Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lao mythic being: Vanon or Wanon

We've discussed the Kinnali, Nak, Phi, and Nyak here at On The Other Side Of The Eye, but another prominent figure in Lao legends are the Vanon or Wanon. They are perhaps best well known for their role in the Lao Ramakien, Phra Lak Phra Lam.

The most prominent of these is Hanoumane, or Hanuman. But it's important to consider that he belongs to what were classically considered Vanara,  who were typically simian in appearance. But they're really a lot more than just monkeys. They had taken birth in bears and monkeys attaining the shape and valor of the gods and goddesses who created them. They were a forest-dwelling fighting force, who began near Mt. Riskshavat.

They're shapeshifters,  and according to most sources generally amusing, occasionally irritating and childlike, hyperactive, adventurous, but truthful, brave, kind, and loyal. They were formidable foes of the Nyak armies.

These days, discussions of the Vanon aren't terribly sophisticated, but I think they're overdue for a re-evaluation. Hanuman himself has so many interpretations. In some parts of India he's such a fierce warrior that women aren't allowed to worship him. In others, he's a clown. Lao versions seem to opt towards amusing and a romantic at heart as he tries to woo the mermaid princess (or daughter of the Nak king, if you want to be more precise.)

We'll look at them more in the coming months ahead!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Making a Lao Haunted House

So, thinking outside of the box for fundraisers for Lao student associations, I would love to see them try a culturally-appropriate Lao-style haunted house. It's a great approach that is filled with possibilities and can be relatively easy to implement, if taken seriously.

I am NOT telling you to throw other cultures, particularly Lao minorities under the bus when you present a Lao American Haunted House. It would be in very poor form to have a room of "Lao mountain savages practicing cannibalism," for example. There are plenty of fun ways to scare visitors while also presenting the best of Lao horror culture to the community at large.

Certainly you can turn to Lao concepts of Nalok, or Buddhist Hell. You can present a room haunted by a Phi Kasu. Perhaps you opt for a Nak in the middle of changing its shape. You can of course present man-tigers, or carnivorous Nyak. You could have one of the mysterious phi of the jungle:

And of course, there's the more accessible horror of what does a zombified Lao monk or Nang Songkran look like? Or a vampire version? Werewolf Lao B-Boys? Lao cyborgs or Frankenlao? The possibilities are endless. But let's see some thinking outside of the box next year!

Haiku Movie Review: Cloud Atlas

Awful Yellowface,
A problematic movie,
Ambitious, but drags.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Kaiju watch: Monster Roll

One of the more promising kaiju movies coming out in recent years is this short "Monster Roll" it hits a lot of great notes and I'd love to see it turn into a full-fledged kickstarter campaign soon:

Redshirts Kickstarter down to last 2 days!

The Redshirts Deluxe Edition is currently running a Kickstarter. They are already successfully funded but now they're moving into their stretch goals. We successfully unlocked Mr. T'hulu at $26,000. We're now looking forward to the next possible stretch goals in the last 48 hours.

I backed Redshirts and contributed a number of cards to the process including Alien Poetry Slam, naturally, the Astronecronomicon. Also, I and Dr. Kouanchao will be playable characters in the game, so you can have fun taken Lao poets and doctors into space with you. We'd love to see many of our friends and colleagues in this game. Check it out!

Lao horror film: Chanthaly?

Earlier this year, a few press releases and images went up promoting a new Lao horror film called Chanthaly. from Lao Art Media. This would be their first entry into feature films. It was scheduled for a September release in 2012. However, I can't seem to find any recent news or updates. Hopefully, it will be of the same caliber as the Thai film "Shutter" and really provide an eerie, exceptional horror experience that brings in the best of both Lao culture and aesthetics but also international notions in a way that doesn't throw us under the proverbial bus.

Ai Weiwei, Gangnam Style and Lao expression.

It's good advice anywhere, but I really hope Lao artists everywhere would take those principles to heart, and push our art to the next level. As the Daily Beast article pointed out: 

"The value that Ai holds most dear, in his art and his life, is freedom—freedom to think and talk as he pleases and to make the art that he wants. His new video shows another kind of freedom he’s insisting on: the freedom to do whatever silly, useless, harmless thing he desires. It’s the freedom to thumb his nose not just at the Chinese authorities—although they’ve clearly been feeling nose-thumbed, shutting down access to Ai’s video on the country’s websites—but at everyone and everything that settles for conformity (of which there is more in China than in some other countries)."

At the moment, the most popular of Lao responses has been a simple imitation of form,and not the formulation of a new statement, especially one that challenges the many issues Lao and others should be asking regarding the limits of our international expression.

But on a lighter note my favorite parody of "Gangnam Stlye" besides Ai Weiwei's take and the mom dancing with her son is John Carpenter's parody drawing on the nemesis of Big Trouble in Little China, David Lo Pan. But your mileage may vary:

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Shadow Over Poet's Barrow: A one-page role-playing adventure

A little off-schedule, but I recently posted up the first edition of the one-page adventure "A Shadow Over Poet's Barrow." At some point I'll probably revise some of the graphics and design with a little help from my friends, but I also wanted to give aspiring game masters a chance to start playing around with this one.


