Sunday, June 30, 2013

Building the case to appreciate Lao cooking

Over the weekend, the Center for Lao Studies held "A Taste of Laos" at St. Cyprian's in San Francisco, where participants could "learn how to make Lao dishes, such as bamboo shoot soup, laab, mango-sticky rice, and spicy papaya salad from top Bay Area Lao chefs." $20 was the suggested donation and included cooking lessons, ingredients, and tasting. The event was initially limited to 20 people. It was an interesting program that might be possible to replicate in other communities.

Lao cooking isn't incomprehensible, but I think a lot of our cooks could use a hand making it accessible for people to build a hunger and expertise for it.

One thing I hope my readers pick up over time is that Lao cooking is not a "one and done" cuisine. Even if you've tasted the dish from one Lao restaurant, every restaurant does a dish just a little differently, with interesting variations possible even from day-to-day at the same restaurant. Today's industrial food culture doesn't typically appreciate that, wanting 'standardization' and baselines. But Lao culture values individualism over monolithic conformity.

A dish well-made is a reflection of the chef's spirit, the diner's spirit, the culture's spirit, and even the ingredients itself. A dish made in the middle of chaos such as the wars or the refugee camps will taste different from one made in the heart of Texas during Pii Mai Lao or welcoming a venerated master of Fon Lao in Seattle. That's not to say that EVERYONE gets it 'right' but there's so much to appreciate with it. Take a little time to try to understand it. Or better yet, take a lifetime.

We are also about to enter the golden era of Lao cuisine, and I wish more people appreciated it. Lao culture traces its culinary heritage over 600 years with periods of engagement with French, Russian, Australian, Japanese, American, Thai, Cambodian, Chinese and Vietnamese cooking. Some just for a few decades, others for centuries. We shouldn't take that for granted.

This is a rare era where we will have people who still have access to the knowledge and memories of cooking from the monarchy era, and how our cooking is translated by the community in diaspora, particularly in democracies. We are seeing new iterations of the cooking emerging within the historic geographic boundaries of Laos, and Lao fusion cuisine as we engage with Lao interpretations of dishes from other cultures, while inventing all new culinary delights, too. It will also be interesting as we watch many of the historic contributors to our cuisine break away to re-define their own cooking traditions, such as the Lue, Tai Dam, Khmu, Hmong and Mien. For some it will be a slow break, others are just snapping it right off.

If you're not watching now with fascination, for shame!

Friday, June 28, 2013

3Call: Recent Calls for Submissions

This week's 3Call brings us three journals looking for everything from the Seven Deadly Sins to Oklahoma people of color.

Penduline Accepting Submissions for Seven Deadly Sins Themed Issue 
Online submission deadline: August 15, 2013
Penduline, an online literary journal out of Portland, Oregon, is accepting submissions for its tenth issue, themed Seven Deadly Sins. "We are accepting submissions of artwork and fiction (flash fiction, sudden fiction, prose poetry, poetry and short stories) through the deadline date of August 15th, 2013. All writing should be previously unpublished work; preference will be given to works under 3000 words. Submissions longer than 5000 words will neither be read nor considered. We are aiming for a balance of each of the seven sins. Quality audio versions gladly welcomed!" Visit them at

The New Verse News covers the news with poems on issues large and small (especially those of a politically progressive bent) by writers from all over the world. The editors seek to post each day a genuinely poetic take on a very current and specific news story. See the website at for guidelines and for examples of the kinds of poems The New Verse News publishes. Then paste your submission and a brief bio in the text of an email (no attachments, please) to OR Write "Verse News Submission" in the subject line of your email.

 Oklahoma Writers of Color Anthology
Online submission deadline: August 1, 2014
Quraysh Ali Lansana and Dr. Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, in collaboration with Mongrel Empire Press, seek to publish the writing of People of Color born and/or raised in Oklahoma or who have lived in the Oklahoma for five or more years. Though the editors prefer writing that speaks to some aspect of life in the Sooner State (politics, history, culture, the land, etc.), all topics and genres are welcome. Payment: 1 copy. Complete call and guidelines available here:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

SEARAC and 1Love Movement position on Immigration Reform

SEARAC and 1Love Movement on the Passage of the Senate Immigration Bill:

"Immigration reform moved another step forward today, as the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744. While we at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) and 1Love Movement stand strong with our friends and allies fighting for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented families, we lament the many financial and administrative barriers that will keep millions of people in the shadows. The Senate bill would help clear family visa backlogs, allowing some families to reunite more quickly, but it would also represent a paradigm shift away from the family immigration system that has always been this country’s foundation. We are glad to see new protections for refugees and asylum seekers, but know that increased militarization of our borders will threaten human rights and due process for migrants and border communities and will result in intense policing, racial profiling, and mass incarceration.

Most disturbingly to SEARAC and 1Love Movement, the Senate bill only worsens the draconian policies that have created a deportation crisis in our communities. The bill actually expands the broad range of crimes that can result in mandatory deportation, and it does nothing to allow judges to consider each individual’s unique circumstances in these cases. These policies rob many refugees and immigrants of the basic right to tell their story to a judge before being sentenced to a lifetime of exile. We have seen countless fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, small business owners, and valued community members ordered deported based on mistakes they made years ago, often in their youth. At SEARAC and 1Love Movement, we believe people should be judged not solely for what they once did, but for who they are today.

SEARAC executive director, Doua Thor, stated: “We know that we are only at the beginning of a long-term struggle, and we are building power and voice from within our communities. Individuals impacted by deportation as the result of an encounter with the criminal legal system are speaking out for the values we hold dear as a community: values of family, redemption, second chances, fairness, and community healing.”

1Love Movement co-founder, Mia-lia Kiernan, added: “The Senate bill does not have the answers we are seeking for our communities, and in fact it threatens our communities further. But we will continue to build alliances with communities working to challenge racial profiling and mass incarceration, to improve and strengthen educational opportunities for our youth, and to promote strong and healthy communities. In short, we will continue to build a movement to fight for immigration and criminal justice reform that reflects our values in the months and years to come.”"

The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society. Find out more at

1Love Movement is a national network of grassroots Asian American organizers who build power in their communities through leadership development, political education, coalition building, community organizing, and policy advocacy. 1Love Movement builds local capacity so that voices on the ground can be heard with authority and strength at the national level, and so that all people and their families can live together with dignity.

Call for Submissions: Voices for Social Justice in Education: A Literary Anthology

Call for Submissions: Voices for Social Justice in Education: A Literary Anthology
Editors: Julie Landsman, Rosanna Salcedo, & Paul Gorski

Deadline for submissions: Midnight, January 15th, 2014

What they are looking for: Poetry (including spoken word), creative non-fiction, memoir, short stories, images of visual art, and other types of writing or visual art that paint a picture of what justice and injustice look like in our schools.

Please read this Call for Submissions fully and, if you choose to submit one or more manuscripts, email them as Word documents, following the specifications below, to:

Stories make meaning for us. We can read “scholarly” articles, abstract theories, or collections of research and all of this is important. However, it is the stories, the poems, the music, the memoir, the essays, the fiction, that bring to life all of the information, all of the declarations about what is good, what is not working, what is needed.

In this Voices for Social Justice in Education anthology, the editors desire writing that brings the reality of schooling to life. They want poems about 3rd period physics, short stories about recess in the second grade one hot spring afternoon. They want memoir about your best and worst teachers. They want essays about what is working now, at this moment, in your classroom—what makes a difference in the lives of your students, what is making your school a place students want to be or don’t want to be. They want to know in vivid language, be it from memories or journal entries, in the form of spoken word or in a carefully constructed short story, what social justice means in schools today. What are your hopes and how do they play out? What matters to you when you walk in the door of your building, when you stand up in front of class, when you are late for your last class of the day?

The editors are writers themselves. They love language and they know how powerful it can be, how it can move people, to reach those who can make change. They want your words, your language, your passion to help provoke that change.

Guidelines and Specifications for Contributors:

(1) Poets may submit up to 5 poems at once; please submit each in a separate document with your full contact information on each one (see #4 below)

(2) Prose writers may submit up to 15 pages
a) Times New Roman 12-pt font
b) Double-spaced

(3) Images of visual art should be submitted in .pdf or .jpg format

(4) Include author/artist name(s) and email address(es) on each piece submitted

(5) Remember, they are looking for work explicitly about social justice in education and schools, so great work about social justice that is not explicitly relevant to education schools will not be considered.

