Interviews, Book Signing, and Talk Notes

Well, folks, it’s been a while.  And when you have limited time and energy, you have to drop some things.  Which meant I haven’t blogged here in months.  That said, this fall is looking more generous as far as blogging time goes, so I hope to be back at it regularly in September.

The Wait is Over for Small Waiting Objects

In the meantime, my book launched.  Here’s a description of Small Waiting Objects, my debut poetry collection:
Cover of Small Waiting Objects by T.D. Walker

In the near future, kitchen appliances question, console, and bewilder their owners. Extraterrestrials leave behind sub-dermal implants and complicated daughters. A second moon settles into orbit around Earth, a moon which challenges those beneath it to see it, to name it, to explore it. And crew members aboard starships turn to fine and pulp art as consolation. The lyric poems in Small Waiting Objects reach back to feminist utopias and onward toward possible futures in which we find ourselves resisting the technologies—and their human implications—that we most desire.

For more information, check out my website. The book is available from IndieBoundAmazon, and Barnes & Noble. Or for a signed copy, drop by Half Price Books in Dallas on Sunday, July 7th.  I’ll post more events as they’re scheduled.

Speculative Poet Q&As

I’ve been interviewing science fiction and fantasy poets in a new venue, Luna Station QuarterlyI’ll link to the interviews as they are posted.  Here’s June’s post, an interview with Jessica Rae Bergamino about her book, UNMANNED.  In this collection, Bergamino gives voice to the two Voyager spacecraft in poems that challenge how we see the universe and how we see ourselves.

Creativity Talk

In November, I gave a talk at the Fellowship of Freethought gathering on the need for skepticism in creative practice.  No video on this to share, but I’ll post my notes on this soon.

This fall, I plan on writing more on how my worldview affects my creative endeavors (along with more Texas politics), and if I can wrangle some interviews with secular humanist creative folks, I’ll post those here.

In the meantime, is your creativity affected by your secular viewpoint?  If so, how?  And are there writers you’d like to suggest for interviews on Freethinking Ahead?

 

Talk in Dallas on Sunday November 18th: The Creative Skeptic

I’ll be giving a talk at the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas gathering this month:

The Creative Skeptic: Or, How to Live the Magic, Embrace the Mystery, and Invoke the Muses When You Don’t Believe in Supernatural Forces

Are you an artist and a freethinker? A crafter and skeptic? A coder and a humanist? A social organizer and an atheist? A fan of movies and a fan of rationality?

Do you want to explore both your ability to create and your ability to question with like-minded folks?

Then join us for a workshop on creativity for freethinkers. We’ll discuss ways in which we can use advice for creative types that is too often couched in spiritual terms. And we’ll play lively social games designed to help you tap into your creativity, without resorting to calling on a Muse.

Don’t consider yourself creative? Don’t worry! We’ll address ways in which consumers of creative products–movies, TV, games, books, and so on–can also consider themselves creative and thus apply what we talk about in the gathering.

So come explore the mysteries of creativity with us. It’ll be magical….

Fellowship of Freethought Dallas gatherings are held at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center (10011 Midway Road, Dallas, TX) and begin at 11am.

Fellowship of Freethought Dallas Gathering: Treat or Trick? Is an Afterlife Possible?

If you’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and you want to start your Halloween celebration a bit early, check out the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas gathering on October 21st.  From the meetup event listing:

Treat or Trick? Is an Afterlife Possible?

In this fun, Halloween-themed talk, Professor Fisher will use some creepy Halloween stories and B-grade movies to explore some of the weird and wild ways that theologians and philosophers have tried to make sense of the possibility of an afterlife.

Justin C. Fisher is a Philosophy professor at Southern Methodist University

11:00 am – Coffee and mingling
11:30 am – Program Begins
12:30 pm – Potluck

The gathering will be held at the Walnut Hill Recreation Center, 10011 Midway Road, Dallas, TX.

A Response from Senator Cornyn Regarding Kavanaugh Vote

Just before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on whether to advance Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court to the full Senate, I called and emailed the offices of both Senator Cruz and Senator Cornyn to voice my concerns about said vote.  I sent postcards to their local offices as well, for good measure.  They’re both on the committee, and they’re both–ostensibly–my senators, as I’m a resident of Texas.

