Monday, March 7, 2016

Jules and Richard

I'd been vague-blogging this one in the last post about "The Caretakers," which thanks to editor Ellen Datlow was up at in February. Now I'm proper-blogging, that my novelette "Jules and Richard" will be appearing in Children of Lovecraft, again thanks to editor Ellen Datlow, who invited me to a party with a bunch of first-class weird writers, in a book with a cover drawn by Mike Mignola.

Here's Ellen's announcement:

I’ve finished Children of Lovecraft, a new, all original anthology coming from Dark Horse Books this September:
Table of Contents:
Nesters by Siobhan Carroll
Little Ease by Gemma Files
Eternal Troutland by Stephen Graham Jones
The Supplement by John Langan
Mortensen’s Muse by Orrin Grey
Oblivion Mode by Laird Barron
Mr. Doornail by Maria Dahvana Headley
The Secrets of Insects by Richard Kadrey
Excerpts for An Eschatology Quadrille by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Jules and Richard by David Nickle
Glasses by Brian Evenson
When the Stitches Come Undone by A.C. Wise
On These Blackened Shores of Time by Brian Hodge
Bright Crown of Joy by Livia Llewellyn
Cover below by Mike Mignola
image by Mike Mignola via Amazon

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Caretakers (and other business)

Call this an all-purpose post, to talk about stories arrived and upcoming. First up: "The Caretakers," a short story that's a big deal for me, as it's up at now, thanks to the good graces and editorial acumen of Ellen Datlow, and also the graphic genius of Greg Ruth.

It is a strange little story, in the manner of Robert-Aickman-strange, and you can read it by clicking right here.

And happy news: Eutopia: A Novel of Terrible Optimism, has finally outsold its improbably large print run, which means, happily, that there is a second edition coming out. But it's not just a second edition. This one will feature illustrations by my late father, Canadian landscape painter Lawrence Nickle. This has great meaning for me, as you might guess. Lawrence's work--and more importantly, his approach to working--was a signpost to me for many years. And his good-humored delving into the macabre (really, against what he understood his nature to be) was one of the greatest gifts he gave me in his lifetime. I'm delighted to see his work more widely distributed than the collectable editions that appeared at the book's 2011 debut.

Here are a couple to wet your whistle on:

There are more stories coming out in 2016, too: "The Parable of the Cylinder," in Canadian Notes & Queries, and "Murder on the Prurient Express," in Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire.  There's at least one more, the details of which I can't yet reveal, and if I can stick the landing, then as many as three more past that...

So it could be a pretty good year for David Nickle short stories, if that's your bag.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Draughtsman's Daughter

I've never written much fan fiction--not intentionally; I always had a sense that whatever my influences, they should stay influences. So if I thought well of Ian Fleming's stories, I should take lessons from them in a new work rather than writing a story about James Bond. If I enjoyed Kurt Vonnegut... I should probably just recall his moral sensibilities and sense of wit, rather than try and write a story about Kilgore Trout.

But once... about 20 years ago, Michael Skeet and I sat down to write a story about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

Those are the two characters that Fritz Leiber made, along with his sometime-collaborator Harry Fischer--a couple of sword-fighting rogues, one tall and strong and thoughtful from up north, another small and fast and clever, good with magic spells, from the south. The stories were classic sword and sorcery, a more debonaire take on the kinds of things that Robert E. Howard was doing with Conan the Barbarian a decade or so earlier.

If you're of a certain age, of a certain predilection, you'll know the guys I'm talking about. They were thugs, and rogues, and drinking buddies--mostly drinking buddies--two dudes in a life-long bromance, long before the term entered the parlance.

And in that spirit, about 20 years ago, Mike Skeet and I made a go of what has turned out to be a piece of Fafhrd-and-the-Gray-Mouser fanfic.

It wasn't planned that way. A long-ago publisher had put out the word that the estate of Fritz Leiber was opening up the characters for an anthology of new stories set in Leiber's imaginary universe of Nehwon. And we thought we'd make a go of it, try our hands at a genre--Sword & Sorcery--that we'd never tried. There was other business: a play on early aviation, a cheeky twist on the Arts & Crafts movement, a bit of Victorian sauce that might've gone well in The Pearl...

