Aliens, Jews, reviews and song!

jva1I’m excited to announce that Jews vs Aliens – which includes my story ‘The matter of Meroz’ – is now out! Jews vs Aliens and its companion volume Jews vs Zombies are both edited by Lavie Tidhar and Rebecca Levene, and published as e-book originals by Jurassic London. A limited paperback edition will follow in the autumn.

Proceeds from these books will benefit Mosac, a charity that provides support to non-abusing parents, carers and families of children who have been sexually abused. Based in Greenwich in south London, Mosaic offers a national helpline, as well as counselling, advocacy, support groups and therapy.

I’m proud to find myself in a stellar line-up that includes The Big Bang Theory’s writer/co-executive producer Eric Kaplan, BSFA Award winning science fiction writer Adam Roberts and Nebula Award winner author Rachel Swirsky. Another name that stands out for me is Orange Prize winner Naomi Alderman, since I’ve read and enjoyed all her books – Disobedience, The Lessons and The Liars Gospel. I’ve also been wanting to read Shimon Adaf’s novel with PS Publishing, Sunburnt Faces, so I look forward to his story in JvZ.

My tale ‘The Matter of Meroz’ takes place in Russia in 1905, in the wake of a partial revolution and the reaction that unleashed a new wave of pogroms against Jewish communities. Naturally, there were different views on how to deal with this threat. Raizl is an activist in the socialist General Jewish Labour Bund who takes part in militant self-defence groups and labour agitation. Meanwhile, her kid brother Samuel has taken to kabbalah in a big way, but regards golems as passé. Instead he gazes at the stars, pores over the Talmud and looks for solutions in the ‘leaping of the roads’ and the ‘crumpling of the sky’.

Yankl, a member of the Bund, Odessa, 1900. Photo by K. Mulman. (YIVO)

Yankl, a member of the Bund, Odessa, 1900. Photo by K Mulman (YIVO)

It’s worth mentioning that the Bund was resolutely anti-Zionist and also that women played a major role in the organisation. You can find out more about the Bund from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and this article at the Jewish Women’s Archive.

It’s still early for reviews for JvA. However, Horror Uncut has received a mention from James Everington. In fact, it’s an enthusiastic recommendation for Horror Uncut:

“Its theme of modern day austerity, its victims and its monsters, makes this a timely anthology, but the sheer quality of stories on display makes it one for the ages as well. Thoroughly recommended; buy it before your native currency collapses.”

On my contribution, he writes: “‘Pieces Of Ourselves’ by Rosanne Rabinowitz contained a brilliantly evocative description of modern day protesting before becoming enjoyably surreal.”

The second review is not such a new one, but it is now making its first appearance online. Peter Tennant’s review of Helen’s Story originally appeared in Black Static 36, where he reviewed Helen along with a recent edition of Arthur Machen’s Great God Pan. All this is now online in Peter’s Trumpetville blog.

Of Helen’s Story, he concludes:

“Rabinowitz has created a work that remains true to but at the same time reinterprets its source material… Her Helen remains an outsider, the archetypal stranger in a strange land, but at the same time she is somebody more feared than she is fearsome, a victim of others’ terror of the unknown, often codified simply as the desire to avoid scandal. At the end her story marks the power of creativity, the fecundity of both nature and the human mind, while at the same embodying those things in the figure of the shape shifter Pan and the abilities with which his children are endowed.”

Peter’s perceptive observations on Machen and the qualities that continue to inspire contemporary writers also offer a good introduction to new readers. He writes that Machen “carefully constructs a schemata in which the ineffable seems just a heartbeat distant from the everyday, with the wonders of the natural world shining through the story, but all the same at the calm centre of the tale is the idea that the mysteries will forever be beyond our grasp…” This mingling of the mundane and the fantastical is what inspires me in the work of writers such as Elizabeth Hand, Caitlin Kiernan, M John Harrison (especially Course of the Heart and Signs of Life), the late Graham Joyce and Joel Lane, and many others.