I say “ostensibly” because Cornyn’s response demonstrates that he doesn’t represent the interests of the citizens of his state.  He represents the interests of his party.  Here is a portion of his response, with emphasis added by this blogger:

I believe we should take allegations of misconduct very seriously, which is why I support the thorough investigations being undertaken by the Judiciary Committee and the FBI. Based on his record of integrity as a father, husband, and public servant, I am confident this investigation will demonstrate that Judge Kavanaugh did not engage in any misconduct. As a result, on September 28, 2018, I voted to advance Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination out of the Judiciary Committee with the understanding that it will be considered by the full Senate following the conclusion of FBI’s supplemental background investigation.

I look forward to continuing Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation process and believe that he will serve with honor on the Supreme Court. I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join together to ensure that this process treats every individual involved with respect, fairness, and decency. I appreciate having the opportunity to represent Texas in the United States Senate. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.

Cornyn both supports the investigation, and yet he also looks forward to participating his Kavanaugh’s confirmation?  So, even before the FBI completes its investigation, Cornyn is sure that the results will show that Kavanaugh committed no acts of sexual misconduct?  Am I to take this as an indication that regardless of those findings, he will vote for Kavanaugh?  And why highlight Trump, whose recent behavior shows his unwillingness to treat “every individual involved with respect, fairness, and decency“?

Cornyn purports to represent Texas in the Senate.  In reality, he represents the worst of white male privilege in this state.

Monday Miscellany: 24 September 2018

A few links of interest from around the web:

A Quick State of the Blog Update: Politics, Book News, and a Poem

It’s been a while since my last post, and I wanted to let you all know that I’m still here, but I’ve had a number of (mostly good) things keeping me from blogging much lately.  When you have maybe an hour of free time on any given day, and you’re trying to squeeze in calling senators, writing postcards to elected officials, attending postcard parties and other election-related activities, all while trying to keep up with writing poetry and fiction, you drop some things.

And this blog, unfortunately, has been the thing I’ve dropped from my to do list most often of late.

So, what have I been up to?  Writing, manuscript prep, and marketing.  Which means I’ve been working on a second collection of poems while submitting poems, a novella, and multiple short stories to publishers on top of all that goes into heading toward the publication of my debut collection of poems, which will be out next summer.  (Want to know more?  I have a mailing list!)  Also, I have a science fiction poem out at Strange Horizons today.  It’s about alien implants.  So there’s that.

I’m also working on separating out my more personal, writing-related posts from the sort of posts I had envisioned for Freethinking Ahead.  In the next month or so, I’ll be blogging here about some responsibilities of secular humanists who create any sort of art or craft, though most of my examples will be from poetry or fiction.  I’ll be giving a talk at the November Fellowship of Freethought Gathering on this topic, and my posts will work up to that presentation.

Over at my website, I’ll be blogging about writing, writing groups as procrastination, research as procrastination, procrastination as research, and the like.  The first post is, of course, about procrastination: “Listening in the Distance: Or, Research and the Radio.”  (Okay, I know, I said I have limited time, and I’m listening to the radio.  That said, my listening-to-the-radio time is also time when I’m not quite energetic enough to string together decent sentences….)

And side note: the Q&A series with speculative poets is currently on hiatus, but it will be back soon.  I’ll post more about this shortly.

Lastly, thank you.  If you’ve just started reading my posts or if you’ve been reading them for a while, thank you.  And if you’re up for sharing your thoughts on the subject, I’d be happy to hear more about what you’re interested in from Freethinking Ahead.

Speculative Poets in Conversation: Holly Lyn Walrath

The Speculative Poets in Conversation Series features interviews with writers of science fiction and fantasy poetry about how their work addresses social justice issues. For the fourth post in the series, I spoke with poet Holly Lyn Walrath about her 2018 chapbook Glimmerglass Girl, published by Finishing Line Press.

Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Luna Station Quarterly, Liminality, and elsewhere. Her chapbook of words and images, Glimmerglass Girl, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She is a freelance editor and host of The Weird Circular, an e-newsletter for writers containing submission calls and writing prompts. Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath or at www.hlwalrath.com.

