Saturday, January 21, 2017

Quick Thoughts - Some Gay Lumberjacks, I Guess

So apparently January has been a little busy. Rants and Sippy Awards and with everything happening I've been a little neglectful to come on here and talk about some of my recent publications. So today I'll be talking about my last two pro SFF stories, "The Death of Paul Bunyan" and "A Lumberjack's Guide to Dryad Spotting."

Art by Dario Bijelac

I'm actually really glad these stories came out so close to each other, because they are rather thematically linked. They both features gay lumberjacks, firstly, and they both also look at isolation and safety and nature, though from two very different directions. I'll start this off by saying that I've already talked a bit about "The Death of Paul Bunyan" over at Lightspeed Magazine as part of my Author Spotlight. I actually really like the direction that the interview went and if you're looking for some more info on the myths and the ideas of legends and tall tales, very much go and check that story out.

I should also say that yes, I know that Johnny Appleseed was a "real person." Blah blah blah historical accuracy and all that. But if people can make Abraham Lincoln a vampire slayer I ask why I can't make a character who is more than 50% fiction already into something other than his canonical interpretation? I was taught about Johnny Appleseed in elementary school. I imagine that many children are. Same with Paul Bunyan. I think there's this American insecurity when it comes to our myths because we don't really have any of our own. We like the Greeks and the Norse and such but you think about American myths and you start having to teach children about genocide of native populations and apparently our school system is too cowardly to try. So that leaves the Tall Tales. Which, if you're in and around Illinois/Wisconsin, means Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan.

There is actually a Paul Bunyan museum in the city I live in now and being so close to some of the places in the story (Rhinelander, for example, the home of the hodag) informed it quite a bit. But I also wanted to look at harm and look at safety in this story. Because in my story Johnny and Paul are queer. This apparently doesn't touch their public persona all that much, but it does effect who they are. If I were to compare it to "A Lumberjack's Guide to Dryad Spotting," the main characters in the two stories (Johnny and, well…You) are rather similar. They are softer characters, filled with fear and with hope. They're both not really comfortable with being a part of what they're a part of, but they both also yearn for security (part of why Johnny can't quite quit Paul, despite having very conflicted feelings about him). But where as in my flash story I tried to show a character not giving into the pressures to pass along abuse in order to make himself safer, with Johnny you see the other side. He'd kill the dryads. Just like he was complicit in colonial expansion and remaking the land to suit European settlers, so he is part of the extermination of the magical creatures. Like Paul, they in some ways prey on their own kind, on myths and monsters, in order to stay on the good side of polite society.

It's the choice at the heart of the Dryad story, and in many ways at the heart of both pieces. Only with Johnny he made that decision a long time ago and with the main character of the flash story he makes a very different call. Now, when I first wrote that flash story it's a bit darker. The main characters doesn't cut down the Dryad but also doesn't seek to help it. They went their separate ways, and probably both would die in their own despairs. Now, as I was getting feedback from my first readers I realized that this, while powerful in its own way, wasn't what I wanted. In "The Death of Paul Bunyan" I looked at the trajectory of the choices that Paul and Johnny made. It's fanfiction, really, queering some characters and drawing their story out. Johnny addresses this directly. And this is where the story as I imagined it ended. In a pit of fire. Fitting, I think, but not really happy. So I wanted something a bit different in the flash story. Basically, I wanted the AU fanfic where Johnny and Paul never went down that road and were just two lumberjacks who were able to find a way to escape. Who were able to join together with the Dryads who were also in danger and together get the fuck out of there and find something better. It's a much happier story for me, because though we don't know what happens to them, if they are able to make good on that dream of a house guarded and guarding the ring of Dryads, we do know that they make the attempt. They go. And I like that.

And I swear that I don't have any more lumberjack stories for a while. Indeed, I have an honest-to-goodness set-in-space science fiction coming out soonish and a Western-flavored fantasy and…well okay, and another story that involves cold and trees and hope and despair, but technically no lumberjacks. But these two stories are rather important to me. If you want to look at what my style is, here you go. I know there are many people who find my characters boring and whiny. That's not really inaccurate. But apparently that's where I am at the moment and some other people seem to be enjoying the stories so I'm grateful at least for that. So yeah, check out those stories if they seem interesting to you and thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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