Monday, November 30, 2015

Alisak Sanavongsay interviewed at Little Laos on the Prairie

Little Laos on the Prairie recently did an interview with Alisak Sanavongsay, who's been a long-time comunity builder involved with many of the national and local efforts to rebuild Lao culture in the US.

From efforts with the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project to the Southeast Asian American Legacies Symposium, he's assisted groups such as the National Lao American Writers Summit, Cooking with Nana, the Laotian American National Alliance, the Elgin Lao Artists Festival, the Center for Lao Studies, and many more.

Based in Merced, California, he shares his perspective with the community and his ideas of what makes a good leader in the Lao community. Worth checking out!

Souvankham Thammavongsa's "Cluster" featured at the Globe and Mail

Souvankham Thammvongsa is an award-winning Lao Canadian poet whose books include Small Arguments; Found; and Light, all from Pedlar Press. Among her notable awards is the Trillium Award, and the CBC Bookie Award for Book of the Year in the poetry category for Light, which is a beautifully composed text that has my highest recommendations.
A short film was based on her book of poems Found. It was inspired by her father's notebook from the refugee camps she discovered in the trash one day. She recently came to Minnesota in April to meet with other Lao writers, artists and scholars as part of the National Lao American Symposium and Writers Summit.

Recently, the Globe and Mail featured her poem "Cluster."  It's always an achievement when a poet is featured in the newspaper, even more so, for Lao in diaspora. I hope this serves as encouragement to everyone that there is indeed space for our words, our dreams, our journeys.

Documenting the Cambodian diaspora with Pete Pin

Art Radar recently posted a great interview by Lisa Pollman featuring Pete Pin, "Inter-generational project reveals complexities of Cambodian diaspora"  that also has many implications for those of us who are documenting the Lao diaspora. It's well worth the read, espeically for its questions of art with intergenerational dimensions and a sense of community-centered creation.

His projects have included “Cambodian Diaspora,” “Cambodian Diaspora: Memory”, and “I am Khmer,” which may not strike some as particularly ambitious titles, but they're functional enough.

There's a lot that should resonate with Lao artists here. In the Khmer community, he didn't grow up with much access to art, and he felt a great disconnect from his culture and his identity. Pete Pin defied the statistics and went on to puruse his graduate degrees.

What's encouraging to me is that he purchased his first camera in 2008, and got what many would consider a later start in life as a photographer.  He found inspiration in the work of Richard Avedon and Robert Frank thanks to exhibits in San Francisco. I would hope this encourages Lao not to be intimidated by the idea of starting later in an art.

One notable concept he mentions is the "hinge generation" put forward by Eva Hoffman. It's an idea of trauma experienced through recieved memory, which is particularly of interest for Lao who were born in the 1970s and on. Many of us have a sense of what our elders went through but did not directly experience it. For Lao, there's a consistent frustration that elders, particularly parents and grandparents don't talk about those experiences in any great detail, and there's not much of a clearinghouse for these stories where we can reassemble a sense of what really happened during the Secret War. In an era of such intense personal documentation, it remains a very visible gap in our human record.

Hoffman notes that those of us interested in preserving the memories of our elders and discussing our journey have to beware of self-indulgence and narcissism. Without naming names, I can say that I've seen that in action in Lao and Southeast Asian narratives. Hoffman has further warned that we can't see ourselves as''a victim of victims, as damaged by calamities that had been visited on somebody else.'' She notes that "if we insist on fidelity to our childhood knowledge, we may run the risk of being unfaithful to what our parents themselves knew." So this could become a challenge.

Pete Pin's present work is centered on documentary photography, not photojournalism, so these are images that are taken over a long-period of time, and not necessarily shots centered on things we'd consider breaking news. I can see many Lao photographers across the country working with this method. Pete Pin makes note of some other interesting approaches to photography, such as participatory, collaborative and performance photography.

Pete Pin and Lisa Pollman discuss a New York Times article by Teju Cole "Memories of Things Unseen" and the idea that photography is a memorial art, and one that intersects "memory, space, and time."

Pete Pin mentions an issue in putting together exhibitions that we learned during the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities exhibit in Minnesota five years ago, that you have to be careful not to reintroduce trauma. There's a challenge because we can't always be sure what's going to trigger those memories or where the outcome goes. You need responsible facilitation and use a safe space. Pete Pin even suggests having mental health resources on hand, which is not an issue other communities exhibiting community-centered arts typically include.

The project shifted for Pete Pin, which originally was concieved as creating an archive of family stories, but I find his current conclusion interesting, that family stories should really stay with the families. I think about this as I remember The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and some of the conversations we were having about this back then. He now makes efforts to get people to participate at their own levels of comfort.

Overall, there are some very interesting ideas presented here that I think many in the Lao community need to consider as we go forward with our own efforts to document our diaspora. Be sure to give this a read.

New Soudary Kittivong Greenbaum Poem, "Narratives"

Soudary Kittivong Greenbaum was one of the founding members of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project, which marks its 20th anniversary this year. Her work has been published in many of the anthologies SatJaDham released in the late 1990s. Her experience has taken her from Alaska to Texas, and points in between.

Since the days of SatJaDham, she has gone on to a career in the non-profit sector, building over 15 years experience, with a focus on human rights, social justice, equity, education and public health.

