Behind the Wainscot
Jason Erik Lundberg
[ Darin C. Bradley ] You identify yourself as a "slipstream" writer—how did this realization come to you?
[ Jason Erik Lundberg ] It's probably more accurate to call myself a writer of slipstream fiction, although there are so many arguments out there at the moment on what exactly slipstream is. Without going into a discussion about definitions and other genre or subgenre labels, my fiction tends to take place in the present day, and looks very much at the outset like a mimetic narrative, but then weird and/or surreal shit happens. Sometimes it's a disruption into the normal world (such as the horror-story model), and sometimes the weirdness feels perfectly normal within the context of the story (such as the Magical Realism model). I tend to float between the two.
The first time I heard the term "slipstream" was in 2002, sometime after the Slipstream 3 conference at LaGrange College (which I heard about later from Andy Duncan and Michael Bishop) and around the release of the first Polyphony anthology, when it became the new buzzword for cross-genre work. It seemed to fit the style of what I'd been writing for about five or six years at that point, the blending of realistic and fantastical tropes, this strange stuff that I'd been unable to codify up until that point. And my feeling was both excitement and relief, that I finally had a definition that I could use with strangers (and family) who asked what I wrote about, I could point to this word as a shorthand. I still had to clumsily explain what slipstream meant exactly, but at least I now had a starting point.
[ DCB ] In addition to your liminally speculative writing, you're also a publisher and an academic. Did your "slipstream" realization ripple, in any way, into these? Or vice versa?
[ JEL ] I wouldn't really call it a rippling effect because my slipstream "epiphany" occurred before I became a publisher or academic. The formation of Two Cranes Press with my wife Janet Chui came about in mid-2003 because we wanted to publish short speculative fiction that jives with our quirky literary tastes. And I accidentally entered academia when my friend and sometimes collaborator Jamie Bishop persuaded me to attend graduate school in the same year. My interest in slipstream literature is at the foundation of both these things, and so I end up writing it, publishing it, and studying it, all using different parts of my brain, but all connected by literary genre.
[ DCB ] Speaking of literary genre, do you care to weigh in on how or why slipstream literature developed out of the tradition of speculative fiction? What new trajectories might this sort of liminal work inspire in the future?
[ JEL ] I'm afraid I'm still pleasantly baffled at the current popularity of slipstream fiction. Genre trends are always a mysterious thing, sometimes emerging without fanfare, as if humanity's collective consciousness abruptly decided that the reading public was now ready for this type of narrative. Jeff VanderMeer has told me on more than one occasion that he always wrote cross-genre fiction, but it didn't start selling until the market would allow it. One need only look to the recent past for examples of genre blending (many of which are featured on Bruce Sterling's infamous list), but if you count the ghost story, we're talking about centuries of conflating the real world with elements of the fantastic. All of that is just a fancy way of saying . . . I have no idea. However, I am very glad that slipstream does not seem to be a passing fad.
As for predicting where slipstream may lead in the future, you're asking the wrong guy. I was never good at clairvoyance. I am excited at the number of experimental narrative styles out there right now—such as hypertext novels like Shelley Jackson's Patchwork Girl, or alternate reality games like Sean Stewart's ilovebees—where interactivity is the name of the game. (I even applaud the Wachowski brothers for developing the video game Enter the Matrix, and inviting animators to contribute stories to The Animatrix, in an attempt to integrate several different types of media into the experience that was The Matrix: Reloaded, but it also produced a certain resentment, in that one had to at least purchase the game to get the full story behind the film.) It may be that slipstream bleeds into this new media as well, or it could develop into something that none of us expect. It might
continue to seep into the mainstream; it's already happening, with books from Haruki Murakami, Audrey Niffenegger, David Mitchell, and many others that are typically found in the Literature section of the bookstore. And this last thought gives me hope, because it means that I'll be able to read and write in this strange amorphous subgenre for a good long time.
[The following pieces appeared originally as part of Mythologism]
—all work © Jason Erik Lundberg—
The cat is screaming again, outside, on the other side of the glass.
At first we ignored it. We felt bad for it out there, in the cold weather, but I'm allergic to cats. If we'd let it in, I wouldn't have been able to breathe. As it turns out, there might have been much worse consequences had we let it in anyway.
The screaming started as a yowl, then proceeded to a baby's cry. The shriek of an infant being murdered. Unsettling, but, again, allergies.
On the third day, the scream took on the voice of our dead son. We knew it couldn't be him, we'd pulled him out of the creek ourselves, identified him at the coroner's office. But still, in a perfect imitation of his voice, came, "Mommy! Daddy! Help me! Let me in! It's cold! I just want to come inside!"
The next evening, my wife couldn't stand it anymore, tortured by the thought of her baby boy outside in the cold, shivering, alone, and she opened the door and rushed out. She never came back.
