Today is my mother’s birthday. Her name was Marjorie Bradford and she would have been 64. I dream about her still and miss her every day. I wrote Elan Vital for her. It’s been ten years and I still cry thinking about her. Like I am now.
Two years ago today I was listening to an NPR report about the anniversary ceremony that happens every year down at Ground Zero. It was very similar, though more polished, to the first such anniversary memorial which I listened to live on the radio. In 2002 I felt that everything was appropriate. The reading of the names, the ringing of a bell to mark when the planes hit and then when the towers fell, the speeches from various elected and appointed officials, the gathering of the survivors and families of the victims, all of it. It had only been a year, the pain was still shockingly fresh.
But when I listened to the report two years ago I had a very different reaction. Ceremony and ritual intrigue me, and listening to the names and bells and speeches, I was struck by how easily we fell into this ritual with these elements that you can find in ritual and cult in many cultures and many periods in history. Without calling it a ritual, the remembrance of 9/11 became one. What interested me the most was that it also became a particular kind of ritual, one where these survivors and family and friends of those who died were viscerally reliving and recreating that day.
Here is when this moment occurred — mark it, remember it, relive those feelings again. Now here’s where this moment happened — where were you, what were you thinking, what did you feel? Now this moment, and this next one, until we’ve gone over again and again the details and called up the ghosts and recalled the last words, the last touch, the very moment when your life was sliced into Before and After.
This is powerful magic.
In between 2002 and 2007 I didn’t listen to any other 9/11 ceremonies. I avoided most media on those days and have carefully avoided even being down near Ground Zero as the anniversary approaches. Having lived through it once I was in no hurry to relive it again, even through ritual, which I find comforting. When the anniversary came around again in ’07 I thought it was safe for me to listen to the radio, I thought I had successfully dealt with (read: suppressed) what went on with me that day. 5 minutes of news coverage undid all my walls.
In response, I started writing the story which eventually became Until Forgiveness Comes. That was my ritual.
Last year I was able to listen to the news and watch television without having a complete nervous breakdown. This year my response has been a bit different. YouTube and I have gotten to know each other well over the past week. But the more I process and reflect, I still think that, before or since, I’ve not said anything that articulates my feelings about that day better than the story I wrote.
No, this is not about online fights.
As many of you know, I have a story in the latest issue of the Hugo award-winning zine Electric Velocipede. The editor asked if he could put my story online in its entirety to tempt people into buying the whole issue. I said yes immediately because I heart having my stories both online and in print.
Today it went live, so you can check out Enmity on the EV website. I hope you enjoy. This was my first Mythpunk story (before I even knew what Mythpunk was!). I was inspired by the stuff I learned in my creation myths class. Like Black Feather, I drew from many different versions of myths and many different myth traditions. It’s pretty cool the connections you can find by just looking for common elements and symbolism.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been made aware of several people saying things about my stories but haven’t had the time to mention it here due to some other stuff taking up my time. Heh. Anyway, here it all is in simple list form.
- SFScope’s Mark L. Blackman attended the NYRSF Federations reading on July 7th and gave his impressions of the stories and the readers. I have to say, he picked what has to be the worst picture of me, ever! I look like I just discovered a bug in my copy of the antho. :)
- After a break, next up was K. Tempest Bradford, whose breezily snarky offering, “Different Day”, was a reaction to the common premises that alien worlds have one culture/one global government and that, invariably, they “come to America first.” She cleverly posits rival alien tribes, just as mutually hostile as our contemporary nations, visiting and negotiating with other parts of the world (like Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama), though her present-day biases and digs limit the story’s shelf-life.
- Tom Crosshill reviewed Sybil’s Garage No. 6.
- “Elan Vital” by K. Tempest Bradford. A story of dealing with loss, of holding on, and of letting go. The execution is superb, even if the premise feels somewhat familiar (I won’t reveal it here, except to say that this story too is about the undead, although to call it a zombie story would hardly be accurate.) At its core is a parent-child relationship, which as you will see becomes a recurring theme in this issue.
