From the mind of Megan Arkenberg

May 21, 2016

My WisCon Schedule

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I'll be at the convention from Friday to Monday morning. If you see me, please don't feel shy about saying hello! I love putting faces to names. 

My panel schedule:

The Unequal Distribution of Emotional Labor Sunday, 8:30–9:45 AM
Mary Anne Mohanraj, Megan Arkenberg, Megan Condis, Heidi Waterhouse, Kenzie Woodbridge 
We see it in fandom, in creative fields, in tech, in the Maker movement. How to identify when this is happening and how to push back.

It Came From the Slush Pile - Sunday, 2:30–3:45 PM
Sigrid Ellis, Megan Arkenberg, Eric M. Heideman, Fred Schepartz, Effie Seiberg
Editors of short fiction share their slush pile horror stories. What are the turns of phrase that have made you spit coffee over your keyboard? What are the cover letter faux pas writers keep committing? What are the stories that have made you edit your guidelines to avoid seeing their like ever again? Part advice for new submitters, part venting for slush pile veterans, this panel should warn both groups just what they're up against–or competing against.

How Not To Think About Women Characters - Sunday, 4:00–5:15 PM
Debbie Notkin, Becky Allen, Megan Arkenberg, Claire Humphrey, Justine Larbalestier
"She's such a Mary Sue." "She's only there to serve the story of a male character." "Her characterization is so inconsistent" or "She's too flat to be interesting." As consumers of media—even feminist consumers—we have a whole language at our disposal when we need to justify disinterest or dislike towards a woman character. But as often as these idioms are accurate criticisms of a work, they can also be ways to avoid actually talking about the character AS a character. Some questions to consider: Do the ways in which we critique women characters result in a denial of their agency? Is describing women characters as "inconsistently characterized" a way to avoid seeking out their motivations? Is being a "foil" or a parallel always a subordinate role?

January 15, 2016

Mirror Dance re-opens to submissions

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That's the big news for today. See the guidelines here, and note that we have a new address for e-mail submissions.

"Palingenesis" has garnered some nice words from Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews (a new favorite review blog, by the way: Payseur's comments are generous, attentive, and lyrically written) and Maria Haskins, who recommends it along with eight other "intriguing" speculative stories from around the web. I won't be linking to the review at Tangent, which misgenders a non-binary character in a way that strikes me as deeply dismissive, if not intentionally malicious. In fact, I'll link to this instead: American Dialect Society, "2015 Word of the Year is singular 'they'."

January 5, 2016

Palingenesis, or Thirteen Ways of Looking at a White Moose

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My new story "Palingenesis" appears in Shimmer today. I promised I'd have something to say about it: turns out, I have a lot to say about it. The following can be read before or after the story. I hope you enjoy it, and thank you for reading. 

Dream Net at the Museum of Wisconsin Art

1. 
The inspiration: Tom Uttech, Dream Net (1987).

“Uttech's paintings are distinguished from those of most contemporary landscape artists in that he does no drawings, studies or photographs while on these [nature] excursions,” the Milwaukee Art Museum explains. “His paintings are studio inventions based entirely on memory and improvisation. Uttech's landscapes have been described as ‘pure fantasy and, at the same time, absolutely true to nature.’ His use of high-key colors and his depictions of seemingly airless environments give his work a surreal quality.”

2. 
This story deserves an introduction. I guess most stories deserve an introduction, but I’m a lazy writer: I want to shove those little bastards out the door, into the waiting hands of editors and copy-editors and publicity interns, and only pipe up about them when asked a direct question. “How did this story come about?” “What’s with the epigraph, what’s with the title?” I’m pretty good at those. Introductions, though—those are a pain in the neck. Especially for a story like this.

Hence: This. Blog post. Commonplace book. Blatant rip-off of Wallace Stevens and everyone who’s ripped him off before me. If you enjoy reading this kind of thing, let me tell you: you’re going to love “Palingenesis.”

3. 
Rudyard Kipling, “The Way through the Woods” (1910).

(They fear not men in the woods, 
Because they see so few.)

4. 
It doesn’t happen often, but on occasion, my fiction and my academic work cross-pollinate. There’s a notebook on my desk this morning, opened to a handwritten draft of a conference abstract titled “(En)gendering Evolutionary Monstrosity.” I’ve gone back and forth on the title, disliking the modish parenthesis, but not willing to sacrifice the extra semantic mileage it gives me. Never mind the title, I should really be worried about the first sentence: “The monstrous Helen Vaughn expires at the climax of Machen’s ‘Great God Pan’ in a horrific vision of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny.” Say that ten times fast.

5. 
A case of convergent evolution: Nebelung, “Mittwinter” (2014).

6. 
I grew up in the Kettle Moraine. When I was a kid, I always misheard “kettle” as the teapot, which bequeathed a certain coziness to the whole geological formation. It's retained the coziness, although over the years, it's also acquired something else.