Good luck!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Update: San Diego Comic-Con Panel: H.P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon


If you're attending San Diego Comic-Con this year, I'll be part of a panel with Aaron Vanek, chair of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival (Los Angeles), along with many other Lovecraftian luminaries discussing the fabled Necronomicon in art and media on Saturday at 8:30 PM in Room 8 H.P.

Among other amazing panelists with us will be Brian Yuzna (director/producer of Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dagon, Necronomicon, and more), Mark Kinsey Stephenson (actor, "The Unnamable"), artist Mike Dubisch, editor Leslie Klinger (upcoming "Annotated H.P. Lovecraft"),author Cody Goodfellow ("Radiant Dawn" "Ravenous Dusk", others) and HPLFF-Portland organizer and Arkham Bazaar owner Brian Callahan.

The official panel description is:

H.P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon: 75 years of mingling fact and fiction 2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the "History of the Necronomicon," a short essay written by iconic horror author H.P. Lovecraft and published a year after his death. Since then, the dread book written by the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred has appeared in movies, books, comics, cartoons, art, music, and games.

Although originally a literary hoax, there are hundreds of products that bear its name today. Come explore the truth and legend behind the greatest creation of the 20th century's greatest weird fiction writer, and learn how and why the book and its creator continue to influence all aspects of culture.

It's really a wonderful gathering of perspectives and voices. Join us, if you can! Or dare!

Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter on a roll

One of the fun projects I've been supporting this season has been Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Wars board game. Petersen is one of the key figures whose work creating the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game introduced me to the wonder and cosmic horror of early 20th century writer H.P. Lovecraft.

With just under 2 weeks left, Cthulhu Wars is approaching almost $1 million in support for what is essentially the game of a lifetime, giving longtime fans a game featuring amazing miniatures drawn from the most well-known and far-flung corners of the Cthulhu mythos.

Some time back I outlined a number of established Lovecraftian entities that might reasonably appear in Laos and Southeast Asia, such as the alien Great Old One known as Chaugnar Faugn above.

Others, such as Nyarlathotep, the moon beasts, serpent men, Cthulhu, deep ones, the Wendigo and others appear in my forthcoming book, DEMONSTRA. So, naturally, I'm quite excited for this, as the game pieces will also be compatible with any number of other role playing games such as Pathfinder, Fate, Dungeons and Dragons, and of course, Call of Cthulhu.

Below is the concept art for the aquatic entity known as Mother Hydra, and it makes me wonder how well Lao around the world might connect to the horror of such imaginative entities, and where it might fit in with our existing traditions of beings such as the Nak or Nyak.

Sandy Petersen and his team are putting together an amazing project. And I wonder what stories we tell today will capture the imagination of readers 100 years from now.

Interview with Steven Roy on Black Rednecks and Space Zombies

Just finished a very interesting interview with writer Steven Roy, who is currently running a kickstarter for his newest novel, Black Redneck vs. Space Zombies, which is proving to have a significant amount of literary rigor and depth in addition to the fun and horror one would expect from a book whose title is, after all Black Redneck vs. Space Zombies. The Lovecraftian elements and a protagonist of color is selling me on this particular project.

The interview will be appearing soon at Innsmouth Free Press as my latest Innsmouth Inktank column, but in the meantime, while we're waiting, check out his kickstarter and consider chipping in, if you can.

Outsiders Within selected for Korean Libraries

The Korean edition of Outsiders Within was just selected (June 2013) by the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and the Publication Industry Promotion Agency of Korea. They will buy over 300 copies of the book to be deposited in libraries around Korea. This money will be used to fund the Korean translation and publication of The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce. Out of 221 books selected, only 10 or less than 5% were translations. (At the leading bookstore in Korea, about 50% of the books on the shelf are translations.) So it is a big deal! Thanks to all the contributors whose work made the book a success and whose contribution furthers the work of Do-Hyun Kim as he publishes books through KoRoot to raise awareness about adoption in Korea.

My poem "Evolve," which was also recently featured in the first Smithsonian exhibit on the journey of Asian Americans, appears in Outsiders Within. It's the only poem by a Lao American adoptee featured in the anthology, but it's nice to know my work is finding readers abroad along with the many other excellent contributors to this groundbreaking work of transcultural adoptees in our own words, on our own terms.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Diversicon 21 Art Revealed!

Seth Lyons has turned in the newest art for Diversicon 21: Old Enough to Think, going on in Minnesota this August. He's outdone himself this year, and it's a great puzzle for longtime readers of all of the guests of honor to figure out how each connects to the other, and to see if you can spot all of the Easter eggs.

This year's Guest of Honor: Jack McDevitt. Their Special Guests: Catherine Lundoff and Roy C. Booth. Their Posthumous Guests: Cordwainer Smith, and Peter Cushing. Be sure to join them!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Quoted by Minnesota Public Radio

I was quoted recently on Minnesota Public Radio in the article "Artists reeling from new restrictions on Minnesota State Arts Board grants"

In other forums, I've expressed more of my perspective in expanded detail. What are some things I think we should bear in mind?

Many of our nationally-recognized, award-winning artists had a major breakthrough in their craft AFTER they were able to travel outside of Minnesota to see how other artists are creating work. And they returned to MN and continue to be a vital part of Minnesota's artistic fabric, building much of our artistic infrastructure today.

Many are creating work that has since drawn in more than enough visitors, resources and support not only for their work but other Minnesota artists to vindicate the initial investment in their training and networking.

Will we now also call for rules forbidding state funding for trade delegations abroad or nationally? Should our legislators avoid national training and policy briefings outside of our state? If we're tightening our belts, we need to do it across the board.

The majority of recipients spend their grants investing in their development so that their work commands higher rates, which in turn benefits Minnesota which gains more tax. In that process, we see many others benefit from artists participating actively in the economy with an entrepreneurial spirit.

From food vendors and catering, printing companies, technicians, space and technical support rentals, and other suppliers, professional and emerging artists engage many sectors and we all benefit economically from artists engaged with the public.

Beyond an issue of economics, I would particularly note one key benefit has been to potentially enable many artists from refugee communities and elsewhere to re-connect with key artisans and culture-makers, particularly the elderly abroad in their former homelands. To speak with those whose stories would otherwise be lost permanently under present conditions. These Minnesota artists have been laying the bridge for future intercultural exchanges both within Minnesota and abroad.

What has made this process even more positive is that many of the artists enabled by Minnesota arts funding in the past are not typically from the elite strata of their cultures. It is not merely the wealthy whose stories are heard, but everyone's, and we all grow from this. I would hope our legislators appreciate the distinctive role Minnesota has held enabling a truly democratized perspective in the arts of so many diverse cultures. Everyone is getting a voice. Some, like the Hmong, for the first time in 4,000 years.

I'm glad to see our legislators making an effort to ensure everyone is being responsible and accountable. That's a fair expectation. But we owe it to ourselves to review the studies and the rationale for the passage of the Legacy Amendment in the first place.

There are practical and cultural reasons this amendment matters, with amazing opportunities and some risks. But it would be myopic to think the Minnesota economy and way of life will grow by encouraging provincialism.

But more to follow...

New op-ed at Lao'd and Clear: Reforming: From refugees to revitalizers

At the Twin Cities Daily Planet in my on-going column Lao'd and Clear, my op-ed "Reforming: From refugees to revitalizers" has recently been published examining the need for Lao to be more engaged in issues such as immigration reform and revitalizing urban centers as entrepreneurs.

[Cryptobotany] Sheep-eating Puya Chilensis.

The Huffington Post recently posted an article regarding a sheep-eating plant native to Chile. It's an interesting article from a cryptobotany perspective. One part of me wonders if there might be a parallel plant in Laos. But that's a search for another time. Among other fascinating tidbits the article notes:
An exotic "sheep-eating" plant, so-called because it kills and "eats" sheep, has bloomed for the first time at the Royal Horticultural Society's Garden Wisley in the U.K.
The plant, known formally as Puya chilensis, has been at the garden for 15 years. In that time, it has reached a height of 10 feet and grown its signature base of razor-sharp, hook-shaped spines.
Per a BBC report, in its native habitat of Chile, the plant uses the spines to ensnare sheep and other small animals. After they starve to death and decompose, the animals nourish the plant through the soil, acting as a gruesome fertilizer.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Elgin Awards Voting Deadline Extended

The voting deadline for the Elgin Awards has been extended to July 15th to give everyone a chance to read and review the nominees. The SFPA Elgin Awards are for best book and best chapbook published in the preceding year. I strongly encourage all members to read the nominees and to enter your votes.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

94 Asian Speculative Authors

I was recently listed on Carrie Cuinn's list of "94 Asian Speculative Authors" which is a great overview of those of us working in prose. At the moment, I'm the only Lao writer on the list, but I know that will change soon, thankfully, particularly once Sery Bounphasaysonh gets more work out. What he's shown so far is very intriguing and I encourage folks to keep an eye out for him in the future.

