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MECHANICAL ANIMALS: TALES AT THE CRUX OF CREATURES AND TECH, edited with Jason Heller, published by Hex Publishing.

A speculative fiction safari that riffs on the traditional ideals of automata to explore our strange and competitive relationship with the natural world. Biomimicry is no stranger to literature, with canonical authors like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hans Christian Anderson, and Jules Verne setting the tone for a trope that has expounded and expanded upon what exactly separates humans from the animal kingdom as well as the boundary between machines and living beings. Featuring 15 original stories by today’s top science fiction and fantasy authors and contextual mecha-fauna essays by artist and Insect Lab Studio maker, Mike Libby, and SF encyclopedist and author Jess Nevins, Mechanical Animals presents a biomimicry menagerie of animalistic machines that will blur the lines between what is and isn’t nature’s design.

Contributor’s Include:  Mike Libby, Jess Nevins, Tessa Kum, Delia Sherman, Maurice Broaddus, Sarah Hans, Lauren Beukes, Jesse Bullington, An Owomoyela, Stephen Graham Jones, Hans Christian Andersen, Molly Tanzer, Aliette de Bodard, Nick Mamatas, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kat Howard, Michael Cisco, Adrian Van Young, Robert T. Toombs, Joseph S. Pulver, Jr., Alistair Rennie, Jules Verne, Caroline Yoachim, Carrie Vaughn

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SISTERHOOD, edited by Nate Pedersen, published by Chaosium is forthcoming this year. It includes my story, “The Veils of Sanctuary,” a Bas Bleu tale centered around a lost Sappho poem and dance performance about Medusa á la Salomé. Featuring Beatrice Vail, my fictional tribute/composite of Maud Allen, Isadora Duncan, and Mata Hari, this is my lit-nerd love letter to the women of Modernism, the Underworld Goddesses, Medusa, Sappho, (and Paris):

“For instance, I imagined that based on the few footnotes found on Vail’s work as a poet and performer, that somehow she was following in, if not recreating the molpe practices of Sappho and her followers who performed their poetry with music and dance as the first instance of transcending realities through ecstatic expression.

While it does seem like she performed, no account of any performance exists. The committee, as you know told me she was less than a historical spectre, and have never supported my thesis. Only, you, Dr. J—, have dared to imagine with me, and here we are, holding hands at the seance. 

Speaking of, I do think exploring the theory that she was involved in some sort of espionage is interesting and is a thread worth seeking in this research. It is interesting how almost all of her contemporaries—Isadora Duncan, Maud Allen, Colette, and Mata Hari (who was actually executed!)—were eventually persecuted as strongly as they had been adored, and how at the center of the parallels lies the discarded veils of Salomé.

I did find one letter from Maud Allen telling Vail she was too intellectual and “people will think you hate men. Silly girl, men are the money.” So perhaps she was not welcomed in the dancing halls. She was, however, welcomed at the salon of Nathalie Barney—where it seems she gave an exclusive performance complete with sets and costumes based on “several conclusion I have drawn about the seven gates of Ishtar and discoveries of unknown writings of the Tenth Muse,” she writes to Barney. It seems Barney was over-moon at the performance. “

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The Spolia Tarot Deck:  A Review and An Interview with Creators Jessa Crispin & Jen May

SC: Speaking of attribution: Jessa wrote a Tinyletter in 2017 casting Anthony Bourdain as the Queen of Coins. Since his death, it has been making very poignant rounds on Twitter as a prescient eulogy. From a synchronistic perspective, this strikes me as a wonderful example of where—without necessarily trying to use it as divination—Tarot’s interpretations and meditations end up ringing truer over the passing of time. How do you feel about that piece resurfacing in this context?

JC: I had already left twitter by the time of Bourdain’s death, so I had no idea this was the case until you just told me.

Really, I was just trying to write about what I thought was a fundamental misunderstanding about what Bourdain was doing, and the idea of Queenliness was the most useful way to do that. There are other ways to express that, through androgyny or empathy or whatever.

What I am interested in is this investment in misunderstanding the person you admire so as not to have to embody their complications. As in, if you understand Bourdain to be all about the leather jacket and the foul mouth, that is much easier to copy and embody yourself than what goes into the actual quality of his work. That’s something I see in our culture increasingly, this removal of context and complexity. We all want to be surface only. We want to be a brand. But there’s stuff under the surface that we can’t wash away. We can deal with it, by dealing directly with the unconscious, but we can’t just change our outfit and become another person, and I do think that is a strong impulse in our culture.

