Thursday, January 30, 2014

Vietnamese science fiction and literary realism

In 2008, there was an interesting interview in the Vietnamese news with one of their leading science fiction writers, Vu Kim Dung.

One of the striking quotes to me from his interview was his idea that "to write science fiction, an author has to love both the social and natural sciences and be a skillful writer. Moreover, you should have a deep knowledge of social issues. As a writer, an imaginative mind is necessary to create interesting work. First begin writing short stories, then try with novels. You must combine scientific knowledge and literary skill."

I also found it interesting how he made an effort to have science fiction regarded seriously, when he remarked:
"Writing science fiction doesn’t mean basing stories on imagination alone. I have to study science and find scientific evidence. Then I work as a normal writer, finding context and making the stories interesting.

On the other hand, a writer must be creative and predict the future. That’s the big difficulty. The writer’s role is to create what hasn’t been invented. Writing on what already exists creates a story without value."
While I respect his position, I think that remains a key part of the difference between certain Asian nations' traditions and American speculative literature. This question of creating stories with value.

Certainly, there's a good deal of American speculative literature written with grand purpose and themes that make a comment on the human condition or seek to build a genuine love of the sciences, but there's also a great body of work that is is created without ulterior motive and grand purpose. Art that is indifferent to its value. That should be something of interest to us, this purity of effort where one has no illusions, no pretensions that what is written will change the face of arts and letters forever, yet one still creates.

I think many writers undermine their texts by trying to create something with 'worth' that ultimately goes into the dustbins of literary history because they become too much a product of their time.  There are some who succeed, but I think art can be extremely interesting when it can accommodate the truly unanticipated.

Vu Kim Dung's position on what science fiction and writers in general must do is something I'm taking note of: "The writer's role is to create what hasn't been invented," because it brings to mind, for me, Marx's classic assertion that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it".  I would hope that many officials within Marxist-inspired systems can appreciate this and give their speculative fiction writers the latitude to explore and to be ambitious, because good speculative literature does not have to be in contradiction with their value systems, but it will also thrive when it's given broad latitude to imagine.

Kundiman Fellowship deadline approaches!

Asian American emerging poets, apply to be a Kundiman fellow!

The online application deadline is Sat., Feb. 1, 11:59pm EST.

You'll need: $15 and 5-7 pages of poetry, with your name included on each page. Include a cover letter with your name, address, phone number, e-mail address and a brief paragraph describing what you would like to accomplish at the Kundiman Asian American Poetry Retreat. If you're accepted, the non-refundable tuition fee is $375. But, Room and Board are free to accepted Fellows. The Kundiman Asian American Poetry Retreat is held on Fordham University's Rose Hill Campus located in the Bronx, NYC.

Note: Very few writers from Laos have ever gone through this acclaimed program since it began in 2004. Consider applying. Since 2004, twenty-six fellows have published first books and twenty-five have published chapbooks and they credit Kundiman as being instrumental in their growth as writers.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

9 Twin Cities Cultural Exports You Didn’t Know About… Yet

L'etoile Magazine's Rob Callahan recently posted up the great list "9 Twin Cities Cultural Exports You Didn’t Know About… Yet" I made the list at #8 along with Dr. Demento, Inspector Spacetime and Killing Joke Films, among other awesome folks! Thanks L'etoile Magazine! It's great company to be with!

For my Lovecraftian fans, I'd particularly point them to Killing Joke Films, who, L'etoile mentions "... first hit our radar when they signed on to adapt local playwright Tim Uren’s Lovecraft-inspired play, The Curse of Yig."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Full Metal Hanuman" honored by 1st Place in Strange Horizons Readers Poll.

In good news, my poem, "Full Metal Hanuman," with art by Nor Sanavongsay won first place in the Strange Horizons 2013 Reader's Poll.

"Full Metal Hanuman" originally appeared in September, 2013. A big thanks to all of our readers who voted for us! It's an honor, and certainly an exciting thing to wake up to in the morning.  You can find "Full Metal Hanuman" in my new book DEMONSTRA from Innsmouth Free Press.

I would definitely check out all of the poetry they've presented at Strange Horizons over the years. There are some pieces that are going to become classics. Among this year's other winners: "Lost" by Amal El-Mohtar, "Tattertongue" by Jenn Grunigen, "Jael" by Nancy Hightower, "Tataki" by Shweta Narayan and "I Am Learning To Forget" by Dominik Parisien are also poems you should check out.

I'm also going to give a big shout out to Sofia Samatar who's just on fire this week with her 1st Place fiction "Selkie Stories are for Losers" and 1st Place for reviews, and a 4th Place for her interview with Nalo Hopkinson. She'll have to clear off some space on the mantle for her new Crawford Award for Best Fantasy Debut, the novel A Stranger in Olondria. Seriously, read her book.

Unlife on the Highway: An interview with G.O. Clark

By his account, G.O. Clark's first speculative poem was published in 1988, in the Magazine of Speculative Poetry, and then four years later, he would be published in Star*Line, a publication of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. After that, he became a more prolific writer of speculative poetry, including 9 books of poetry and a short story collection.

Among the awards he's received were the Asimov's Readers Award 2001, a 2nd place Rhysling Award in 2001 and 2012, and he recently made the Stoker Award final ballot in 2012.

In 2013, his latest collection came out, entitled Scenes Along the Zombie Highway (Dark Regions Press), which blends Clark's offbeat humor and panache with the undead. This particular journey transpires over the course of 42 poems and 64 pages. Illustrations were provided by Marge Simon that complemented Clark's verse well.

Among his poems I had a few good laughs from were "Some Zombies One Should Avoid," and "You Just Can't Get Good Help Anymore." In his "Quotes from the Zombie Factbook," Clark reminds us:

  "Everything you thought
   you knew about zombies, is never  
   quite enough, when the future comes  
   pounding at your door." 