Freethinking Ahead: In the introduction to Glimmerglass Girl, you note that the collection “is a fantastical account of womanhood [….] that draws upon my personal experience.” Readers encounter in the poems the mundane details of a present-day life, which are punctuated by references to other-worldly places and beings, such as in “Espejitos,” “Self-Portrait through an iPhone,” “I am Going to Find the Unicorn,” and others. Do you see womanhood as a sort of balancing the otherness of the fantastic with the ordinary of the mundane world?
Cover of Glimmerglass Girl

Holly Lyn Walrath: I’m very interested in the speculative writing of contemporary women authors, which in my opinion re-evaluates how women approach our bodies. Historically, the woman-as-fantastic tradition in fairy tales and fiction has been written by men. We’ve only just begun to challenge the so-called ideals of what it means to be a woman. The fantastic is one way to do this—to embrace the othering of women’s bodies and make it our own language.

FTA: Many of the poems in this collection have references to or are evocative of Texas, such as “I Want to be a Grackle, I Want to Caw,” “Blue Cadillac,” and “Premise of the Heart.” How does this sense of place affect your creative process? And since Texas can be a complicated place for women, given its politics and culture, how do you see place as a part of your aim to depict womanhood?

HLW: I was born in Texas and have lived here for most of my life. The beauty of Texas and its conglomeration of cultures are definitely a part of me. I currently live in southeast Houston near all the oil and gas refineries, so those landscapes get into my work unconsciously. As much as I acknowledge that I’m a southern girl who loves country music and fried chicken, I also struggle with the politics of Texas. The lack of access to healthcare and alarming rate of maternal mortality rates reinforce this idea of women’s bodies being othered. There’s still a lot of shame in this state about womanhood, gender, and mothering. I grew up Baptist and I see the harm that can come from the church in regards to women’s identities. But there’s a lot of strength in southern women. “Blue Cadillac,” is an homage to my grandmother, who wore white gloves to church and was as outspoken as a matriarch can get. I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about this place I call home, because Texas is a complex, beautiful, gritty, difficult, and kaleidoscopic state.

FTA: In “I Swallowed the Moon,” personal details show the moon as an object readily consumed by the speaker of the poem as a medium for her imagination, then later as something “haunting” and outside the known. When the speaker at last consumes the moon whole, she has “doomed the world.”

I read this poem first in a literal, speculative mode–a woman dooms the world by consuming this symbol of feminism when using it as a medium for creation no longer satisfies her appetite–and on rereading as a metaphorical exploration of the dangers of consuming myths and their implications. How do you approach myths and fairy tales, especially the “unfulfilled fairytales” of “Behind the Glass,” as both source material to be consumed and to be wary of?

Holly Lyn WalrathHLW: For me, fairy tales began with Disney. I grew up in the generation that knew the golden age of Disney as not just something to be consumed but as a kind of religion. We lived, breathed, and ate (in the form of kid’s cereal and snacks) Disney. However, as much as I love them, those stories are being reexamined today for their implications. Women were taught to be princesses, not queens—damsels in distress, not heroes. But when we grow up, we realize those stories set false expectations. I’m in love with the new Disney stories like Moana, Rogue One, A Wrinkle in Time, Brave, and The Incredibles because they give girls new options. We’re redefining what a fairy tale means and where women stand in the narrative.

FTA: Can you recommend a couple speculative poetry collections that share the same themes as yours? And are there Texas poets you’d like to recommend to the readers of Freethinking Ahead?

HLW: I love the work of another Finishing Line Press poet and Houstonian, Saba Syed Razvi. Check out her 2017 book, Heliophobia, nominated for an Elgin award. Other poets who inspire my work are Rose Lemberg (Marginalia to Stone Bird, Aqueduct Press, 2016) and Kayla Bashe (Glitter Blood, 2017).

Monday Miscellany: 25 June 2018

Monday Miscellany, “Yeah, I know it’s Tuesday already” Edition:

Speculative Poets in Conversation: Jeannine Hall Gailey

The Speculative Poets in Conversation Series features interviews with writers of science fiction and fantasy poetry about how their work addresses social justice issues. For the third post in the series, I spoke with poet Jeannine Hall Gailey about her 2015 collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, published by Mayapple Press.