I don't have that many easy to find prose stories out there, with the majority found in Paj Ntaub Voice, Bamboo Among the Oaks, Innsmouth Magazine and the Historical Lovecraft anthology. Speculative poetry, on the other hand, well, that's all over.

[Poem] Laonomicon published in Innsmouth Magazine 13

My poem "Laonomicon," a contemplation of the Lao Necronomicon, was published in Innsmouth Magazine today.

This month's issue features four Weird tales and one poem. Witness a bizarre alternate history in “1963 Aztec,” discover the steampunk wonders of Charlotte Babbage, and much more. Fiction and poetry by Andrew G. Dombalagian, Ada Hoffman, Jess Kaan (translated from the French by Sheryl Curtis), and Meeah Cross-Williams.

 Cover artwork by Mario S. Nevado.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

[Puppoetics] King Kong on stage in Oz.

An amazing stage adaptation of King Kong featuring a King Kong puppet is currently being performed in Australia at Melbourne's Regent Theater, and it really gets the hamster wheel spinning of what a Lao production featuring giant entities of our traditions could be like. Time to break out the sketchbook and put a pot of coffee on the boilerplate.

Monster Roll: Probably still better than the new Godzilla

Forgot to post this yesterday for International Sushi Day. 

Alas, still no kickstarter in sight, or any hints of a follow-up, but it has been getting some great screenings. It does raise some interesting questions about where we can center the horror in stories like this. As we've mentioned with some of our discussions regarding the Cthulhu Mythos, tentacles, worms, giant fish and snakes, and similar reptilian things are rarely the terrors they are to those of us from Asia, and more likely to be on the menu than anything. 

I have noticed the theme of corrupted food, on the other hand, is a fairly strong and common trigger, or the lack thereof. Times of hunger, based on the traditions of the Phi Phaed, the hungry ghosts, are an element of greater concern, right along with one's body not being properly interred. 

Kobayashi Eitaku's "Body of a Courtesan in 9 Stages" is an interesting convergence between science, art, and culturally, horror. While one should not be attached to the body, or what happens afterwards, one can also say there is a hope of a collective social compact that one won't just leave it lying around to be eaten by just any old thing. Presently, we have never seen an image like this executed in the Lao community. It would be interesting to consider how it might be done, and what the community reaction would be.

Philip K. Dick on Blade Runner

Over at Flavorwire, they're discussing authors who actually enjoyed the film adaptations of their books, including Philip K. Dick, regarding Blade Runner.
 In a lovely letter written to the Ladd Company shortly before he died (and before Blade Runner hit theaters), author Dick expressed his enthusiasm for what he had seen of the film, and boldly predicted its response. “The impact of BLADE RUNNER is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people,” Dick wrote, “and, I believe, on science fiction as a field… Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches BLADE RUNNER. This is not escapism; it is super realism, so gritty and detailed and authentic and goddam convincing that, well, after the segment I found my normal present-day ‘reality’ pallid by comparison. What I am saying is that all of you collectively may have created a unique new form of graphic, artistic expression, never before seen. And, I think, BLADE RUNNER is going to revolutionize our conceptions of what science fiction is and, more, can be.” In conclusion, he tells producer Jeff Walker, “My life and creative work are justified and completed by BLADE RUNNER.”
Whatever you may think of Blade Runner or Philip K. Dick, you have to admit, that's the kind of impact that's wonderful for other artists to hear as they do adaptations of another artist's work. I do feel bad that Prometheus and likely the pending sequel don't quite match the grand ambition and layering we saw in Blade Runner. But still, what a treasure to present to the world, to spark the imagination so.

Remembering Vincent Chin: 31 years

When Vincent Chin was murdered 32 years ago in 1982 in suburban Detroit, his killers never served a day in prison. They paid only a fine of $3,000. They called him a "Jap," caving his skull in with baseball bats on June 19th. The scant punishment implied a license to kill Asians. But it ignited a movement that continues to resonate to this day.

I just wish we didn't have so many cases in the time since. In an old op-ed of mine I'd written for the Pioneer Press back in 2006, I'd noted:
In 1998, a 13-year-old Hmong girl, Panhia Lor, was gang-raped, beaten and murdered, her battered corpse left to rot in a Minnesota park like a pile of trash. Her killers called her "gook" and "chink" as they raped her. We were told it was not a hate crime. It was not a racist act.

In 2001, Thung Phetakoune, a 62-year-old veteran from Laos, died after Richard Labbe cracked Thung's skull open on the sidewalks of New Hampshire. Labbe told police, "What's going on is that those Asians killed Americans and you won't do anything about it, so I will. Call it payback." Phetakoune risked his life for Americans stationed in Laos. Trying to rebuild his life, this is how it ended.

In January 2005, 36-year-old Tou Yang, a father of three, was shot at home by the Milwaukee police seven times, including three times in the head because the police could not find a nonviolent resolution, like tear gas or a stun gun. Tou Yang's case was eerily similar to that of Tong Kue, another 36-year-old Hmong man. He was shot at home in Detroit in June, 1998 by police.
Filmmaker Gode Davis, researching "American Lynching: Strange and Bitter Fruit," estimates as many as 200 Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos died from American lynchings, yet we never confront this.
In the time since, we still see so many additional tragic cases, but even worse, we see situations brewing in institutions like our public schools, and yet so little meaningful action is taken. We press on, and we have to find a way to balance memory with hope.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

[International Sushi Day] The Nak Roll

Today is International Sushi Day and we all know how much Lao love sushi. So, to that end we present the Nak roll, which has the following ingredients:

Sushi rice.
Nori sheets
Medium shrimp (sushi grade).
Cucumber (long and even)
Tobiko (flying fish roe)
BBQed eel (sushi grade)
Spicy Salmon
Spicy mayonnaise
Southeast Asian Chili peppers (Nak Jolokia if you're daring)

Typically, the center of the roll will be: spicy salmon, SEAsian chili peppers, cucumber, and shrimp tempura, wrapped up in nori sheets and covered with rice. The exterior of the roll will be avocado, eel, and tobiko, and spicy mayonnaise.

 But this is a Lao roll. Keep it elegant looking and balanced! Essentially, you can approximate this by asking for a dynamite spicy salmon dragon roll if the chef accepts custom orders at the restaurant.

On display at the National American History Museum

As a bit of good news today, I was informed my poem "Evolve" was excerpted in the exhibit "I Want the Wide American Earth" at the National American History Museum in Washington D.C.. The exhibit runs from May 1st to August 25th, 2013 on the third floor.

The exhibit is described as "the first exhibition of its kind, the Smithsonian celebrates Asian Pacific American history across this multitude of incredibly diverse cultures, and explores how Asian Pacific Americans have shaped and been shaped by the course of our nation’s history. " So far, after this exhibit, it's on its way after this exhibit to Oregon, California, Minnesota, and Utah afterwards.

The National American History Museum is located at 1300 Constitution Ave NW Washington, DC. A big thanks to Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao and Scott Lay for pointing this out to me. I'm delighted to see this poem included because it reflects part of the amazing diversity of those adopted from abroad, and the poem also calls to attention the Secret War for Laos, and its consequences, among other things.

The poem was originally featured in the anthology Outsiders Within, edited by Jane Jeong Trenka, Julia Chinyere Oparaha, and Sun Yung Shin from South End Press in 2006.

Here's the poem in its entirety:


Father, you will be pleased to know the guillotine
stopped falling on heads in France
in the year I was born,

after just one last
fellow, whose name I cannot find,
nor his crime.

I admit
I have not looked
very hard into the matter-
Curiosity is one thing,
Morbidity is another.

Father, I saw you in the shadow of my mirrors:
an elusive memory, known only through my mother,
described as “widow of ___” after signing
those papers releasing me for adoption by the
like a paper bird.

And I know you by features 'widow of' and I do not
Those jungles are distant assassins of my identity.

I cannot lift the leaves of that last tree that held you
to curse their poor arboreal
nursing. It would change nothing.

Accusations are futile.
Your last words are lost, my father,
and I would never have understood them anyway.

I can not put you to rest. I cannot pronounce our family

You are just bones among bones that cannot get up.
You are a smile gleaming, white
as wax melting

scattered and dusting
the mountains of our ancestors.

