sometimes things

Hello, readers.

Sometimes I post things. This is one of those times. Here are two things.

Thing one.

I have a new story in Bourbon Penn 15 (available now in e-book or paperbook) called SOMETIMES THINGS ARE TRUE.

If you’re a fan of ninjas, zombies, werewolves, pirates, or epiphanies in which a character stares up at the stars and realizes some truth about life, then this is the story for you. Also there’s a killer unicorn.

You can read a fairly long sample of the story here.

Here’s a fairly short sample.

“It’s not true what they say about werewolves, you know?” Lucy said to Jack. “You can’t become a werewolf by kissing. That’s just a myth. You can’t get it from sex either, unless it’s a very particular kind of sex. There are probably a few days out of the month when you’d probably rather not kiss one, or have sex, I guess. Sometimes things are true.”
 
“Am I even needed in this conversation?” Jack said.
 
“I enjoy listening to you listen,” Lucy said. “The sound of your breathing is very comforting.”

Thing two.

I’ve just sent out the February edition of CHRIS REVIEWS EVERYTHING, a monthly newsletter for Storyological patrons.

In February, I watched and reviewed: seventeen films, four television shows, three podcasts, two soundtracks, a book, a handful of short stories, Natalie Portman’s career (as inspired by her rapping on SNL), a play starring Carey Mulligan, a Bon Iver concert, a quote from John Keats, and two Instagram videos posted by Chloe Bennett, star of Marvel’s: Agents of Shield.

I include a handy, clickable list at the start of the newsletter. This is a picture of that clickable list. Don’t try to click on it. It won’t work. I promise.

Here is a snippet of the introduction I wrote for the newsletter:

I’ve written these reviews, more or less, however the fancy took me. Some of them are silly. Some serious. My favorite manage to be both. My highlights for this month include: The End of the Fxxxing World, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Pride and PrejudiceLady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, Chloe Bennett, and Bon Iver. These might not be your highlights. You’ll have to read them all to find out. The reviews in which I get the most personal are probably: Atonement, Phenomena, and Bon Iver.
 
Maybe don’t try to read it all at once. Maybe save this email in a special folder. Or print it out, even. Stick it on your writing or reading desk. Fold it up and put it in your notebook. Carry it close to your heart. That sort of thing.
 
It’s up to you, really. So many things are.

I’ll be posting samples from this newsletter every Saturday. Here’s a review of Lady Bird I posted a bit ago.

I’m having a lot of fun with this newsletter. I hope you do, too. Emma seems happy with it. ^-^

Happy Wednesday, readers.

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2018 Awards Eligibiliity

Hello, readers.

Here are some things of an awards-eligible nature.

Thing one.

To see some of what we talked about over on the Storyological Podcast last year, and which is eligible for awards this year, go here.

Thing two

I published a story last year in Phantom Drift called  “Maemi.”

It is eligible in the SHORT STORY category for all such awards, like the Nebulas or Hugo’s, which enjoy the presence of a category for short stories.

Below, you will find reprinted what I wrote about that story in an old blog post from the before now time:

I wrote “Maemi” during the third week of Clarion, in answer to Delia Sherman’s challenge that I do that thing people sometimes do which is to go read a bunch of fairy tales and select one with which to muck about.

I spent several days in the UCSD library and sat at the window, reading many fairy tales. Off and on, on the ledge of the building near my window, a crow would come and sit and hop about and look at me curiously. As much as I might have wished, the crow and I never said more than a few words to each other. Alas, most of the time I was doing most of the talking.

The fairy tale I chose involved a little girl, and a lion, also a bird, and no small amount of magic or betrayal. It turned out this was “Beauty and the Beast.” It wasn’t called that in the book I read, and I didn’t recognize it, but when Delia told me that this was the true nature of the story I had chosen it made sense. At least, that is, the kind of sense one finds in fairy tales. Which is a sort of inscrutable sense that tricks you into understanding something altogether different and more important than whatever thing you set out to understand.

I combined this fairy tale with the story of a little girl in Korea who was sold by her father into sexual slavery during the second world war.

I lived in Seoul for two years and, while there, I taught English at an all-girls school. One weekend, during my second year, I went with a group of friends (some of whom were part of a group called Durebang), to the House of Sharing in Gyeonggi-do. We walked through a museum and an art gallery and, later, met several of the women who lived there and who are called, sometimes, “comfort” women. A large group of kids showed up, at one point. A school trip, I think. One of the old women, through some manner I never entirely understood, instigated a K-pop dance-off among the kids, the teachers, and some of the group that inclued me. Roly Poly1, I believe, was the song of choice. I’m pretty sure Roly Poly will always be, because of this, my favorite K-pop song. All of those kids and everyone dancing. And the old woman who danced for a bit and then sat, chuckling at the gorgeous mayhem she had created 2.

There are many books about that time in Korean history. I have read many of them. Two I remember, in particular, both by Nora Okja Keller, are Comfort Woman and Fox Girl. Here are some others.

As it happens, there are no lions in the story I ended up writing, but there is a bird and no small amount of magic or betrayal. I added a bit of music, as well. It seemed the right thing to do at the time.

Happy Monday, readers.

ttfn.

  1. This is the video of Roly Poly. The long version. If you are only interested in the music, I would suggest skipping to the four minute mark or so. I have the whole thing on in the background right now. It later became a musical. Because that’s how things work in Korea.
  2. Some of all of this came back with me to Seoul. And I talked about it with my students, one day, in an after school class in which there were only maybe eight of us. I talked about what they knew about that part of Korean history. I don’t remember what they said, really. And I don’t remember if I talked with them about how it felt that week in school, seeing every classroom full of girls the same age as though taken during the war. I think maybe I did.

kazuo ishiguro and david mitchell: among giants and ghosts

Hello, readers.

