Cover_WedlockedI remember speaking on the telephone long-distance to a friend, a female friend. We were catching up with each other, e.g., children birthed, books read, votes cast. My pregnant wife was out in the backyard, mowing the dandelions, or I thought she was till I heard a knock at the back door, which meant my wife was locked out and needed back in the house. Continuing to speak on the telephone, I unlocked, then opened the back door to my wife, her eyes swollen, cheeks tear-streaked, and lips crumpled and cracked. I knew right away she’d been in our garage-turned-studio, reading manuscript pages not meant for her to read, manuscript pages to this very book. The work was very rough. I had yet to make up names for secondary characters, which is to say, the women I wrote about, the women I thought and fantasized about or had had past relationships with weren’t named Frannie, the name of my composite character, the name of my female ideal.

Imagine that Cinderella’s been murdered, distracted by a bluebird and run over by a truck in New Never City. Now imagine her stepsister calling on Rumpelstiltskin (stripped of his villainy as punishment for rage issues) to investigate. This is the premise of  J.A. Kazimer’s Curses!: A F**cked Up Fairy Tale.

Cinderella’s stepsister Asia, believing her sister’s death to be a case of foul play, shows up at what she thinks is Sherlock Holmes’s door. Only, he hasn’t lived there for a while, not since RJ, as Rumpel prefers to be called, stuffed him into the chimney and took over the residence. Asia, much better-looking then the original story had led us to believe, convinces RJ to help, but really he’s just doing it in hopes that she’ll sleep with him.

Science fiction author Lavie Tidhar is a busy man. He’s had two novels published in 2011 and will see two more this year. Along with his longform fiction, Tidhar fills his time writing short stories, editing anthologies and websites, and, of course, hanging out on Twitter. This month, science fiction publisher Angry Robot is putting out the third book in his Bookman Histories series, The Great Game. But for those of you who have yet to discover the first two, you won’t need to go back to the beginning, The Great Game is one of those few sequels that can be read as a standalone novel.

Infused with steampunk elements, The Great Game is an interwoven, alt-history tale of espionage, often with the feel of an old spy novel. Historical and fictional characters — Oliver Twist, Bram Stoker, Houdini, Jack London, and Frankenstein to name a few — mingle on the streets of Victorian-era London as a “secret shadow war” wages on between humans, a ruling class of lizards, and automatons.  

I’ll get one thing out of the way first of all, to address whose in the know, and as a point of interest for those who aren’t. “Akata” is to some a pretty nasty word. It’s Nigerian Pidgin deriving from the Yoruba for bush civet cat, and is used as an epithet for Americans of African descent. Some people claim it’s not derogatory in intent, but I don’t really buy that given the context in which I hear it used most of the time. It certainly leaves an offensive taste in the mouth of many Nigerians, especially in diaspora. Yeah, taboo language sometimes marks the most superficially surprising vectors. Nnedi Okorafor, author of the recent fantasy novel Akata Witch (Viking, 2011 ISBN: 978-0-670-01196-4), is well aware of the controversy she courts with its title. It takes an extraordinary book to put such an abrasive first impression into the background, and in short, I think Nnedi has well accomplished this.

Tonight, the chhau dancer has a moon on his back,
and he clasps each of its crescent wingtips
above his head like an angel holding its horns.

When I said that I have looked for you in the bodies
of others, this is what I meant: these martial stances,
these masks, the way his shoulderblades convulse

in tandem with a shuddering drum, the way he raises
a foot to the level of the eye. Some of us are forged
salamandrine, enduring the universe with no more

than the will to be reborn. Others must wear falconry
hoods, and sometimes, when even I can no longer bear
to see, I think of you, once, your head in your hands

in a gesture of mourning, that night at the beginning of
the year of broken idols when a beautiful costumed
man ripped his chest open and showed you that secret

theatre, that solitaire, the hooked bijou of my heart.
Since then, the cosmos has been without choreography.
The seraph on stage unsheathes his trident. I wrap myself

in a serape of sadness and wonder how many dancers I
have watched on how many nights since; how many
I have torn my gaze from to beseech the sky,
as though the night numbered among
its many stars    the zodiac of your eyes.

Dream Residue

By Uche Ogbuji

Poem

Can’t believe I stayed asleep to give
Honey slope après ski GPS,
Real life need-to-piss bringing the cock-block;
Her black greek letter accent fading fast
With harem eyes under bright bluebird skies
To duller daybreak wink of bluing chalk…
Damn! I planned to smash that like Thor’s hammer.
The ferry over cream slides cruel to dock.

