Saturday, April 14, 2007

Holy Sh*t!

I got in to Clarion West!

I'm going to be in Seattle this summer!

No Fuckin' WAY!!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The murder of Anna Politkovskaya

This is a forward from my undergraduate thesis advisor.

Write. Respond. Let them know the world is watching.


Dear colleagues, dear students, and dear friends,

I am writing to alert you to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, in case you have not heard. She was gunned down in the elevator of her apartment house in Moscow on Saturday evening.

As those of you who have taken my classes and read her books know, Anna was a passionate and dedicated journalist who wrote about Chechnya like no one else did. The Chechen people have lost a great friend and the world has lost a writer who was absolutely devoted to the truth and to the survival of ordinary people in utterly frightening special war zones, abandoned by everyone else. She was the only one who spoke with clarity about them. Anna wrote alarming and distressing books, and in the last years of her life nothing alarmed her as much as the regime of Ramzan Kadyrov. She was writing about torture by Kadyrov death squads, in special prisons in Tsentoroi, Kadyrov’s hometown, when she was killed. Her last article published in Novaya Gazeta a few days ago deals with the insidious effect of “Chechenization” - the strategy that has turned into the wholesale abandonment of the entire republic to rapacious and deviant criminals. Anna wrote about the murderous war and the chokehold of the Kadyrov personality cult with great force and with devastatingly precise images. Few could convey the horrifying reality of the war and of how it has changed people like she could, or more effectively destroy lies and deceptions. Ania was by far the best-informed analyst on Chechnya. She was also the most passionate. She was a frequent visitor to the United States and spoke at many conferences and workshops. I met her some years ago at her offices in Moscow and was absolutely impressed by her fearlessness and her dedication to her work. Nobody who met her remained unchanged by what she had to say, even if they disagreed or if her fierceness in condemning violence and injustice made them uncomfortable. There is absolutely nobody who can replace her, and she will be sorely missed.

Please find below addresses to which you can send condolences and other letters. I am writing to you because you are one of the relatively small number of people in the USA who have become acquainted with her work in some form. Please also share your ideas and thoughts with me, as I will be helping organize responses and memorial meetings for her over the next days and weeks. I will be writing letters to President Putin, the Russian government, and the Russian prosecutors office, and if you are interested I will share the texts of the letters with you, to co-sign if you so wish, for inspiration to write your own, or to spread as widely as possible. Please feel free to forward this message. I apologize if you received it in error.

Website of Chechnya Advocacy Network (with links to news, information about memorial activities, and addresses):

Address for Letters to the Editor at Novaya Gazeta:

Website for condolences at Novaya Gazeta, Anna's newspaper (Russian mostly, but go ahead and send texts in English):


Michaela Pohl, Associate Professor
Department of History
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Universal Declaration of Human Rights; December 1948

Because once upon a time, slaves were 3/5 of a person.


Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.
(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.
(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.
(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.
(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Meme this and pass it on.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A European style hiatus

This blog has been a really fascinating experiment for me. I've learned alot about online communities and the incredible resources that the internet has made available to writers. It's nice to know you're not alone.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time (especially with grad school and trying to finish my novel) to devote to blogging as much as I should. They say you should blog at least once a day. I think I'm going to be lucky if I blog once a week.

So thanks to all my readers (who seem to like to flood my email box rather than leaving actual comments) for tagging along. If I begin to post again regularly, I'll let you know. I'll still be lurking around; just not posting as often.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Warriors of Heaven and Earth

Set in 7th century China, this is a great Western / frontier movie of honor and revenge. A At the command of the Chinese Imperial Emperor a Japanese swordsman must hunt down a renegade Chinese army commander before he is allowed to return home to Japan. But in the middle of their cat-and-mouse game, the two agree to team up to protect a Silk Road caravan carrying one of the most precious and most powerful treasures of the world: relics of Buddha.

