Having a drink with fictional characters

Q: We’ve all encountered characters in stories and novels that we’ve felt a real connection to, and would love to chat with more. Maybe buy them a drink. What characters have you encountered in Fantasy and SF that you’d like to buy a pint for?

In 2014 Paul Weimer, editing the Mind Meld column for SF Signal, posed that question to a number of SFF writers, me included. I loved the question, and was reminded of my answer recently when renowned writer/editor Terri Windling tweeted one of the real-life artworks that inspired the fictional art of one of the characters in her novel, The Wood Wife.

So, some six years after the fact, I reread what I had written and realized that I would still welcome this imagined conviviality (maybe even more so after all these months of pandemic-induced social bubble and Zoom-limited interactions), a tribute, undoubtedly, to the character-building genius of the the writers involved.

So here is my response — in 2014, and in 2020 — to the question that tops this post.

What an interesting question. I’m fond of a lot of characters in speculative fiction actually, and I really had to think long and hard to narrow this down to two. Which two made the final cut completely surprised me for a number of reasons — including the fact that they are ancillary characters, and one of them never gets to speak.

Anna Naverra from Terri Windling’s The Wood Wife. Okay, she dies before the book opens. Also, she doesn’t speak — she’s described (and ascribed motive) in dreams, in the investigation of the mystery of who she was and became, in the poetry of her more recently deceased Anglo poet husband. But Anna is a Mexican surrealist painter — conjuring associations that are part Remedios Varo, part Frida Kahlo, part Ana Mendieta — who grew up in the same Mexico as my mother (also an artist), and crossed similar boundaries. I don’t think Windling deals entirely fairly with her (she resolves the paradox about Anna in much too pat a manner) but she gives her fantastic, compelling art which stands in for whatever else might be missing in her characterization.

Art by, left to right, Remedios Varo, Frida Kahlo, Ana Mendieta.

Anna is unusual in SFF in a number of ways: she’s Latina and she’s not young. While I applaud those who include kickass Latinas in the mold of Zoe Saldana (in Colombiana) or Michelle Rodriguez (in just about every movie she’s ever made) in their SFF works, I get tired of those being the only representations I see. Anna is engagingly complex; physical in a most ordinary way; her painting are dark and rich, and her relationship with the Mexico of her younger and latter years is significant.

I’d buy her a tequila with a sangrita chaser and talk with her about the Mexico of Elena Poniatowska and José Luis Cuevas; of Diego Rivera and Octavio Paz; of Zapatistas and palos voladores and a creative tradition so innate that it has taken corn smut and turned it into an astonishing culinary delicacy (huitlacoche). I’d ask her, in other words, to tell me what made her who she was and what made my mother what she was — formidable artists forged in that particular crucible.

The other character is from a book almost 20 years older than Windling’s and, I believe, commonly thought as a very minor work in its author’s impressive body of work. But I’m actually quite fond of Peter Beagle’s Folk of the Air, and of its secondary character Athanasia Sioris, or Sia, as she is known throughout.

She, too, is older than the norm in SFF. In fact, Beagle describes her like this: “the broad, blunt-featured face was no older than sixty, the dark-honey skin almost without lines and the gray eyes quick and clear and imperiously sad. But her body was lumpy as a charwoman’s — waistless, short-legged, wide-hipped, bellied like the moon — though she carried it with all the vivid rigor of a circus wire walker.”

Throughout the book, Sia is both more powerful and weaker than anticipated, a goddess and a woman, and a character of such complex history that Beagle can only give us glimpses of it. Like Anna, she is formidable, though an entirely different expression of it.

I guess, from her name, that with her I’d have to sit down to a Plomari-style ouzo cut with water to make it moonstone cloudy. I hope it would be at a taverna on the waterfront in Mytilene, with fresh octopus pulled from the waters in front of us and the wind scouring all the layers of disguise and prohibition right off us. We would talk about the elements and what is elemental, and the ways of women aging in a world that cannot see us for what we really are.