I’ve long trumpeted (most recently in “50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria, part 3”) the marvelous efflorescence of young Nigerian writers, and especially Nigerian women writers, both in Nigeria and in diaspora. I’m not much of a reader of novels, but I waste no time getting stuck into any new work by Adichie, Oyeyemi or Okorafor. Nnedi Okorafor is the author of the novels Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature) and The Shadow Speaker (winner of the CBS Parallax Award), and the children’s book, Long Juju Man (winner of the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa). Her latest novel, Who Fears Death (DAW Books), was released in June. Her forthcoming novel, Akata Witch (Penguin Books/Viking Press), is scheduled for release in 2011. Nnedi was also a finalist for the Andre Norton Award (The Shadow Speaker), the Essence Magazine Literary Award (The Shadow Speaker), the Kindred and Parallax Awards (Zahrah) and the Golden Duck Award (Zahrah and The Shadow Speaker). Nnedi is working with Disney to produce a chapter book in the Disney Fairies series, tentatively titled Iridessa and the Fire-Bellied Dragon Frog.

At a party, my new friend V. was ogling a blonde.

“Lovely, isn’t she?” I said. “Killer legs.”

He gave me a blank look.

“I’m bisexual,” I explained.

“No you’re not.” He laughed. “I know for a fact you’ve never slept with women.”

In my most ironic tone I thanked him for enlightening me, but how did my love of naked breasts fit into his equation?

“If you did sleep with a woman,” he said, “you might end up hating it.”

“Hold on a mo, Sir Lancelot. Let’s keep to the here-and-now.”

To make my point, I offered the following scenario: A teenage boy called Tom has never had sex, but identifies as gay. Tom can’t be bothered with topless women, but the sight of Jimmy Jones from Tech class sucking a ballpoint pen makes him hard as heck.

“Okay,” said V. “He’s gay, I guess.”

I explained that I, like Tom, haven’t had a same-sex partner but still feel a strong sense of who I am sexually. Sure, I might sleep with a woman and find I didn’t like it, but my identity is now, and unrealized desires are a part of that. We’re not solely defined through the people we’ve slept with. For instance, what about the use of lesbian erotica or heterosexual porn? If our erotic tastes contribute to who we are, then the fantasies that stir us are key. What do we like to imagine during solo sex? What arouses us? Now that’s relevant stuff.

Of course, V. is right in believing that our desires can shift. Though we don’t necessarily wake up one morning saying, “Wow! I want to give bondage a go!” we do often surprise ourselves. Buffy the Vampire Slayer explores this brilliantly. In season six, Buffy finds herself in a BDSM relationship with a vampire called Spike – a role that takes her completely by surprise and also helps her to face her own pain. Plus in season seven, Willow claims she started having gay sex because of one woman, Tara, rather than women ‘per se’. The writer and director, Joss Whedon, along with his team, explores sexuality with real elegance and feeling. The shows encourage us to ask each other, “Who are you?” and truly listen to the answers.

…If only good sex education was easier to come by. In my British high school Biology classes during the eighties, I learnt all about condoms, but nobody encouraged us to reflect on what we longed for or who we were. In spite of my attraction to women as well as men, I assumed I was heterosexual because I’d been raised that way, and it took me years to start loving my bisexual self. If someone had taught me that a man who has a wife isn’t necessarily heterosexual, and a woman who only dates women won’t necessarily kick Brad Pitt out of bed, I’d have been far happier. These days, though I know I may never sleep with a woman, it still feels wonderful to know myself.

In order to keep growing, I believe we should strive to be open about our sexual selves. If we’re gay, let’s own it. If we’re kinky, let’s own it. If we don’t yet know, let’s own that too. And when people try to tell us who we are, let’s set them right.

At the end of the party, I asked V., “How do you identify?”

“I’m heterosexual, of course.”

With a wry grin, I extended my hand. “I’m bi. Nice to meet you.”

The photo accompanying this post is by Suicide Girls from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Rambo).

Dear Real Bigfoot,

I super love you. I want to hug you. You might not like that. I wonder what you smell like. Like a wild animal, I guess, but you’re not a wild animal. You’re different. You’re a freak of nature, and I mean that in the most outstanding way. You are electric and organic and everything the rest of us wish we were. You are what e.e. cummings wanted us to be. You are everything we’ve lost touch with: Nature, body hair, animal instincts, and the sheer size of life. You’re a hunter-gatherer, baby, and that is hot.

When I saw the photo of you last week, I was skeptical, of course. All photos of Bigfoot or other legendary creatures are subject to skepticism because, as reasonable, mature, working adults, we can’t be always buying into fantastical stories then finding out we were duped. The whole Santa Claus thing was embarrassing enough. Do you know about Santa Claus? Do you even concern yourself with this stuff?

