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Willow Fagan
15 April 2015 @ 11:01 am
My story All Her Buzzing Eyes went live at Farrago's Wainscot today.  I'm especially excited about this publication, as it's my first published piece of science fiction.  It's also a retelling of Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective.  Let me know what you think of it!
Willow Fagan
06 June 2014 @ 12:50 pm
My story The Nameless Saint, originally published in The Dark Magazine, is now at PodCastle!  You can listen to in online (or download it) here.

Let me know what you think of it!
Willow Fagan
17 July 2012 @ 01:44 pm
Genderqueer is a word that points to infinite possibilities for playing with, sabotaging, cutting up, reinventing and/or reclaiming gender.  However, there is a frequent perception that genderqueer is most often claimed by people who were assigned female at birth.  This zine aims to address this by creating a space for genderqueer people who were assigned male at birth to tell their stories, examine and explore their identities and experiences, and offer their perspectives and visions on gender, queerness, and beyond.  

There is no one path from M to Q; there are as many routes as there are genderqueers.  Even the metaphor of a route is too limited; there may not be movement at all, but rather a slicing open or a flowering forth.  Tell us about your journey, your process, the intricate or plain pattern of your gender history.  Tell us the name of your gender, and how it feels when other people sing it back to you (or refuse to do so).  Tell us your struggles, tell us your dreams, tell us the shapes of pain and liberation that swim through your blood.    

Here are some questions to consider:

* How did you come to discover/create/embrace being genderqueer?  What does being genderqueer look like for you, in terms of identity and expression?

* What has coming out as genderqueer been like?  With your family?  With your friends?  With strangers on the bus?  Or, why have you not come out?  

* What have your experiences of the genderqueer community been like?  Positive, negative, mixed or uncategorizable.  

* How does being genderqueer intersect with your other identities and experiences?  People of color, working-class people, people with disabilities are especially encouraged to submit.

* Have you had experiences as a genderqueer person that you consider to be directly linked to having been assigned male at birth?  Either because of the assumptions that others make about your identity, or because of the internal effects of being socialized to be a “boy”.

* What would the world look like if it were a safe and welcoming place for your gender?  How might we get from here to there?  Political analysis, critiques and visions or liberation are welcome as long as they are rooted in your experiences.  

* How have structures of domination (such as heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, classism, ableism, and and and...) shaped, distorted or suppressed your gender identity, expression, and experiences?

* What possibilities for resistance, liberation, and new forms of community do you see in and around genderqueer lives and identities?  How do you respond to the notion that identifying as genderqueer is a political act?

*Feel free to add anything else that comes to you!

Please send us your poems, stories, essays, comics, photographs, drawings, one-act plays, and sheet music--anything that can be reproduced in two dimensions and black and white.  Send them to gaias.eye@gmail.com.  Also feel free to ask any questions you might have.  The deadline to send in submissions is the Fall Equinox: September 22nd, 2012.  

This zine will be co-edited by River Willow Fagan, Fauster Kitchens and Josiah Seng. Please pass this call along to networks, list-serves and friends who might be interested in contributing.

Willow Fagan
This is the first time one of my stories has been podcast!  Which is very exciting to me.  You can listen to the first part of the story here.  Let me know what you think!
Willow Fagan
08 September 2011 @ 10:12 pm
Please note that this contains discussion of some of the emotional aspects of childhood sexual abuse and anti-queer hate violence, and so may be triggering for some readers.

Dear Bill Schafer,

Thank you for asking for comments on your decision to publish Orson Scott Card’s Hamlet’s Father.  I appreciate you publicly declaring that you value the thoughts and feelings of your readers, and that you and your fellow editors will take our concerns seriously.

I want to admit that I have not read Hamlet’s Father.  I am assuming that the information contained in William Alexander‘s review is accurate, and that if it were not accurate, your public response to the controversy would have included relevant corrections.

This is an issue that hits very close to home for me.  I am a queer survivor of childhood sexual abuse; my father molested me for twelve years.  There is far too much involved in my personal experience to get into in this letter.  But I do want to discuss some of my own life because it’s relevant.  One of the most painful aspects of being a queer survivor has been the doubts: what if all those hateful voices were right?  What if I am attracted to men because my father abused me?  What if I really am sick, what if my soul really is twisted and broken like all those conservative Christians say?  

Through years of therapy and lots of struggle I have learned that my queerness is not at all sick or twisted, that it is part of my vibrant and beautiful creativity, that it is part of the life flourishing inside of me, the life that wants to embrace the world and explore the many possibilities of love and to write and sing and dance.