Clark's verse uses crisp, clean lines upon which he serves up ample and imaginative helpings of gore and decay, various slices of unlife seen from different parts of the highway and cities afflicted by an infestation of zombies. At his best, his pieces are quite inviting before they sink their teeth into you. Thematically the collection holds up well, with almost all of the poems propelling his central propositions forward, but rarely lumbering like his titular antagonists. The zombies, despite their condition, often are glimpsed in a sympathetic light. But you should still watch out for the ones that bite.

This week I had a chance to ask a few questions to see what inspired G.O., and where he might go next. I was happy he took time out to respond:

How did you get started on all of this? What was one of the hardest things for you to learn?
Not much to tell. I'm retired, having worked for years in various libraries at the library assistant level. Live in Davis, CA surrounded by books, cds, etc. I started writing poetry back in college, but didn't start selling any until years later. As for the speculative poems I write now, (and for the last 20 or more years), I gravitated to them naturally. I like writing about the dark side on the one hand, and things science fictional on the other. As for the hardest thing I had to learn in regards to writing? To believe in my own abilities, and keep at it no matter the response from others. It's hard work, to say the least, especially now that I'm later years with less energy and brain cells.

What's your favorite zombie story or film?
I'm not sure I have any specific favorites. I like Joe McKinney's zombie novels; enjoy the more humorous zombie movies like Shawn of the Dead; and watch Walking Dead episodes on Netflix, which means I'm always behind.

You've got many books under your belt, but for a first-time reader of yours, which book would you recommend as an ideal introduction to your style and technique?
I think Strange Vegetables, which came out in 2009 from Dark Regions Press. It was the sixth book I published, and represents my style and technique best. It is primarily science fiction related, with some dark elements. It's a good example of my strange sense of humor, which shows up in all my books to some extent, including the recent zombie poems collection.

Besides zombies, what's your next book about, to you?
I have a new horror poetry collection off to a publisher for his consideration. Not a themed collection, just dark poetry in general. It's probably closer content to my older collection, Shroud of Night.

Do you feel California and its geography or its residents have had a particular impact on the way you approach poetry?
 I don't think so. I mean, there's creepy places and strange people here just like everywhere. I've used the local cemetery and thinly disguised local folk in some of my poems and stories, but I would have done the same anywhere.

What's your advice for beginning writers who want to write poetry involving zombies?
I tend not to give advice to writers beginning or otherwise. Each writer is unique, and needs to find their own voice, and if part of that process includes writing poems about the undead, then so be it. Poetry has no bounds when it comes to subject matter.

What's a project you really hope to take on in the next few years?
A themed book of robot poems. I have about a dozen so far, mostly reprints. Also hope to get another book of short stories published, and have sent out the manuscript to a small press for their consideration.

Where else can we find you throughout the year?
I have poems coming up in Asimov's, Analog, and Dreams & Nightmares. I also have a flash fiction soon to be published in Daily SF. I need to get to work and send out some new submissions. Getting lazy in my old age.

Is there a classic poem you turn to for a touchstone when you need some dark inspiration?
No poem in particular, but the dark poetry of Bruce Boston inspires me at times. Individual poems by poets move me from time to time as well, none come to mind at this moment.

What's your favorite music to listen to as you write your books?
When I do listen to music while writing its classical or jazz. Instrumental only, as lyrics distract my thoughts.

We often talk about how an artist gets started, but what keeps you going?
In my case, momentum. I really didn't get serious about writing until my thirties, and then one acceptance led to another, and so on. I'll stop when I run out of ideas. I still read a lot, which keeps things percolating.

What's the strangest thing we might find near your writing space?

Be sure to visit G.O. Clark at his website: and his newest book Scenes Along the Zombie Highway from Dark Regions Press!

Monday, January 27, 2014

[Jagercon] Legend of Sudsakorn

If you're in Minneapolis this week, be sure to catch Jagercon at Club Jager on Tuesday, January 28th. They'll be presenting The Legend of Sudsakorn. And trivia. I very much approve! I can't make it this time because of finalizing things with DEMONSTRA, but you should definitely go.

A 2006 Thai fantasy film, it's based on Sunthorn Phu's epic poem Phra Aphai Mani, a 30,000 line piece of work. This particular film is based upon a boy who is the son of a mermaid who is sent on a magical quest to find his father, a prince with a magic pipe. Throughout the journey, he traditionally becomes an elephant, shark, and dragon horse, and encounters kings, hermits, yogis, magic wands and spirits.

I haven't seen it myself, but for those trying to familiarize themselves with the main story, it may be helpful to understand the traditional epic. Please resist the urge to give it the subtitle: "Hooking Up."

Prince Aphai Mani and his brother, Prince Sisuwan are princes who are studying the principles of leadership thanks to their father. But when they return, Prince Aphai has instead mastered the art of playing the pipe, while Prince Sisuwan mastered swordsmanship. Both choices angered their father who drove them off.

The king did not realize Prince Aphai Mani had learned to play a magic pipe capable of putting people to sleep, or the more deadly technique of luring the soul out of the body.

Traditionally, a giant Nyakinee, Nang Phisua Samut finds Prince Aphai and takes the hottie away to her cave where she transforms into a beautiful girl who has his son, Sinsamut. When he discovers his wife's true nature, Prince Aphai Mani flees with his son. Because giant flesh-eating shapeshifter.

The jilted Nang Phisua Samut gives chase, of course. The prince and his son take refuge with a family of mermaids (Which seems odd. I think the translation may more properly be Nak, or Nagas) but the father and mother mermaids are caught and devoured by the Nyakinee in a horrible fashion. (Well, I suppose it's always horrible. This is a Nyakinee we're talking about.)

The daughter takes Prince Aphai and Sinsamut to Kokaew Phitsadan, the Isle of Wonders, and get help from a hermit.

Of course, Prince Aphai decides to have a son with the mermaid, and names the boy Sudsakorn. Because, mermaid, right?

