Friday, October 30, 2015

Four Poems




From my 2009 collection, BARROW

[Folktale] Phi Kowpoon


This Lao folktale seems a little less well-known than others, but I like it because it draws on many fascinating elements of Lao daily life. It might properly fall under the category of urban legend, and while some might not consider it as terrifying as a creepypasta story, I hope it gets retold in future generations, just the same. It seems there’s likely only one Phi Kowpoon, and I haven’t been able to find any sources that give her a name otherwise. As always, this is far from the final or only version, but it goes something like this:

In Laos, a man was pushing his kowpoon cart down the road in the early evening. It had been a long day, and he hadn’t sold all of his noodles. He had heard of a village nearby and decided to head that way to try his luck there. On the way, he found himself at a fork in the road near a pair of twin banyan trees. He heard a soft whimpering, and as got closer to the trees he saw a little girl weeping on a log, her long hair covering her face.

It was getting very cold, and he sat on the log next to her. He asked “Are you all right, little sister?”

The girl just kept crying softly.

“Are you from the village up ahead?”

Still, the girl gave no reply.

“It’s getting cold. And you shouldn’t be all by yourself out here. There are many scary ghosts in the jungle at night. Don’t you think you should go home?”

The girl stopped crying. Everything was quiet in the jungle. Not even the insects were making noise.

The noodle seller felt a chill wash over him as he realized something was amiss. He asked her: “Are you alive? Or are you a ghost?”

At this, the girl nodded. Trembling, the man asked one last question: “Who did this to you?”

She looked up at him with an furious, ghastly visage and pointed accusingly with a cold, gray finger, “A NOODLE SELLER LIKE YOU!!!”

The noodle seller screamed in terror and ran away so fast in fear he left his kowpoon cart behind. He was never seen in the area again. But today, if you ask around the right village, they’ll tell the story of a girl who sold noodles who was murdered long ago, her body buried by a pair of banyan tres. And sometimes, when the moon is right, you can spot her still, by her trees, smiling as she sells her kowpoon to anyone who passes by.

But don’t complain if her soup is cold.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

(Re) Collecting the Vietnam War: 11/17, Minneapolis

Minnesotans, you'll want to check out the U of M's presentation of the Asian American Literary Review's special isue (Re) Collecting the Vietnam War on Nov. 17 at the Elmer L. Andersen Library 5pm-6:30pm.

Featuring Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Bao Phi and Kao Kalia Yang. It's a great lineup. I wish I could be there. But if you can, don't miss it, as we mark 40 years of the Southeast Asian Diaspora.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cthulhu Wars: Onslaught 2 Kickstarter underway


Sandy Petersen's new Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter had an amazing start, funding in less than half an hour. 3 weeks remain for Onslaught 2 to unlock several stretch goals and to enable Sandy Petersen and his colleagues to get a good reprinting of this classic game. We're seeing new pledge levels and stretch goals added regularly. 19 stretch goals have been unlocked so far, including 2 free large glow-in-the-dark minis. For those of us who backed at the De Vermis Mysteriis level during the first round, it's nice that the follow-up outlay will only be $150. I'm tempted by the 6-8 player maps, but I'll see as we get closer to the end of the campaign.

While I'm disappointed that Richard Luong isn't the lead artist on this set, the miniatures revealed thus far look like they will still be reasonably close in style that it won't be excessively jarring, although the Y'Golonac could use some reworking before the final molds are set, in my opinion.


Take a peek and consider backing it! As so many others have shown in their posts, this is a magnificent and fast-paced game with very interesting angles, non-Euclidian and otherwise, for strategic play but without geting bogged down in minutiae and micromanaging like Axis & Allies or Monopoly. I think it will be decades before a better board game centered on the Cthulhu mythos emerges now, in terms of overall quality, ease and diversity of play.

I-SEA FILM FESTIVAL November 20-22nd


In November, I'll be presenting briefly at the I-SEA FILM FESTIVAL, which also includes some amazing films from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere. Be sure to mark your calendars! As the organizers note:

The I-SEA Film Fest (International Southeast Asian Film Fest, Nov 21-22, 2015) highlights the histories, imaginaries and identities of those with ties to Southeast Asia and its diasporas. This year is the fortieth anniversary of US military engagements in Southeast Asia: the selected films seeks dialogue with local and international communities, drawing connections between wars then and now, overseas and on our streets. The films (9 features and 22 shorts) also query--and queers--standard national narratives of modern love, sexualities, and modernization.

Featuring work by award-winning directors (Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or, Prince Claus Foundation, Macarthur “Genius" award), Oscar nominees, rebels and art-world stars, I-SEA showcases world- class feature films, cutting-edge experimental shorts and controversial documentaries.