She recently had a new poem published at Little Laos on the Prairie, "Narratives." Be sure to check it out.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Krysada Panusith Phounsiri at Lao American Review

This week, Lao American writer Krysada Panusith Phounsiri's poem "Ode to Kao Niew," which first appeared in the Sahtu Press collection Dance Among Elephants was featured at Lao American Review.

Krysada Binly Panusith Phounsiri is a Lao American who was born in Houay Xai, Laos. He immigrated to the U.S. at age two where he lived in Southeast San Diego. He began writing poetry at age 11, but fell in love with poetry when he attended UC Berkeley. He was a Physics/Astrophysics double major, with a minor in Creative Writing, and a professional dancer who has performed internationally. He is also an avid photographer. His work has appeared previously in publications such as the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education and Advancement and the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s national photo project “A Day In the Life of Asian America.”

Dance Among Elephants is an original poetry collection by Krysada Binly Panusith Phounsiri that debuted in 2015. It is the second book to be published by Sahtu Press, which specializes in literary work by Laotian Americans.

Dance Among Elephants was released in softcover format with over 70 pages of previously unpublished poetry and photography touching on the Laotian American experience. The personal and historical are intertwined in Phounsiri’s collection. Using a variety of styles, Phounsiri demonstrates his versatility bringing powerful memories and dreams together in a profound meditation of love and loss. Some poems draw on from his journey as a Lao American and his family’s struggles to rebuild after the war for Laos.

Other poems of his confront "the lingering ghosts of unexploded ordnance still in Laos, clashes of the heart, and efforts to preserve the voices of his elders while charting a course uniquely his own."

Throughout December, if you order Dance Among Elephants from Sahtu Press directly, you copies will be personally autographed by the author.

On writing

You can't be a writer if you're afraid of sounding weird.

Available now at Sahtu Press!

It's the holiday season!

I've gotten a number of great questions from many of you who are interested in buying my books. This year, the best place to find my books this holiday season: 

When you buy from the Sahtu Press website, I'll also autograph them for you. But thanks to a succesful season, inventory is very limited right now, so please keep that in mind. If you order by December 10th, we'll be able to get them to you in time for Christmas or the New Year.

Additionally, don't forget to get you copies of book from writers like Nor Sanavongsay, Krysada Panusith Phounsiri, Soul Vang, Kevin Minh Allen, and David Zander & Sunny Chanthanouvong! Some new authors are coming in 2016 so it's going to be a very exciting year ahead. Thank you for all of your support!

I hate buying sight unseen as much as the rest of you. So, if you'd like to see a preview of what you're getting with Tanon Sai Jaiyou can go here to check it out first.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Accessibility issues and Lao event programming

Recently the SFF Convention Accessibility pledge has been circulating around asking convention organizers to create events that accessible to those with disabilities. Io9 has a good introductory briefing on the topic, and there are some excellent comments being made, overall. They're citing the Wiscon accessibility policy as the gold standard. I've personally signed the pledge, and do encourage others to consider doing so.

That leads me to thoughts of what we can do to take back these ideas to the Lao community as we plan events, becaue it's not only a courtesy, it is the law.

Given how many community members we have, particularly elders, veterans, and others with disabilities, some visible, others less so, it's important for us to consider how we're organizing events. Not all disabilities are permanent. For example, are you prepared if your guest of honor has been in car accident and has to use a wheel chair for the time being? We need to set a good example for our youth to have an inclusive mindset.

We should ask what we're doing to go above and beyond in terms of providing accomodations to improve our paticipatory experiences for everyone.

Are you leaving enough space in the aisles for those with wheelchairs or crutches? If you use a stage, is there a ramp or option for someone with mobility issues?

Are their options for large-print programs for those with limited vision, or at least a poster with large type somewhere with the schedule so people can identify where they want to go?

Are sign language interpreters available? For those who are hard of hearing are good microphones and clear sound systems in place for the speakers, and for the audiene if you have a question and answer segment?

If you have events that aren't on the first floor, are there good elevators or lifts in the building? Are your events held on major public tranport lines, and is there an easy space for loading and unloading passengers? For outdoor events, are there good paths for wheelchairs, or ground that's not too muddy?

There are many other questions to be asked, but that's an example of the considerate thinking we need to be advocating during our event planning.

At the very least, do you know who to contact in the event that an accessibility issue comes up?

I spent many years in Minnesota planning events, from the Five Senses Show to the National Lao American Writers Summit and the Legacies of War: Refugee Nation Twin Cities exhibition, among others. I learned a lot from those experiences on the importance of addressing accessibility, but as always, there's more we can learn.

Creating accessibility is always a constantly evolving process. New technology, new issues, and more importantly, new opportunities for inclusion are always emerging. That should excite organizers of science fiction conventions, and that should excite Lao event organizers who pride themselves on hospitality, inclusion, and diverity.

I see the creation of accessible spaces as fully within our traditional values, and it's a mindset we need to pass on to the next generation. As a community, we need to see it as a benchmark of failure if we can't be bothered to consider how to include those with disabilities in our events.

One thing that's been helpful to me over the years was the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council's Arts Accessibility Planning Guide.  It's well worth a look not only for Minnesota events but events anywhere. The National Endowment for the Arts also has a good resource guide, but everyone should take the time to get more informed and understand what constitutes good implementation of the ADA act.

For Lao American refugees, there aren't many existing resources in our own words, in our own language at the moment. This is a conversation which hasn't really been held to identify if there are any accessibility issues unique to our community beyond language barriers. Nationally and locally, we haven't done much community asset mapping to determine what forms of accessibility we need to prioritize. Hopefully in the years ahead, we'll see significant community leadership emerge committed to inclusion and addressing these issues.

