Mom

mom and me Aug 66

Marjorie Virginia Laity, née Weber 1937-2017

Rather unexpectedly my mom died Saturday night. We’re all reeling a bit, especially my dad. She had hip surgery earlier this summer but had recovered so quickly that she was walking down the block without assistance already. In keeping with her desires there will be no funeral; if you would like to honour her memory, you can send a donation to the Friends of the Thomas Branigan Library, PO Box 213, Las Cruces, NM 88004. If you’d like to be part of a general donation we’re gathering in her name [click here for the PayPal link].

Robert wrote up a very nice obituary that will be appearing soon in The Lansing State Journal, The Johnson City Record Courier and The Las Cruces Sun-News.

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If you knew my mom, you knew how energetic she was, never still for long. In recent years she really loved feeding the roadrunners from the back yard of their home in Las Cruces. They got a new Lab puppy at Christmas and Maggie is already a robust 70 lbs.

Mom was a superb seamstress: she always said that computers were beyond her, but somehow she had no trouble programming the computer-run sewing machine that seemed to do everything but knit (it scared me!). She loved ice skating so much, even when she fell backstage at the ice show on Mother’s Day and broke her ankle in four places. Of course she had her first knee surgery after a spill hill climbing on motorcycles back when we were kids. She was mostly fearless.

Here’s something that never failed to make her laugh. It became a long-running joke on family trips along with the guy who looked at the beauties of Monument Valley and muttered, “I see no significance in that.”

In high school she started working as a telephone operator, a job she loved. She always told the story of helping the woman who wanted to talk to Elvis (she was a big fan herself) and they got as far as Colonel Tom Parker. My dad and us kids would always make her call for pizza because “You have such a nice telephone voice” (which she did). We always had music on in the house. My mom loved to dance too, especially a lively Polish polka.

Thanks for everything, mom. Feel free to share your memories.

 

Goodbye, Kipper

Kipper in Window

He is gone, he of the splay foot and the silky coat. My little buddy, my little Jean Marais beastie. He’s Connor’s cuddle buddy. He’s my alarm clock; even this morning I awoke thinking I’d heard that impatient yowl. He was always quite the talker. And always underfoot: I always feared one day I’d trip down the stairs as he wound around my feet.

Things happened pretty fast. What we thought was his teeth flaring up again turned about to be a combination of underlying problems. He went from appearing fine and healthy just a few days ago to this. The vet — who’s so very English but kind — let me be with him as he slipped away. Bertie came home at lunchtime to help me bury him. I put a veve for Erzulie on the little white cardboard coffin and we wrapped him in the Gossip Girl lap blanket (thanks, Brenda) that he loved to lie on, so he went off in style.

So now we have a pet cemetery at the house. Robert’s going to put Jordan’s ashes next to Kipper’s marble slab. It’s so strange to be without him.

Celebrating Graham Joyce

I found out that Graham died just before I headed off to Poland. Stuck in the Warsaw airport for seven unexpected and very long hours, I found it impossible to put away the thought that I was living in a world without Graham Joyce. I’m sure the sight of a woman bursting into tears is not at all uncommon in that airport, or so my two lengthy experiences lead me to believe. He was ailing for a long time so I suppose we should have all braced ourselves for the worst and yet — how can you?

I have continued a terrible lifelong habit of having my last words to friends be bad jokes, kidding him about the frighteningly huge scar from his last surgery by suggesting they’d left the zipper off. But he liked it. He always had that wit. I remember first meeting him at Necon of all places. I can’t remember when I first read Requiem but I know it’s the first one I read. He was among those telling ghost stories in the first night tradition and I recognised the folk tale he was telling anew so I paid more attention to how he told it, the delight and the timing. I was too much in awe to talk to him much but we ended up opposite each other at a meal and chatted away quite naturally because he was always so direct. He was surprised to find me an Arsenal fan.

I find it hard to sort out timing. I am pretty sure that I wrote the essay on Memoirs of a Master Forger [never mind the terrible American name for it] for the 21st Century Gothic collection before we read together at my first Alt-Fiction. I was nervous. What if he hated what I wrote? Of course I loved the book. I love fakes and hoaxes especially when you try to make them true and there’s a heart-breaking honesty that lying allows you to be truthful about. The forger William Heaney at the end of the book realises the irony of this:

What an odd group. I loved them all. I fancied that I could see myself in the shining brilliance of their eyes. They reflected back at me, which was appropriate because the biggest demon I faced was the one I saw in the mirror. Because he was the master of all the others. What should I say? I had lived in the shadow of a wrong I didn’t commit and in doing so made a counterfeit of my own life. Faked my own death in a way… You let go. No one needs to hang on to a first edition.” (307)

We sat at opposite ends of a big table and read from our books. People sat in between — people who were almost surely all there to hear him. He read from The Silent Land and I don’t know what I read from, Owl Stretching maybe. And we talked after it and I was delighted to find that he had read the essay and was pleased that I saw the strands of Yeats running through the book and understood what he meant to capture in those pages.