Years go by and a passing ship with King Silarat of Phleuk arrives. Also aboard the ship is Princess Suwannamali, who is engaged to Prince Usaren of Lanka. Prince Aphai and Sinsamut ask to go on the ship, and that's the end for human-mermaid shacking up in this story. But like any epic, they're attacked by a giant Nyak who kills the King. Prince Aphai escapes to shore and plays his magic pipe, slaying the Nyak.

Young Sinsamut on the other hand, swims with the princess to another island. As they travel, they eventually run into Prince Aphai's brother Prince Sisuwan and his daughter, Arun Rasami. They all go in search of Prince Aphai.

Prince Aphai meets Prince Usaren who came out looking for his fiancee, Princess Suwannamali. But when they all reunite, Princess Suwannamali refuses to go with Prince Usaren, ending in a fight that ends in Prince Usaren's defeat, slinking back to Lanka. It was pretty easy to see this coming in the original epic.

Prince Aphai came to Phleuk. There, the widowed queen asks him to rule the country and to marry Princess Suwannamali. Princess Suwannamali was still angry at Prince Aphai for trying to give her to Prince Usaren, so she flees and becomes a nun. But the maid Nang Wali tricks Princess Suwannamali into leaving the nunhood to marry Prince Aphai.

Princess Suwannamali gives birth to twin daughters named Soisuwan and Chantasuda. Prince Usaren and his father came back to attack Phleuk. The father gets killed and Prince Usaren dies heart-broken, so the throne of Lanka falls to his sister, the beauty Nang Laweng, who naturally swears revenge. She declares that as a reward, any prince who kills King Aphai and his family can marry her and gain the Kingdom of Lanka. Sweet deal.

At least nine armies are rallied to take her up on her offer. But through a series of twists and turns, King Aphai finds Nang Laweng, and woos her, but none of the armies will call off their attack until the arrival of a mystic hermit.

In theory, you'll see something connecting to all of this in the Legend of Sudsakorn, the mermaid's son who apparently doesn't get much mention in the traditional epic. If nothing else, expect a lot of swords to get thrown, and at least one or two WTF moments.


[Art] My Head II by Anousa Phommeuang

Anousa Phommeuang's "My Head II" which would sell for 1,500 euros. He's a graduate from the Fine Arts School in Vientiane based in Luang Prabang these days. According to his bio, his work has reportedly been "featured in exhibitions in Thailand, Singapore and other countries in SE-Asia," although more specific details than this were not readily available. Of his pieces available online, I consider this one his best. It is rough, but  it's his most imaginative with a competent composition. Like many of the Lao artists in Laos, he is heavily influenced by the cubism, surrealism, and expressionism forms that are still popular among the teachers and students there.

When we see the broader range of his pieces available, we see primarily traditional depictions of Lao women, particularly Lao women minorities especially common to the Fine Arts School in Vientiane. Within that range, several of his pieces are whimsical, others do a fine enough job paying homage to Picasso. But I find only his "My Head" series and "Circle of Life" (below) really step out into the individual and personal expression we would normally applaud in our culture.

"My Head II" in particular captures my attention because of the way it suggests a hierarchy of thoughts and interaction with the community. We see the fantastic and monstrous beast, monks approaching him, the women, and the others near his different sensory organs. It's a fun, imaginative visualization. I only hope one day we might see more pieces like this and that he has the opportunity to present really daring work that surpasses our expectations.

DEMONSTRA giveaway drawing ends Saturday!

There are only a few days left to enter to win a hard-copy edition of DEMONSTRA from Innsmouth Free Press (which is NOT available in an e-book format) at Goodreads. Alas, it's also only open to readers in the US, Great Britain, Australia and Canada.

It breaks ground as the first book of Lao Lovecraftian weird poetry, with guest appearances from kaiju, obscure beasts of European, African, and Asian folklore, cryptoflora and cryptofauna, and ancient horrors and guardian spirits.

You can register for free to win directly here:

You can also buy your copy by visiting Innsmouth Free Press which has several options including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Book Depository. DEMONSTRA features original art by Vongduane Manivong of modern updates of traditional Lao entities. She is also now taking new commissions, so if you get a chance be sure to check her stuff out.

Modern Lao culture extends back over 660 years to the ancient realm of Lan Xang and beyond, with influences from over 160 ethnic groups living within its borders, ranging from the Akha, Hmong, Tai Dam, Khmu, Iu Mien, Lahu, and ethnic Lao, each with their own myths, legends, languages and histories. With its present borders, Laos is a nation almost the size of Great Britain, with many parts still remote and unexplored. Many are familiar with Laos as the center of the CIA Secret Wars in Southeast Asia, but Laos has many more secrets beyond that.

In many ways, DEMONSTRA will serve as a first foray into Lao myth, art and culture for both Lao and non-Lao, re-examining many of our traditions while adding new ones to the tapestry. At some points a monster manual, others a cookbook, others a travelogue of the known and unknown realms, and occasionally movie reviews and social commentary, DEMONSTRA is by no means the final word, but I hope it will serve as the start of a great conversation. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

[Thai Speculative Literature] Bible Stories for Secular Humanists

S.P. Somtow came to my attention a little over a decade ago when I was first in Bangkok in 2002 looking for my long lost family. His opera Mae Naak was about to debut, although I did not get a chance to catch it. In many ways, that story left an indelible impression on me. 

S.P. Somtow came to my attention again when he came to Minnesota for the fantasy convention Diversicon, which has alway been one of the biggest conventions to support my work as a writer and introduced me to many who are a part of my newest book DEMONSTRA. But I do have to admit I seem to have a habit of just missing him, including a recent trip to California. 