Meanwhile, writing about Yiddish culture and Jewish radicalism gives me a fine excuse to play some music. So here’s Daniel Kahn singing a Bundist anthem “In Struggle”, a ditty that crops up in “Meroz”. (NOTE 25.03.15: Oops! What a shame. YouTube has taken the Daniel Kahn vid down. I’ll leave this empty space up for now until I find a replacement or someone posts it again. In the meantime listen to it on the Arty Semite blog.)

And since I’m the kind of geek who doesn’t just simply play songs, but plays versions of songs… Here’s a rendition of “In Struggle” by the Klezmatics, in a video dedicated to the Israeli direct action anti-occupation group Anarchists Against the Wall:

Another Yiddish song that appears in “Meroz” is “Daloy Polizei” also known as “Down with the police”. Here’s an early version:

And here’s a revised version by Geoff Berner:

And a Colombian folk-punk version: Finally, thrash metal!

And now I’ll end the post with a more recent song, though it’s based on a very old tune. I saw these guys live last January, and they were excellent. Highly recommended if they come to your town. Dumay dumay! Think!

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Tales of social insecurity and economic unease

Horror UncutHorror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease is now out! This anthology from Gray Friar Press includes my story “Pieces of Ourselves”: a librarian goes on an anti-cuts demonstration, gets caught in a police cordon and starts to suffer from a strange skin ailment that links him with a significant past. The story actually started with a dream that lingered with a disturbing image – and I’ll leave you to guess which image it was that kicked the whole thing off.

This is one of two recent stories that take place around the anti-cuts clashes of 2010/11. The other is a ghost story that I’ve discussed in my post A Matter of Masks, which will appear in the Joel Lane tribute anthology The Dispossessed. I’ve come to regard these two stories as companion pieces.

As I was researching and writing these stories, trying to get my mind back to 2010, I had the strange feeling that I might as well be writing that thing called ‘historical fiction’. But it’s not so long ago, is it? How quickly ‘now’ becomes history. And I wonder what became of that wave of anti-austerity activism. For many of my younger friends, 2010 was it. One said something to the effect that 2010 was their ’68 (and perhaps 1981 was mine).

The memory gets hazy; I geek out at the computer as I search for the crucial details that will recapture the anger, the excitement and also the fucking bloody cold of the winter of 2010/11. However, in this case I had the help of YouTube videos, which were not available when I was writing about the regime in Millbank Prison, the Blackfriars Rotunda and the reform riots of 1831 and certainly not the Harelle revolt of 1382.

Launch events
There will be two events to launch Horror Uncut towards the end of this month. Twisted Tales of Austerity will take place on 24 October 12 noon to 2pm at Waterstones on Deansgate in central Manchester. I’ll be reading along with contributor Laura Mauro and co-editor Tom Johnstone, who will read a story by fellow editor and extraordinary writer Joel Lane. The readings will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A.

Tom Johnstone says this anthology ushers in a ‘new era of socially engaged but entertaining and darkly funny horror fiction, which may not change the world but will, I hope, change the way we look at it’. And here on contributor Priya Sharma’s blog is an excellent interview with Tom about the anthology. I particularly found the discussion on horror vs SF interesting: “Horror often thrives on hard or uncertain times, allowing people to see their real fears play out in the form of fantastic imagery.” And he suggests that a large body of science fiction accepts a colonial or neo-liberal narrative.

I tend to view all these genres as part of the rich stream of speculative and strange fiction. My story may start off hinting at the trope of ‘body horror’, but it ends on some science fictional notes too.

Holloween with Horror Uncut takes place in Brighton at the Cowley Club on 26 October. I won’t be there myself because I’ll still be travelling down from the north. But if you’re in the area, do go! The Cowley Club itself is a great community venue, and it promises to be a fun evening.