Last summer, a friend and I went hiking in Kettle Moraine State Forest, despite a persistent drizzle and a layer of the thin, cold fog that can crop up in the middle of a Wisconsin August. We climbed to the top of Powder Hill and I snapped a picture on my cell phone, trying to capture a sense of all the wet green miles between us and the horizon. It came out looking flat, like a quilt on a bed, each ridge a separate line of fabric—the purple prairie clover in the foreground, the black treetops just over the edge of the kame, and then the green hills, growing bluer and bluer as they curved out of sight. “No one in California is going to believe me when I tell them how far we walked,” I said.

But that’s the thing about glacial landscapes: they’re deceptive. You’ll never be able to see everything that’s out there.

7. 
Arthur Machen, “The White People” (1904). 

“It was a wild, lonely country; but you know what it was like by her description, though of course you will understand that the colours have been heightened. A child's imagination always makes the heights higher and the depths deeper than they really are; and she had, unfortunately for herself, something more than imagination. One might say, perhaps, that the picture in her mind which she succeeded in a measure in putting into words, was the scene as it would have appeared to an imaginative artist. But it is a strange, desolate land.”

8. 
“Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” is the root of a lot of lazy thinking. We trace a pattern in an individual act, and want that pattern to apply to a longer period of time. Maybe a whole career. “When do I get out of the rough draft of my writing career?” I’ve asked more than once. But it’s the wrong question, of course, and if you’re going to ask the wrong questions, you can do better than that. For instance: “Why does my writing career look like a chicken?” or “When does my writing career develop a tail?” Point being, you never get out of the rough draft stage. You never start anywhere but the beginning.

But the rough drafts do become more interesting. Perhaps a little more monstrous.

9. 
Sir Patrick Geddes and John Arthur Thomson, The Evolution of Sex (1890). 

“The males live at a loss, are more katabolic—disruptive changes tending to preponderate in the sum of changes in their living matter or protoplasm. The females, on the other hand, live at a profit, are more anabolic—constructive processes predominating in their life, whence indeed the capacity of bearing offspring.”

10. 
It’s been a year or two since I last finished a poem. I’ve started to cannibalize them in their infancy, steal my own best lines for my short stories. I think that’s how “Palingenesis” started: as an aborted poem. Every city has an explanation.

Considering what I was reading at the time, I guess we should be grateful I didn’t say “an ontogeny.”

11. 
From a contemporary review of Geddes and Thompson (1890): “The essential nature of sex-character has the greatest practical bearing on human affairs, and its thorough comprehension cannot fail to be of great utility to society. In fact, such knowledge is the one thing needful to regulate the unbridled fancies of the uneducated mind which attempts to deal with the subject, and which has produced innumerable absurdities since the human imagination began to be active.”

12. 
I wrote “Palingenesis” in order. Well, somewhat in order; there are two or three sections towards the end that I kept popping out of their settings, switching forwards and backwards, splitting in half or sticking together. But mostly in order—from the city, to the museum, to the woods.

I mention this because there’s a part at the beginning that looks like it slipped in later, after a first or second or even a third draft—like an apologia pro apologus suum, an arse-covering move from a writer whose story had gotten away from her. But that part was there before there even was a first draft. I knew from the beginning that none of these pieces were going to fit together neatly.

Still. All of them are part of the story.

13. 
Dante Alighieri, Inferno (c. 1308).

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straight-forward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough and stern
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

(Ask Kipling: "But there is no road through the woods.")

January 1, 2016

New Year's, Again

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It's that day when we sum up the last 365 rotations of our planet's axis and make promises about what we're going to do for the next 366 such rotations. Frankly, the thought of doing either of those things makes my mouth go dry and my stomach do unpleasant little somersaults. So let's see if I can sum up the last week and project to next Tuesday.

I've reread The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion every Christmas since about 2004. This year, I skipped the Tolkein and wound up re-reading David Bajo's The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri. It's a queer novel, all senses, and I have to point out the weird erasure in which none of its reviewers mention that the heroine is bisexual (although one, in a telling overstatement, refers to her "omnisexual"). In any case, I recommend it. If it isn't exactly speculative fiction, it has a distinctively speculative bent: "You are the only other one I have ever met," Irma writes to the protagonist, "who so deeply and compulsively sees anything and automatically begins seeking alternatives."

I also read Nathan Ballingrud's North American Lake Monsters, a Christmas gift from my sister, in one sitting. It's an intense trip. I've loved "Wild Acre" since I first read it in a Year's Best anthology, and it works beautifully in the first act of this collection.

So much for Christmas. The rest of my week off was dedicated to chapter revisions, syllabus writing, and reading for my dissertation prospectus. I haven't made progress on short fiction since October.

Other thoughts for the end of the year: In 2015, I published seven short stories, two of which have made it onto end-of-the-year reading listsI also had the opportunity to edit nonfiction for a special issue of Nightmare, which was a learning experience in the best sense of that phrase. Finally, Mirror Dance is still going strong, now at a new URL (and with a new e-mail address when we reopen to submissions on January 15).

I'm hitting the ground running in 2016: "Palingenesis," a nearly un-classifiable blend of Weird fiction, philology, and nineteenth-century science, is the cover story for Shimmer #29. I'll have more to say about it on Tuesday, when it goes live on the website.

Until then: stay strange, beautiful people.