The Opening night gala will take place on November 20th at Artist Television Access. The festival takes place at New People Cinema in Japantown from November 21-22nd, 2015--select screenings will have post-screening Q&A with filmmakers and panels. The I-SEA Film Fest is founded by the Diasporic Vietnamese Artist Network. 
California is the home to the largest concentrations of Southeast Asian immigrants in the world. There are hundred of thousands of people of Southeast Asian descent in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and other parts of the world. Southeast Asians are both invisible and hypervisible (as model minorities, gangsters, eternal foreigners) in North American mass media. These incredibly diverse Southeast Asian communities voice the ruptures--and re-envision global realities--forged by colonization, militarization and migrations. Providing counter-points to (hetero-)normative ideologies historically constructed by the West and by Southeast Asian nation-states, our Southeast Asian stories are varied and vital.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Southeast Asian American Legacies: 40 Years After the End of the Vietnam War


The University of Merced is convening an exciting symposium on Friday, December 4th: Southeast Asian American Legacies: 40 Years After the End of the Vietnam War.

This looks like it will be one of the last major events of 2015 for artists, academics and other community builders across the country to gather and reflect on four decades of the Southeast Asian diaspora that has affected the Lao, Hmong, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Tai Dam, Lue, Khmu, Iu-Mien, Montagnard and other cultures both here in the US and around the world. According to the organizers:

The symposium at UC Merced will bring together scholars, community members, and artists to discuss the Vietnam War and its human legacies. 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, the end of a war that claimed the lives of an estimated 58,260 American troops and over 4 million Southeast Asians across Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Even 40 years after the war, Vietnam continues to haunt politics and society from debates about foreign policy to popular culture. Free and open to the public. 

This event is sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor at UC Merced and the Office of the Provost at UC Merced. It is co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at UC Merced  and the School of Social Sciience, Humanities and Arts at UC Merced.

The keynote address is Cathy Schlund-Vials, University of Connecticut (president-elect of Association for Asian American Studies). The scholars presenting include Mariam Lam and Davorn Sisavath from the University of California, Riverside; and Kong Pha, University of Minnesota. Also presenting are Steve Arounsack, from California State University, Stanislaus; Leakhena Nou, from California State University, Long Beach; and Lar Yang, Director of the Hmong Story 40 Project.


TeAda Productions will be on hand to present part of Refugee Nation and May Lee-Yang and Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay will come from Minnesota to present Hmong-Lao Friendship Play OR Lao-Hmong Friendship Play.



Writer Mai Der Vang and I will be presenting a poetry reading at lunch, "The Past is a Secret Country." We will draw on our work as writers from over the years and how that has tied into our understanding of ourselves and our community. This will be our very first reading together.


Kung Fu Zombies vs. Shaman Warrior coming!


Coming December 20th at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis:

With Hanuman as her spiritual guide, a young woman must battle zombies in the jungle, monsters that materialize from Buddhist texts, and her own personal demons in a post apocalyptic Laos. Kung Fu Zombies vs Shaman Warrior examines the perception of mental illness as demonic possession within the Lao community. 

Refugenius Labs presents a stage reading of Kung Fu Zombies vs Shaman Warrior. KFZvSW is the second installment from the Kung Fu Zombiverse anthology of stage works. Written by Saymoukda Vongsay, directed by Randy Reyes, and featuring music by DJ Kool Akiem.

Suggested Donations are $5-$15 ($15 gets you a free Kung Fu Zombies tote bag, limited quantity) Arrive Early. Seating is Limited. www.SaymoukdaTheRefugenius.com

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

[Folktale] Nang Phom Hom


Preface: Nang Phom Hom, “The Perfume-haired Girl” is a classic folktale in Lao tradition, and relatively easy to tell once you understand the basics of the story. The biggest challenge is that the ending is a bit gruesome. 

Under modern Lao values, one could argue the punishment of the villain seems way out of proportion (The prince seems to escape direct karmic consequence by ordering his servants to do the dirty deed, but that’s a debate for another time.) I imagine most Lao would interpret the villain’s fate as a warning not to mess around with magic because undoing the mess magic causes often carries a very high price.

This is far from a final version, but I wanted to retell Nang Phom Hom in a way that had greater internal consistency and gave Nang Phom Hom greater agency and personality than what’s found in the current translations available so far. Hopefully, it also will provide future generations enough of a chance to add to the “Untold Adventures of Nang Phom Hom” later.

Nang Phom Hom

Once, before Laos was even a dream, there was an old widow who was searching for food in the jungle. She became thirsty, and spotted a giant elephant’s footprint filled with water. She drank from the footprint and returned to her village. To her surprise, she became pregnant, and soon gave birth to a girl with beautiful smelling hair. She named the girl Nang Phom Hom.

It was not an easy childhood for the young girl. The other village children constantly teased Nang Phom Hom, calling her the “Daughter of an Elephant,” and ruder names, but she never understood why, and her mother never told her. When Nang Phom Hom was nine years old, her mother at last told her with her the whole strange story with her very last breath. Her mother’s story deeply confused Nang Phom Hom. Few attended her mother’s funeral, and when it was finished, Nang Pham Hom set out to find her father and her true destiny.

