Further Adventures in Dream Recording

I am thrilled to report that my science fiction story “Dogs in the Snow” has been selected by judge Kim Stanley Robinson as one of the winners of the 3 Minute Futures contest, sponsored by the public radio program To the Best of Our Knowledge. A radio play adaptation of the story, produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre/Los Angeles and directed by Gates McFadden, airs on the show this week. You can stream or download the radio play, and the original text of the story is also available.

A version of the dream recording technology depicted in “Dogs in the Snow” already exists. What first captivated about it were the videos generated to represent a person’s dreams, like this one.

Readers of my first novel know that this isn’t the first time I’ve explored the idea of recording dreams. But this is the first time I’ve tried to extrapolate from actual science—a challenge for someone who’s usually comfortable with simply making this stuff up. In “Dogs in the Snow,” the technology has progressed to the point of near perfect accuracy. For the characters, this creates an opportunity for artistic collaboration, then figures into a moral and personal dilemma.

I’m grateful to Emily Houk for her feedback on the first draft of the story, and to everyone at To the Best of Our Knowledge, The Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, and The Center for the Humanities at UW–Madison for this honor, and to Gates McFadden and the actors of EST/LA for adapting the story so beautifully.

On Not Riding a Bicycle

I hadn’t run a mile since high school. Not all at once, anyway. Then I moved to a new town and started running around in it. This turns out to be a good way to get to know a place. Here there are potato fields, corn fields, soybean fields, and an old cemetery. You can run alongside them, and you can run along the tops of the dikes, and then run down to the river. Here’s what the path along the river looked like before the leaves fell off.

This Sunday, I’ll run a 5k. It’s for a good cause: I’m raising money to support Safe Passage, an organization in Northampton, Massachusetts, that provides support to women and children who have experienced domestic abuse. If you’d like to make a donation, you may do so right here.

Or maybe you’d like a running playlist? I just uploaded a sampling of what I’ve been listening to, and that’s available here.

A Little More Gorey

Last week, I went to Cape Cod to read from Cape Cod Noir with fellow contributors Dana Cameron, William Hastings, and David Ulin (who also edited the book). One of the readings was hosted by the Falmouth Public Library. There, I met Jill Erickson, a reference librarian who happens to have performed in several of the Edward Gorey theatrical entertainments which were the inspiration for my story in the anthology, “Twenty-Eight Scenes for Neglected Guests.”

Jill showed me her files on the plays, including Chinese Gossip, Stumbling Christmas, and Heads Will Roll. There were scripts (marked up with notes from the actors and from Gorey), newspaper clippings, and the original programs.

Oh, and the puppets. On her flickr page, Jill has photos of the puppets.

Some Notes on Edward Gorey

Last fall, under the guise of research, I took a trip to the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. Gorey lived on Cape Cod for about twenty years, and his work was the first thing I thought of when David Ulin asked me to contribute a story to Cape Cod Noir, an anthology of original crime fiction published this week by Akashic Books.

Gorey’s house is now a museum. A rotating selection of original drawings and sketches are on display here, along with some of the curious objects Gorey collected over the course of his life. Oddities abound, including guest checks showing what he ate every day for a month at a local diner, a herd of hand-stitched stuffed elephants, a sofa shredded nearly to death by his many cats, and an impressive set of glass telephone pole insulators.

Part of what I admire about Gorey’s work is the care with which it’s structured—consider the abecedarians of creatures and accidental deaths, or the recurring imagery (umbrellas, dogs, wrought-iron fences) in a book like The Sopping Thursday. But even while Gorey shapes these intricate melancholies, he explodes the very notion of structure and narrative. Ominous threats loom, their exact nature never revealed. Characters’ motives are hidden and stay that way. Important events occur offstage. People wander, swoon, murder, flee, weep, cajole, and often die in circumstances they—and we—don’t entirely understand.

