Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Paris Magazine

In 1967, the famous Paris "Shakespeare and Company" bookshop that was founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919, published a literary magazine called The Paris Magazine. Two more issues of what was meant to be a quarterly magazine followed after long intervals. Now, in 2010, Shakespeare and Company picked up the magazine again.

The fourth edition of Paris Magazine is edited by former Granta managing editor Fatema Ahmed, and includes fiction, nonfiction, and illustrations. Shakespeare and Company says: "More than forty years later, and in keeping with that sentiment, this fourth edition is meant to be an intriguing and unfamiliar place for both its writers and readers—just like the bookshop itself."

The Magazine is available at the bookshop, or can be ordered online - for the contents and some excerpts, visit the Paris Magazine website. You'll find photos, and an interesting introduction by Sylvia Whitman, daughter of Geroge Whitman who founded the Paris Magazin. Here's a quote: "Having now drifted into bookselling myself, but in a very different era from my father, I often find myself being looked upon apologetically as a representative of the old world, someone who believes in the book as a living thing." 

The magazine page also includes the story of how the fourth edition came into being - told by editor Fatema Ahmed, who also gives an introduction to the edition: "This fourth issue takes as its starting point the theme for this year’s festival: Storytelling and Politics. It may seem surprising to see a short story by this year’s winner of the Prix Goncourt next to an essay on the literary merits of a manual for diagnosing psychiatric disorders; or Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s translation of one of Apollinaire’s most famous poems beside a neglected satirist from the Indian subcontinent. It may seem surprising but it shouldn’t be. All these writers, and the others, share an interest in what it is that only literature can do, and the unlikely forms it can sometimes take."

The Paris Magazine #4
edition 4
€6 at the shop
online order €9,50 (France), €12,60 (Europe), €13,40 (World)
related links: on writing & reading, mixed formats, about a place

PS: the Ed arrived at this magazine while doing research for a trip to Paris. for more Paris moments and links, visit this post: Paris, Shakespeare, Dehli, Louvre..

Monday, June 27, 2011

To Begin Again - Jen Knox (All Things That Matter)

Winner of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Short Stories, To Begin Again is a lively and unique collection that examines the impact of unexpected and unconventional romance, unforseen wealth or loss, and the dynamics of family ties, despite distance.

The characters Jen Knox created are eclectic and engaging. Each is faced with a small decision that leads to life-altering circumstance. Some thrive and others surrender; but within each story there is a balance of grittiness and inspiration that will stay with a reader long after the last page.

You can read a review and an excerpt at Lit Endeavors.

Jen Knox works as a creative writing professor at San Antonio College and served as Fiction Editor and Workshop Coordinator at Our Stories Literary Journal. She is the author of Musical Chairs, her short stories and essays have been published in Annalemma Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, Flashquake, Foundling Review, Metazen,Slow Trains, SLAB, Narrative Magazine and other magazines.

About All Things That Matter Press
All Things That Matter is a no fee-royalty paying, POD small press that seeks to publish those books that help the author share their Self with the world: "Our interests are on spiritual, self-growth, personal transformation, fiction and non-fiction books with a strong message. We understand that new authors have an increasingly difficult time in wading through the morass of agents, publishers, query letters, and marketing.  Our press may well be the place where you get your first book published."

Jen Knox: To Begin Again
story collection

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Girl, Wolf, Bones - Nora Nadjarian (Folded Word)

In this collection, Nora Nadjarian takes us on an alternative trip through the fables and fairy tales of our youth. The short stories in this chapbook explore multiple viewpoints of the same event with wit and imagination. “Once upon a time” takes on a modern flavor by exchanging Bavarian forests for IKEA, television commercials, and public transport. Even “happily ever after” is more redefined than guaranteed. Goldilocks, the Three Pigs, the Emperor, Sleeping Beauty—Nora gives these beloved characters, along with their cohorts, new life in Girl, Wolf, Bones.

For a reading, visit this video rendition of the story Wolf.