Congressional Briefing: "AAPIs Behind Bars: Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline"

It's not much good to those of us who aren't in the DC area, but SEARAC is convening a Congressional Briefing:  "AAPIs Behind Bars: Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline."

Among those involved are Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA (AAJC), Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance / AFL-CIO (APALA), Asian Prisoner Support Committee (APSC), National Education Association (NEA), and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC).

This is planned to be a  Congressional briefing to highlight the impact of mass criminalization, incarceration, and deportation on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, which should be an issue of concern to many of us.

In the meantime, we need to keep an eye out for the release of the new report put together by AAJC-LA, APALA, APSC, NEA, and SEARAC. They maintain that our communities are  an often overlooked segment in the criminal justice system.

Already, they have released notes that "AAPIs' rate of incarceration quadrupled between 2000 and 2010, and disaggregated data shows that certain Asian subgroups, such as Southeast Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, have significantly high rates of arrest and incarceration."

They argue that incarcerated AAPIs also experience "unique challenges, including cultural stigmas, lack of community awareness, and disownment from their families."

 They're inviting Congressional offices, federal agencies, coalition partners, AAPI organizations, and criminal justice, immigration, and education advocates to join us in this important conversation. Food will be provided. The briefing is on December 2nd. The hashtag is #AAPIsBehindBars

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Are YOU a Cthulhusattva? Call for Submissions ends 12/15

Over at Martian Migraine Press they released for the call for their 2016 anthology Cthulhusattva: Lovecraftian Tales of the Black Gnosis. The deadline to submit something ends 12/15. If you've got something that's thoughtful, chilling, and in line with their core premise regarding the Cthulhu Mythos, I recommend sending something in.

As they ask: "What of the opposite numbers to your standard Lovecraftian hero? What of those servants of the Great Old Ones? The cultists. Sorcerers. Witches. Lone madmen and women. What of those who go seeking that dark enlightenment of their own free will? What of the individuals who choose to cast off from the shores of humanity’s placid island of ignorance, who choose to voyage far on those black seas of infinity that surround that island?"

They seek stories that "explore these themes, and these intrepid, intelligent, and yes, more than a little insane characters! However, we’re not interested in dyed-in-their-woolen-robes hooded cultists or card-carrying gibbering lunatics with knives behind their backs, laying in wait for the Randolph Carters and Professor Armitages of the world. Instead, give us stories that examine what it means to truly learn the nature of the Universe and come out the other side, smiling! Remember, the Old Ones are apathetic to human needs and desires, and are as likely to ignore a supplicant as devour them. So, consider how one might go mad at contact with them, but still live and move and have an affect in the world." 

"We want to see tales of Mythos mystics, spiritual sorcerers, monstrous monks, and preternatural philosophers, and we want to see them in a diverse range of settings, not just Arkham. The world is vast and strange: show us the bizarre and mind-expanding traditions of far-flung locales! Take us from the deep past to the unimagined future! Give us stories that prove you can hear the Call of Cthulhu… and return as a Cthulhusattva!"

Open to submissions of stories up to 7000 words. Payment will be .03CAD per word + contributor copy (paperback and ebook)

2015 Poetry Recap

Poetry is an unusual branch of literature. In any given year, your output can vary tremendously. As hard as it is to believe, sometimes a poet can walk away with only one poem in a year, or less than a dozen. Some will struggle to fill even a chapbook under 39 pages, let alone an entire full-length book. Then, some poets manage to get out multiple books in a year, but only a few of those are lucky to have at least one of them be an enduring volume in their oeuvre, let alone one that alters the cosmos by some magnificent increment.

Do we measure a poet's year by their volume, or their endurance? Do we assign a weight to years a book is produced, or one in which there is an abundance of publications or performances? These are all questions particular to a poet. They're not questions that tip the Earth off of her axis. In a poet's line of work, such assessments, such considerations are also misleading, because it can take decades and lifetimes before a poem might reach the one it is truly meant for. This is an intimidating, stultifying truth.

I write these remarks mostly for myself today, that I might return to them twenty years or more later for consideration. I'm not anticipating any new formal publications between now and the end of the year, so here is the body of poems I composed and shared with the public at large.

"Formally," new work of mine was published in only two publications this year: Uncanny Magazine and the Asian American Literary Review.  When counting poems I shared directly with my readers here, on Facebook, or elsewhere, it appears to be at least 47 new poems. I'm not including reprints of older work in this assessment.

At the beginning of the year, I had also released a collected edition of my work to date to the Creative Commons, "The Tuk-Tuk Diaries: Preludes and Postcards," but there were only marginal revisions to these older works that scarcely merits mention.

In recent years, my poems were getting longer than I usually prefer. This year seems to be one where I returned to shorter pieces, particularly haiku sequences.

Some have worked better than others, many tied to the Laomagination project: Expanding the visual and literary vocabulary of the Lao American experience to include the imaginative and to converse with the mythic. Some results were more successful than others, of course.

Other poems were composed in consideration of the 20th anniversary of the SatJaDham Lao Literary Project, which was personally influential on me, as well as the 5th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the 40th anniversary of the Lao Diaspora. This year, numerous older poems were reimagined through graphopoetics or haiga.  My most productive months appear to have been between January to July, although several significant pieces to me have been composed since then, My question for the early part of 2016 will be determining whether to collect the loose poems into a single collection, or to prepare a more thematically cohesive manuscript for a later date.

