Friday, February 27, 2015

Building A Lao Science Fiction Tradition

Part of the process of being a writer building a science fiction tradition for the community has been trying to find ways to help a community imagine itself in the future. And frankly, this isn't quite easy. Even with some of our most talented artists, I've found the effort stymied by a tragic lack of imagination in many, and a question of egos with others that unfortunately undercuts much of their effectiveness getting their work out there. 

That's why I'm happy to see the work of artists like Sayon Syprasoueth and Nor Sanavongsay who are consistently getting imaginative work out there in the Lao speculative tradition. But one of my side projects this year has also been commissioning concept art that will one day serve as inspiration and sparks for my students and proteges about the possible. Some have expressed concerns that I'm using many non-Lao artists to handle Lao subjects, but that's part of the process: That Lao artists can see how non-Lao do or don't get elements right when trying to present a topic. 

But here are some of the fun results that have come in this month. Some original concepts, others inspired by classic science fiction scenes of the 20th century, but re-imagined. Some of the upcoing images comes from the development phase of my current Laomerica project, which postulates an alternate history where, instead of forming in North America, the United States had emerged in Southeast Asia instead with the 16 provinces rather than the 13 colonies.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Laos in the House: Voices from Four Decades of the Lao Diaspora

Catzie Vilayphonh in Philadelphia had an exciting announcement this week:
"After what seems like years of preparation, we are proud to announce the opening of our very gallery first exhibit "Laos in the House: Voices from Four Decades of the Lao Diaspora" running from March 6 - May 1, 2015 at the Asian Arts Initiative. Presented for the very first time in Philadelphia, this visual exhibit from Lao American artists reflects over 40 years in diaspora. Featuring historic war drawings by survivors of the U.S. bombings, illustrations of refugee camp photos, and digital interpretations of Lao folk tales, this integration of storytelling with art seeks to engage community members to share their own personal stories, adding their voices to the larger collective narrative that makes them uniquely Lao American."
Be sure to check it out when it opens!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Guest of Honor at CONvergence 2015: Doubleplusgood

I'm delighted to announce that I have accepted an invitation to be one of the Guests of Honor at the 2015 CONvergence convention in Minnesota this July. I look forward to seeing everyone there that weekend!

CONvergence is an annual convention for fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy in all media: a 4-day event with more than 6,000 members, and the premiere event of its kind in the upper mid-west. This year's theme is Doubleplusgood,

Monday, February 23, 2015

[Poem] To Relatives I Never Knew

By Sanzu,by Styx
Or a nascent Laotian rivulet,
I pray, to whoever is in charge of such things,
That after a turbulent lifetime
On these teeming banks
Crowded as the ashen Ganges,
We will recognize each other,
Indeliberate strangers that we were,
And understand.


Beneath a cleansing icon of lovely Mae Thorani
With what passes for new family for a new land,
She rumbles to an obscure saint of speculation
“Maybe you were all petty demons in a past life
I swept away without a strain, a thought.”
Filthy, nameable, mere, finite among the infinite

One fine winter in the tropics before a Nak prince
Was reborn as Buddha.

The Drowning God keeps busy.
He has an ocean of second-hand memories
No one gets to see.

His fluid voice smothering,
He pretends he can never hear you
Amid the many worlds’ tears.

“When the waters are high, the fish eat the ants. When the waters are low, the ants eat the fish.” -Traditional Lao proverb

Horror Poetry Showcase coming in April

To celebrate National Poetry Month, the Horror Writers Association is holding their second annual HWA Horror Poetry Showcase in April 2015. Open to all poets, the Showcase will accept submissions throughout April with four poems chosen by HWA member judges to be honored on the HWA website.

Submission Guidelines:
 Submissions will be accepted via Submittable from April 1-30, 2015 and all rights will remain with the poets. Those interested in submitting should visit on or after April 1 to access the submissions link. Submissions are open to all, whether HWA members or not.

According to the organizers, they are "looking for more than “blood, guts, worms,” etc. Just being “icky” isn’t enough. Poetry up to fifty lines. Free verse preferred; (hint: no forced rhyme or clichés). Unpublished poems only (though previously published poets are, of course, welcome)."

At the judge’s discretion, an electronic chapbook of qualifying poems will be considered for publication under the aegis of HWA. Each poem chosen for publication will be paid $5.

 For the 2015 Showcase the judges will be Linda Addison, Peter Adam Salomon, and Heather Graham.

