Tag Archives: contemporary fantasy

Hell’s a Good Joke: Jason Erik Lundberg on the inspiration behind The Alchemy of Happiness

The Alchemy of Happiness, by Jason Erik LundbergIt all started with a sculpture.

In 1999, when I was still an unpublished newbie, I attended the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, where some of the notable writer guests included Neil Gaiman, John Shirley, Michael Bishop, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Ramsey Campbell. At that point, I thought that I might still be a horror writer, even though my innate squeamishness for violence and terror was beginning to win the battle for my chosen subject matter, and I attended very much because of the writers there. However, on the second day of the convention, at the urging of several new friends, I made my way into the art show, and beheld the gloriously dark and whimsical sculpture work of Lisa Snellings, who was the Artist Guest-of-Honor. Her smaller pieces made me smile and her larger kinetic works (including the moving Ferris wheel that inspired the anthology Strange Attraction, edited by Edward E. Kramer) filled me with wonder, but it was her largest piece on display that literally stole the breath from my lungs.

Named “If Love’s a Fine Game, Hell’s a Good Joke,” the sculpture consisted of two life-sized harlequins, one balancing on the knees of the other; the expressions that Lisa had so painstakingly crafted on their faces were so devilish and sly that, right there on that spot, I conceived of the siblings Blue and Dane: immortals, manipulators, elementals.

When I got home from the convention, I immediately cast these two characters in a novelette called “Wicked Game” (which can be found in my ebook collection The Curragh of Kildaire). The story examined the shifting balance of control that comes with power both earned and taken; it also established the borstal plane, a dimension of existence that both acts as a prison and as the source of all the magic in the world, a locale I would visit again in my prose. I later returned to the siblings in a middle-grade story called “Watersnake, Firesnake,” but this time put them in a distinctly Asian setting, as the antagonists of a young boy who has found a phoenix egg.

Several years passed, and I grew as a writer, and Blue and Dane refused to go away, insisting that I hadn’t yet finished telling their story. It took time, but three substantial works of fiction came into existence that further explored the power dynamics of their relationship, and the consequences of their long-term meddling in human affairs.

The Alchemy of Happiness is the result, an interwoven tripartite narrative collecting “Reality, Interrupted,” “In Jurong,” and “Always a Risk” for the very first time.

Red Dot Irreal, by Jason Erik LundbergThe collection’s title riffs on that of the ancient Islamic text Kimiya-yi Sa’adat by the Sufi philosopher Abu ?amid Mu?ammad ibn Mu?ammad al-Ghazali, as well as the science of alchemy that sought to harness the four classical elements (two of which my characters physically embody). However, whereas al-Ghazali’s text was designed as a moral guide toward a more fulfilling spiritual life, mine is open-ended, a question rather than an answer. Through their constant searching, will Blue and Dane ever find that existential bliss toward which all of us are striving? Or will their millennia of manipulation and destruction leave them forever in a state of metaphysical suffering?

The Alchemy of Happiness is available now from infinity plus book. Also included in this ebook volume is a hybrid-essay called “Embracing the Strange,” which looks at my own personal journey for happiness and fulfillment through the lens of speculative fiction, as well as a wide-ranging interview by Singaporean author and editor Wei Fen Lee.

And as a special bonus, anyone who buys the ebook gets a link to download the expanded second edition of my collection Red Dot Irreal completely for free.


New: In Springdale Town by Robert Freeman Wexler

In Springdale Town by Robert Freeman WexlerReconciliation, longing, and ambiguity combine in one astounding locale: Springdale. Is it a mundane New England town on a picturesque river, or the nexus of the paradoxical?

Springdale appears to be a quiet village, unblemished by shopping mall or mega-store. The town sits in a fertile valley, surrounded by countryside rich in natural wonder. Summers, tourists attend the area’s many arts and music festivals, and hikers crowd the trails. In the fall, reds and yellows of turning leaves decorate the landscape, and in winter, mountain resorts fill with avid skiers.

But some say Springdale exists only on the contoured highways of our collective imagination. Others point to references dating back to Colonial Boston, to multiple versions of a ballad telling a story of remorse and disgrace.

Here are three facts:
1. Maps cannot be trusted;
2. All History is awash with fraud and hoax;
3. Springdale is an absence of identity.

For two people, a lawyer named Patrick Travis and a television actor named Richard Shelling, Springdale is home and anti-home, a place of comfort and a distortion of everyday life. They are strangers to each other, yet connected. Their lives will intersect with a force that shatters both.

This edition includes a specially written afterword by the author.

In Springdale Town by Robert Freeman Wexler is available in ebook format from:

Springdale is told in a deceptively muted style and cunningly crafted so that the story appears to assemble itself around the reader like a trap he or she has sprung, yet remains innocent-looking until the end, when a spring-loaded hammer smashes down.” —Lucius Shepard, from the introduction to the original print edition

“For some writers, prose is a means with which to construct an analogue of reality. For Robert Freeman Wexler, fiction is a means with which to de-construct reality. Yet his stories have such a strong sense of linguistic integrity, it’s hard to believe that he isn’t reporting his experiences from a parallel universe.” —Rick Kleffel, from an interview at fantasticmetropolis.com.

“…In a list comprising some of the biggest names in contemporary genre fiction the appearance of a novella by a virtually unknown author causes a certain interest. In Springdale Town represents its author’s first book publication (after only a handful of short stories) and yet it fits into the PS Publishing list with such subtle skill that its presence on the shelf feels as if an invisible gap in the collection has been suddenly filled.”—Lavie Tidhar, Dusksite

“…no need for Lovecraftian monsters or rampaging serial killers to transform Springdale into a seriously creepy place. An old ballad suggests that one death haunts this village, but Wexler deviously, almost casually, creates a sense of wrongness that goes well beyond some past saga of jealousy and murder. Don’t read this one right before bedtime–or your next road trip.”—Faren Miller, Locus Magazine, October 2003

“The basic idea is familiar, almost banal, but Wexler’s treatment is witty, his writing is excellent, his characters are really well captured—I was very impressed with the story.”—Rich Horton, Locus Magazine, November 2003

“…Other writers, wiry and wry, as lithe as dragonflies, may seem more vulnerable, but their grace, their maneuverability, becomes its own kind of tensile strength. They can travel farther, faster, and in disguise.”—Jeff VanderMeer, Locus Online

“…lovely Americana set-piece turned on its ear.”—Jay Lake, Tangent Online

“…An emotionally scathing yet tender insight into the frailty, ignorance, and misplaced motivations of that most ridiculous of animals, the human being.”—William P. Simmons, Infinity Plus

“…Robert Freeman Wexler dives into the heart of Americana in his chilling and tender novella.”—Rick Kleffel Agony Column


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