We’d also talk about belief. How in every mythos, in every work of transformative art, in every character that resonates years after the reading, belief is the heart. I want to imagine, at the end, that Anna would join us, and after good food, good drink and good conversation, the three of us would pull out our ancient frame drums (materializing from thin air, of course) and dance a circle that, though mortal, never ends.

What about you? Which fictional character would you most want to sit down with and share a drink and a chat? Let me know in the comments below!

(Photo at the top of the post: Konstantinos Papadopoulos for Unsplash.com)

Awards eligibility, post #2

So … it turns out I do have another story that is eligible for a Nebula and a Hugo (and would have been eligible for a Bram Stoker had I managed to get this post up before the deadline. Oh well).

Anyway … my short story “A Fish Tale” from the anthology Sharp and Sugar Tooth: Women Up to No Good (from Upper Rubber Boot) is a story about appetites. The appetites that lead to abuse, the appetite for revenge and for redemption. Plus, it’s truly a paean to food.

If you are a nominator for either of the awards and wanting a reading copy of the story, let me know.

Also, please consider nominating the editor, Octavia Cade, and the anthology itself for awards.

Thanks all, and happy reading.

The requisite awards eligibility post …

Not a lot to consider this year … and not all of it due to my painfully slow writing process (hit me up some time for my thoughts on publications that bar simultaneous submissions but hold onto stories for the better part of the year without deciding whether yay or nay …).

So, just one of my stories is eligible this year:

The Devil in the Details was published in Kaiju Rising II (Outland Entertainment), which has an April 2019 publication date and is eligible for Nebula and Hugo consideration.

 

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For all that this story has the New Jersey Devil laying waste to Center City Philadelphia, this is a surprisingly sweet story. It was also hella fun to write.

If you have read it and enjoyed it, please consider nominating it in the short story category.

That’s it, folks. Hopefully next year’s iteration of this post will have a lot more for you to consider.

My schedule at Readercon 30

Sabrina Vourvoulias at Mundos Alternos reading at Queens Museum, May 2019
At the Mundos Alternos reading at the Queens Museum 5/19/19.

Who knew back in 2012 when I started going to Readercon that I’d come to think of it as my home convention — even when going home, in this instance, means traveling 3+ hours from Philadelphia to the Boston-adjacent town of Quincy where this most literary of speculative fiction conventions takes place.

But it really does feel like a homecoming every time I go, and I even have a super eclectic playlist I listen to as I settle into the café car of the Amtrak Northeast Regional.

This year Readercon takes place July 11 through July 15, and the Guests of Honor are Tananarive Due and Stephen Graham Jones, so if you’ve never attended, it’d be a great year to go. Register here.

I am scheduled to be on the following panels at Readercon and, if you are there, I’d love to see/meet you:

Latinx Authors Tear Down the Wall

Lisa Bradley (mod), Carlos Hernandez, José Pablo Iriarte, Julia Rios, Sabrina Vourvoulias
Fri 2:00 PM, Salon 4
Isolationist governments portray immigrants (and citizens perceived as foreigners) as vectors for disease, crime, and terrorism. Currently, the U.S. administration is demonizing Latinx immigrants in this fashion, and oppressing asylum-seekers from Central America. How can authors dismantle anti-immigrant myths while portraying immigrants in all their human complexity? Led by Lisa M. Bradley, Latinx writers will discuss their work regarding borders and immigration, providing historical context and exploring possibilities for future stories.

Why Does Space Get the Opera and Cyber the Punk?

Liz Gorinsky, Austin Grossman, Catherynne M. Valente, Sabrina Vourvoulias, T.X. Watson (mod)
Fri 4:00 PM, Salon 3
For Arisia’s 50 Panels in 75 Minutes panel in 2018, Cecilia Tan suggested “Why Does Space Get the Opera and Cyber the Punk?”, which was universally acclaimed as too good for 1.5 minutes. Our panelists will give this exploration of speculative and musical genres the full hour it deserves. (And where is the spacepunk and cyber opera?)

