write everything. No genre is safe. And given my temperament, nothing is sacrosanct.

ANTHONY: What do you have coming up in the near (or not-so) future?

SABRINA: My story “Ember” appears in the Crossed Genres anthology Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction which was just released in January. One of my short stories, “Collateral Memory” will be appearing in Strange Horizons in either June or July (don’t know yet), and my story “Paper Trail” will be appearing in a long-delayed issue of Greatest Uncommon Denominator magazine. A poem will be appearing in an upcoming issue of Bull Spec magazine, and a couple of short stories have been requested for anticipated anthologies.

But mostly I’m working on a collection of interconnected stories about monsters that cross the borders with us when we immigrate to a new country. It might turn into a novel … or not. Undoubtedly it’ll have lots of voices because I get bored with just one point of view. Typical Gemini.

ANTHONY: I’m looking forward to that set of stories. Now my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

SABRINA: That’s a cruel question, I have to say. One favorite? One? Well, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my all time favorites. It’s a generational saga rife with magic, history, social commentary and incredibly vivid imagery.

And it has a fantastic first line: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Tell me, how can anyone resist a book that opens like that?

 

You can follow Sabrina on Twitter as @followthelede. INK has its’ own website. And of course you can find updates on Sabrina’s writing and other great stuff on her blog.

Share