the yellow volume, an anthology of stories in support of the clarion science fiction and fantasy writers’ workshop

the yellow volume, an anthology of stories in support of the clarion science fiction and fantasy writers’ workshop

Hello, readers.

The Yellow Volume is here.

As in previous years, with The Red Volume and The Orange Volume, myself and my fellow classmates of Clarion 2012 (The Awkward Robots) have put together a fantastic collection of speculative fiction in support of the Clarion Foundation.

It’s available here on Gumroad.

You pay whatever you want. Pay nothing. Pay everything. Print the whole thing in really tiny print on the back of a napkin.

It’s up to you.

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Whatever you decide, you’ll get 15 tales of fantastic hope and terror. By amazing people like Shirley Jackson Award winner and Nebula nominee Sam J. Miller (debut novel The Art of Starving forthcoming from Harper Collins); Dell Award winner Lara Elena Donnelly (debut novel Amberlough forthcoming from Tor Books in February 2017);  and widely-acclaimed author Carmen Maria Machado (debut short story collection Her Body & Other Parties forthcoming from Graywolf Press in Fall 2017).

And all proceeds, after hosting fees, will benefit the Clarion Foundation. Which benefits the Clarion Workshop.

A workshop that has, in its time, fostered such talented talents as Kelly Link, Ted Chiang, and Octavia Butler.

It also introduced me to my future Storyological co-host.

So grab a copy. And make a robot smile this Halloween.

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Happy halloween, readers.

 

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clarion write-a-thon 2016 edition

Hello, readers.

Right now, I’m taking part in this thing called the Clarion Write-A-Thon. It’s very similar to those sorts of marathons where you sponsor the walker/runner.

Except, in this case, you sponsor a writer.

The Clarion Write-A-Thon raises money in support of the Clarion Foundation which funds the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and allows for scholarships to be awarded to future students.

Past students include: Kelly Link, Octavia Butler, Margo Lannagan, Ted Chiang, Alyssa Wong, and Isabel Yap, among many others.

Clarion helped me become a better writer and person. It changed my life. Among other things, it introduced me to my future Storyological co-host.

Of note. Some of you might remember a thing called The Red Volume, or The Orange Volume, both anthologies of short stories, put together by me and my Clarion classmates, and then released as a fundraiser for The Clarion Foundation.

My Clarion class will put out another anthology later this year, after the write-a-thon: The Yellow Volume.

If you want to sponsor me in the write-a-thon. Amazing.

Any donation ($1, $5, $whatever) will get you an e-book version of our anthology when we release it later this year.

If you’d like to wait for the anthology to be released (and for us, perhaps, to figure out some perks for donating at certain levels–such as for a PRINT EDITION), and donate/buy the anthology then (also for whatever you want, including for free). That’s cool.

I’ll post again when it’s available.

Happy Thursday, readers.

 

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kazuo ishiguro and david mitchell: among giants and ghosts

Hello, readers.

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Last Wednessay, as part of a week-long cavalcade of birthday wonderfulness, EG took me to see Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell in conversation at the Royal Festival Hall, part of the sprawling Southbank Centre located here in London along the Thames.

They sat across from each other, angled toward us, and spoke at length, and in glorious loops, about, among other things, stolen livers, almost beautiful Japanese ghosts, swordplay, film vs. writing, fear and courage, dungeons and dragons, the recklessness of youth, and the one thing Kazuo Ishiguro learned from War & Peace1.

They divided their conversation, for the most part otherwise improvised, among three topics, each introduced by a film clip2

I particularly enjoyed the way that Ishiguro ignored, throughout the evening, all of those beautifully appropriate hints for segues delivered by David Mitchell.

Here is a picture of some of my notes from the evening:

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And here are some selections of those notes typed out such that they might appear somewhat more legible-like. (note: the quotes below should be read as a doubtful combination of scribbled notes, memory, and imagination).

ghosts3

different qualities of fear

The evening began with David Mitchell telling a story first told to him by his brother, of a boy named Dave who stole his dead uncle’s liver to sell to the butcher for money with which to buy sweets. In the end, the dead uncle creeps into the house, and up the stairs, and steals Dave’s liver and replaces it with sweets.

