Time to Judge a Book by its Cover

There is no part of getting my work published that isn’t exciting, but lately two things have really brought it home for me.

I got a package in the mail that I assumed was just another thing I had ordered off Amazon while bored or drinking, that turned out to be five copies of the audiobook of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I screamed for a while, then danced with the copies, then remembered I don’t have a CD player in my house.

So, as some of you saw on Facebook live, I sat in my car and made it happen. It took me a few minutes to get past the utter surrealism of my own name on the digital display, but after that I settled in to really listen. The narrator, Angela Dawe is marvelously talented, and brings an insight and subtlety to the work that just slays me. I find myself holding my breath when she reads and I KNOW what happens; I WROTE the thing.

The second thing is cover art. Both times when my publisher has shown me what they were thinking for covers for my book, I was stunned. I had been prepared (by the horror stories of other writers) to fight for better representation: to reject blonde women in high heels running from danger, to argue that my post-apocalyptic dystopia was not best depicted as a woman making a cosmopolitan and eating a salad amid the rubble.

47North has only shown me art that proves that they both respect and understand my work. There were no fights. There were tweaks and revisions, and I’ve been completely satisfied with what the books look like. Delighted, even.

Both of these are really the same thing, denoted by a nifty little Greek word that I see used far too seldom: ekphrasis. Being an author means seeing art made in the image of your own art, inspired by it and extending its reach. Both the performance of the narrator and the work of the artist/designer are ekphrastic expressions, and it’s such a rush to see that come to life.

All of this to say: I’m revealing the cover for my sequel, The Book of Etta. You’ll get to meet her on February 21, 2017.

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Burning the Man

I opened the stage at Burning Man 2016 with this story. The crowd there liked it, and I hope you do too.

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It started off as a joke.

People used say that it was the best week to get brunch, to go to dinner, to try out any new spot that was typically too crowded to be worth it. The week everyone went to Burning Man, people joked that they should build a wall to keep the burners from returning to San Francisco.

But when it happened, it wasn’t a joke at all. It wasn’t a wall, either. San Francisco was just gone.

They piled up, an endless dusty caravan and people spilled out of cars and vans and RVs. Those who lived in Sacramento and Oakland found their way home, but everyone who tried to make the last bit of their journey to the west across the Bay Bridge and over to the peninsula found that no such place existed. The hills of Oakland sloped down and looked out over an untroubled Pacific. No Transamerica Pyramid poked the soft underbelly of the fog. No Golden Gate Bridge and no gap for it to span. It was as if the coast of California had been circumcised.

The Burners of San Francisco discovered in a ripple of shock that they had no ID, no house keys. Not one of them could produce proof of where they belonged. The few of them who trusted authority enough to ask for help from the cops found that they were treated as nomads. Refugees. The cops took one look at the dusty tent city on wheels and told the sunburned, unwashed masses to move along. Otherwise there might be trouble.

Those who did not trust the police tried their networks. Some of them found that they still had jobs in Palo Alto, parents in Sonoma, and friends all over the world. But when they asked those people, “Where do I live?” the answer was as unanimous as it was useless.

“You always say that your home is that crazy place in the desert.”

The Burners without a city called friends they had seen at the festival and asked them what they thought had happened, but none of them understood. “What do you mean you have no city? San Francisco? Sounds like some place in Mexico.”

Some had options. Some had money. Some shacked up with friends or family and tried to figure out what went wrong.

Most of them, thousands of them, camped beside I-80 and set a watchman for the cops. They talked about what they should do. There were several thousand of them; they couldn’t just give up.

In all the talk, one man arose. He was stumbling, mumbling drunk, but he was tall and white and everyone turned to hear. He suggested that they go down to Baker Beach, where it had all started. The answer would be there. He was quickly shouted down with an angry reminder that Baker Beach didn’t exist anymore.

But the drunk guy had planted a seed. If only they could go back to where it all began. If only they could undo whatever if was that had been done. A cautious optimism was born among them. There had to be away, right?

It wasn’t all of them, but the caravan was long, pulling back over the state line and gearing up in Reno. Gerlach residents watched headlights crawl over their ceilings in the night and wondered oh lord what now? Didn’t they just leave?

The playa was as white as scarred skin and drifts of it rose as the cars and vans drove out. They formed a circle against the wind, roughly where they thought the Man would be. In the first few nights, it was as if the Burn had not ended. They drank and danced. There was music beneath a canopy of hastily-strung lights. A few art cars drove people across the dark playa, gliding between the bugs and the stars.

But the speculation began almost at once. They mooped for penance, searching frantically for forgotten traces of man. They erased tire tracks and lines left in the dust by DPW laying cable. They sang their songs backwards and tried to unsay what they had said about their lives back in default. But nothing felt like it had changed.

A small group started rebuilding the lost city in miniature; first building the Golden Gate Bridge out of plywood and rope. They collected Hondas and Nissans and Toyotas and put together something like Chinatown, the tallest tents became FiDi. RVs lined up and became the Mission and handed out peanut butter and jelly burritos, one lone trumpet player blasting out Des Colores in the heat. Even the standoffish types arranged themselves into Sausalito and Marin, raising their wine cups to the weirdos across the bridge.