I am lucky; I escaped from my father’s house.  I am out of that violence, and I have had the support of many people who have helped me on my ongoing healing journey.  But everyone is not so lucky.  I myself am far from unscathed, far from free of the taint of those hateful voices, of my father’s voice whispering in my ear that the abuse was my fault, that he was hurting me because of some flaw, some sin within me.  Of the church’s voice proclaiming that queer people are “intrinsically disordered”.  Of the voices of boys at school, calling me a faggot.    

No one who is queer can be free of the echo of those voices, the fear that someone will scream at them on the street for holding the hand of their lover, or for wearing the “wrong” clothes, stepping into the “wrong” bathroom, or for simply having the courage to walk through their lives openly and with pride.

By publishing this poisonous work, by stamping this story with the Subterranean Press logo and distributing it through the world, you have added strength to those hateful voices.  Those hateful voices (of which, admittedly, Card is but one of many) help create a social climate in which queer people are routinely mocked, tormented and threatened with violence.  In which queer teenagers take their own lives in terrible numbers.  (Especially, I suspect, queer teenagers who have experienced or are experiencing sexual violence.)  In which queer people are brutalized and murdered.   

This is a harsh thing to say, an angry thing to say.  It is a scary thing to say as a young speculative fiction writer who doesn’t want to burn bridges.  But it is true, and I have learned that my own survival and well-being as a survivor depends on me telling the truth; for me, the cost of remaining silent is worse than any potential repercussions of speaking out.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I know that it cannot be easy to read so many angry and critical e-mails.  I hope that you are able to find clear sight and compassion, both for those who are angry and hurt and for yourself.

I hope that my letter inspires you to make a further public statement, one which publicly proclaims your support for queer people.  One which acknowledges that you know that the ideas that queer men are pedophiles and/or that queer people are queer because they were abused are hateful lies, disproven again and again*.  One which a scared teenage boy, as terrified of his own sexuality as he is of his abusive father, could read and be comforted by.  

I hope that everyone reading this letter is moved to make such statements, and that we can collectively drown out the poisonous bile spewed by Orson Scott Card with a wildly diverse chorus of love and acceptance, anger and hope and beautiful fantastic visions of queer liberation.

River Willow Fagan

*See, for example, this link: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_molestation.html

Willow Fagan

The Magician the Maid and Other Stories by Christie Yant.

This story contained some elements that I usually enjoy: retold fairy tales, stories within stories, travel between worlds.  But overall this story didn't work for me.  I think there's several reasons for that.  First, I guessed pretty early in the story that Audra was Aurora and Emil was Miles.  Perhaps the author intended for that to be clear, but I didn't feel like the story was told as if the audience was in the know about that.  More importantly, the happy ending felt too fast and too easy.  And something about that ending feels really key to something else about the story that didn't work for me: it felt simultaneously too cynical and too naive. 

Letter from the Emperor by Steve Rasnic Tem

This story also contained some of my favorite elements--uncertainty about what's true, shapeshifting aliens that may or may not exist, blurry lines between telling lies and telling stories--but in this case I really enjoyed them.  I've only read a few of Steve Rasnic Tem's short stories but I've always really enjoyed them.  This story, like his others, hits that sweet spot at the intersection of crunchy speculative fiction goodness, compelling human emotions, and sophisticated literary depth.  For me, it's a worthy successor to the Kafka fable its title refers to.  Tem's story is considerably longer of course.  It does touch on the bleakness present in the original (and the failure of communication), but it seems to allow contain at least some allowance for the ability to hope.  In this story, the letter from the Emperor, thought it's a fabrication, does arrive.  And the main character comes to understand that one of the reasons communication failed is, at least in one instance, because he failed to listen.  If he understands that he has failed, perhaps he can learn how to succeed.  The empathy underlying his fabrication of the letter (empathy both for his dead colleague Anders Nils and for the military officer waiting for the nonexistent letter) points to the possibility of further, deeper, more lasting empathies.    

Okay, now for some meta-discussion.  One of the reasons I don't often write reviews of anthologies is because I totally skip some of the stories.  And it seems unfair to those writers to just ignore those stories.  And I can't tell if it seems better or worse to explain why I skipped it.  For these reflections, as an experiment, I'm going to try to briefly explain why. 

(Also, an unrelated meta-point is that in these reflections I'm assuming you've read the stories--I'm not trying to summarize the plot in a non-spoilery way so you can decide if you want to read it or not.)

Holdfast by Matthew Johnson

I only read the first page or so of this.  It just didn't grab my interest.  I think mostly because I'm rather sick of secondary world fantasy with farmers and dragons.  Hopefully I'll have the chance to return to and fully read this story at some point.