IMG_7198

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:

dave&katz_notes

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.

 

ttfn.

 

 

  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 ↩︎

storyological

Hello, readers.

I’m now the co-host and producer of a podcast.

It’s called Storyological.

storyological podcast logo
art by e.g. cosh

It’s about stories, life, the universe, and everything.

This nice lady did the art and is also my co-host.

We’re pretty proud of it.

You should give it a listen sometime.

The first episode is up here. We talked about the stories “Angel, Monster, Man” by Sam J. Miller and “The Time Travel Club” by Charlie Jane Anders.

I hope you like it.

Happy conversations, readers.

 

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fearfully and wonderfully made

Hello, readers.

Earlier today, I watched this clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

In it, television pastor and possible Tyler Durden protégé, Joel Osteen refers to a bible quote that speaks of the works of god as fearfully and wonderfully made.

I’ve started the process of thinking about writing a new story. This involves listening to a lot of different voices in my head and writing them down without editing. There’s always a moment in the process of writing where something like a story begins to take shape in the writer’s head and it’s so awesome, but then a part of them wants to stop because they’re scared that in the process of excavating the story from their head and onto the page, it will all fall apart.

But, well.

Fearfully and wonderfully.

Maybe that’s the only way to make things that matter.

Happy Wednesday, readers.

 

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on genre, the infinite cloud, and other things

on genre, the infinite cloud, and other things

Hello, readers.

Welcome to Friday. Many things are happening. Which is, of course, in the nature of things. If things didn’t happen then they wouldn’t even be things. Which is a weird way to think, actually, as it leads me to look at the pillow leaning against the arm of this couch and think: “That pillow is a happening pillow.”

Here are things.

Thing 1:

Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro on BBC4 talk genre fiction and the prejudices and wonders surrounding and contained therein, and, more awesomely, how they’ve evolved. Bask in the variety of English accents!!!

Also.

Here’s a review I wrote of Stories, a collection of genre-bending stories Gaiman co-edited.

Thing 2:

Google Photos launched. Unlimited, free storage for photos (up to 16mb per image) and videos (up to 1080p resolution). The cloud becomes infinite.

…you’ll be able to search for photos with simple keywords. It’s like your own personalized Google Image search. Looking for all the photos you’ve ever taken of your puppy? Just punch in “puppy.” Even more advanced searches like “kissing” returned accurate results in my early testing.

Google wants to organize and make sense of the world’s information. Giving the world a free space into which to put their information kind of helps with that.

Thing 3:

A fantastic TED talk, that’s really an interview and demonstration. John Hockenberry interviews Tom Shannon (painter of centrifugalism, sculptor of magnetism) about making art that visualizes the invisible world.

I love invisible things.

Thing 4:

John Scalzi’s very big, and very public, deal with Tor discussed in the Washington Post with an interview with John Scalzi.

Scalzi’s contract sets a very public precedent for other science fiction authors to use as a negotiating point, and it also gives him room to breathe: In addition to sequels to several of his most popular series, Scalzi pitched Tor three ideas for young adult novels, a genre he hasn’t worked in before.

Thing 5:

I like having 5 things. That is the fifth thing.

Enjoy your weekend, readers.

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the modern age

Hello, readers. Felicia Day periscoped herself watching herself in Supernatural. She expressed it thus, “I’m alone in a hotel room sharing a live video of watching myself on TV. This is the modern age.” Another fantastic element of our modern age is William Boyle. He’s a human, through and through, and sometimes titles his blogs, ‘death in the world’ and also he has appeared on television, even. We shared a few drinks in our time at City Grocery, and, one day, we will again. Here’s us and Barry and the gang. 1908385_10203729754668614_3777624354595359285_n He also writes wonderful things. His stories punch you in the heart and ask if you’re okay and then hug you and punch you and that’s how it is with life. He just did a reading at Oxford’s Off-Square Books for his new collection, DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY, that I wished I could have attended but oceans. Alas. Feel free, though, like me, to compensate for your lack of skills re:traveling through space and time (the modern age has connected everyone and still we end up so far apart) by reading all the wonderful things on the internet related to my faraway friend. Here he is at largeheartedboy, taking part in Book Notes.

Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is an early story, written in 2007. I pretty often take a title of a song I love and play off of it. I was listening to this obsessively back then. I knew I wanted to write about bad luck and trouble and the meanness of the world. The lyrics hit so hard. No matter what you think, there’s death waiting at the end of everything. Shut up and put your ear to the floor. Here comes big bad death. It doesn’t care what you know or don’t know. It’ll cut you down blindly.

Here he is in an interview with Nerve.

You can understand a lot about a character by knowing what he listens to. I’m not trying to make a character listen to a certain type of music to make him seem cool. Or to make me seem cool. Music can be a lonely occupation. A character in one story makes a mixtape for a girl he’s slept with. I can remember staying up late at night making mixtapes. It was a lonely experience and kind of wonderful. Cassettes are sad, too. There’s another character in the story “Poughkeepsie” who still listens to Alice in Chains. He’s stuck in that moment from the ‘90s. And I understand that. I have great empathy for those people. I understand that feeling of nostalgia for hearing something for the first time. Or associating what you heard in the past with the only time you felt good in your life.

Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist Bill made for DEATH DON’T HAVE NO MERCY. Fantastic. Music and film and tv and Whedon played a large part in many of our talks. He’s a damn fine fellow and you should go buy and follow him. I am. Happy Thursday, readers.   ttfn.