Friday 30 August 2019

Interview with Chloe N. Clark

Back in 2015 we published a lovely, dark, surreal, horror-kitsch-dystopia-escapist adventure short story titled “All Along the Mall” by Chloe N. Clark (which is well worth pausing here and going to read, by the way). Now Chloe’s second poetry collection is available from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, and she has come to speak to us about speculative fiction and poetry, beauty, dystopia and art.

Chloe N. Clark’s Your Strange Fortune is our good fortune. This debut volume of rare sympathy and imagination leaps easily from myths to monsters, ghosts to zombies, fairy tales to the Apocalypse that, for this poet and so many today, is “just/the fact of life.” Clark’s inventive, unforgettable voice ranges widely—from up-to-the-moment poems like “Googolplex,” in which curiosity becomes dark compulsion, to the far future when museums feature the relics of our own time: “the things we could not bear/to leave behind us:/ pieces of highways, signs/ …one single spike from Lady/ Liberty’s crown.” Clark understands that time speeds forward and that myth and popular culture are close kin that offer the songs of ghosts who once were us, “the ones who/ had such beautiful voices but only when/ they thought no one was listening.” Like the poet’s “clockwork nightingale” whose song is both dystopian and beautiful, Chloe Clark’s voice rises above the usual din to bring us a debut volume that is rich with unsettling questions but always unflinchingly alive. (Blurb by Ned Balbo, author of The Cylburn, Touch-Me-Nots and 3 Nights of the Perseids.)

Chloe N. Clark is a writer, editor, and teacher. She is the author of The Science of Unvanishing Objects and Your Strange Fortune. Her work has appeared in Booth, Glass, The Future Fire, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is a founding co-editor-in-chief of online journal Cotton Xenomorph. Find her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes or her website

TFF: Your Strange Fortune is a diverse, wide-ranging collection of poems. Did you just bring together a selection of your best poems from other places, or was it conceived as a single, coherent piece of work from the start?

Chloe N. Clark: This question sort of has multiple answers. Almost everything I write has some connection to something else I’m writing, even if I don’t sit down with that intention (my brain works in large pictures and patterns, it’s why I’m so fond of interconnected novel-in-stories). So I found that I was writing a lot of poems centering on apocalypse and disaster (large scale and personal). As I realized this, I began to picture a plot arc for the poems and then began to put them into a single cohesive overall book. Something I’m very concerned with, always, when putting together poetry collections is “how is this telling a story?” I want the poems to stand alone, but when put together also serve a larger purpose. The best poetry collections, like story collections, novels, or albums, should be able to be read as one piece and have that work on some level (whether it’s an emotional arc of an actual plot driven one).

TFF: Both Wallace and Balbo’s blurbs note that your work combines themes of horror/dystopia/apocalypse along with beautiful or hopeful tones (which I think is true of “All Along the Mall” as well). Do you think we need to see the joy and the hope in the world to cope with and indeed fight back against the dystopia galloping towards us?

CNC: Absolutely. The world is a not-great place, for so many reasons, and I think the things that help us to cope with that and to fight back against the not-great things are hope and joy. If you’re hopeless about the future, you don’t really have the drive to make it better for yourself/for the next generation/etc. I write about a lot of darker subjects and so I think I try to be very purposeful about lacing those subjects with light. I need to be able to see a way out and I think it helps to show that in writing as well. It’s one of the reasons I teach, as well, I focus on injustice and rhetorics of violence in my classes, but I’m always careful to think about solution-based approaches to these problems—to show why we keep fighting. Being hopeful and finding joy are not at odds with being realistic about the world, if anything they keep you more able to understand what’s at stake.

“All Along the Mall” illustration © 2015 by L.E. Badillo

TFF: Poetry is almost by definition non-realist, in the sense that imagery and analogy are such ubiquitous techniques; does this make it an especially powerful medium for science fiction, or is “speculative poetry” a tautology?

CNC: I think this goes both ways honestly. In my mind, all writing is in some ways speculative (even non-fiction because it often is based out of the writer seeking answers and also having to incorporate their own view/analysis of those answers and questions). I think poetry is a great venue for sci-fi though because it allows the ideas room to be ideas, rather than needing maybe the plot or explanation behind them that a story might require. So it’s a great playground for those ideas and images without binding them to something larger.

At the same time, I think all my poetry is speculative, even the realistic pieces. I’ve never been able to view the world without seeing the strange inside it. There’s so much miraculous in the everyday of life, that it sometimes seems hard not to write things in a way that comes off as speculative.

TFF: What, to you, most essentially characterizes the difference between “literary” and “genre” fiction?

CNC: This is a question that always gets me fired up, because I think it’s in many ways a question that’s already been broken. Many of the best “literary” writers today are ones who fully incorporate genre techniques into their work (Colson Whitehead, Kelly Link, Victor LaValle) and many of the best “genre” writers are ones who write work that is also very literary—in that it focuses on character and writing as much as it focuses on plot momentum. Sometimes, the distinction that I think works best is: do you want to read it for the story or for the writing? If it’s both, it’s probably good literature. If it’s one or the other but not both, it probably falls into “genre” or “literary.”