Her journey took her across many lands over many years, including the Realm of Bandits, the Realm of Spiders, the Realm of Laughing Monkeys, the Realm of Ugly Giants, the Realm of Blackbirds, the Realm of Ancient Serpents, the Realm of Riddling Tigers, and the Realm of Giant Catfish. Finally, when she was twelve, she arrived at the edge of the Realm of Elephants, and told her story to the guardians at the border.

The guardians laughed at her story, for how could she be the daughter of the King of Elephants? But they agreed to take her to their master to let him decide her fate, noting it was forbidden for humans to enter the Realm of Elephants.

The King of Elephants was doubtful of her story but offered her a challenge. “If you are truly my daughter, you will be able to walk on my tusks without falling off. But if you are not, I will crush you flat with my foot for lying to me, and no one will ever remember you.”

Nang Phom Hom agreed to the challenge, and boldly climbed onto the King of Elephants tusk, certain of her roots. Step by step, one foot after the other, to the astonishment of everyone assembled, she walked the entire length of his left tusk, and then his right tusk, and never once fell off. The King of Elephants smiled joyously and acknowledged her as his true daughter. He ordered a palace built for her and decreed that no one was to enter but her. At last, Nang Phom Hom was home and happy.

She spent many years with her father, who spent his time with her teaching her the ways of the elephants and showing her the secrets and mysteries of his kingdom. But one day, the King of Elephants told her that he and his court needed to travel to his brother in a distant land, and she needed to stay in the palace, where she would be safe. The King’s journey would take several years. Although saddened by her father’s departure, she agreed to stay, and wished them well.

Over the years while everyone was away, she grew into an elegant woman. One night, she had a strange dream that she met a man who would fall in love with her, and they would marry. When she woke up, she cut off a lock of her hair, and put it into a box that she set adrift in the river. She made a wish that whoever found the box would come to find her and marry her.

Many months later, a prince found the box and was so enchanted by the fragrance of the hair inside that he mounted a search far and wide for the owner. After many adventures, he finally found Nang Phom Hom. Just as Nang Phom Hom had wished, they fell in love and he asked her to marry him. They soon had two children and were happy.

They lived this way for several years when news arrived that the King of Elephants was at last returning. Knowing that her father had forbidden anyone, especially humans, to come into his realm and especially her palace, she hid her family.

When the King of Elephants arrived, she welcomed her father warmly. Sensing something was strange, he asked her if anyone had come to visit her. She told her father no, and he believed her. This continued for almost a month, but finally it became too frightening for her, so she and the prince built a raft together to voyage to her husband’s homeland.

The King of the Elephants came out of the jungle to see Nang Phom Hom and her family floating down the river. They were almost completely out of sight when he fell to the ground and called out to her. “My daughter, my daughter Nang Phom Hom, come back! Don’t be afraid. I forgive everything. But come back, I just want to see you one last time before I die.”

With tears, Nang Phom Hom leapt off the boat and swam back to her beloved father. As he lay dying, he smiled at his daughter and said, “I have always loved you, my daughter. When I have breathed my last, take my tusks and throw them into the river. Do as I ask, please.” The King of Elephants closed his eyes one final time and left the world. Weeping, Nang Phom Hom did as she was asked. First one tusk, then the next, each perfect and magnificent. When she was done, something magical happened and the tusks transformed into a splendid boat of gold.

Nang Phom Hom called her husband and children back, and together they boarded the golden boat to return to her husband’s people. It would be a journey of many months, and they saw many strange things along the way.

Alas, one night they stopped ashore near the hut of a horrid witch who decided she wanted the prince all for her own. Just before everyone was about to depart, the witch disguised herself as a perfect white lotus near the boat. Nang Phom Hom was delighted by the flower and reached down to pick it up to show her family.

Instead, she was transformed into a monkey, while the witch took the form of Nang Phom Hom. She tried to tell her husband, frantically waving her arms, but the witch chased the monkey into the forest, then climbed aboard the golden boat with a smile. The prince was none the wiser, although his children suspected something was wrong. As a monkey, Nang Phom Hom could do nothing but try to follow the river and her family.

Nang Phom Hom’s family finally arrived at the palace of the prince, who welcomed them with open arms. But the children knew more than ever that this was not their true mother. One night, they snuck out into the nearby forest and found their mother, who wept at the sight of them. But Nang Phom Hom knew they had to be careful, or the witch might kill everyone before the truth could be told.

One afternoon, while the witch was sleeping, dreaming of what she would do with all of the wealth of the prince’s kingdom, the children asked their father to come with them. They led him to the forest, and to the monkey who was Nang Phom Hom. When the prince caught scent of the monkey’s fragrant hair, he realized at last this was his true love. But he did not know what to do to help his wife, or how to deal with the witch in his palace.

A wandering forest hermit came by, and saw the prince and his dilemma. The hermit pondered the problem. After deep consideration, he told the prince that the only way to turn Nang Phom Hom back into a human would be for her to bathe in the blood of the witch who cast the spell. The prince agreed.

