Mnemomics: The Elan of Stella Constance.

Dionne Warwick’s classic songs—”Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” — always reminds me of my aunt Connie. She was my mother’s older sister and the black sheep of that family. She kind of looked like Warwick, with a similar skin tone and fashion sense. Connie wore her hair in a Jheri-curl, a style that really worked for her facial features. She was a tall woman, maybe 5’9 or so. At any rate, she towered over my mother, who was 5’1. She moved in with our family when I was ten or eleven. Previously, she’d lived in Philadelphia, where most of my mother’s family settled after living in the Carolinas.

Her first name was Stella but she always went by Connie. When she was sixteen, she got “in the family way” and was sent up North to avoid small town scandal. Her child was put up for adoption, but I believe that she never returned to the South. She married three times. I never met her husbands, but according to my mother, at least one of them was physically abusive. She moved in with us in DC when one of her marriages ended. She began working for my father as the receptionist for his dental practice, and lived in the basement room of our house.

Connie had a real zest for life. I remember my mother—who was very prim and proper—and her would spend evenings drinking beer and laughing about the Old Days. I learned that Connie followed the horoscope like a Wall Street trader follows the NASDAQ. She told raunchy and vulgar jokes to me and my brothers. She loved blaxploitation movies, Chablis, cigarettes and yes, Dionne Warwick. 

Article on Tor.com: Queering SFF: 12 Authors, Critics, and Activists on What’s Changed in the Last Ten Years

The critic/author Lee Mandelo has a new article about their Queering Science Fiction and Fantasy column, where they asked authors about the advances made in queer representation in the field. I’m included along with Carmen Maria Machado, Liz Bourke, Charlie Jane Anders, Nicola Griffith, Cheryl Morgan, José Iriarte, Sunny Moraine, Yoon Ha Lee, Nino Cipri, Sam J. Miller, Mary Anne Mohanraj.

Check it out here!

On Unruly Bodies and Otherness: The inspiration for ‘Hairsbreadth.’

I hate myself.

Let me be more specific. I hate my physical body. 

I’m too short. Standing at 5’1.5 I’ve been called Gary Coleman and Webster, shrimp, Napoleon, shorty, and midget. I’ve been ignored, not taken seriously, and even had people cancel dates upon learning my height.

I’m too fat. On my frame, 150 lbs makes me look like the mayor of Munchkinland. My tummy has stretch-marks and I have gynecomastia—more commonly known as “man boobs.” I avoid looking at my body in a mirror and my silhouette embarrasses me. My odd shape makes clothes shopping a herculean effort.

The skin around my eyes is dark and burned looking. I look like a raccoon, my dark brown eyes set deep within a charred ring.

I think of myself as a troll, a hobbit, an imp.

Then there’s my voice. It’s deep, but femme. I’m always mistaken for a woman on the phone, and many people, upon meeting me, assume I’m gay. Which, of course, is true and yet another thing I struggle with. (In the ever-changing gay male classification system, I am uncategorizable. Not Wolf, Otter, Twink. Not Daddy, or Bear).

There are days when I wish that were like Doro, the mindforce character in Octavia E Butler’s Patternmaster series. Like Doro, I would surf from body to body, trying on new physicalities like new clothes.

The black body is heavily policed. We are the wrong color. The wrong shape. Our lips are too big. Our buttocks too voluptuous. Our blackness is fetishized, criminalized, and pathologized.  

Sarah Baartman, exploited as the Hottentot Venus

Black hair, in particular, is demonized. The adjectives used to describe it—coarse, nappy, wooly, kinky, wiry—are in stark contrast to the way white hair is described. White women have silky tresses, fountains and plumes and cascades of follicles in a spectrum of color. Natural black hairstyles are treated as punchlines. A thousand Halloween costumes feature non-black people in dreadlock or Afro wigs. Black hair has to be tamed, chemically altered, woven with extensions, hidden by wigs. Students are suspended from school for wearing unprocessed hair. Boys are ‘Sideshow Bob,’ and girls and women are deemed unprofessional or unfeminine, and unkempt. My relationship with my hair goes through phases. Sometimes, I hate it. And sometimes, I love it. 

Unfortunately, some of the policing of black physicality comes from within the black community. Some of the most vicious takedowns of black presentation comes from other black people. Colorism, and passing are very much alive and active.

Hairsbreadth, the novel-in-progress that will be serialized by Broken Eye Books (and eventually turned in a printed book), asks the question: What if the very thing we’re castigated for—our blackness—was instead the source of great power? The character Zelda came to me with her deep dark skin and ‘unruly’ hair that could heal and destroy, create wonder and horror, and begged me to tell her story. The story is borne out of the chthonic crucible of self hatred and a colonized mind. It’s a way to cast off toxic ideas, and honor the beauty of idiosyncrasy and otherness. 

The first chapter, “Girl, Uprooted” is available if you subscribe to the Patreon

Introducing my weird fairytale novel, HAIRSBREADTH

I’m pleased as punch to announce that my new novel HAIRSBREADTH will be released in serial installments by Broken Eye Books.

Here’s the description:

Broken Eye Books is publishing the serial novel Hairsbreadth by Craig Laurance Gidney, a contemporary fairy tale in the tradition of Victor LaValle’s The Changeling and Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Snow, Bird.

Seventeen-year-old Zelda has always been isolated, born with deep dark skin and fast-growing hair that seems to have a mind of its own, and moving from place to place with her grandmother. But when the two of them move to the remote eastern shore town of Shimmer, her power grows in strange new ways—she can hear and see the dead, which proves useful to her grandmother’s folk medicine business. Zelda thinks she has a gift at first. But she soon discovers that there is a dark side to her powers.

Hairsbreadth is a dark retelling of the fairy tale “Rapunzel,” steeped in African-American folklore, and a coming-of-age tale full of Black Girl Magic.

https://www.brokeneyebooks.com/news/hairsbreadth-by-craig-laurance-gidney#/

This book has been burrowing through my brain for years, revealing its dark beauty like a slowly unfurling flower. The first chapter is up for those subscribed to Broken Eye Books’ Patreon. Thanks to editor-publisher Scott Gable for taking on this project!

Art by Pierre Jean-Louis — an inspiration. (He has no relationship to this project) Check out his work

The scent of madness: The flowery horror of “Little Joe”

The first thing I noticed about the film Little Joe was the color palette. The tones of red and purple were present in many scenes, from the startling red hair of the main protagonist, to the eerie magenta glow of the greenhouse of the titular pseudo MacGuffin: the bloody tendrils of the plant itself. This palette, which drenches the scenes, is a signal to numinous occurrences.  The color primes us for the subtle, hypnotic effect, and this color motif is the thing that stays with me. 

Little Joe is about Alice, a scientist at a botanical biotech company who develops a flower that releases a scent that makes people happy. She calls it an “anti-depressant” plant, one that requires the owner be devoted to the care of the bright red bloom. Against company procedures, Alice brings the plant home for her son, who she feels guilty about neglecting. Soon, she notices subtle, disturbing changes in his behavior.

Little Joe is an example of Weird Cinema, at the interstices of several genres, including science fiction and horror. But the pacing takes cues from psychological thrillers. While there are moments of suspense and eeriness,  this is a more cerebral type of horror, one that relies on ambiguity. The slow blooming, unfurling Little Joe plants are accompanied by ambient whispers that tingle along your spine. The influence of the plant is suggestive, and rather than over the top madness, the effect seems to be a malingering indifference to the world.

(Also, the idea of a supernatural flower in the purple-pink spectrum of course reminded me of the Marsh Bell!)