Key Poems, 2015:

  • "The AI Haikus, Part I"
  • "A Preface to Lao Silences"
  • "Contracting"
  • "The Duel (Prelude)"
  • "Family Secrets"
  • "Fear of a Lao Planet"
  • "Five Dachshund Haikus"
  • "Fon Nyakinee"
  • "Four Niece Sitting Haikus"
  • "Gaze"
  • "The G-Word (Haiku)"
  • "Haikilling"
  • "The Hanumandroid"
  • "In the Event of a Laobot Rampage"
  • "The Jetaka Haikus"
  • "The Kinnaly and the Apple"
  • "Laobotikoans"
  • "The Laodyssey, Preamble"
  • "Laomigration Haiku"
  • "Laopocalypse Haikus: 1/26/2557"
  • "Laopocalypse Haiku: Oppenheimer, July 16, 2487"
  • "Laopocalypse Haikus 3/16/2557"
  • "Legacies"
  • "Legacies of Warhol"
  • "Meditation in New Lan Xang"
  • "Nakanya 2557"
  • "Nakanya Minuet"
  • "Narcissus of Vientiane, 5225"
  • "The Neighborly Scavengers"
  • "Ode to Laoducken"
  • "On A Subway to the Bay"
  • "Pangolin Haikus"
  • "Phi Kasu Valentine"
  • "The Phi Kongkoi Blues"
  • "Possessions"
  • "Prognostication"
  • "Rare Lumber"
  • "The Sabaipocalypse"
  • "Secrets of Lao Super Science"
  • "Shark Week Haiku 2015"
  • "Spaces"
  • "Sympathy for the Xenomorph"
  • "Terrible Lizards, Human Humans"
  • "Vientiane in 13 Haikus"
  • "Whoops, Laopocalypse"

  • Uncanny Magazine:
    "Slices of Failure in Super Science"

    Asian American Literary Review:
    "Laotian Cartographies, Part I (Phantoms)"
    "A Semblance of Our Conversation, April 11th, 2010, Ceres, CA"
    "My Secret War Within"

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    The Big Easy, Big Ideas, and Brandon Black

    For some time now, I've had the pleasure of knowing Brandon Black, a New Orleans-based writer of fantasy and science fiction. He has the particular distinction of being the editor of New Orleans' first locally-written and produced steampunk and gaslamp fantasy anthology, New Orleans By Gaslight. 

    He has a terrific sense of story that's inclusive and expansive, and his posts on other areas of genre always give me something to think about. He's one of the nicest guys I know, and I see many similarities between our experiences and influences growing up. I had the chance to interview him this month in the middle of his busy schedule of writing and making it all work out down in the bayou.

    Be sure to visit his website at:!

    How did you get inspired to take up writing? Who are some of the writers who are enduring influences upon you?

    My life has been woven through with stories. I learned to read from comic books. When we'd go over to my grandparents' house, I'd pull out this huge cardboard box of Golden Age comic books under my uncle's bed and just read for hours. I've never understood why they push such dry material on kids in school. Comic books got me to the point where I could read by the time I reached kindergarten and so they kicked me up into the first grade and even when I got there, I took reading class with the second graders. The Legion of Superheroes, the Avengers, the Green Lantern Corps and the Justice League are only a million times more interesting than "See Jane run."

    My father was a physicist and he's the one who introduced me to science fiction (when I was a boy, he gave me an inflated astronaut instead of a teddy bear.) When I was old enough to understand it, we'd watch Doctor Who together on PBS. That's still one of my fondest memories of my father. But I'd have to say anime was the biggest early influence on me other than comic books. I remember the epic story of Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers here in the States), a crew of desperate young people making a trip of a hundred and eighty thousand light years, out to the Magellanic Cloud and back, in just one Earth year, with the goal of saving all life on Earth. That's a story!

    I still remember that awesome moment in Robotech when I heard the narrator say, "Meanwhile, twenty light years away..." A transition. A simple transition between scenes and I was awestruck. This was a story of such scale, such scope that meaningful events were occuring simultaneously twenty light years distant from each other. I think that's when I started wondering if I myself could write science fiction.

    As for authors whose work I revere, let's see: Larry Niven, Jack Vance, John M. Ford, Scott Cunningham, Louie Martinie, J. R. R. Tolkien, Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Douglas Adams, G. R. R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman.

    What’s your next big project you want to take on as a writer?

    I want to write a huge sprawling epic of a novel. I want to write one of those three hundred and sixty thousand word books that panting for breath you can report to the police that you managed to bludgeon your attacker to death with because you had no other weapon with which to defend yourself.

    I want to write a Great and Mighty Book worthy of Douglas Adams' line "and with a million sleek and horribly beweaponed star cruisers poised to unleash electric death at his single word of command..." Yes! That's the sort of book I want to write! But I'm not ready. I'm not ready as a writer and I'm not at the point where I would need to be in my career. I can't imagine there's a publisher anywhere that would take a three hundred thousand word novel from a new author. They'd insist on cutting it into three books and making a trilogy of out it and that would really just kill my enthusiasm for it. I want to write an epic work, an integral work that reads as a single novel from beginning to end, despite its length.

    And there's that other annoying minor point that I haven't finished a novel yet at all. I have a steampunk novel that I'm writing and I need to finish it. Once it's done, then I can start looking to writing something longer.