The dusty rainbow inhabitants of the Castro organized a mini-Pride and it made even the hardest former San Franciscans cry. They had lost the fair fogginess of their city by the sea, and this desert would eventually kill them.

The idea was natural in its coming; there was no other way for this to end. They built the platform and chose fire safety captains. They made plans for a night where there would be no moon. They thought they might have to pick somebody out of the crowd, but in the end he volunteered.

He was young for a CEO, a windsurfer in good shape. He had an easy smile and perfect skin; no tattoos, no scars. Blameless and unblemished. He told them quietly that if the city and his million-dollar house reappeared, that someone should tell his wife that he had died quickly in an accident, not suffered at all.

Standing with his arms raised, he let them tie him in place. He let them pour out their gasoline, their kerosene, their vodka and their butane at his feet. He heard their drumming as if from a great distance.

They lit him and he screamed, they all screamed, the dust lifted off the playa like a veil off a bride or a burn victim revealed at last, after all this time. The man’s arms fell and the coals burned through the night.

In the morning, they broke down the city. They packed it all in, pushing ashes and bone chips out,  scattering the Man until he was everywhere and nowhere. Something had changed, they knew. Surely this was the sacrifice that would buy it all back.

That night they drove out on to I-80, over the state line and into the rolling fog.

I opened the Center Camp stage with a short story about #burningman. The text is on my blog. #amwriting

A photo posted by Meg Elison (@meghanelison) on

 

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Cover Reveal!

To be fair, I loved the original cover for Midwife. My first publisher, Sybaritic Press, let me design it myself and my good friend Devin Cooper shot the photograph and laid out the title. The story of how it came together is a good one… for another day.

That’s because today I have permission to share the new one. My new publisher, 47North, created this one and it’s the cover that will be on the new edition of Midwife, due out October 11, 2016. I can hardly wait to hold it in my hands.

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I love the desolation and cold of this one. I’m making plans now for launching this new version: new cover, new edit, same story.

For those of you who are ready for a new story, Book of Etta will follow in early 2017.

Can’t wait can’t wait can’t wait.

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Reimagining Film Futures

One of the best things about living in the Bay Area is that people who make different kinds of art often get the chance to make it together.

Last week, I got to read something I wrote to accompany a series of paintings by my friend, Katie Morton. So did some other local writers, Louis Evans and Danielle Truppi. Borderlands Books hosted us, and we had a great time.

I wrote a little about what science fiction is, from the point of view of a person in a future where it no longer exists. I finished writing this while I was at Wiscon, which is in its 40th year in 2016 but for my own first time. The convention got me thinking about the state of the genre, and where we’re headed. I scrapped most of what I had written to that point and rewrote it with my head full of speeches by this year’s guests of honor, Nalo Hopkison and Sofia Samatar.

 

What Was Science Fiction?

Guests, esteemed colleagues, it is my great honor to appear here with you today. I am Dr. Elison, professor of Pre-Crisis texts at the University of Calivada Berkeley-Nabisco. I am speaking with you today thanks to the work of several researchers in our temporal engineering department. The Schrodinger Projector here in this podium allows me to project my image not only omnidirectionally in time, but also across divisions in the multiverse. It is possible that I am addressing you from a future that you will never experience. I suppose only time will tell.

My subject today is a pre-crisis genre of texts commonly referred to as science fiction. This genre incorporates many pre-digital texts, but the bulk of the preserved works exist now in the university wetware system. Berkeley-Nabisco’s collection is the foremost inside the quarantine zone, and anyone with a licensed neural integrator may examine it. It is from this collection that I have drawn my conclusions.

The banning of genre fiction came as no surprise to the academics who lived in crisis times. It followed naturally and logically, subsequent to the regime’s outlawing of negative or critical representation of the state or its leaders. From there, what was once referred to as the right of free speech steadily eroded. The early crisis years saw the loss of commercially produced pornography, as well as most forms of immersive gaming. The blacklists of explicit material and those who produced it were even lauded in certain institutions, as the works thought to represent a return to “traditional values.” The meaning of this term is nebulous and its actual definition may be lost to history.

However, up until the third year of the crisis, science fiction was still produced. Some fragments exist from the final examples in our archive, dated just before the genre disappeared forever. The final iteration in the multimedia saga known as Star Wars, titled Rogue One, exists as a series of corrupted digital film files in the archive in my today. Like the fragments here before you in your time, it is difficult to ascertain whether that media depicts a future, a past, or an alternate path in the multiverse.

What is clear is that science fiction served the purpose of imagining or creating a timeline other than the one in which the viewer and the artist lived. It was a way of constructing the world along an alternate outline, to ask the question ‘what if?’ and then to answer it in a way that ultimately commented on the world as it was. It is this last function that fascinates me, and forms the basis of my thesis. Although many academics believe that the banned genres existed purely for pleasure and diversion, I maintain that each of these works contained some form of social commentary. Indeed, it was for this reason that science fiction may have been a contributing factor to the crisis itself.