When he returned to the palace, he instructed his servants to go walking with the witch in the woods, and when they traveled far enough that no one could see them, they were to kill her and collect the blood. The servants did as they were told, and the prince brought the blood to Nang Phom Hom, who was transformed back into a human.

Although there were many adventures afterwards, for the most part, Nang Phom Hom and her family lived happily afterwards.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

San Diego Lao Boat Racing Festival coming Oct. 31


On Saturday, October 31st in San Diego, I'll be joining Sahtu Press at the Lao Boat Racing Festival at Tecolote Shores North, Mission Bay Park from 9AM to 4PM.


This is the second year the community in San Diego has organized the event. In addition to Dragonboat racing, they'll have Lao food and craft vendors, cultural performances including traditional Lao dance and music, and a parade. There are approximately 7,000 Lao estimated to reside in San Diego. For more information you can visit the organizers' facebook page at: MekongBoatRacing Club.


The other Sahtu Press authors will be there, too, including Nor Sanavongsay, author of "A Sticky Mess" and Krysada Panusith Phounsiri, the author of "Dance Among Elephants". Nor Sanavongsay have had a busy month with recent appearances at ZAPPCON in Fresno and ConVolution in San Francisco. Krysada Panusith Phounsiri also had a successful gallery show for his Snap Pilots photography team in San Diego in addition to his extensive traveling across the country. His book just finished selling out its most recent printing, but a fresh printing is arriving just in time for the Lao Boat Racing Festival.


We'll have copies of Soul Vang's first book of poetry To Live Here, Sunny Chanthanouvong & David Zander's folktale collection The Wolf and the Moon, and Kev Minh Allen's debut poetry collection My Proud Sacrifice.


I'll have copies of Tanon Sai Jai and Demonstra on sale for $20 each at the festival, although we'll also have discounted bundles available throughout the day.

In the Sahtu Press reissue of my 2009 poetry collection, I address the complicated twists and turns of the Lao diaspora in one of my more intimate and personal collections to date. Composed of 56 poems and a photo essay, I contemplate what it means to be Lao and Lao American.

Is there a difference? How do we reconcile with memory, and how do we share a future? Tanon Sai Jai probes many of the familiar symbols and everyday objects of Lao life and pays tribute to many of the artists, writers and community builders I met along the way. Sometimes deep, soften humorous and humane, Tanon Sai Jai gives readers many things to think about on the Path of the Heart.


DEMONSTRA is my 2013 award-winning book. It received the Science Fiction Poetry Association Elgin Award for Book of the Year. As my publisher, Innsmouth Press described it: "In the depths, half-hidden under still waters, await strange and vicious creatures …. Cthulhu, Godzilla and nagas mingle in DEMONSTRA, a speculative poem collection which assembles 20 years of work. DEMONSTRA is a book of things glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. It is about a reality that can never fully be demonstrated, authenticated, dissected, for certain visions always remain in shadows."


As an interesting bit of history, dragonboat racing originated in China, but many other nations observe it to recognize aspects of our shared heritage.

One version of the tale maintains that there was a wise and loyal minister and poet named Qu Yuan who served the Zhou Emperor. His book, the Chu Ci is widely regarded as one of the two greatest books of ancient Chinese verse. He was much beloved by the common people for his constant fight against corruption in the emperor's court. However, Qu Yuan finally became so despondent at the corruption of his colleagues he threw himself into the Milou River.


The community rushed out in long boats hoping to rescue him, but they were too late. They beat drums to scare the fish away, and threw dumplings into the water to feed the fish so they would not eat Qu Yuan's body. It is said that late one night, Qu Yuan's ghost appeared before his friends and told them his fate, asking them to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off a dragon in the river.



Dragonboat races have since been held to commemorate Qu Yuan’s death, typically celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. Many communities now convene dragonboat races year-round.

My poem "Zongzi" was written in part because of this legend, although it never really found a home in other journals. So it goes.

Zongzi

How can a person be free
If they do not grow?
Will all of the poets die
If Tomorrow finally arrives?

How hard did the home winds blow
On the bleak isle of sharp-beaked Harpies?
Will Qu Yuan ever bob to the surface
And touch my humble dragon's bow?

Can burnt flags really feed trees
better than spilled blood?
If I don't pretend I'm here
Atop my staircase now,
Where do I go tomorrow?

After a good meal on University Avenue,
You might dream of unwrapping
A forlorn writer's last words
Secretly scratched onto a bamboo leaf,
Thrown to the wind for passing schoolchildren
From an attic of dried flowers and dust
And ask, "When do electric elephants dream,
If all of their time is spent remembering?"

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Southeast Asian Superheroes and Imagination


If you missed Nor Sanavongsay and I at ZAPPCON last weekend, you can read a few thoughts from Nor Sanavongsay over at Little Laos on the Prairie on the different issues that might be at play in a Southeast Asian superhero tradition in countries that haven't yet really developed one. And of course you can follow his sketches and other ideas over at http://artofnor.tumblr.com or follow him on twitter at @Artofnor

On Twitter, you can also check out the hashtag #SEASuperheroes for some of my thoughts on the subject, as well as those of others in the field from around the world. I suppose the world does need a book of Lao American superehero poems, soon. Might have to start looking into that...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

[Poem] Hmong Market at Luang Prabang



If I am successful,
I will be immortal and misunderstood.