In any event, last year we saw the release of his book Bible Stories for Secular Humanists which was described as:
"Here are eight of World Fantasy Award winner S.P. Somtow's most controversial stories, including three previously uncollected ones. Each deals with a "sacred cow" of the Judaeo-Christian tradition and subjects it to the pitiless scrutiny of historian, mythographer, and fantasist. Violent, sometimes kinky, these stories nevertheless reach surprising epiphanies about faith and redemption. A curiously sympathetic Antichrist hunts down the next messiah with the aid of a unicorn. St Paul ponders about whether, in order to make his miraculous new religion work, he needs to get rid of an inconvenient Jesus. An entertainment mogul in ancient Rome figures out how to cut costs by staging resurrections in the arena. Lot's daughter has managed to survive as a vampire and pours out her heart in an incest survivors' support group.... These aren't the Bible stories you learned in Sunday school - yet they raise many of the questions you may not have dared ask there.Between them the eight stories in this book were nominated for ten awards, including Bram Stokers, International Horror Guild Awards,and an Asimov's Magazine Reader Poll."
His current biography reads as:
"Once referred to by the International Herald Tribune as “the most well-known expatriate Thai in the world,” Somtow Sucharitkul is no longer an expatriate, since he has returned to Thailand after five decades of wandering the world. He is best known as an award-winning novelist and a composer of operas.  
Born in Bangkok, Somtow grew up in Europe and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. His first career was in music. His earliest novels were in the science fiction field but he soon began to cross into other genres. In his 1984 novel Vampire Junction, he injected a new literary inventiveness into the horror genre, in the words of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, “skillfully combining the styles of Stephen King, William Burroughs, and the author of the Revelation to John.” 
Vampire Junction was voted one of the forty all-time greatest horror books by the Horror Writers’ Association, joining established classics like Frankenstein and Dracula. In the 1990s Somtow became increasingly identified as a uniquely Asian writer with novels such as the semi-autobiographical Jasmine Nights. He won the World Fantasy Award, the highest accolade given in the world of fantastic literature, for his novella The Bird Catcher
After becoming a Buddhist monk for a period in 2001, Somtow decided to refocus his attention on the country of his birth, founding Bangkok’s first international opera company and returning to music,. According to London’s Opera magazine, “in just five years, Somtow has made Bangkok into the operatic hub of Southeast Asia.” His operas on Thai themes, Madana, Mae Naak, and Ayodhya,have been well received by international critics. His most recent opera, The Silent Prince, was premiered in 2010 in Houston, and a fifth opera, Dan no Ura, will premiere in Thailand in the 2013 season. His sixth opera, Midsummer, will premiere in the UK in 2014. 
He is increasingly in demand as a conductor specializing in opera and in the late-romantic composers like Mahler. His work has been especially lauded for its stylistic authenticity and its lyricism. The orchestra he founded in Bangkok, the Siam Philharmonic, is mounting the first complete Mahler cycle in the region. He is the first recipient of Thailand’s “Distinguished Silpathorn” award, given for an artist who has made and continues to make a major impact on the region’s culture, from Thailand’s Ministry of Culture."
 I think he's using an interesting approach with his latest book. He's taken on a wide range of topics from vampires to werewolves, Thai ghosts, and more that I think it's hard for us to talk about modern Thai speculative literature without discussing him. You can visit his music website at:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Minnesota Book Awards Finalists announced

The finalists for the Minnesota Book Awards were announced this weekend.

In poetry, the following titles made the cut: “Black Aperture,” by Matt Rasmussen; “The First Flag,” by Sarah Fox (Coffee House Press); “It Becomes You,” by Dobby Gibson (Graywolf Press); and “Slip,” by Cullen Bailey Burns.

The Awards Gala will be April 5th at the St. Paul Union Depot.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

[Cinema] Queens of Langkasuka

It's been out for a while, but I finally had a chance to endure Queens of Langkasuka, a Thai historic fantasy epic based on the writing Win Lyorvin. It's ambitious with sumptuous costume and design. 

The production values are high although it often loses focus and critics are right regarding the length. But given the clear love the artists had for the material, I can see why they indulged themselves to linger in this world just a few minutes longer. It's a film where I would definitely want to read more of the behind the scene details.

For those of us interested in historical fantasies set in Southeast Asia, both Queens of Langkasuka and Dynamite Warrior serve as good reminders of what Southeast Asian fantasy is capable of, with very distinctive visuals, values and traditions that can intertwine with one another. 

If you get a chance to see this film, I would definitely check it out. It would definitely be of interest to those with a passion for steampunk and alternate history And also the use of giant whales in combat, apparently. But see for yourself.

[Asian Apocrypha] The Tao Yaomo Jing

In DEMONSTRA there is a rumored text of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu referred to as the Dao Yaomo Jing: 道 妖魔 經. Literally, the Path/Way Demon Classic/Text or more figuratively, the Classic of the Demon Way. It only appears once in DEMONSTRAmentioned in the poem "Laonomicon." This almost makes it a hapax legomenon. It emerged from questions of how a Chinese philosopher might interact with the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and other 20th century writers.

Of course, this is where I must explicitly assert that no such text 'exists' any more than the Necronomicon or the Golden Goblin Press editions of various occult texts such as Nameless Cults or the Revelations of Hali. The idea that it exists is as preposterous as a surviving copy of Aristotle's supposed lost treatise on comedy, or the lost manuscripts of Bruno Schulz, Were such a text to exist, we can only hope they would be preserved in a remote, well-secured library or archive of some note, awaiting discovery by one destined to make good use of such forbidden knowledge.

But WERE any aspect of the horrendous Dao Yaomo Jing to have survived into Lao Tzu's more well-known Taoist text, the Dao De Jing, or more commonly, the Tao Te Ching, perhaps the most concrete hint is found in Chapter 25. In the common, albeit controversial translation of Gia-fu Feng and Jane English the chapter is typically presented as:

Something mysteriously formed,
Born before heaven and earth.
In the silence and the void,
Standing alone and unchanging,
Ever present and in motion.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name.
Call it Tao.
For lack of a better word, I call it great.