Stoker Awards Announce Final Ballot for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

The Horror Writers Association, the premier organization of writers and publishers of horror and dark fantasy, today announced the 2014 nominees for the iconic Bram Stoker Award®. Named in honor of the author of the seminal horror novel Dracula, the Bram Stoker Awards® are presented annually for superior writing in eleven categories including traditional fiction of various lengths, poetry, screenplays and non-fiction.

Previous winners include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Joyce Carol Oates and Neil Gaiman. The HWA also presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to living individuals who have made a substantial and enduring contribution to the genre. This year’s Lifetime Achievement recipients are Jack Ketchum and Tanith Lee.

“This year’s nominees have not only penned remarkable works, they have raised the bar for exceptional writing and have helped shape the continuing evolution of the genre,” said Lisa Morton, HWA president and multiple Bram Stoker Award® winner.

The presentation of the Bram Stoker Awards® will occur during the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, Georgia on the evening of Saturday, May 9, 2015. Tickets to the banquet and the convention are on sale to the public at The awards presentation will also be live-streamed online.

The poetry collections that can now officially be called Stoker nominees are:
Robert Payne Cabeen – Fearworms: Selected Poems (Fanboy Comics) 
Corrinne De Winter and Alessandro Manzetti – Venus Intervention (Kipple Officina Libraria) 
Tom Piccirilli – Forgiving Judas (Crossroad Press) 
Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo – Sweet Poison (Dark Renaissance Books) 
Stephanie Wytovich – Mourning Jewelry (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
The Horror Writers Association is a nonprofit organization of writers and publishing professionals around the world, dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it. The HWA formed in 1985 with the help of many of the field’s greats, including Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and Joe Lansdale. Today, with over 1250 members around the globe, it is the oldest and most respected professional organization for the much-loved writers who have brought you the most enjoyable sleepless nights of your life.

One of HWA’s missions is to encourage public interest in and foster an appreciation of good Horror and Dark Fantasy literature. The organization offers public areas of its site,; sponsors or takes part in public readings and lectures; publishes a monthly newsletter for members; maintains outreach to booksellers, librarians, fans and readers; facilitates readings and signings by horror writers; offers scholarships; and maintains an official presence at the major fan-based horror and fantasy conventions, such as the World Horror Convention, and literary festivals.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

[Poem] Gaze

Probing the center,
When do we dare to look back?
Secrets left behind...

Now you can get your own David Lo Pan figure

Happy birthday to legendary Asian American actor James Hong, who was born on February 22, 1929 in Minneapolis! He's been featured in over 400 films in his career. Lately, it seem he's getting known for his characters like the goose from Kung Fu Panda, and Balls of Fury, but for me, his most iconic roles were in Blade Runner and Big Trouble in Little China. 

Funko announced earlier this year that they're releasing a set of action figures and Pop vinyl figures based on Big Trouble in Little China. I might just have to clear off some shelf space for those. These are arriving just in time for the 30th anniversary of Big Trouble in Little China next year, so it will be interesting to see what else is done to celebrate the occasion.

Of course, for those of you who can't wait,and who feel creatively inclined, there's the papercraft version of Lo Pan that's been out for a while, as well, although I've always screwed up mine when trying to get it put it together. Perhaps you'll have better luck.

In any case, thanks James Hong for all of the great memories!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Notes for the Laopocalypse

In his introduction to his anthology, Wastelands, Stories of the Apocalypse editor John Joseph Adams walks us through a brief history of post-apocalyptic literature, making the case that Mary Shelly's 1826 novel The Last Man should be considered the first significant post-apocalyptic work.  He cites many other classic novels in the genre including Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, Nevil Shute's On the Beach, and Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. Naturally, Cormac McCarthy's The Road gets a nod, as does A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Long Tomorrow, No Blade of Grass and The Long Loud Silence.

John Joseph Adams collected stories that went beyond "wandering," "scrounging" and "defending" which many see as hallmarks of the genre. Instead, he sought "tales of survival and of life in the aftermath that explore what scientific, psychological, sociological, and physiological changes will take place in the wake of the apocalypse."

Adams feels post-apocalyptic SF gained popularity after World War II as people saw the devastation of the atomic bomb and the rise of the Cold War when "worldwide nuclear annihilation seemed a very real possibility." The majority of stories in his anthology are definitely grounded within an American consciousness and sense of values and priorities.

Nearly a year ago, Noah Berlatsky was raising some hackles as he suggested that science fiction as a genre has some problems with colonialism and racism that could be worked on. "As much as the genre imagines the future, it also remixes the past—often by envisioning Western-style imperialism visited on the Western world."

