My Year of Short Stories: August 25th, in which I confront some racist shit

August 25th, 2017, The Mothers and Fathers Italian Association: History Is What We Say It Is by Thomas F. Monteleone, published in published in Cemetery Dance, issue 74/75, 2016

Blurb: This is a recurring column in Cemetery Dance by Mr. Monteleone. In this issue he gives his two cents on The World Fantasy Award and why changing the trophy from a bust of H.P. Lovecraft (an outspoken racist) is nothing more than political correctness run amok.

Opinion: (This is going to be a long one). Mr. Monteleone might have been writing for forty years and editing, as he says, “award winning anthologies along the way,” but we aren’t living in the past forty years. We’re living now and when we look at the controversy surrounding the award bust of H.P. Lovecraft and The World Fantasy Award in 2015 it is shockingly similar to Confederate statues falling down all over the country. Perhaps it was a precursor, this bust, to what we’re experiencing today. But I digress.

Mr. Monteleone starts his column with an account of reading with a younger author in New York City some years ago. He doesn’t name this author because he says he wants “to protect the guilty. . .” and then goes on to note how horrible this writer was at reading his own work as well as how mediocre the story, in general, was. Keep in mind this column was written after The World Fantasy Award controversy. This same young author, who is and was Daniel Jose Older, started a petition in 2015 to replace the trophy-bust of H.P. Lovecraft with something that doesn’t celebrate a profound and exceptional racist. This rubs Mr. Monteleone the wrong way, for instance he writes,

“Lovecraft was indeed a xenophobe when it came to foreigners and, as they say today, ‘people of color.’ He often plugged in little asides and pejoratives about streets and neighborhoods being populated with ‘swarthy’ and furtive Portuguese and Italian laborers. Did I give a shit what Lovecraft thought about Italians? Puh-leeeze.”

This is a common reaction from (dare I say) older white men who grew up in an era of meritocracy, i.e. the harder you work the farther you’ll go. But in the last 40 years, when Monteleone was writing and editing “award winning anthologies” how many black people, Latino people, Arab and/or Muslim people, etc, got the message from editors and publisher that, “Yes, we value you and we believe your experiences, your stories, your world views are valuable, publishable, and most importantly, essential and undeniable due to the fact you exist and write.” Yeah, it wasn’t really until the last few years and anyone who brings up Octavia Butler as a black woman who was successful, you are correct. She was. But she was also the exception–and I might add, she gets much more love today than she did even five years ago. N.K. Jemisin was the first black author to win the Hugo Award for best novel. That was in 2016.

So, for a white man–Mr. Monteleone–to say, Hey, look, I don’t know what the big deal is, I’m Italian and Lovecraft didn’t like Italians, why should we focus on race? is an exquisite false equivalence. Being white in the USA compared to being Italian in Lovecraft’s USA compared to being black (or brown) in the USA compared to being black (or brown) in Lovecraft’s USA is just a cluster-fuck of irrelevance. Because in terms of the Lovecraft bust the only thing that matters is this: Who are we honoring with The World Fantasy Award? Are we honoring H.P. Lovecraft or are we honoring the writers of today? And while some of Lovecraft’s writing is quite exquisite, what does The World Fantasy Award represent if it’s trophy is a man who would have reviled those people of other ethnic and racial identities who will surely continue to win the award?

In the end Mr. Monteleone’s column reeks of white privilege. I’m an award winning editor and have a column in Cemetery Dance, now, because I have this platform, let me tell you what race in the USA really means! Shut the fuck up Mr. Monteleone. Up until recently racist figures throughout history were puzzled over, but not called out. In many ways people divorced the horrible things historical figures did from the great things they did. While I am not adverse to this as a rule (I wouldn’t want to grab a beer with Lord Byron, yet his poetry is moving), should it be up to me, or you, or any white person to tell non-white people that, Hey, you’re overreacting to the reverence our community, our institutions, and our leaders give to those who did everything they could to oppress people like you–now here, accept this trophy in their likeness. No. It is not our place. Want to honor H.P. Lovecraft, grab a copy of his work–reread The Call of Cthulhu.