- Sam Tomaino at SFRevu made me go “squee!”
- K. Tempest Bradford gives us what, I think, is the best story in the issue with “Elan Vital”. … This is one you won’t forget soon.
There’s more to that last review but it’s a bit spoilery. Obviously you should read the story right now so you can then read the whole review ;)
Charles Tan has a short review of SG6 wherein he mentions my story as one of his favorites:
“Elan Vital” by K. Tempest Bradford manages to cram a lot in this relatively short piece. While the science fiction aspects and ramifications might appeal to genre readers, what drew me to this story is how Bradford attaches a human component to the narrative and everything else grows out of that. Her protagonist is not only sympathetic but her unique situation could only have been pulled off in the medium of prose. For example, if this were a comic or a TV episode, part of the tension would have been tipped off too early, and a pivotal scene would have lost much of its momentum. But as it is, the chronology is just right, and Bradford crafts a story with emotional resonance.
Fantasy Magazine also gave us an awesome review!
At WisCon I was able to quietly sneak away with a copy of the latest Electric Velocipede (issue 17/18!). I was super excited to see it because my story Enmity is contained within. There are also stories by many friends of mine, including two other Altered Fluidians: Mercurio D. Rivera and Matthew Kressel.
I saw John Klima during his brief appearance and got to hug him a lot. Then on Sunday I wore The Shirt. You know, this shirt:
I have it on good authority that The Shirt moved many copies of the zine. (Also, if you are a fan of EV or of shirts or of me, you can get The Shirt on Zazzle and support the zine in the process.)
This May has been especially awesome for me because I had stories in a book and two zines come out this month. Federations, Sybil’s Garage 6, and Electric Velocipede 17/18 — and all of them were available in the dealer’s room. There were also many copies of the Interfictions anthology and all three WisCon Chronicles! I’m in each, and the newest one is especially spiffy with a fantastic cover. Liz Herny is a goddess.
I was feeling very fancy having so many things in the room with my stories and essays in, so I took pictures:
So I encourage you to order your copy of Sybil’s Garage if I didn’t force it ony ou at WisCon, to buy Federations and WisCon Chronicles vol. 3, to check the Electric Velocipede blog to see when the latest issue will be available for ordering (the copies at WisCon were special advance ones — contributors and subscribers should get theirs soon), and to read, read, read, not just my stories, but all the fabulous stuff in these offerings. May 2009 is a month of awesomeness.
I posted this a couple of years ago on my blog but some folks at the Authorial Intent panel expressed interest in seeing this, so I’m reposting it here. Caveat! It was a first draft, there are silly errors. It’ll most likely be the only draft. But it turned out how I wanted and that’s what mattered to me :)
DANIEL: Most Goa’uld that we’ve encountered that have enslaved ancient human populations have taken on the roles of those cultures’ deities. Ra, Apophis, Hathor from the Egyptian pantheon…
JACK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we got it.
DANIEL: Well, if these people were already Christians when they were taken from Earth, that suggests this Goa’uld is…is playing…
JACK: God? As in God God? It’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?
From “Demons“, Season 3
2000 Years Ago
Joshua heard Simon’s footsteps long before he burst into the room. Through it all he kept eating, talking, smiling, acting as if anything and everything that happened was fine. Even foretold. He had a certain image to project, after all.
“Rocky, you look as if you’ve brought us bad news,” Joshua said while the man at the door caught his breath. Humans were so weak — and weak-willed. That’s what he loved about them. “It was no use running here if it’s going to take you all night to find the air to talk.”
The others’ laughter added the rose of embarrassment to Rocky’s problems, but he rallied tolerably. He always did.
“Master, the agents of the Hidden One decided to move against you. Tonight.”
“Tonight.” He didn’t express it in his voice, but the timing did surprise him. Joshua had figured on several more months, if not years, before they finally got themselves together to deal with him. Contingency plans were in place, but did he have time to set them in motion?