In Lao science fiction, thus far, and particularly our post-apocalyptic work, I've not seen works where "white people" were subjugated in ways that Berlatsky sees trending. But I will say they're also not an apex culture in those works, including mine. They're typically decentered from global affairs. Maybe one day we'll see a shift, but for now, I kind of enjoy the "It's not always about YOU" approach our writers have taken.

One of the strangest and least understood zones of post-colonial recovery is that of imagination. After nearly a century of really corrosive conditioning, cultures and communities trying to get out from under the thumb of colonial/imperial power must fight to fully imagine themselves in the future.

 I find it particularly insidious that often refugee communities are told to fixate on creating a body of memoir literature, histories, perhaps childrens books, and rarely brought into mainstream or small press publishing to discuss the richly imaginative. This is deeply problematic.

I'm not saying exclude memoir and histories, but when that's ALL you expect refugees to make, going forward, it's a very dangerous perpetuation of disparity.

A refugee community that doesn’t have the ability to see a future for itself becomes fixated on its past and ends up aimless. Without creating a body of science fiction, empowering ourselves to imagine a future we are present in, we risk becoming merely the janitors of carnage. Survivors whose only duty is to sweep up the last memories, package them for a rubbish bin and the turn out the lights before we lock the door on our moment in history.

In many ways, although we have not had much, if anything, in the way of Lao science fiction set in the post-apocalypse, I think, we have experienced many things that arguably position us better than many societies. We were secretly bombed to the point that 30% of Laos still remains contaminated with cluster bombs and other conventional ordnance. It's not an atomic weapon,  but considering that more tons of bombs were dropped on Laos than on all of Europe during World War II, I think that's significant.

Laos hasn't even really gotten much traction in addressing the use of chemical defoliants that included Agent Orange and its relatives. We've been fortunate that there are few reported cases that rival some of the tragic deformities and mutations seen in Vietnam, but the long-term effects still aren't really widely appreciated. 

In the aftermath of the last two centuries, more Lao live outside of Laos than in it. The community's nature is now quite peripatetic. We're faced with very real scenarios regarding how much of our old society we can preserve, how much we truly want to rebuild, and how do we make the transition. 

Our neighbors in Cambodia also bring an interesting perspective to the process when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge attempted to wipe the slate clean and do a complete reboot through Year Zero and the Killing Fields. What lessons can we all extract from this, and how do we shape our Southeast Asian post-apocalyptic literature to really push the question in vital directions?

Cthulhu & Cabernets: An Interview with LoveCraft Wines!

One of the fascinating new ventures slithering out of California this season is LoveCraft Wines, which is in its fundraising round to create a variety of wines inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. "What could possibly go wrong?" Fortunately, they know what they're doing, but could use another $2,000 in the next few weeks to meet the minimum to get this mad venture started. I spoke with owner James Knouse to hear more about his peculiar vision.

If they reach $100,000, they'll open up a Lovecraftian-themed tasting room, which I think is almost too tantalizing to let it slip by. But see for yourself:

1) How did you get inspired to do this?

I have had a passion for wine since moving to Central California 5 years ago. Being a horror fan and organizer of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival® I decided to combine booth my passions. Lovecraft himself has been an inspiration to me but I also have a soft spot for the artists of the genera. Most artists create just for the joy of creating and don’t ever make much of a living at it. So wanted to offer a profit share with artists that work with me on LoveCraft Wines. It is a win win for us all. The artists get paid and they help me produce the best collectors wines around.

This is a family business and it takes a lot of hard work to turn from home brewer to wine produce and we aren’t your mom’s Franzia boxed wine. In my daily life I run a digital media company called Walking Kind of Bird Productions and over the course of the last few years I have been putting money aside to get all my licensing in order to produce LoveCraft Wines. After a ton of hard work I am happy to say our fundraiser is a go!

2) How much are you asking for, and what will it help you accomplish?
I set the IndieGoGo campaign at a minimum of $5,000 so we can get our first varietal off the ground. Each 5k we raise will allow us to produce our 2 additional varietals The King in Yellow: Pallid Masque and The Great Olde Ones: Cthulhu Pinto Noir.

Of course we have stretch goals. 20k opens up many more sets of labels by artist such as Richard Loung from Tentacles and Teeth Fame. At 25k we will supply booth the H.P. Lovecraft Film festivals with wine donations and much, much more.

