Ever since the election, people have been telling me to shut up and go back to Fairyland. Be silent. Be good. Accept. Submit. Stop talking about politics. Stick to fairy tales. (As if fairy tales have ever not been about politics.) Go back to Fairyland. Go back to Fairyland.

So I did.

I have struggled since November 8th with everything I thought I understood about the world, and with what I could possibly do to help anyone. I certainly can’t stop talking. I can never do that. But for once, the Internet trolls had the answer.

I have written a new Fairyland short story. It does what fairy tales do, I hope. Explain the awful to the young. Explain the awful to the old. Explain the awful to myself. After all, once you know you’re in a fairy tale, you know how to get out, how to survive, how to stand tall and even dance at the end of it all.

This story may be read, reprinted, excerpted, exchanged, and otherwise disseminated for free, forever.

The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still.

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The mind is a strange thing. I cannot even say if it’s the mind of a writer that I mean, or the mind of a human. I have always had the mind I have; it is impossible to say whether my habits conform to those of any group–writers, women, those of an age neither Generation X nor Millennial, Americans, artists, and so on–or whether it is just the strange little music box of a brain I carry around in the cage of my bones.

When I am writing a story or a book or even a poem, I see the environment I render in words completely, as though on a movie screen. I change what I see internally until it feels right, then describe it on the page. But there is always a Version 1.0, a ground zero, a basic template for various objects and geographies. Often I fight against that entry-level image. Contort it into something better, different, more unusual, more striking. But I find it fascinating what set-pieces are so fully-formed in my mind that I must always consciously jettison them, or else ever house I write would be the same, every road, every forest, every school, every shop.

The example I started writing about on Twitter before deciding that it was absurd to try to say all this in a series of 140 character confetti-cannons is the Kitchen of My Mind.

When I think of a kitchen–and by that I mean any kitchen, simply the idea of “kitchen,” if I require a kitchen as a set for any scene–the image that comes instantly into my head, fully-realized, in Technicolor and 3-D sensory surround, is the kitchen of a house my mother briefly rented in Seattle around (by my math) 1985. The tiles are white with small black diamonds between the squares. The walls are white with black window frames. There is a small kitchen table in the corner where my infant brother and I have breakfast on the weekends when I stay with her instead of my dad. The corner has a bench built into one side where I always sit and is dominated by tall windows with cross-hatch sashes on both sides of the seam. Next to the corner on the rear wall is the back door leading into the yard. In this kitchen Ray Lynch’s album Deep Breakfast is always playing. My mother loved it and loved playing it at the thematically-appropriate time of the day.

Why the kitchen in this house, quickly rented and quickly moved out of, and not the one on Queen Anne Hill where my father and my stepmother and I lived until I was 7? Or the one in the house in Woodinville where I spent almost every morning of my adolescence? Or the one in Davis, California, where I cooked after-school snacks with my brother every day through junior high and high school? Of course I remember these places, but when I think of the pure, ontologically complete idea of a kitchen, it is always this one I return to.

But it gets stranger than that.

I cannot picture the rest of that house. Or even the rest of that kitchen. I see the table, the windows, the back door, the colors; I hear the music. I am there. But if I turn around to glance into the kitchen or the hall, where an oven and a refrigerator and a mother presumably is, the house I see is absolutely not the one that belongs to the cross-hatch windows and the built-in bench and Deep Breakfast. This kitchen does not go with this house. I know it isn’t, because I know that house, and it’s not even my house! It’s the house of my childhood best friend, Jessamyn, where I used to visit and sleep over all the time when we lived on the same street on Queen Anne Hill. I sit in the corner with the black and white cross-hatched windows and turn my head and I look down another narrow kitchen where a woman is standing at the stove who is not my mother but my best friend’s, with her strange German name and so utterly apart from the plain short suburban names of my family, with short slick bobbed hair nothing like my actual mother’s long, long black mop, into the living room to the front door with the chestnut tree growing outside, whose spiky nuts we used to collect for spells and fairy money in case we ever got whisked away like the girls in books.