If these emaciated girls on the candlelit street
Of Luang Prabang are successful,

They understand they will live for another melting day
Dreaming idly of an ink-faced man like me
Who will whisk them away for good,

Only he’s perfect, always remembering his pinky promise
To come back the next night

To buy their dusty bed sheets
For a fistful of wrinkled kip.

[Poem] What kills a man

Always small things:
A round.
Holes.

Fumes.
Edges.
Split atoms.
A second.
A footstep.
A sip.  A bite.  A word.  A cell.

A motion. An emotion. A dream.
A fool.

A bit of salt. A drop. A fragment.
The true root of arguments.

What kills a man is mysterious
Only in how minute the culprit
Behind the blow.

We’re careless, and forget:
Even when what kills a man
Is another man,

It is a small thing that kills a man,
The whole earth a single grain

            On a sprawling table filled with the smallest things.

from On the Other Side of the Eye, 2007

[Poem] Eredita (Italian translation of Legacies)

A big thanks to Alessio Fratticcioli for doing a wonderful translation of my poem "Legacies" as "Eredità." You can see it at http://www.asiablog.it/2015/09/10/bambini-in-laos/ Grazie! I'm always delighted to see that many of my poems have resonated with Italians around the world.

Eredità

La conoscenza aiuta, quasi magicamente,
Arrivano le ore, come viaggiatori nella nebbia.
Uno sguardo moderno osserva
Moltitudini, visioni, opportunità.
Vientiane ora cresce, opulenta.
Coltiva vero successo.
Novizi salutano, “Sabaidee, Ajahn”
Generazioni che cercano altruisticamente
Di sorridere, consapevoli,
Ascendenti.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Starry Wisdom, the Dying Earth, and Toy Soldiers: An Interview with Simon Berman


Up in Seattle, there's a rather curious and interesting fellow I've known for some years now who passes through the waking world as Simon Berman. Our paths intersect in surprising ways, not the least of which being a love of books, forbidden knowledge, games, and the Cthulhu Mythos. Because of his work with Privateer Press, I became acquainted with their Warmachine Game, among other projects. One of those happens to be his ambitious Book of Starry Wisdom that came about from his desire to hold a book of H.P. Lovecraft's works that felt as ominous as the storied Necronomicon. 

When he approached me about the possibility of being a contributor, I said yes without hesitation because I know he "gets it" as much as this subject can be "gotten". 

In any case, between both of our harried schedules and any number of unusual mishaps, bizarre circumstances and anomolies warping time, space and mere reality, we finally had a chance to discuss his path and influences, and I found myself even more excited than ever to work with him. Be sure to check out his blog at A Love Letter To Atrocity, and do consider backing The Book of Starry Wisdom. 


You always have so many projects going on at once. What are your top three at the moment you're really excited about?

 Right now, The Book of Starry Wisdom is obviously the center of my world. After that, it's an ongoing project that I've been helping to manage for almost two years now, Eliza Gauger's Problem Glyphs. As for a third, well it's for my day job at Privateer Press and I can't talk about it publicly right now!


How do you describe your job to your family?

"I get paid to Tweet about toy soldiers."


You're involved in many parts of science fiction and fantasy, but particularly with the works of H.P. Lovecraft. How did you first get introduced to his work? And what's your favorite H.P. Lovecraft story?

I actually first encountered Lovecraft in a somewhat roundabout way. It would have been somewhere around 1993 when I was a very enthusiastic Metallica fan. I had listened to all their music at that point, so I had already encountered their songs "The Call of Ktulu" and "The Thing That Should Not Be," but I didn't understand what they were about. I ended up reading a biography of the band which devoted a paragraph or so to their fascination with Lovcraft's stories. Being a certain breed of heavy metal and roleplaying game nerd, it more or less ensured that the next book I picked up was a Del Rey collection of Lovecraft's stories, one of the ones with the amazing Michael Whelan covers, and I was hooked right there.

As for my favorite Lovecraft story, it has got to be The Dunwich Horror. It has all the elements that I love in his work; remote villages, degenerate families, ancient books, people turning into monsters, alien gods, and cosmic peril. Lovecraft wrote more effective stories and explored those ideas in greater depth elsewhere, but for me, The Dunwich Horror is the whole package.


Who do you consider some of your personal literary role models? Who would you consider your strangest influence?

Lovecraft goes without saying, but this is a tough one. My mother is from England and I grew up reading a lot of British fiction. My parents didn't really bother to curate the books available to me by age appropriateness which I think benefited me in a lot of ways.

I'd read all of George Macdonald Fraser's Flashman novels by the time I was twelve, and that love of history and black humor made a huge impact. Fraser brought history to life in those books like no one else and I'd kill to have a faction of his ability. Gerald Durrel's memoirs are a touchstone for me, and were a real force multiplier on my love of natural history as a child.