In your wake, I rise with the most
delicate of freedoms...

Monday, June 17, 2013

2012 Stoker Award Winners Announced!

The Horror Writers Association announces the winners of the 2012 Bram Stoker Awards at the World Horror Convention this weekend. The winners are:

Superior Achievement in a NOVEL: The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)

Superior Achievement in a FIRST NOVEL: Life Rage by L.L. Soares (Nightscape Press)

Superior Achievement in a YOUNG ADULT NOVEL: Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster)

Superior Achievement in a GRAPHIC NOVEL: Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times by Rocky Wood and Lisa Morton (McFarland and Co., Inc.)

Superior Achievement in LONG FICTION: The Blue Heron by Gene O’Neill (Dark Regions Press)

Superior Achievement in SHORT FICTION: Magdala Amygdala? by Lucy Snyder (Dark Faith: Invocations, Apex Book Company)

Superior Achievement in a SCREENPLAY: The Cabin in the Woods by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy Productions, Lionsgate)

Superior Achievement in an ANTHOLOGY: Shadow Show edited by Mort Castle and Sam Weller (HarperCollins)

Superior Achievement in a FICTION COLLECTION (tie):
New Moon on the Water by Mort Castle (Dark Regions Press)
Black Dahlia and White Rose: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco Press)

Superior Achievement in NON-FICTION: Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton (Reaktion Books)

Superior Achievement in a POETRY COLLECTION: Vampires, Zombies & Wanton Souls by Marge Simon (Elektrik Milk Bath Press)

A big congratulations to all of the winners!

H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival LA Coming!

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival is coming back to Los Angeles September 27-29th at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro. I'll be there, and I hope you will, too!

The festival promotes the works of H.P. Lovecraft, literary horror, and weird tales through the cinematic adaptations by professional and amateur filmmakers. The festival was founded in 1995 by Andrew Migliore in the hope that H.P. Lovecraft would be rightly recognized as a master of gothic horror and his work more faithfully adapted to film and television.

This year's poster artwork for the Los Angeles H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival is by Guest Jason Bradley Thompson, the author and artist of numerous comics, including H.P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea, The Stiff and King of RPGs (with Victor Hao).


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Considering Lao American Art

Recently, I've been discussing Lao American art, and aesthetics in the 21st century with many of the Lao American artists, particularly in my generation. This includes artists such as Nor Sanavongsay, Mali Kouanchao, Aloun Phoulavan, Sayon Syprasoeuth, Vongduane Manivong, Kinnary Phimpadubsee, and Sompaseuth Chounlamany. I'm always interested in finding others and would love to hear suggestions of others whose work I should be looking at.

Overall, I've seen lots of promising concepts, and occasionally some common pitfalls I would encourage Lao artists to consider as we continue to progress on our individual journeys.

Among some trends I've seen, Lao artists often choose colors that are understated. A good majority prefer to depict emotions that are peaceful, calm, placid. As a result, I recommend that you appreciate it when you see a different emotion, because it's rarely depicted.

We are seeing a lot of static poses more than dynamic scenes in Lao art. Even now, we rarely see extreme or exaggerated motions or physics-defying hyperbole. We have a growing number of portraits emerging that are executed reasonably enough, but I feel we now need to really appreciate any Lao paintings we see with any action in them.

Another area I'd express concern is that Lao painters don't often seem to be doing group scenes well. Beyond three or four figures in a scene is rare. Among most of our artists' bodies of work, well done groups scenes with appropriate and detailed composition are going to be hard to find. You won't often find works with the intricacy of the "Last Supper" or "Sistine Chapel." We do see occasional collage of visual landmarks, such as the mural on National Avenue in Milwaukee, for example.

Lao artists must be comfortable in culture shift, along with Lao arts educators.

One question that emerges for me is: Do we see Lao artists struggle because they're not creating art people really want to invite to their house? The trend often seems to be you'll find paintings of musicians, monks, or family members in traditional attire. Occasionally, a landscape painting, particularly those that feature a wat Lao. While these are admirable subjects, we should ask, what can we encourage each other to create that might one day take on the popularity of Eric Enstrom's "Grace" which can be found in so many Minnesotan homes?

I think it's clear the tourist market unfortunately drives a lot of today's Lao art, presenting rustic or the romanticized, reinforcing cliche. We see little that is documentary of the present, let alone imaginative of the future.

We also see contemporary Lao textures tend to prefer smooth lines or soft strokes. There are very few rough or distressed images. I'd consider this problematic when the art gets too cartoony or Bob Ross cheese.

Broadly speaking, we see few urban scenes, and when we do, those tend to be market scenes. Interestingly, despite all of the photographs and videos we may see online of Lao American parties, we don't see that considered a worthwhile subject among Lao American or Lao painters. It almost seems to call for a Lao Toulouse-Lautrec, someone ambitious and daring enough to depict those aspects of Lao American culture others have to date .

This is of course an ongoing discussion. Some immediate thoughts I wonder now are: How might Lao artists make art that creates real conversations reflecting a real set of our contemporary Lao issues, concerns, aspirations? Such as Lao girls reading? Lao B-Boy or video game culture?

As a community there is a direct connection between our success and what we can speak of, and the diversity of how we present that experience. We need work that looks at both the past, present and the future, and we need an art that is bold and risks, one that says no aspect of Lao culture is unworthy of exploring.

But what are your observations and suggestions?

3Call: Recent Calls for Submissions

There are so many literary journals out there at the moment it can be easy to get lost amid the possibilities of places to submit to. I'll try to provide a regular shortlist of places looking for something particularly interesting. Today, I call your attention to:

Drunken Boat Seeks Poems that Engage with Debt
Online submission deadline: July 1, 2013
"The friction between desire and limits, the intersection of ownership and obligation. Poems need not be limited to the political. Special attention will be given to work that considers form when exploring this theme. Limit three poems."

Kalyani Magazine: "How I Got Over…"
Online submission deadline: July 31, 2013
"We are looking for writing of all types, and black and white art, by women of color. The theme of the Fall issue is “How I Got Over…” which you can interpret in any way that you would like. Writing should be up to 1500 words and already published work is accepted. For more info"

HEArt Online
Online submissions accepted year-round.
"HEArt Online seeks unpublished, artistically crafted, powerful poems, stories, essays, photos, visual art and music that challenge the status quo, fight discrimination and promote social justice by tackling hard issues of gender, race, class, sex, etc.Visit to learn about HEArt's 1997-2002 print journal history and to submit for our August 15, 2013 online relaunch."

Good luck!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Preliminary notes on the "Laonomicon." Or: Forbidden Knowledge in Laos?

Low-light detail of a painting by Vongduane Manivong, ca. 2010

One of the poems included in DEMONSTRA, Laonomicon, is a nod to a famous text named by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft in the early 20th century. This year is the 75th anniversary since the publication of his short essay, "A History of the Necronomicon." 

Among the classic themes of Lovecraft's work is forbidden knowledge, typically contained within cursed books and manuscripts found around the world, often locked away in libraries or obscure locations beyond ordinary reach. The most famous of these works is a book called the Necronomicon, the dreaded Book of the Dead, supposedly an encyclopedic tome written by the Mad Arab, Abd Al'Azred or Abdul Al'Hazred, among other spellings, who was torn apart in a souk by invisible demons in 738 AD. (1281, Year of the Earth Tiger, by the Lao astrological reckoning.)

Copies of his book circulated in different hushed corners and shadows, but most of the originals were believed destroyed. Eventually, a few were translated into Latin and select other languages, but most of the owners met terrible fates, and remaining copies were hunted down and destroyed. However, karma and darker forces of the world being what they are, a few copies and fragments continue to turn up throughout history. 

So what are the theoretical conditions under which a copy of the Necronomicon would have made it to Laos?

Working with the more commonly accepted literature regarding the Necronomicon, numerous reports suggest a Greek edition was printed in Italy in early 16th century. Is it possible such an edition traveled with the men accompanying the Dutch explorer Gerrit Van Wuysthoff as he traveled to Laos in 1641?  Van Wuysthoff was making his voyage on behalf of the Dutch East India Company at the time.

Historically, 30 people traveled with Van Wuysthoff in 12 boats, including a barber, or what we would consider a surgeon today. Van Wuysthoff recorded at least 1 interpreter, 2 carriers and a group of Lao merchants with him. Is it possible there may have been others who were accidentally or deliberately left out of the account?