Kazuo Ishiguro responded that it was a really good story until it became horror.

KI: Horror. That’s valid and everything. But there is a different quality of fear with the supernatural. The story worked best at that moment of the voice calling out from the stairwell, “Dave. Dave.”

DM: When the ghost loses its ectoplasmic liminality, something more rational kicks in. Writing a ghost story is a high wire act.

He spoke, then, Ishiguro did, of the psychic experience you don’t want. Of how little he feared his liver being torn out, of whatever the ghost might do to you, and how much he feared reality’s distortion, of the loss of trust in, and control of, his senses.

KI: I don’t mind the horrible stuff. I’m afraid of waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the apparition. There’s an energy in ghost stories. Even in a crude form they can produce a strange reaction in people. People are haunted by them whether they want to be or not. I still aspire to that effect. I want people to be haunted.

japanese and western ghosts

KI: Japanese ghosts are really scary. Western ghosts not so much. Transparent people with chains.

DM: Scooby-doo ghosts.

KI:Japanese ghosts represent emotions so powerful that the normal physical laws don’t apply to them.

DI: They’re implacable. Like a sadistic mother. You’re constantly having to guess the rules. In folk tales, you have to ask the right god in the right way to get what you want, and then you must say thank you.

earliest stories

Also. It turns out that, for both writers, their earliest stories were ghost stories. The first four of Ishiguro’s published stories, in fact.

dungeons & dragons

Just so you know, David Mitchell divides writers into ex-D&D players and non-ex-D&D players. Kazuo Ishiguro didn’t know what the hell it was. David Mitchell said to ask Michael Chabon, a former dungeon master.

action on the page 4

before we begin

I should point out there are few things more magnificent than listening to Kazuo Ishiguro refer to western-style sword-fighting as clinky, clonky affairs in which one has long conversations.

do you feel we are second best to cinema

After showing us a very brief, and very tense, Japanese sword-down, and asking David Mitchell the above question, Mitchell responded that really it depended on what result you desired.

DM: Once the gun goes off, the tension’s gone.

KI: Perhaps it’s psychological build-up, that’s where we have an advantage. Like in that moment where Kurosawa’s characters are staring at each other. You have to film an actor from the outside. Unless you do something very weird.

DM: Action’s actually kind of dull on the page. Rosemary Sutcliffe. I loved her fights. I remembered them as 20 pages long, but, when I looked back, whole battles, on which rested the fate of the world, lasted less than a page-and-a-half.

peculiarly fearlessness

KI: You are peculiarly fearless. Do you have an idea that this setting or genre is so alien to my experience, that you don’t carry on?

DM: There’s a subdivision between genre and material. I’m attracted to genres that I’m not familiar with. As for material, you can always do it. But you have to do it sideways. Now, I wouldn’t do an American voice. A Brit who lived in the U.S. a long time, perhaps. Or a Canadian. a micro-note off is worse than being a whole octave off

KI: Would you write an African-american character?

DM: I’ve read too much Ta-Nehisi Coates to attempt that.

notebooks

Kazuo Ishiguro has been keeping a notebook since 1981 in which he writes down all his ideas. 1981 is the year I was born. That means I am as old as Kazuo Ishiguro’s ideas.

buried giants, lost settings

KI: I backed off setting the book, Buried Giant, in Bosnia.

DM: I wouldn’t call that a cop-out. Just very sideways.

the doubtfulness of reality 5

DM: Why are so many of your characters not sure if they can trust their minds?

I don’t remember exactly how Kazuo Ishiguro answered this question, and my notes, such as they are, transition into WHAT AN AMAZING VERB REALIZED IS.

KI: And I realized. It’s a great verb to expedite things. You can use it in strange and promiscuous ways.

