On Writing, finding community, finding my way

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On Writing, finding community, finding my way

This summer, there is an opportunity for me to participate in a writing workshop that I never thought would happen during my lifetime. The week-long session takes place in New York City, that epicenter of publishing, glitz, good coffee, efficiency, and brainwaves.

Two storied writing instructors with exemplary publishing credentials will help develop the writing skills and emerging voices of transwomen writers. Here is an an opportunity for over two-dozen of us to write, offer feedback, learn, and network.

I speak, of course, of the Summer Writers’ Workshop administered by Topside Press at Brooklyn College, August 2016.

And here’s the really cool part: you can help make this happen. The fundraiser is active and gaining ground, and Zoey the workshop organizer has composed a detailed breakdown of how raised funds will be put to good use. This is a great and easy way to become involved in a marvelous, forward-thinking, educational initiative.

As far as I am aware, this is the very first workshop of its kind, designed to help develop the writing skills of a heretofore underrepresented population. And this is SO important, especially today, because even in 2016, transwomen are discriminated against and excluded from too many creative spaces and opportunities, and/or the trans-centric narrative is largely regarded as illegitimate.*
* = memoir is a notable exception, but believe you me–prejudice is a huge problem even in otherwise queer spaces, and the utterly cynical and exasperating public restroom non-issue is only the tip of the iceberg.

Why is this inaugural workshop so important to me? Well–shall I start with fear?
I am no stranger to writing workshops, groups, and I am certainly not new to transition (I’m 19 years in). But the fact remains that whenever I wanted to address my experiences, ambitions, or even just my SF-affinity, I’ve held my tongue out of fear of being judged, or that again I’ll be told I need to audition for my Trans101 right to exist. But now I’m frankly a little weary of squashing my narratives out of fear–it only makes life worse.

Okay so fear is nailed shut, next let’s consider the very real–PUSHBACK.
Whether it’s TERFs, religious mania, the far right, or even Ms. Jenner herself (right), as visibility and voices do find their way into the sunlight, we will be told to be silent, we have no place at the table and/or microphone. Attempts will be made to legislate us out of existence, as precedents have shown in certain other nations. My upbringing during the Reagan/Bush era offered plenty of that pushback, or if not that, utter misrepresentation. Those iniquities are utterly familiar to me (and unfortunately pretty hardwired in my psyche–that was their intention.) Our voices and stories can change that signal, and stand fast against that resistance (it’s all just ignorance, anyway). Pervasive human rights and honest stories told tend to produce wonderful results on a universal scale–and besides who do you think helped design the very technology that we’re cat-paw-typing on?

Finally let’s consider this primary motivation of mine–to learn.
I’m am going to write, but really also to listen and learn from my peers. Over the past few years, I’ve found story and publishing opportunities are optimized through tactile human contact. Meeting SF/Horror practitioners and especially fans at cons optimizes my writing workflow exponentially, but I will always need improvement. We never stop learning–it’s what makes human existence so grand (albeit, frustrating also, but worth the effort). Again, this summer workshop is singular in that it places over two dozen trans writers together, writing and discussing from different standpoints of experience, but all with many similar goals. I’ve never been in that place, and it should be a great place to work.

Still writing from the wound, still writing from the dreams,
larissa
#WhyIWrite

PS–One way I dealt with fear of not belonging was/is to read other trans narratives. Apart from memoir, most of these narratives were penned by cisgender authors, but when their central spotlight focused on living trans and actually becoming the heroine? Believe you me, during the 1990s there wasn’t much available, so I lapped up everything I could find: Sick Burn Cut by Deran Ludd, Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe, Sarah by J.T. Leroy. Leroy turned out to prove a vastly problematic author for a number of reasons I’d rather not go into at the moment, but keep in mind that when I first transitioned, trans narratives written from honest, died-in-the-wool firsthand experiences of living transfeminism were hardly what one would call pervasive, much less daylighted by mainstream society or its media. Over the past decade, however, our own voices got pretty hot, our signal pretty strong. We have some amazing stories, as it turns out. It’s awesome.