The Van Wuysthoff journey began during the rainy season on July 20th, 1641. He was seeking to establish a monopoly on goods from the King of Lane Xang, but found the voyage too difficult to make establishing a permanent trading port worthwhile. For unknown reasons, 8 of Van Wuysthoff's crew stayed behind in Vientiane for 8 months after their arrival in 1641.

After Van Wuysthoff's expedition to Laos, there are no records of European contact or missions afterwards until the 1800s, with one notable exception. In 1642 AD, the Jesuit missionary Father Giovanni Leria reached Vientiane, and would spend 5 to 6 years in what would eventually become Laos, although he was not allowed to proselytize.

If not a member of Van Wuysthoff's entourage, might Father Leria, or more likely, his assistants, or an undocumented visitor some time afterwards, have brought a copy of the Necronomicon to Laos?

Notably, for Lao, by the end of the 1600s, the kingdom of Lane Xang collapsed and splits into 3 realms. The Necronomicon, and the Great Old Ones are often never mentioned a "LIKELY" factor.

For those who consider Father Leria a figure of interest, there are some things to consider from his writings. Father Leria, an Italian, was, on paper, very opposed to the lifestyles and beliefs of the Buddhist monks of Laos, and considered them immoral, although he was very impressed with the opulence of the rest of the kingdom.

According to Justin McDaniel's 2008 work, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words: Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education, Leria's journals described the Buddhist monks as "the most treacherous of the whole kingdom, the scum and dregs of society, the most horrible and lazy and the greatest enemies of work. Their monasteries are like so many universities of very vicious men, affiliates of tramps and mercenaries and schools of all kinds for bad deeds and abominations... they have hearts of bronze and are merciless and cruel like wild beasts."

McDaniels notes that evidence suggests during this time that although Father Leria railed against the 'laziness' of the monks, in fact, there was significant manuscript production and monasteries were filled with students. But why might Father Leria or his assistants have a copy of the Necronomicon in their possession? It might be better to simply rule it wholly implausible.

During the civil wars that tore Lane Xang into three separate realms in the 1700s, all other records of travelers successfully making their way to the region are lost. This does not strictly mean travel did not take place, but for some reason those who would have spoken of it have not. What could possibly have drawn someone to the region with a copy of the accursed grimoire? What arcane zones or locales of mystic power might have necessitated bringing the Necronomicon there after an arduous journey? One can only speculate.

It seems unlikely for the mystic John Dee's 1586 reputed English translation of the Necronomicon to have made its way to Laos, as most travelers from Great Britain were focused on engagement with Siam, and did not make significant journeys to the region until the 1820s.

Might a French or Latin version of Necronomicon be found, especially one translated from the Greek in Laos? A French version might have arrived with travelers during the 1900s, but to date, no major sources suggest a French version exists either in Europe or abroad.

Historically, I would speculate that the three main cities where a copy might be found are Luang Prabang, Vientiane, or Champassak if we are presuming a copy comes into the region thanks to traveling missionaries or traders. Vientiane and Champassak seem the more likely candidates of the three.

The interesting question is, might a palm-leaf manuscript edition of the Necronomicon exist? Palm leaves are among the first materials used in history to write on. There are sources who suggest more than 6,000 years ago, Sanskrit was first written on this material. In Laos, most of the texts are Buddhist and religious texts and it is a time-consuming process to make them.

It seems more likely among the established tomes of the Cthulhu Mythos to find either the 7 Cryptical Book of Hsan, the Book of Dzyan, or the Book of Eibon/Livre D'Ivon in Laos. But that's a discussion for another time.

Typically, a palm leaf manuscript is created by inscribing them with letters from left to right using a needle-like tool to cut into the leaf's surface. The result of the scratches are nearly invisible, but then one improves the clarity of the text by covering the leaves with soot or other pigments. Occasionally the soot and pigments are mixed with certain oils. The leaf then has the excess pigment wiped off so that a dark residue remains in the etchings, and they are bound into books, most often strung together with two cords. Some of the palm leaf manuscripts are illustrated or gilt, and covered with panels of hardwood, ivory, or a similar material to protect them. One would expect one of two extremes for decorating a palm leaf edition of the Necronomicon it would either be extremely modest in order to hide the true nature of its contents from those who would disapprove, or it would be elaborately carved with ornate but repellent iconography.

To some, it seems highly unlikely a Necronomicon would exist in a Lao or Sanskrit edition on palm leaf.  But we know that it has already been translated into Greek, English, Italian, and Arabic. Why should Sanskrit or Lao be beyond consideration?

San Diego Comic-Con Panel: H.P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon

If you're coming to the San Diego Comic-Con next month, I'll be on the Necronomicon Panel at 8:00 PM with stellar experts of all things Lovecraftian, including: Aaron Vanek, Cody Goodfellow, Leslie Klinger Brian Callahan, Mike Dubisch and Mark Stephenson! It's an amazing line-up and you don't want to miss this one! The official description of the panel is:

H.P. Lovecraft and the Necronomicon: 75 years of mingling fact and fiction 
2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the "History of the Necronomicon," a short essay written by iconic horror author H.P. Lovecraft and published a year after his death. Since then, the dread book written by the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred has appeared in movies, books, comics, cartoons, art, music, and games.

Although originally a literary hoax, there are hundreds of products that bear its name today. Come explore the truth and legend behind the greatest creation of the 20th century's greatest weird fiction writer, and learn how and why the book and its creator continue to influence all aspects of culture.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

New poem accepted for Strange Horizons: Full Metal Hanuman

My poem "Full Metal Hanuman" has recently been accepted by Strange Horizons for an upcoming issue!

I believe this sets precedent as the first time the Lao simian bioweapons known as Vanon have appeared in a poem set in the distant future. Or the first formal reference to Laotonium. More details to follow once it's up.

Strange Horizons is a magazine of and about speculative fiction and related nonfiction. Speculative fiction includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, and all other flavors of fantastika. Work published in Strange Horizons has been shortlisted for or won Hugo, Nebula, Rhysling, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree Jr., and World Fantasy Awards.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

New Blog at Twin Cities Daily Planet: Lao'd and Clear

Finally got around to renaming my blog at Twin Cities Daily Planet, after who knows how many years.
So, please say hello to Lao'd and Clear over there. It joins Kouanchao Corner, Sunny Side of Life and Little Laos on the Prairie over there. Hopefully we'll see more Lao voices added over time.

My first blog for Lao'd and Clear: "Considering Lao Minnesotans" streamlined from some earlier discussions we've been having this month as we get ready for International World Refugee Day.

Remember you can also follow my posts at Innsmouth Inktank, and Little Laos on the Prairie.

Help Young Blood get over the finish line! 5 Days to go!

My ever-supportive editor Silvia Moreno-Garcia at Innsmouth Free Press up in Canada is trying to raise $5,000 for her indie YA novel, Young Blood, a tale of narcos, vampires and Mexico City. Check it out! She's got a great and progressive sense of multicultural horror.

And 5 days to go before her campaign ends. :)

I think she's got some really amazing things to say, and seeing this novel come alive in her own words, on her own terms is something that will really add to the diverse voices fantasy, horror, and science fiction needs nowadays.

She's so close, please help her get over the finish line! :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

DEMONSTRA production notes: The Chameleon Prince Khangkham

One of the challenges with DEMONSTRA is referring to particular Lao legends that are already becoming obscure among our youth and even adults in the US after nearly 40 years. One of these is the tale of the Chameleon Prince Khangkham. As a Lao American writer it goes against much of my training to retell the story straight or without some sense of levity and humor interjected.

The name of the story is quite evocative, but in actual retelling, most versions of the story contain logic gaps that contribute to what appear to be significant narrative weaknesses. It's tempting to consider this story more of a minor part of the canon. Presently, it could be argued many collections would lose little if they jettison the tale entirely. Indeed, many have already. Can it be salvaged with a little reworking? Will we see a modern Lao storyteller come forward who can bring the story into alignment with contemporary values and narrative standards while retaining the essential Lao spirit with which the story was originally told?

In the future, perhaps other writers will be able to flesh it out into a more fascinating adventure that fully vindicates its persistence among our traditions. Or someone can present the context that explains its deeper significance.  I can see some amazing directions the story can take if we were committed to it, but at the moment, it's not quite clear to a general audience, even the ones with a passion for the fantastic.

Several very different tones are possible, depending on the tastes of the particular storyteller. This can range from operatic, in the vein of Turandot, or even to the extreme of a Lovecraftian screwball sex comedy, although the latter is a little less likely. Most will probably opt for something a little more moderate.