The anthology never materialized--at least not to our knowledge--and we never heard back one way or another in any case. And so our story, "The Draughtsman's Daughter," languished on our hard drives for what has turned into decades. It's safe to say that this story's not ever going to sell, or make us money. It is safe to say that at this point, it's fan fiction--a transformative work based on the stories and novels of Fritz Leiber.

With all that in mind, we thought we'd share it: right here.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Marriage, Butchery... and Joy

It has been two months now since Madeline Ashby and I tied the knot. We had our wedding at a place in Toronto called The Forth -- a restaurant and event space that opened up not too long ago at Pape Avenue and Danforth Avenue in the east end of Toronto. 

We picked the venue first because it was irresistibly lovely, but second for sentimental reasons: we had spent a year living just around the corner from it, in a tiny, perfect apartment on top of the Ellas Meat Market--itself, a very fine butcher shop on Pape just a few steps south of Danforth. We'd bonded well with the guys who ran Ellas, and also learned to appreciate well-marbled prime rib, properly-raised chicken, good bacon. But mostly, we bonded with those guys at Ellas. We charmed each other, and became like family. Enough like family that we connived our way into their spotless, gleaming meat locker for some wedding photos (by Kayleigh Shawn McCollum). Here are three of the best ones.

That's us. Just married,  crazy in love, whooping it up in the chilly fridge over which we once slept and ate and lived, really on top of one another, for a year before we found a bigger place, and through it all continued to build a life and love together that might also be a marriage.

The guys at Ellas have the middle picture hanging over their cash register. They're delighted for several reasons: first, that as it turns out their meat locker has enough light to take pictures like this (they were sure that it didn't), and second, that their friends and former neighbours thought they were a big enough deal to include them in a wedding (of course they are).

They are also delighted at the weirdness of it all.

The weirdness of it all is something that Madeline and I have been living for years, and one of the genuine joys of our life together. We came to one another at inconvenient times, later on in life when it might have been easier for both of us to continue in directions that would have been well-enough functional, but not nearly sufficiently joyful.

We didn't take the easy course. We took the course together--as collaborators in life and art, and again, life.  It was worth it.

Oh yes, it was worth it.

We're writers, which meant that we couldn't go in for those stock, generic vows you find on the internet or in some dog-eared volume of the Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Hitched. Of course we were going to write our own vows.

We were a little competitive about it. I had mine figured out early on, and lorded that over her. Madeline, realizing it was on, wiped the floor with my little missive and wrote this stunning, tear-jerking, set of vows.

This is going to happen, writers out there, when you marry so far above your writerly station.  It is okay. When your partner wins, it doesn't mean you lose. The vows that you wrote and then spoke are still maybe the truest and best things you have written, and ever said.

Here then is what I wrote, and what I said on October 17 at the Forth:
Madeline, my love, here we are—at a major way-point in our improbable journey to one another. I say improbable, in the way one describes magical coincidences, miraculous discoveries. We have come from different countries, different generations, and from very different lives. Of course, the only improbabity was in our meeting: everything after that was clear before us and took only courage of heart to make manifest. Madeline, in this and so many other things, you have inspired me and through that prodded me to courage, and growth, and of course great love.
 And here we are. Today. Making vows.
Here are mine. 
I vow many of the things one vows in a marriage: to love you first and always, to honour you, to stand by you through thick and through thin, to if not obey, then consider, and co-operate, and concede, to … to do all of that through as long a life as we have. I vow these now. 
But I want to add to that, and vow something else. 
Madeline, I vow to wed you in joy, and to sustain that joy through all of the matters of a marriage. Some of that will be easy. Days like today? Joy is a breeze. The October Festival of Horror Films; the launch of books together and on our own; prizes; parties; happy surprises. Joy comes with that. 
There are times where joy doesn't come easily, though, and that's where the vow comes in. 
I vow that when circumstance tempts us to despondency, or grief, or disappointment: I will do all in my power to kindle the flame of joy and build it into a roaring fire. I will do that if we ourselves are on fire. Although I also vow to clean out the lint trap in the drier and turn off the stove when I'm done and mind the barbecue, so fires will be very unlikely to occur in any house where we are living. 
Now that was a cheesy joke in the midst of solemn vows, but it is also an example of one way I will strive to keep joy in our lives and our marriage, so no apologies.