Reading: Sabrina Vourvoulias

Fri 9:00 PM, Salon C

Incorporating the Media into Fantasy Worlds

Zig Zag Claybourne, Randee Dawn, L. Penelope (mod), Sabrina Vourvoulias, Paul Weimer
Sat 11:00 AM, Salon B
From the 24-hour news cycle to online journalism, the media plays an enormous role in our society, but it tends to make less of an appearance in fantasy works. L. Penelope will lead a discussion on how authors incorporate the media into their fantasy writing, as well as the challenges and benefits of doing so.

I Don’t Know Why I’m on This Panel

Jeffrey Ford, Elizabeth Hand, Arkady Martine, Cecilia Tan (mod), Sabrina Vourvoulias
Sat 2:00 PM, Salon 4
This phrase is often spoken during panelist introductions at conventions. In this case it’s literally true: the panelists have no idea why the program staff have put them on a panel together or what they’re supposed to discuss. They may try to figure it out, or they may have a totally unstructured chat for an hour. Either way, it’s sure to be entertaining.

Food at the Corner of Fiction and Community

N.S. Dolkart, Andrea Martinez Corbin (mod), Greer Gilman, Michael Swanwick, Sabrina Vourvoulias
Sat 9:00 PM, Salon A
Food plays a central role in many cultures and accordingly takes center stage in the work of many speculative fiction writers. How does cuisine help define, or build, a community? How can food be used to communicate important information about a people to the reader? What are some particularly noteworthy examples of the way food can be used to set, or subvert, expectations?

Hope to see you there!

Nebula, Hugo, Locus (etc.) awards-eligible stories 2018

It’s that time of year, again, when Speculative fiction writers trot out our reminders of the stories that have been published during the year. Stories we’d like you to read, and if you have the ability to do so*, to consider nominating for any of the SF/F/H awards for 2018.

29345309_2061728263867601_1714965961_nAlthough my novel, Ink, was rereleased this year by Rosarium Publishing — with new content and a beautiful new cover — it’s ineligible for any award because it was originally issued in 2012. But I believe Vincent Sammy is eligible for Ink’s cover art, and I urge you to consider nominating him for a Best Professional Artist Hugo, because the artwork he created for my novel is gorgeous.

Check out his other covers here, and his interior illustrations here.

Okay, onto the stories of mine I’d love for you to read, and consider nominating.

The Life and Times of Johnny the Fox

(3,932 words – short story category)

 

I am here to tell you the truth about Johnny the Fox.

 

If you’ve heard the tale that he was born in Puerto Rico, to one human and one inhuman parent, that is true.

 

Johnny’s mother is from the western port city of Mayagüez, where she lives to this day. His father is the northeasterly trade wind that regularly sweeps in and plays along Puerto Rico’s northernmost shore and outlying islands.

 

Many years ago—but not so many that there aren’t some folks who still remember—the two met in Arecibo and fell grandly and recklessly in love. The product of their union loves this story, by the way. Johnny the Fox is fond of saying that if you dig under all the hard layers of his being, you’ll come to a core that is pure, molten romance. And, really, what could be more romantic than a wind that becomes human to woo its beloved?

 

But a cynical wink is never far from any of Johnny the Fox’s tales, so remember: love has never been enough to permanently tame, or even reroute, the wind.

 

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Published in Knaves: A Blackguards Anthology by Outland Publications, which will be available in eBook form in December, “The Life and Times of Johnny the Fox” is part trickster tale, part tall tale, and part rumination on the resilience of Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community after the devastation of Hurricane María.

The character of Johnny the Fox first made his appearance in my story Skin in the Game (Tor.com, 2014), and I knew, even back then, that I would someday have to give him a story of his own. Gratifyingly, when I read “The Life and Times of Johnny the Fox” at Readercon this year, the audience seemed to be glad I had done so sooner rather than later.

The Devil in the Details

(6,585 words – short story category)

 

1735

Deborah was a well-formed woman of twenty-six. Tall, long of leg, and wide of hip. Under the white muslin cap and black bonnet, her hair was arranged in thick, springy coils. Her dark eyes were kind but canny.