But here's a very rough recap of the story:

Once, the king spared the life of a beautiful unmarried woman who gave birth to a talking golden chameleon. The mother and son went on to live in a small hut by the gardens of the king. She named her son Khangkham.

Her son once desired to see the seven daughters of the king, perching on a tree near the fragrant flowers. He became particularly enamored with the youngest daughter. The golden chameleon teased her as she sat beneath the tree by touching her cheek with his long tail. She could not see who did it, no matter how hard she looked. She grew quite annoyed.

While six of the daughters returned to the palace, the youngest stayed behind to enjoy the garden a little more. Khangkham revealed himself and informed her that she was now his fiancee, and his mother would go to ask for her hand from the king. His mother had only a small bunch of bannanas to offer as a gift.

The king was irked by her bizarre request and modest gift, so he offered a challenge. If she could build a bridge of silver and gold with elaborate peacock designs from her hut to the palace, he would grant his daughter's hand in marriage to the odd chameleon. If not, Khangkham's mother would lose her head.

His mother left distraught, but when she told her son of the king's challenge, he said baw pen yan. There was no problem. But to succeed, he would need the help of the villagers to summon the father and mother of precious metals to build the bridge. Understandably curious, everyone agreed to assist.

Khangkham instructed them to walk through the forest with their baskets and clear away all of the trees for four days. He then told them to set the baskets as traps to catch whatever flew into them, and take the contents of those baskets home. When they returned to the village, he told them to dig a hole 18 feet wide, 30 feet long and 18 feet deep to hold the father and mother of precious metals.

He told them they now had the father and mother held in the village, and they could get all of the silver and gold they needed. Construction could begin.

Once the crossbeams were done, he needed elaborate peacock designs engraved on the bridge, but this was beyond the skill of the villagers. So, Khangkham made a wish to celestial entities to inspire skilled artisans to come to the village, and the wish was granted. The artists were amenable to assisting the unusual golden chameleon.

The bridge was finished, and so the chameleon gathered all of the villagers to go to the palace with him in a great wedding procession. The king was obligated to keep his word, and he married his daughter to Khangkham. But they had to live outside of the palace.

In their hut, Khangkham told her that he was simply an ordinary chameleon, and if she loved him, she could live with him. But if not, she could go away with a handsome young man, if one strolled by.

A short time later, such a man did come by, and offered to take her away with him. But she informed him that she was married to the golden chameleon. The young man went away, but came back the next day, and the next. And while he was charming, she refused to leave with him every time. But she also noticed he always came by when Khangkham was not home. On one visit, she noticed as the man flirted away that the golden chameleon's skin was in a corner of the hut.

She threw the skin into the fire. "He's out of his skin, now he won't go back into it again."

"Oh, wife, why did you do that?!?" Khangkham wept. "That skin was the source of my magic. I could have built us a palace with that power."

"I don't need magical power, I just want to live with my husband like a normal couple, that's all, said the princess."

And so they lived happily together, until one day an unstoppable army attacked her father's kingdom and they summoned Khangkham for help. Khangkham went to confront the enemy and defeated the entire army himself, sending them into retreat.

The king saw Khangkham was indeed a worthy successor and relinquished his throne to the man who had once been a golden chameleon, and they were even able to live in the palace happily ever after, with a few adventures in between.

DEMONSTRA Production notes: Nang Thorani, or Mae Thorani

Sachamwe amatta wacha, สจฺจํเว อมตา วาจา, "Truth is indeed the undying word..."

As we prepare for DEMONSTRA, this week, Vongduane is working on Nang Thorani, who, like everyone else, goes by many different names in many different regions: Wathondara, Preah Thorani, Phra Mae Thorani, Suvathara, or Sowathara. etc.

In one description:

'The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara's challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva's right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment..."

We can find her in many different images in temples around the world, although I will argue that some presentations seem more apt than others, with varying degrees of modesty and skill in the way her sculptures and murals are executed.

Vongduane and I wanted to present a new take on her that goes beyond the typical poses we've seen her in, and one that remains true and respectful to her nature, but extends our understanding of her, much as we've done with our interpretation of Gop Nyai, the Frog Who Eats the Moon:

"Why does the 'frog' want to eat the moon? Why do we take it seriously enough to bang the drums and shoot off fireworks to frighten him off? Why do we constantly have to chase him off instead of finishing that frog off, once and for all?" among other questions.

Part of what's informing our approach to Nang Thorani is understanding that the armies of Mara absolutely want to stop the Buddha from attaining enlightenment. They're not holding anything back. But when the Buddha summons her, she doesn't even really bat an eye sweeping away all of the forces of illusion and darkness rising up against the Buddha. One twist, -ONE- and all of them are swept away like an insignificant pest. That's not small power.

But we're also going with the sense that she's the spirit of the Earth. That she chose a 'human' form was NOT the only option available to her, and she's more than capable of manifesting in other forms, some more terrifying, others wondrous, etc. We also want to break away from traditional stereotypes of Lao beauty, and even human beauty. What's utterly beautiful to an earth spirit?

"DON'T mess with Nang Thorani," is an interesting artistic challenge because it's an exploration of cosmic power and energy where, as we see in the classic sculptures, she doesn't even break a sweat. She's a force of nature that doesn't get mad or full of fury, like a Nyakinee, but one who is capable of effortless victory.

But as you're aware, we're also approaching this from a Lovecraftian perspective, so part of the questions we're asking is: Could she take on a Great Old One and Elder God? When we see the images of Cthulhu trapped beneath R'Lyeh, forbidden to emerge from his sunken prison unless the stars are right, I think we have our answer.

Cthulhu Wars Kickstarter

While I'm in the middle of debates this season about H.P. Lovecraft and Post-Colonial Narratives, Sandy Petersen, the preeminent figure in popularizing Cthulhu in the late 20th century, has launched a highly successful kickstarter for Cthulhu Wars, a game set in a near post-human Earth where the only thing left are the Elder Gods and Great Old Ones and their spawn slugging it out once and for all.

There are some amazing perks for backers, especially at the $200 level and above, where they will be getting a lot of free Great Old Ones thrown in in addition to whatever else they pledge for.

Even if you don't want to play the game itself, the game pieces are scaled at 28mm making them suitable for using in virtually any role-playing game you can imagine, from Call of Cthulhu to Fate, Pathfinder, Warhammer or Dungeons & Dragons. They'll be fantastic to include into your games of Horor on the Orient Express, where you can even play a certain Lao American poet traveling from Paris to Istanbul.

I'm particularly excited for this kickstarter because if you pledge over $200, most of the classic entities I previously outlined as probable monsters Lao would encounter will be included for free. Out of all of the expansions I would add on the Sleep Expansion which includes the Serpent Men. You'll presently get Yig, Atlach Nacha, Bokrug, Abhoth, Ghatanothoa, and Chaugnar Faugn, all of whom I'd consider essential for games addressing cosmic horror in Laos. Father Dagon and Mother Hydra will also be great additions.

Once we finally get a line of Lao fantasy miniatures out including the Vanon, Nyak, Kinnaly and Nak, we could see some amazing games. Guardian Nak vs. the terrors of R'Lyeh and Phaya Ktulu? I can hardly wait. But in the meantime, if you do any gaming, this is a GREAT kickstarter to back.

You can even add them to Risk or Axis and Allies, with a little tweaking. But probably not Scrabble or Monopoly.

Speculations Reading Series: Damian Sheridan, Rob Callahan, and Diversicon

The SPECULATIONS READINGS SERIES continues monthly, mostly on Wednesdays, at DREAMHAVEN BOOKS, 2301 38th St E, Minneapolis. Each Speculations Reading event runs from 6:30-7:45 p.m., including a post-reading reception with free soda pop and cookies.

On Wednesday, June 12, DAMIAN SHERIDAN reads fiction from 6:30-7:30 p.m. In 2004, Damian Sheridan’s first play, Judas Cradle, was featured at the Minnesota Fringe Theater Festival and selected by the editor of the Fringe blog as one of the Top Five Shows at the Fringe for that year. In 2010, he wrote the book and music for an original musical, The Collectors, about a collection agency calling on delinquent souls for the Devil’s lawyer. He has studied at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis as well as the University of Minnesota. Presently, Damian is working on the manuscript for a play commissioned for the 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival. He was recently featured in the first Northern Lights anthology through Sam’s Dot, Leather, Denim and Silver through Pill Hill Press, and the Parasitic Sands anthology he co-edited for the Parasortium.