I can walk through Jessamyn’s house like a virtual reality environment. I know all the nooks and crannies–because it was a great house, full of nooks and crannies and hiding places and dark, dark old wood that was so different than the bright houses both sets of my parents always lived in–in fact, at the time, the only hardwood floors I’d ever seen, since everyone in the mid-eighties was mad for carpet. That house that always seemed magic to me because it had a cellar and an attic, because Jessamyn’s stepfather let us watch tons of horror movies and always asked me a riddle when I first arrived and told me I had to have the answer by the next sleepover, and because Jessamyn’s mother was a professional harpist with the Seattle Orchestra who had told me the first time I came over that she kept her non-concert harps in a storage area under the floors. I used to creep around on tiptoe so as not to disturb the harps. I’m sure there were only one or two spares and they were in some kind of special temperature-safe space in the basement, but in my head, they were right under the floorboards, hundreds of them, each one with carved elaborate golden shoulders like the ones in paintings, crowded up an inch under my toes, sleeping, waiting, dreaming.

When I think about places where I spent time as a child, I remember, as clearly as the colors of the wood and the patterns of the wallpaper, the things I imagined, (quietly, to myself, without telling anyone) the things I believed, about those places while I was there. It’s a kind of synesthesia, which I have in many ways. For me, numbers and letters and months and days and even smells have colors, but places have ideas.

Belief has an architecture.

Dark hardwood floors have harps underneath them. Thin, tall curtains have ghosts (because I used to keep my button collection pinned to my tall, thin bedroom curtains, and my stepmother would add new ones while I was at school without saying anything, so I logically thought ghosts were giving me buttons. One day one appeared that said DON’T PANIC and I knew they were just trying to tell me not to be afraid). Split level houses have hungry bears hiding on their bottom floors (because my aunt had a split-level and in the downstairs living room she had a bearskin rug with teeth and claws and it scared me so bad I thought it was alive and freezing in place to fool me, and everywhere I went upstairs it was crawling along the downstairs ceiling and sniffling for me, lying in wait.)

These imaginings come instantly to mind, sewn into the simpler memories of furniture and house layouts and all those endless spaces of childhood. For my brain, they are inseparable, the way the smell of a turkey roasting is inseparable from the roasting turkey itself. And when I remember them, it’s so strong that, for a moment, the total belief that they were true flares up again before guttering away.

So this is what I see when I imagine a simply, archetypal kitchen: that table, those windows in a house my mother probably doesn’t even remember, attached to another house I never lived in, with another girl’s mother in it, a house of ancient wood and riddles and a tree full of fairy money hundreds upon hundreds of sentient sleeping harps snuggled up underneath it. Where the music my mother loved is always playing. Where my brother is always a baby sitting in a high chair next to me but my childhood friend is not. My brain has made a house that never existed out of remembered houses I only sometimes stayed in, and that, that is what it uses to represent the notion of any kitchen, anywhere.

This can’t be normal.

Do I even remember that kitchen accurately? I have reason to think I do–I have an extraordinarily good memory, and I remember events and places and phrases from my childhood so well it often startles and unsettles people who were adults then. But I can’t know. There is a flaw already embedded–the Two Houses Problem. Maybe the kitchen I think of when I think of kitchens never existed. Maybe the diamonds in the tile were blue. Maybe there were three windows, not two. But it’s scratched in iron in my head and I imagine that, if I somehow went to that house we rented again, and saw that it was different, that I had it wrong, in a day or two I wouldn’t remember the real kitchen anymore. It would go back to this image my brain loves and needs, clearly.

This sort of thing has happened before. I misremember the ending of The Purple Rose of Cairo so profoundly that I recall, and have quoted in company, full scenes of dialogue that do not exist in the film and never did. And every time I watch the real ending, my brain refuses to accept it, re-writes it again, and if you asked me how it ended right now, I could only give you my ending, even though I know it’s wrong.