You know, one of the reasons I left social media was because of this. I have seen talented writers wreck themselves on the rocky shore of Branding. And they volunteer for that. And why not – complexity does not give you an audience. It gives you soul, but actually it often gets in the way of money, power, influence. But it’s an act of violence against your very self, and I’ll never understand why so many people sign up for that.

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From Painting with Blasphemy: An Interview with Carrie Ann Baade (available at Beautiful Bizarre for free online)

SC:  Do you want to talk about the injury?

CAB:  It was 4 years before there was any relief and it took 6 years before I was not in daily pain. Before, I painted 30 painting that year and could sit for up to 70 hours straight working at my easel. The next day, I was bed ridden. I could not sit or drive without being in horrible pain. With every physical act, I reinjured. In the past, I painted through pain and loss, I thought I had endured some amazing hurdles and in a moment of someone else’s carelessness, I was taken out of my routine. I was jumped in a parking lot; weirder yet, it was by two people I knew. They ran at me and I think meant to hug me, but these two men sandwiched me in a berserk, aggressive embrace and then one jumped up and wrapped his legs around us and squeezed. The combined pressure and weight left me in horrible pain, thousands upon thousands in bills, and a loss of identity…I was no longer a painter because I could not paint.

It was the end of my prior world, and the beginning of a different one. As a result, I did a lot of performance art and made a cult called Art Nunz. In my head, I edit and continue to edit this time period. It’s not a simple narrative but it was necessary to redefine and reinvent who I was in order to continue making art. Not painting everyday felt like death; I never wanted to know who I was if I wasn’t a painter.

While I could not sit at an easel until 2014, I was working on really big paintings in my head or on paper and in preparatory studies and they were being worked on in 2012, 2013, and 2014, but they were not in finished form until 2015. When you are use to this online presence and the likes and endorphins and the algorithms and you don’t exist and have nothing to show, you are erased and invisible and you don’t count—the other reality is that I was working on things in my head and some in collage. I wanted to make something that could absorb all of life’s lessons I was experiencing and I didn’t want to make little paintings anymore. So I guess you could look at this ironic, paradoxically calamity as a good thing. I don’t want to be the painter I was before. Yet, those men never apologized and I am not sending them a thank you card.

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From A Voyage Through the Analogue: An Interview with Ellen Rogers (available at Beautiful Bizarre online for free)

SC:  There is a wonderful Gothic and Decadence presence throughout your work that give subtle nods to Robert Chambers, Lovecraft, Poe, and Baudelaire. What I find most fascinating about this is your ability to subvert the trope of the helpless heroine. How have the influence of male writers fueled the flame for your exploration of a feminine space?

ER:  I think this is a good question, and an observational one. You’ve hit on something that I personally know I struggle with and very few people seem to notice. I am drawn and prone to be heavily inspired by male writers (against my better judgment and will). Particularly M.R James.

I don’t think it’s because they are male but socially, a sort of reverence lives around men. With M.R. James, for example, my instinct is to feminize his work. To make it mine, I feel a strange love/hate towards him. I feel his hands all over my home turf, and I feel his misogyny has claimed my beaches and local mysteries. At times when I read his stories, (that I am attached to), I feel a sort of violence for the way he paints women as henpecking and unintelligent – East Anglian women, and in the land they are set, where I grew up. I want to remake his works. I did this once while at university but would like to remake them again.

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From Andrea Kowch: Diving Deeper into Mystery:  (appeared in Beautiful Bizarre: Issue 21. Print version is sold out, but digital is still available for purchase here)

SC:  You describe your paintings as “metaphorical autobiography,” where each work represents a personal life passage transformed into a universal narrative. And, yet, your own portraiture is absent. By dividing your autobiography among your friends (who are your paintings’ models), are you subverting the art historical tradition of female selfies?

AK:  Placing my likeness literally on the canvas offers no meaning to me. I have an aversion to things that are too readily expressed or interpreted literally. It’s all about the mystery life offers for me.
I believe each artist’s body of artwork is ultimately a self-portrait in one sense or another, regardless of how it is expressed. Life is a mystery, and the spark of living and what it means to be alive boils down to our quests to explore and unearth all the hidden wonder that exists within and around us. Not all is what it seems, nor are people all they claim to be. Not painting myself further allows me to celebrate the mystery of the universal.