On Wednesday, July 10, ROB CALLAHAN reads his fiction from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Rob Callahan is a professional purveyor of made-up stories about the way we really are. His works of fiction include the novel Hellbound Snowballs and the short story collection, A Wish Upon a Fallen Sky. He has written and performed two award-winning spoken shows, Idiosychronicity and The Last Ditch (co-written with Allegra Lingo), and he regularly joins the Minneapolis entertainment troupe The Rockstar Storytellers on stage. His nonfiction has been featured in Secrets of the City,, l’etoil Magazine, and

Speculations is a co-production of DreamHaven Books and SF MINNESOTA, a multicultural speculative fiction organization that also hosts a midsummer SF convention, DIVERSICON, the 21st edition of which will be held August 2-4, 2013, in the Best Western—Bandana Square, St Paul, with Guest of Honor JACK MCDEVITT and Special Guests CATHERINE LUNDOFF and ROY C. BOOTH. On Thursday, August 1, the evening before Diversicon, those three Guests will read from and sign their work and answer questions at DreamHaven from 6:30-7:45 p.m.

Jack McDevitt often writes about attempts to understand and communicate about archaeology and xeno-sarchaeology. His 19 novels include the “Academy” series featuring Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins: -The Engines of God, Deepsix , Chindi , Omega , Odyssey , and Cauldron ; the Alex Benedict series: A Talent for War , Polaris , the Nebula Award-winning Seeker , The Devil’s Eye , Echo , and Firebird ; and the stand-alone novels The Hercules Text , Ancient Shores , Eternity Road , Moonfall , Infinity Beach , Time Travelers Never Die , and The Cassandra Project . He has also published five story collections: Standard Candles , Hello, Out There , Ships in the Night , Outbound , and Cryptic: The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt. He lives in Georgia.

Catherine Lundoff is the award-winning author of the werewolf novels Silver Moon (Lethe Press) and Blue Moon (forthcoming) as well as the collection Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades (Lethe), and the co-editor, with JoSelle Vanderhooft, of the anthology Hellebore and Rue: Tales of Queer Women and Magic (Lethe). In her other lives, she’s a professional computer geek, the spouse of her fabulous wife, and an occasional teacher of writing classes at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

Roy C. Booth is a published novelist, short story writer, poet, comedian, journalist, essayist, game designer, screenwriter/doctor (film/radio/TV), and internationally awarded playwright –with 56 plays (including Force and Jedi Loathing Outside Los Vegas ) published, and 750+ known productions worldwide in 28 countries. He is married to published playwright Cynthia Booth, and is owner/manager of Roy’s Comics & Games of Bemidji, MN.

Unbelievable gap: Laverne & Shoggoth

Oddly, a Google search suggests no one has ever thought to create a Lovecraftian parody set in Milwaukee based on the classic sitcom Laverne & Shirley or Happy Days. Not one instance of "Schlemiel schlimazel, cthulhu fhtagn!" or the Deep Ones in transition, Lenny & Squiddy. This is criminal, folks. Criminal. Well, I suppose I shall just have to add that onto my to do list now.

Lao Futurism: Climate Model Suggests Future Lao Advantage

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently released a report "WILL THE WET GET WETTER AND THE DRY DRIER?"

And while I urge all of my readers to take it with a reasonable level of serious concern, on a lighter note, I would argue that the map suggests by the end of the 21st century, Laos, being in the center of Southeast Asia, actually might come out ahead in such an otherwise dire scenario.

For Lao, the takeaway seems to be Laos should spend the next 20 or 30 years investing in ship-building technology, aquaculture and agriculture that flourishes with water. Most of the rest of the world is projected to suffer from extreme drought and unbearable temperatures according to the map from the GFDL and NOAA.

The science wonks prefer the caption to be: "The change in annual average precipitation projected by the GFDL CM2.1 model for the 21st century. These results are from a model simulation forced according to the IPCC SRES A1B scenario [IPCC, 2000] in which atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase from 370 to 717 ppm. The plotted precipitation differences were computed as the difference between the 2081 to 2100 twenty year average minus the 1951 to 2000 fifty year average. Blue areas are projected to see an increase in annual precipitation amounts. Brown areas are projected to receive less precipitation in the future. (Note the irregular color bar intervals.)"

 NOAA's roots "date back to 1807, when the Nation’s first scientific agency, the Survey of the Coast, was established. Since then, NOAA has evolved to meet the needs of a changing country. NOAA maintains a presence in every state and has emerged as an international leader on scientific and environmental matters."

Overall, something for our Lao Futurists to consider when drafting possible scenarios. I'm not inclined to say pushing for dams and disruptive hydroelectric power is ecologically sound presently, but if we were to take a long view of things, in the future, we would be significantly insulated for such a scenario if it comes to pass.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Humor and Poetry

A recent question was posed centered on Kierkegaard's sentiment that the "comical is present in every stage of life, for wherever there is life there is contradiction." I was asked what my thoughts were on humor in poetry?

Having given numerous lectures over the years with Suzanne Nielsen's classes on writing on humor, I've had time to consider the matter frequently. The specifics of my talks have varied from year to year, but certain common ideas prevail.

I would find a poet's body of work emotionally stunted and often monotone if they don't incorporate a wide range of themes, subjects, and depths into their pieces. To that end, I keep in mind the old joke "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," especially within speculative poetry, and further, within Southeast Asian American speculative poetry. 

A survey of contemporary Southeast Asian American poetry lamentably shows very little deliberate humor. More often the tone is serious, tinged with tragedy, memory, and morbid pathos. Even I have a good number of early works that have been afflicted by this.

Julian Gough's 2007 essay, "Divine Comedy" in Prospect reminded me some time ago to reassess such an approach.  He was examining the novel, but I found much of his work applies to poetry, too. Gough's essay was predicated upon the idea that "the Greeks understood that comedy (the gods’ view of life) is superior to tragedy (the merely human). But since the middle ages, western culture has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic. This is why fiction today is so full of anxiety and suffering." He argued that "It’s time writers got back to the serious business of making us laugh."

I think comedic poems are essential, both for the individual poet and their culture. To even attempt, let alone successfully compose truly comedic verse pushes the limits of our language, our experience, our imagination. How poor our cultures would be without it!

To Gough, "comedy was the gods’ view, from on high: our endless and repetitive cycle of suffering, our horror of it, our inability to escape it. The big, drunk, flawed, horny Greek gods watched us for entertainment, like a dirty, funny, violent, repetitive cartoon."  Bearing that in mind, I think good speculative poetry benefits from a playful engagement with dark comedy. It's not the only element that should be in poetry, but I think we need to revise our appreciation of poetry. So many critics do not respect poems unless they are ponderous, urgent, and 'deep'. But it has not always been so.

For Lao writers, I think we need to come to terms with the fact that, broadly speaking, many of us historically and presently see the world as a comic place, especially in the aftermath of the absurd wars of the 1800s and 1900s.  When we hold back that humor, when we try to be overly "serious" our output suffers. Which is ridiculous considering how many of the beloved novels of the last three centuries in the Western canon are rife with humor.

Humorous verse should not be something you avoid writing, but I have known many beginning poets who were afraid to have their words laughed at, from taking themselves so seriously. That, tragically, holds so many people back as writers.

One can go at it from so many different traditions, such as the buffoon, the trickster, and so many other classic archetypes. Observations can range from an appreciation of the grand cosmic comedy to the local vulgar mutterings of a modern-day grognard across the way, and so many more in between and beyond.

I'll keep this note short, but in closing I always consider Bertolt Brecht's darkly comic note, to keep me grounded:

"In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”

Life is short. So, laugh away, laugh in as many ways as you can, but laugh on.

Hemet Doing Literature Series Season 12 Titles Announced

As part of my ongoing reading group discussions at the Hemet Public Library ever second Saturday (except April, which is the 1st Saturday) we have announced the new series of books that will be read for 2013-2014.

Sept. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

Oct. War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells

Nov. Atonement, Ian McEwan

Dec. The Life of Pi, Yann Martel

Jan. The Assistant, Bernard Malamud

Feb. Things Fall Apart, by Chinhua Achebe

Mar. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

Apr. Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
Again Note: 1st Week of April

May 17 Syllables, Hisaye Yamamoto

Jun. All's Well That Ends Well, William Shakespeare

This year will be a very fun year of discussions into the nature of the power of stories. How they can evoke a wide range of emotions within us, at a personal, national, and international level. As always, this series is completely free and made possible by your generous support. I look forward to seeing you all in September!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A.C. Wise requested fluffy kitties this year...