    New Orleans has a strong literary tradition. In what ways do you feel that’s impacted your approach to writing?

    Rather than sound bitter, I'll just say that while New Orleans does have a very strong literary tradition and there are many people of letters who are passionate about writing and literature here, that doesn't mean they are passionate about science fiction and fantasy. I received little to no support or encouragement from my instructors or most of my fellow students in creative writing classes, save for Dr. Blackwood at LSU. The rest of my instructors at various points actively tried to dissuade me from writing science fiction. One of them, a full professor and at one point head of his college's creative writing department said that he didn't understand science fiction so he didn't allow his students to write it.

    Can you imagine ANY other genre where an instructor, a full professor, could get away with saying something like that? "I've never really understood Westerns, so I don't allow anyone in my classes to write them." They would have laughed him off campus! In his defense, and I never thought I would say those words, I wound up creating the New Orleans Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Circle for much the same reason. I had participated, eagerly and productively, in a writers' circle at East Bank Jefferson Library but had begun to notice as my work progressed that increasingly comments from the rest of the circle had begun to taper off. Whereas I had before received useful criticism about this or that story and where it needed to be changed, particularly as I began to settle on steampunk as my genre of choice, criticism devolved into "good story as always." And while that's appreciated, it's not useful.

    As for New Orleans' fandom, the difference between them and the ivory tower has been like night and day. Fandom's been incredibly supportive of my work going all the way back to when I wrote Star Trek fanfic for the Krewe of the Enterprise newsletter. I've given panels on steampunk at Mobicon in Mobile, CoastCon in Biloxi and I've been a regular guest at CONtraflow here in New Orleans for the past several years. Fandom's been very good to me and I appreciate it.

    Fandom here is why I dream of making New Orleans a great literary mecca for science fiction. Starting the Writers' Circle and the By Gaslight anthology series are just the opening moves. What I'd like to see here one day is a thriving science fiction and fantasy literary society giving out its own yearly awards, a quarterly journal of fantasy and science fiction based out of New Orleans and a yearly "Best Of" of New Orleans' science fiction and fantasy. I want to give back to local fandom all it's given me.

    Being a writer is a tough process, and this year has been a little more rough for you than most. Can you tell us a little about what’s happening? 

    After Katrina, I evacuated to Hendersonville, North Carolina and then to Decatur, Georgia and finally to Mobile, Alabama. I lost my job in Mobile and moved back to New Orleans. My job search was pretty abysmal and so I hit upon the idea of making a go as a professional writer. I hadn't written much of anything in years and I had pretty much given up on the dream of being a full-time author. But I wasn't finding much in the way in the local job market, so I decided to buckle down and do some writing. And I achieved some great early successes. I had a story story published in Dark Oak Press' Dreams of Steam III and another in Seventh Star Press' A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. I pitched the idea for New Orleans By Gaslight on my Facebook account and it's like the project slipped from my fingers and started rolling downhill from there. I was just entertaining the notion of doing an anthology and people were responding with "I've already started my story!"

    New Orleans By Gaslight wound up being a big success, with the Times-Picayune running an article on the book and the East Bank Jefferson Parish Library throwing us a book release party. Things were looking good. But then, my health worsened and my car died. I should have put the brakes on trying to further my writing career and started looking for more conventional employment then. But I'd had this idea for a non-fiction book, something I'd been working on and off on since before Hurricane Katrina. I still had some savings and I was very confident about how my career was going and the profits that could be made from a nonfiction book. My researches had indicated that the industry standard was to pay an author an advance up front after accepting the book proposal and then work with the author to finish the book.

    I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Publisher after publisher loved my book proposal. That too helped dig me deeper. Even when publishers declined to accept the project, they praised my writing and told me my book proposal was the best they'd ever read and it was only a matter of time before some company picked up the project. But no one did. At least, no one offering an advance. Months had gone by and the money I was counting on never came. Three publishers in the end contacted me interested in the book but none of them offered a cash advance and by that time, my financial need was pretty desperate. I couldn't even get an agent to intercede on my behalf. All my research had said that the easy, instant way to get an agent was to do everything yourself -- come up with an idea, write the sample chapters, identify publishers who printed material similar to what you were pitching, put together a book proposal and send it out to said publishers, all in the hopes of being able to say to an agent: "Look, I've got a publisher who's sent me a contract for my book, I just need someone to negotiate for me."

    What I discovered was that if the publishers didn't mention a specific amount of money as an advance, that no agent was willing to take the gig. Their assumption was if they didn't offer X amount of money up front, the Y amount the agent might be able to convince them to part with wasn't enough for the agent to get out of bed for.

    In the end, I was grateful to have an agent spell that out for me as too many other agents just said, "Great project but I don't think I'd be a good fit for it." I can't communicate the anger and frustration I felt, that I still feel, desperately needing money, having to turn to friends and family for my rent, for money for food and medicine, terrified of being homeless and all the while, sitting on a project that publishers and agents have said time and time again would be a lucrative success, is of great literary quality and worthy of publication, only to turn around and then say, "I don't feel like a good fit for it."

    What are some of the great frontiers you feel more writers need to address in the coming years ahead?

    Transhumanism is, as I see it, a great wall looming in science fiction's future. We're already living in the age of cyberpunk. We are fast approaching a time when people will be able to interface their brains directly with computers. I feel, at that point, that those people won't have much of anything in common with those of us who haven't experienced that and that that wall was and is a barrier to my literary interest. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a human being who could mentally slow time to microseconds and in that time, access the world's informational stockpile in order to make a decision.