Nora Nadjarian is a Cypriot poet and short story writer. She has published three collections of poetry and her work has won prizes or been commended in various international competitions. Her first collection of short stories, Ledra Street, was published in 2006. Her second poetry collection Cleft in Twain was one of the books from Cyprus recommended in an article in The Guardian on the literature of the new member states of the European Union (May 2004). Her poems and short stories have been included in various anthologies and journals internationally, and her microvel has been previously feature in s-Press: "The Republic of Love".

About Folded Word (+PicFic + unFold + Heron)
Folded Word is an independent press that continually seeks new ways of connecting readers to new literary voices. Though we do sell our books and chapbooks, we offer free poetry and fiction to the public in our Twitter-zines PicFic and unFold, as well as our print broadside, Heron. We also value craftsmanship, both of literary works and the medium in which they are rendered--as demonstrated by our handcrafted Signature Series chapbooks. Folded Word is managed by J.S. Graustein with the support of Rose Auslander, Casey Murphy, and the entire Folded family of contributors.

Nora Nadjarian: Girl, Wolf, Bones
20 page chapbook
release date: 15th August 2011
available as e-book and as printed book (the prices include worldwide shipping)
Green Edition $7.00
Signature Edition $14.00
e-book list price $0.99

related links: stories, magic realism, chapbook

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bloody War - Terry Grimwood (Eibonvale)

Bloody War. Always on the news, from somewhere around the world. War seems to be something humanity just cannot get out of its system. And yet, for most of us here in the UK, war is little more than a spectacle where we sit comfortably, tut-tutting over horrors taking place in far off and unknown lands, before returning to our grumbles about the spending cuts or immigration or whatever else it is that sets you off. That’s as far as it goes, save maybe for memories and stories of the dark days of WWII. But just suppose that all-out war was to come to Great Britain again? This dark, bloody and very British apocalyptic novel explores just this idea.

Imagine George Orwell’s 1984 updated for 2011, with the focus on family, character and relationships rather than political ideology, and you might have the measure of Bloody War. This book, like our society, is one where politics has become an opaque and distant game, and where most people can see no further than their own living rooms. If we are not careful then the price for such false comfort, Terry Grimwood seems to suggest, may one day be terrible indeed.

Suffolk-born Terry Grimwood started his working life as an electrician and is now a college lecturer. Along the way he has been a quality assurance manager, project manager and technical author. He has written and directed three plays and runs the Exaggerated Press. His novella, The Places Between is available from Pendragon Press and his novel Axe will be published by bad Moon Press in late in 2011.

About Eibonvale Press
Eibonvale Press is a small press run by a writer, artist and reader who loves books. "It's as simple as that. It is not intended to be particularly commercial or make large sums of money for me or anyone concerned (though it would be nice if it did, of course!), but it aims to produce beautiful and lovingly-designed editions of excellent writing in modern horror, magic realism and the surreal."

Terry Grimwood: Bloody War
Hardcover (276 pages.) £22.00
Paperback (276 pages) £8.99

thematically related books, featured in this blog:
- Battle Runes - Writings on War (anthology)
- Sally Weigel: Too Young to Fall Asleep (e-book)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blue Fifth Review: "Male Voices" + "Glass Woman" & Discourse: "What Is a Man's Literature?"

The Blue Five Notebook is the monthly series of poetry, flash, and art from Blue Fifth Review. In each issue, there are five works published. The Notebook series also features special poetry and flash issues and themed quaterlies.

Now the latest issue of Blue Five Notebook is online: Male Voices, New Places. The issue presents new flash by Ken Poyner, John Riley, Michael Dickes, Thomas O’Connell, and Ralph Uttaro. Art by Dorothee Lang.

This issue evolved organically as a companion set to the Glass Woman issue. Issue editor Michelle Elvy explains: "I did not set out to create a 'male' issue in the way I set out to devote the March flash issue to the Glass Woman writers. But when I stacked up stories in a row this month, these were the ones on top of my pile, and they all happened to be about place, and they happened to be from male writers. Also, a few of them were new voices to me, and I liked that. When Sam Rasnake (founding editor of Blue Fifth Review) and I discussed the works as a whole, we decided it was a really interesting approach, to create a companion to the Glass Woman Special."