I don’t know what the purpose of this surgery of associative memory is. I don’t know if anyone else thinks and remembers and imagines this way. I don’t even know the purpose of this little mini-memoir. I only sat down to work on a scene that takes place in a kitchen and the same ancient geography unfolded in my head. That kitchen always wants to be real again, even though it was never real in the first place.

Sometimes I think all of those beloved post-modernist tricks and flares and perhaps even all of non-realist fiction simply tells the factual truth of memory: it is unknowable, it is iterative, it is non-linear, it lies, it skips and jumps, it over-writes and re-writes itself, it has gaps and holes and unexplainable gulfs, it insists upon its own reality even when confronted with contradictory evidence, it lines the drawers of adult action with the magical thinking of childhood beliefs, all the beliefs we have, not because children are more innocent or marvelous, but because we simply did not know what was or was not possible yet in this world, it cobbles itself out of whatever it finds lying around in a vain attempt to create a cohesive narrative which can only ever be fully true to the rememberer, and perhaps not even then, and it strives, at all costs and against all odds, to make themes and motifs and sense and order and logic and certainty out of the utter howling void.

In that void, there is a kitchen. It is always the same kitchen. I am always there, and even though it’s only a story I told myself and remembering it serves no purpose, confers no meaning, and has nothing at all to do with kitchens in the first damn place, I am always going to be eating eggs at that table and waiting for the harps to wake up.

How strange and bright are the things brains do in their dark nests, with all the chestnuts falling.

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Calling all fans in NYC! CMV will be attending the Brooklyn Book Festival next weekend. If you’d like to come out and see her (admission is free!), get the details below:

Brooklyn Book Festival
Sunday, September 18 (10am-6pm)

The location is downtown Brooklyn, and the festival will be held rain or shine. Also, seating at panels is on a first come, first served basis.

Cat will specifically be doing a Bookend Event with the Center for Fiction on Gender in Science Fiction and Fantasy:

This event brings together celebrated voices from science fiction and fantasy whose work explores gender constructs and/or notions of sexuality, to talk about the current state and representation of these themes in the field. Multi-award winner Catherynne M. Valente (The Labyrinth(2004), Deathless (2011), Radiance (2015)) joins Seth Dickinson (The Traitor Baru Cormorant, 2014), 2015 Nebula Award-winner Alyssa Wong, and Whiting Award-winner Alice Sola Kim.

This event will take place at 5:00 PM at the Brooklyn Borough Hall Court Room in downtown Brooklyn.

While you wait for next weekend, check out CMV’s fairy tale noir short story “The Consultant,” now featured at the Center for Fiction’s website!

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Readercon is nearly here, and Cat Valente is a Guest of Honor at the 2016 con alongside Tim Powers!  The convention takes place in Quincy, Massachusetts, and is running from Thursday, July 7th to Sunday, July 10th. If you plan to be in attendance and wish to find Cat for autographs, readings, or panels – well, this is the post for you! Her schedule is handily provided below:

THURSDAY, JULY 7

8:00 PM / 6 / SF in Classical Tradition.
John Crowley, Haris Durrani, Ada Palmer, Catherynne M. Valente, Jo Walton (leader). Whatever your definition of science fiction, there’s no disputing that there were centuries of proto-science fiction published before the modern stuff began appearing. More than 1600 years before Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, Lucian of Samosata wrote The True History, featuring perhaps the first fictional trip to the moon, the first fictional trip into outer space, and the first fictional space opera. Cicero, in 51 B.C.E. published “The Dream of Scipio,” in which the narrator and his grandfather, Scipio Africanus, take an astral journey through the solar system. Greek mythology, plays, and tragedies have science fictional elements in them as well. Our panelists will discuss the fantastical and science fictional in the classical (Greek and Roman) tradition.

