Thank you for checking out my newsletter! You can read the archives and subscribe. My first full-length short story collection, Even Greater Mistakes, is out today! It features some tales that won the Hugo, Sturgeon and Locus Awards. You can get it in any place that's not trapped in a time bubble where they constantly relive the same day in 1927. I also published two other books in 2021: my young adult space fantasy Victories Greater Than Death, and Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories. Also, check out the podcast I co-host, Our Opinions Are Correct.
1) I was a baby, and my parents had just gotten home from the store, with me in the car with them. They left me in the car while they unloaded all the bags of stuff from the trunk from the back of our brand new hatchback. While they were moving all their bags inside, the parking brake slipped and the station wagon rolled backwards down the steep grade of our driveway. The car picked up speed as it rolled about a quarter mile down to the road below, and then finally collided with a mailbox across the street. My parents later said that they were sure I would have been killed on impact, if they had not invested in what was then a fairly new technology: car seats.
I didn't know about this for years. But when I was nine or ten, I was in the car with my dad and we drove past someone who was driving with their baby perched on their lap in the driver's seat. My father --- who never lost his temper, especially at strangers --- became red-faced with anger that anyone would endanger a child this way. It was some time after that I learned that a car seat had saved my life.
2) My mom was doing graduate school in the UK, so my father took a mostly unpaid sabbatical and we moved the entire family there for a couple years or so. There was a ginormous lake near where we were living, and one day we went swimming there. This is one of my earliest memories: bobbing around happily in the water until some force grabbed a hold of my leg and swept me under the surface. I barely knew what was happening until it was too far gone: some undercurrent, some greedy lake spirit, had grabbed hold of me and was pulling me farther and deeper. My mother realized just in time that my head was no longer bobbing above the surface, and jumped in the lake. The next thing I knew, she was grabbing me and lifting me out of the water, then towing me back to dry land. My parents were freaked out, but I remember being sort of amused by the whole thing. There was a TV show and book series at the time called Lizzie Dripping, and I just kept repeating, I'm Lizzie Dripping, I'm Lizzie Dripping, as I trailed water all the way home.
3) For years I sang in a church choir. Every summer, we would raise money to go away for a week to choir camp in the middle of nowhere. Usually we rented out the campus of some boarding school or tiny liberal arts college and filled the dorms with kids running around screaming, sneaking booze and porn, and playing impractical pranks. I was maybe 12 or 13 when the choir director's son and I decided to climb a nearby mountain (which was really just a hill with delusions of mountainousness.) There were plenty of handholds and footholds on the rocky surface, and we got up there with minimal scrapes. Once at the top, we set about making noise and knocking things over --- I already knew that I wasn't much of a boy, but I had learned to be rambunctious when circumstances demanded. I didn't see the rattlesnake until it was already right next to us, head reared up and tail making that characteristic percussive sound. My friend wanted to run for it --- but luckily for both of us, I had had a really good middle school science teacher, who one day spent an inordinate amount of time explaining to us that if you ever see a rattlesnake, you do not move. Definitely don't run, because you are not going to be faster than that thing. Just hold still, and wait for the snake to de-escalate. So that's what we did: after a very tense few minutes, that felt endless at the time, the rattlesnake lowered its head, stopped crackling, and moved away.
4) When I was 18, I traveled in Asia. Mostly, I lived in Beijing, studying Chinese and living with the family of a philosophy professor whom my father knew through the Philosophy Mafia. But after my China visa expired, I went to Sydney, because I'd always wanted to visit Australia. I was determined to pay my own way on this trip, so I taught English and China and did a million under-the-table jobs in Australia. I lived in a series of hostels, SROs, and group homes. There was one group home that I lived in for a few weeks, in kind of the bad part of town, where we all slept on bunk beds. (Similar to the ultra cheap hostel at Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong that I'd stayed at just a while earlier, where the entire building caught fire in the middle of the night and we all had to evacuate. One resident made a crude rope out of bedsheets, tried to climb out the window, and fell to his death --- but I'm not including that incident here, because I don't think I was ever in real danger of dying myself.) I got on great with my roommates, one of whom mostly spoke Mandarin, so we could speak Mandarin together.
