Sunday, November 27, 2016

City of Weird contributor: Jonah Barrett

The note that accompanied Jonah Barrett's submission for City of Weird (which I didn't read until I'd decided to accept the piece, since I was reading submissions blind) contained some really interesting insight into the origins of his story.

While mostly being inspired by all the times I’ve visited Portland with my friends, the story is also based off the Lowline project that’s taking place in New York – an initiative to convert an old abandoned trolley system into a lush underground park using solar technology. The Lowline project was originally called “Delancy Underground.”

"Alder Underground" reads like a transcription of posts taken from a Tumblr blog. I noticed that lot of the old weird fiction tales are written as "found journals," and I thought that a modern day version of that might be akin to something like live-blogging.

Here's some info on the Lowline project. It sounds really cool! Although after you read Jonah's story, you might want to reconsider ever going there...

What really intrigued me, though, was what he said about live-blogging somewhat mirroring the "found journal" aspect of the genre of "weird fiction: (defined as a sub-genre of speculative fiction popular during the late 19th and early 20th century blending supernatural, mythic, and scientific tropes). One of the reasons I fell in love with "Alder Underground" was the voice of that live-blogger, It's a fresh, youthful voice, equal parts sardonic and sweet, and it's the perfect early-Twenty-first century answer to the first person accounts of alien invasions and spirits and monsters popularized by the lovely, pulpy stories in weird fiction.

8:15 a.m. 
We are taking a train down to the City of Roses, or whatever they call it these days. I told Aisha that I’d pay her back for my ticket but I think she knows I’m full of shit. Will buy her a coffee or something as payback. 
#PortlandDaycation #Free triiip #Gonna buy all the bird books

The live-blogging thing was a really fun device, and along with the immediacy that the time stamps brought to the tension, I thought the constant Tumblr commentary by the narrator who is sucked down a water tube into an underground biosphere filled with poisonous newt creatures said a lot about our society today, how we are so obsessed with social media, how we really don't feel like we're living our lives unless we're broadcasting them.

3:41 p.m. 
We have transcended the Weird element and’ve passed on through to the realm of the unreal. I am having a hard time swallowing what just happened—what’s still happening.

Also I’m very surprised that my phone still works.

Here's a totally cool thing: a sketch Jonah made when he was world-building, which he shared with me. It shows the layout of his biosphere and a simple rendering of how it works. I love getting a window into writers' processes, and this was a really neat window into his.

Along with being a writer and filmmaker, Jonah is the editor of The Evergreen State College's literary and arts magazine, Vanishing Point. He also edited the anthology Menagerie, due out next year. It's described as, "a collaboration from over 25 artists and authors presenting 30 illustrated stories and poems about monsters. Subjects include ghost secretaries, lake beasts, anxiety demons, garden mermaids, time travelers, drunk princesses, savage harpies, alien babies, middle school witches, angel hookups, simulated lovers, extinct beasts, and mothers from another dimension."

Jonah says he began work on Menagerie just a month before I put out the call for submissions for City of Weird. Feels kind of like these books are cousins! Keep an eye out in the coming months. Jonah gave me a sneak peek, and I can tell you, it's going to be a really fun book.

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