 You'll need your own rule set and dice for Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or a compatible game to play.

Some poets make teaching guides for their books of poetry. I make short scenarios for role-playing games.

You don't need to have read my book BARROW to play this one, although I do appreciate it. I'm now at work for the scenario for my upcoming book of poetry, DEMONSTRA, coming out through IFP in April 2013 with a cover by Vongduane Manivong! :)

And apparently I just created the Lovecraftian Great Old One Gopnyai, Devourer of Moons.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Slice of the Southeast Asian Underworld and Spirits of Laos

My recent guest blog post at the international Horror Writer Association's blog is up: A Slice of the Southeast Asian Underworld and Spirits of Laos is part of my ongoing effort to help raise awareness and interest in Laos from an artistic and cultural perspective. So, in case you were wondering what the ghost and Halloween traditions (or lack thereof) are in Laos, that's one place that you can start now. A big thanks to everyone who's chimed in. I appreciate your support!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Lords of Ava: Spirit Rites in Northern Thailand

Michael R. Ruhm had an interesting article in 1989 in Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies entitled "The Lords of Ava: Spirit Rites in Northern Thailand." He wanted to examine the spirit sacrifices known as liang phi practiced by the Tai Yuan. He described three rites in which the leuk-lan,  (children and grandchildren) offer food, drink and ritual goods of flower, incense, etc. to the spirits for blessings. During this time the medium may get possessed by the spirits.

He goes into the details regarding the rites for the Cao Mok Mung Muang (Lord of the City-Hiding Fog) who is one the tutelary spirits of Lampang. The rites known as phi meng are associated with the phi mot and phi ahak, who are ancestral spirits, which he clarifies as "spirits that have been handed down from the ancestors." The final spirit sacrifice is one held every four years for the five "Ancestral Lords" known as the phi pu-na cao-nai of the village of Ban Com Ping in Lampang province. Ruhm observed that all of the spirits are represented as supernatural princes.  He concludes that the rites with their "unequal contests between human and spirit reaffirm not just gender, household structure, or princely power, but all these things and the entire social-cosmic complex of which they are a part."

It's a good lead for people who are interested in this sort of topic. He notes a number of interesting texts that may be worth tracking down. This includes the 1984 "Spirit Cults and the Position of Women in Northern Thailand by Paul t. Cohen and Gehan Wijeyewardene, and the 1984 article "Decline of Village Spirit Cults and Growth of Urban Spirit Mediumship." Both were in in Mankind 14 (4). They might be hard to track down but could prove interesting reading.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lao Halloween Costumes?

Tomorrow I'll be featured on the Horror Writers Association Halloween Haunts Blog, discussing elements of Lao supernatural beliefs and traditions and why writers ought to consider Southeast Asia as an interesting setting for their tales of terror. Laos, Land of a Thousand Smiles, Realm of a Million Elephants, and as many ghosts and spirits. Be sure to check that out.

Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao recently posted on "Halloween and Lao Learning" at the Twin Cities Daily Planet and she briefly touched on the issue of what Lao Americans wear for costumes during this season. Very rarely have we seen traditional monsters or heroes and heroines presented. But what are some ideas we could consider?

Of course, there's everyone's favorite, the Monkey Warrior King Hanoumane, drawn from the classic Lao drama Phra Lak Phra Lam, a variation of the Ramayana. You could certainly go with a traditional (and complicated) interpretation but consider an update instead. Using what's available at your local costume shop's selection for gorillas, chimpanzees, or discounted Planet of the Apes merchandise, there are certainly some interesting options.

Other classic figures you could try include a green-skinned Nyak. Just grab some tusks and remember that that they're shape-shifters, so you could combine it with anything else you really want to be. Of course, I'd root for a steampunk Nyak just to see what it looks like, but overall, you have many options and it's relatively easy to do with available materials in a mainstream costume shop.

Instead of a winged fairy, you could also go with a Kinnaly. The half-women, half-birds are classic figures of Lao folklore, and most would agree that it's a question of getting the wings right. You would also debate whether you want to go all of the way and make the bird legs for yourself. The downside is that if you include the tail, it will be very hard to sit down and you may wind up whacking many people with it before the night is done. Zombie Kinnaly would certainly get a few interesting responses.

Lao legends are also filled with stories of the man-tigers, or weretigers, especially in the highlands. This is always a classic and very easy to do. There are many ways to do this effectively. Of course, there are also ways to do it badly, too:

For some reason, research doesn't turn up many results for a phi pob or phi krasue costume, but if you wanted to go for something really scary, I'd certainly put those on the table. But what are some your favorite ideas for Lao-inspired Halloween costumes?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Call for Submissions: Others Will Enter the Gates

Black Lawrence Press is now accepting submissions for an anthology of essays by immigrant poets in America, celebrating their contributions to the landscape of American poetry. Immigrant poets living in the United States are invited to submit essays of between 700-5000 words for the anthology.