As part of an irregular tradition, I post a few unusual images while mentioning A.C. Wise, who is presently an editor of the Journal of Unusual Entymology, but who often has ridiculously mundane things connected to her when you do a google image search. We try to fix that here at On the Other Side of the Eye. Last year we focused on unusual taxidermy, this year, it was weird fluffy kitties. She has chosen the form of the Destroye... err never mind.

Anyway, among the strange things that shall now show up when you google her, fluffy spider kitty. And while I'm at it, I have also been in the process of claiming the word Supercalifragilisticexpialidoctopus, for the name of an epic story involving flying English maids against the Kraken.


And just for good measure, let's connect her to the word Bakeneko.

We now return to our regular blogging...

Does Great Literature make us better?

This post is going to in a bunch of different directions, but I'm trying not to make it TLDR.

Over at the New York Times, Gregory Currie, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham asks, "Does Great Literature Make Us Better?" It reads to me a bit of a straw man argument that will elicit knee-jerk reactions. Anyone who'd actually read an essay like this is almost invariably going to argue "Yes," unless they are psychotically contrarian.

I suppose I've been keeping myself busy enough these days that it's hard for me to determine who this sort of essay is intended for. I wonder what kind of friends such people are associating with who have that kind of debate seriously. What would they do, ultimately, if they lost the argument. "Great literature doesn't make us better at all. Flood the channels with books by Snooki!" "Commission Baz Luhrmann to take on War & Peace, stat!" Egad.

I find the more interesting question, one that we've seen demonstrated in the 20th Century, to be: What happens when Great Literature brings out the worst in us? There has been frequent discussion of the Nazi connections  to the work of Wagner, particularly his Ring cycle. Pol Pot was exposed to the art of Angkor and inspired to call for Year Zero and the horrors of the Killing Fields.

Certainly, there are few scenarios imaginable where someone would say: "The risk of a 21st Century Holocaust or Killing Fields is too great with this exceptional book. We must burn it and all that come even a fraction close to its wondrous character...." but are we obliged to keep our work safe and riskless? To do so, to defang art and make it a tame pet defies the very purpose of some of our greatest art to date.

I don't think most people take the threat of Great Art seriously enough to call for a training course like Drivers Ed or Gun Safety. But on the continuum of art education, I think we should abhor instructors who teach us ways to appreciate art only in the most mundane, pedestrian interpretation. This would create a safe society, but also one so wholly unimaginative that we might as well never have made art at all.

So, how do we create an interesting and worthwhile practice of art education ethically? An ethical human artist should probably not want people to literally die because of their creation. That's typically considered bad form. But how do we present art and tech it so that people understand: It can be viewed in a way that empowers, and in a way that destroys. How do we teach respect, but not superstitious fear?

I also consider: The arts have long played a role in social construction and validation, but I would hope to never see my work or the work of my friends used to reinforce, or worse, innovate disparity. How do you use it responsibly while still giving it that power that makes it so wondrous in the first place, the power to create unanticipated response, to surprise, to remind and to inspire?

As longtime readers of mine know, I hate neutered engagement with the arts. I particularly hate a number of programs that exist right now ostensibly teaching the arts and the craft of writing, but which have defanged and smothered many of the emerging writers in the Lao American community. It's not the only thing, but as I've mentioned previously, in 40 years we still have less than 40 books in America on the Lao American experience, in our own words, on our own terms. And that matters to me.

Barbara Jane Reyes has a wonderfully conversational follow-up to her earlier post, Broken Record Stylee: MFAs and Writers of Color. I'd love to share her guarded optimism that an MFA -could- be a place where we learn how to 'create and grow a manuscript'and I'll definitely allow that "a writer of color can be neutered anywhere in the world, if s/he allows it." But the issue is not an abstraction to Lao writers. It may be different for others communities, but with almost half-a-century under our belt and so little to functionally show for it, I have to be concerned.

I'm fast coming up on the fourth anniversary since I became the first Lao American to receive an NEA Fellowship in Literature for poetry in 2009. And this year, the SatJaDham Lao Literary project celebrates 18 years. Enough time for it to have learned to drive a car and go to college, although I'm informed many people involved think the network functionally died around 2002 or 2003, ten years ago. Life happens.

But I also see, for better or worse, many in the Lao community are merely giving lip-service to the idea of a love of literature. As I wrote earlier, in the old days, Lao believed writing down stories was one way of making merit. They saw it as a holy responsibility. Perhaps, arguably, too holy, since it seems now that few will personally empower themselves to write and create presently. Historically, we are a people who once believed poets were the eyes of the city.

Lately, I think we've been stabbed in the eyes a lot.

I'm brought to mind an anecdote Linh Dinh was telling us all in New York during the release of Jessica Hagedorn's follow-up to her anthology Charlie Chan Is Dead, entitled Charlie Chan is Dead 2: At Home In The World.  He was telling us how, growing up, he had a cohort of friends who were all certain they were going to be the next great artists and voices of their generation, and make a space for themselves among the Vietnamese classics. But then, time took its toll and less than a handful of them still were in the arts. I've seen that in many other communities, too. Naturally, I'm most acutely aware of this among the Lao.

It's not as bad as the case of the last two living speakers of a language who won't talk to each other, but I don't want us to slide even an inch in that direction.

I'm not going to give into a half-assed fear that my words could get misinterpreted and lead to World War L. I'm not going to up and stop writing, considering that writing, even more than being Lao American, is my intrinsic being. But I also know there's a joy in this process that many Lao Americans are being cut out of, even by programs supposedly designed for Asian Americans.

Having watched Star Trek recently, I admit, I see both sides to the argument that there are times to say "Fuck the Prime Directive." This isn't abstract, this is concrete. The majority of Lao writers of my generation and older are largely known to us. A handful will sprout up here and there, but what we have is who we have. We can't pretend we're not there. It doesn't mean we all become uncritical BFFs swapping spit in the shower. But it does mean we have do our best to grow readerships for one another, and a useful corps of literary critics who can give us food for thought to take it to the next level, without crippling some of our emerging writers' self-confidence that they forever set down the pen.

But I'll have more thoughts on this later.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Pondering a footnote on Lao Folktales

In the old days, Lao believed writing down stories was one way of making merit. Palm leaf manuscripts were preserved in families as treasures. One part of me has lately pondered how much the Lao process of preserving our folktales has become much like the living books of Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, who memorized the entire book and then let the copy be destroyed, but the story lived on.

How interesting it would be to see a return to those values, or a new iteration of the concept, wherein we saw a direct connection between building merit and telling our stories. I think I'll bring this up more often as we ramp up towards the Lao American Writers Summit in 2014, funders willing.

Monday, June 03, 2013

ArtSake: What is the artist's responsibility to history?

At ArtSake, Karen Shepard asks "When artists explore a period of history through their art, what is the artist’s responsibility to that history? Which truth – historic or artistic – is of greatest importance?" It's an interesting question, and one I would not pose lightly to those of us who trace our roots back to the Secret War for Laos.

 There, so much of our history was sanitized, obfuscated, eradicated or spun to meet the needs of political expedience rather than any particular objective narrative. When we write in English, are we obliged to prop up colonialist narratives of who we are, or to provide a counter-opinion? We might not necessarily need to contradict everything that's been said to date, but we are increasingly losing the ability to respond meaningfully to our own stories, let alone hold onto them.

 You can not yet walk into the Museum of the Lao American Journey. And when we do create such institutions, are we obliged to present only the safe version of that story, or are we allowed to challenge ourselves and grow from an open-minded assessment of our failures and missed opportunities too?

Unsurprisingly, the blog by Shepard is frustrating. It's framed as an academic, detached question. It does not take into account that for many refugees, to engage our history with our art is also an act that can lead to very real and tragic consequences. Challenging those who are in power controlling the narratives has more possible results than being denied tenure or losing a book deal. From torture to exile and execution of family members or the artists themselves, wherein do we find the bravery to confront those traumas?

Can an artist from the Lao secret bombings who is prospering in Minnesota, one of the leading manufacturers of cluster bombs that now contaminate 30% of her former homeland, reconcile with that history and make statements that are profound and honest?

For the artists Shepard interviews, none are currently in situations where someone's community and family can be jeopardized by the art they create. I agree with the importance of trying to honor the truth of history, but Lao and other artists from Southeast Asia still have a great deal of complexity they must confront when addressing history through their art. Sometimes, they must be like Galileo, forced to denounce his own discoveries. But what can we do to resolve such tensions?