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, which was a finalist for the 2012 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal and a winner of a Florida Publishers Association Presidential Award for Poetry, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and her latest, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and SFPA’s Elgin Award, Field Guide to the End of the World. She’s also the author of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing. She has a B.S. in Biology and an M.A. in English from the University of Cincinnati, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Pacific University. Her poems have been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Verse Daily; two were included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. In 2007 she received a Washington State Artist Trust GAP Grant and in 2007 and 2011 a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize. 

Freethinking Ahead: In the collection, we see the character of the Robot Scientist’s Daughter as both of the community and yet outside of it. How did you initially conceive of her in respect to your intentions for the poems? Did your concept of her change over the course of the collection, especially in light of your personal connections to Oak Ridge National Laboratories and that of the research you did for the poems?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is a mythological character who has Cover of The Robot Scientist's Daughtera lot in common with me, but isn’t actually me. I’ve always enjoyed writing persona poetry, and in this book, which is much more personal (and actually has first-person autobiographical poems in it) I thought it provided a little bit of fun and more potential for sci-fi experimentation inside the historical story of Oak Ridge and my own history living there.

FTA: I’m curious about the theme of the perilous nature of the parent/child relationship in the collection: the dangerous offspring elements created in “Radon Daughters,” the wasps and swallows building nests from radioactive mud in “Hot Wasp Nest,” “The Girls Next Door” and their daughters, and, of course, the Robot Scientist and his daughter.

JHG: In this book, there is a definite sense of menace in terms of scientific “fathers” – I specifically reference some scientists who made what I consider unethical decisions when it came to their creations in nuclear science and of course, they carry the responsibility for the creation of the most devastating military weapon ever – the nuclear bomb. There’s a feeling that people in the nuclear era – and in Oak Ridge – trusted the government to tell them about the dangers nuclear experimentation exposed them to, and that trust was betrayed multiple times, in multiple ways, over the last fifty years. In environmental terms, the endangered babies of various animals raised in a toxic environment represented by own (and many other children from the area’s) damage from exposure to nuclear pollution – but I wanted to represent the damage this nuclear pollution does to the entire ecosystem, not just the human part of it.

FTA: You note in your introduction to the book that one of your reasons for writing the collection was to draw attention to the potential harms of nuclear research, particularly “that the half-life of the pollution from nuclear sites is longer than most human life spans.” The presence of the children in the collection, affected as they are by the pollution, seems to work in tension to the danger, however, as we see the children as a kind of emblem of some better possible future. What drove your choice to place them both within and as narrator(s) of the poems?

JHG: Children don’t have a choice about where they live, or what their parents do for a living, and yet, they are still exposed to dangers that they may or may not be aware of that can affect them for the rest of their lives, and even their children’s lives. Children can make decisions when they become adults about what they do about that exposure, whether they speak out against it, or keep their families (and their governments’) secrets for them. You can see the results of this now in young people in Japan who are much less tolerant of nuclear power and nuclear pollution after living through the disaster at Fukushima than perhaps previous generations have been. I hope this book raises some awareness about our own problems – still unfixed – in cities near the readers – not just Oak Ridge and Hanford, the sister “Atomic cities,” but many secret cities around our country. Anyone who talks about how “clean” nuclear energy is needs to be educated about the real dangers and the effects already around many rural (and some not-so-rural) areas in America.

FTA: Throughout the collection, you anchor the poems in the landscape around the ORNL with almost incantatory series of plants and animals, from “lilacs, daffodils, black bears and mockingbirds” in “Oak Ridge, Tennessee” to “wild onion, grass, green apples” in “Lessons in Poison” to “Pears and apples, asparagus and peanuts, rows and rows of lettuce” in “Oak Ridge National Laboratory: Unlock the Secrets of America’s Secret City!”