There are other ways to keep joy alive for us both, some of which I have figured out (like Horror Film Festivals, trips to strange places, cats, talking about our writing, Korean barbecue and the perfect steak) and a great deal, I think, yet to be discovered. I vow to be on the lookout for those ways, to a joyful life. I vow to bring them out when gloom encroaches, and drive it back.

I vow joy. 
I want nothing less for us, nothing less for you. We are off to a very good start of it: And I vow to you, Madeline my love, to take that joy through all of it, and leave nothing but joy in our wake.

And that was that, on October 17, two months ago today.  It made for a good, easy party afterward. It will make for a very good life.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mentioning the War: some thoughts in the wake of NecronomiCon 2015

It has been a year less a day now, since I wrote this piece, Don't Mention the War, whinging about the difficulties I'd experienced, getting people to talk about H.P. Lovecraft and the racism that informs a lot of his fiction, and also taking a few steps to argue the case that this was so. I guess there was a bit of Zietgeist going on--because the year that followed proved me utterly wrong on at least the first point.

Don't Mention the War went a bit viral. Boingboing picked it up, Salon made a note of it, Disinformation reblogged it. And I got what I asked for: some good discussions on Lovecraft's racism. Anya Martin, who programmed the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, asked me to moderate a panel on Lovecraftian racism there. In Sweden this summer, I led a round-table discussion on the topic as a guest at SweCon. And this past weekend in Providence, Rhode Island, I sat on a panel talking about exactly that, at NecronomiCon, a bi-annual convention celebrating and examining the work of H.P. Lovecraft. Niels Hobbs, one of the convention organizers, invited me to that one too.

All the discussions were good and thoughtful--the sorts of talks I'd hoped to be able to take part in. The NecronomiCon talk was that, but also an attempt at a healing affair. At the convention's opening ceremonies (which due to some transportation glitches I missed), editor Robert Price made a speech. I've heard about its contents but haven't been able to verify them by seeing the text or hearing a recording.  I just saw a youtube video of the speech, in which Price praises Lovecraft's xenophobia as it pertains to "Jihadists" and "the advance of the hordes of anti-Western anti-rationalism to consume a decadent Euro-centric west." He goes on to describe this state of affairs as "the real life 'Horror at Red Hook" (the Horror at Red Hook being one of Lovecraft's more openly racist stories). Suffice it to say it caused Niels and the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council to issue the following statement:
The Lovecraft Arts & Sciences Council, organizers of NecronomiCon Providence 2015, would like to make it known that we unequivocally repudiate any form of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism, regardless of what the disreputable views were of a man now dead over 75 years. Lovecraft's literary legacy lives on, and we wish to continue to promote that globally, but we will do all that we can to counter his more vile personal views. They are NOT ours.
Equally, we are committed to moving the weird fiction and art community further into the 21st Century and making our corner of it one that is clearly welcoming of ALL. We work hard at this, but clearly we need to work harder.
So we talked about Lovecraft's racism, which is a matter of history and record, and we also talked about the racism that continues to assert itself among contemporary readers and followers. It was not easy going--particularly when, toward the end of the panel, a woman in the audience identifying as Hispanic called us all out: beyond apologizing, she asked, what were we doing about it?

Now I had been going along this past year, thinking that talking about it was the same thing as doing something about it. Patting myself on the back for that whinging blog post, with its title riffing on a bit of funny dialogue from Fawlty Towers.

But you know something about all those talks? With a few exceptions, they were all conversations among white, privileged people in the U.S. and Northern Europe, about the extreme racism and xenophobia of a dead white writer. They were conversations that may not have consciously excluded the people of colour who Lovecraft so consistently libelled, but nonetheless didn't really manage include them.

That question--what are we doing?--was one for which we didn't really have a good answer. My fellow panelist Mexican-born author and editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia has done a great deal and promised in her own blog to do more, helping fund a writer of colour attending the 2017 event. Niels talked after the panel about perhaps expanding NecronomiCon to focus on more diverse authors of weird fiction than the one from Providence who's rightly or wrongly credited as a progenitor of the weird.  I can try and continue to bring a progressive voice into the mix when I write about Lovecraftian themes in the sequel to my eugenics horror novel Eutopia.