FRIDAY, JULY 8

11:00 AM / C / The Politics of Food.
Liz Gorinsky, Geoff Hart, David Shaw (mod), Vinnie Tesla, Catherynne M. Valente.
The recipe for lembas is a closely guarded secret—it’s made by the elves, we’re told, but which of them, and how? Why are restaurants lauded for meticulously recreating the humblest foods of people who now can’t afford it? And what becomes of authenticity when all our food is replicated, from the database of some culinary streaming service? Armies march on their stomachs, and empires are built as often to seek out new appetites as sate them. How does food shape our stories, and what are the stories we can tell about our food?

2:00 PM / 5 / Reading Works from Long Ago.
Phenderson Clark, Michael Dirda, Delia Sherman (mod), Catherynne M. Valente, Jacob Weisman.
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” So L.P. Hartley wrote. But they don’t just do things differently there, they believe and feel things differently as well. Human motivations may remain the same, but how those motivations are expressed and felt vary widely. Is it possible for modern readers to understand the motivations and actions of people of different times and places? How effectively can we understand the inhabitants of 16th century Japan, 1810s England, or pre-historic Europe? What tools can writers use to make that understanding easier for readers?

3:00 PM / CL / Kaffeeklatsch.
Ben Francisco, Catherynne M. Valente.

4:00 PM / 6 / Speculative Retellings.
C.S.E. Cooney, Ben Francisco, Gwynne Garfinkle, Kathleen Howard, Catherynne M. Valente.
Speculative elements in fiction are not limited to robots and ghosts and dragons. For ages, the stories that get told have almost always been by told straight white able rich men, and there may be no way of separating those stories from the culture of writing today. In stories like “Travels With the Snow Queen” by Kelly Link, or “Shift” by Nalo Hopkinson, retelling old stories written by white men becomes an inherent challenge to those narratives, and that challenge itself becomes a speculative element. What other elements can we bring to these stories, and will we ever get to a point where challenging the status quo is not seen as speculative?

5:00 PM / E / Autographs.
Catherynne M. Valente, Fran Wilde.

6:00 PM / A / Reading: Catherynne M. Valente.
Catherynne M. Valente.
Catherynne M. Valente reads From The Refrigerator Monologues, a novella out next year from Simon & Schuster.

SATURDAY, JULY 9

1:00 PM / C / My Character Ate What?.
John Chu, Mary Robinette Kowal, Ada Palmer, Lauren Roy, Catherynne M. Valente, Fran Wilde (leader).
“My Character Ate What?,” based loosely on Hollywood Squares, that uses food in SF as the subject matter for questions. You are signing up to be a contestant in Fran Wilde’s game.

4:00 PM / 5 / Catherynne M. Valente Interviewed by John Clute and Elizabeth Hand.
John Clute, Elizabeth Hand, Catherynne M. Valente.

SUNDAY, JULY 10

11:00 AM / 6 / Shirley Jackson Awards.
John Langan, Tim Powers, Catherynne M. Valente.
In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2014 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.

12:00 PM / 5 / A Dark and Golden Age.
Sioban Krzywicki (leader), Darrell Schweitzer, J.M. Sidorova, Catherynne M. Valente, Walter Williams.
We frequently refer to the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, or Medieval Period to describe the time between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Renaissance. However, these terms primarily refer to the conditions in Western Europe. The Eastern Roman Empire didn’t fall until 1453. The Muslim world considered this a golden age with many innovations and scientific advances. China, India, Africa, Eastern Europe, and many other regions have their own eras, empires, “rises,” and “declines” that have nothing to do with this demarcation. How can we better use this history in fantasy and historical fiction? How has our obsession with the tiny, western part of Europe colored our writing to this day?