These groupings give us as readers a view of the wildlife affected by the ORNL, but they also seem to make of the land and landscape a sort of community, a spare and haunting gathering of its inhabitants. How did you view these groupings in your poems? How do you see them in relation to the same groupings of body parts affected by the radiation, such as the “bones, fingernail, brain” you group in the first poem of the book, “Cesium Burns Blue”?

Jeannine Hall GaileyJHG: I would say it’s fair to say that as a child living in Tennessee I spent more time with the plants and animals there than I did with any fellow humans. I loved the woods and the animals we kept on our small farm and the wild things there. As a kid I pretended to be a horse and ate grass; I pretended to be a cat and climbed trees; I pretended to be a bird and built nests. There was no way those items would not become an important part of the book. I live in a beautiful part of the world now, but there’s no doubt, with every garden I plant, I’m in some way trying to recreate the beloved gardens of my childhood home.

Also, when I studied ecotoxicology and toxic botany in college, I learned about the way that plants take up poisons from their environments, and I read studies that showed that, say, children who drank milk from cows in the Oak Ridge area or ate fish from streams even miles away were exposed to high levels of radioactive cesium, for instance, so I became aware as an adult that the fruits and flowers I loved were actually poisonous, toxic.

FTA: Are there any speculative poetry titles you’d like to recommend to the readers of the Freethinking Ahead blog? Or poetry collections that also touch on the same kind of environmental concerns that The Robot Scientist’s Daughter explores?

JHG: As far as environmental concerns, the terrific Plume by Kathleen Flenniken explores similar themes to The Robot Scientist’s Daughter from the perspective of an actual former Hanford, WA engineer who was also the daughter of a Hanford engineer. Hanford has almost more terrible lessons than Oak Ridge, from an American nuclear perspective. (Plus: google ‘the Green Run.’)

Speculative poetry that I love? Margaret Rhee’s Robot Love; Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life; Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars; Dana Levin’s Banana Palace. More female speculative poets to check out: Stephanie Wytovich, Lesley Wheeler, Nancy Hightower, Sally Rosen Kindred, Jenna Le, Shannon Connor Winward, Lana Ayers, and Mary McMyne.

This Was Supposed to Be a Post About the Runoff Election in Texas

This was supposed to be a post about the past week of early voting here in Texas to determine party candidates for November’s election.  Because it’s never just about elections, is it?  Not about the two Democrats vying for the party’s gubernatorial candidacy, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Houstonian Andrew White.  Not about the slow start and the low turnout.  Not about strategies Democrats are using to encourage non-voters to vote.

Not when the week is punctuated by at least two mass shootings here in Texas: a mother whose ex-husband murdered all their children on Wednesday, and the Santa Fe High School murders on Friday.

But it is about elections.  It has to be.  In response to the shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott spoke at a press conference about his plans to address the issue of gun violence in schools.  From The Texas Tribune:

Abbott said that he had already been preparing to release several new proposals for gun laws in Texas.

Now, he said, he will begin meeting with stakeholders to propose “swift solutions to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.”

“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” Abbott said. “It’s time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again.”

That said, we have to question how much this willingness to act is a response to the upcoming November election.  Immediately following Gov. Abbott at the press conference was Sen. Ted Cruz, who has received an A+ rating from the NRA.  Though Sen. Cruz should have been at the press conference as one of the elected representatives of the state, his presence after Gov. Abbott’s remarks seemed, to me anyway, to throw a shadow over any proposed action.  If any of the GOP elected officials from Texas had been serious about gun control after, say, the church shooting in Sutherland Springs or the shooting at a home in Plano last year or any other recent mass shooting, then why wait for this particular horror to announce the proposed new gun laws?

In a year when Gov. Abbott’s position isn’t realistically threatened by his Democratic opponent, whoever that turns out to be, Rep. Beto O’Rourke does have a chance at unseating Sen. Cruz, and in smaller races around the state, Republicans may be defeated by their Democratic rivals.  So perhaps Gov. Abbott doesn’t need to speak to moderate voters for his own good, but he does for those candidates in his party.

So, Gov. Abbott may be right about one thing: what we need isn’t more “thoughts and prayers.”  And what we need isn’t just announcements of proposals overshadowed by reminders that too many members of his party are beholden to the gun lobby, either.

What we need is solid blue turnout in November.