So what to do about Lovecraft? More talk. More words on paper. And a lot more listening.

Addendum, August 26: Here is a video recording of the panel:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond has a Table of Contents

We are one step closer to the world's first unauthorized but completely legal James Bond anthology today: here is the table of contents for LICENCE EXPIRED: The Unauthorized James Bond. There are 19 stories altogether from fantastic writers. My co-editor and partner Madeline Ashby has written more about the road we've traversed so far at her own blog--so I will be brief.

This is going to be a fantastic collection. There are stories here that inhabit the space between the novels Fleming wrote and stories that take James Bond on a wing to undiscovered lands; stories that dig deep into the more problematic elements of the James Bond mythology (the still-shocking sexism, racism, and sadism) and stories that are almost as shocking for their raw humanity. The stories are sensual, and propulsive, and often, very, very funny. I can't imagine anyone wanting to miss it.

Because of the discrepancies in international copyright law, it will only be available for purchase in Canada, where copyright is extended 50 years past an author's death. That may not last long--there are rumors coming out of the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations that Canada will be asked to extend copyright protection from 50 to 70 years--but we're confident any legislative changes won't beat our November 17 2015 publication date.

They better not. Because this, if I say so myself, is an extraordinary lineup.

• Forward by Matt Sherman
• Introduction: The Bitch is Dead by David Nickle
• “One Is Sorrow” by Jacqueline Baker
• “The Gale of the World” by Robert J. Wiersema
• “Red Indians” by Richard Lee Byers
• “The Gladiator Lie” by Kelly Robson
• “Half the Sky” by E.L. Chen
• “In Havana” by Jeffrey Ford
• “Mastering the Art of French Killing” by Michael Skeet
• “A Dirty Business” by Iain McLaughlin
• “Sorrow’s Spy” by Catherine McLeod
• “Mosaic” by Karl Schroeder
• “The Spy Who Remembered Me” by James Alan Gardner
• “Daedelus” by Jamie Mason
• “Through Your Eyes Only” by A.M. Dellamonica
• “Two Graves” by Ian Rogers
• “No Mr. Bond” by Charles Stross
• “The Man with the Beholden Gun: an e-pistol-ary story by some other Ian Fleming” by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer
• “The Cyclorama” by Laird Barron
• “You Never Love Once” by Claude Lalumière
• “Not an Honourable Disease” by Corey Redekop
• Afterword by Madeline Ashby

For more info, check out ChiZIne Publications' LICENCE EXPIRED website, right here.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Art Lessons

Lawrence Nickle, 1931-2014, photo by Liz Lott
It's funny the things that pre-occupy one on Father's Day. In the best of worlds, the day would be spent talking, hanging out, maybe a bit of tippling with the old man.

But that is not the world we inhabit today. My father, Lawrence, died just a few days into 2014. He was 83, which is not a bad time to die if you're finished with things, but as bad a time as any if you're not, quite yet.

Dad spent his life marrying and divorcing--twice for each--and lovingly raising the boys that came from those marriages--one from each. He also painted. Dad was a professional artist, and a single-minded one. He painted in the mode of the 20th-century Canadian art movement of the Group of Seven, en plein air, which is to say outdoors and in sight of his subject.

By the time of his death, he was touted as one of the last of the en plein air painters. It was no wonder that he was: for decades in the Canadian art world--the decades that Dad was working in his prime--en plein air didn't get much respect. It was representational and illustrative... decorative and old-fashioned... apolitical, except maybe to the extent that it celebrated the natural world in the time of strip mining and urban sprawl. People did buy Dad's paintings--he was able to make a solid living at it--but they weren't celebrated; Jackson Pollock he was not.

In Kleinberg, Ontario, there is a private art gallery that collects and celebrates the Group of Seven: the McMichael Collection. It is a sprawling log structure that reminds one of a James Bond villain lair, as might exist if Tom Thomson and A.Y. Jackson ever conspired on dreams of world domination. I vividly recall an excruciating visit there with Dad in the 1970s, when I was very small. Dad had an appointment with the curator, to pitch a special exhibition of his work. It seemed like a good bet: he was working in the Group of Seven tradition, and he thought his work compared well with some of the works on display there.