DM:To realize something includes an act of erasure. Cool verb. I’ve underrated it all my life.

questions and answers

DM: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever been asked to sign?

KI: Nothing particularly strange. Why? Have you?

DM: A midriff. Don’t tell my wife. Later she got a tattoo. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.

KI: I have been asked some pretty strange questions. Once, a woman stood up and told me, at extreme length, the situation at her office, and then she asked if I thought she should resign.

In a remarkable display of unconscious gender bias, all questions asked by the audience came from people identifying as female.

Here are the five questions asked and their respective answers.

  1. If you looked behind you right now and saw a ghost, what would it look like?

    KI: A sneaky way to ask a very personal question.

    DM: Myself, aged 80.

    KI: (incredulous)That’s not very scary. Oh, look. That’s just me. I guess that’s slightly disconcerting.

    Ishiguro then considered his own answer.

    KI: Ghosts of children. Or. One of those almost beautiful women ghosts, but they’re not. They’re very scary.

  2. Could you talk about how you come to your endings? Because, Mr. Mitchell, it seems as though your books are so beautifully constructed, and Mr. Ishiguro, it seems the endings for your books grow organically from the story as it unfolds.

    KI: I always have the endings before I start. I know absolutely the emotion I want to end on.

    DM: I never know. A novel for me is like a road journey through the alphabet. I like X, Y, and Z to be murky. I want my endings to have a retrospective logic.

    KI: How far do you go before you know the ending? Quite near the end?

    DM: It has happened, yes. The writing of the book tells me how it will end.

    It gives me great comfort, as a writer and a reader, to know that the woman who asked this question experienced, from reading these two author’s books, the exact opposite sensation of the two writers writing their books. As much as we may think we know, we don’t.

    Then Ishiguro and Mitchell discussed whether or not Ishiguro was cheating when he wrote.

    KI: I do the same thing in miniature. Often, an image, scene, or moment, drops in my head. Is it okay to work backward?

    DM: I’m going to conjure the spirit of Ian McKellan here and say, “My dear boy, that’s all writing is.” I often see an F that is radioactive with rightness, and I try to figure out what D and E will get me to F?

  3. What do you do when you need to take a break from writing?

    DM: I go for walks. I speak dialogue aloud. In the small village where I live, people probably see me as the town kook.

    KI: I escape into music, the non-verbal world. When I watch a movie, I’m still thinking with my writing brain. Oh, that’s a false enemy.

  4. Who would else would you care to do an evening like this with?

    DM: Joseph Conrad

    KI: Dostoevsky. He’d be a lot of fun.

  5. Do you believe that success, or popularity, makes it harder for you to be authentic?

    Here, in this answer, we saw something we saw throughout the night, namely, Kazuo Ishiguro’s fantastic deftness at redirecting questions at David Mitchell while simultaneously transforming them into compliments.

    KI: David, this is what I was getting at before. In Number9Dream, you used the English vernacular so freely while writing from the point-of-view of a Japanese boy. It’s not subtitled English. I don’t think I’ve seen since or before a writer dive write in to a foreign consciousness, so fully realized. So fully characterized.

    DM: I was my own translator in that book.

    KI: How do you hint at a second language behind the 1st? You do it so well, or maybe so recklessly.

    DM: I am a first-person present tense junkie. You can only have subtitles in past tense. I followed my instinct. You start to question that instinct as you age

    KI: Yes. More cowardly.

fear and courage

KI: There’s a theme to this evening, I think. Fear and courage. Issues in writing. You have to be daring. Is fear too big a word?

DM: We live in a tiny world of calculated risks. You have to decide where courage will turn into hubris and get as close to that line as possible. Then write down descriptions of what seems so hard. Often you’ll find solutions in the description of what seems impossible.

And that, was the end, of that.

Thanks for reading.

Happy whatever day this is where you are, readers.

