Revisiting Ghost Marriage: The Art of the Reprint

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Reprints are always cool. They’re also, kinda weird.

Art: Ayen and Bull, by Jason Reeves | Ghost Marriage

This month, my story “Ghost Marriage” was reprinted in Issue 105 of Apex magazine. The original story was first published back in 2014, in the print anthology Griots: Sisters of the Spear. Revisiting it after all these years, was like going back and meeting a related yet distance version of myself: a kind of surreal bit of time-tripping.

“Ghost Marriage” may have been published in 2014, but I’d written the story about two years or so earlier. It’s origins were kind of a fluke. I’d earlier published a story set in the same world in “Skin Magic“–a tale close to my heart, because it brought me back to writing.

A string of rejected stories including an almost-novel (read that tale of sorrow and woe here) had sapped much of my creative will. I was also a doctoral student. Along with a full-time job, I was  pretty much kept away from writing fiction for several years. Then, by chance, I decided to join an online site created mostly for writers of color–Black Science Fiction Society. It was fascinating to see so many other people, who looked like me, pursuing endless forms of speculative fiction writing. Inspired, sometime during the Christmas of 2009 I began jotting down a story which I published in short blog posts on the site. Set in an alternate world drawn from the medieval Swahili states and kingdoms of the West African Sahel, with a menagerie of extraordinary beasties thrown in for good measure, it tells the tale of an unfortunate thief cursed with inked markings on his skin that unleash Lovecraftian nightmares. Indie author Milton Davis, loved the story, and asked if I would submit it to an upcoming anthology he and pioneering author Charles Saunders were working on of African Fantasy, aptly called, Griots. I said, heck yeah! The story, titled “Skin Magic,” got published that 2011 and by that time, I’d jumped back feet first into the writing world. And here I am now.

Moral: don’t give up.

So then, “Ghost Marriage.” Sometime around 2011 I was sitting listening to the radio program Talk Back with Hugh Hamilton (who has since sadly-departed the revamped WBAI) when the topic of marriage came up, part of ongoing debates on same-sex marriage. A sociologist was noting that despite what many may think, the institution of marriage through time and space has been diverse–with no single defining feature. Why, she even said, some cultures married the deceased. That made me stop. What? Marrying the dead? You mean… a marriage to a ghost? The muse struck (that’s how it happens sometimes), I did some research, started typing notes, and before you know it, I had the outline to a new story–”Ghost Marriage.”

The tale was set in the same world as “Skin Magic.” But instead of a Sahelian inspired background, this one more so mimicked the setting of East and Central Africa: an imagined fantasy secondary world pulled from cultures as diverse as the Jieng (Dinka) and Himba. The protagonist was a young woman named Ayen, who after being bonded to the ghost of her former husband, now seeks a spiritual separation from the seemingly angered spirit. There’s a bull involved. And, as one review put it, “earth-shattering monsters.” When I learned Milton Davis and Charles Saunders were creating a second anthology on African-inspired fantasy, this one dedicated to women, I decided The Fates were in my favor. I submitted “Ghost Marriage”–and it was accepted!

Fast-forward. In 2017, I was approached by writer Maurice Broaddus (Bruh got his own wiki page. Check it.) about submitting a reprint for the SFF magazine Apex. I said hells yes! It’s APEX! After some back and forth, he finally settled on pitching “Ghost Marriage.” The Editorial gods spoke in my favor, and the story was picked up. It’s re-printed this month in Issue 105–alongside really other great tales. Get some!

I’m overjoyed the story’s getting a second-life. And in a well-publicized venue. More eyes on it means more readers get to see this world and characters I created. That’s dope. But reading over the story for edits was almost like reading some stranger’s work. Sometimes I’d come across a part and think proudly: “I did that! Me!” Then other times, I’d wince at something and say: “I did that. Huh. Me.”

Here’s the thing about writing: your stories tend to reflect who you are in a given moment. Who I was in 2011 when I first put that story together, isn’t who I am in 2018. And that’s a good thing. It’s not that I was a terrible person. I wasn’t tormenting puppies back then or anything like that. But, I’d like to think, I’ve developed new thoughts; discarded or revised old ones; and have (pardon the cliche) “grown” in different ways.

Some of the story’s prose I like. Other parts come off as verbose. There are ways I treat gender in there I’m comfortable with. There are others that I question. How about my African-setting? Is the world-building complex and deft enough? Or too on the nose? I mean it’s pretty obvious I’m alluding to the Dinka. If I had to do it all over, would I be less direct–if only out of respect for, you know, actual Dinka people?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the hell outta that story. It’s one of my favorite pieces. I’m just left wondering how 2018 me would approach a concept like “Ghost Marriage?” Or whether I’d even do so at all?

Who knows. That’s what makes reprints so weird. Rest assured tho, I didn’t change anything. At least note beyond a grammatical or spelling error. I didn’t even ask the editors to take the italics from non-English words, something I’ve stopped doing ever since Daniel Jose Older so soundly spoofed the practice. I’m not George Lucas, where I go back and try to re-write my art to tweak and fix what coulda-shoulda-been. HAN SHOT FIRST. The “Ghost Marriage” you’ll read will be the one I wrote in 2011–warts and all.

As a bonus, made one of those storyboard thingies to give an idea of some of the inspiration for the story. How in the the world do Dinka women, cattle, Illyria from Angel fit in there? You gonna have to heck it out for yourselves. Grab a copy of Issue 105 at Apex.

ghost marriage collage.png

  1. Dinka women. 2. Dinka cattle 3. Illyria, original form (Angel) 4. Elder Himba woman. 5. Sudanese dagger. 6. Zaar ritual, Sudan
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