Monteleone raises the same question concerning this bust as the president raised with Confederate statues. “Where does it stop?” First you come for this trophy, then will we purge the libraries of his work? Mr. M. asks. Nobody is talking about purging books but he. Just as nobody is talking about removing Statues of George Washington except the president. It’s immaterial. It’s out of context. It’s fear mongering to cement those at the top and keep them there.

Sadly, the fact Cemetery Dance gives this man, Thomas F. Monteleone, a platform to preach his dated and bitter views on race in their magazine means I will no longer be subscribing. You may say this is an overreaction, but I rather give my money to a magazine that doesn’t provide a platform for old white guys to expound on race and political correctness.

Update: After writing the first draft of this post, I emailed Cemetery Dance with my concerns and received a thoughtful reply from general manager, Brian Freeman. With his permission I present to you our correspondence.

Dear Cemetary Dance,

In February of 2017 I placed a 6 issue order for your magazine. There is
nothing wrong with the order. The reason I am emailing is that, despite some
of the great stories you include in your magazine, I cannot support a
publication that gives a platform to men like Thomas F. Monteleone. this is
why:

His column in the #74/75 issue was deeply troubling to me, yet another white
man explaining race and the nuances of race relations at the expense of those
articles like this effect the most. Columns like this propagate the idea that
political correctness is to blame for racial tension, rather than systemic
racism. In his article, Monteleone derides authors of color for speaking out
against racist symbols. He writes of the retiring of the H.P. Lovecraft bust:

“The genre was expelling the writer without whom there would be no genre, no
conventions, no awards, no nothing. Can you say irony? (I thought that you
could. . .)

However, it is just, if not more ironic that The WORLD Fantasy Award trophy
was a likeness of a man who would have reviled those authors of color who have
won it. Should anything that proclaims to be the “the world XXX award” of
anything be symbolized by someone or something that doesn’t believe in the
humanity of any group of people?

Anyway. I know I still have 5 issues left on my subscription. I’m not asking
for a refund. I’m just letting you know why I won’t be interested in your
magazine in the future. If possible, save the paper you’d print my copy
on–just send it to someone else. I no longer want to receive them. I rather
give my money to magazines who support underrepresented voices.

Regrets. A white guy.
 Alex Clark-McGlenn

###

Hi Alex,

Thanks for reaching out to us with your concerns.

I understand where you’re coming from. I think we missed a golden
opportunity to offer a “counterpoint” column after Tom’s where someone could
have made the same points you made about Lovecraft and the discussion the
genre is having about him right now. Many people agree with your point of
view, and we should have thought beyond the general idea that this was Tom’s
usual “shooting from the hip, saying what he thinks” column.

We’ll be refunding and canceling your subscription since you’re not
interested in future issues. More people should speak up about the things
that matter to them, and I’m certain I’ll think of your email the next time
we have a situation like this where other voices should be represented.

Thanks again for voicing your concerns.

Best wishes,
Brian Freeman

General Manager

###

Dear Brian,

Thank you for the response.

I do wish there could have been some follow up. Perhaps a letter to the editor. . . I don’t think censorship of Tom’s ideas is a good idea either. Freedom of speech is wonderful and while I disagree with his article, and don’t support a one-way platform for him to expound on these thoughts, I do think dialogue is essential. I think what put me off (besides Tom’s worldview) is that it was a completely one-way attack on some groundbreaking artists within an industry that has been dominated by the conventional culture (white culture–and I’m talking about the “power” of being in power, when I use the term “white culture”) for so long. Suddenly these underrepresented people get a part of the power and are uncomfortable with the systemic issues and want to change it. I can understand why, as a white man, this can feel like an attack on our heroes. I love H.P. Lovecraft. his work was a massive part of my adolescents and I can still enjoy his writing–divorced from his horrific views.

I wrote up a large blog post today in response to this article and I’d love to include your email to me within it (I haven’t published it yet), as I know Cemetery Dance also publishes some fantastic work, stuff that I really enjoy. I feel your response is pertinent and insightful, but will not include it in my blog post without your consent.

Thank you for your time.

###

Hi Alex,

Absolutely, please feel free to include my reply.