I was totally engrossed in the stunning desert vistas of Western China. Not to mention fantastic swordfights and action sequences, as well as a completely addictive soundtrack by Bollywood master A.R. Rahman (I had to go out and get the CD). For those stuck in a Western-Tolkien fantasy rut, this movie is the perfect cure. It's different from "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" in that it's got the whole epic journey thing going on, but with a different kind of twist on honor, respect, and evil. I highly recommend this to all writers who are working on an epic fantasy, because this is a movie which utilizes Western movie fantasy conventions to tell a very Eastern tale, and can show you just how well nuances can be twisted to make something truly original.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

They can't do this to Wonder Woman!

Via Ragnell's blog:

Rachel Bilson the New Wonder Woman?

I have to copy Ragnell and point out the best comment from Dawn:

She’s proved her suitability?!?!?

Has she displayed strength? Athletic prowess? A memorable character? Perhaps a beauty that’s more handsome then pretty? Does she give off a warrior vibe?

No. She, “she donned a Wonder Woman outfit for a sexy seduction scene.”

Because the KEY part of Wonder Woman’s character, as we ALL know, is her power of sexy seduction.

Oh geez. Oh frig. I need a beer.

Please Mr. Joss. Say it ain't so!

Orchid Fever

"There is something distinctive about the sight and sound of a human body falling from a rainforest canopy. The breathless scream, the wildly gyrating arms and legs pumping thin air, the rush of leaves, and the sickening thud, followed by uneasy silence. Listening to that silence, I reflected on how plant collecting can be an unpleasant sort of activity."

- From Eric Hansen, Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust and Lunacy


The first few lines of a book are considered some of the most important lines a writer writes. Within those lines, the reader decides whether or not your book is worth the time. With these lines, I was immediately hooked. As a writer, I find comedy and humor to be the most difficult to do, which Eric Hansen manages to do flawlessly. I've been a huge fan of Eric Hansen ever since I picked up Motoring with Mohammed (no joke, that book actually made me laugh out loud on a packed crowded LIRR commuter train, causing my fellow commuters to give me dirty looks).


The orchid is used for everything from medicine for elephants to an aphrodisiac ice cream. A Malaysian species can grow to weigh half a ton while a South American species fires miniature pollen darts at nectar-sucking bees. But the orchid is also the center of an illicit international business: one grower in Santa Barbara tends his plants while toting an Uzi, and a former collector has been in hiding for seven years after serving a jail sentence for smuggling thirty dollars worth of orchids into Britain.

Pick it up if you have the chance, even if travelogues aren't really your thing. It's a great read.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How to Write a novel

A little late (yea, I've been away from the blogosphere for a bit) but Justine had a great funny post here about How to Write a Novel.

"You may get stuck along the way, and have no idea what your characters should do next. Raymond Chandler says that’s when it’s time to send someone in brandishing a gun. Sending in a vampire also works. Or you can set something on fire, have a long lost relative or best friend show up, have your protag lose all their worldly goods, or discover that the lovers are actually siblings (ewww!)."

As for me, I've tried writing via outline, but I can't. I'm very much of an organic kind of a writer, and I've always been that way. Even as an undergraduate, writing papers, I would just sit down and write, and not have any idea what the heck my thesis was, and when I finally finished the paper, I would read over, and go, OH that's what I'm talking about. I'd add an intro, and a conclusion, tweak it a bit, and then it'd be done. (Now I'm not saying that that's necessarily the most efficient way of doing things, and trust me, it involved a lot of hair-pulling and tears in college as I struggled to find my way but it works for me).

As I write fiction, I find myself doing the same thing. I write scenes, interactions, and usually not in sequential order. I think I'm beginning to realize that when I get bogged down in the middle of a manuscript (as I am now), I just have to keep moving ahead, skip over that part and write the next thing, even if it is the end, and come back. Of course, this just makes it all the more difficult for my poor crit partners.

Land that I Love

One of the very few good things about living on Long Island is that I have a fantastic Speculative Fiction writers' group. I am incredibly lucky to be a part of this group of very talented writers. One of them has self-published a satirical science fiction novel, Land that I Love. And what's cool about it is that it's FREE! So check it out!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Computer judges

In an attempt to better establish a consistent rule of law, some places in China are now using computer software to issue verdicts.

Read the story here.

I don't know whether to be horrified, or happy that the Chinese are trying to make justice more standard.

on death.