Glass Woman Special
The Blue Five Notebook Glass Woman Special launched in March 2011 as a tribute to the Glass Woman Prize, and features new work by four of the 2010 winners: Michelle Lawrence, Julie Innis, Susan Gibb, Kari Nguyen. The fifth story in the issue is by Beate Sigriddaughter, who initiated the Glass Woman Prize. Art by Marta Sanchez. More about the glass woman prize: prize homepagedaily s-press: "Glass Woman Prize".

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Discource: What Is a Man's Literature?
The issue coincides with a larger literary discussion on gender and writing, sparked by author Naipaul in an interview. In the interview, Naipaul suggested that women writers are 'sentimental' and 'unequal to me', and also claimed that 'I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.' - which lead to various responses, including the Guardian's Naipaul test (with link to the original interviw) and a New Yorker essay that links back to a text from 1998:  The Lingering Scent of a Woman’s Ink.

Almost parallel to Naipaul, Esquire Magazine released a list of "75 Books Every Man Should Read". Which caused a stir as it inlcudes exactly: 1 female author. Like Naipaul, Esquire sparked responses in various magazines and blogs, one of them the new indie forum "LitMag", with Ethel Rohan's forum essay What Is a Man's Literature?

In the comments, Chris Newgent made an interesting point: “Like would people have called it out and praised it and encouraged it for being so balanced if it had been?”

Things we Love to Hate
Seeing it from this angle, the big fuzz about the New Yorker summer story issue comes to mind. The hook back then wasn’t gender, but age: “Summer Fiction: 20 Under 40″. The result was similar: huge media coverage, discussions, an alternative list (by Dzanc), which led to even more discussionss, one of them titled: “The Lists We Love to Hate: First the New Yorker, Now Dzanc?” .

For more on the issue and the discussion + the links, visit the Daily s-Press feature: The New Yorker: Summer Fiction: 20 Under 40

A thing that went unnoticed about the NY list: it was gender-balanced. Back then, the blueprint Ed put a feature together for the blueprintreview blog, which included this line: “The 2010 summer issue caused a stir, and discussions about the validity of such lists, and the methodology – which probably were both expected and intended by the editors.”

The Ed's guess is: same probably goes for the Esquire editors, and for Naipaul. Maybe they even thought of the New Yorker list effect when planning the issue. Still, the discussions coming from them are interesting, and important, and raise the awareness for the issue, and the stir they cause show that they point at unresolved issues -the question remains, though, if this stir-approach isn't adding to gaps and stereotypes.


Gender, Race, Balance, Stereotypes
Related to the whole theme, some more links + quotes:

The indie magazine Luna Park featured a series on "Race, Class, Gender & Sexuality in Indie Publishing" last year. The Ed contributed an article on gender ratios, and the effects on categorization - it also includes a passage on the summer fiction issue:

"Categories influence the viewpoint — I was reminded of this again when The New Yorker launched their fiction issue in June. Instead of just calling it “Summer Reads,” they titled it: “20 under 40.” And that’s exactly what the reviews and discussions then picked up on: instead of focusing on the stories and authors, the focus moved to the age categorization, and the whole topic of “youth” vs” “aging”. What almost went unnoticed was the fact that the issue came in a fine balance of 10 male and 10 female authors, and with more than 30% non-native writers included. That’s another effect of categories: they define the directly accessible statistics."
essay link: Tag Poc 50/50, or: the Complexities and Effects of Categorization

+ the link to the blueprint blog feature on the New Yorker issue, with quotes from the live chat transcript of the issue and notes on the 2nd language authors included in the list: New Yorker summer fiction issue / 2nd language authors


Women + Men
And of course, once you start to gather links, more pop up. here are 3 links on the theme "Women + Men" and the indie lit scene, from the Ed's blog:
 
1) Women + Men, "White Heterosexual Male" + "I Am Not Sorry to Have a Vagina".
on female / male literary magazines, and also with links to and quotes from Roxane Gay's essay "I am Not Sorry to have a Vagina" in HTML Giant, which again links and quotes to an article in Guernica with this line: "Women make up 80 percent of the fiction reading audience in this country. So why, guest fiction editor Claire Messud asks, are women authors so frequently left off the best-of lists, and left out of prestigious book prizes?"
 