I think of Gorey as a reverent iconoclast. His book The Awdrey-Gore Legacy stands as one of my favorite mystery stories. In it, the elements of a murder case, including suspects, weapons, and the detective’s disguises, are illustrated each in turn, laid out as though from some musty file. It’s a loving homage to the cosy mystery genre, as well as an unraveling of the form. There’s a story here, but we can only infer what happened. The result is a labyrinth without a solution.

My story in Cape Cod Noir, “Twenty-Eight Scenes for Neglected Guests,” is an attempt to evoke something of Gorey’s style and preoccupations. The piece was a pleasure to research, because it meant revisiting his work while also reading up on Gorey himself (a Gorey-like figure appears throughout the tale).

border: 5px solid white;When I began, I knew little about him beyond a handful of peculiar facts: that he was reclusive, that he loved the ballet, that he tended to wear fur coats and tennis shoes. (He eventually abandoned the fur, which he couldn’t square with his love for animals.)

As described by those who knew him, Gorey is a study in contradiction. Though his illustrations and writings seem informed by a Victorian or Edwardian sensibility, he never went abroad, except for a brief trip to Scotland. He believed that filmmaking had been “going downhill steadily since 1918,” but he loved soap operas and television reruns. He was reclusive to the point of sometimes not answering the door when friends knocked, yet he was listed in the Cape Cod phone book. And, almost every summer for about fifteen years, he personally wrote and directed a play to be performed in one of several small theaters on the Cape.

For those interested in reading more about him, I recommend Alexander Theroux’s The Strange Case of Edward Gorey. Theroux knew Gorey personally, and his book offers great insight into the life of an enigmatic artist. It’s just been released in an expanded edition by Fantagraphics Books. Theroux was recently interviewed by NPR about the book.

The Strange Case draws from interviews collected in Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey, edited by Karen Wilkin. That title, by the way, comes from one of Gorey’s descriptions of his own process: “I just kind of conjured them up out of my subconscious and put them in order of ascending peculiarity.”

And while I do recommend a visit to the Edward Gorey House, there’s an excellent book of photographs of the place by Kevin McDermott, Elephant House, or, The Home of Edward Gorey. McDermott went into the house shortly after Gorey’s death, before any of his belongings were moved. It’s a haunting portrait of a man via his pursuits, his habits, and his absence.

And those curious about my own story, “Twenty-Eight Scenes for Neglected Guests,” will find it in Cape Cod Noir, alongside new work by Ben Greenman, Dana Cameron, Paul Tremblay, Kaylie Jones, and others.

Upcoming Events

I’ve been in hiding for a while now, but in the months ahead, I have a string of appearances in various corners of New England. If you’re looking for me, here’s where you’ll find me:

At the Conference on International Opportunities in the Arts, I’ll be on a panel about first books. The other panelists are poet Marisa Crawford (The Haunted House) and artist and author Mira Bartók (The Memory Palace). That’s on Friday, April 8th, at 1:30pm in the Boston Room of the Boston Public Library.

On Saturday, April 9th, at 2pm, I’ll be teaching a multigenre workshop called “New England and the Sea” at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut, along with poet Leslie McGrath and shipwright Bill Taylor. And yes, in this case multigenre means fiction, poetry, and ship building. There will be discussions of craft, close readings of work by Merrill and others, schematics to pore over, and an incredible view of Stonington Harbor. More information is available at Dzanc Books.

On Sunday, April 17th, at 5pm, I’ll give a reading at the Stonington Free Library in Stonigton, Connecticut. It’s likely that this will be the first time I read from my new novel-in-progress (unless you count all those times I’ve read sentences aloud to myself, to make sure they made sense). The reading is free and open to the public.

Finally, I’ll be reading at Jabberywocky Books in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on Saturday, May 7th, at 7pm, as part of the Tannery Reading Series. Also reading is Aine Greaney and Pamela Greenberg.

These and other events will be handily indexed over at my BookTour.com page.