You made great points, and we definitely dropped the ball by only having one
view represented to our readership. Including other perspectives should have
been an obvious decision, but we missed the bigger picture when we only
viewed the column through the lens of “here is Tom’s column, he has
opinions and he shared his opinions.”

Missing that bigger picture was an unforced error on our part, and it’s also
a valuable lesson that will be remembered in the future.

Thank you again for taking the time to email us.

My Year of Short Stories: August 23th-29th

My Year of Short Stories is an ongoing challenge I’ve set myself. My goal is to read 365 short stories from the day after I turned 30 (August 14th, 2017) to the day after I turn 31 (August 14th, 2018). 

August 23rd, 2017, Notes On The Writing of Horror: A Story by Thomas Ligotti, Published in Songs of a Dead Dreamer & Grimscribe, Penguin Classics.

Blurb: A fictional horror author (or Thomas Ligotti) outlines his approach and styles to writing horror, only to find himself in a similar nightmare as the example he uses to discuss the meta of horror.

Opinion: The meta aspect of this piece is certainly my favorite part. I suspect this is a close or exact telling of how Ligotti goes about writing horror, which is cool. Frankly, the fictional or story aspect of the piece is less intriguing, but as a whole this piece is a nice insight into the styles and process of Ligotti’s work.

August 24th, 2017, Matter by Josh Malerman, published in published in Cemetery Dance, issue 74/75, 2016

Blurb: A young boy’s aunt explains how we’re all made up of atoms and if we can control every atom in our bodies we could walk through walls, letting those atoms slide between the atoms of the walls. Spoiler: it’s about much more than walking through walls.

Opinion: This is a metaphorical story. Everything hinges on the metaphor that relates back to the normalcy and important things in life. It feels very “magically real” in some ways, which is totally my jam. I like this story because it uses a magical element to tell a very “real” story.

August 25th, 2017: See separate blog post.

August 26rd, 2017, The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise by Thomas Ligotti, Published in Songs of a Dead Dreamer & Grimscribe, Penguin Classics.

Blurb: A man re-accounts a story Aunt Elise tells one Christmas Eve, only to find that the story transports him through time, space and, perhaps, worlds.

Opinion: This isn’t one of Ligotti’s best. Perhaps it’s just the number of stories I’ve read by him lately, but I saw the ending coming, though there was a little twist that I was dismayed to see, just a cliche that could have been avoided. The best part of this piece is the ambiguity of the space/time continuum, as this story breaks down linear time, hence its title.

August 27th, 2017, Sacks by Raymond Carver, Published in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories, Vintage Contemporaries.

Blurb: A man visits his father for the first time after the divorce. They go out to a bar and his father tells him the story of his cheating.

Opinion: First, I love Carver’s writing style. There is something about his bleakness that gets me. Not in terms of his subject matter, though it is bleak, but his syntax. He uses dialogue tags in such a way that repetition becomes part of the tension rather than an annoyance. The “he said,” “I said,” makes the whole conversation in this story feel like one long awkward moment, which is exactly what it is.

August 28th, 2017, 2N5E by Yuki Iwama, Published on Needle In The Hay (http://needleinthehay.net).

Blurb: A vaguely cyberpunk-ish story about discovering the new meaning of what God is, or is made of.

Opinion: This is a flash fiction piece, so it’s quite short and because of this it suffers from some of the typical issues FF suffers from. First, scene is sacrificed a bit too much for backstory. The backstory felt like most of the piece to me, then there from what readers learn from the this backstory we get a small clip of a character discovering something. However, we don’t get a sense of weight as we might hope, as the character, narrator, making the discover isn’t known to the reader. Still. It’s always nice to see what’s out there. You can take a look at Yuki Iwama’s other work on her website.

August 29th, 2017, Shift by Nalo Hopkinson, Published www.nightmare-magazine.com

Blurb: The son of a African deity escapes his family for time, but can only stay hidden if a white woman tells him, shows him, what he should be.

Opinion: There were some sections of this story that lost me, mainly some of the backstory stuff. However, that backstory comes full circle by the end and is all essential. The essay I read a week ago (or so) on Afro-Futurism by Greg Tate echoed this piece in some startling ways. The main point is the search for identity beyond that of dominant culture/white culture and the dominant narrative. This story has everything to do with identity of a people who have been defined by others as “other” for generations. The ending is thoughtful and keeps the reader asking the question: what happens next?