2) poetry 2000-2009 + number trouble + the internet
with this quote: "----> some number trouble: "as the Guerilla Girls pointed out in the 80's, less than 5 percent of the artists in the Modern Art sections were women but 85 pecent of the nudes were female. Things were different fo us, after all."... which  also connects to another blog post:
 
3) indie lit scene gender imbalance?
with quotes from a Big Other discussoin hat reflects on the question to which degree the indie lit scene might be male-centric. it was this post that later sparked the Luna Park essay.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Best of Short Story Lists

May was Short Story Month - which triggered a short story list. Plus, storySouth is on. And there was Best of Net. And also, a flash list, a bit earlier this year.

Here's an overview, starting with storySouth + the flash fiction chronicles, and moving at the pace of a list a day. Options to participate are marked red. Top10 / Top5 / Top3 lists are included directly, longer lists are linked.

For additional links, visit the feature on Short Story Month 2011.

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Your Personal best-of 2010
BluePrintReview
Usually, best-of-web lists are created by nomination, longlisting, voting, etc. BluePrintReview turns this system around for once and asks: "From your own works that got published online in 2010, what's your personal favourite?" - Visit the Best of 2010 page, and add the link to your own favourite story/poem/photo/etc. (this is open to all formats).

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Story South Million Writers Award
storySouth Magazine & Jason Sanford
The storySouth Million Writers Award for best online fiction of the year helps all internet-based journals and magazines to gain exposure and attent. For their list of notable stories 2010, it accepted nominations from readers, writers, and editors. The list included more than 150 entries - based on it, the Top Ten Stories are chosen. Public voting is now open for those, you can vote through July 6. More about the award, here: About the storySouth Million Writers Award.

storySouth Top 10 List:
"Hell Dogs" by Daphne Buter (FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry)
"Arvies" by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine)
"The Green Book" by Amal El-Mohtar (Apex Magazine)
"Do You Have a Place for Me" by Roxane Gay (Spork Press)
"Here is David, the Greatest of Descendants" by Spencer Kealamakia (Anderbo)
"The Incorrupt Body of Carlo Busso" by Eric Maroney (Eclectica)
"Cancer Party" by Nicola Mason (Blackbird)
"Arthur Arellano" by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Narrative Magazine)
"Elegy for a Young Elk" by Hannu Rajaniemi (Subterranean Magazine)
"Most of Them Would Follow Wandering Fires" by Amber Sparks (Barrelhouse)

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102 Story Links in Honor of Short Story Month 2011
flash fiction chronicles
"We’ve created a long list of “Readers’ Choices” online. There are STILL many many many terrific stories out there not on this list so we will have to do this again. Just a reminder. These stories are in random order as FFC received them. No one story is considered better than another. That’s for YOU to decide. (But don’t vote for them here. This isn’t a contest). Please take the time to scroll through the list and read some pieces you might not have read before. Let the author know if you loved it. Share with others."

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The Micro Award
The Micro Awad is presented annually for the best work of flash fiction originally published in the previous calendar year (word length: max 1000 words). The winner receives a $500 prize. Winners, runners-up and finalists of the current and previous years are listed on the award page: Micro Award.

Micro Award winner + runner-up 2010:
• Winner: “Choosing a Photograph for Mother's Obituary” by Kevin A. Couture; The Antigonish Review(the story is not online)
• Runner-up: “Seven Items In Jason Reynolds’ Jacket Pocket, Two Days After His Suicide, As Found By His Eight-Year-Old Brother, Grady” by Robert Swartwood; PANK, April 2010

Thursday, June 09, 2011

YB issue 4: Windows

Looking in and looking out: "Windows" are the focus theme of YB #4. The issue features poems by J. Bradley, Jessie Carty, Brittney Corrigan, Risa Denenberg, Kathleen Kirk, Daniel Romo, Nic Sebastian, Elizabeth Kate Switaj, Troy Urquhart, Helen Vitoria and Megan Williams. There are also reviews by Melanie Moro-Huber and Nic Sebastian. And last but not least, a photo gallery by Dorothee Lang; "8 x8" - eight photos of eight countries.