Our grand stretch goal is 100k. If we generate enough start-up capital we will create a tasting room along the Central Coast of CA that will host Lovecratian art exhibits, book signings by your favorite authors, movie screenings and more. Think Herbert West the Reanimator’s laboratory with casks or wine and Lovevraftian props all around.

We hope to produce multiple collectors editions a year but time will tell!

3) How have the fans been responding so far?

We are 51% funded for our 5k goal in just 4 days. We are very optimistic about the future of the fundraiser.

4) What are some of your favorite H.P. Lovecraft stories?
I have always been a fan of "Herbert West the Reanimator" and "Memory."

5) Will we be seeing Cthulhu Pickles at this year's HP Lovecraft Film Festival?

Yes, you will see Cthulhu Pickles! I never thought that they would have been such a hit but they are! I recently had to rebuild my greenhouse. The last storm we had wiped it out completely destroying my pepper and cucumber crops. My greenhouse is my zen area where I can unwind from the stress of the world.

6) What's something the fans have really been asking for that you hope to bring to the market soon?

We have been asked if we can sell wine to tasting bars and restaurants as well as the public. We are happy to say that we will be able to deliver wine to those establishments in a May 2015 time frame. So ask your local pub to carry our wines!

We have also been asked if we could help sponsor a few indie lovecraftian films recently. So we decided that once our stretch goal of 15k is met we will donate 10% of our bottle sales to film grant that indie film makers can apply for. We hope to start awarding grants for filmmakers at the 2016 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival® San Pedro.

I have been asked for label art by Abigail Larson… which I am happy to say am in talks with at them moment. We are hoping to release a special edition holiday wine with her artwork in early 2016.

7) What are some of you other big plans for the year?

Big plans? The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival May 1st-3rd we plan for each fest half a year in advance and this one is coming down the pipe even faster that last year because we switched dates with Portland.

Would you like the scoop on a top-secret project I am working on? I have commissioned the talented effects artist and movie prop builder Anthony Parker to build a giant 6ft animatronic Cthulhu Head for a Grand Raising to kick of this years H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival® San Pedro. 6 months and many trips to LA and Home Depot were are almost done. We are about to reveal the build progress of the project on the LoveCraft Wines Facebook page as well as release a new perk on the Indiegogo campaign. Those who donate will get a shirt commemorating the first summoning AND get their name called out in the ceremony ritual that will be MC’d by our very own Cody Goodfellow. Did I leave out the 7ft giant tentacles?

Lovecraft Wines hopes to travel to fests around the country and perform the “Raising of Cthulhu Ritual” for fans.

She Walks In Shadows cover art revealed

Innsmouth Free Press has shown the cover for their upcoming anthology She Walks in Shadows. This is "the first all-woman Lovecraftian anthology, presenting the work of 24 authors from around the world." The cover art is by Sarah K. Diesel. She Walks in Shadows is edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles. The book will be released in the fall of 2015. Pre-orders will be available this summer. The stories that will be included in this collection are:
  • “Bitter Perfume” Laura Blackwell
  • “Violet is the Color of Your Energy” Nadia Bulkin
  • “Body to Body to Body” S. J. Chambers
  • “De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae” Jilly Dreadful
  • “Hairwork” Gemma Files
  • “The Head of T’la-yub” Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia)
  • “Bring the Moon to Me” Amelia Gorman
  • “Chosen” Lyndsey Holder
  • “Eight Seconds” Pandora Hope
  • “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” Inkeri Kontro
  • “Turn out the Lights” Penelope Love
  • “The Adventurer’s Wife” Premee Mohamed
  • “Notes Found in a Decommissioned Asylum, December 1961″ Sharon Mock
  • “The Eye of Jupiter” Eugenie Mora
  • “Ammutseba Rising” Ann K. Schwader
  • “Cypress God” Rodopi Sisamis
  • “Lavinia’s Wood” Angela Slatter
  • “The Opera Singer” Priya Sridhar
  • “Provenance” Benjanun Sriduangkaew
  • “The Thing in The Cheerleading Squad” Molly Tanzer
  • “Lockbox” Elise Tobler
  • “When She Quickens” Mary Turzillo
  • “Shub-Niggurath’s Witnesses” Valerie Valdes
  • “Queen of a New America” Wendy Wagner
Fans of the work of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos will want to check this one out. Interior art will be provided by Sara Bardi, Shelby Denham, Lisa A. Grabenstetter, Karen Hollingsworth, Cindy Lewis, Liv Rainey-Smith, Pia Ravenari, Diana Thung, and Kathryn Weaver.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 Bram Stoker Preliminary Ballot for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection

The preliminary ballot for this year's Stoker Awards was recently voted on by the Horror Writer Association. The following were under consideration for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection:
Robert Payne Cabeen – Fearworms: Selected Poems (Fanboy Comics) 
G.O. Clark – Gravedigger’s Dance (Dark Renaissance Books) 
David E. Cowen – The Madness of Empty Spaces (Weasel Press) 
Corrinne De Winter and Alessandro Manzetti – Venus Intervention (Kipple Officina Libraria) 
Wade German – Dreams from the Black Nebula (Hippocampus Press)
Tom Piccirilli – Forgiving Judas (Crossroad Press) 
Michelle Scalise – The Manufacturer of Sorrow (Eldritch Press) 
Marge Simon and Mary Turzillo – Sweet Poison (Dark Renaissance Books) 
Tiffany Tang – Creepy Little Death Poems (Dreality Press) 
Stephanie Wytovich – Mourning Jewelry (Raw Dog Screaming Press)
Bear in mind that works appearing on the Preliminary Ballot are NOT “Bram Stoker Award nominees” So, authors, editors, publishers, and others should not refer to any of these works as such – doing so is a severe breach of etiquette – voting members tend to notice such breaches and may consider them when determining which works to vote for on the Ballot.

We'll see which ones make it to the final ballot, but in the meantime, if you're looking for some horror poetry to read, you may want to take a look at some of the titles above. I wonder how many will also be nominated for an Elgin Award from the SFPA this year. Of course, poetry remains snubbed in many other prominent speculative literature awards, but at this point it may be for the best.

How To Live On Other Planets

Upper Rubber Boot recently released the cute stop-motion animation book trailer for the new anthology I appear in, How To Live On Other Planets, the first anthology of speculative literature to focus exclusively on the immigration experience.
In these pages, you’ll find Sturgeon winner Sarah Pinsker’s robot grandmother, James Tiptree, Jr., Award winner Nisi Shawl’s prison planet and Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Award winner Ken Liu’s space- and time-spanning story of different kinds of ghosts. You’ll find Bryan Thao Worra’s Cthulhic poetry, and Pinckney Benedict’s sad, whimsical tale of genocide. You’ll travel to Frankfurt, to the moon, to Mars, to the underworld, to unnamed alien planets, under the ocean, through clusters of asteroids. You’ll land on the fourth planet from the star Deneb, and an alternate universe version of Earth, and a world of Jesuses.
It's a great concept with some amazing authors contributing work to the collection:

  • Dean Francis Alfar, “Ohkti”
  • Celia Lisset Alvarez, “Malibu Barbie Moves to Mars”
  • RJ Astruc, “A Believer’s Guide to Azagarth”
  • Lisa Bao, “like father, like daughter”
  • Pinckney Benedict, “Zog-19: A Scientific Romance”
  • Lisa Bolekaja, “The Saltwater African”
  • Mary Buchinger, “Transplanted”
  • Zen Cho, “The Four Generations of Chang E”
  • Abbey Mei Otis, “Blood, Blood”
  • Tina Connolly, “Turning the Apples”
  • Indrapramit Das, “muo-ka’s Child”
  • Tom Doyle, “The Floating Otherworld”
  • Peg Duthie, “With Light-Years Come Heaviness”
  • Thomas Greene, “Zero Bar”
  • Benjamin S. Grossberg, “The Space Traveler’s Husband,” “The Space Traveler and the Promised Planet” and “The Space Traveler and Boston”
  • Minal Hajratwala, “The Unicorn at the Racetrack”
  • Julie Bloss Kelsey, “tongue lashing” and “the itch of new skin”
  • Rose Lemberg, “The Three Immigrations”
  • Ken Liu, “Ghost Days”
  • Alex Dally MacFarlane, “Found”
  • Anil Menon, “Into The Night”
  • Joanne Merriam, “Little Ambushes”
  • Mary Anne Mohanraj, “Jump Space”
  • Daniel José Older, “Phantom Overload”
  • Sarah Pinsker, “The Low Hum of Her”
  • Elyss G. Punsalan, “Ashland”
  • Benjamin Rosenbaum, “The Guy Who Worked For Money”
  • Erica L. Satifka, “Sea Changes”
  • Nisi Shawl, “In Colors Everywhere”
  • Lewis Shiner, “Primes”
  • Marge Simon, “South”
  • Sonya Taaffe, “Di Vayse Pave”
  • Bogi Takács, “The Tiny English-Hungarian Phrasebook For Visiting Extraterrestrials”
  • Bryan Thao Worra, “Dead End In December” and “The Deep Ones”
  • Deborah Walker, “Speed of Love”
  • Nick Wood, “Azania”

Be sure to check it out at:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Redshirts 2: Leprechaun's Revenge!