PPS–and if my Trans101 viewpoint is really wanted that badly, we can start with a discussion of Clark Ashton Smith, the hidden dangers of lanyards, or what constitutes a legitimate Venom lineup.

Shark Blogging

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Shark Blogging

Hey everyone, Happy Shark Week!

I’d heard rumblings of this celebration of our fine, finned friends (who occasionally find our human flesh and blood quite tasty), and I’ve been seeing deli sandwich promotions all over Downtown Boston. I think that’s cool on many levels!

Of course, I’m afraid of sharks, what young child growing up on Nantucket Island wouldn’t be traumatized by seeing “Jaws” (1975) and “Jaws 2” (1978)? I’m also in awe of them, however, so to me it is no huge mystery why they have such staying power in our popular imagination, and why we eventually arrived at that Showgirls-equivalent “Sharknado!” franchise–sometimes you just have to turn things up to eleven and then, in Sharknado’s case, break off the knob!

I have a guest blog post over at Shock Totem! This is a huge deal for me, I’ve been reading Shock Totem Magazine since 2011, it’s where I read Bracken MacLeod, Damien Angelica Walters, and Barry Lee Dejasu for the first time (among many others). Thanks to John Boden for asking me to participate!

The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws also includes insights from Rose Blackthorn (Thorns, Hearts and Thistles, Called to Battle: Worthy Vessel), Stephen Graham Jones (Mongrels), Nick Cato (Don of the Dead, Lovers, Cinema Knife Fight), Aaron Dries (House of Sighs, The Fallen Boys, A Place for Sinners), David James Keaton (FISH BITES COP! Stories to Bash Authorities, Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead), Bracken MacLeod (Mountain Home, White Knight, and Stranded), and Jeremy Wagner (The Armageddon Chord, and the metal guitarist for Broken Hope).

Apart from my Shark Bombs, my summer is flailing right along, deadlines close ahead for both “Imperator–Terror Lizard (Part Two)” and the Rabies manuscript (unfortunately she went off the rails a little but she’s crawling back into me, gnawing at my pineal gland). I was admitted to the Topside Summer Writer’s Workshop at Brooklyn College, where I’ll be for about a week in mid-August, writing and discussing work with over a dozen other transwomen authors with varied literary backgrounds and platforms. SO excited–it’s going to be intense.

Coffee beast.

AND HOLY FUCK it’s con season! My boyfriend Jerome and I went up to NoCon in Portsmouth NH a few Saturdays ago (NoCon is a more or less informal gathering of AnthoCon folk such as may be found in The New England Horror Writers). In the morning we were hosted by Tony Tremblay of The Taco Society, and then filming for a special edition of TacoS commenced! Patrick Lacey manned the camera much of the time, and most in the audience came up to the table for a brief interview with Tony and to read from their work.

Later that afternoon we participated in the latest sit-down of The Writers Coffeehouse (New England), hosted by Christopher Golden and James A. Moore. These discussions are indispensable for anyone even slightly interested in the art and craft of writing, and of navigating a very tricky professional landscape. Chris and Jim drive The_All_Terrain_Vehicle when it comes to insights on that front. In early July we have Readercon, which always hosts incredible, multi-track panels about reading and writing SF/F/H in all media. Then later in the month there is Necon (where do I start with that one? just click the link if you are unfamiliar).

Okay, more to come soon–I haven’t even talked about seeing Venom for the first time last month (technically, it was my first time seeing them and I’ll explain why), nor the Spoorloos debut release (my solo-acoustic/black ambient murder ballads project).

But in the meantime, strap on your Shark Bomb and remember–they like the creamy filling!

Carcharodon carcharias.

On Trying to Write Badass Women

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On Trying to Write Badass Women

Things happened quickly this month, my dying earth SF/F piece “Imperator–Terror Lizard (Part One)” appeared in The Healing Monsters, Volume One (Despumation Press), and my SF story “Miriam” was accepted for the Procyon Science Fiction Anthology 2016 (Tayen Lane Publishing). Jacob Haddon included me in a list of over 400 women writers working in Horror/SF. This makes me want to step up my game and get more subs out. I have the advantage of a day job with relative flexibility and bountiful academic resources, but I find I can sometimes lose momentum when I stray from my normally scheduled routine. Some health problems also sidelined me a bit over the last month, but I cleared that hurdle finally. Now it’s a matter of getting the routine back on track.