I was going to come back to blogging earlier this week. But someone I knew passed away. It was a distant relative, not someone I knew well, but all the same, it was sad. He lived a full life and he was much loved by his family and he's probably in a better place without pain.

I just hope I can live as full of a life as he did before my time comes. It makes me want to redouble my efforts to write faster, and get out there and experience life before the end comes all too fast.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

One of the coolest sites ever gets you free books!

From the website:

What is PaperBackSwap? We are a group of real people who have formed a Club to swap paperback books with each other. No gimmicks. No spam. No advertising. No kidding. We are not a large corporation trying to sell you something. We're just a group of real folks who wanted a way of trading paperbacks with each other through the U.S. mail. Please read the testimonials and you will understand that this book club is for real.

When another member requests one of your books, you mail it to them. Yes, you pay for the postage. But then another member returns the favor when you request a book from them and they mail it to you. And that way the books are always free because we are all trading books with club members!

Once you have registered, simply list your paperback books that you would like to share with other Club Members. Once you have listed at least 9 of your books, we will give you 3 book credits to get you started trading books with other club members. However, the more books you post, the more likely you are to receive requests. And that means more books for you. So post as many books as you can!

I've received a bunch of great books from them already including:

E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers
Dai Sijie, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress


I haven't been posting much lately because I've been trying to finish up a bunch of projects for the end of my summer classes. I'll probably continue to be on and off the blog for the next 2 weeks or so as try and finish up all these papers and projects.

Thursday, August 10, 2006



Yay! Mangosteens might be available in the U.S. soon! I had my first bite of them traveling around in S.E. Asia. (you can see my post about it on my travel blog from back then here.

Yum! My day has just been made!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Going where few Romances have gone before

I confess being troubled over the recent discussion of how foreign settings don't sell novels in the romance genre.

So I'm in the middle of taking a Cultural Geography class through the University of Texas online, and recently I had to do an assignment on "mental maps." Mental maps are essentially the way in which you perceive the world. For example, even though you may have never been to inner city Detroit, London, or Dubai, Qatar, you have already have certain impressions which may be negative or positive about whether these are desirable places to live/visit.

This knowledge is generally shaped by second-hand knowledge in determining the favorability or unfavorability of an area, such as letters and emails sent home, television and newspaper reports as well as pop culture. For example, many in the United States might jump at the offer of free house and land to move to sunny California because of positive perceptions in pop culture. Fewer might take the offer if it were offered, say in Belize or Guatemala because of either lack of knowledge or perceptions of these tropical areas as poor third world countries, even though the climate, environment, social class and economy may be similar to that of a California suburb.

Very have the time nor resources to actually journey to particular places in order to discover the differences between first hand experience and second-hand knowledge. Instead, we find out about the outside world through what people tell us, like PaperBackWriter's recent blog where she writes:

Bad thing about leaving the USA: having to pretend to be Canadian so no one will spit in your food, or your face, or . . .

Now I'm not trying to say that her experience is not valid; it totally is, but reinforces the idea of "dangerous scary foreign lands" for many Americans who may have never been abroad. Countries as disparate as France, Russia, Senegal, Brazil all with different attitudes toward Americans are lumped into the "foreign" and "exotic" outside.

As a result, alot of Americans go to the Caribbeann for vacation, but far fewer might go to Thailand or Sri Lanka, based on perceptions of desirability and safety. In this way, perception based on second-hand knowledge rather than truth based on first-hand knowledge can play a greater role in determining factors in human migration. NYTimes columnist Thomas L. Friedman a few years ago, did a traveling column around the world to examine the effects of globalization. He went from all over the place from Asia to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, to Latin America. The only place he experienced anti-Americanism? In Iran, but not from Iranians (who were uncommonly polite) but from random French tourists sitting in a restaurant.

We generalize from a few anecdotes because that's all we hear and know. Yet if I were to generalize that Americans hate French people based on the anecdotes of hate mail and vandalism some of my French friends have received living in America, we know that that wouldn't be fais.

You can read a quick summary of mental maps here.