Standard Loneliness Package by Charles Yu

This is a heavy, heavy story.  The unrelenting sadness doesn't let up until the end, and then only partially.  The main idea--the novum or whatever--is that people can experience other people's recorded moments.  I think this is really compelling and interesting, and I think it's also highly plausible and interesting that such technology would be used in the way it is in the story.  That is, rich people pay working class people to experience their painful moments.  Literally outsourcing their suffering, and much of it to the developing world. 

I think the main problem I have with this story is due to the fact that I think of stories as being miniature worlds.  This is less true of short stories than of novels and movies, yes--a short story is maybe more like a slice of a world.  Everyone knows it's limited.  But this story feels like it's intended to be allegorical, like it's saying "this is a metaphor for what life is like."  And I want to shout, "No, life isn't like this!  No one's life is this unrelentingly bleak."

There's a good chance that this is my own defensive, privileged response. Because the more that I think about it, the more that I realize how good a metaphor the story really is for the massive transfer of suffering from the rich to the poor that globalized capitalism creates.  And that is a heavy, heavy reality.  (It's funny to me how writing these reflections has really changed my perception of some of these stories, almost always for the better). 

The ending of this story is a breathtaking revelation, like a gorgeous sunset seen after a week of grey.  It points to entirely different possibilities for how the technology could be used--and maybe, if the story is an allegory in the way it seems to me, to how people could relate to each other on all levels--personal and political.

Willow Fagan
I'm someone who can be easily influenced by other people's perspectives.  I heard a lot about the third story in this anthology, "The Green Book" by Amal El-Mohtar before I read it.  In particular, I remember Rachel Swirsky's take on it, which seemed very much like damning with faint praise when I first read it (but upon re-reading it just now is probably less harsh than that phrase conveys).  Anyway, my brain stored it as "this story might not be very good", so I approached "The Green Book" from that perspective.  I felt unimpressed for the first few pages--and I honestly can't tell you if that's because the story takes a while to pick up steam, or if it was my preconceptions.  But the story definitely won me over.  I love the tantalizing, creepy hints of the Sisterhood, with their strange uses for bone.  I love the written interactions between Cynthia and Leuwin--especially her outburst about wanting to live in the flesh once more.  Reading this story made me realize that I think I have a fondness for stories that are fragments of various writings--my own story "Some Notes on the Eisenberg Estate" takes that form.  But probably my favorite thing about this story is how it can be read as sly, backhanded, multifaceted comment on the relationship between reader and writer, between reality and fiction.  

The next story "The Other Graces" by Alice Sola Kim is striking for being so grounded in the real world in the present day--the first story in this anthology that isn't set in the future or some alternate past.  The narration of the story is also very striking; it's told in the second voice, in this strangely intimate way.  As I read it, I thought, "is this Grace speaking to herself, commenting on her own life?"  And then, I realized, with great admiration for how skillfully the story was crafted, that it was one of "The Other Graces" commenting on the protagonist's life.  This is one of the those stories that I want to run around and tell people to read, like some strange evangelist.  I think that this story has wide appeal--that a lot of people who don't typically like speculative fiction (or who think that they don't like speculative fiction) could enjoy and appreciate this story.  I can easily imagine it being published in one of those hipper, more postmodern literary magazines.  Part of this is because the speculative element is less prominent than the detailed portrait of Grace's life as a young "yellow trash"* girl struggling to escape the unhappiness of her family by getting into an Ivy League school.  The emotional depth and tension are heightened by the narrator's commentary on this quest, which is knowing and alternately bitter and compassionate.  But the speculative element--a group of Other Graces from (it seems) parallel dimensions, who offer to help Grace cheat on the SAT by transporting themselves into her mind--is very important, and has a deep resonance with the central conflict of the story.  They are, in my reading, a metaphor for her desire to change herself, to become a different, future self.  I know some speculative fiction folk think that speculative elements that are clearly metaphors are somehow impure, not true science fiction or fantasy, but I love them.

*This is how she describes herself.

"The Sultan of the Clouds" by Geoffrey A. Landis felt, to me, like multiple stories struggling to fit into the same body.  In other words, I didn't feel like the different elements of the story were fully melded together, or successfully balanced against each other.  Accordingly, I have mixed feelings about the story.  Towards the end, I thought the story was going to have the kind of happy ending that makes me nauseous, where the unrequited(?) love results in a marriage and that marriage simultaneously ties up the political plot.  Thankfully, the ending is much more ambiguous and darker than that, with the love interest, Leah, reflecting on the attractions of the disturbing marriage practices of Venus.  But it doesn't feel like the story led up to that ending, or really wrestled with the implications and depths of the Venusian "braids". 