I read this piece over at Mythic Scribes on finding your Writer’s Voice. This was exactly something I was thinking about with the two pieces mentioned above: “Terror Lizard” and “Miriam” are both first person narratives written in past tense, and both command quite an assertive, even defiant female character presence. Both voices seemed similar in that they are tough with an air of regret, sadness. I’ve borne the sadness throughout my adolescence and adult life, but the toughness may be wish fulfillment on my part. Most people who have met me know I’m quite introverted but friendly, eager to please. I think that stems from my hardwired desire to be liked, and this often works against my own best interests. But when I channel these character voices, I go into full-on Xena mode. Wish fulfillment, sure—but it obviously sources from a legitimate spring. No author wants to sling bullshit when it comes to voice.

Another interesting thing in that article is that we can reveal a good deal about a character by what we omit, or merely imply with the use of voice. I’ve given away plenty of uncomfortable realities about myself in what I say but especially in what I don’t say. This is something I’d like to take better advantage of in my work, to thicken the complications and emotional resonance.

Heroes and heroines appeal to us as much through their faults and/or insecurities as do their victories and conquests. Strider/Aragorn/Elessar totally rips on himself after losing the Hobbits and The Fellowship at The Falls of Rauros, but he manages to regroup and make the best of it that he can.

I think what I’m trying to say is that with first-person narrative, I’d like to continue to channel that assertive, rebellious voice, but only where appropriate to the story. If there is too much commonality between stories in that wish-fulfilled muse, I could become my own banality, and that is a terrifying prospect for me—to cancel myself out just because I want to be more assertive in my own comings and goings.

Does this mean I want to channel the voice of a passive character, rather than an active one? Not necessarily. The voice of a victim is all the more compelling when she turns her situation around and at least escapes her lot (think the ultimate final girl—Sally Hardesty [Marilyn Burns] in Texas Chainsaw), but I also feel the polarizing forces, the ones that make me want to bring a character around and exact vengeance upon her antagonist[s]. But if she’s sneering with defiance all along, how can one detect a change in her character arc?

These are some things I want to try and work on as I move forward.

The Healing Monsters

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The first installment of my dying-earth cycle, “Imperator—Terror Lizard” is impending among many other metal-horror-speculative luminaries (pinch me!—this LINEUP!) coming May 19 (volume 1) and September 15 (volume 2) from Despumation Press. ATTEND THEE! For more details read on =

Despumation Press

HealingMonstersAd2-2

Yeah, this is actually still happening. A lot has occurred since the start of this charitable project, not the least of which has been the passing of one of the beneficiaries of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and the diagnosis of a Hodgkin Lymphoma for one of the editor’s husband (that would be me…my husband, Anthony Everitt of the death-doom band, Taphos Nomos, and designer of these books). Among a number of other setbacks, it’s been wrought with grief and irony. That said, we’re still moving forward. As you can see, the single volume was to be ridiculously huge, so we’ve decided to split it into two volumes, each coming out on the respective medical issue’s awareness day (though the profits of both volumes combined will be split evenly). We look forward to getting these out there and into the hands of readers and rockers, and we hope it will be of…

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Demon Dogs! The Guilty Pleasures of Thundarr the Barbarian

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Demon Dogs! The Guilty Pleasures of Thundarr the Barbarian

Aaand tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1994.

Yes, in 1977 Star Wars blew our minds, but we also had Saturday mornings where shows were hit or miss. Many of us were a captive audience for the sake of catching the good stuff like Superfriends, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (more on that show later if you behave yourselves), and Thundarr the Barbarian.

Thundarr left the deepest imprint upon my head. Perhaps the ferocious and bold inventiveness of the show is what drew me in, but it also taught crucial lessons about loyalty, uniqueness as strength, standing up to oppression, and learning from your mistakes (without judgement). The show was also the king of the cliffhangers.