As a new technical + animal "window", this issue of YB comes in a new design, is also available as Kindle edition or as pdf, and is presented by a tejón. (yes.) -  YB issue 4: windows

Here's what (guest co-editor) John Riley says about #4: "Windows are full of space and questions without answers, and each of these poems is wise enough to know this. There are no attempts at answers here, only the exuberance that comes from reveling in the uncertainty. So raise the curtain, undo the latch, and escape into the doubt. We promise you won’t leave satisfied."

For more windows, visit the YB blog - it will continue the theme by hosting "Window Gazing" posts with photos and artwork by various writers and artists, as well as whimsical windows and other information. Included so far are blog windows to Baltimore, Dallas, Denton, Baden-Württemberg, Slovenia, Rudersberg and Portugal.

About YB:
YB is an online journal of new poetry. The YB founder and editor is Rose Hunter. YB issue 4, the Windows issue, is co-edited by Sherry O'Keefe and John Riley, with art work by Dorothee Lang. Kindle edition by Sherry O'Keefe. Issues 1-3 of YB are online here: ybjournal.blogspot.com.

YB issue 4: windows
theme issue
e-book (free pdf + kindle version)

related links: theme issues + anthologies, poetry, e-books + pdf-versions

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

author talk: Xu Xi and Sybil Baker



In January, Daily s-Press featured Xu Xi's award-winning book Habit of a Foreign Sky. Through the mail exchange for the book, the idea for the next author talk developed: a conversation between Xu Xi and Sybil Baker, author of Talismans, a linked collection of stories.

The two know each other from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Both are fiction writers who have a strong connection to Asia, Baker having lived in Korea for 12 years and Xu who is from Hong Kong originally and has split her life in recent years between Hong Kong and New York. The conversation ranges from themes like fiction generally, teaching creative writing, and the general state of things for writers today.




FROM WEST TO EAST, AND FROM EAST TO WEST

Sybil L. Baker (SLB): Do you make distinctions (and should your readers) between expatriate, transnational, and global literature? When writing your novels, do you have a particular audience in mind?

XU XI (XX): Even though I’m very aware by now that readers in Asia can and will read my books differently, I still try to forget about a specific audience when I write. In the end, I still believe that stories about what it means to human can and will matter if they’re written well enough. And being human today is increasingly transnational, expatriate, and global from West to East as much as from East to West.

SLB: I agree, and what’s interesting is that transnationalism affects people from all sides of the world who may never even travel beyond their town or village. World policies, a global economy with shifts in the winners and losers, as well as transnational companies affect culture and lifestyles in ways many people may not even be aware of.

XX: It’s a changing world, the 21st Century, and it is our job, as writers, to “record” that change through the stories we tell. I think that fiction is a way to create a world that parallels the real worlds we encounter, which includes the characters we create to people those fictional worlds.
SLB: How has the reception been for Habit of a Foreign Sky in Asia versus North America? Is that different from your earlier novels?

XX: Interestingly, the reception has been much more similar in these two spaces this time, which leads me to believe that the readership is changing -- i.e.: becoming more global like my characters -- and my writing is tapping into that liminal space where more and more readers and writers now reside.

 But I’m interested also in what’s happened to the responses to your work. Your first book The Life Plan was a kind of comic romp while Talismans is much darker and paints a very different portrait of the young American woman abroad. I love the contrast between the two but how have your readers responded?

SLB: It’s funny because my feeling is that people I know associated (either as writers or readers) with high-end literary fiction didn’t take The Life Plan that seriously. They saw it more as a chick lit novel. Once Talismans came out though, my sense was that those people liked it better because it was a more “literary” work.
On the other hand, some readers who are not part of academia I think found Talismans too dark for them, and preferred The Life Plan. Of course some have liked both, which is great.

XX: Elise, your protagonist in Talismans, carries her grandfather’s pea coat as a sort of security blanket cum symbol cum justification for her travels. Yet in the end she simply gives it away to her former Korean lover. What did that gifting/release mean to her?