I also felt like the first person narrator--David--was intended to be a stand-in for the audience, with our twenty-first century perspective on this future society--but the problem with that is that he is also from a future, non-Earth society.  He doesn't seem to be appreciably different from a current day American.  I'm annoyed by science fiction set in a future that doesn't feel like the future (which, honestly, is most of it--the only authors I can think of who consistently create a culture that feels authentically futuristic to me are Bruce Sterling, Geoff Ryman--and that's really just based on Child Garden which is like the best science fiction novel ever and you need to read it right now--and William Gibson--and he's decided that the present is too science fictional for him to write about the future anymore.**  [Some science fiction feels like it's not really supposed to be in the future, but in some mythic Othertime, a la Star Wars "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."  I feel this way about Ursula K. Le Guin, who is one of my favorite speculative fiction writers ever, and about what I've read so far of Nnedi Okorafor.  As I mentioned in the first reflection, I really like that type of mythic science fiction.])

In thinking about the story right now, I do appreciate the fact that Carlos Fernando's plan is exactly the kind of plan that you might expect a petulant, super-rich twelve year old boy to come up with.  It's somewhat ridiculous, and totally callous--and the terrifying thing is that it might actually happen.  But I don't feel like the story conveys that terror very well.  Part of that is that even the pirates--who are rebelling against a family that literally owns half of the floating cities of Venus--seem rather toothless and somehow naive.  They tell David that they just want to talk to Carlos Fernando, which seems completely unbelievable to me--how many armed guerrilla rebels just want to chat with the enemy leader?  Maybe they're lying to David, but there's no indication of that. 

I do love the idea of floating cloud cities, and there's some gorgeous description in those story.  And some interesting characters, the beginning of some digging into some interesting questions.  I just keep feeling like the story could be a lot more integrated, a lot more deep, than it is right now.  That feels like a strange thing to write in a review--it's much more like what one would write in a critique of an unpublished story.  But it is how it feels to me. 

**The weird thing about this list is that it's all (white) men, and normally I actually prefer fiction written by women.  I would love
recommendations on future-feeling science fiction written by women and non-binary people.   
Willow Fagan
I'm going to go through and read all the stories in this collection and share my thoughts on them here.  (Probably excluding my own story.)  I read a lot of short stories, most of them speculative, but I don't often write about them in public.  So this is a bit awkward and uncomfortable for me, a bit like public speaking.  But sometimes when you're up there shaking you just get caught up in what you're doing and soar above the nervousness.

Here goes:

The opening story is "Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain" by Yoon Ha Lee.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before in this space, but I've liked several of Yoon Ha Lee's stories a lot.  This story is no exception.  It's a kind of science fiction that I've been seeing a lot more of recently, and that I really enjoy--there's never a moment when the story grinds to a halt to explain the mechanics of some futuristic engine, there's not a lot of jargon.  Rather, the story feels like postmodern mythology, clean and compelling and evocative of strange new possibilities.  The central element of the story is a series of four fantastic guns (the names of which compose the title).  A world-weary assassin living near the end of the universe wields one of the guns, Flower, which kills not only the target but all of the target's ancestors.  In a few short pages, the story conjures an interesting world, the lovely dark poetry of the guns, and some meaty ethical questions.  I would highly recommend it, especially for people who share my tastes for less sciencey science fiction.

The second story is "Amor Vincit Omnia" by K.J. Parker.  I'm not quite sure how I feel about it.  On the one hand, after reading it I thought, "That was a well-written story, a well-constructed world with some a cool magical systems and some clever, well-drawn conflict scenes and some interesting points about politics and violence, but it felt a little heartless.  It didn't feel like what happened actually mattered to the characters as people, or that the main character really changed at all."  And another part of me thinks, "Yes, but the point of the story is the political ideas in it, which you're still thinking about."  That's true; I am still thinking about the story, which is one way of gauging the quality of a piece.  I still think, though, as clearly good as the story is it lacks some quality that makes me light up inside, which is what I want from each story if I were editing a Year's Best Anthology myself.  It's still very much worth reading, though.  And one part of what I'm still chewing on is the title, which is Latin for "Love Conquers All".  What does it mean for the story to be titled that, when there is apparently no love in the story at all, except perhaps the cold love of a loyal servant for the bureaucracy he serves?
Willow Fagan
07 July 2011 @ 12:37 am
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write a short story for each of these rules, in which you break the rule into smithereens.  

Alternately, your challenge is to find pre-existing stories that do so.  

Report your efforts back here.

Willow Fagan
21 May 2011 @ 06:09 pm
Sometimes, the right book finds you at exactly the right time.  Today, for me, that book was Bones of Faerie by Jamie Lee Simner.  Reading it made me cry, and inspired me deeply, reawakening something that has been clenched up and far away, reconnecting me to my own inspiration and desire.