 

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  1. Ishiguro said one thing he learned from this was that before a great battle it serves one well to send a character up to a high place and have them look down at the battlefield. He said he saw the same thing in Number9Dream. ↩︎
  2. Perhaps in response to, or as planned, the evening’s use of film clips to introduce the two writers, and their topics, led to a fascinating discussion of what advantages and disadvantages each art form—film and writing—has in respect to the other. ↩︎
  3. clips shown: The Sixth Sense & The Innocence ↩︎
  4. final stand-off from Kurosawa film, possibly Yojimbo ↩︎
  5. clip from Forest of the Dead, that one episode of Doctor Who where Donna is saved by a computer and life is but a dream ↩︎

space

Hello, readers.

One late night, while walking through a field near Oxford, Mississippi, a friend turned to me and asked, between the shush-shush of our steps through the tall grass, “Do you ever feel like when you look up at the stars you see more than other people?”

We were walking to a pond near a farmer’s house. We were meant to go skinny dipping. A late-night walk, a late-night swim, a return home, a goodnight, a goodbye. One of our friends was leaving the next day for distant mountains and very well known dangers.

I looked up. I saw more stars than I had ever seen. It was so dark and so clear that you could see the dust between the stars. Galaxies caught in the winds of dark matter.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean because we grew up with Star Trek and Babylon 5 and Star Wars, because we read Foundation and Dune, because we care about the multiverse and so when we look up we see aliens and star destroyers and sliders surfing the dimensions. We see stories.”

I knew what he meant. And I said so.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “Stories in the dust.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

Now, thinking about it, I suppose I could have said that people have been dreaming into the dust since forever. I could have mentioned Cyrano de Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune, or Dante’s various planetary paradises, or those Hindu epics of flying machines that flew equally well underwater or in outer space. But, that wasn’t what he meant. And I knew what he meant then and now. He meant that we possessed a shared inheritance and responsibility of wonder that had been passed down from forever and, for us, that wonder happened to be populated with Skywalkers and Baron Harkonnens, as opposed to angels and demons, and it would be our job as writers to keep populating the dust with stories of what was and what still might be.

Happy Wednesday, readers.

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p.s. Later this month, EG and I will be seeing 2001. It will be her first time. Hopefully, we’ll catch Interstellar, as well. One must never stop re-wondering the imagination.

literally

Hello, readers.

As the first week of November blusters1 to a close, it seems a good moment to stop and look around, to take a moment and take it all in, before the year itself blusters towards its end2, and share some small part of the all and everything with you.

  1. One part of the all and everything, of course, is this novel, this thing I’m writing, in which feature robots, romance, and revolution, and which, during this NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided to entirely redraft all 120,000 words, or so, which works out to, oh, I don’t know, about 4,5000 words a day, which is ridiculous, but, then again, so is the length of this current sentence and that seems to be carrying on just fine without too terribly much concern about whether or not the thing being done qualifies as ridiculous or silly or what have you.
  2. YouTube. It’s blowing up. Not literally. But literally. Like, oh my god, it’s literally blowing up, in the way the Brits use the expression, which is to mean the opposite of what the word means3. I’ve done a few videos. It’s fun. Other people are doing videos and having fun and also thousands and millions of people are watching. Here are a few of my favorites.
    1. vlogbrothers
    2. physics girl
    3. crash course
    4. scishow
    5. kwow
    6. zoella
    7. lastweektonight
    8. Also, there’s this article from the Guardian, or from The New York Times in 2005.
  3. Podcasts. Literally changing the world. Radio is so totally back and not even on the radio anymore. It’s transcended and returned to form. Here are my favorites, organized based on content.
    1. Science
      1. radiolab
      2. 99% invisible
      3. the infinite monkey cage
    2. Stories of
      1. this american life
      2. theory of everything
      3. the moth
      4. fugitive waves
      5. on being
      6. strangers
    3. Pop Culture
      1. pop culture happy hour
      2. the incomparable
    4. Music
      1. all songs considered
      2. desert island discs
      3. the blues kitchen
      4. music that matters
      5. morning becomes eclectic
    5. Books
      1. between the covers
      2. maybe I should listen to more podcasts considering I’m a writer? (not an actual podcast)
    6. Nightvale
      1. Which I’ve only listened to a few, but figured I better put it on here because I know if it’s awesome and should be listening more and I will. I promise.
      2. There should always be at least two things under a bigger thing. That’s done then.
  4. Where were we?
  5. Books are still awesome. I’m reading Bleak House and Virtual Light just now. Before that, and my favorites this year being, among other things:
    1. anna karenina
    2. tale of two cities
    3. the picture of dorian gray
    4. doctor who: the writer’s tale (the final chapter)
    5. tigerman
    6. daytrippers
    7. strangers in paradise
    8. the girl with all the gifts
    9. I will not link to the books. They’re books. You’ll have to go to your library, or 3D book printer or something.