One night, though, the manager of the group home did a whole lot of speed, and I woke up at three in the morning with a knife to my throat. The dude was freaking out and screaming, accusing me of leaving dirty dishes in the sink, and saying that he was going to kill me. Because I was eighteen and felt indestructible, I laughed in his face and told him that he was being a dumbass and he should let me sleep. Amazingly, this worked. The dude left, and I went back to sleep. When I woke up the next morning I told everyone what that happened, and the guy lost his job as manager. He was pissed, so he contacted a biker gang he knew, and asked them to come at me, but also the other residents of the group home, whom he also blamed for his ouster. We all sat there, huddled over, drinking Tooheys New beer and speculating about when the biker gang might show up, and what we were going to do about it. Finally one of the older residents called up a buddy of his who was in the biker gang, and said, "Look, there's not going to be any trouble, is there?" He apparently felt satisfied by his answer, and we all went to bed. The next day, the panic over this alleged biker-gang attack felt like some kind of shared hallucination.
But much later, I realized how foolish it is to laugh at a dude who is tripping balls and has a knife to your throat. An important lesson!
5) When I was a teenager, I used to run into traffic all the time. See above, re: indestructible. When I was sixteen, I ran across a major artery with four lines of lanes of traffic in each direction, because I really thought I could make it, and got hit by a motorcycle. I ended up in the hospital for about a week. When I was nineteen, in the middle of studying Asian languages, I spent the summer in Taiwan. There, I taught English (because I was still trying to pay my own way and didn't want to sponge off my parents) and I lived in a Buddhist temple where they let us crash for free. We were just outside central Taipei in the Xizhi district, and there were trains that zipped past at high speeds all the time. My best friend and I would take the train into the city, and sometimes there just wouldn't be room for us on the train, so we would just hang on to the outside as the train whizzed along the Taiwanese countryside. But also, the road that led up to the Buddhist temple where we were living crossed the train tracks, and I always thought that I could get to the other side of the tracks before the train got here, even when the bells and whistles rang out and the barrier came down. One time, I cut it so fine that I could actually feel the train shaving past me as I reach the other side and I stumbled a little bit. My friend looked at me and said, "you're really courting death here. " Or words to that effect. After that, I started being a tiny bit more careful --- although I'm still amazed that I made it past the age of 23.
Randy Crawford made a splash in 1979 when she sang lead vocals on the Crusaders' song "Street Life." The next year, she released an album called Now We May Begin, and I've been obsessively listening to it of late. Where "Street Life" is breezy with an undercurrent of anxiety, Now We May Begin is wistful with notes of joy and defiance --- the first song on the album, the brilliant "Last Night at Danceland," features Crawford singing, "Don't ask me for very much/I gave it all away." But the songs on this album are the same blend of jazz, funk and disco-pop as the Crusaders' song, and Wilton Felder and Joe Sample are all over this album. Plus Roland Bautista and Paulinho Da Costa! I have never quite gotten into the Crusaders, who are sometimes a little too smooth for me, but Now We May Begin is pure beautiful feels.
Over at the Washington Post, Perry Bacon, Jr. answers reader questions on his recent feature about the Democrats' habit of appeasing White voters. It's a masterclass in responding to straw-man arguments, cluelessness and loud dog-whistles with grace and dexterity.
The latest issue of Mother Jones magazine is worth reading cover-to-cover (I just did.) The features about cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic, a new Civil Rights movement that prizes truth and healing, and alternatives to calling the police in Oakland are absolutely essential. Not to mention a terrifying look at militias, and some other hard-hitting coverage. But there's also great science journalism about the potential to suck carbon out of the air, and whether we can help trees to migrate. I've been very glad I subscribed once again, and this issue is a great example of why.
I already mentioned my story collection is out today! Here are some links to buy it. Here is the table of contents and quotes from a bunch of reviews.
Over at Tumblr, I'm featured in their Writer Spotlight.
I'm featured in the latest episode of Write Away With Nat & PJ.
On Wednesday at 6 PM PT/9 PM ET, I'm going to be talking to the wonderful Kelly Link (online) for City Lights Books.