Being great, it flows.
It flows far away.
Having gone far, it returns.

Therefore, "Tao is great;
Heaven is great;
Earth is great;
The king is also great.
These are the four great powers of the universe,
And the king is one of them.

Man follows the earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
Tao follows what is natural.

For reference, Chapter 25's original Chinese is typically written as:






Scholars of the Lovecraftian and the Cthulhu cult doubtless need no further remarks. Religious scholars understand the name Lao Tzu or Laozi is occasionally translated into "Old/Venerable Master," and was worshiped as "Supreme Old Lord," or given the title "Supremely Mysterious and Primordial Emperor" in at least one dynasty. This is not to suggest connections to the rumored Great Old Ones or Elder Things, of course.

Of minor interest to scholars who dabble in such matters, there are numerous Taoist myths that purport Lao Tzu's conception was the result of a "falling star" his mother gazed upon. He was born a fully grown man after 62 years in his mother's womb, imbued with physical characteristics typically associated with wisdom and almost unnaturally long life. This account is, of course, rejected by reasonable and rational souls as patently absurd. It is no more plausible than some giant, bat-winged octopus-dragon falling from the stars to slumber in some sunken city of impossible geometry until celestial bodies are in some arbitrary alignment.

There are additional legends that claim Lao Tzu was eventually reborn 13 times, and in the last incarnation lived 930 years, traveling to reveal the Tao. Naturally, this, too, is impossible within a conventional understanding of historical time and space.

Let it also be firmly noted that it is quite unlikely Lao Tzu conversed with any denizens of Innsmouth, Im Boca, or similar cities and villages, despite his rumored nigh-immortality. Researchers are advised to treat any rumors of an actual copy of the 道 妖魔 經 with great skepticism as it will most likely not be labeled as such by those preserving it for whatever particular purpose they may have. One is more likely to find an intact copy of the 7 Cryptical Books of Hsan. But do with this information what you will.

Scenes from the Zombie Pub Crawl

On a lighter note for the day, here are some shots from last October of the Twin Cities Zombie Pub Crawl on the opening weekend of Saymoukda Vongsay's Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals. It's billed as the world's largest Zombie pub crawl, and I admit, it takes a lot of dedication to go around in October as a zombie at night. But it was great fun for everyone. Here's to next year!

As a recap, Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals was an examination of how the Lao community might react to a global zombie epidemic. It enjoyed sold out crowds for its energy, although many of us freely admit a lot of it was guilty pleasure and the play was occasionally uneven. But it was a scrappy production that acquitted itself well for the most part and captured the imagination of many of those attending, especially first-time theater goers.

Many of the ideas within Kung Fu Zombies vs. Cannibals also dovetailed well with many of the poems in DEMONSTRA, such as "Zombuddha," "Kwam Yan," "No Such Phi," or "The Doom That Came To New Sarnath." While some may argue that the notion of zombies is played out in mainstream culture, I think that's a short-sighted assessment. But we'll see how history plays out.

Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 Stoker Award Preliminary Poetry Nominees Announced

The Horror Writers Association announced the Preliminary Ballots for the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards®. The HWA ( ) is the premiere writers organization in the horror and dark fiction genre, with over 1,100 members. They have presented the Bram Stoker Awards in various categories since 1987.

This is only the preliminary ballot, so no one on this list can call themselves a Stoker nominee until the voting for the final ballot concludes on February 20th. But this year's poetry candidates include:

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

Vincenzo Bilof – The Horror Show (Bizarro Pulp Press)

Bruce Boston – Dark Roads: Selected Long Poems 1971-2012 (Dark Renaissance Books)

G.O. Clark – Scenes Along the Zombie Highway (Dark Regions Press)

David C. Kopaska-Merkel – Luminous Worlds (Dark Regions Press)

Helen Marshall – The Sex Lives of Monsters (Kelp Queen Press)

Marge Simon and Sandy DeLuca – Dangerous Dreams (Elektrik Milk Bath Press)

Marge Simon, Rain Graves, Charlee Jacob, and Linda Addison – Four Elements (Bad Moon Books/Evil Jester Press)

Bryan Thao Worra – Demonstra: A Poetry Collection (Innsmouth Free Press)

Stephanie M. Wytovich – Hysteria: A Collection of Madness (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

Good luck to everyone involved! It's a great list with many different options from some of the best horror poets in the world today!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Two poems selected for 2015 anthology, "How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens"

Two poems of mine have been accepted for an anthology of immigrant science fiction. It definitely feels like a great way to start the week.

The anthology, presently titled How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens, will be published by Upper Rubber Boot in 2015. It is being edited by Joanne Merriam.

The anthology sought narratives that explore the immigrant experience in a science fiction setting: what it means to acculturate, enculturate, assimilate or otherwise deal with living in a new place with strange inhabitants, customs, languages and/or landscapes.

I was fairly certain I had a few pages that could meet those requirements. The call for submissions is still open until January 31st, but take note that they are specifically looking for previously published work.

For the time being, I will keep it a surprise which pieces of mine were selected for the anthology. But I submitted a total of five for consideration earlier this year. But as a hint: Several of the candidates appeared in DEMONSTRA, Innsmouth Magazine, Lakeside Circus, and On the Other Side of the Eye. 

I wish Ms. Meriam the best of success as she goes through the remaining submissions and begins the long work ahead putting it all together. But it's an anthology many of us have been interested in seeing, and I look forward to the final result.

Friday, January 17, 2014

[RPG] Horror on the Orient Express, Lao-style

So, some time ago I backed the re-issue of the classic Call of Cthulhu role-playing game campaign, Horror on the Orient Express. Original first printings of the campaign have been spotted on Ebay for nearly $300 in good condition, in no small part due to the number of elaborate handouts to help set the mood.