Meanwhile, you can read the first review of Horror Uncut here. My story – along with Andrew Hook’s “The Opaque District” – is described as an “affecting ghost story”.

And here’s a full table of contents…

A Cry for Help by Joel Lane
The Battering Stone by Simon Bestwick
The Ballad of Boomtown by Priya Sharma
The Lucky Ones by John Llewellyn Probert
The Sun Trap by Stephen Hampton
Only Bleeding by Gary McMahon
The Lemmy / Trump Test by Anna Taborska
Falling into Stone by John Howard
Ptichka by Laura Lauro
The Devil’s Only Friend by Stephen Bacon
The Procedure by David Williams
Pieces of Ourselves by Rosanne Rabinowitz
A Simple Matter of Space by John Forth
The Privilege Card by David Turnbell
The Ghost at the Feast by Alison Littlewood
The Opaque District by Andrew Hook
No History of Violence by Thana Niveau

A nomination for Rustblind and Silverbright, and the scariest train song I ever did hear…

RustblindI’m pleased to announce that Rustblind and Silverbright has been nominated by the British Fantasy Society for Best Anthology. This is a great credit to the thought and care that editor David Rix has given to producing this book, and the way he drew together a varied and powerful group of uncategorisable stories themed around railways and train journeys.

This anthology includes “The Turning Track”, a novelette I co-authored with Matt Joiner, where a fantastical train runs through the multiverse to haunt the dreams of those struggling with a shabby and repressive reality. Another story in this anthology, Nina Allan’s “Vivian Guppy and the Brighton Belle”, has also received a nomination for Best Novella.

I’ve been meaning to write about Rustblind for a while, and now have an excellent excuse. I’ve also been wanting to respond to a few questions about a line sung by the dedicated station-master as he awaits this mighty multi-dimensional Train:

“I asked my captain for the time of day… he said he throwed his watch away”.

These lyrics actually come from a traditional song noted for ominous trains and lonesome forests:  “In the Pines” aka “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” The line about the thrown-away watch has fallen out of the most well-known renditions, but I think it’s one of the most haunting lines in a song full of train wrecks and decapitated bodies and desolation.

“In the Pines” is also a song about loss, and this echoes profoundly because the anthology contains “The Last Train” by the late Joel Lane. Last year’s launch for Rustblind was the last time I saw him, and that was the case for others involved with this book. I have a feeling that Joel was a guy who spent a lot of time in the pines.

While many people first came across this song through Nirvana’s 1990’s rendition, it actually dates back to southern Appalachia in the 19th century. Other musicians who performed “In the Pines” include Leadbelly, Earl Monroe, the Carter Family, Dolly Parton, Marianne Faithfull, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Greatful Dead, Hole and even Tiny Tim.

Many American folk songs portray the building of the railroads, the advent of train travel and the Depression of the 1930s when immigrants and working class people rode the rails in search of work or a better life. Music historian Norm Cohen wrote a book that explores this legacy, Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong. A good chunk is devoted to “In the Pines”, which belongs to a ‘cluster’ of songs. Songs in this cluster include the “in the pines” chorus, a stanza about ‘the longest train’ and one about a train crash where someone’s head is found in the driving wheel or ‘round the firebox door’.

I first heard this song as a teenager, and it has always fascinated me. Why does the girl hide in pines where the cold winds blow, and why do those who are outcast and bereft flee there? Some versions are addressed to a “black girl”; was she running from slavery to seek refuge in the pines? Or was she hiding there after her husband, ‘a railroad man’, was lynched?

Dominating the song is ‘the longest train’, which often stands outside time itself. The train might kill a loved one, take a loved one away, or transport a migrant worker to exile. But sometimes the protagonists ride that train back home.

This song inspired my 2006 novelette “In the Pines”, where it links three characters through space and time. This appeared in the anthology Extended Play: the Elastic Book of Music. And the melancholy chords of “In the Pines” continued to echo in my mind as I collaborated on “The Turning Track”.