"No two immigrant poets are the same. Even those from the same country don’t necessarily answer to the same poetics or, for that matter, speak to the same concerns. How, then, do immigrant poets in America define themselves? How do they see and position themselves within the landscape of American poetry or the poetic traditions of their own country? Who might they consider their influences? Answers to these questions are complex, individual, and varied, as seen with the essays we hope to include in this anthology."

Abayomi Animashaun, Nigerian émigré and author of The Giving of Pears, will serve as editor. Deadline: April 15, 2013.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Assault by Ghosts: Politics and Religion in Nan in the 18th Century

In the 1989 issue of Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, David K. Wyatt presented an interesting article: Assault by Ghosts: Politics and Religion in Nan in the 18th Century regarding the principality of Nan in northern Thailand. He noted an account found in a chronicle regarding Wat Phrathat Chae Haeng, a Buddhist reliquary whose history stretches back to the 14th century.

In the year 1157 (or what might be considered 1795 by the European/American calendar system) at Muang Ngua, the devas took the form of ghosts who went around the city assaulting monks and the residents. The spirits dropped written messages demanding that the Chae Haeng reliquary be restored, or else they would continue to annoy and torment the city. The officials began construction and restoration of the reliquary for 5 months, and held a celebration. The ghosts then stopped bothering the public.

Over the course of Wyatt's analysis, he suggests "It is curious that the "ghosts" working on behalf of the deva guadians of Wat Chae Haeng, though taking the form of pret and yak, did not necessarily behave as pret and yak. If I understand such things correctly, such supernatural beings normally work rather more subtly than resorting to simple physical violence: One does not normally think of pret and yak as beating people up. Nor, one would think, would pret and yak drop written messages to underline their purpose. Contemporaries wishing to give the deva the benefit of the doubt might explain away these actions by concluding that the deva were working through ordinary human beings whom they had possessed for the purpose."

Wyatt suggests that the monks could not directly report that they had arranged the restoration of the reliquary through public protest because that would be seen to undermine and challenge the authority of the rulers. But couching it in "religious and supernatural terms, however, the could both preserve what they considered to be an important episode in their history and make a subtle point for the edification of future princes."

A careful reading of this incident has significant potential for a number of our writers today, and a renewed appreciation for the stories of old.

Alternate Lao History

It's been a little while since we've done a discussion on Steampunk, alternate history and secret history especially from a Lao perspective. There are some perennial questions about the value of creating alternate histories when the real histories as seen from the perspectives of those who lived it are so hard to find to begin with.

So, if I tell you that in 2488, the Lao perfected a six-legged chicken but got bought out by a visiting Colonel Sanders who was serving in an advisory capacity for a foreign agricultural aid program with Pearl Buck, do I as a fiction writer need to feel responsible if someone believes that or spends time trying to debunk the idea?

Or: You haven't read Shakespeare until you've read him in the original Lao. That's always a great tall tale.

How interesting Lao American literature might become if we opted for the "Balderdash" approach to teaching our culture. To present utterly outrageous claims so often that we can only really hold onto our culture by doing enough research to know how and why those claims ARE outrageous.

Given how much the average Lao person knows of their own history right now, a 'straight' telling of our journey certainly hasn't gotten us very far.

In the meantime, here's something that may be of help for emerging Lao writers.

Largely adapted from the Martin Stuart Fox chronology of Lao history, and assuming the standard Asian zodiac, for those of you writing historic Lao fiction and other stories, the following can serve as a helpful guideline to get your chronological bearings.

The first year listed is the Lao year, the second year is the European/American calendar year:

1896: Foundation of Lan Xang by Fa Ngum. 1353, Year of the Snake.

2022: Vietnamese invade Lan Xang. 1479, Year of the Pig.

2091: Xetthathirat briefly unifies kingdom of Lan Xang and Lan Na. 1548, Year of the Monkey.

2103: Capital moved to Viang Chan from Luang Prabang. 1560, Year of the Monkey.

2106 to 2118: Burmese invasions of Lan Xang. 1563-75, Year of the Ox to Year of the Pig.

2181 to 2238: Reign of Surinyavongsa. 1638-95, Year of the Tiger to Year of the Pig.

2184 to 2185: First Europeans reach Viang Chan. 1641-42, Year of the Snake to Year of the Horse.

2250, 2256: Lan Xang splits into 3 kingdoms. 1707 and 1713,  Year of the Pig, Year of the Snake.

2322: All 3 kingdoms become tributaries to Siam. 1779, Year of the Pig.

2369 to 2371: Chao Anouvong’s war of independence.1826-1828, Year of the Dog to Year of the Rat.

2363 to 2383: Earliest Hmong migrations into Laos. 1820-40, Year of the Nak to Year of the Rat.