Thundarr plays marvelously with archetypes–the friendship of Thundarr-Ookla parallels with Gilgamesh-Enkindu, and the third character Princess Ariel as advisor and wisecracking sage corresponds with the powerful but independent Merlin. There was never overt sexual tension between this trio of wanderers–this was a show for tweens, after all–but the unwavering friendship between the three principal characters was encouraging for kids to see, because no matter who they ended up fighting and how insurmountable the obstacle, they left no one behind, regardless of gender or species. It was a good lesson in friendship for kids–stand up to bullies, and the struggle gives you strength.

The show is rich in still deeper thematic content–renewal. The world isn’t dying–it frickin’ died, from natural disaster (the runaway planet is a bit liberal in its hard-scientific plausibility), but two millennia later we rise phoenix-like into–well–you know (or you should know) the opening quote, a world of savagery, super-science, and sorcery.

The familiar sites of the old world–The Statue of Liberty, The Hollywood Sign, The New York Public Library–these also immersed the viewers, rooting them in the familiar world while also challenging us to imagine a possible future, albeit shattered, with less comforts but much higher adventure and excitement. It was a worthwhile trade-off if one could fall in with the right crowd.

I remember this show as a celebration of diversity as strength rather than  weakness, of one’s actions being the determining factor of one’s fate and growth of character, and best of all, it celebrated the underdogs–the outsiders–as the true heroes of the healing landscape, and the fight against oppression (most often on the behalf of others under siege) seemed to make Thundarr, Ookla, and Ariel stronger with every viewing.

It all comes down to empathy, emotional identification. I know that sounds naive and whimsical, but in a world where willful ignorance is prized and rewarded over justice and duty, I’ll take the escapism of this show any day of the fucking week. Case closed, bring on that runaway planet and split the moon evenly in half.

 

Creature Double Feature on Channel 56

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Creature Double Feature on Channel 56

Monsters.

So when my dad died I was five years old, and had precious little context to work with. I remember feeling numb, confused, unable to process the real implication of what it meant to lose a parent whom I’d barely gotten to really know. He’d been been sitting in his recliner one moment, and was gone the next, never to return. I stared out the window a lot, and watched the vultures congregate along the treeline ringing our house in Wauwinet (Nantucket, Massachusetts). I liked the vultures. They were the first birds I met. Carrion birds.

This memory stuck with me, however–my dad had told me something interesting about the image of King Kong breaking through his huge gate on Skull Island, where the natives scatter and Fay Wray, the intended sacrifice, writhes enchained, terrified by the “monster” raging in front of her. I identified with Kong immediately, because of what my dad had said: “He’s more afraid of them than they are of him.” And but hey let’s circle back to Ms. Wray a second here. The mere sight of this beauty enchants the beast, comforts him, allays his fear but does not compromise his strength (as we  see later in the jungles). This may have been the origins on my identification as female, but also the root of my blonde envy (I’m brunette). Here I took away a little something from both parties–identification with the beast, raging and powerful, and with beauty–passive, nurturing, forward-thinking, and yet somehow fateful, or even malignant. I think this is what one would call a paradox.

The recent passing of Keith Emerson (1944-2016) evoked memories of my initial gateway into a world of wonder when I needed it the most. Creature Double Feature [on Channel 56, for Boston] used the Emerson Lake & Palmer track “Toccata” [1973] as the ongoing theme song, and their creative edit of that percussive, diving synth tone made you think you were not only hearing a warning of a impending danger, but also an alien siren call, enticing you to the sticky web.

This show was the first exposure to speculative fiction for many of my generation, and I can only speak for myself when I tell you–finally it was so okay to be left alone.

Monsters became my escapism, actually a new sort of family. Monsters are outcasts but they’re also powerful as fuck, especially on a geopolitical level.

CDF tended to alternate their programming between a classic 1950s/1960s monster movie or a kaiju, a GIANT monster such as Godzilla or King Ghidorah. I was more captivated by kaiju than the “classic” monsters, perhaps because of their parallel with Kong. I must admit, many of these kaiju films don’t hold up very well anymore (often it takes forever to get the story rolling), but at least they made an impression on my young, impressionable brain.