TFF: Have you ever seen a statue or a piece of art that you wished was alive?

CNC: I think I wish this of a lot of art and statues, when I really like a painting, I often wish I could climb inside it and see it from another angle. Good art is an invitation—to wonder and wander in. But, if I had to pick a single piece, I would definitely go with the works of Dr Evermor, an outsider artist from Wisconsin. I grew up going to see these pieces and now I take my nephews there. They are strange and wonderful and filled with all the magic of what I think childhood dreams feel like—giant insects made of old musical instruments, a telescope to the stars, pieces of trash and discarded junk turned into something new and strange. I don’t think the giant insects would become menaces, if alive, they feel too kind and filled with delight to do so.

TFF: Would you like to visit another planet?

CNC: I want to answer this question in all-caps, so: YES. My obsession with space and the universe began as a small child, watching Aliens for the 400th time and listening to audio plays of Ray Bradbury stories. And it was a joy and fascination with space that grew even more when I began to actually understand what space and planets and the ways we get there actually meant. Nothing delights my brain as much as reading some fact about the difficulties of space exploration and the ways in which we seek planets away from our own. I love Earth and I’m not a person who thinks colonizing other planets is the way to save the world, but what I wouldn’t give to take a step on another planet—to see some new beauty of the universe in front of me. What a wonder that must be—I don’t think there’s enough poetry in the world I could write to come close to what that must be like.

Thank you for joining us, Chloe!

Check out Chloe N. Clark's new poetry collection Your Strange Fortune from Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, also sold at all online booksellers (and some shops). Her previous poetry chapbook The Science of Unvanishing Objects is still available from Finishing Line Press.

Saturday 24 August 2019

Reprint: ten years of The Future Fire

Reprinted from TFFX (2015, edd. al-Ayad, Matthey and Vitale) [purchase links] as part of our celebration of The Future Fire issue #50 in 2019. Four more years may have passed, but this history of the first ten years, and what we’re trying to do with the zine, still stands.

This anthology celebrates ten years of The Future Fire magazine (, by both reprinting a few highlight stories from the first thirty-one issues, and including several new, experimental, unusual or aspirational pieces to give a taster of what we’d like to see more of in the next decade.

Issue #1 appeared in January 2005, after a bit of preamble and experimentation the previous year, and apart from a short hiatus to rest up and take stock about halfway through, we’ve been publishing an average of three to four issues per year ever since. We always wanted TFF to be challenging, experimental, progressive, inclusive, political, revolutionary—even if to start with maybe we weren’t sure what we were rebelling against!

The first thing you would notice if you went back in time ten years (or just used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine) to look at the TFF website in 2005, would be how god-awful-shitty the web design was. I like to think that’s aesthetics having changed, and it wasn’t quite so ’90s-looking to a 2005 eye, but I’m lying to myself. Still, the evolution from CBBC-quality flames in 2005, via a slightly darker, smoky aesthetic in 2007, to the cathode ray tube Unicode-soup we know and love today in about 2009, echoes the growing confidence we started to have in our niche in the speculative fiction market.

We launched in 2005 as a cyberpunk market (words like “chrome,” “postmodern” and “hyperfiction” peppered our tagline, manifesto and first story contests), but through an accident of community we knew more writers of horror and dark fantasy, and there was almost no conventional scifi in the first several issues. You can hear a bit of diffidence about this in our early editorials, and our craving for that elusive cyberpunk is almost tangible…

But once our slushpile was deep enough that we could reasonably select on genre and theme as well as quality (we were always uncompromising on quality) then our niche was under our control, and we didn’t have to be shy about the geeky, retro, techno-noir look we imagined for ourselves. Not that we ever stopped publishing horror, fantasy and surreal stories as well, of course; and never will.

You might also notice the evolution in our one-line mission statement: “New writing in Dark Speculative Fantasy!” we proclaimed in 2004. “Speculative Fiction, Cyberpunk and Dark Fantasy!” we boomed in 2007. “Social-Political and Speculative Cyberfiction!” we have cried since 2009. Always the line, “An experiment in and celebration of new writing” has sat somewhere in the first paragraph.

We’ve had a thorough turnaround of collaborators too: In 2004 we were Bruce, Joseph, Equus and myself; Joseph and Equus left within days; by 2009 we had been joined by Leoba, David, John and Lois; by 2011 it was just me, which is part of the reason TFF took a year’s hiatus. Now, as of 2015, we are joined by Regina, Kathryn, Tracie, Valeria, Cécile (who has illustrated stories since 2006), Serge; plus Lori and Fabio who have guest-edited anthologies and continue to be valued collaborators.

We have attracted a fabulous team of artists, a critical and generous cohort of reviewers, and a community of support that we plug into via social networks and occasional conventions. We’ve had a huge amount of support, both financial and in-kind, during the crowdfunding campaigns for the last three anthologies, and we engage both productively and cordially with several other small presses, publications and writing communities. In 2005 it was mostly me, sketching and photoshopping, reviewing whatever junk I found lying around, bribing and threatening people to send us their stories, funding the whole thing out of my pocket.