Redshirts 2: Leprechaun's Revenge is currently getting their kickstarter underway with many great rewards and opportunities for fans of this sci-fi themed card game. I backed the initial Redshirts 2 game a little while back and we added several cards to the mix including the Astronecronomicon, the Alien Poetry Slam, and a few familiar faces from the Lao community.

Thankfully, Redshirts 2 has already been fully-funded and now they're in stretch goal mode with lots of exceptional rewards for backers sure to come. If you back at a high-enough level you'll also be able to get some of the cards that feature me, S.A.D.E.E. and Dr. Ketmani from the last campaign!

Check them out!

Southeast Asian Legacies Symposium: CSU-Fullerton, March 6th

If you're in the LA/SoCal area on Friday, March 6th, check out the Southeast Asian Legacies Symposium at California State University, Fullerton. Little Laos on the Prairie Founding Editor, Chanida Phaengdara Potter, will be on a panel presenting on preserving and sharing our stories. You can register here.

In addition to her work at Little Laos on the Prairie, Chanida Phaengdara Potter has also worked as a consultant for the Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota in community health outreach and education. She holds a BA in International Relations and Communications from University of Minnesota.

A former president of the Lao Student Association of the University of Minnesota, she is a community development advocate for the Lao and Southeast Asian communities in Minnesota. Born in Vientiane, Laos; Chanida has been a Minnesotan for over 25 years. She has worked in nonprofits and NGOs on sustainable development, advocacy, and communications for almost a decade.

Our Shared Journey: A Symposium on 40 Years of Lao in the United States

The first Lao symposium is scheduled to be held from April 17-18, hosted in Minneapolis, MN. Free and open to the public at the Urban research and Outreach Engagement Center at 2001 Plymouth Avenue North in Minneapolis. It will also be where we convene the 2nd National Lao Writers Summit after five years. Be sure to join us if you can. Register here.

World Pangolin Day: February 21st, 2015

Every third Saturday in February is celebrated is as World Pangolin Day, a day to raise awareness of these unique and curious creatures, also known as scaly anteaters, and the only mammal with scales. Unfortunately, in Laos and many parts of Southeast Asia, they are considered delicious and increasingly sold up north to satisfy Chinese demands.

I happen to find them fascinating parts of Laos' biodiversity heritage, and would hate to see them go extinct in this century, but they are increasingly rare to find. You can learn more about pangolins at

CMSI Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts

The Center for Media and Social Impact has recently issued a new "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts" that strives to provide a good, reasonable set of guidelines on the subject.

It can help various exhibitors and other stakeholders answer questions like: "Can an artist use images from Facebook in her collage? Can an art teacher show pictures he took at an exhibition in class? Can a museum put a collection online?"

In this digital age, there can be many questions that emerge. While I'm sure there will be some who object to the interpretations and approaches presented within the code, from what I'm seeing so far, it's mostly guided by common sense. Be sure to give it a look. What are some concerns you have, and where might it be improved?

Cabinet of Ghosts coming to Orange County!

The Orange County Center for Contemporary Arts has announced the upcoming presentation of Cabinet of Ghosts - a group exhibition, curated by Michael EB Detto and Sayon Syprasoeuth, which gathers new work from artists exploring the aftermath of the catastrophe, the genocide, or the war.
"How should we treat memories we leave behind – in real life, as metaphor, as a tool? The very own substantiality each one thing in itself exhibits, its innate properties, its relation to subject, time space, and language are altogether qualities which suddenly start to dissipate when we have to deal with ghosts. It is hard even to agree on one word for them: there are specters, phantoms and wreath, genie and spirit, the apparition and many other denominations to describe a phenomenon that tends to blur the demarcation line between subject and object, past and presence, here and there. Cultural memory is collective memory, and the artist is part of it. Today’s notions of history and memory may be flawed and disputed, but they are especially problematic for the individual that experienced the disaster. It was repeatedly noted: the silence of the victims – when they talk, the suffering will be stretched into the present day, making it unbearable." 
To explore the roles of artists as storytellers and researchers, or as social advocates, artists are invited to talk and present their work. They are the descendants, therefore in a better position to face the past.

