How Dead Can Dance helped me come out

I just got tickets to see the goth-world-neoclassical band Dead Can Dance in April 2020. This might be the seventh or eighth time since I’ve seen them. I’ve also seen solo tours from the Dead Can Dance members Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. Their somber, majestic and beautiful music has been a constant in my life. I discovered their music (and Cocteau Twins) around the same time I found the writing of Tanith Lee. Lee and DCD are forever linked in my mind.

They are indirectly responsible for my official coming out. I remember back in the late 80s debating whether or not to attend the local LGBT youth group. I was still in the closet (but not to myself). Joining a youth group was a big step for me. I had stood outside the place where the weekly meeting had been held a couple of times and been too chicken to go.

Then, one afternoon, I saw a guy wearing a homemade Dead Can Dance t-shirt. It was like a sign: I would be OK. I joined the youth group, and began the process of coming out.

Thank you, Brendan and Lisa.

I’m looking forward to seeing them live. This time, they’re delving deep into their catalog, performing older and rarely played tracks.

WHERE TO BEGIN WITH TANITH LEE (FOLLOW UP TO “HER OWN DARK MYTHOS” PANEL)

As a follow up to the Tanith Lee panel at Necronomicon, I had a bunch of people come up to ask me where to begin with her work. Lee wrote a such a wide range of genres, from comic children’s and YA books, to high fantasy, to horror, to even mystery and contemporary fiction. She even published one historical novel about the French Revolution and one spy novel. All of her work was graced with her unique gothic weird sensibility. (The aforementioned French Revolution novel, The Gods Are Thirsty, feels like an epic fantasy novel, and the spy novel, Turquoiselle, has a Dionysian subtext). My fellow panelist Paul Di Fillippo likened her to Joyce Carol Oates in her range. I would say Lee was more reminiscent of fellow Brit author Joan Aiken, who carried an idiosyncratic style across several genres and forms.

I think Lee was a master of the short form and readers should start with her numerous collections of short fiction. According to Allison Rich, a fellow panelist and maintainer of the web-based annotated bibliography Daughter Of the Night (an awesome resource), Lee published over 340 pieces of short fiction. The best of these read like fever dreams, full of lush prose and clever plot twists. Her fairy-tale retellings are collected in Red As Blood and Redder Than Blood, and they range from grim-dark, to de-mythicfications, to weird inversions. Immanion Press has collected some of her fiction together. The Weird Tales of Tanith Lee gathers all of her appearances in Weird Tales magazine, and Venus Burning has all fifteen of her appearances in Realms of Fantasy Magazine. Strindberg’s Ghost Sonata and Other Uncollected Tales has fantasy work that I missed. These are just the tip of the iceberg. There are recent collections from Fantastic Books (Dancing Through the Fire) and Leaves of Gold (Phantasya) that have new work. All of the collections I have come across have yet-to-be discovered new favorites.

As for her novels, my favorites are the three major series, all of which are structured like connected short fiction.

Tales from the Flat Earth (Night’s Master, Death’s Master, Delusion’s Master, Delirium’s Mistress, Night’s Sorceries) are erotic fantasies that take place on a worldscape that’s part Arabian Nights, part Oscar Wilde fairytales. The Secret Books of Paradys Quartet (The Book of the Damned, The Book of the Beast, The Book of Dead, and the Book of the Mad) are set in a haunted, fantastical version of Paris, full of dark wonders. They are Gothic and Decadent down to the very language Lee choses to tell her tales. The Secret Books of Venus Quartet (Faces Under Water, Saint Fire, A Bed of Earth, Venus Preserved) treats the city of Venice similarly, but with even weirder phantasmorgia (a hairdo that can start fires, cursed masks, and, of course, a murderous flamingo).

Her books for young adults are full of British madcap humor, particularly the Unicorn trilogy (Black Unicorn, Gold Unicorn, Red Unicorn) and the Piratica (Piratica, Piratica II (Return to Parrot Island, Piratica III: The Family Sea) books.

