Signal Boost: Chameleo by Robert Guffey

I’ve known Robert Guffey for almost 20 years. We met at the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle. His fiction playfully explores issues of paranoia, conspiracy theories, secret societies and subcultures. His work, full of vast and somewhat offbeat scholarship, is also imbued with a Southern Californian sensibility that reminds one both of the trippy work of Philip K. Dick and the Sunshine State Noir of Tarantino (circa Pulp Fiction). His writing is emotionally warmer, and he has a deep affection for his oddball characters.


I’ve started his latest work, Chameleo, a nonfiction account of governmental conspiracy (with elements of memoir), but it reads like a novel. I could see the director Paul Thomas Anderson adapting it for the screen.

Here’s the blurb:

A mesmerizing mix of Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, and Philip K. Dick, Chameleo is a true account of what happened in a seedy Southern California town when an enthusiastic and unrepentant heroin addict named Dion Fuller sheltered a U.S. Marine who’d stolen night vision goggles and perhaps a few top secret files from a nearby military base.

Robert Guffey’s website:

On being an under-represented voice in speculative fiction.

Skin Deep Magic was included in this challenge by K. Tempest Bradford. I’m beyond pleased that she thought of my work, and I love her promotion of diverse voices in fiction. (And I can personally vouch for some of the work of fellow authors that she included).  As open-minded as I like to think of myself, I am woefully under-read with regard to certain under-represented voices myself.  To me, the article is more of a ‘wake-up’ call than it is a call to action. It’s as much about ‘mindful’ reading and examining your biases as it is about the actual challenge.  (Besides, you can cheat and/or modify the the challenge. Or, ignore it—no-one will know!)

However, some people took the ‘challenge’ as a slight against white, straight, cisgendered (non-trans) authors. (The article has over 1000 comments) She was interpreted as mandating/policing people’s reading habits. She got hate mail, and in one particularly nasty case, described in racially-tinged dehumanizing language by one author. As one of the authors Tempest recommends, I’ve faced all of fears that the white, cis, het authors will supposedly face with this ONE CHALLENGE (not mandate) just as a matter of course. I know for a fact that many mainstream readers upon seeing my picture, or notice that I’m published in the queer small press will immediately assume that my work has nothing for them. I’ve resigned myself to be ‘niche’, even though I think there is something universal in my stories about black people, trans folk, and gay people–and my take on dark fantasy owes as much to Angela Carter or Charles DeLint as it does to Toni Morrison or James Baldwin.

In the end, Tempest challenges people to read underrepresented voices for ONE YEAR. When you are an under-represented voice, your entire writing career is often ignored for more than that.

Skin Deep Magic Story Notes on “Coalrose,” the Dark Muse


Public Domain Photo

Nina Simone (who I’ve written about before) was probably the inspiration behind the eponymous character, Coalrose, the final novelette in my collection Skin Deep Magic.  The story is in the form of a chorus of vignettes—all recounting their encounters with Zoe Coalrose, who is a kind of dark muse/patron saint for outcasts. The cast includes: a lesbian junkie, a casting director for the Negro Follies, a tattoo artist, and gay widower.  The piece is influenced by Geoff Ryman’s novel, Was, his fugue-like narrative that uses The Wizard of Oz as a touchstone.  Ryman was an instructor during my time at the Clarion West Workshop in 1996, and he read and critiqued the first draft. Coalrose was immensely cathartic to write.  I don’t know how to classify it—magical realism? paranormal? historical fantasy? Though it has darkness, I view it as a hopeful piece. It’s a homage to survival.

On ‘Babel-17′ by Samuel R Delany

Babel-17Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Critics and fans tend to divide the work of Samuel R. Delany into two periods: pre-and-post Dhalgren. The argument is that Dhalgren marked a change both stylistically ( non-linear narrative, postmodern techniques) and subject matter (eroticism, power differentials, and liminality).

While Babel-17 does have a more straightforward, genre-cognizant plot, the trippy, mind-fuck aspects of his later work are very much in evidence. The story concerns a poet/linguist/starship captain(!) and her attempts to decipher a mysterious language. The prose is dense and beautiful, full of poetic images. The multicultural cast is peopled with colorful characters, and many of the trademarks of Delany’s post-Dhalgren work are very much in play: sexual and societal outcasts and complex theoretical frameworks—this time, about the effect of language on the cognitive process.

Skin Deep Magic Story Notes: On “Zora’s Destiny,” the Conjure Woman of African American Literature

This story was commissioned for a young adult anthology that never came together. The anthology editor called me up with an idea to write an essay about an influential African American figure. I volunteered for Zora Neale Hurston for a couple of reasons.


First and foremost, she was a fascinating, larger-than-life figure.  You know the cliched stories about people who “run away and join the circus”? Zora actually did run away and join a traveling “Negro Follies” show! In addition to being a brilliant novelist, she was an anthropologist and her scholarship on Hoodoo (African-American folk magic) and Haitian Voudon is considered to be seminal. She had a humorous streak, evident in her letters. She was a fixture in the Harlem Renaissance/“Negro Arts” movement, and an artist whose talent only became appreciated posthumously.

The other reason I chose Hurston was this: the house I live in now is directly in front the house where she boarded as a student at Howard University. In other words,I live in the same house (even the same number), but on a parallel street. The coincidence was too strong to ignore. The story I wrote was one of those rare “channelled” pieces that rarely spring forth (most of my writing is hard work).

“Zora’s Destiny” is a completely fictional piece that imagines Hurston’s childhood and foreshadows her life’s work and legacy. I can only hope that Hurston might have approved of this tribute.