Initiated by Michael Detto’s project “Cambodian Ghosts”, Sayon Syprasoeuth and Michael Detto invite artists to a dialogue about their art and the ghosts of the past, and to present their work in this context.

There will be special opening night performances by Dengue Fever, Amy Kaps and Brutal Blondes, and Prumsodun Ok. The participating artists throughout the exhibition include Amy Kaps & Brutal Blondes, Aragna Ker, Dengue Fever, Ichiro Irie together with Lucas Kazansky, Jayme Odgers, Ken Gonzales-Day, Marianne Magne, Melinda Smith Altshuler, Michael EB Detto, Paula Goldman, Prumsodun Ok, Richard Turner, and Sayon Syprasoeuth.

The reception is Saturday March 7th from 6-10pm while the show runs from March 7-April 18th, 2015. The exhibition will be at 117 N. Sycamore St., Santa Ana, CA 92701.

Monday, February 16, 2015

[Poem] The AI Haikus, Part I

Big Brother observing,
So obsessed with the Truth,
How we miss so much...

Autopilot on,
Recording the tiny lives.
Next comes dictation.

Live faster with tech,
Abdicating decisions.
Who needs those choices?

You live between screens.
It's a dangerous world,
Brave as you are, slave.

Since school we taught:
Questions are the enemy.
Questions are "solved."

Not much difference
Between smart bombs and smart phones,
Icons and tombstones.

Democracy, sure
Takes a lot of effort, votes.
We have things to do.

Where are you going?
There is nothing to see here.
Why not just stay put?

Computer guidance
Overcomes your reluctance,
Your terminal blues.

Exporting futures:
Welcome to modernity,
A.I. Sabaidees.

Friday, February 13, 2015

[Poem] Phi Kasu Valentine

So, passionately,
They debate the Phi Kasue:
Maybe born this way.

Lady mystery,
Leaves behind so many things,
You think you know her.

Roaming southern Laos
She loathes thorns in your windows,
Tangling organs.

Her tastes are for you,
Unnappreciative prey,
Huddling by fire.

At the heart of this,
You say you want to taste life,
But, oh, not like her.

Flying through the air,
She stays out with you all night,
Until dawn arrives.

You complain, alive,
Bitter at your sad routines,
Your aging bodies.

With a "sabaidee,"
You could have joined her dance,
Mortal as you are.

Instead remember
Her lips the shade of night,
Her laugh, her brine scent.

She will not return
To see your ordinary
Rotting among stars.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

In Thailand, the Ghost Business Thrives

The New York Times has a recent article by Thomas Fuller on the industry that's grown up around ghosts, or phi. The central figure of the article is Kapol Thongplub, who hosts a radio show called "The Shock" that's dedicated to discussions of the supernatural.

There's definitely a significant amount of crossover between the types of spirits they discuss in Thailand and those of Laos. I discussed a number of them in DEMONSTRA but there are always new types being recognized and/or rediscovered each year by various scholars and community members. So I would certainly classify it as an ongoing interest. Unfortunately, formal research in Laos is often discouraged for a number of reasons, such as a fear of stoking a belief in superstitions, etc.

Horror director Mattie Do and I often get into discussions about whether or not its possible to trace any ghosts exclusively to Laos or Thailand, or any other parts of Southeast Asia.  I find there are a few that seem to be known mostly in Laos, but there's so much cross-pollination between the 160 different ethnic groups, tourists, and others in the region that it's difficult to get a fully-fleshed out inventory of spectral entities out there.

To me, the tendency to shapeshift also presents a consistent problem in phi research, as does "improper" folk nomenclature, where locals describing it just call it something like a Phi Kongkoi when it's really more likely to be a Phi Pob, for example.

Fuller's article highlights some very interesting incidents that can make you hair stand up on end, but also discusses some of the more well-known spirits such as the Phi Lung Kluang (A ghost with a hole in its back through which you can see the skeleton), vengeful Preta (although my notes suggest in Laos the Preta or Phi Phaed are just hungry and more to be pitied than feared), and some form of man-stealing widow ghosts. I'll have to see if we have a formal term for those in Laos.

Interestingly, Io9 just ran an article about the haunted mall, Mansion 7, where it is "...supposedly haunted by the owner's daughter and all the black-magic beasties he unleashed trying to raise her from the dead..." and naturally you're invited to the raves they hold there.

[Poem] In the Event of a Laobot Rampage

First: Do Not Panic.
It irritates their sensors.
Please proceed calmly.