It has now been a week. I've bolted all the doors, boarded up the windows. I sing loudly, any nonsense song I can think of, but under it I can still hear, "Daddy! Why won't you let me in? I'm cold, Daddy! Don't you love me? Daddy!"
I can't sleep. I haven't left the house in forever. I don't know how much longer I can wait before I too run screaming out the front door, hoping to embrace my wife and son, and instead finding something much, much worse.
It's just a cat. Just a cat. Just a cat.
It wasn't clear who first discovered the faery ring, but soon, the three of us were visiting the underground kingdom on a regular basis. We would spend entire weekends dancing with brownies or sharing pints with redcaps, disporting until all our energy had gone. We had come upon them during a lucky time, a break in the fighting, a truce. Seelie and Unseelie alike shot darts or played Gotcher Whisker or threw dice. The faeries of both courts welcomed us with open arms, the more the merrier.
One day, things began missing from our little trio. Anise lost her favorite comb. Beezer lost the tip of his pinky finger. I could no longer recall the smell of coffee. More things disappeared the longer we stayed down in the faerie kingdom. The ability to taste sherbet. To distinguish red from blue. To realize the difference between genuineness and sarcasm. To feel a blade slice through skin and muscle and bone. To decide on returning to the surface. To keep from salivating at the aroma of cooked human meat. To be satiated.
Simon steps carefully to the many-trunked banyan tree, edging around tangles of roots and offerings that have already been placed there. He holds his own offering firm, not wanting any piece to fall to the ground. In his hands is the small basket he crafted that morning at sunrise, cutting the bamboo into strips and weaving it all together. He picked the brightest and most colorful blooms from a dozen kinds of flowers, from bougainvillea, gardenia, hydrangea, jasmine, hibiscus and more. To the petal bouquet, he added two drops of lavender oil, then placed a solitary Ritz cracker in the center.
As he looks up into the tree's dense branch structure, he can see why the Buddha chose it to sit under and receive his spiritual enlightenment. It offers shade and coolness in the oppressive Balinese summer, and is said to now bring good luck to those who make contact with it and offer it a gift. Simon lays down his simple offering, one among dozens, then sits in an empty spot, a natural cradle of gnarled roots that supports his back.
He closes his eyes and breathes in the fragrance of flowers and incense and essential oils, feels it wash over him. He doesn't know if the Buddha can hear him, but Simon hopes that his wife is somewhere walking with that jolly fat man, enjoying an afterlife of serenity, and waiting for Simon to someday join her. As the breeze passes over him, ruffling his shirt and the cuffs of his slacks, he can almost see Nyoman again in her ceremonial dance costume, glittering, emitting her own glow, her dancing so precise, and he smiles for the first time in a long while. He almost forgot what she looked like, and though he receives no wisdom from sitting under the sacred banyan tree, the image of his dancing wife seems like enlightenment of another kind.
It startled her when she first began staying over at his apartment, his tendency to talk in his sleep. Sometimes it was just a mumble, or a low giggle. Other times, he would smile and blurt out, "Two toads over the transom!" or "Ting! Restaurant time!" But occasionally, he would sit straight up and have conversations with her, in-depth meaningful dialogue that he would have no recollection of the following day.
This unconscious version of her boyfriend, this somniloquist, it turned out, was sweeter, more attentive than he was during the day. He listened, and was more playful. Once, they even made love while he was asleep, and it was the best sex she'd ever had. She found herself anxious for nighttime, impatient for those darkening hours when her boyfriend would become something more. She almost felt as if she were cheating on him.
But she decided to break up with both of him last week, after the trip to the hospital where he almost didn't wake up. After the pills she had snuck into his dinner to send him to the land of Morpheus quicker, misjudging the dose. She knew she had a problem. How she could stay in a relationship with a man when she was only in love with him for a few hours a day?
It was the third date, and she made sure to macerate a salmon in bourbon before cooking it. She wanted to make sure he had arrived before popping the fish in the oven, and because of a pile-up on the highway, he was nearly thirty minutes late. Upon his arrival, and listening to the litany of excuses (he was really hoping to have sex tonight), and seeing the now-wilted bouquet of flowers, the salmon (now thoroughly soused) stood up in its pan, snatched the flowers from his hand, and smacked him across the face with them. It called him rude names, kicked him in the stomach, and threw him out the door. He sat on the lawn, bewildered, asking her to help and forgive him, but she just closed the door and resigned herself to spending the evening alone with her dinner.
Farrago's Wainscot is an exhibition of weird, strange, bizarre, interstitial, or otherwise liminal fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and experimental forms.
Behind the Wainscot is a companion blogozine to the larger Wainscot exhibition, exploring similar ideas in smaller, more fragmentary segments.
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