I have a particularly fondness for the work written by her alteregos Esther Garber and her half brother Judas Garbah. Lee channelled both writers—the French Jewish lesbian Esther and her gay French-Egyptian half brother Judas. These works, collected in the volumes Fatal Women, Disturbed by Her Song, and the short novel 34 ostensibly occur in the ‘real’ world but they are shot through with wild streak of surrealistic fantasy.

The panel was well attended and filled with her passionate fans. I hope that this brief, disjointed rambling will help.

{Finally, as I was writing this up, Immanion Press just announced the publication of one of TL’s long lost, unpublished manuscripts, At the Court of the Crow}.

Lee was a true one of a kind — an ink-stained enchantress of the written word.

(Newly discovered Tanith Lee manuscript….cover by John Kaiine)

Necronomicon 2019/ Wikipedia Page

I had a great time at Necronomicon in Providence, Rhode Island this past weekend. I caught up with old friends, and met new ones and did my best not to break the bank with all of the various artwork in the dealer’s room. While I am not particularly a Lovecraft fan, I am huge fan for Weird Fiction itself–both contemporary and historic.

I was on two panels this year. Both of them were recorded for the Outer Dark podcast, and should be up in the near future.

The Tanith Lee panel explored Lee’s criminally underrated idiosyncratic fiction, its eroticism, humor, and lush decadence. I learned more facts about Lee the person from Allison Rich, who runs the online bibliography Daughter of the Night: An Annotated Tanith Lee Bibliography.

Paul Di Fillipo, Thomas Broadbent, Allison Rich, me, Sonya Taafe, Daniel Braum

The Weird Fiction in the African Diaspora was equally illuminating–my fellow panelists offered a plethora of passionate viewpoints. We talked about how the various tropes of Cosmic Horror are transformed through a black/African-descended lens.

Hysop Mulero, Victor LaValle, me, Chesya Burke, Errick Nunnally, teri zin

Both panels were well-attended.

I managed to sell out of the books that I brought with me, and signed a shipment that arrived at the Lovecraft Arts and Sciences store.


I came home to find that now have a Wikipedia entry, thanks to friends who are editors.

Upcoming Appearances and Forthcoming Works

OutWrite 2019

Washington DC

August 2, 2-3pm

Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/631330400609166/

Reading: A Crooked Looking Glass

Nino Cipri, Ruthanna Emrys, Craig L. Gidney, Margaret Killjoy. Moderated by Marianne Kirby

NecronomiCon 2019

Providence, RI

August 22 – 25

Link: http://necronomicon-providence.com/core-schedule/

Friday Aug 23 1:30pm

HER OWN DARK MYTHOS: TANITH LEE – Capital Ballroom, Graduate 2nd Floor
Tanith Lee (1947–2015) wrote broadly, including work for children and adults, poetry, and television. With her lush, dark, and often deeply psychosexual prose, she created bizarre fantasy worlds and turned familiar horror tropes upon their heads. Join our panelists as they explore the work of this grand master of the decadently weird and impossibly strange.

Panelists: Paul Di Filippo, Craig Gidney, Paul Tremblay (M), Sonya Taaffe, Allison Rich, Daniel Braum

Saturday Aug 24 10:30am

DARK MATTERS: WEIRD FICTION FROM THE AFRICAN DIASPORA – Biltmore Ballroom, Graduate 17th Floor
Writers of African descent around the world have been contributing to speculative fiction since the days of Charles W. Chesnutt, W. E. B. Dubois, and George S. Schuyler, but their contributions have not always been acknowledged. Our panelists discuss the history and importance of this literary movement and how the Diaspora experience has shaped and informed it.


Panelists: Victor LaValle, teri zin, Errick Nunnally (M), Craig Gidney, Hysop Loreal Mulero, Chesya Burke

I also wrote the introduction to Love in a Time of Dragons a new Tanith Lee collection of her short fiction put out by Immanion Press which will be released in August!