SLB: In “That Girl,” a story in the middle of the collection, Elise leaves the coat with her lover as she says goodbye to him and Korea.

Talismans Post card  1 - Click images to enlarge
 At that point, I think she gives the coat away out of anger and sadness that the affair didn’t work out, but she’s still searching for many answers about her past. Five years later (in the final story,“Grape Island”), she writes him wanting the coat back. He returns the coat to her but by the end of the story she has given him the coat again, this time as symbol of closure for her—of her relationship with him as well as her father.

The pea coat provides several narrative turns in the collection. I think linked story collections like mine or novels do require narrative turns, sometimes linked to what’s happening in the world as well, and I’m curious about how you respond to that as a writer. For instance, the main character in Habit of Foreign Sky, Gail Szeto works in the international financial world soon after the Asian economic crisis and the British handover of Hong Kong. During that time the States was in a stronger economic short-term position, while Asian countries regrouped.

Now more than ten years later, we see America’s empire on the decline and Asia’s (and in particular China’s) star on the rise. Are you working on anything that is set in the context of these changing fortunes?

this HKG shophouse was the model
for protagonist Gail's home
XX: Interestingly enough the novel I’m working on now -- and hopefully am almost finished with -- is all about the changing world of America in relation to China’s rising position of power. At least, that’s the impetus behind the writing, although the story is about Gordie, Gail’s American half brother who was born to privilege in the U.S. but is finding that privilege isn’t how he wants to grow old. I think that America, which has had its economic and 1st world prosperity, is finding that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be if the “house of cards” can fall apart so easily with the sub prime mortgage crisis. Meanwhile, China is riding the headiest bubble where everything is about consumption and more consumption and designer labels and cars that choke their cities. Where does all this lead? I begin that investigation in my current novel in progress.

SLB: It’s interesting because I read in an interview that Chang Rae Lee is working on a novel that is set in the financial world of Asia and the West during the current recession. I’m looking forward to reading novels that might have a different perspective or more nuanced view of our world than someone writing only from the position of the West.

XX: What about you? What are you working on now?

SLB: I’ve just (I hope!) finished a novel that takes place mostly in Korea but also in suburban Washington, DC. It’s about two sisters (one an adopted Korean) and the secrets they discover about their family. The novel takes place in 2010 during the sinking of the Korean submarine, the Cheonan, and also in 1980 when their father is an enlisted GI in Korea during a time of major political upheaval. The way the East and West interact because of political or cultural change continues to interest me even now that I’ve moved back to the U.S.

In a Habit of a Foreign Sky, Gail, a Eurasian, straddles East and West culture. I know that you’ve mentioned you like to explore East and West as characters—how does Gail embody some of these complications? How do your other characters, for example Gordie, who is American but very familiar with Hong Kong culture, enable you to explore those tensions without being too didactic or polemic?

XX: Both Gail and Gordie are reluctant Americans in their own way -- Gail because she would prefer to deny the illegitimate side of her blood and Gordie because he loves his life all over Asia that has given him meaning. For instance, he and Gail’s mother have a sweet relationship in Hong Kong that he doesn’t have with his own parents, yet he wouldn’t be so privileged if he wasn’t the son of an American pilot who took him to Asia in the first place. Gail meanwhile, does extremely well in mainstream America -- she graduates from the right school, enters investment banking and is successful -- yet wants somehow to be more Chinese despite all that. Yet even she sends her son to an international American curriculum school, recognizing that is where the power is in her world. So both are in conflict with who they are, yet can’t entirely discard the American skins that fit uncomfortably.

SLB: And the flip side of that is, can an American (like Gordie) who is immersed in Asian culture and language ever “have” an Asian skin? On the other hand, I think a bit of alienation is good for us Americans—many of us take our position in the world and in society for granted and have never experienced being an outsider.

This NYC builiding was the model
for lead male character Xavier's apartment
Gail, Gordie, and other characters in Habit of a Foreign Sky appear in earlier works. Did you plan to continue to write about these characters? Without giving too much away, at the end of Habit of a Foreign Sky, Gail decides to move to New York. I’d love to see her managing her career and personal life there—will we see her again in any future work?