I never lost my awe of him. He was a writer I admire and yearn to be like — to slip between genres and make everything so very real especially when it seemed fantastical. I remember the shocked wonder of reading the ARC I got of Some Kind of Fairy Tale in the Russell Square Hotel, that rare feeling of this book has been written especially for me! Thousands may feel the same but you think it anyway. And then we were on the panel together at another Alt-Fiction talking about the Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk and how people misunderstand them. I don’t remember what all we said but it was one of my best panels ever because we were just delighting in the conversation and other people happened to be there.

Grief in the social media era is still a weird thing. Dead friends appear in my timeline on Facebook unexpectedly, due to whatever mystical metrics. Depending on how my day is going I smile to see them or cry again to know they’re gone. Phil will forever have Gene Hunt’s face; Jack will forever have the Facebook default picture, a gap of white in blue. Mostly they’re all writers, so you mourn all the things they will never write.

But they will live forever as long as we read their books and that is a great comfort. The pages spring to life again and a voice like Graham’s is as vivid as breath all over again. It’s not enough, but it is much to celebrate.

Crime Fiction in Gdańsk

Here’s where I’ll be the rest of the week. I will endeavour to share pictures and stories as I can, WiFi allowing. I am looking forward to hanging with Mr B and a bunch of new folks, too, and talking about Dorothy Hughes.

As I type this up I got the word that Graham Joyce has died and I’m gutted. His books are magic, but he was a terrific guy and always very kind to me (even though I wrote about his work which tends to make writers nervous). One of my best panels ever was the fairytale panel we did together at Alt-Fiction. I went to his website to get a link for this piece and saw one of his last tweets is in praise of Iain Banks at his passing. The outpouring of sorrow shows how many people he touched. He will be missed so very much.

As Pete and Dud would say, in the midst of life we are in debt. I am forever in Graham’s debt. I hope I write books worthy of what I owe.

Goodbye, Phil Nutman

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I really don’t believe it. My friend who made me and Gene feel part of Necon from the start, who always believed in me, who bonded with me over the bad penguin, Badtz-Maru, is dead. He died in Atlanta at 8:55 pm EST last night, his wife of a few short months by his side, grieving. His former wife, Anya, also my friend, had visited earlier and shared the well-wishes of many with him. He seemed to hear them even if he couldn’t respond.

He tapped me to write for his magazine Up Against the Wall, he always gave me generous blurbs, and he always had ideas like turning some of my work into films. In addition to his own writing in Wet Work (zombies and armed forces long before they were commonplace) and Cities of the Night, he helped birth films like Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door and Beth Massie’s Abed. Horror was his métier and he loved it dearly.

I wish he had not let the bottle get the better of him. It robbed us of so much, not least his humour and self-deprecating attitude. I see him in a lot of things: the films around me, his books, and even (fancifully) Badger in Firefly, the kind of tough wheeler-dealer he always wanted to be (but was too kind-hearted to really be) and every mini-golf place I pass. Props to Anya who went back to where the pain had been to share our goodbyes to Phil. I don’t know how to deal with this year that seems chock full of losses. I guess the same way we deal with everything — just keep soldiering on and treasuring all the moments we do have. You never know when they might be the last you have to share.

UPDATE: Dave Hinchberger has put together a fundraiser page for Phil’s funeral: donate if you can (you can give anonymously if you wish)

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The song I always think of when I have lost someone dear:

But Phil would doubtless prefer:

Mini-golf with Phil and Anya:

And one of his favourite songs from the singer/songwriter he admired so:

My Gypsy Ways: Berne

The mists of Brigadoon

I often joke that I’m heading to Brigadoon when I go off to Berne. It’s true that there are days when the fog closes in as I head up into the hills and it genuinely feels like stepping into the mystic. So I was glad to be able to spend Halloween with my dear friend Mary and all the other friends who gather there.

As some of you know, Mary lost her husband Steve this summer in a tractor accident; as she says, it’s every farming wife’s nightmare. Steve was a remarkable man in so many ways. He also cared for the land and buildings. Consequently, Mary’s business Universal Pathways (a retreat center on their 500 acres of farmland) has been struggling without his daily attention, though many have lent a hand to fill his big shoes, chopping wood, carrying water, filling in as best we can.

We have created a Facebook page for UP and we are trying to get the word out so people know about this amazing resource. It’s a great place for retreats and for teaching any kind of intense seminars, but there’s also acres of hills, forests and streams to wander in. You can unplug completely here. And if you’re looking for a wedding in natural surroundings not too far from the Capitol region, you couldn’t do better than UP.

More gorgeous pictures here.

The gathering this week brought together friends old and new. The food is always amazing and the conversations by turns intense and very silly. I enjoyed meeting Mary’s friend Nancy whom she’s known since kindergarten and now lives in Alaska. I know it was a help to Mary to have her there, as Nancy also recently lost her husband — suddenly and violently, too (and horribly, right in front of her). How you can keep on after that, I don’t know. But these two women do with grace and hopefulness (and yes, grief and tears). I can’t begin to imagine how if feels.

News

Fans of ‘The Willimantic Frogs’ will be glad to hear that this tale from the long out of print chapbook is now available in the Broad Spectrum anthology from Broad Universe. It’s a free download so get it and give us a review. I’m also chatting about recent news with my fellow Broads in this month’s Broadly Speaking.

The whole crew is pretty chuffed with the release of Weird Noir. We’re getting the word out and hoping for reviews to start soon. Be sure to share your opinion if you have a chance to read it.