As for more contemporary writers, I'd be remiss not to mention Alan Moore and Michel Houllebecq. Houllebecq's The Possibility of an Island is some of the best contemporary not-quite-science fiction I've read, which also reminds me that I should mention my recent love of Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy. But then I feel like I'm doing Michael Moorcock a disservice for not mentioned dozens of his novels, and also Jack Vance's Dying Earth, and I could go on, is what I'm saying.


Are there any specific writers at the moment you feel we underappreciate? 

Well, now that you mention it and I already mentioned him, Jack Vance. Vance laid so much groundwork for modern science fiction and fantasy and outside of roleplaying game circles he's just not very well known. One of these days someone at HBO or AMC is going to find his Dying Earth or Lyonesse stories and he'll get the appreciation he's due, I hope.



After nearly a century, there's still an ongoing fascination with the work of H.P. Lovecraft. But are we coming close to exhausting the directions we can go with his work and the Cthulhu Mythos?

I don't think so. There are some tropes that are getting really tired by this point but I think the nature of his work is going to lend itself to dramatic reinterpretations for as long as people are telling stories.

The virtue of having so many "indescribable" horrors and so forth means that every creator gets to put their own stamp on them. I could do without seeing another ripped muscle man with a squid head, but I think as long as people are examining, deconstructing, and engaging with his stories and themes we're going to keep getting exciting new takes on the Mythos.


What's your advice for a beginner who is interested in getting involved with writing?

Write for pleasure. Write whenever you can. Get a job that isn't writing for a while and it will make you appreciate the writing that you do in your spare time all the more. There's a lot to be said for writing for a living but don't jump in the deep end on that, I've seen so many people turned bitter at the craft itself because they were struggling to get by on the sad rates that are just the reality for a starting writer.

Do what you have to do to keep yourself from hating it and, if you're determined to improve your work, willing to make connections, and a little bit lucky, success of some sort will likely follow.


When are you most excited with a project?

The immediate answer I had was"at the beginning," but on second thought it's when I start to really pull the project together. When it's at a point where it's coalesced enough and I'm confident enough in it that I can start talking about it with people in my inner circle. Most of my projects never get to that point.

I tend to hoard ideas for a while, what Warren Ellis calls the "compost bin" method. You think deeply on the idea for a little while, a few days, a week, make notes, obsess over it, and then you put it away. Don't think about it for a month. When you come back to it you see if the refuse has turned into fertilizer. If it does, I start work in earnest. That's when I get excited.


What's a personal rule you set for yourself as a writer?

Don't talk about things you haven't written yet. It's easy to spout a half-baked idea to your friends online and get distracted by the excitement instead of actually writing the god damn thing.



Check out The Book of Starry Wisdom at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/aeeth/the-book-of-starry-wisdom-apocrypha-of-lovecrafts/ The campaign ends November 1st!

[Lao Proverb] Rat faces and forest fires

There' a Lao proverb that goes: "We see the rat's face when the forest fire comes," or you hear from someone when they need help.


There are certainly many circumstances in a typcial Lao life where that would apply. So, tuck this one away for a later time. What are some of your other favorite Lao proverbs? 

[Call for Submissions] "Where The Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories"

Word's been gettng around about ‘Where The Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories–An Anthology Project with A Cause.’ This is an anthology project by Laksa Media seeking short speculative fiction of no more than 7,000 words.

According to the organizers:
"This speculative fiction anthology will contain original stories to celebrate Asian diversity, featuring an Asian main character, Asian setting and/or some amount of Asian elements, by authors with an Asian heritage. Our definition of Asia ranges from the Pacific Rim, across the continent of Asia, to and including the Middle East. Authors do not need to reside in Asia to participate in this anthology."

They welcome translated story from other languages to English (no English reprints).

Contributors will be paid CAN 6 cents per word. A portion of Laksa Media’s net revenue from this anthology will go directly to support one of the programs provided by Kids Help Phone.

In addition, Laksa Media will donate CAN$500 upon the publication of this anthology. You can learn more about the anthology at: http://laksamedia.com/where-the-stars-rise-an-anthology-for-a-cause-submission-call/ The submissions open December 1st. The final submission dateline for stories is May 31, 2016.

SEARAC Deportation Guide for Southeast Asian Americans Now Available Online


Hopefully you won't need this any time soon, but I think it's important to have a reasonably accurate set of resources available and easy to find, just in case.  I strongly recommend at least giving it at least a passing look now to make sure you know if there's resources in your area. Don't wait until the last minute.