2404: French explorer Henri Mouhot arrives in Luang Prabang. 1861, Year of the Rooster.

2410: French Mekong Expedition maps rivers through Lao territories. 1867, Year of the Rabbit.

2430: Auguste Pavie, first French vice-consul arrives in Luang Prabang. 1887, Year of the Pig.

2436: French seize Lao territories east of Mekong, ceded by Siam.1893, Year of the Snake.

2442: Administrative reorganization of Laos under Resident Superieur 1899, Year of the Pig.

2444 to 2450: ‘Holy Man Revolt’ in Southern Laos. 1901-07, Year of Ox to Year of the Goat.

2450: Franco-Siamese Treaty establishes modern Lao borders. 1907. Year of the Goat.

2451 to 2453: Leu insurrection in Northern Laos. 1908-10, Year of the Monkey to Year of the Dog.

2457 to 2459. Leu revolt in Luang Namtha and Ho Tai revolt in northeast. 1914-16, Year of the Tiger to Year of the Nak.

2462 to 2465: Hmong insurrection in Northern Laos. 1919-22, Year of the Goat to Year of the Dog.

2466: First session of Indigenous Consultative Assembly. 1923, Year of the Pig.

2484: Franco-Thai war leads to Loss of Lao territories on the West Bank of Mekong. 1941, Year of the Snake.

2488: Lao independence declared. 1945, Year of the Rooster.

2493: US recognizes Laos as an independent state. 1950, Year of the Tiger.

2507 to 2516. Secret bombings of Laos. 1964 to 1973, Year of the Nak to Year of the Ox

2518: End of the War for Laos. 1975, Year of the Rabbit.

2555: Present day. 2012, Year of the Nak.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Footlong Daddy Longlegs discovered in Laos

Slate recently featured an article on a footlong daddy longlegs that was discovered in Laos.  Known more properly as a Giant Harvestman, there's uncertainty if it's a new species or a gigantic example of one already on the records out there. The report is that there are several peculiar mutant forms of spiders being discovered in the area. So, for many reasons, this is promising for many other possible discoveries to come.

Halloween Haunts with the Horror Writer Association

At the Horror Writer Association we have been hosting a number of free book giveaways and guest posts by established and emerging horror writers for our Halloween Haunts Series. Among the recent posts this month we have:

A Lucero Haunt by Brick Marlin 

How the Application of Corn Starch Prepared Me for Novel-Writing by David Annandale 

Fight for Your Right to Halloween by Jennifer Harlow 

Specialty Press Award Spotlight–Derrick Hussey and Hippocampus Press 

Three Ways Anyone Can Have an Awesome Halloween by Lincoln Crisler 

Fort Fear–Writing the Origin Story for a Haunted Attraction by Adrian Ludens

Check them out!

The Horror Writers Association is an organization to bring writers and others with a professional interest in horror together and to foster a greater appreciation of dark fiction in general. You can learn more at

My post on Lao supernatural creatures on October 25th appears next week!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Zaj, Nak, Naga or Lung?

One rarely spots Hmong depictions of the Zaj in paj ntaub textiles posted online. Or Zaj in any format, notably. However, it has been noted that when they do appear they are often shown in pairs in the river or lake. 

This is also a very interesting piece in that the heads are VERY different from those of a Nak, Naga, Ryu or Lung. I think it provides an interesting case for my assertion that we should recognize the zaj as a different creature than just "Naga by another name." Compare it to the heads of the Nak below, and you'll see a notable difference.

Confucius once wrote that wisdom begins when we call things by their proper names. We differentiate between a basilisk, a wyvern, a dragon, and a dinosaur. We should differentiate between a Zaj, a Nak, Bakunawa and other legendary Asian reptilian entities.

Lao American Speculative Poets: Continuing challenges

Contrary to many expectations, during the call for submissions for the Lao American Speculative Arts Anthology, we found out that many of our poets in the community had no problems sending in work that were involved with science fiction, fantasy, horror, or other escapist genres. Many were quite imaginative and that was refreshing and validating.

A few hedged their bets, however, even when the guidelines were clear that you could incorporate Lao culture and Laoglish into the submissions. But for emerging writers, I can sympathize with the hesitation. I hope many of them understand that I and other Lao American poets have been in their shoes, too.

After a busy month of submitting new works to a number of mainstream speculative poetry publications, it's been an interesting reminder of how far we all still have to go in presenting Lao and Southeast Asian speculative art to the global community.

Without naming names, it would appear that many journals of speculative poetry only pay lip service to diversity. This is a genre that says that it loves the Jabberwock or Annabel Lee, the Wendigo or the Fungi from Yuggoth. But a poem about a Kinnaly can't get a pass.

Legends are documented as early as the 4th Century BC in the Mahabharata, but apparently the Kinnara (or as the Lao call them, Kinnaly) are too obscure, based on the feedback I've been getting. Sure, you can see them in locales such as Thai Town, or most Asian art sections of your art museums, but poems about Cthulhu, zombies, Ragnarok and vampires are more accessible.