1:00 PM / C / Keytars in Science Fiction!  
John Chu, Yves Meynard, Sarah Pinsker (leader), David Shaw, Catherynne M. Valente. Alien or futuristic music can play a large role in SF, but how is it best conveyed? Music has evolved to encompass a vast array of styles, instrumentation, and sound. How can we make something seem alien or futuristic instead of just “experimental”? Is it unusual instruments, ranges of sound, different scales, some combination of these or something else altogether? On TV and movies new instruments can be shown, like Spock’s lute, but how do we make sure the sound isn’t just ours? How would alien instruments be different? Would we be able to make sense of it? The soundtrack to Forbidden Planet was created with entirely original, electronic instruments to make a seemingly alien sound, but how often can something like this be done before it becomes generic? Are we stuck with making sure the lyrics convey the alienness or futuristicness?

Also, for those interested in all things CMV, there’s a “The Works of Catherynne M. Valente” panel happening on Friday at 12 PM. Here are the details:

FRIDAY, JULY 8
12:00 PM / C / The Works of Catherynne M. Valente.
Jonathan Crowe, Gillian Daniels, Liz Gorinsky (leader), Kathleen Howard.
Catherynne Valente has been a professional fortune teller, telemarketer, private tutor, librarian, waitress, bartender, actress, and statistician, but she is best known as a novelist and poet, having published over two dozen novels and poetry collections. She has been nominated for or won every major award in science fiction and fantasy: the Hugo (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014), the Nebula (2013, 2014), Locus (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), and the World Fantasy Award (2007, 2009, 2011, 2014). In the Night Garden (2006) won the James Tiptree Jr. Award; The Orphan’s Tales (2006-2007) won the Mythopoeic Award; “The Seven Devils of Central California” won the Rhysling Award (2008); Palimpsest won the Lambda Award (2010). In 2010, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making became the first self-published work to win a major literary award, winning the Andre Norton Award. The sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, was listed by Time Magazine and NPR as one of the ten best books of 2012. The New York Times has called her “an incandescent young star.” Join our panelists in a discussion of her work.

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This weekend, CMV is at Finncon 2016 in Tampere, Finland! The convention runs from Friday, July 1st, to Sunday, July 3rd. If you are attending, read on – we’ve put together a “Where’s Cat at Finncon?” list of appearances for you. And, remember! If you want to join the Kaffeeklatch with Cat on Sunday, be sure to sign up early – space is limited.

FRIDAY

16:00 at Luentosali A1: On Writing
Guests of Honor Catherynne M. Valente, Jasper Fforde and Anne Leinonen talk about their work, inspiration and methods. Chair: Saara Henriksson.

SATURDAY

10:00 at Juhlasali: Opening Ceremonies
Welcome to Finncon 2016! The convention and our Guests of Honor are introduced.

12:00 at Juhlasali: Guest of Honor interview: Catherynne M. Valente

13:00 at Signeeraukset: Signing
Guest of Honor Catherynne M. Valente signs her works at the main lobby.

16:00 at Luentosali D10a: Sex, drugs and Puss ‘n’ Boots
Beneath the sweet, Disney exterior of fairy tales often lies a roiling underbelly of lust, abuse and unfulfilled desire. Modern reincarnations often put the subtext of the originals out for anyone to see. In a panel moderated by Nina Niskanen, Anne Leinonen and Catherynne M. Valente discuss the topic of sex in the context of fairy tales. CW: may contain discussion of sexual abuse.

SUNDAY

11:00 at Kaffeeklatch: Catherynne M. Valente
Come have a drink and chat with the GoH. Limited number of participants, sign up at the info!

13:00 at Juhlasali: Guest of Honor Reading: Catherynne M. Valente
Cat Valente will read from a new, unpublished work.

14:00 at Luentosali A3: Music in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Bowie & Prince
The music panel is back, and with good reason. 2016 is the year in which David Bowie and Prince left us, and returned to their homes among the stars. Our panel looks back on their work and influence. There may be tears.

Also, for those interested, there’s a paper on Cat’s Fairyland series being presented on Finncon’s academic track. You can see Fodor András present his paper “The Nature of Heroism in Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland Series” at 10:00 in Luentosali D11 on Sunday.

Enjoy Finncon, everyone!

 

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