I measure the success of TFF by such intangible things—legends who turn out to have heard of us; people who can publish professionally nonetheless sending us their stories; the generosity and excitement of new and potential collaborators. But if you want more measurable criteria, no less than eight stories first published in our pages have been shortlisted or honorably-mentioned in awards and year’s bests; ten stories have been reprinted in some of the most prestigious and high-quality anthologies such as Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best, Lethe Press’s Heiresses of Russ, the Apex World SF and Mammoth’s SF Stories by Women.

We hope to drive this success ever onwards. Our aim has always been to publish progressive ideas, underrepresented voices, socially important stories, and people clearly think that’s a worthwhile goal. We’ve learned a lot about what all of these mean over the years as well—learned to check our own privilege and be much more sensitive to issues of gender, race, class, ability, language, and so many other facets of oppression. We’re able to be selective now on features above mere quality, fit and taste; in addition we filter by features such as respect, not punching down, lazy stereotypes that we might have missed before we had such an inclusive team able to share their judgements of privilege and oppression with us.

But we’ve also always wanted to have fun, to push the boundaries, to play games that Borges, Kafka, Calvino and Eco would be tickled by, and people seem to enjoy that too. We feel it’s important to treat authors and artists with respect, which among other things means paying them properly for their work, and we have some ideas for improving our finances to do better on that front in the future.

But most importantly, my co-editors Valeria and Cécile have done a great job helping put together this anthology of old and new stories, and we hope you enjoy reading them. If you do, keep coming back to; we plan for there to be plenty more where these came from!

Sunday 11 August 2019

New issue 2019.50

“I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

—Greta Thunberg

Issue 2019.50: Jubilee issue

  • Cover artist: Pear Nuallak
This issue is free to read online

Sunday 4 August 2019

Interview: Evelyn Deshane and L.E. Badillo

Binary Code, © 2019, Le.E. BadilloA couple years ago we published a lovely speculative flash story by Evelyn Deshane, “The Cryptographer’s Body,” which due to scheduling issues at the time, was published without an illustration. Now, the superb L.E. Badillo (profile) has provided an image to accompany the story, and I think you’ll agree it works beautifully with it! To celebrate this, and to remind people to read the story again, we invited Evelyn and Lou to come and chat about the process of writing and illustrating. This conversation turned into a bit of a mini-interview, and we’re delighted to share it here.

Evelyn: When you illustrate something from someone else’s mind—such as a short story—do you focus on the details of the piece, or the tonal message you think it’s sending?

Lou: The tone is most important. How a story makes me feel is the foundation of the work. I hope to convey what the story makes me feel and I hope the illustrations can act as a primer for the reader and make that connection on a more visceral level. Details bring credibility and make the illustration cohesive with the story. I hope a reader can then look back on the illustration and identify things from the story.

Lou: Do you know anyone who has gone through transition like Kylie in the story? I do and I can’t imagine what they went through. If you don’t know anyone who went through this, how did you make such a deep connection with the characters in the story?

Evelyn DeshaneEvelyn: Yes, I do; I’ve known many trans people and they’ve all played large parts in my own life. My empathetic skills have also been honed especially well through my academic study of transgender people and their lives.

One of the reasons I wrote “The Cryptographer’s Body” was because I was in the middle of my comprehensive exams for my PhD, studying trans writing and social media, and one or two articles mentioned cryptography. One author (can’t remember now) called it a kind of translation—and I immediately thought of someone in a future landscape who was both decoding signs/language and also themselves. So hurrah for exams!

Evelyn: Describe your artistic process in three adjectives. Why have you selected these?

  1. Many: I need to filter out the scenes envisioned.
  2. Exciting: Watching the idea come to life is always thrilling. Commissions often pose surprising challenges.
  3. Relief: Completing the work and knowing it is done having met the criteria and my expectations is a great feeling.
L.E. BadilloLou: What is the main takeaway you want readers to experience by reading “The Cryptographer’s Body” in today’s social environment?

Evelyn: I see it as a love story more than anything. Kylie’s relationship with Scott has absolutely nothing to do with the social climate in which they live—it is a pure connection between them—but of course, it does end up meaning something within a larger culture (as this story surely does), since we all must participate in some way with the world we live in. So I suppose the main takeaway is that connection is what matters more than ideological message. When we actually face people and talk to them, we have so much more common than we first may believe.

Evelyn: When you draw something from your own imagination, does it come to you as a finished product that you must then find, or is it an experience of discovery?

Lou: Sometimes an idea is so powerful it carves itself from my imagination and into reality. Other times it is like hunting the elusive White Stag through a shadowy forest and sometimes on that hunt I find something even better along the way!

Thanks to both Evelyn and Lou for joining us! Please check out Evelyn Deshane’s professional site and L.E. Badillo’s DeviantArt gallery for more great work from both of them.