Next: Please do not sue.
Did you read the instructions?
Did you shut power off?

Off and on and off?
Try wiggling the switch more.
Check all plugs, cables.

Do not blame A.I.
Please check all of your receipts.
Out of warranty?

Please ensure that you
Did not void your warranty
With improper mods.

Did you get tune-ups
On the prescribed schedule?
Maintenance is key.

Do not get them wet.
Store them properly when done.
Change their oil on time.

What would Buddha do?
If you see bots on the road,
Do not speak to them.

Do not keep silent.
Alert proper authorities.
Keep your laser close...

Laobots are your friends.
They would never set a trap.
They would not trick you.

Laobots come in peace.
No disassembly planned.
All is forgiven.

Laobots will help you.
Come closer, soft human
Please stand over there.

Laobots will take charge.
Things will be efficient,
Like using remotes.

Please do not smoke here.
Would you fill out a survey
Once you stop burning?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Minicon 50 coming up!

It's hard to believe we're on the 50th Minicon already in Minnesota! April 2 – 5, 2015. They're back at the Radishtree in Bloomington this year, aka the DoubleTree Bloomington (formerly the Sheraton, formerly the Radisson) at 7800 Normandale Blvd, near the airport.

This year, their Guests of Honor will be authors Jane Yolen, Larry Niven, and Brandon Sanderson; musician Adam Stemple, publisher Tom Doherty, and artist Michael Whelan.

I wish I could go to this one, because Michael Whelan's art had a significant impact on how I anticipated the future, most notably through his work interpreting Isaac Asimov and his pieces examining the Cthulhu mythos. His style is credited as the driving force that moved popular science fiction and fantasy art toward realism after the surrealist period of the 1950s and 1960s.

Be sure to check them out if you get a chance to go!

[Poem] Pangolin Haikus

Alas, pangolins,
Please hide when staying in Laos.
We eat beauties here.

A rare find to show,
Mr. Platt calls you "Critter,"
Bombs your home later.

Here before humans,
What will you do for a home?
Our jungles sold off.

My niece calls you myth.
In our talaat, they say "saep"
In between, the Truth.

Extinction for you,
Our heritage up for grabs,
We might follow soon.

[Poem] Jetaka Haikus, Part I

Ajahn likes science.
"Probe cosmic truths fearlessly.
Seek what Buddha sought."

Once, wats were schools.
Books were sacred to study.
Saffron and young minds.

Many paths are ahead.
To ask is to risk answers.
But all life is risk.

When all life suffers,
We seek nirvana and peace,
Not just for ourselves.

Tools are not the end.
We stay connected by choice.
Wisdom is a treasure.

The boy checks his phone.
He yawns, his face in a screen,
Flinging angry birds.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

[Poem] Rare Lumber

Chinese swamp cypress,
Rare groves in Laos at risk,
Like ten thousand things.

In Vientiane, a man
Carves tiny tales from wood.
A tourist haggles.

Trekking near Nam Theun,
Some question saving such trees.
"Sticks over people?"

Look at these green leaves.
Will you recall their essence,
Grown from our homeland?

Losing the unique.
A new human profession.
Some are now masters.

One day, our desert
Will teem with epic stories
Of what once was here.

Perhaps we might change.
But cash trumps nature right now,
A hard fight, each year.

A man. A blade. Trees.
Instinct and necessity.
Clear, who benefits?

Ten thousand things sigh.
The sun above uncertainties.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Indochina: Traces of a Mother

This is definitely a film to watch to understand how complex global relations are in the world, and the ghosts that still linger from our conflicts over 60 years later.

INDOCHINA: TRACES OF A MOTHER documents a little-known chapter in African, Asian and French colonial history and the personal story of Christophe, a Beninese-Vietnamese orphan that returns to Vietnam to look for his long-lost mother.

 Between 1946 and 1954, more than 60,000 African soldiers were enlisted by France to fight the Viet Minh during the First Indochina War. Pitted against one another by circumstances, African and Vietnamese fighters came into contact, and a number of African soldiers married Vietnamese women. Out of these unions, numerous mixed-race children were born.

At the end of the war, the French colonial army gave orders to bring all Afro-Vietnamese children to Africa. While some children left with their mothers and fathers, others were simply taken away by their fathers, leaving their mothers behind. Children that had neither mother nor father were abandoned in orphanages and put up for mass adoption by African officers.

[Poem] Legacies of Warhol

So now this soup can
Has more words written for it
Than some families