    What will a simple argument between boyfriend and girlfriend sound like when they both have computers in their heads downloading the internet? What will people care about, socially, politically, economically? When bickering about politics on Facebook is replaced with the instantaneous ability to fact check statements and download whole arguments, histories and philosophies in an instant, what will laws and human interaction even look like? What will entertainment look like? What will people care about?

    Transhumanism offers to elevate humanity to godhood. And I suppose I'm too humble to want to write stories about real gods. When I do read and write about deities in fiction, it's humanized deities with goals and objectives and wants and desires that we as human beings have, not remote, incomprehensible abstract entities that have nothing in common with us because they've existed in some rarefied domain for millenia. When people move from being people to "being as advanced to us as we are to an amoeba" as Spock would say, how can we write about them? Why would you want to?

    Bob argues with Rick about nth level transcendental hyper-dimensional tachyonic wave mechanics and how those wave dynamics replicate recurring patterns in hyper-time economics. Both Bob and Rick present computer simulations and studies based off those simulations -- that they've just now run in their heads -- to support their respective sides of the argument. I can't follow the argument. I can't follow their emotions. I can't follow their thought processes. An argument, a scene, that might change their lives forever might happen in the time I could blink. This crucible moment that led the two men to walk in different directions and work to change their society forever happened while I burped and tried to remember what I had for lunch. I don't know how to get past that wall.

    What’s your advice for younger writers who are just getting started?

    My advice to writers just getting started: Don't major in English. Don't pursue a creative writing degree. You can always take creative writing and literature classes as electives for another major. If you want to write science fiction, major in physics or engineering or computer science. You want a college degree that will help you put food on the table. You want a degree that will give you time and a comfortable lifestyle in order to write.

    I majored in Military and Political Journalism and then got a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. I have only once in twenty years gotten a job specifically because of those degrees. All they've ever done for me otherwise was let me check the box next to "do you have a college degree?" on an application. By comparison, I knew a guy who got a four year computer programming degree and from the day he stepped off the college stage had a six-figure job, in his early twenties. That's more money in a single year than my parents made together any year of their lives. I knew another who worked in computers and made so much money that he only worked every other year to finance his bachelor's lifestyle.

    My advice to you is to find a degree program that you'll be happy with that'll get you six figures and take creative writing classes on the side. Trust me. You'll be so much better off.

    Monday, November 23, 2015

    Two poems to appear in Uncanny Magazine in 2016

    I was delighted today to receive news that two of my newest poems were accepted for Uncanny Magazine in 2016. In the meantime, be sure to check out their latest issue, which has some wonderful work in it, including new poems by Mari Ness, Sonya Taaffe, and Lisa M. Bradley!

    For those of you who are curious, yes, these poems fall firmly in my ongoing Laomagination series. They'll involve some very familiar figures if you've been following my work since DEMONSTRA, but I'd like to think it's also not essential for you to be that familiar with Lao American and Asian mythology and folklore.

    The rest will just have to be a surprise until it's published!

    Winter, Writing, and Shannon Connor Winward

    This week I'm sharing an interview with Shannon Connor Winward, whose work I first encountered as part of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Based on the East Coast, Shannon's engaging work includes both prose and poetry.Her poetry has been nominated for a Rhysling award, with publication in Pedestal Magazine, Strange Horizons, Fairy Tale Magazine, Literary Mama, Hip Mama, Star*Line, Illumen, and many others. She's also the poetry editor for Devilfish Review, a quarterly online magazine specializing in speculative literature. Be sure to check them out!

    Shannon's debut collection of poetry, Undoing Winter, (Finishing Line Press) was nominated for a 2015 Elgin award for best speculative poetry chapbook by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. It's not easy to describe Undoing Winter because it covers so much ground, but you'll find her contemplating love, motherhood, history and the fantastic, death and ressurection. It's a brief book, but it earns its praise.

    Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Psuedopod: Artemis Rising, Gargoyle, Spinetingler Magazine, Scigentasy, Flash Fiction Online, Plasma Frequency Magazine, PANK, and The Vestal Review, and numerous international anthologies.   She's received many distinctions for her writing already, including Semi-Finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest, and runner-up for an emerging artist fellowship in literature by the Delaware Division of the Arts in 2014 and 2015.

    You can visit her website at:

    Do you mind telling us when you first developed an interest in poetry? How would you describe your access to poetry growing up?

    I was always writing poems. I was into anything creative that drew attention to me, me me. But I got serious about it in fourth or fifth grade, when they would take our English class down to the computer lab to mess around with clipart and typing; we were supposed to make greeting cards for our parents for the holidays and whatnot. I always turned mine into poetry, like, Shakespearean sonnets and epic tragic-comedies about doomed turkeys at Thanksgiving. I loved that I could create something lasting like that, to entertain people or surprise them. And of course, as I grew older and life got harder, I realized that writing was a way to express what I was going through. It just came naturally.

    I can't say that I had prolific access to poetry as a kid; I read what I came across (how I loved Shel Silverstein) and what was part of the curriculum. I was fortunate to have some very supportive teachers who encouraged me to write; sometimes they introduced me to poets like Langston Hughes or Sylvia Plath. I wish now that I had a more extensive education in poetry, but I ended up studying the humanities, not the arts. I'm trying to make up for that now, but it's different when you are a grownup, with kids and a mortgage. If I could go back, I'd tell my younger self to slow down and soak up a lot more, but life doesn't flow backwards.

