“There’s a Hole in the City” won a Million Writers Award and an International Horror Guild Award and was published as one of fifteen interrelated stories in your novel Dust Devil on a Quiet Street. Can you tell us more about that novel?
TAHITC, (let’s call it) was published online in Ellen Datlow’s legendary SciFiction in 2005 and was also nominated for the Nebula and Gaylactic Spectrum Awards. I was very happy that the gay/bisexual aspects of the story were accepted almost without notice.
Probably the best-known thing I’ve written, it’s been anthologized and translated many times. Earlier this year, it appeared in the 9/11 anthology In The Shadow Of The Towers and was given a very favorable review in The New Yorker, which pleased me more than I ever imagined it would.
Because it’s a 9/11 story, WBAI Radio in New York has broadcast my reading of the story each year on that date.
Novels made up of short stories are as old as the genre itself. They used to be called “Fix-ups”. Now there are other titles, like “Mosaic Novel.” Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Disch’s 334, and Roberts’ Pavane are some of my favorite examples.
I used TAHITC as the opening chapter/story in Dust Devil on a Quiet Street because it fit into the theme and timeline of the novel—which is set mainly in the East and West Villages in Manhattan from the 1960s to a few years ago. Each narrator in each story is the one I used in TAHITC—a version of me. The narrator’s story and those of Mags and Geoff, who appear in TAHITC and whom he can’t forget, run through the chapters of the book.
Dust Devil on a Quiet Street was published by Lethe Press in 2013. It was on the short lists for the World Fantasy and Lambda Awards.
Several of your stories and novels have been described as “semi-autobiographical” or “fictionalized memoir.” What interests you about this form?
My interest in writing “speculative fictional semi-autobiography” goes back to my start in the genre. My first novel, the first piece of spec fiction I wrote, was Warchild, published in 1986 by Warner Questar. It’s a time travel/alternate world book that got a nice reception and I was signed up for two more novels.
While completing Warchild, I discovered I had colon cancer. I was treated (and obviously survived). The novel I wrote while that happened was Feral Cell set in a near-future New York in which a “Game Master” discovers he has cancer. He finds out that adjacent to his world is “Capricorn,” where people who are dying here are visible as magic figures: honored by some, hunted by others.
I guess that, since then, I’ve made less distinction than some writers do between my reality and my imagination.
In other interviews, you’ve cited speculative fiction authors such as Roger Zelazny and more recently Kelly Link as among your favorites, and you intertwine speculative elements into your own fiction. What do you think is the appeal of ghosts and magic and the fantastical in general?
Stories of terror and wonder are an escape from reality, but also another way of looking at our own existence, dealing with our emotional needs. Ghost stories, for instance, can be metaphors for the way we deal with our unease with death. Tales of magic are the way we fulfill the very real human need for wonder.
If you hadn’t become a writer, what would you be doing today?
I retired from my primary day job—working in a university library—(quite a few of the chapters in Dust Devil are set there). Besides that and writing, I had a third job—buying and selling antique toys. Dolls, electric trains, dollhouses, architectural blocks, plastic, lead and composition soldiers, civilians, farm and zoo animals, sewing machines for kids: the list goes on.
My partner and I bought and sold at flea markets, toy fairs and on eBay. I gave it up, but if I didn’t write, I think I’d have continued doing that. For the money but also for the fun.
What types of stories are you drawn to? What do you consider to be the best writing?
The best writing is the writing that’s drawn me recently. A thing I like very much about speculative fiction as a genre is that it’s really several different forms of storytelling: SF, fantasy, horror, fairy tales (I’m sure you can think of others), all in the same space.
Because I’ve been asked to do an Alice in Wonderland based story for an anthology, I’m reading that book for the first time since I was a kid. I definitely consider it spec fiction, but can think of no convenient category for it.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on now, and what you have forthcoming?
I will have seven stories published this year, including, “The Duchess and the Ghost” for Lightspeed’s Queers Destroy Fantasy! issue, which came out in December. Some of these stories will be chapters in an as yet untitled mosaic novel set in the late 1940s to 1962, which is when I was a kid in Boston.
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