“Yes, Master. The one called Saul met with them. And now…”
Anger rose up in him so quickly he almost let slip a flash of the eyes. It wouldn’t be prudent to pull that little trick with the group so keyed up by this news. He didn’t need any more crap right now, especially with ‘Saul’ now in the mix. Damn that Set, he should have killed him when he had the chance.
“Now, Rocky? Now we eat. And then I will pray. And my Father’s will be done.” He gestured for Rocky to sit and resumed his calm demeanor. The rest of the group returned to eating, still on edge, yet mostly silent. They had learned long ago when to be quiet and do what they were told.
Slowly, the conversation returned to normal. They ate bread and drank wine. It was just like any other night.
After a long enough time, Joshua leaned close to Judas and whispered something to him. Then he leaned back and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “Now go and do what you need to do.”
Judas nodded and left with no hesitation. Not for the first time Joshua was grateful to his brother Thoth for devising the genetic manipulation that gave birth to the Jaffa race.
So here’s my thing: RaceFail is… tiresome and anger-making and I’m just as much ready to be done with it as you are. Instead, let’s try for some RaceWin (yes, Sharyn, I’m looking at you). Today we’re going to celebrate the creative efforts of Fen of Color. Fen being the plural of fan (specifically fan of the SF/F/H variety), of Color indicating a broad spectrum of people who mainly do not identify as white. You can have any opinion you like on whether that term is useful, valid, or dumb. For today, hush up, because it’s not about that. It’s about celebrating fans and fandom, writers and writing, vidders and vidding, musicians and musicing.
My contributions are thus: three print stories that live online, each featuring main characters that are of color, and each in some way dealing with issues of race, class, and culture. Sorry not to post them in their entirety in this entry (you wouldn’t want that, anyway, it would be a lot of scrolling!), but, as I said, they all live online. You are free to comment on them, discuss, even tell me why they suck/I am wrong or whatever you like.
Also a special treat: my first full-length PodCastle story, Change of Life, is now up. Rachel Swirsky kindly posted it a day early to coincide with this event. Change of Life is a fun story that’s an homage to long-ago friendships and my love of animals.
Once you’re done here, check out FOC_U where there should be more links to more stories and poems and essays and creative efforts. If you’ve ever been inclined to think that just because you don’t see a lot of fans or writers of color at a convention that means they don’t exist, this is obviously the day you’re going to get schooled.
Élan Vital (@ Sybil’s Garage)
I helped her past the immaculately landscaped gardens and small orchards. The scent of flowers, herbs, and fresh-cut grass wafting at us in turn. I glanced at the garden entrances as we passed by, catching quick glimpses of other people in the middle of visits. A young couple who’d been in the waiting room with me knelt by a small, bald girl as she splashed in the koi pond. Two elderly women stood under a weeping willow, their heads close, lips barely moving. A large group of people speaking Mandarin milled around the waterfall in the rock garden. I could still hear faint traces of their melodic din all the way down by the lake.
I preferred this spot—the flora was less regimented and more natural. And no walls. Just an open space, water gently flicking the shoreline, a beautiful view down the hill, and the occasional cat wandering by.
“This hasn’t changed much,” my mom said as I helped her down on one of the small benches by the water. “I thought they were going to get ducks or geese or something.”
I chose a nearby rock for my own perch. “I think they’re having trouble with permits or whatever you need nowadays.”
The wind kicked up, sending freckles of reflected light across her face. Her skin was still perfect, beautiful and dark brown, though stretched across her cheekbones a little too tight. I hated that I never had enough to restore her round cheeks and full figure. I have to look at pictures just to remember her that way.