Anyway, I was skeptical, but the thought of you stirred such strong feelings in me that I felt compelled to write to you. I hope you can read, or I hope someone reads this to you, maybe some very lucky liaison of the hairless world who brings you snacks and cookies in the woods and shows you how to read and stuff. But you are such a savvy woodsman you probably don’t need that kind of help, and in fact, the cookies would be an interference with your natural, healthy diet. Look how strong you are, how tall, how stealthy and smart, how luxurious your hair! You don’t need anything from us soft, bald, squishy, oil-addicted, technology-dependent folks, and that is what I love about you. I dare say that’s what all of us love about you — you are so not us in all the right ways, even if you are exactly like us in some other ways.

My first instinct was to say that photo was a hoax because people are always claiming to have seen, found, caught or even killed you. I know, it’s awful. Last year, some guys even produced a frozen corpse, which I was so grateful to discover was only an ape suit, and not even a very good one. I was completely offended by that hoax and didn’t want to be fooled again, but I can’t help it. I want to believe in you more than I want to believe in God.

Honestly, I shouldn’t be calling you “Bigfoot.” It’s like if you called me “Squishythighs.” I wouldn’t appreciate that very much. I’d like to give you a name. I’d like to call you Francis. It’s a good name, gender neutral, and has a bit of a rock-n-roll twist while being quite classic. If you don’t like it, I can call you something else, OK? But for now, I’m going to call you Francis.

So, Francis, sometimes I day dream about the life you must live. So many of us supposedly civilized people have drifted so far away from what matters most — and I’m not just talking about family and love — we’ve lost touch with our real survival needs, our health, our basic nature. I’m talking about eating, breeding and staying warm. You’ve got that down.

Is your life hard? Do you like it? Is it worth living? The rest of us tend to think we couldn’t cope with life if we didn’t have our houses, our jobs, and our cars, and yet those are the very things that make our lives so complicated. I don’t want to lose my job, and yet, in any given day, the hardest thing I have to deal with is most likely related to my job. Most of us are in codependent relationships with our jobs, wanting to be free of the responsibilities of work, yet feeling that without the money we earn from work, we couldn’t be happy. What kind of sense does that make?

I wish you could tell me about your days, Francis. Do you spend a lot of time looking for food? Do you cook your food over a fire, admiring the warm glow on the faces of your family? Or do you eat it alone, satisfied by your natural ability to provide for yourself? Are you tired at the end of the day? Do you wonder if there is more to life than eating, breeding and staying warm? I wonder, too.

I love you, Francis Bigfoot.

Sincerely,
Mary Squishythighs

Hostage

By Peter Schwartz

Memoir


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009. I’m in my room on Albert Street in Augusta Maine, being held hostage. A woman almost a decade my junior has just told me she was raped last night, but for some reason she is directing all her rage at me. I’m trying to be supportive but she’s hitting me with everything she has, making fun of my anthropophobia and bi-polarity. It’s actually not the words that hurt so badly, it’s the fact that she would go after me like this. If she knew more about me, she’d have even better ammunition.

I’m asking if she wants to call the police but I know she doesn’t want to go through the degrading process of a trial so now I’m asking if she knows where this fucker lives. She likes that. I fantasize with her about finding his house, cutting his lights and phone, running in there, hurting him like he hurt her. But that part doesn’t last long. Now I’m getting questioned why I would make such an offer when I clearly hate her guts. She hates me so much right now she can’t even imagine I don’t feel the same way about her. I’m a safe target and I get the sense she has been waiting for this moment for years. I’m a monster, and nothing I say is going to change that. She tells me in a slightly different voice that if I hang up she will most likely kill herself.

I don’t understand rape, I really don’t. The whole turn-on with sex for me is that someone actually wants me. Simply taking that from someone is the most un-sexy thing I can imagine. I do understand the desire for vengeance though. My father used to beat the shit out of me over twenty years ago and I still occasionally fantasize about flying to his apartment in New York City and getting justice. Now she’s mocking my poetry and fiction, saying I think I’m so spiritual but I’m bullshitting myself, I’m just scared. I want to call her a fat, disgusting, piece of shit but I know those are the last words she needs to hear right now.

I’m think I’m him now. She’s making fun of the fact that I couldn’t get it up once. I’m not a real man and probably want to fuck my mother. I can’t take this. I cannot sit here and take this. I want to fight back but society’s rules are pretty clear here: victims have carte blanche to say whatever the hell they want. I’m a leech, a user, a liar, and a cheater. I contribute nothing to society. Okay, I’m there. I can’t believe I’m about to do what I’m about to do. Deeply nauseous, I instinctively glance at my toilet. I’ll most likely throw up later.

Even though according to her I have her life in my hands because I’m her only real friend, I’m telling her she can do whatever she wants. Another person entirely, I’m hanging up, imagining her hearing the sound of that dial tone, how that must be the loneliest sound in the universe. How alone she must feel. I fucking hate myself; I’ve proved her point; I really am that monster. But I’m also finally free of her wrath. I take a deep breath and try to remember who I was an hour ago.