The monsters are worth waiting for.

Best of all: combat between monsters. Sure, we’ll see the same city get squashed, but when monsters with unique, mutant characteristics and deadly biological weaponry do battle, it’s really fun to watch.

My CDF nostalgia runs deep–I’ll take the rubber suit and visible tethers over digital effects any day.

Diabolus ex Machina – The Guilty Pleasures of Damien Omen II

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We have a great deal more to fear from religious extremism than from any iteration of The Devil. My mom raised me Episcopalian but her influence formed me into more of a secular middle-class materialist, and one of the products I consumed was 1970s and 1980s schlock cinema. Today I’m not even an atheist–I feel no need to quantify myself within a system lain out by so many unpleasant people. So instead, I’ll go with something I actually care to know more about–horror fiction and cinema.

(LOL, here’s a question: is “Damien Omen II” a film or a movie?)

I’d be naive to suggest that religious themes are absent from horror–indeed, they form so many of its core elements. “The Exorcist” elevated the genre to blockbuster levels. Now, that film had the good luck of timing in the post-Vietnam/Watergate trauma America experienced at the time. Lurking Cold War fears gave rise to pervasive fear of violent invasion by the other from out there. Fear of the dark is timeless.

And who better to fear and scapegoat than the guy with the horns, the pointy tail, and the excellent taste in Black Sabbath?

Ka-ching!

This is not my place to give a history of the 1970s Hollywood film industry. Suffice it to say that horror and sci-fi had attained blockbuster status post-“Jaws” and “Star Wars,” and I was a very impressionable kid. “Damien Omen II” (1978, dir. Don Taylor) was the first of the Omen trilogy I saw, and to this day it remains my favorite, even though it’s as silly as a bag of rubber dicks.

Here are some reasons why I love this atrocity, and I won’t bother with too much summary or too many spoilers. You’ve never seen the film, you’ve seen the film and forgotten it, or you love it even more than I do.

1.) There are some very shitty ways to die when you find out that forbidden knowledge about Damien Thorn.

The writers of this follow-up to “The Omen” (1976, dir. Richard Donner) decided they would use a raven as an “uh-oh” plot device, instead of the Rottweiler[s] of the original and subsequent installments–not one Rottweiler here, booooo–and with the exception of one admittedly horrifying instance in the film, the bird makes no physical contact with victims. It shows up, a terrible “accident” occurs, then it flies away with the ramp-down of the Jerry Goldsmith score. Sometimes the raven tenders that “Damien eye” close-up to illustrate that supernatural malevolence and plot devices are afoot.

DO2 has quite a body count: buried alive, heart attack, eye gouging whilst in the direct path of a speeding Mack truck, drowning beneath ice, toxic asphyxiation, cut in half, aneurysm, impalement, stabbed, burned alive–arguably there is a higher body count in “Omen 3: The Final Conflict” (1981, dir. Graham Baker), but here we have some very dreadful ways to go when you’ve suddenly found your Christian truth. We get it, dude–Damien, now come of puberty, is the cause of all of the Evil in the world. Who better to lead the world?

Aaaaaand The Devil is really good with machines. There is more mechanized death in “Damien Omen II” than in any of the other film in the trilogy, and you begin to wonder “Wait, if he could move that gear shift, control that electrical system, why doesn’t he just cause more plane crashes while his enemies are commuting into their naughty? In some cases he could take them all out at once!”

That’s a much too vulgar display of power, Larissa.

2.) It is much more clear that Damien has infiltrated one of the most powerful family dynasties in the world.

Born of a jackal, Damien is the Jordan Belfort of changelings. He’s coming into puberty (huh-huh), and he’s not stupid–he knows when to be politic even if he thinks a person is odd or unpleasant. On the flipside, he also knows how to take care of bullies.