XX: As I mentioned earlier, Gordie reappears in an even bigger role in my next book. Gail is done, I think, although she might make minor appearances in future. A couple of other characters in Habit seem to want space -- one of Fa Loong’s “sisters” will, and possibly John Haight, the lawyer who discloses what he shouldn’t to Gail about her mother’s will. It is possible too that Kina, the storytelling daughter of Xavier, might grow up into a future story but I really don’t quite know yet.

SLB: In a recent Asian American Literature panel at AWP (Association of Writing Programs conference in DC), one of the commentators spoke about Asian Americans identifying more with affiliations and affinities instead of nationalities. It seems that Habit of A Foreign Sky takes that approach to the characters and their development. I was wondering if you could comment on that.

A KIND OF POSTNATIONAL CULTURE

XX: I really believe that the world is moving towards a kind of post-national culture -- perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part -- but I do think that Facebook, Twitter, etc. means that we connect through affiliations and affinities rather than because of nationality. There was a time that whenever I traveled and met Chinese people, there would be a kind of ethnic or national bonding; I find this has decreased hugely with travel becoming cheaper and people getting to so many parts of the world. In 1980 when I spent almost a year in Greece, there were hardly any Chinese tourists there and I was a real oddity -- everyone thought I was Japanese -- and the Greek consulate in Hong Kong were so happy to issue me a visa because they had hardly any visitors. I daresay that has changed quite a bit now.

SLB: And yet, I worry that social media like Facebook (which I’m on) and Twitter, give people a false sense of connection. There’s no doubt that social media has opened up the world and allows connections that would be hard to establish or maintain even ten years ago. Yet, the nostalgic part of me wonders what will happen to good old conversation—staying up for hours and talking with friends over a few drinks. On the other hand, here in Tennessee, more and more of my students want to travel to Asia—to teach English there for a year or two, and that’s great. When I went to Korea in 1995, most people thought I was crazy. Now Asia seems to be more alluring.

XX: It’s nice, isn’t it, to be proved right as we get older? But I’m curious, after years of teaching ESL students in Korea, you’re now teaching young American writers in the South from where you originally hail. How has the experience of teaching abroad filtered into how you teach American writers now?


Talismans Post card 2 (a note on the cards, at the end)
 SLB: I learned many techniques and approaches from teaching composition in Korea that I’ve applied here in the States to all my classes. Certainly having to take a more formal approach to grammar and sentence structure with Korean students has been a surprising benefit here. My American writing students know so little about constructing sentences, and I feel that I can take them through that in a way I may not have if I hadn’t had to teach that in Korea. I also hope that my broad range of experiences traveling in Asia and living in Korea help other students think about ways they can realize their own potential as writers and readers.
But you’ve recently made a big change too at City University of Hong Kong, where you’ve started an Asian MFA writing program. What types of writers and students is the program aimed at, and what might they get from that program that they wouldn’t from an MFA from a North American university?

XX: We actually pay attention to what it means to write about, from, of, because of Asia, in English. While a North American MFA could readily teach someone to write an Asian story well, there will not necessarily be the focus, or expertise, at the program on Asian literature in English, what a perspective from Asia might do to a story, Asian languages (many of our faculty and students are conversant or fluent in Asian languages) and how that affects the way we articulate stories or poems of Asian cultures in English, etc. Our reading lists, even though these are individualized to each student given our low-residency curriculum, tend to have much more Asian writing in English that goes beyond Asian-American writing. In fact, you’re someone who is very conversant in Asian writing, and are a practitioner yourself of the “genre,” if we can call it that. But what also interests me is where you think contemporary fiction is headed in the 21st century of electronic reading (and writing)?

SLB: I think in terms of electronic reading, we’re going to see a larger difference between the haves and have nots, at least for a while. Fifteen years ago digital cameras were cumbersome, expensive, and of poor quality, but now digital cameras are tiny, cheap, and high quality—as a result, we assume that if you own a camera it must be digital. I think e-book readers will go the same way—it’s still early days. That said, most people in the world can’t afford a digital camera and those people also won’t be able to afford an e-book reader. Because of that, I hope that “real” books will still be readily available to those who don’t have e-book readers, or like me, like to mix and match. On the positive side, e-book readers are a great way to provide content globally, and in that sense, they are a vehicle for promoting and disseminating transnational literature. As for writing—I think we’d all better get used to signing Kindles!