    Which poem of yours do you usually recommend to someone who wants to read your work for the first time?

    My poem, "Session" (The Pedestal Magazine, December 2010) is one of my favorites. It's about the anthropology of the individual psyche. It's very representative of how I write and what interests me. "Beansidhe" (Ideomancer, June 2011) is another one. It deals with myths and ghosts, lost love and subtle feminism, and features an unreliable narrator. You have to read between the lines in my writing, which sometimes means people don't get me, but that's okay. I get me. :)

    Do you prefer coffee or tea?

    Oh, godz, coffee. Coffee coffee coffee.
    Mint tea is pretty good, though.

    If you could have any imaginary being for a pet or companion, what would it be?

    I would like a talking owl. A sarcastic, sage, self-sufficient and hypo-allergenic owl (because I'm allergic to feathers) who calls me on my bullshit, babysits my kids, and bites me when I'm not writing enough.

    "Undoing Winter" has some really lovely lines, and blends some very modern and timeless issues with the fantastic. What were some of your thoughts on organizing the manuscript?

    I realized pretty early on that the poems needed to follow a "down into darkness, back into light" pattern; that is the motif of the titular poem ("Undoing Winter" is about Demeter haranguing Persephone to get over Herself and come away from Hades), but it's also symbolic of my life as someone with a mood disorder. I go down and I come back, maybe scarred but usually stronger and wiser. I wanted the reader to take that journey, too. I arranged the poems within that framework like you might make a mix tape; one poem had to flow into the next in a way that sounded right, even if I couldn't articulate why.

    Were there any parts that you really wanted to include in "Undoing Winter", but cut out for one reason or another?

    Yeah, it started out as a longer manuscript, but I kept trimming it down. Some of it felt repetitive, or messed with the arc. The final product is petite (which is unusual for me) but I think what was left was much stronger.

    How do you determine how much of the imaginative you include in your poems, and how much realism?

    I wrote a lot of speculative work when I was younger, stoned and spiritual. Over the last few years my poems tend to be more about family relationships, especially dealing with aging parents and raising a special needs kid. That's the stuff that comes pouring out when I come crying to my laptop, not the magical or mythic. I do still love the speculative genre; I try to make a point of doing it when I've got time to free write. I like to write to prompts or challenges. I also get some imaginative stuff when I start with random words or structures, let my right-brain take the lead. I think once my kids are older I'll come back to genre writing but, right now, life is about the alarm clock, the school bus, the IEP meetings, the bad back. Realism is where my head is.

    Are you contemplating another collection of poetry in the near future?

    I am. All the family-centric stuff will probably find its way into a memoir of sorts. I have a lot of rage in me over the lack of support that is out there for families of kids with mental health issues; I always thought I'd like to use my words, and what we've been through, to advocate for those whose voices aren't being heard. But I've got to be doing more than treading water myself, so I don't know if that will be a "near future" project or just a someday one. But it's coming.

    If you could write from any legendary or imaginary place, where would you like to write?

    The Celtic version of heaven is the Summerland. I imagine it as a balmy place full of waterfalls and bonfires, tables always overflowing with your favorite foods, and all your departed loved ones strutting around in glittering clothes, drinking and laughing. I'd love to go there with a pad and a pen – and then come back to share the stories. I'd like to be able to tell people it only gets better from here.

    And finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to begin writing, whether as a poet or as a prose writer?

    Write! If writing makes you feel good, do it. If it's all you want to do, write as much as you can, challenge yourself, read. seek out constructive criticism, keep trying to improve your craft -- but don't pressure yourself to be perfect, or take rejection personally. It's important to keep an element of joy in the process, else writing becomes just work, and that's no fun. Love yourself through your words; the rest will follow.

    MAKING SOUTHEAST ASIAN CULTURES: FROM REGION TO WORLD Call for Papers, UC Berkeley-UCLA Southeast Asian Studies Conference

    UC Berkeley-UCLA Southeast Asian Studies Conference
    Making Southeast Asian Cultures: From Region to World
    April 22-23, 2016 at UC Berkeley

    Southeast Asia is inherently transcultural. Colonization and religious conversion and change have left an indelible mark. Over the centuries, the region has also been a hub connecting China to the rest of the world, while in the modern era popular culture links many Southeast Asian countries to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and India. Because of the political, religious and cultural diversity of the region, the problem of whether there are cultural formations specific to Southeast Asia has been a central question of Southeast Asian Studies. To take an exemplary case, the theory of mandala interstate relations was crucial to O.W. Wolters’s argument that Southeast Asia was something more than just a geographical space between India and China, being historically characterized by cultural communalities and intra-regional relationships.

    Culture also has an important role in the projected integration of Southeast Asia into an ASEAN Community. One of its three pillars, the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, is entrusted with the task of building ASEAN identity and an ASEAN sense of belonging by “fostering greater awareness of the diverse cultures and heritage of the ASEAN region” in order to enable “ASEAN peoples to recognize their regional identity and relatedness”. The governments and policy-making bodies of Southeast Asian countries are, however, notably vague about what exactly constitutes ASEAN cultural identity and heritage or whether it is even appropriate to speak of an “ASEAN mindset”.

    The aim of this conference, jointly sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at UC Berkeley (Director: Prof. Pheng Cheah) and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA (Director: Prof. George Dutton), is to reopen this question of Southeast Asia’s culture both by looking back at the history of the region and at the dynamic transnational processes at work in contemporary globalization that actively make Southeast Asian cultures today.