That is literally 27 links (not counting the one down there in the footnotes).

Happy near year’s end, readers.

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  1. Yes. I am quite fond currently of the world bluster. It is what it is.

  2. Speaking of taking it all in before we reach the end of the year, here’s Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2014

  3. More power to them! Irregardless, for example, a great example of people ignoring what words mean and doing what they want with them. Look at how that turned out.

The Great Perhaps

Hello, readers.

Recently, I began reading Looking for Alaska, John Green’s first book. More recently, I finished it.

Here are some thoughts about my thoughts.

Thought #1: That’s a lot of cigarettes.

Thoughts about thought #1: The characters in Looking for Alaska burn through more words and ideas and cigarettes in one scene than a great many characters sniff at for an entire novel. They smoke in the shower. On the soccer field. Under a bridge, by a lake, in a spot they call the “The Smoking Hole.” And while they smoke, they talk about writers, labyrinths, the last words of the famous dead, and, on occasion, a little bit about themselves and the mysteries of being themselves and wanting to be closer to the selves of others. They talk about themselves, and their ideas, the way they burn through cigarettes, as though their lives depended on burning through the very things (cigarettes, themselves, each other, their ideas) that might one day kill them.

The story of Looking for Alaska is, in so many ways, so terrifically small in scope–there’s a handful of teenagers attending boarding school. But, it’s so much bigger on the inside, so full of what Miles, the main character, calls, ‘The Great Perhaps.’

Thought #2: There was this girl.

Thoughts on thought #2: A very great many stories could begin with the words, “There was this girl…” And it’s a problem on the whole, because, on the whole, it tends to reinforce the idea, so very often idea-ed in stories, that women exist as something for people to stare and wonder at, and be transformed by rather than, you know, for them to exist as and for themselves. Stories of, “There was this girl…” include: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Leon, Scott Pilgrim vs. All the Things and Stuff , and Anna Karenina. And, of course, in some of these, the girl in question is absolutely a character unto herself rather than existing solely as a symbol for whatever thing about life the writer wants to write about, or a fulcrum around which another character’s life pivots. In the case of Anna Karenina, for example, we get it all, because Anna has her own story, her own arc, as well as, more or less, functioning as a symbol for, um, I don’t know, the existential horroradventure of being a woman in late 19th century Russia, both bursting with and being swallowed by love and convention. In the case of Looking for Alaska, Alaska is also, like Anna Karenina, both herself and a symbol, if in very many fewer pages, and with far more smoking and drinking of Strawberry Hill than probably Anna Karenina or Tolstoy would go in for. Alaska is a character unto herself, with a past, and concerns, and sorrows. But she’s also a symbol for the Great Perhaps, for those mysteries and sorrows of the larger world for which Miles, the ‘main’ character, has set out in search. Also, possibly, she doesn’t have terribly much of an arc. But, in this book, in this story, there’s something to that, because unlike Anna Karenina, our narrator here is not Leo Tolstoy, a.k.a. possibly god, but a sixteen-year-old boy, Miles Halter, who may not understand the arc of Alaska until later, until, looking back, he understands his story through the stories of others.