Chaosium finally released a look at some of the goodies that will be included in many of the deluxe versions of the set coming out later this year. I certainly hope we'll get a chance to play a few of the scenarios during the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Los Angeles this September.

In any case, the campaign is famously convoluted, and players and gamemasters alike tend to love it or hate it. But the latest edition is already getting some very high praise from those who've tried it out.

I'm particularly excited for this because I backed it at a level where I was able to have them include a Lao poet as a playable character in the game, if you want. For this setting, you can now play a traveling poet from Laos touring Theosophist lodges across Europe. His final destination is Luxor, exploring connections of Egyptian snake deities to serpentine Nak of ancient Lan Xang, seeking to end relentless nightmares he has been having.

This all takes place around 1923, give or take a year or two, depending on the gamemaster's discretion. The primary cities you'll find yourself in include London, Paris, Lausanne, Milan and Venice.

But assuming that you're playing in 1923, it has been 5 years since the end of World War I. Under the traditional Lao calendar, it is almost the year 2466, the Year of the Pig (around April 15th). A Lao character would likely be informed of the pending first session of the Indigenous Consultative Assembly scheduled for August 30th.

The year before, in northern Laos, a 3-year Hmong insurrection came to a close (waged between the Year of the Goat, 2462 to Year of the Dog, 2465.) The Hmong have been granted partial autonomy in Xieng Khouang province at this point.

Presumably, if a Lao poet is in Europe around the beginning of 1923, he would most likely have begun his journey in 1922 several months earlier, traveling by boat.

As your character is going spend a lot of time on a train, it may bear worth mentioning that rail was not a common means of travel in Laos, although the French were considering a way to link Laos to Hanoi.

The exception to this was a 7 kilometer track constructed in southern Laos to connect a number of small islands during the French colonial era in southern Laos near the Cambodian border. The system was constructed 30 years prior, around 1893. This was to resolve a challenge of crossing the Khone mountain range separating the Lower from the Middle Mekong during the G. Simon Mission. Here's how the engine looks in the 21st century:

However, in neighboring Siam, in 1853, Queen Victoria had presented King Rama IV the first train for their realm, and trains would have been operating for 70 years. Among the highlights of some of the trains being used in Siam were cars like these golden teak carriages:

Tin mining and coffee production are just starting to take off in Laos in this time, although ultimately it will not be as profitable as the French hoped. The first few coffee plants were introduced to Laos by French colonists around 1915. After trial and error, the French will start trying to harvest coffee beans in the south, rather than the north.

This is because millions of years ago, a volcanic eruption in the south left the southern soils rich in minerals ideal for coffee production. There remains some debate as to the specific impact of entities such as the Great Old Ones and other ancestors in the region that may have given rise to legends regarding the Plain of Jars, the Bolovens Plateau, or epics such as Sin Xay or Phra Lak Phra Lam.

In 1923, a law school is opening in Vientiane to train local Laotians interested in participating in the government. Vientiane is one of the most likely places for the poet to have emerged from, although Luang Prabang is also another possible place to start from for playability.

One particular institution of note in the region is the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) which was dedicated to the study of Asian societies. It was founded in 1900 with headquarters in Hanoi. Its main fields of research are archaeology, philology and the study of modern Asian societies.

Around this time, archaeologist Louis Finot has been the director of the school since 1920, and he is in the process of finishing the publication of Les questions de Milinda, Milinda-Pañhha.

Another significant figure around 1923 is Madeleine Colani, who is 57 years old when most of Horror on the Orient Express typically takes place.Colani was a French archaeologist, born in Strasbourg. She combined the roles of geologist, paleobotanist, archeologist, and ethnographer. Colani discovered the Hoabinhian culture from approximately 16,000 BCE, and investigated the Plain of Jars during the 1930s. She has been working for three years at the Indochinese Geology Bureau, and will one day write Megaliths du Haute Laos (1930). Colani travels frequently with her younger sister,Eléonore. Madeleine Colani had first arrived in French Indochina when she was 33 years old.

1923 is also the 30th anniversary since the Lao territories east of the Mekong were ceded by Siam to the French in the Year of the Snake (1893). There have been a significant number of insurrections over the last decade in Laos at this time among different ethnicities.

Eight years from now (1931) the French will convene the Exposition Coloniale Internationale. It may or may not come into play for the diligent player and gamemaster. Perhaps the poet will also be discussing the possibility of presenting other elements of Lao culture to Europe in the future. Eventually the French will construct a number of pavilions based on different architectural styles from various colonies such as this pavilion for Laos:

Given that the Lao poet is traveling to Egypt as his final destination, it may be worth noting that by April, 1923, a new Egyptian Constitution will be enacted by a 30-member legislative committee that includes representatives of political parties, as well as national movement leaders. Notably, April is the traditional observance of Lao New Year.

The Egyptian constitution is an outcome of the end of World War I. The Egyptian Revolution had broken out in 1919 calling for liberty, independence and democracy. In the year prior to the start of Horror on the Orient Express, this revolution resulted in the February 28th, 1922 declaration that recognizes Egypt as an independent state and ends Egypt's status as a British protectorate.

With this particular game, the Lao poet is touring various Theosophical lodges. For historical accuracy, it has been proposed Auguste-Edouard Chauvet (1885-1955) invited the poet. Chauvet is 38 at the time, and continuing the work of the theosophists Fabre d'Olivet and Sainte Yves d'Alveydre. Chauvet is doing so by examining the book of Moses and other topics of esotericism. The poet is very interested in Chauvet's and the other Theosophists' understanding of serpents in ancient myth and legend as they appear in Europe and Africa.

H.P. Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society in 1875, is sometimes credited as the first person to bring both Buddhism and Hinduism to the West as spiritual traditions that could be embraced globally. While the focus of Theosophical societies has often been on Mahayana traditions or Vajrayana traditions, it is not wholly unthinkable that someone versed in the Theravada traditions of Laos would be of interest to their members.