“34” Tanith Lee ( writing as Esther Garber): Darkly erotic queer fantastika

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Immanion Press has reprinted 34 in an extremely handsome edition that even has illustrations and pictures. 34 was written Lee, who claimed to channel the work of the enigmatic Esther Garber. The novel is a darkly surreal lesbian quest, part Colette, part Angela Carter.

I wrote about 34 when it first came out in 2004.

If you are expecting a straightforward dive into lesbian erotica by Tanith Lee (or Esther Garber), you will be pleasantly disappointed. This brief, dense and somewhat experimental book explores the erotic imagination, the nature of memory and mediates on aging. Sexual obsession is the focal point through which many discursive images and ideas flow.
The plot finds 17-year old Esther fleeing London after her mother’s dramatic death. She absconds on a boat across the Channel, and ends up in drab hotel in rainy Paris slum. The amoral and jaundiced Esther is mistaken for a prostitute by the front desk clerk and her services are bought by a virago named Julie, who poses as a man. The sexual chemistry between them awakes passions in Esther, who leaves after the tryst. Thus begins Esther’s quest, almost mythic in scope, to find Julie.
If “34” is not a fantasy, it does not happen in the real world. Rather than a traditional `other world’, the action takes place in the clouded, magical world of memory and perception, as the first person narrator encounters patently incorrect or wrong things (such as a dog that is part wild boar) or too surreal (such as a Gothic mansion).
The main narrative is interrupted by glimpses into a distant childhood past in Egypt and visions of a future Esther, who is going through menopause in London, and may or may not have a sister (or alter-ego, Anna). Both the future and the past Esthers live in a reality closer to `normality.’ The child faces loss and dislocation; the old woman is trapped by her illnesses and indolence. Both are prone to extensive fantasizing.
All of these disparate threads are held together by hypnotic, feverish prose and a dark, sardonic wit. Mythology intersects reality-Demeter, Persephone and Isis all have cameos here. Female ciphers, villains and strange children cavort on the stage. Eroticism and desire infuse everything, obliterating logic and reason.
This novel isn’t for everyone, though. The vaporous, meandering storyline and the disturbing, politically incorrect sexuality on display here will stop many a reader. But those who like sophisticated erotica and experimental fiction will find this Angela Carter meets George Bataille work entrancing.

Tanith Lee’s Weird Fiction

I wrote an article on Tanith Lee’s weird fiction on Weird Fiction Review in honor of her 70th birthday.

While Tanith Lee (1947-2015) is mostly known as a fantasy writer, much of her short fiction existed in that interstitial region between genres. Not quite horror, or fantasy, her work in this mode would most comfortably fit in the weird tale category. Lee’s ‘weird’ fiction had a distinct gothic tone, and was often underscored by her eccentric wit.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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A magnificent tribute to Tanith Lee

It has been a year since Tanith Lee passed away. She died on May 24. I just read a stunning tribute to her by a fan on Tumblr.

Take a moment to read A Year Without Tanith Lee

Tanith used to correspond to me every now and then. I will share a brief note she sent me along with a copy of her then new release TURQUOISELLE. She sent both because I was recuperating from a minor surgery. She was kind as she was talented.

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2015 Roundup — Of Nectar and Awards

2015 was very productive year
Ups include:

–SKIN DEEP MAGIC was on a couple of college syllabi, and I got to do two author visits with college students, and it was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.
–BEREFT, my YA novel about bullying, racism and homophobia, won a Bronze Moonbeam and a Silver IPPY Award

–I got to assist with editors choosing the fiction in QUEERS DESTROY HORROR.
–I got to go to WORLD HORROR in Atlanta, which led to several professional friendships.
–My novelette THE NECTAR OF NIGHTMARES was published and illustrated got good reviews
–My first collection, SEA, SWALLOW ME & OTHER STORIES was turned into an audiobook.
All are bucket list accomplishments.

Downs include:
The death of Tanith Lee. We used to exchange emails and she was very supportive of all of my work. I only met her once. We had planned a visit before her illness. I dedicated THE NECTAR OF NIGHTMARES to her.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!