Unfortunately, as most of us know, your resources for getting help to contest a deportation are still relatively slim, especially if you don't live on the coasts. But it's 24 pages that can at least give you a good heads up of what to expect. Via SEARAC:
"People facing deportation to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam often arrived in the United States as refugee children, growing up in failing schools and unsafe neighborhoods plagued by violence and intergenerational poverty. Because of these unique circumstances, SEARAC, together with the Immigrant Justice Clinic of the American University Williams College of Law, created a deportation guide to help non-citizens from Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese American communities (together with their advocates) navigate our country's complex detention and deportation systems."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Strange Horizons annual fundraiser

Strange Horizons is coming up on the last week of its annual fund drive! If you can support them, please consider it!

They're currently trying to raise $18,000 to continue bringing you amazing content.

Anyone who donates at least $10 also gets eBook copy of Strange Horizons: The First Fifteen Years at the end of the fund drive. This ebook includes stories by Elizabeth Bear, Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, Vandana Singh, myself and Nor Sanavongsay, and many others, plus a history of the magazine.

http://strangehorizons.com/fund_drives/2015/main.shtml


Science Fiction Poetry Association Poetry Contest winners announced!


The Science Fiction Poetry Association recently announced the winners of the 2015 SFPA: Science Fiction Poetry Association Poetry Contest.

There were three winners in three categories: Dwarf, Short, and Long Form, judged this year by Lesley Wheeler. Winners received between $100 to $25 based on their placement. You can see the winning poems here: http://sfpoetry.com/contests/15contest.html

Dwarf Category: 71 entries
Winner: Anomaly, F. J. Bergmann

2nd Place: “Methane Snowfall,” Melanie A. Rawls

3rd Place: Crater Conundrum Pizza, Greer Woodward

Honorable Mention: “speed of light,” Susan Burch; After Dark, F. J. Bergmann


Short Category: 165 entries
Winner: Metis Emits, Akua Lezli Hope

2nd Place: Phone Tree, Alexandra Erin

3rd Place: Some Who Wander Become Lost, Peg Duthie

Honorable Mention: The Agnostic Fireman Considers Tears, Jonathan Travelstead; Mermaids, Jeffrey Park; Neighborhood Charms, Marian Moore


Long Category: 44 entries
Winner: Transference, F. J. Bergmann

2nd Place: Arizona Rest Stop, Richard Bruns

3rd Place: The Comet Elm, Martin Elster

Honorable Mention: Job, Isaac and the Barrio, David Cowen


About the Judge:
Lesley Wheeler is the author of The Receptionist and Other Tales, a James Tiptree, Jr. Award Honor Book, and the new collection Radioland. Her poems appear in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Poetry, New Orleans Review, and other magazines. She teaches at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and blogs about poetry at lesleywheeler.org.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Final days for SEA Is Ours Southeast Asian Steampunk Anthology fundraiser



Edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng, The SEA is Ours anthology of Southeast Asian Steampunk written by actual Southeast Asians has been running a fabulous campaign on indiegogo. They're now in Stretch Goal mode with some awesome rewards for backers. One lucky soul, for example, is about to get killed off in a Lao Lovecraftian Steampunk poem. (And there are so very few of those in the world, trust me!) And there are many other exciting perks up for grabs. Check them out!

It's funded now, but the organizers would like to raise more to fund a Teacher's Guide, which includes interviews and other exciting things to include in lesson plans. It's a great collection with fabulous stories and interior art that you won't want to miss out on. Check them out at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-sea-is-ours-tales-of-steampunk-southeast-asia#/

[Poem] Tempus Fugit (Spanish translation)

Caroline Arroyo of Madrid did a fine translation of my poem Tempus Fugit, which originally appeared in my collection BARROW in 2008:

Tempus Fugit

El tiempo vuela, pero va en círculos también,
Un hula hoop celestial
Como los juguetes más pequeños de un Dios bailarín
Clavado en órbitas confusas.

               Todo cambia, todo es la misma opción

Corriendo a toda velocidad como un caballero español
En la ruta de los molinos, al otro lado de la línea inicial
¡Moliendo el dorado grano bajo sus enormes pies!

¿Quien lanzó este disco al aire en un principio?
El sol una pistola de fogueo, la luna un cronómetro
Nuestros ojos testigos imperfectos

               Consistentemente parpadeando antes de que la meta haya sido cruzada.





Tempus Fugit

Time flies, but it is going in circles too,
A celestial hula hoop
For a shimmying deity’s tiniest toys
Pinned to obscure orbits.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,

Racing at full tilt like an old Spanish cavalier
On a windmill course to the other end of the start line
Grinding golden grain beneath her giant feet!

Who threw this disc into the air in the first place?
The sun a starter pistol, the moon a stopwatch,
Our eyes an imperfect witness

       Consistently blinking before the finish line is crossed.

Monday, October 12, 2015

ZAPPCON this weekend in Fresno!



ZAPPCON is finally here this week and Lao American artist and writer Nor Sanavongsay and I will be exhibiting and presenting there in Fresno. We're really excited for them as they mark their second year.

We're always excited to be able to come to the Central Valley to discuss science fiction, fantasy, horror, myths and legends, and this year we're going to be discussing Southeast Asian Superheroics and Lovecraftian Laos.