 

Like many of the women of the Pinelands, she had some wortcunning that she plied in an attempt to keep each of her twelve children alive through gripe and fever, abscessed tooth and bloody flux. That Deborah was more successful at this than most made her neighbors believe the family was especially blessed.

 

Her husband, some thirty years older than Deborah and bemused by the attention, was fairly certain they were cursed instead.

 

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Published in Kaiju Rising II: Reign of Monsters by Outland Publications and available in print and eBook form also in December, “The Devil in the Details” starts in 1735 and ends in 2018, focusing on moments that (mostly) coincide with actual sightings of the Jersey Devil in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But the Jersey Devil isn’t exactly what you’ve been led to believe…

I had a blast writing this. I hadn’t ever contemplated writing a kaiju story, and if editor Alana Joli Abbot hadn’t asked me to be part of this anthology, I probably never would have done so. But as with my stories The Ways of Walls and Words (Tor.com, 2015) and St. Simon of 9th and Oblivion (upcoming in The Latinx Archive anthology), the process of weaving speculative into historical ended up utterly engrossing me.

I’d also urge you to consider nominating Alana Joli Abbott (Kaiju II and Knaves) and Margrét Helgadóttir (see entry below) in the Best Editor categories. They richly deserve acknowledgement for their excellent work, their ultra-professional conduct, the care they take with the writer’s work, and their willingness to reach beyond “the usual suspects” when selecting authors for their anthologies.

Time’s Up, Cerotes

(7,741 words – novelette category)

 

When did I first notice she’d gone global?

 

I have to answer that question with a phrase I now understand is the lament of the middle-aged: I don’t remember.

 

After my first book was published, certainly.

 

Chapinlandia Meets Gringolandia in the Disneylandia of the 21st-century Newsroom never made me famous outside of certain journalism school circles, but it did get me on tour to different universities (and university bars). I thought I caught glimpses of her in Austin, Syracuse, L.A., Munich, Milan.

 

But I wasn’t certain until I saw her—this Guatemalan monster out of my past—in my hometown of Philadelphia.

 

It was at one of my usual joints—Cavanaugh’s in Center City—on the night Allison told me about her news director’s remote lockable door.

 

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Published in American Monsters, Part I, by Fox Spirit Books (U.K.), this is another one of my stories that won’t become available until December.

Editor Margrét Helgadóttir focuses on Central and South American monsters in this volume — part of a series that has focused attention on African, Asian and European monsters (and which will culminate with a volume on North American monsters next year) — and has gathered a really stellar roster of writers that includes Brazilian writer Fábio Fernandes, Uruguayan writer Ramiro Sanchiz, and Argentine writer Tere Mira de Echeverría, among others.

“Time’s Up, Cerotes” splits its time between Guatemala City and Philadelphia, past and present, as it follows a Guatemalan journalist’s interaction with the legendary monster —La Siguanaba — from the homeland she left, and then returns to in pursuit of a story.

But just as the reality of the country we leave behind changes and becomes more complicated than our memories, so do our monsters…

Toward a New Lexicon of Augury

(6,978 words – short story category)

 

Black stone lying on a white stone.

 

I waste a hard-earned chit for public access to chase a clue that turns out to be poetry.

 

I will die in Paris, on a rainy day … perhaps on a Thursday, as today is Thursday, in autumn.

 

César Vallejo, the author of the poem “Black stone lying on a white stone,” was a Peruvian writer living in Spain in the 1930s when he succumbed to an infection turned totalitarian. The little I am able to read about him before the buzzer sounds and the next person in line nudges me out of the public access booth, indicates that the poet’s wife consulted with astrologers and wizards in an effort to cure the ailment that felled him.

 

She should have asked the brujas instead. You want to turn counsel to cunning, or wreck the world with a wyrd, ask the wizards. A massive mal puesto, on the other hand, calls for a witch.

 

Or even better, more than one.