XX: Now that’s an even greater challenge than writing our next books!

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About the Talismans Post cards

The post cards were done by Sebastian Matthews, a poet and collage artist (and friend) of Sybil Baker. You can see more of his work at 3 by the Fire / Blog + 3 by the Fire / Tumblr.

Sybil Baker explains: "The photos are from my travels during the time period of Elise travels around Asia in Talismans (1995-2000). The quality of the photos are not great as they were taken on a regular camera and then scanned in--but I think that graininess adds to the post card look. The phrases are lines from the book that Sebastian chose. There were three postcards total.

The inlcuded Post card 1 includes photos from Myanmar (Burma) (reflecting the story "Ice Queen"), Korea (the men playing a traditional game) and the girl at the bakery ("That Girl" and "Grape Island"), and Cambodia ("Picturing Snakes")--the skulls are from the Killing Fields from the Genocide museum in Phenm Phenh.

Post card 2 has photos from Thailand ("Blue"), Vietnam ("Talismans"), Myanmar and Cambodia's Genocide Museum. Yes that's me with boys at the Sittwe Pier in Myanmar."

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BIOS

Sybil Baker is the author of Talismans (C&R Press) and Life Plan (Casperian Books). Her short stories and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including upstreet and The Writer’s Chronicle. Recently she was named an emerging star in fiction by Anis Shivani of The Huffington Post. After living in South Korea for twelve years, she moved with her South African husband to Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Assistant Director of the semi-annual Meacham Writers’ Workshops. See http://www.sybilbaker.com/ for more information.

Xu Xi is the author of eight books of fiction and essays. Her latest novel Habit of a Foreign Sky (Haven Books, 2010) was a finalist for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize. A Chinese-Indonesian native of Hong Kong, she has spent recent years inhabiting the flight path that connects New York, Hong Kong and the South Island of New Zealand. Last year, she helped establish the first MFA in Creative Writing (Masters of Fine Arts) that focuses on writing of Asia in English at City University of Hong Kong, where she is their Writer-in-Residence. Please visit http://www.xuxiwriter.com/ for more information.

photo Xu Xi: Paul Hilton

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MORE AUTHOR TALKS



Daniel Elza + Arlene Ang
on poetry, collaboration, plus the birds, the beasts and the teeth that fall in between

Michael K. White + Nora Nadjarian
on night writing, mayonnaise, the 21st century and ice penii

Jessie Carty + Mel Bosworth
on breathing, writing, the internet, scares, yielding, boxes, greed + red, black and white

Rose Hunter + Dorothee Lang
on short stories, places, anticipation, reality, identity + ?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Where the Dog Star Never Glows - Tara L. Masih (Untreed Reads)

In her debut collection, Tara Masih shows an intimate sense of understanding her characters' innermost feelings, creating a memorable map of diverse characters that span the globe and several eras. Ghosts dance, butterflies swarm, men crystallize, the sun disappears, and water plays a role in both destruction and repair of the soul.

With an unflinching eye, a mythical awareness of the natural world, and poetic, crafted prose, Masih examines the dark recesses of the mind and heart, which often leads to a small or great triumph or illumination that will resonate long after the last page is turned. Publishers Weekly says: “Striking and resonant.”

Update June 2011: Where the Dog Star Never Glows was a finalist in the National Best Book Awards and now is on sale at Amazon as an ebook with Untreed Reads publishing company and a new cover.

Tara L. Masih is a graduate of Emerson College’s Writing and Publishing Program. She has won awards for her fiction and received Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations. She is editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction (featured earlier at s-Press, here: Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction).

About Untreed Reads
Untreed Reads is dedicated to bringing the best new fiction and nonfiction ebooks to readers throughout the world. In addition to their publishing, they also run The Untreed Reads Blog on their new e-books.

Tara L. Masih: Where the Dog Star Never Glows
story collection
e-book