Of course, many other writers have expressed similar frustrations in narrative fiction, working with traditional spectral entities from Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and so on.

Keeping this constructive, I think Lao speculative poets need to be more vocal in supporting creative experiments addressing both traditional and emerging entities. And more needs to be done online and in print to bring them forward on our own terms, in our own voices. Or else we face a world where the Kinnaly will be relegated to the category of "Lao Harpy" which would be an absolutely inaccurate and unjust description. 

World Horror Convention 2013: New Orleans


As a reminder, the 2013 World Horror Convention will be in New Orleans and registration rates go up on November 1st. Editor John Joseph Adams, Poet Bruce Boston, Ramsey Campbell, Artist Glenn Chadbourne, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Amber Benson, and Jonathan Maberry are among the confirmed guests attending. Jeff Strand will once more emcee the Bram Stoker Awards® presentation!

Speculative poet Bruce Boston is the author of fifty books and chapbooks, including the novels The Guardener's Tale and Stained Glass Rain. His poetry and fiction have appeared in hundreds of publications, including Asimov's SF Magazine, Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and The Nebula Awards Showcase. One of the leading genre poets for more than a quarter century, Bruce has won a record four Bram Stoker Awards for Poetry, a record six Asimov's Readers Awards for Poetry, and a record seven Rhysling Awards from the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). He received the first Grandmaster Award of the SFPA in 1999.

The festivities will take place in the beautiful haunted Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, located in the historic French Quarter.

The Horror Writers Association is an organization to bring writers and others with a professional interest in horror together and to foster a greater appreciation of dark fiction in general. You can learn more at

Remember, for this Halloween, the Horror Writers Association is also hosting their Halloween Haunts series of over 31 horror writers sharing their experiences and interviews with the community. Many of them are also giving away free copies of their books and other goodies. Check it out at

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pathfinder and Lao themes?

In this painting by German painter Florian Stitz we see a creature from the Pathfinder universe, an alternative to the Dungeons and Dragons game. The protagonist is from a species referred to collectively as Serpentfolk.  I find myself intrigued by the serpent balustrade in the background. It could as easily have been a Southeast Asian design for Nak. There are  a few modules that are set in the territory of the Serpentfolk that I may have to add to my future research.

But how would you describe your experience with the Pathfinder system and Asian themes?

On the other hand, I was also intrigued by the work of the Canadian artist Tida who did this interpretation of Phaya Naga (a Nak King) :

Thursday, October 11, 2012

True Skin: Sci Fi set in Thailand

For better or worse, here's True Skin, a short film from director Stephan Zlotescu and production firm N1ON about a cyborg fugitive in a future-noir Bangkok. I would agree with that this is definitely worth 5 minutes of your time and it's always nice to see upcoming film-makers inspired by works such as Blade Runner and Syd Mead's designs.

That being said, I can see many of my colleagues objections that once again, Bangkok gets used as an almost racist, post-colonial shorthand for vice and a hyper-sexualized underworld where life is cheap. Part of the strength of Blade Runner or Escape from New York was presenting these dystopias in America, a 'that could never happen here' scenario.  Here, the future noir elements could really be anywhere. There's not much that reflects an actual engagement or concern with how Thai or Southeast Asian culture would really examine and address the issues being presented here. 

But I hope it serves as a further wake-up call for what can and must be done in science fiction around the world if we are to create a diverse environment where everyone's stories might be enjoyed on their own terms.

Call for Best Horror of the Year 2012 Submissions

Ellen Datlow is editing the latest installment of her Best Horror of the Year anthologies and is looking for good horror work published in 2012.

 She is looking for stories from all branches of horror: from the traditional-supernatural to the borderline, including high-tech sf horror, supernatural stories, psychological horror, dark thrillers, or anything else that might qualify. If in doubt, send it. This is a reprint anthology so  she is "only reading material published in or about to be published in 2012."

The submission deadline for stories is December 1st 2012. If a magazine, anthology, or collection you’re in or you publish is coming out in December, you can send her galleys or manuscripts so that she can judge the stories in time. No email submissions.

Miskatonic U: The Comic Strip

I already have a pretty full plate of favorite webcomics I read daily but one of the new ones I happily added to my radar is the promising Miskatonic U by Alex Bradley, who recently moved to California to join us all in Lovecraftian hijinks. I met him at the recent H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and had fun going through what he's done so far. I look forward to seeing more from him on this and his other projects!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Yak, 2012: Southeast Asian Speculative Cinema

A more light-hearted interpretation of the Nyak/Yak legend of Southeast Asia drawing from the characters of the Ramakien, or adaptations of the Ramayana. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. It brings to mind many of the designs of the film Robots and many familiar tropes we've seen in children's films. But it's not often we get to see films like this making a big push for the international market.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Express Diaries and the Orient Express.