In 1923, one key event that sent ripples through the Theosophists is the re-founding of the Anthrophosophical Society in Germany as the General Anthroposophical Society, which was 10 years old at the time. Rudolf Steiner was at the center of this movement, having been the General Secretary of the Theosophical Society's German branches. The declared mission of the society will be "to nurture the life of the soul, both in the individual and in human society, on the basis of a true knowledge of the spiritual world."

It's only briefly mentioned in the full biography of the Lao poet in Horror on the Orient Express, but there is a French garrison stationed at Fort Carnot in the province of Houei Xai, near the Mekong, watching the Siamese border. Situated on a hill, Fort Carnot has been in place since approximately 1903 in northwest Laos during the "Holy Man Revolt" led by Ong Kaeo in southern Laos.

The area is today considered  part of Bokeo Province (formed in 1983.) This is one of the least populated regions of the country, but over 34 ethnic groups could be found there, and Houei Xai was a major trading town for Chinese from Yunnan and the Siamese. The area was known for its sapphires, and there was an ancient stele kept at Wat Jom Kao Manilat (below) reputedly dating back to 1458 CE (Approximately 104 years after the founding of the kingdom of Lan Xang by Prince Fa Ngum.)

Because a certain book called On The Other Side Of The Eye is involved, the following poems from the modern text may add some particularly relevant flavor to the proceedings throughout the campaign: "New Myths of the Northern Land," "Imperious," "Hmong Market at Luang Prabang," "Observing the Oblivious," "The Deep Ones," "Before Going Feral," "Democracia," "Thread Between Stone," and "Zelkova Tree."

Do you really need to know all of this in order to play a Lao poet on the Orient Express as some ancient horror stirs that threatens to engulf humanity in its monstrous insanity? Most likely not, but this will hopefully provide some enjoyment for history buffs who really like to get deep into character for such games.

Good luck and enjoy Horror on the Orient Express when you get your copy!

Of Chapbooks and Cheapasses

I try to be careful regarding advice in the professional poetry world because I'm aware I can often sound a lot like Ian McKellan in Extras:

That being said: A fascinating but contentious topic popped up recently regarding publishers who won't print your chapbooks unless a certain pre-sale figure is met. The end result is that chapbook (typically under 40 pages, compared to a 'full-length' manuscript of 60 to 100+ pages) is foisted upon the reading public for almost $15 a copy. This isn't a deal I'd take, personally, but others clearly figured out a way to make it work for them.

I get to spout off on this matter with a great deal more liberty than most poets because I don't have to play nice-nice with any houses or departments, worrying about tenure, awards, teaching gigs or contracts. So, I'll call it like I see it.

I think it's an outrageous price compared to what the going rate for full-length books of poetry are. My current book DEMONSTRA at nearly 120 pages goes for $10 plus shipping and handling. I'm a poet, and I think anyone asking for $15 for their full-length collection of verse is pushing it, especially in this economy. Now, $15 for a chapbook?

Still, the operating rule for writers is always: "What works, works."

I personally like the process of making books in all forms. Chapbooks, full-lengths, broadsheets. Sometimes I like other people doing it, other times I love doing it myself. Sometimes I like doing it as an e-book, other times, I like the handwritten, hand-bound approach.

I think you're missing out on the full literary experience in life if you're really being dogmatic about it: "If it's not published because my agent sold it to a New York Press, I don't consider it a real book of mine..." Shoot. Now, If someone gives you a shot at getting published big time, go for it. If you get some copies into the hands of someone who loves it because you bumped into them on the street corner, remember: That's poetry too.

It's hard for me to imagine what it's like to be a poet who's never hand-assembled one of their own books to get it out there in the world. How could you not want that sense of satisfaction, knowing you've been involved in every step of the process for at least one of your books. If they love it or hate it, it's all on YOU.

But, back to the business of being "successful" as a poet.  Much like I counsel regarding politics and football games: Never confuse victory with effective strategy. And god knows, poetry publishing and 'success' is a lot more labyrinthine than most other forms of the literary arts. Seriously:

Certainly the publishing approach I described above for overpriced chapbooks is nowhere near as extreme as that incident where Dali said "If people want to pay good money for bad copies of my art, they deserve each other." But it raises some good questions.

I think we've lost sight of the fact that the whole point of using a publisher was that they believed in your book enough to take the financial risk on it. That gave them the incentive to make sure they worked with you so your book sold and made EVERYONE money. Nowadays, a lot of poetry publishing feels like "pity party charity." I say that's such a bullshit defeatist attitude.

"Nobody really reads poetry, so we're just doing it for the tax write-off, or because we're crazy, or both," seems to be the implicit mindset. I often wonder if the ancient Greeks had to deal with this kind of crisis. "Sorry, Homer, no one really wants to listen to your Odyssey, let alone pay for it, but we're going to let you prattle on because you're a cool guy."

But back on topic: This whole conversation came up because would-be writers for this publisher are expected to pre-sell close to 50 copies, or about 1 copy per state. It's such an underwhelming, borderline insulting requirement I wonder why you'd bother with it at all. "I don't think you even have 50 friends, dude. But if you can get them to buy it, I'll make some for them."

Thanks for the favor, pal. Granted, this must be hell on introverts, hermits and other forms of the reclusive, who DO write an inordinate amount of poetry they want read for not wanting to be around people a lot.

It IS quite the artistic gauntlet thrown down at you to find one person per state who will pay close to 50 cents a page for your words. That DOES sound incredibly validating. Especially when they could get a full-length book of yours for the same price.  If you're going to make me jump through a hoop as a precondition to you believing in my poetry enough to print some copies, let's make it a fun challenge, no? Let's make it 400, at least, which many say is the true minimum threshold for a 'real' book and not merely, I guess, some 'book-shaped object.'

My advice to the poet who was seriously considering taking the contract with the publisher was to ask if he'd feel comfortable suggesting this become the PREFERRED method of getting your work out there in the world to his young students.