What does this say about insular Americans who only read about stories in America? Well you can read my take on the bottom of this post here. But I don't think it bodes well for the future of America at all. Women who read romance novels are the ones raising the next generation of kids. If we reinforce their sense of America as a singular entity, unconnected with the rest of the world, we are ill-preparing our children to deal with a globalized world. The fact is, every decision an ordinary American makes, from buying a t-shirt made in China, to buying organic soy milk made from beans grown in Brazil, to has a huge effect on people thousands of miles away. The world is only going to become more connected.

I'm going to continue setting my stories in Asia, Africa, and other "foreign" places. However, I'm going to have to work with the double-duty of luring the reader in, perhaps via the worlds of paranormals. I think that readers who read paranormals set in other worlds, should be more open to foreign settings. But I suppose we shall see won't we?

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a post up today about romance novels featuring exotic settings here.

Teach me Tonight, a scholarly blog about romance has a post here about the branding romance novels and of the conservative conneissur-ism (not even sure if that's a word) of romance readers.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Stupid Craigslist things that make me procrastinate

In case you missed it, Craigslist is totally a Generation Y /Hip hop Generation / whatever-we're-calling-ourselves-these-days. Not only is it a place to get stuff you want, unload stuff you don't want, but it's a place to find dates, chat, talk and rant. Few things make me laugh the way the Best of Craigslist section does.

Here's one recent post:

Things I Have Done That I Really Should Have Been Sacked For By Now

Date: 2006-07-12, 2:05PM EDT

Today marks my two year anniversary at my current job - the longest I have ever held continuous employment at one company. Earlier, I had one of those "Remember when you did that thing with that bloke..." conversations with a colleague and I came to one inescapable conclusion - My Bosses Are Fucking Idiots.

No way should I still be employed here after some of the shit I've pulled.

In two years, I have had 2 disciplinaries, one formal written warning, a 42% lateness rate, countless verbal warnings and 17 performance improvement plans (Where they 'monitor' your performance for a set period and point out everything that you did wrong), with my initial 3 months probation period (which was then extended to 6) - this means that at no point have I been employed here without having some suited twat looking over my shoulder with a clipboard 'observing me in my work environment'

And STILL they haven't twigged that the best thing for them would be my instant dismissal.

Which brings me to the point of post - Things I have done that my company should have sacked me for a long time ago:-

1. Sent an e-mail to myself from my bosses PC implying that she was sexually harassing me, and then used it as leverage against her to escape a disciplinary.

2. Twice felt the need to go spend a 20 minute 'toilet' break on a hot summer's day after a morning spent ogling the female population of my office dressed in their skimpy outfits

3. Edited a chain E-mail to imply that reader should end their own life and then forwarded it on to a mailing list that included somebody that recently had tried and (unfortunately) failed to commit suicide.

4. Almost got my friend sacked in a prank gone horribly wrong after I used to send an e-mail that appeared to be from him to one of the office juniors. It read something along the lines of:

"Nice strappy shoes Gemma, I really like the way they show off your painted nails..... It makes me want to run my hard penis in between your toes and cum on your shin."

(realistically, I should have anticipated the shit-storm, that followed).

5. Racked up about 6 hours internet time a day, despite the company policy that anything over 1 hour is considered excessive.

6. Shot the Financial Director in the face with an elastic band gun, after seeing my friend about to come through the door and failing to notice the suited gentlemen walking one pace ahead of him.

7. Hid for an hour in the post room whilst said director tore the place to pieces interrogating people in an effort to find "That Cunt who shot me"

8. Sat at my desk for an entire morning happily munching a box of hash brownies, whiting out a few hours later and then being sent home by boss-lady because she was worried that I looked 'really pale'

9. Used the opportunity of looking very ill in public to take a further two weeks off work.

10. Not realised that an incoming call was actually from somebody in the Houses Of Parliament (one of our A-list clients) and answered the phone "What's up MotherFucker?!"

11. Outright lied to the same MP when he asked to speak to the manger by telling him that he had called a residential number - A fact he accepted despite having spent 5 minutes on our hold system listening our company's god awful theme music.

12. Put on a dodgy accent and pretended to be called 'Raoul' when said MP called back and, against all laws of probability, ended up speaking to me again.