 

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“Toward a New Lexicon of Augury,” published at Apex Magazine in November, is about climate change, informal cities, poetry, resistance and love. Oh, and there be witches. 😉

Charles Payseur, at Quick Sips Review, said: “it’s a wonderful story with a great cast of characters, a gripping dilemma, and a clever and badass solution. Go read this one!”

You can read the full story by clicking here.

 

Nebula nominations are open to SFWA active and associate members, Hugo nominations are open to supporting and attending members of last year’s, this year’s and next year’s World Cons, Locus awards are chosen by a survey of readers in an open online poll.

 

 

Women’s History Month: 30 fantastic Latina writers you need to read

Because we can, will, and do, write the most extraordinary stories.

Check out  on Twitter to get links to the websites of the Latina writers (many of them speculative fiction writers, of course 😉) who are quoted here. Some are big names, some just starting out — but they are all really quite remarkable.

Read their work, buy their books and stories (and essays and critical theory), and amplify their voices!

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Over at Skiffy and Fanty: The Smell of Masa in the Morning (plus a recipe)

There is a particular smell to corn that has been soaked in wood ash lye, then washed and hulled and ground into a fine meal.

It is the aroma of freshly made tortillas, of tamales as they steam, of my mother’s huipiles.

Really. No matter how freshly laundered, no matter how many cedar balls or lavender sachets have been thrown in the drawer to keep the moths away, the distinctive hand-woven Guatemalan blouses my mother wore retain the smell of a grain turned more aromatic, more flavorful, more nutritious by the nixtamalation process.

Smell nixtamalizes memory.

Or maybe it is the other way around.

Read the rest of this essay at Skiffy and Fanty.

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Upcoming: Philly’s Nerdtino Expo 17

Saturday, Nov. 18 at Taller Puertorriqueño:

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And, a thank you to the Law Department of the City of Philadelphia for inviting me to speak and read from my work at City Hall on Oct. 25:

Hispanic Heritage Month Program CC

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Caroline Cruz, one of the attorney’s at the Law Department of the City of Philadelphia, with Sabrina Vourvoulias at Conversation Hall of City Hall in Philadelphia, Oct. 25, 2017.

Latino Genre Writers: Diversity in Mystery, Science Fiction, and Horror

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On the morning commute to work, this SEPTA rider I sat across from on the 44 bus had his phone, his lunch and Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”  Latinx lit is lit!

Latino/a writers discuss issues in writing and publishing genre fiction (mystery, science fiction, and horror) and celebrate a new collection of science fiction and fantasy stories.

The New York Society Library
53 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075

Sun, September 17, 2017
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM EDT

Latino-Rising-Cover-webLatin@ Rising: An Anthology of Latin@ Science Fiction and Fantasy is the first anthology of fantastic fiction written by Latino/as living in the United States. Fifty years ago the Latin American boom in literature popularized magical realism; Latin@ Rising is the literature that has risen from the explosion that gave us García Márquez, Jorge Amado, Carlos Fuentes, and others. The 23 authors and artists included in this anthology come from all over the U.S. and from eight different national traditions. They include well-known creators like Kathleen Alcalá, Ana Castillo, Junot Díaz, Giannina Braschi, and others; they also include new voices, well worth hearing.

Panelists
Matthew David Goodwin (editor and moderator) is an assistant professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey, focusing on the topic of migration in Latino/a literature, particularly science fiction, fantasy, and digital culture.

Carlos Hernandez is the author of The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria (Rosarium 2016) and over 30 works of science fiction and fantasy, including poetry and drama. By day, he is an CUNY associate professor of English and has worked in game writing and game design.

Richie Narvaez is the award-winning author of Roachkiller and Other Stories. His fiction has appeared in Grand Central Noir, Plots with Guns, Sunshine Noir, and Spinetingler.

Sabrina Vourvoulias is the author of Ink (Crossed Genres, 2012), a novel that draws on her memories of Guatemala’s armed internal conflict and of the Latinx experience in the United States. It was named one of Latinidad’s Best Books of 2012.

This event is free and open to the public. Please register by emailing events@nysoclib.org or calling 212.288.6900, ext. 230.