    For example, how have Indian Ocean trade and religious networks shaped various aspects of Southeast Asian culture and how has their localization in Southeast Asia in turn inflected these networks? In the field of contemporary art, are the different arts communities in Southeast Asia connected to and contemporary with each to other? Can we speak of a self-conscious regional identity among these communities so that visual artists from Burma who are relatively new to international art practices and discourses can be curated alongside artists from highly “globalized” Singapore in an international biennale? In the field of film studies, how have the Shaw and Cathay film empires, which were multilingual and multicultural, established a foundation for Southeast Asian film? In literary studies, has the public phenomenality of literary festivals and literature prizes such as the Man Asia Literary Prize or the Ramon Magsaysay Award in Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts helped to create a body of Southeast Asian literary works?

    The conference seeks to understand the production of Southeast Asian cultures by drawing on different humanities and social science disciplines such as art history, film and visual studies, literary studies, music, anthropology, history, geography, architecture and urban studies. By self-consciously adopting a world perspective and transnational frame in the study of Southeast Asia, the conference hopes to correct the normative Eurocentrism of the disciplines, their methodological nationalism, and the relative undertheorizing of Southeast Asia in Asian studies.

    The organizers invite submissions for presentations from scholars and graduate students conducting original research in the social sciences and humanities that address the primary themes of the conference. Some travel funding is available, with priority for funding directed towards faculty and graduate students at UC and CSU campuses. The conference will be held at the UC Berkeley campus.
    Abstracts (up to 500 words) should be sent to CSEAS at UC Berkeley by Friday, January 8, 2016. Abstracts should include your name, affiliation and discipline and contact information (including e-mail address).

    Contact: CSEAS, 1995 University Ave., 520H, Berkeley CA 94720-2318, tel: (510) 642-3609; fax: (510) 643-7062; e-mail:

    The Center for Southeast Asia Studies at UC Berkeley and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA form a consortium U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

    Monday, November 16, 2015

    Shadows and Verse: An interview with poet Christina Sng

    I recently had the opportunity to interview Christina Sng, who is a prolific poet with a growing body of work including science fiction and horror. Currently based in Singapore, her work has been nominated for the Rhysling Award and received Honorable Mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

    Born in the Year of the Rat, she is the author of several chapbooks, including The Darkside of Eden (2002) and Dark Dreams (2013). Her latest book of poetry, A Collection of Nightmares has been acquired by Raw Dog Screaming Press and is slated for late 2016. You can find her at

    Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how did you develop an interest in writing?

    I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. As a child, I was always scribbling poems about my stuffed animals and imaginary people going to the market. When I was 6, I began a newsletter about my cats and I believe my sister has the last surviving copy somewhere.

    You studied Criminology at the University of Melbourne. Has that ever influenced your approach to poetry?

    Actually, no. But it has helped me understand how and why people commit crimes. In my first year in university, I realized I was only interested in Abnormal Psych, so I skipped Psychology and went straight to Criminology. They had excellent lecturers, a brand new computer lab, the best snack machine on campus, and it was 2 minutes walk from my flat.

    Who do you turn to for your literary inspirations?

    Sylvia Plath is my favorite poet. I love the way her poems form and how perfectly constructed they are. Anne Sexton intrigues me. Her topics and language are unabashedly honest and always touching. I relate. I'm at that age.

    Recently, I've been enamored by haiku and been writing scifaiku and horrorku. It's great for me because I love how pithy and concise the poems are, which suits my very short attention span now after ten years of sleep deprivation. There is so much wonderful and inspiring work out there. I especially love Deborah Kolodji's and Susan Burch's work.

    You've been very prolific with your writing this year. What are some of the pieces you're excited about coming up?

    Thank you! I made my first pro fiction sale this year and my flash fiction "The Closed Window" appeared in the July issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. I don't write much fiction at all and was over the moon when I sold it and to such an amazing venue like Fantastic Stories! Last month, I sold my first short story “Red” to Space and Time. The acceptance letter is my phone’s screensaver for the moments I am certain I imagined it.

    My work recently appeared in Apex Magazine, Illumen, New Myths, Spectral Realms, and Scifaikuest for the first time. The experience is always exhilarating, like a kitten experiencing her first snow or watching our spacecraft fly by a planet we have never ever seen up close. Yet at the same time, seeing my poems in a magazine I’ve been published in before gives me unparalleled joy and warm comfort, like curling up to a good book on the couch with a cup of tea and a bag of Cheese Tasters.

    As a writer, when are you most satisfied with a poem?

    When it is complete.

    What's the best compliment you've received for your poetry so far?

    To be honest, every compliment has been absolutely lovely to receive. I'm always appreciative and grateful when someone takes the time to do so. Of course, pleasing my harshest critics has been an uphill task. The few poems that they have been asked to read and critique were greeted with, “Not bad, Mom! Can I go back and read my book now?”

    What's one of the most unusual subjects you've taken on with your poetry?

    Talking bathroom stickers in my poem “Adaptation”, which appeared in Beyond Centauri back in January 2004.

    What's next for you?

    My first full-length dark poetry collection will be released late next year and I’m putting together a collection of space poems. Also in the works is a novel that has been in planning and draft for some time now. It's finally getting its footing and will hopefully be finished by the time I'm 80.

    Thank you for the interview, Bryan. It was a real pleasure.