It was, alas, not to be. The problem, said the curator, was that my father's work compared too well with the museum pieces already on display. If they were to do a special exhibit at that museum dedicated to en plein air painters, it would not be the work of an artist who had dedicated himself to such an antique mode of artistic expression.

I don't recall exactly what we did after that failed pitch. We probably drove into Toronto to go to the Royal Ontario Museum or the Ontario Science Centre or the Sam the Record Man's record store, or one of the other places that Dad and I went on our weekend visits (this was some time after divorce #1).  What I absolutely don't recall is seeing my father Lawrence in a toxic rage at the utter disrespect the curator had shown to the artistic discipline that he had spent his own life honouring. However he filled the rest of the day, it involved the steady business of being a good and loving father--and the day after that for him, the various tasks associated with being as good a painter as he could be.

Which brings me around to what turns out to be my preoccupation this Father's Day: the Sad Puppies, the Rabid Puppies, the Hugo Awards and the attempted ongoing boycott of TOR.

A lot of words have been blogged and tweeted and Facebook'd refuting the arguments of a crowd of writers who maintain that "social justice warriors" have taken over science fiction and fantasy's Hugo Award and so marginalized the kind of old-school space adventure stories that they write and like to read. These writers and fans have chosen to retaliate to this imagined slight by campaigning to have works they prefer on the Hugo ballot. There is a nasty hard-right-wing tone to the whole business, and the stink of vendetta hangs over it all--particularly surrounding the 'boycott,' which demands the firing of TOR's artistic director Irene Gallo for some comments she made and the punishment of various TOR employees for comments they've made.

I keep looking over that last paragraph to make sure I've got things right and included all the twists and turns in this so-very-public narrative, but I have to keep reminding myself the details are ever changing and not, as far as I'm concerned, what is at the core of this.

What is then? To my mind, it is a seething resentment that every artist (or prospective artist) feels when it becomes clear that their work is not receiving the respect they feel it is due.

Lawrence Nickle knew something about that. His work sold steadily but unspectacularly. In lean years, he would cut back on expenses--and generally worked to live as far off the grid as he could, so as to keep those expenses low no matter what. He worried during recessions that people might be simply giving up on original art. But his response was always the same: to go out and make more paintings.
Photo by Liz Lott

He didn't care to self-promote. I remember asking him in the early years of the internet why he didn't get a website, and seek out interviews in newspapers, and do other things that artists at the time were doing. He told me that he felt he had a choice: he could devote himself to promotion, or to painting. He chose painting.

It is not that Lawrence was without envy or above pettiness. He had a real, not-always-quiet contempt for quite a few of his peers in the art world, who he relentlessly held to his own aesthetic and vocational standards even when they may not have been all that relevant.  His gender and race politics were, shall we say, inconsistently progressive at best. He was a reformed-Baptist-turned-Atheist and had harsh and unkind words for believers.

For that, I don't think he even conceived of tearing down the careers of artists working in the abstract or hyper-realist or minimalist or surrealist modes that had supplanted his niche. I think he would have seen public complaint as a kind of admission of failure. And allowing that sort of admission would have been first, horribly demoralizing; and second, inaccurate. Smart collectors paid good money for his work, and cultivated his friendship, and if they painted themselves (as many did), benefited from his mentorship.

And most importantly, he made paintings like these:

It seems to me that the life of my father Lawrence is a good example to bring up right now, in this very political culture war about what is at its root, an art form.  The point of doing art, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, is to make good art. It is not to chase awards, or other sorts of validation; it is not to look enviously at those who do receive those awards, who bask in that validation, and try to supplant them through forces democratic or otherwise.

It would be naive to say that such things don't happen in communities of proper artists. They do, again and again, and are happening now in this science fiction and fantasy community of proper artists.

But I think my father would have said that the behaviour of the Puppies whether sad or angry, is the one sure sign of their not being proper artists. He would take it as a vulgar sign of weakness. It would earn his quiet but certain contempt.