I splurged and read the 1978 Signet novelization by Joseph Howard because there is only so much the film is going to tell you. I wanted more backstory. The book isn’t an earth-shattering literary achievement, but it is immersive enough to convey that, in their own way, The Thorns have eclipsed The Kennedys. Reginald Thorn is the father of both the late Robert (played by Gregory Peck with admirable restraint and pathos in the original “Omen”) and Richard (William Holden, who seems to know what a turkey he’s starring in but is, to his credit, convincing and professional)–Grandpa Reginald also had ramped up the family’s industry but never lost sight of his true passion: archaeology. Down we go into the Biblical rabbit hole. 

3.) The film moves at a much faster pace than the first installment. There is a good deal of ground to cover.

DO2 opens with Jerry Goldsmith’s Main Title running at twice the clip as the brooding, almost Doom-Metal pace of the first film. Although the timeframe of this one appears to cover but a single winter, there is a global scope and immediacy to Damien’s growing power. The plot speeds along so fast, you may recognize the plot holes, but in order to keep up, you basically just have to roll with it. I wonder how cynically 20th Century Fox brass behaved during their conversations with Stanley Mann and Mike Hodges (who went on to direct Flash! Ah-ahhhh!).

“Coherence, schmo-herence, let’s shift some units before this ship sails!”

By the time Damien’s infernal destiny is revealed to him at about the midpoint, he initially (and understandably) freaks out. I’m not going to speculate at length about the unfortunate and imposed parallel of what queer kids go through with their devout, brainwashed monster-parents whose adherence to their religion and social standing at Wal-Mart is more important to them than the well-being of their child. But here we have a time capsule for that drama. Damien eventually comes around. Thanks, Obama!

4.) These are not such veiled references to the clandestine, questionable business practices of Thorn Industries. Can you say Monsanto?

“Our profitable future lies in famine,” says Paul Buher, a Slayer “Hell Awaits” apostate in training who looks like a cross between Stephen Lang (Harry Black, “Last Exit to Brooklyn”) and Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch dad).

In the beginning, we only know that Robert Thorn eschewed the executive levels of Thorn Industries in favor of DC politics–he eventually achieved success when he became American Ambassador to the Court of Saint James [let’s just call it Great Britain]. But then tragedies began to unravel his life– he lost his true progeny twice, lost his wife (whom he had obviously loved unconditionally), and after watching David Warner’s head make some disembodied gymnastics that would have made even Kurt Thomas (Gymkata) stand back in awe, he gets gunned down by the very human race he’s trying to protect from ruin.

Richard Thorn, on the other hand, toed the family line and became corporate head. Thorn is by this time massive on a global, geopolitical scale. But he is so traumatized by the loss of his brother, even after seven years, that the mere mention of Robert’s name sends him into a zone of melancholy and defensive rage. Richard’s love for his own son Mark by his first marriage eases the transition of adopting Damien into his immediate family.

But aside from this, Richard Thorn has enabled shady business practices to run rampant. Paul Buher is the new executive with his sights set on subjugating poor countries with Thorn-manufactured grain crops and despotism. Buher even goes so far as to start buying plots of land within the Indian subcontinent, behind Richard Thorn’s back, in order to enable Damien Thorn’s serfdoms.

“When you’ve got a knife at your belly,” he states early on, like a true humanitarian passionate about feeding the hungry, “you’ll keep your hands at your sides.”

What is all of this for? Why, Mr. Buher has finally been accepted, he realizes with an epic boner, when he finds three sixes on his ring finger one joyous night, the same night when Damien discovered the higher-echelon sixes on his own head.

5.) Why ask why? It’s just good, mindless horror fun.

There a good many things in DO2 that just don’t make sense–the most striking is Mark’s sudden change of heart about his cousin. Just because he’s the Antichrist doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have your back in a street brawl? Well, maybe not–I think the whole point is that when Damien’s underlying threat to the physical (and spiritual) safety of his family in order to move ahead like Anna Wintour with a 1970s mop-top military haircut, all bets are off. After so much death and a sense of unraveling not unlike his brother’s, Richard is finally convinced when he sees archeological evidence of Damien’s Truth. Obviously traumatized by the unfolding events, he resolves to kill his adopted child before he himself is killed. Good luck with that, dude. Lee Remick to the rescue! How else would we see a third movie?

Ka-ching!