To mark the nomination of Rustblind and Silverbright, I’m sharing a few of my favourite performances of “In the Pines”. It makes sense to start with Nirvana’s version, which introduced the old song to a new audience.

Kurt Cobain drew much of his inspiration from Leadbelly’s interpretation. In this recording, Leadbelly addresses the song to a “black girl”, though he sings ‘my girl’ in another recording.

Here’s a classic bluegrass version by Bill Monroe, which features that ‘high lonesome sound’. The ‘longest train’ is prominent from the first verse and we don’t hear about the severed head.

Leadbelly and his successors have left out the verses about the ‘longest train’ and the discarded watch. But this bluegrass rendition by Lori Lee Ray gets everything in, as does this Joan Baez performance. Lori Lee Ray’s video below also contains powerful images of trains, pine forests and clocks.

Finally, here is an absolutely eerie version performed by Hole. Dare I say that sometimes I prefer this to Nirvana’s rendition?

Of reviews and cats
While I’m at it, I might as well post a couple of reviews of Rustblind that came out last year, which I missed during a period of busyness and bloggage-drought. So here’s a review on Rising Shadow by Serengil and another from Nick Jackson in Sein und Werden.

Serengil describes “The Turning Track” as:

“A fascinating story about love, death and a mysterious train… a beautiful example of what authors can achieve when they know how to write good fiction and have plenty of imagination. This story is a sparkling gem of literary speculative fiction that will seduce the reader with good prose and strange happenings.”

And Nick Jackson writes in Sein und Werden:

“Mat Joiner and Rosanne Rabinowitz co-authored the final piece in the collection and take up the idea of an infinite train travelling between this world and the next. ‘The Turning Track’ concerns a gay man’s aim to complete a history of a mysterious train begun by his late partner.  This piece is particularly strong on characterisation and contains some wonderfully gory detail of human-to-machine transformation.  With all dual-authored stories, you look for the seams in the narrative.  In this case there don’t seem to be any but my money is on Rosanne for introducing a particularly characterful cat.”

Thanks Serengil and Nick. At this point I’ll offer a belated response to Nick’s comments about Fintan the cat. It was Mat who introduced the cat but I gave the moggie his name. And it was our critiquer, Joel Lane, who had urged us to make Fintan more than mere ‘furry freight’ – to give him more presence and render him ‘characterful’. My first response was ‘well, he’s cat and he does what cats do’. Then I thought again…

So I’ll leave with another thank-you to Joel.

See you in Dallas!

CONDFWLOGO-300x150-transparentThis is just a brief note to say that I’ll be attending ConDFW in Dallas on 21 February. I left my arrangements too late to take part in any panels, but I gather this a small and friendly con and it’ll be easy to find me if anyone wants to say ‘hi’.

I’ve been visiting Dallas occasionally since relatives moved there a few years ago. The phrase “fish out of water” comes to mind when I’m there, gasping and flopping about in the sizzling Texas heat. Hot weather shouldn’t be a problem in February, though meeting like-minded people in the area may still be a challenge.

But this time I look forward to hanging out with local speculative fiction lovers who might show me a side of Dallas that I’ve been missing. I’ll also be bringing a few copies of Helen’s Story along with me…

Meanwhile, it appears that PS Publishing has run out of the unsigned edition of Helen’s Story, but they’re still available through the Waterstones website (in the UK) and uhm… Amazon, plus a few other specialist distributors and bookshops.

And to round things off, here’s a recent review of Helen’s Story by blogger and writer Caroline Hooton:

“Rosanne Rabinowitz’s novella is an erotic horror that draws on Machen’s original but is a stand-alone story. I haven’t read THE GREAT GOD PAN but was still able to enjoy this book. I really loved Helen’s spiky, unsentimental voice and her relationship with her strange companion while Rabinowitz does a great job of showing Helen’s creative process, giving it a sensuous, erotic charge that’s disturbing in its sexuality.”