In a crazy, mixed-up world, if you take part in that kind of a publishing model and validate it, can you explain why you'd prefer that over other methods of getting your book printed? If you can do that with a straight face, then hey, go for it. But to me, this is a big, big world with many, many routes. Some come along only once in a lifetime, others have endured for a reason. Just be conscientious about it. Or, barring that, at least interesting.

Across the board in the poetry field, the general consensus is no one wastes money on marketers, and barely editors to sell your book of poetry. It doesn't matter if you're at Random Penguins or Skanky Canyon Press being run out of Uncle Jebediah's garage. So here's my real talk: No one moves your book of poetry except YOU. You want your book to do well, be prepared to encourage people to buy it. You're your own best marketer.

But here: Sidle over to the awesome Barbara Jane Reyes for her take and thoughts for pin@y poets. I think there's a lot that applies for Lao and other poets as well.

[Film] Interviewing Mychal Mitchell, Producer/Director of Princess of Laos

I did a brief interview with film-maker Mychal Mitchell for Little Laos on the Prairie that's up this weekend. His work raises some interesting questions about how we tell our stories and how we search for our heritage and our future.

His film raises some great questions about what we look for from stories about the Lao and how do we build a passion for such movies. Princess of Laos was passed over for an Oscar and Golden Globe this year, but given the success of Nerakhoon and The Rocket, we know Lao films are capable of telling award-winning stories. And there are a great many good stories that don't get award nominations simply because of the existing industry process. But that's a post for a different day.

I am deeply supportive of Princess of Laos for a number of reasons. I like the fact that its very production challenges us about the question of who can tell a Lao story and who can 'be' Lao. We take that issue so often for granted. We have often been conditioned to think "if we're going to get help making a great piece of art, it can only come from support from those entrenched within the mainstream media and arts." Princess of Laos puts that notion to the test and vindicates itself well.

There's a line of dialog from Star Trek: The Next Generation's finale that always resonates with me doing cultural work. A character says: "We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.... For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence."  With that in mind, I'm glad Mychal Mitchell and his family are a part of that journey. I'm excited to see where his daughter Tabatha goes from this point forward in her life.

There are some who might ask about the way we talk about history in a film like Princess of Laos. The choice to frame it within a genre action-mystery than a documentary. For me, it brings to mind Raymond Chandler's old line, "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. " Considering we're telling the story of people who escaped a civil war, that's liable to push a few buttons. I'm glad to see Mychal Mitchell taking a risk with this method, because there are some things you can do with a mystery that are more surprising than framing it as documentary. We can ask more "what ifs", among other things.

Because of the classified nature of the war for Laos, the various factions, the fog of war, the frailty of human memory, the persisting sensitivities, anyone who seriously claims they have a definitive, apolitical history of Laos is being foolish. But we CAN try to get something closer to the truth if we are persistent. We have to value the many fragmented pieces of truth we are each holding on to, rebuilding with each film, each story preserved, each conversation held.

The genre of mystery is certainly an apt metaphor for the Lao experience, not just in America but around the world. Whodunnit? Which parts of our past chase us, which parts of our past do we chase?

Francis Ford Coppola was being grandiose when he said that Apocalypse Now was not about Vietnam, but that it WAS Vietnam. Sort of a cinematic tone-poem, if you will, where the fictionalized truth was more true than 'the Truth' if such a thing existed. I bring this up because I often watch a Lao film asking not so much about the truth of the story,  but the deeper truth of the experience we're seeing presented on film. To clarify this idea: Personally, I know there are many relatives of mine who died before I ever got a chance to meet them, many relatives who don't even know I exist, and any number of variations of this experience are a part of every Lao person's heritage now. How do we reconcile with that?

Does a film like Princess of Laos give us permission to question our stories. Does it give us permission to acknowledge the gaps in those stories, yet not be paralyzed by them?

How do you say: "I am here. There were people before me, but their names are lost. But we will still go forward, with what we do know." I think Mychal Mitchell is in an excellent position to explore those questions, because many in the African American community can ask those same questions, compared to those who can trace their genealogy back to the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower.

This doesn't mean we can't ask questions about his artistic choices, because he IS putting it out there after all. But I hope our community members critique it constructively with the aim of bringing even more interesting films to the screen one day.

There are some people who think Princess of Laos drags a bit in places. That the acting is wooden in others. Maybe they don't like the melodrama, or the take on history. But I would go back to the artists' first necessary response: What are you creating, then?

As an artist, I often tell my students: We don't create to be agreed with. Especially when dealing with Lao history, Lao language, or even the Lao future. We create points of conversation which hopefully lead to many other creations. That's how you build a culture. Lao culture with not thrive presenting a monolithic, uniform version of our history. It will thrive from creating many interesting paths to take.

The vantage point of Minnesota Lao rappers is different from that of a Lao prince in Paris, or a Lao teacher in Arizona. It's different from the Lue in the hills of Laos and the HiSos in Vientiane or a nurse in Luang Prabang. They'll each tell you different versions of Lao history and where America fits into all of that. And I say viva la difference. I would be disappointed with our culture if we tried to extinguish different takes on being Lao simply because they disagree with one particularly popular interpretation. Why?

We see so many nations and cultures where they privilege those who erase conflicting versions of history, and ultimately dissenting (but not necessarily disloyal) viewpoints. Those nations are among the poorest in the world today, economically, socially, and spiritually. They do not grow by any human measure. They only grow in intolerance. That limits them, and they never become all that they could be.

If Lao culture survives, I hope it is because we remember our roots, our respect for diversity and our ability to support one another as we each try to build something better than the last thing we built. In this blog, I've often quoted Langston Hughes' 1926 essay wherein he says: " We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves."

For all Lao artists, wherever they create, whatever they create I hope they find their way to the truth of these words, and many others that lead not just to art, but the wondrous things art seeks in the first place.