Until Forgiveness Comes (@ Strange Horizons)
In the twelve years since Red Seteshday, the clerics have perfected the haitai ritual to the point where participants know the script by heart and no longer need much direction on where to go and when. Still, Sadana manages a rotating roster of family members and survivors, reminding them of the correct verses to chant while invoking the highlights of that tragic day. Every year she stands on the memorial dais at the center of the Main Concourse, marking the time for prayers and the time for reading the names of the dead. Even if she weren’t an officiant, Sadana says she would find some way to participate.
“Having something to do gets me through the day every year. It’s my way of honoring Beke.”
She lost her partner of four years that morning. Both seminary students at the time, they were planning to spend their lives serving Iset together. Bekeshe was on her way back to Nubia to spend time with family before her acolyteship began. Every year Sadana watches a faint trace of her stride across the concourse with her bags, searching for the train to the airport, just as the bombing began.
Though the day is painful, Sadana feels that her dual role as mourner and officiant has helped her minister to the families over the years.
“I know exactly how everyone feels. We all lost someone we loved. Had them ripped away by hate. We share a bond.”
The Seventh Reflection (From Thou Shalt Not… — archived here)
Clia stood before the large, oval mirror in her room and stared at the reflection. Bone-straight hair–long, shiny and black–a heart-shaped face, perfect button nose, sensual mouth, and wide green eyes. The skin held no blemish and no imperfection–not too dark, but not too light. An elegant neck; firm, round breasts; smooth, flat stomach; curvy hips; long, muscular legs tapering toward the floor and ending at the bottom of the mirror.
“Yes, this is what I want,” Clia said. Her mouth moved. The reflection’s did not.
Are you ready to gather what I need?
“Yes. It’ll take a few days, though.”
I have nothing but time. The reflection shimmered away, replaced by an image of what Clia looked like in every other mirror.
She did not often look at mirrors.
Last year on Mother’s Day I posted about how all of my mothers are now gone. My own mother, Marjorie T. Bradford, passed away ten years ago (it doesn’t feel that long ago), my maternal grandmother, Anna Ree Tidmore, passed away just before my birthday last year, my fraternal grandmother, Genevieve Bell, passed away when I was a little kid, and my mother’s mother’s mother, Katie Bell Rembert, passed away when I was just 3.
Ever since my mother died I’ve done my best to ignore Mother’s Day for my own sanity. I can’t completely, though, because there are many mothers in my life. Many of whom I love and admire a lot for how awesome they are as mothers and how awesome they are in general. I’m especially partial to my friends who have daughters, because it makes me think of me and my mom — she was my favorite person in the world even when I didn’t always show it. It makes me so happy to see that in a lot of the mother/daughter relationships my friends have. I see all their beautiful girls growing up into strong, intelligent, independent young ladies and I am so jealous of them. I want to tell them to cling to their moms as tightly as possible for as long as they can, because there’s no guarantee they’ll be there forever.
This year I decided to not ignore Mother’s Day and instead offer up one last gift to my mom: my story, Élan Vital, from Sybil’s Garage #6 is now live on the Senses Five website as a special preview for the zine (out by WisCon!). Matt Kressel and I thought it would make a nice Mother’s Day promotion. Go read and then go hug your mom for me :)
Ye Gods! How could I have forgotten? This always comes ’round after my birthday.
So! In case you don’t remember, here’s some background on today. The basics of it are: old guy in SFWA is all “waa waa how dare these people post fiction on the web so people can read it for free? It means I can’t sell my fiction for pay! waawaawaa…” and so forth. This was two years ago. Internet exploded in all the usual ways, but Jo Walton had the sense to commemorate and celebrate all the positive things that come from having free fiction online by inciting International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day. Every year the webscabs get their say.
I posted something on my heavily flocked journal thefirstdraft today and I don’t have much in the way of new stuff I can show you. But here are links to all the fiction I do have online:
- Until Forgiveness Comes at Strange Horizons
- The Seventh Reflection
- Elf Aware at Cafe Irreal and Podcastle
- Why I Don’t Drink Anymore at Abyss & Apex
To all pixel-stained technopeasents everywhere, I salute you!