In August, 2013, I'll be appearing in the Chaosium reprint of Horror On the Orient Express as a playable character! But while we're waiting, here's the trailer for The Express Diaries, a Lovecraftian horror story set on the Orient Express.

The description goes as follows: "EUROPE, 1925. The continent still licks its wounds from the devastating war that raged across it a few years before. Meanwhile, in London, an ageing professor has uncovered the clues to the whereabouts of pieces of an ancient statue, all but forgotten by history. When his investigations lead him to fear for his life, he enlists the aid of an unlikely group of allies; a retired colonel, a secretive academic, a magician’s wife, and a Yorkshire matriarch with her reluctant assistant. Together they will journey across Europe to recover the long-lost statue. They will travel in style, on the most luxurious train the world has ever seen. Unbeknownst to them, however, their activities have already attracted the attention of a sinister cult, desperate to acquire the artefact for their own dark purposes, and now a terrible creature, trapped for centuries, senses that the opportunity for revenge has come at last... THE EXPRESS DIARIES is a tale of a journey into darkness and horror on the world's most famous train."

Check it out!

Getting interviewed by Rebecca Brown

I recently finished giving an interview to British writer Rebecca Brown over at her blog. She's been having a really busy year herself and I appreciate her taking the time to shoot over a few questions between our busy schedules! More details to follow!

Monday, October 08, 2012

Redshirts Deluxe Kickstarter!

The Redshirts Deluxe Edition is currently running a Kickstarter. They are already successfully funded but now they're moving into their stretch goals. Among my favorite is Mr. T'hulu at $26,000. I really hope we can make that happen.

In the meantime, I backed Redshirts and have contributed a number of cards to the process including Alien Poetry Slam, naturally, the Astronecronomicon. Also, I and Dr. Kouanchao will be playable characters in the game, so you can have fun taken Lao poets and doctors into space with you. Check it out!

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Lovecraftian Laos: Likely entities

If you're creating work set within the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and his kindred writers, and using Laos as a setting there are a number of existing entities who are rife with possibility for incorporation in part or at the heart of a particular story, image or poem. We've discussed the possibilities for Nyarlathotep, for example. 

Among those who I would prioritize for consideration in a story set in Laos include:

Serpent People. 
Created by Robert E. Howard, they first appeared in "The Shadow Kingdom," published in the August, 1929 issue of Weird Tales. The authors Lin Carter and Clark Ashton Smith included them more fully in the Cthulhu Mythos, taking a cue from a note in Lovecraft's "The Nameless City." There, an Arabian city had been built by a pre-human reptilian race. "The Haunter of the Dark" features a more explicit mention of the "serpent men of Valusia" as being one-time possessors of the Shining Trapezohedron, according to Lovecraft. Because of Lao legends regarding relationships to the Nak, there are some interesting possibilities to consider.

August Derleth created the Tcho-Tcho tribe in "The Thing That Walked On The Wind." An Asiatic race occasionally considered sub-human, the Tcho-Tcho are polytheistic, most commonly known to worship, Chaugnar Faugn and Hastur. They are often connected to the mythical Plateau of Leng but their range is believed to be throughout much of Asia.

The Father of Serpents established by H.P. Lovecraft in "The Curse of Yig," is primarily connected to the Americas, but there is nothing to suggest that "the half-human father of serpents" could not have influence elsewhere, particularly in Southeast Asia where there are an abundance of snakes and snake-like creatures constantly being discovered.

Chaugnar Faugn.
Created by Frank Belknap Long in "The Horror on the Hills," Chaugnar Faugn is found in a cave in an Asian mountain range. Worshipped by a branch of the Tcho-Tcho, it has a vaguely elephantine appearance, almost like Ganesha. However its trunk terminated in a large floating disk that drains blood from its victims. It's normally encountered as a grotesque statue but may stir at night. Considering Laos was regarded as the Realm of a Million Elephants, dealing with a statue of Chaugnar Faugn or Chaugnar Faugn itself is reasonably plausible.

"The great water-lizard" mentioned in H.P. Lovecraft's "The Doom That Came To Sarnath." It's considered greenish blue and iguana-like, almost twelve feet long but found primarily in the Dreamlands. Could it have connections to the Nak or Zaj of Laos? It could be worth exploring for an intrepid writer.

Laos is a landlocked country but the myths of Phra Lak Phra Lam and others allow for legends of islands like Lanka, and presumably an island like R'Lyeh or Mu, the home to Lovecraft's creation, Ghatanothoa, found in the story "Out of the Eons." It possesses myriad tentacles, maws and sensory organs. Rumored to be found between New Zealand and Chile in the Pacific Ocean, this would be an interesting being in relation to the other water-dwelling entities of Lao myth.

Created by August Derleth in "The Lair of the Star Spawn," Zhar is said to dwell in a dead city buried beneath the Plateau of Sung or Tsang in China. It is known as the Twin Obscenity, but it is possible it may live in other locales. The similarity to the Hmong word Zaj, or dragon/naga, etc. may well be worth exploring.

