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.
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.
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 Changelingand 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.
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!
From the back cover copy: Nowhereville: Weird Is Other People is an anthology of urban weird fiction. These are stories of the city, of people interacting with the complexities that are other people. These 19 short stories explore the genre of weird fiction, tales not quite fantasy and not quite science fiction, tales blurring the lines between genres. These are the strange stories of the strange decisions we make and the strange ways the city affects us.
Authors include: Nuzo Onoh, Maura McHugh, P. Djèlí Clark, Evan J. Peterson, S.P. Miskowski, Lynda E. Rucker, Tariro Ndoro, D.A. Xiaolin Spires, Mike Allen, Jeffrey Thomas, Erica L. Satifka, Kathe Koja, Leah Bobet, Ramsey Campbell, Wole Talabi, Stephen Graham Jones, R.B. Lemberg, Cody Goodfellow
It’s also been getting some stellar reviews!
“Taken together, these stories create an uncanny, unpredictable hall of mirrors. These wonderfully strange takes on modern living are sure to resonate with fans of speculative fiction.” (STARRED review from Publishers Weekly, and a PW Book of the Week)
“Readers will be enchanted by this collection and eagerly anticipate what the next entry will bring. The stories here are disconcerting, ambiguous, and sometimes confusing—but always intriguing and genre-bending, digging into the ways we connect to those around us.” (Booklist)
“What’s more, they complement one another in a way that’s rare even for collections by single authors, much less an anthology delivering 19 disparate voices. Indeed, the effect of this collection is not so much that of a set of loosely comparable episodes but of a kaleidoscope: variegated and multifaceted yet all of a piece. Remarkably powerful urban tales, each one brilliantly in harmony with the others.” (STARRED review from Kirkus)
My piece, called “Underglaze,” takes its inspiration from the Flow Blue plates my late aunt Evelyn collected.
My story “Underglaze” is in the forthcoming anthology Nowhereville: Weird is Other People — Tale of the Urban Weird (Broken Eye Books; TBD). Editors Scott Gable & C. Dombrowski have assembled a top-notch roster of artists, including Maura McHugh, S.P. Miskowski, Ramsey Campbell, Kathe Koja, Erica L. Satifka, Nuzo Onoh, Lynda E. Rucker, P. Djèlí Clark, Cody Goodfellow, Wole Talabi, Stephen Graham Jones, Mike Allen, Jeffrey Thomas, R.B. Lemberg, Evan Peterson, and more.