Normally, I don’t think of myself as a sci-fi writer, although I must admit that I watch a lot more Star Trek than is good for me. But when the editor/publisher of See Sharp Press said that he was beginning a new “Anarchist Sci-Fi” line and that he would like me to send him something, I decided I couldn’t pass that up. In fact, I had already written a novel that involved a form of time travel long before—a novel that was so flawed it would never make it out of my drawer—so I had a general idea I could begin from and characters I could re-envision.
But I understood that to meet the deadline of one year, I would have to take time off from teaching, and Pittsburg State University and my department were kind enough to say okay. Although I knew from the beginning that I needed to focus entirely on this new project, it came as a surprise to me how much research I would need to do. As for revision, I expected to make hefty changes to the original manuscript. In fact, just eight pages from that 400 page document ended up in the new novel—and even those were heavily rewritten.
But research became a second center of my attention. My novel, The Hour of Lead (after an Emily Dickinson poem), is speculative fiction rather than pure sci-fi. It is based on inventions and social conditions that could reasonably be true in thirty years, the time in which the main line of action occurs, about 2030. I fell into a torrent of reading articles on science and sociology, all with prognostications about the future. I learned about computer imaging and 3-D printers, about nanites and superconductors, about laser weapons and Internet implants. From what I was reading, I began to believe that the next twenty years could bring about a world I would barely recognize. Also, this was early in 2011, so all around me the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were occurring. I kept hearing about ways that small communities of committed people could make a difference globally.
2011 was also the year the F-5 tornado wiped out a good portion of Joplin, killing too many people and leaving thousands more without homes and businesses. I drove those streets again and again, drawn to the mangled trees, the apartments with half their floors ripped off, the twisted metal appearing in grotesque places. Something about the images haunted me, even though I didn’t then—and still don’t—know why.
From these influences, my novel was born.
Here is the plot: Weylan Collins killed his mother. He didn’t mean to—he was only four and it was a tornado that brought the house down—but he has felt the guilt all his life. In 2039, Weylan tries to help others recover from their traumatic pasts, so his own guilt might lift. But his experiments end in disaster. The Hour of Lead takes place in the near future, when climate change, nanotechnology, and the rise of mega-corporations have revolutionized the earth, but Weylan understands the power of ancient religious rites, too, and finds a combination of the old and the new that he hopes will let him rectify everything. As he experiments on himself, new universes come into being. Each time, his mistakes wait for him and, each time, his wife Pandora is there for him to lose again. The novel follows Weylan through a week as he faces his past. But Pandora also has a voice in this novel. She understands what Weylan has done, what he has risked, and cannot stay married to him. Yet, in leaving Weylan, she loses herself. To be able to go forward, Pandora too has to remember, and she does so by returning home in real time. There she discovers a populist movement that fights the corporate state and tries to reverse the destruction of the planet. The Hour of Lead is about the power of memory and about taking action. In a world where people too often stand passively by, Weylan and Pandora, for good or ill, will act.
The novel came out in fall of 2012, published by See Sharp Press.
Dr. Stephen Meats' web page
Dr. Stephen Meats has recently published a collection of his short fiction and poems titled Dark Dove Descending and Other Parables (Mammoth Publications, 2013). The eight stories and eighteen poems in the book are woven together in an exploration of the theme of self-discovery and a quest for meaning.
Poet Fleda Brown says of the collection, “This is a brave book—it bumps poetry and prose against each other between the same cover, and lets them speak to each other in exciting, touching ways. The first poem in the book, ‘Dancing on the Edge of the World,’ is pretty much what I find happening here—the poems often rest quietly in the moment, and then the very next piece, the fiction, goes to a sometimes an ominous landscape, where a boy can deliberately let his brother almost drown or a boy's father walks out onto the baseball field and beats him with the baseball glove he has just given him because he hadn't realized he'd given him a glove for the wrong hand. The stories are haunting, often dark like a bad dream. But you want to read them. There's some truth of the human heart in each one. And the poems, well, there is a ‘clinging together in all/ this moving apart’ that's rich and hopeful.”
Denise Low, former Kansas Poet Laureate and founder of Mammoth Publications, writes that “Meats’s vision creates new myths for the central plains region. He moves gracefully among images and memories, surely defining human dimensions of his geography and of his times.”
Poet and memoirist Jo McDougall adds that readers will find in the collection Meats’s “passion for place; for family, its rewards and terrors; for the surreal in all its audacity and forays into the dark.”
A few of the poems and stories in the collection are previously unpublished, but most have appeared before in such journals as Kansas Quarterly, The Quarterly, Tampa Review, Arete: The Journal of Sport Literature, Hurãkan, Flint Hills Review, Prairie Poetry, Dos Passos Review, Angel Face, and The Laughing Dog, and in the anthologies Kansas Stories (1989), Begin Again (2011), and To the Stars Through Difficulties (2012).
Meats has also published a scholarly edition of William Gilmore Simms’s The Partisan: A Romance of the Revolution (University of Arkansas Press, 2011). Meats wrote an historical/critical introduction and established a new text for the novel, based on a detailed comparison of the 1835 edition with Simms’s 1854 revision. He also prepared extensive textual tables illustrating Simms’s revisions. The Partisan is the thirteenth volume in the Arkansas Press’s series of Simms’s Selected Fiction.
In doing his research for this project, with assistance from a research grant from the English Department’s Eichhorn Fund, Meats traveled to the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he worked in the extensive Charles Carroll Simms Archive at the South Caroliniana Library.
Simms, one of the leading literary figures of antebellum America and the South’s leading man of letters, was called by Edgar Allan Poe in the 1840’s America’s most important novelist. Simms published more than thirty novels in his career, eight of which dealt with the American Revolution in South Carolina.
Dr. Casie Hermansson's web page
Dr. Casie Hermansson recently published her second book: Bluebeard: A Reader's Guide to the English Tradition (University Press of Mississippi, 2009). Bluebeard is the main character in one of the grisliest and most enduring fairy tales of all time. A serial wife murderer, he keeps a horror chamber in which remains of all his previous matrimonial victims are secreted from his latest bride. She is given all the keys but forbidden to open one door of the castle. Astonishingly, this fairy tale was a nursery room staple, one of the tales translated into English from Charles Perrault's French Mother Goose Tales!
Hermansson's book is the first major study of the tale and its many variants (some, like "Mr. Fox," native to England and America) in English: from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century chapbooks, children's toybooks, pantomimes, melodramas, and circus spectaculars, through the twentieth century in music, literature, art, film, and theater.
Chronicling the story's permutations, the book presents examples of English true-crime figures, male and female, called Bluebeards, from King Henry VIII to present day examples. Bluebeard explores rare chapbooks and their illustrations, and the English transformation of Bluebeard into a scimitar-wielding Turkish tyrant in a massively influential melodramatic spectacle in 1798. Hermansson examines the impact of nineteenth-century translations into English of the German fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, and the particularly English story of how Bluebeard came to be known as a pirate.
Hermansson spent six years researching and writing the study, visiting at various times the British Library in London, and rare book collections at Harvard, Indiana University (Bloomington) and the Toronto Public Library system (Toronto, Canada). She presented material at conferences including one at Cambridge University, in England, and was invited to speak at the University of Zurich (Swizterland) at an international symposium on Bluebeard in December 2008.