But which entities do you think would work well to connect Laos with the Cthulhu Mythos?

[Poem] A Sum of Threads

Lost stories abound, loitering like lusty mules,
Ebullient commerce of buck, babe and gamble.

To lose is the gain of the unknown.
In the shadow of the good earth,

The whitest pearl is still a single hard grain.

I greet you, weaver between your thin red webs.
When I’m not looking, I know, like a Harry Harlow monkey

You’re secretly the wind of Texas,
A lion in Chicago, a hungry oyster on rainy 9th and Hennepin
Or a drowsy parrot in Saline of curious hue.

I want to take you home, kin, but we never know our place.

We laughgh with lighght, high above the type
Oh, who swear, by their loud traditions and trajectories apparent
"Connections can seal," a cad’s roar with lips of misplaced baggage.

They hypnotize the sun like a Mississippi
A crow, no, a raven, no, a rook flapping to Pluto or some palace

Victorious, a halo, a tramp pyre. Free. Transforming
An answer waiting to be buried, rebelling, uncaging
Defiant, you lovely want of mine.

Clothing me, a ray, a tapestry of dreamers, a flag adopted.

Originally appeared in BARROW, 2009

Recently read aloud for an interview with Land of a  Gazillion Adoptees "A Sum of Threads" was one of my more recent poems addressing the transcultural adoptee experience. But as always there are a number of ways to read this.

Friday, October 05, 2012

3 Poems accepted for this winter!

Two new poems were accepted at Innsmouth Magazine for issue #12 in Winter: "Fragment of a Dream of Atlantean Yellows" and "Dead End in December."

An additional poem, "Dreamonstration" was accepted at Missing Slate Magazine. According to the editors, "The Missing Slate serves as a vehicle for all forms of art—visual and literary—with intent to uphold free speech. We honor talent in all its forms and try to incorporate as many styles and cultures as possible. If art can’t be quantified, it can’t be mapped either."

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Interviewed by Ron Breznay for the Horror Writer Association

Writer Ron Breznay did an interview with me for the Horror Writer Association newsletter early in September. You can still find that online if you're a member, I'm also reprinting our responses here so that newer readers and potential members can see some of the fun interviews he's been doing for the association.

You’ve written in a variety of genres, but tell us about your horror work and where it could be found.

A:         You can find a significant amount of my recent horror work at the Innsmouth Free Press, including their anthologies "Historical Lovecraft," and "Future Lovecraft."  I also have work appearing in Tales of the Unanticipated, Illumen, and several short stories in the Southeast Asian literary journal Paj Ntaub Voice. Two of my books, BARROW and On The Other Side Of The Eye, contain a significant number of examples of my horror poetry. One of my most widely available stories is "The True Tale of Yer," in the Bamboo Among the Oaks anthology. That particular story dealt with ancient Southeast Asian were-tigers, modern serial killers, and St. Paul's famous Frogtown district.

What are some of the Laotian mythological creatures that you’ve written about?
A:     I just mentioned the were-tigers, who also appeared briefly in a short story of mine called "What Hides, What Returns," set in Colonial-era Laos. You really can't write Laotian horror stories without bringing in the Phi, who come in a variety of forms that non-Lao would consider ghosts but the term covers a wide range of spirits. Some are merely unsettling while others are incredibly malevolent.

Lao have historically had tremendous reverence for the serpentine Nak, more commonly referred to as Naga. In Lao tradition, they were protectors of the Buddha and took often horrific vengeance on those who defiled holy waterways.  The Hmong, one of the many cultures who live within the borders of Laos have a terrifying entity known as a poj ntxoog, who featured in my Lovecraftian horror story, "A Model Apartment." They're fearsome non-human witches prone to tricking humans to no good end. There's such a staggering variety of beings from our region from both Buddhist and pre-Buddhist traditions, and so much work yet to be done to bring them forward in modern Lao horror.

You’ve done a lot of work in the Laotian community promoting literature and writing. What has been the most rewarding of your efforts?
A: I think the most important part to understand is that in 40 years since the end of the war for Laos, less than 40 books had emerged about the Lao diaspora, particularly books written by Lao in their own words. When we don't speak on our own terms, from our own inner truths, something gets lost along the way. I'm passionate about bringing those voices forward because Laos has a cultural heritage over 700 years and a blend of over 60 different cultures. Some of those cultures are over 4,000 years old with traditions and beliefs that we're only just now beginning to understand. The Laotian Civil War in the 20th century has often been called the Secret War because of the involvement of the CIA and others. When the younger generation sees these stories being told to them, it's really rewarding watching their eyes light up and realize they do have a history, a heritage, a place in the world, even if it's one many others have tried to distort and obfuscate over the decades.