Caroline also has a few critical comments. But I’d say thoughtful criticism from reviewers is just as valuable as praise – it makes the positive words shine even more.

Fryer’s delight – and a look at novellas and novels

Happy new year, everybody. And a happy first birthday for this blog. I committed my first posting here on 3 January 2013, which was mainly a tale of WordPress woe.  

As I enter my second year in the blogosphere, I won’t go on about resolutions except for the most relevant one… to blog more. But before I attack my blogging back-log, I’ll start the year on a complimentary note. Matthew Fryer, who gave Helen’s Story an enthusiastic review earlier in 2013, has also highlighted Helen in his best of 2013 roundup:

“Special mention also goes to the lustrous Helen’s Story by Rosanne Rabinowitz. Functioning as an update/sequel for Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan”, it will please anybody who enjoys a thoughtful reworking and fresh point-of-view on a classic.”

So extreme thanks for the recognition and positive words, Matthew!

I was also very interested to see that Matthew counted Helen in the novel rather than novella category. At just under 40,000 words Helen would be considered a novella in most camps, and PS Publishing advertises it as a novella on its website. I’ve always thought of it as a novella myself.

So Matthew’s article has inspired me to think further about these two forms.

When I write a short story, it usually threatens to grow into a novella – I am engaged in a struggle with such an unruly story as I speak. Furthermore many of my stories extend to 10,000 to 12,000 words, or what’s known as a novelette.

I’ve always relished a good novella, and nothing hits the spot more than a collection of these beasts. I’ve also noticed that some novellas read as a longer short story, while others contain the layering you usually find in a novel. I have enjoyed both types of novella, but maybe the latter satisfies and resonates the most.

Much of Alice Munro’s work lies in this category; she is able to convey the timespan and complex story arcs of a novel in about thirty pages. Elizabeth Hand and Nina Allan have also written this kind of novella.

So can we define these forms by word count, or is it the structure and mood that defines the short story, the novella and the novel? Could there be an essence of novella-ness that is neither extended short story or condensed novel, but a fictional form in its own right?

Answers on the back of a postcard, please!

hellforge-best-of-2013-1

Helen’s here in some excellent company

Horror Without Victims reviewed

Horror without victims_thumbnailThings have been very busy with my two day jobs, so this blog has been left to ferment for a while. But I have found some time to post AJ Kirby’s wonderful in-depth review of Horror Without Victims.

AJ reveals that he had unsuccessfully submitted a story himself, but after reading the collection he realised why his story didn’t end up in it: “Though my story was good, it just wouldn’t have ‘played well’ with the other pieces in this book. My story didn’t speak of the sublime.”

He goes on to say: “If there is one common trend in this collection, I would say that it is this. This is horror which is all wrapped up in a sense of place. This is psycho-geographic horror. These are tales of the sublime.”

Sublime. That’s a nice thought. But what I especially liked about this review is the attention Kirby gives to the role of the editor, DF Lewis. In many of the anthology reviews I’ve read, the reviewers tend to look at individual stories that worked or didn’t work, with less comment on the editor’s craft in bringing it all together. But Kirby rightly focuses on Lewis as well as the stories:

“He has accumulated a great wealth of wonderful stories and, through exhibiting them correctly, he has shown that the skilled anthologist is a visionary, a curator, and a creative force in his own right”. Then he comments on the stories themselves.”

Of my own contribution “Lambeth North”, Kirby says: “Symbologists would have field day with all the references to the power of three here.”

Hmmm, I really wasn’t thinking of things in threes when I wrote the thing, but now that you mention it…

New review of Helen’s Story!

Chris Butler has this to say about Helen’s Story:

“Rabinowitz’ writing is very fine, as fans of her short fiction will know, and she exhibits a sly sense of humour here that I very much enjoyed… for anyone interested in the Pan mythology, ruminations on the power of art, or simply interested in quality contemporary fantasy writing, I highly recommend it.”

See link for full review.