Before the destruction of the genre, science fiction media had for a long time fixated on the end of the world. In some works, such as the mystifying and partially unreadable text known as “Adventure Time” posed the apocalypse in a whimsical style. In others, such as the lesser-known “Elysium” or “Planet of the Apes” saga, the futures were a thing to be feared. However, no matter what the tone of this media, it allowed audiences to envision the world to come after some delineating event. Science fiction of the apocalypse sought out the unmaking of the world in order to make space for it to be remade according to a new design.

It was this that provided the regime with the public approbation it needed to enact sweeping changes in both governance and warfare. Voters inside the quarantine zone had been instructed by the social commentary of science fiction that only after the corrupt world had been demolished could a virtuous one rise.

The virtues espoused by the genre of science fiction include white supremacy, the primacy of the male gender, gender binary, the necessity of euthanizing the severely disabled, the exceptionalism of the nation formerly known as America, the intrinsic worth of warfare as a method of spreading and preserving one’s culture, and the importance of space travel. These norms emerged after a long cultural struggle wherein women and nonwhites were permitted to publish in and read this genre. This period was brief, and we are only capable of locating those works in the canon through remaining reviews and criticisms; the works themselves were expurgated some time before the crisis.

The chilling irony is that the creators of science fiction media were in complete agreement with the crisis-era government. Their symbols were co-opted for propaganda; Captain America was a popular mascot for Dow Chemical long after the graphic novels that created him were banned and destroyed. Robocop’s films were first banned and then eradicated when the crisis-era government determined that they contained too much screentime featuring nonwhite faces, yet we’ve all seen him in milipolice training and tourism videos. Paul Atreides Bank is in fact named after an exceptional character from this genre heavily associated with the riches of oil and spices for which the conglomerate is known.

Once the regime had sanitized these icons and made them into trademarks, they no longer held any value. And so they, like the subversive works of such lost and hardly-known writers as the elusive Nalo Hopkinson or Ted Chiang, were scrubbed from all drives, disks, clouds, and other dryware systems. It is my hope that some of the lost works still exist in your timeline and the crisis can still be averted for you. The Berkeley-Nabisco library is forever indebted to the work of Burrtec-Edison’s electronics waste collection initiative for turning over all potentially readable media discovered on the western side of the quarantine zone for our skilled extraction and archiving. Most of what we find is the approved content of the former state, but some are these pre-crisis gems.

The Schrodinger Projector is an inexact machine, for the multiverse is always in motion and every decision we make can potentially destroy the connection between my timeline and yours. I see through the haze of our linkup that many of the works upon which you gaze tonight are unknown to me. If my optical implants are providing me with correct information, beyond them lie many texts that you may lay your hands on that I can only dream of seeing. I do not know if yours is a verse in which the crisis can be avoided; but if there are texts available to you in any medium that represent the work of diverse creators, SEIZE IT. Propagate it. Celebrate it. I hope that my verse is your verse, and that one of the choices you make will stop me from transmitting.

 

 

 

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Wiscon 40

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I’m at Wiscon! For those of you who don’t know, Wiscon is a yearly feminist science fiction convention.

I’m enjoying Madison very much. I went out for cheese curds and bratwurst and now I need to lie down for a while. #meatsweats

I’m mostly here to attend and meet the excellent people who make up this unique event. However, if you want to see me read, here’s the details:

Dames of the Darkness

Conference 2, Saturday 10-11:15 AM

I’m reading from my upcoming sequel, Book of Etta. I’ll be joined there by Jewelle Gomez, Tenea Johnson, and my fellow Philip K. Dick Award winner Pat Murphy.

If you see me at con, I’ve got my green interaction badge on and please say hello!

 

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Beauty Tips from the Apocalypse

TEST 2 (1)TEST 22

 

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S E Q U E L

I have been sitting on some good news for a while now and it took a lot of effort not to explode and just TELL EVERYONE all the time. But I made it. The deal is done.

The sequel to The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, my debut novel and winner of the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award, will be published in the spring of 2017. The second is tentatively titled Book of Etta, and I can’t wait for you all to read it. These books are represented by Danielle Svetcov at LGR Literary.

I have a contract with 47North, an imprint of Amazon that has previously published Neal Stephenson and Seanan McGuire.

Bonus round: 47North has also agreed to re-publish Midwife, and make it available in more formats!

I’ll be at a couple of big events this year, promoting my new(ish) and upcoming work. I’m also lecturing at a handful of colleges in 2016 (I’m honored to say Midwife is included on syllabi in gender studies courses in two states!) as well as speaking to creative writing students about my experience. Watch for updates on my Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, megelison.com is about to undergo some serious reconstruction.

Thank you to everyone who has bought, borrowed, read, reviewed, or mentioned Midwife. Thank you for bringing it into libraries and telling your friends to read it and tweeting me pictures of when you handed it to your daughters and sending me fan art. I’m so grateful for the way so many people have supported my work and heard me.

You’ll be hearing from me again soon.

 

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