Deprivation fiction Ireland Lethe Press short stories

spring, huh?

And yet I look out my window to snow flurries. Feh. Well, if we must go by the calendar (Gregorian/Persian/Bahá’í), Happy Northern-Hemisphere Spring (I’ll believe it when I’m not wearing longjohns and fuzzy slippers), Nowrūz, and Naw-Rúz. Slightly belated on the first two, sorry.

I have been ill and distraught in a distressing number of ways and so missed noting a very kind review of Deprivation last week, by the ever kindly Jerry L. Wheeler of Out In Print Queer Book Reviews.

[Deprivation], then, is a wonderfully plotless piece of art to be savored and admired. How could you possibly ask for anything more?

Warms the winter-shrivelled cockles, that does.

Ill, distraught, and writing. (And designing and proofreading and whatnot, but who’s counting.) Completed in draft this afternoon, revised and sold this evening: a story I never intended to write. Said repeatedly throughout the open-submissions period I. Would. Not. Write. Changed my mind when the theoretically final MS of the anthology came into my virtual hands for copyediting and eventual layout.

Artwork & design: Niki Smith.
Artwork & design: Niki Smith.

The anthology is Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe, a Steve Berman production for Lethe Press which means to do exactly what it says on the tin.

Exactly what I’m seldom interested in doing. “I don’t like being bound by another writer’s imagination,” I whined in response to Steve’s artful, flattering cozening. “I refuse to write slash/fic, however gussied up as homage. It’s unseemly. I find Poe’s prose—and verse, my God!—unreadable, his obsessions repulsive.” (Substitute Stoker for Poe and you hear my arguments against writing a story for Steve’s Suffered from the Night: Queering Stoker’s Dracula. We’ll see how well my scruples stand up to that one. There’s still time.)

So the MS came to me and I read Steve’s introduction with its charming recollections of gay-boy-geekdom…and was somehow reminded of the luxurious, poisonous illustrations created for a 1916 British edition of Poe by the Irish graphic (and stained-glass) artist Harry Clarke. Now, I was as much a gay-boy geek as Steve, though *cough* significantly longer ago. Young Steve, I believe, missed out on the glories of Lin Carter’s Ballantine Adult Fantasy program (unfortunate title, wut?) and had to settle for Poe to get his fantastical adolescent jollies. But I was also an illustration geek: Aubrey Beardsley, Alastair, Kay Nielsen, Erté…Harry Clarke. Who I didn’t recall was Irish until Wikipedia told me just two weeks ago.

Bitten by the nostalgia bug, I went Googling and quickly found the full, public-domain complement of Harry Clarke illustrations for Tales of Mystery and Imagination. What glory. Those crazy tapered hands! The faces! The knowledgeably horror-vacui textures and patterns! The draftsmanship!

Nostalgia bug had not had its fill of my tasty, tasty blood. Wikipedia’s telling me Harry Clarke was Irish threw me back to my long-ago Co. Waterford childhood at Rockmount, a grand Georgian big house nr. (as our postal address put it) Kilmacthomas. This is a setting I had, astonishingly, only once used for fiction—a twenty-odd-year-old novella that had best not see print in my lifetime.

I wrote to Steve. I said, “Hrrrrm.” He said, “Go for it. I can give you a week or two.”

So my very first completed story of 2013 is not any of those I’ve been badgering to death since last year (or longer ago) but “A Portrait in India Ink by Harry Clarke”—inspired by the illustration for “Morella,” below, and my own history of migraine, and which, truly, queers Clarke more than Poe, but so be it—set in a grander house than Rockmount on a stormy winter night of 1968. Due in print and e-book in July. How delightful to share a table of contents with Christopher Barzak, Richard Bowes, and Jeff Mann, whose recent/forthcoming books I had a hand in, as well as a mysterious and imaginative congeries of others new to me and not.