Southeast Asia Superheroics! 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and the beginning of the refugee journey for over a million people from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In this panel we provide a look at how comics have depicted this journey from the pages of Iron Man and G.I. Joe to G.B. Tran's award-winning Vietnamerica and the DC comics hero Katharsis.

Lovecraftian Laos: Laos isn't the first place you'd think to connect the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, especially considering it's a landlocked nation, but in this discussion we look at where traditional myths and classic monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos can collide!


Horror Selfies and Adopt A Shelter Dog Month!


http://horrorselfies.com is looking for selfies encouraging folks to read more horror.

This year, they're also doing their part to support Adopt A Shelter Dog Month! To that end: Submit a selfie featuring a pet in costume, “reading” horror, or with a sign supporting a local animal shelter and be entered to win a ChiZine Publications Prize Pack including 100+ ebooks (valued at $1,000).

Contest ends November 7, 2015 12:00 EST.

[Poem] Haikilling


Some people will have
Less than even a haiku
To mark their passing

Who will remember
This man, this woman, their lives
With at least one word?

Forgotten by all?
Nothing worth a lasting note?
This fate, quite common.

Elders and parents.
Refugees from old countries.
Veterans and priests.

Students stare at me.
“This does not apply to me.”
They take some selfies.

Victims on the news?
Abstractions, like their mentors.
What is there to say?

How futile it seems,
To battle for tomorrow,
Odd posterity.

Haiku or whisper,
This poem is a ghost. Haunts.
You will recall this.

But not who it was
Written for in the first place.
Even if it’s you.

[Poem] Charms

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Where do we take Lao American stories?


It's hard to believe how fast the time has flown with the participants in the Living Arts Outreach program. We've been seeing some incredible stories discussed and shared between one another and the people who make up our neighborhood. One of the nice things as an artist is that in hearing others share their stories, I've grown, too.

We don't make judgments in this program. That's essential to anyone who wants to implement a similar project. We're trying to record an account who did what to whom, so that so many puzzles from our shared experience can be put together. We need to understand that written documents will one day make up only one part of the archive. Our archives will come to houses photos, films and many objects that one might not expect.

The question has come up more than once in private and in the group discussions, what next? Where do we take these stories, what are we to make of them? What might our writers become, and aspire to?

Ideally, of course, in telling their stories, I hope many of the students will go on to become  incredible role models not just for our fellow Lao, but for people of any culture. When written well, we can see so many stories of resilience and courage, particularly in stepping forward to acknowledge the past and to share their visions for a brighter future after their time in the refugee camps and making the journeys around the world. This is empowering.


I'd love to see our writers dedicated to the idea of ensuring the world never forgets the dark periods in our collective history. I expect we'll find their books ultimately to be somewhat unusual books, but texts that leads us to change our thinking about the Secret War. I'm glad that we had so much time together to make this possible thanks to the support of the Lao Assistance Center and the CURA ANPI grant this year, in particular.

We will hopefully come to see our multitudes affected not as a matter of statistics but as the fates of individual human beings who deserve to be remembered lest there be a repetition. Like so many survivors,

I hope these writers and artists go on to become teachers, bearing witness to our past and teaching students of all ages our most meaningful values of tolerance, democracy, respect for human dignity and decency. Despite all of the suffering and heartbreak, how we choose to survive can make all the difference in the world. It's been a privilege to read everyone's work so far. I'm look forward to seeing what we all bring for our final session in November.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

50 years of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act


October 3rd marks the 50th anniversary of landmark legislation that opened the door to immigrants from non-European countries and their family members, and fundamentally shifted the definition of American. Today, a growing number of immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America are entering the country in unprecedented numbers, making the United States a uniquely diverse nation.

Here's to 50 years, and hopefully, in the years ahead, we'll have finally come to terms with our legacy, our heritage, and our enduring potential that lives up to very limits of our dreams.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Book of Starry Wisdom Kickstarter live!


“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” —H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu

The Book of Starry Wisdom compiles newly edited editions of H.P. Lovecraft’s public domain cycle of Cthulhu stories, edited and produced by Simon Berman, and illustrated by renowned deific and fantasy artist, Valerie Herron (The Book of the Great Queen).


Accompanied by essays and musings by some of today’s premiere Lovecraftian scholars, writers, and devotees, The Book of Starry Wisdom will be a luxurious, approximately 192 page hardback tome, featuring a leather textured cover with gold foil pressed symbols of significance to the Cult of Cthulhu, 13 interior B&W illustrations, as well as other features to be unlocked as the Kickstarter meets its stretch goals.

This premium volume will be a stunning addition to the library of any enthusiast of H.P. Lovecraft or worshipper of Dead Cthulhu Who Lies Dreaming.

I'll be one of the contributing essayists providing perspective on the Cult of Cthulhu in connection to French Indochina and specifically Laos, where the nefarious Great Old One is more frequently whispered as Phaya Kuthulu.


In any case, this will be a gorgeous project and an exceptional collector's item put together by a very exciting team. I hope you'll consider backing it and giving your support!