13. Told a colleague whilst very drunk at office party that "I wouldn't fuck you if you were on fire"

14. Spent the next few days trying to work out exactly what the above sentence means

15. Ignored 30 minutes worth of phone calls to write this horse-shit.

no -- it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

Thursday, August 03, 2006

looking back at the Southampton Writers' conference

I've been meaning to post my thoughts on the recent Southampton writes' conference, but haven't had much time due to conferences, so I'll just give you a short breakdown.

Speakers I enjoyed the most: Melissa Banks (Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing) Matthew Klam (Sam the Cat and Other Stories), Megan Wolitzer (This is Your Life), David Rakoff (Fraud), Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury), and Roger Rosenblatt (Children of War).

Frank McCourt gave the intro to the conversation between Gary Trudeau and Roger Rosenblatt, which really made me laugh, and regret that I couldn't make it to his reading.

What I learned from this lecture/reading series? 'Funny' is a difficult thing to do. I have the utmost respect for people who can write well and write funny (even though that wasn't the topic of the conference).

Some of the other writers there are award-winning writers; and yet, despite considering myself a widely read person, I didn't recognize most of the writers there. Again, reinforcement of the lesson to all wannabe writers: there are easier paths to fame and fortune.

This was my first writers' conference. Will I go to this again? I'm not sure; I think it would have been more helpful had they had the workshops like they normally do (but there's a campus buy-out and moving story that I'm sure you can google around and find out about if you're really interested). It's normally a 12-day conference that they shortened to 5 days, and next year it's expected to go back to normal.

Speaking to other wannabe writers, what quality did they like most about the authors? Down-to-earthness (not even sure if that's a word).

Thing I wish I did most? I should have not been so shy and been more open and asked questions. I really wanted to introduce myself and ask Megan Wolitzer some questions, and I had my opportunity when people were standing around outside during one of the breaks chatting, but I lost it, when Matthew Klam started talking to her. I didn't want to be rude and interrupt, and I lost my chance when my cell phone rang. Stupid cell phone

I enjoyed myself though and if I have money next year, I'll probably go back for one of the workshops.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

We don't want no foreign lands

In a recent post from the literary agent better known as Miss Snark, there was a recent post about a workshop at the recent RWA convention where people brought their first 2 pages, read them aloud in front of 2 literary agents and an editor. The agents would tell them to stop as soon as they found a reason to reject them.

Surprisingly enough, two of the strangest reject reasons (which the agents readily admitted were subjective) were:

1) The story had a dog
2) The story was set outside in a foreign land.

You can read more about it here (And definitely don't miss the comments).

Now, what concerns me is number 2. The more I think about it, the more it makes a lot of sense because the majority of genre novels are set in white bread America featuring "white" characters. At the same time, the more it annoys the hell out of me because this only reinforces the sense of an insular white America to insular American readers. Yes there are great books by Iranian, Chinese, Japanese writers speaking of the human experience in gorgeous ways, but the people who read those are not the great majority whose reading habits are more Dan Brown and Stephen King. By making white America the norm (which it is not), you only serve to exoticize the rest of the world, and by default non-American people.

Hmmm. This bears some rethinking of my writing strategies and goals.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Great Reasons to be a Guy

As I've been trying to write better male characters, I found this posted over at the message boards on All About Romance novels to be quite funny:

Great Reasons To Be A Guy...

1. Phone Conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
2. You know stuff about tanks.
3. A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
4. You can open all your own jars.
5. Dry cleaners and hair cutters don't rob you blind.
6. You can go to the bathroom without a support group.
7. You can leave the motel bed unmade.
8. You can kill your own food.
9. You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
10. Wedding plans take care of themselves.
11. If someone forgets to invite you to something, he or she can still be your friend.
12. Your underwear is $10 for a three-pack.
13. If you are 34 and single, nobody notices.
14. Everything on your face stays its original color.
15. You can quietly enjoy a car ride from the passenger's seat.
16. Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
17. You don't have to clean if the meter reader is coming.
18. Car mechanics tell you the truth.
19. You can quietly watch a game with your buddy for hours without ever thinking: "He must be mad at me."
20. Gray hair and wrinkles only add character.
21. Wedding dress - $2,000. Tuxedo rental - 75 bucks.
22. You can drop by to see a friend without bringing a little gift.
23. If another guy shows up at the party in the same outfit, you just might become lifelong friends.
24. Your pals will never trap you with: "So, notice anything different?"
25. You are not expected to know the names of more than five colors.
26. You know which way to turn a nut on a bolt.
27. You almost never have strap problems in public.
28. You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.
29. The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.
30. You don't have to shave below your neck.
31. Your belly usually hides your big hips.
32. One wallet and one pair of shoes, one color, all seasons.