My Year of Short Stories: August 17th-22th

My Year of Short Stories is an ongoing challenge I’ve set myself. My goal is to read 365 short stories from the day after I turned 30 (August 14th, 2017) to the day after I turn 31 (August 14th, 2018). 

August 17th, 2017, The Nyctalops Trilogy: II. Drink To Me Only With Labyrinthine Eyes by Thomas Ligotti, Published in Songs of a Dead Dreamer & Grimscribe, Penguin Classics.

Blurb: A hypnotist performs a show for some rich, society folks and makes them all fall in love with his assistant. However, she isn’t what she seems.

Opinion: This one isn’t as good as good as The Chemist, but it’s still a clever story. What I enjoyed most about it was the attention the author gives to the worst of humanity in terms of our fascination with danger, blood, death, and the morbid aspects of life. Everyone has craned their necks to see a car crash. But why?

August 18th, 2017, Kalahari Hopscotch by Greg Tate, published in The Believer, issue Aug/Sept, 2017

Blurb: An essay (yes, I’m including essays) derived from a lecture on Afro-Futurism by Greg Tate.

Opinion: I feel my opinion matters very little in regards to this essay. It’s a philosophical look at the past and future of the African (American) and the identity confusion that slavery within the United States has created for so many. I think the piece can be summed up with this excerpt, which is thought-provoking.

So what kind of African are you is the real mystery of history? (‘Are you free or are you mystery?’) The DNA might say Zimbabwe, but when you came asking Richard Pryor about your roots, he said, ‘You came from Cleveland.’ And that was true, too, because you were blessed or cursed with this whole double-consciousness thing–you’re your own twin, your own masks of Janus, your own Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and Al Jolson, too. You’ve learned to see yourself from the inside out and from the outside in and from the outside out, too. It’s why your champions are often given to talking about themselves in the third person like they’re having an out-of-body experience.”

August 19th, 2017, The Nyctalops Trilogy: III. Eye of The Lynx by Thomas Ligotti, Published in Songs of a Dead Dreamer & Grimscribe, Penguin Classics.

Blurb: A man visits an underground brothel of sorts with a Gothic bent with the intent of pleasure, but his pleasure is far darker than even the darkness of this underbelly establishment.

Opinion: This is my least favorite story in The Nyctalops Trilogy. The conclusion just didn’t have enough build up. It didn’t feel earned. I never really had a sense of where this piece was going and once I got to the last page I was a bit puzzled on how I’d gotten there.

August 20th, 2017, A Tribute To Alvin Buenaventura by Greg Tate, published in The Believer, issue Aug/Sept, 2017

Blurb: This was, more or less, a eulogy for a cartoonist, editor, and publisher.

Opinion: It’s difficult to have an opinion about a eulogy for someone you never knew and never heard of. It’s interesting though, having this tiny look into his life provided by some of his friends. It made me wonder what I’d write if one of my best friends died today–or what my friends may write about me. Buenaventura, by all accounts, was a quiet person, not forceful, but certainly capable or he wouldn’t have had the sway in the industry that he did. A sad snapshot of an archivist of art.

August 21st, 2017, The Sum of His Parts by Kevin J. Anderson, published in Apex: Volume 1, Issue 9, 2007.

Blurb: Have you ever wondered where the body parts of Frankenstein’s monster came from? The people behind the monster? Well, this story lets you know.

Opinion: I liked this story. It gives some cool background on how Doctor Frankenstein found the human body parts to make his monster. The story is basically a series of vignettes about the people who end up “contributing” body parts to the monster.

August 22nd, 2017, The Rich Are Different by Lisa Morton, published in Cemetery Dance, issue 74/75, 2016

Blurb: A author is invited to meet the aristocratic family after writing a scathing novelization of them only to find that the rich are far more different than she could ever have known.

Opinion: This is a well written piece or horror that plays with some fun story telling elements despite having a rather predictable ending. It pulls on some cool myths and applies them to modern times.