You mentioned that your first trip back to Laos in 30 years was in the same year that former HWA president S.P. Somtow was debuting his ghost story opera Mae Naak in Bangkok. Though you didn’t get to catch the production at the time, the Mae Naak story wound up permeating a lot of your visit. What is the story about, and how did it affect your visit?
A:          In a nutshell, Mae Naak is a classic ghost story of a young man who meets the love of his life who dies in childbirth while he's off to war. When he comes back, she returns and they almost rebuild their lives until the truth of her being a ghost comes out, then all hell breaks loose, in most versions.  But today, the Thai maintain a shrine to her at Wat Mahabut in Bangkok.

It's complicated to explain, but I came across her legend in my first return to Laos and Southeast Asia in 30 years since I was adopted by a pilot just before the end of the wars there. Strangely, everywhere I went in Bangkok, there were posters, there were movies about Mae Naak playing, or I would open up books and papers and the first thing that's staring me in the face is an account of her story. I wound up visiting Wat Mahabut. There, most people go to pray for lucky lottery numbers and help with fertility or the protection of husbands in the military. But after some strange adventures in Laos, I'm convinced she's also good at family reunification, when I found my long-lost family after 30 years. It's not very Cartesian to suggest she played a role in it, I suppose. But ten years later, her story still sticks with me. Make of it what you will.

You also mentioned a humorous incident that occurred when you submitted a short story to a Lovecraftian journal (that shall remain nameless). What was that incident?
A:        The journal passed on the story, but the editor noted that rather than invent a new race called the Hmong (who are actually a real culture), I should stick with a more established race in the Lovecraft Mythos. As we joke at a few conventions now, it boiled down to “The Shoggoths are ok, but no one’s gonna buy these Hmong people you’re talking about.”

Tell about your latest work.
A:   This September I'll be presenting at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Los Angeles. My first book of speculative poetry just celebrated its 5th anniversary this year, and I was recently selected as the Lao delegate in London for the Cultural Olympaid convened at the same time as the Olympics. So much of my time has been tied up with that.

My second and latest collection of poetry, BARROW, is still finding its audience, drawing on the mythic and literary horror traditions of America, Europe, and Southeast Asia. In that one, I wanted to examine a number of different things, from Lord of the Flies to Blade Runner, moon-eating frogs and what happens if James Joyce got stranded on Gilligan's Island. My most recent short story, "What Hides, What Returns," has been getting some good  feedback as a piece set in the late 1800s in Laos, drawing connections between the ancient Lao legends and the Cthulhu mythos. It was easier to make those connections that one might initially presume.

What do you have coming out in the future?
A:      I'm currently finishing the editing on an anthology of Lao American speculative arts. We received some wonderful submissions in a variety of genres from across the U.S.  I'm also working on a collection of Southeast Asian American short horror stories that I've been writing over the last ten years.  It's exciting to finally get that out there.

Why did you join the HWA, what do you hope to get from your membership, and what do you hope to contribute to the organization?
A:      In Minnesota, there's a saying "We all do better when we all do better." Modern Lao horror is really just starting to come into its own, while the field in general is changing in so many ways. Such as electronic publishing, for example.  To me, it's more vital than ever to be able to have professional conversations with emerging and established writers and consider their experience and share opportunities. How do we build lifelong fans of horror?  How do we teach an appreciation of the classics while also opening the way for
new voices from around the world? To me these are enduring questions. I hope together that we'll be able to work together to keep the field innovative, fresh, and enticing for the next generation of horror readers and writers.

Celebrating Ten Years of Bamboo Among the Oaks!

I have a new post up at the Twin Cities Daily Planet addressing the 10th anniversary of Bamboo Among the Oaks this month and what it means for refugees to be engaged with the arts, not just as a luxury but an essential part of their resettlement.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

[Poem] "Democracia" at the Science Fiction Poetry Association

A live recording of my poem "Democracia" is up at the Science Fiction Poetry Association's website's special Halloween, 2012 celebration page.  A very big thanks goes to Liz Bennefeld for putting it together.

"Democracia" will be included in my new collection "DEMONSTRA" coming out in April, 2013 but has also appeared in a number of other collections of mine including "The Tuk-Tuk Diaries: My Dinner with Cluster Bombs" and "On The Other Side Of The Eye."

This year also features the work of David Kopaska-Merkel, Chris Vera, David L. Summers, Dennis M. Lane, Linda D. Addison and Stephen M. Wilson. Please check them out and let them know if you enjoyed it! There's also a great archive going back to 2006 if you're looking for other contemporary Halloween speculative poems.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Man-Eating Catfish of Laos

Wendy Gomersall mentions a number of fun parts of traveling to Laos and glosses over the rumor of the Man-Eating Catfish, but it's still worth reading at the Daily Mail. It basically boils down to "Mekong giant catfish (at 10.5ft long and weighing about 660lb, this is world’s largest freshwater fish. It’s supposed to be largely vegetarian, but local people aren’t so sure)."

Tsk. Giving away the best part of the adventure. But as a hint, especially as we enter October, giant catfish would be the least of your problems if something really wanted to eat you out there.