Corollary Thought to Thought #2: Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) gets thrown around a lot of late, possibly beginning with Eternal Sunshine, and continuing on into this day. It refers to a girl in a story who exists as a mess of wonder and terror (very often sexy, very often with a slight bent towards death and destruction, or endless joy, which is a kind of death, all situations of stasis–whether of joy or terror or anything in between–being a kind of death) that awakens the hero (generally a boy) to the mess of wonder and terror that is life. It’s very much a part of the larger canon of stories referred to in Thought #2 as “There was this girl…” I happen to have loved a great many stories of said type, and several MPDGs (Clementine/Eternal Sunshine, Ramona/Scott Pilgrim, Summer/500 Days Of, Anna Karenina/Anna Karenina, Penny Lane/Almost Famous), but I’m aware that the best stories, the best tropes, transcend themselves, and that the MPDG trope is part of a larger and always necessary trope of how sometimes, in your life, someone appears at just the right time and changes everything, of which movies like Almost Famous and Once are perfect examples in which there are so many manic pixie dream guitarists and girls and vaccuum repairmen that enter into each other’s lives and all of them are changed by it.

The characters exist to transform each other and themselves.

So, if at the end of your story in which “There was this [insert appropriate pronoun here],” the person referred to by the appropriate pronoun has not undergone any change, has not experienced a story of their own, you might want to look at that again and wonder over whether your story might not be bigger and better for having a MPDLGTBQETC. that is not simply magical and mysterious, but also mundane and unambiguously a person capable of growth in their own right.

Thought #3: Someone once said that every story is about sex and death.

Thoughts on thought #3: Yes. Sometimes there are lasers, too.

Thought #4: That’s probably enough thoughts, for now.

Thoughts on thought #4: But about the fox hat? Or the labyrinth? Or last words? Or all of those discussion questions John Green helpfully answered and posed at the end of the book?

Thoughts on thoughts on thought #4: I’m hungry and want to eat lunch now.

Happy Wednesday, readers.

Go seek your Great Perhaps, wherever and with whomever it might wait.

ttfn.

On London, Vlogs, and Everything

On London, Vlogs, and Everything

Hello, readers.

A few things of note.

1) The Red Volume, the anthology created by me and my fellow Awkward Robots of Clarion 2012, is go! 17 awesome stories of weirdness, wonder, and terror (also, possibly, love) written by 17 awesome people who are also, by turns, full of weirdness, wonder, terror, and love. One of these stories is mine. And it’s a musical with rodeo clowns, cowboys, and a ghost.

We put this thing together to support the Clarion foundation which is a great bunch of people who put together, every year, a great bunch of professional writers and soon-to-be professional writers and let them go at each other on the campus of UCSD. It was absolutely one of the greatest experiences of my life and I’ve come out of it with a family of awesome that will go forth and be awesome and we wanted to give back so that more awesome could happen for more awesome people.

Enough awesome.

Go here: https://gumroad.com/l/awkbotsred

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Give what you want. If you want the thing for free, take it for free. If you want to pay, know that the proceeds (after Gumroad fees) will go to the Clarion foundation and that you are awesome.

One last awesome in there.

2) I’ve started vlogging. I love it. I get to yell at the world about all the things what I love, fear, and wonder about.

Here’s my latest video:

 

 

3) A few weeks ago, I arrived in London, but did not stay there for very long. With EG driving a car hire (or hired car)–which is how Brits refer to rental cars–we drove west to Oxford for the 80th birthday celebration of EG’s aunt. Oxford is a gorgeous city wherein there was more greenery than I imagined. There is the university, yes, and the walls are bricked with narratives of time and whatnot, and there are the cobblestone streets where Tolkien and Lewis walked, but there is also so much countryside surrounding the areas that it’s easy to imagine Tolkien and Lewis walking as much, or more, out here in the green lanes.

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My first vlog covers a bit of the journey to London, but as far as Oxford, I’ve not put that together yet into a video that is watchable. We’ll see if it happens. Something always happens.

 

 

Happy Monday, readers.

Go read some stories:

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