Friday, July 28, 2006

I am such a dork.

Unfortunately, I was only able to catch the last 10 minutes or so of the reading by Amy Tan and Billy Collins at the
Southampton Writers' Conference last night because I had evening classes. But I stuck around and bought two things for the signing, Amy Tan's latest release Saving Fish from Drowning and an anthology of poetry with a foreword by Billy Collins. Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry. I got them to sign the books, but I was so nervous that I was completely tongue-tied. I didn't know what to say to Amy Tan, I mean, it's Amy Tan! She asked me if I was in the writing program here and I mumbled some weird reply and just felt really awkward. Billy Collins asked me how I was enjoying the conference and I mumbled some stupid reply, and I left feeling like, Wow I am such a dork.

But hey, this is the first writer's conference I've ever been to. If there's a certain quota of karmic stupidity and dorkiness that one has to go through in life before they become cool, hey, at least I'm being a dork when I'm just a nobody-wanna-be writer, right?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Career investments

So I finally sucked it up and shelled out the cash to join the Romance Writers of America. It's one of the largest and most powerful writers' organizations in the United States, and super-cushy with almost all the major publishing houses. What kept me away from it for awhile was the fact that it's pricey to join ($100!!!!!) and the fact that when you join, you're only joining the National Chapter. You've got to put out more money (though not nearly as much) to join the local chapter or any of the special interest chapters like Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal. Not to mention that I have issues with an organization that sanctions a sub-genre based on race (Arabesque or African-American Romance is considered a sub-genre). But going with the idea that change is more effective from the inside, I've decided to join, because as a member (theoretically) I get a say in their policies, and for the power this organization wields, that's a lot. They also offer numerous networking opportunities for published and unpublished authors, agents and editors, and as networking is invaluable to nearly any career, well on the advice of authors like Sunny I figured I'd give it a shot (even if it is a financially painful shot for this poor grad student; hey its an investment right?).

Investing further in my writing career, I'm going to the Southampton Writers' Conference held at Stony Brook this week. Last night, I got to see one of my favorite authors, E.L. Doctorow speak. Of course I ended up buying another copy of Ragtime for him to sign, and City of God which I haven't read yet. The conference is definitely features authors of a much more highbrow literary persuasion, like Amy Tan, Bharati Mukherjee, Billy Collins and Frank McCourt but I hope to be able to pick up some good tips and info to the writing craft. (Plus I'm able to attend because of a student discount which made attending this conference a steal: Thank you anonymous donor who made this possible!)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


From the NYTimes: The lower Tien Shan mountains. In Kyrgyzstan, 94 percent of the land covered by mountains.

Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian country that is affordable, adventurous and accessible, with a Muslim population so moderate it’s not uncommon to see mothers in bikinis drinking beer on the beach.

Even before I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Central Asia and the Silk Road, I've been fascinated with the steppes and mountains of Central Asia. The NYTimes has had a Frugal Traveler series this summer, and this week, he writes from Kyrgyzstan. There are so many amazing wonders to be explored beyond our own cultural and geographical boundaries of our nation. If you haven't been able to tell, I'm fascinated by people and cultures and different ways of thinking and doing things.

In Central Asia, there's been traditionally a very different strain of Judaism and Islam. In "Hundred Thousand Fools of God" by ethnomusicologist Theodore Levin, there are stories of certain areas, shaped by the diversity and mixing of Silk Road Culture, away from the broader rivalries of Muslims and Jews for hundreds of years, where they not only live in peace, but are integral to each other's culture. In fact, in one area, a Muslim wedding is absolutely unthinkable, without the blessing of a Jewish wedding singer.

I know I'll make it to Kyrgyzstan some day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Immortal Revenge?

Recently I was asked where as a writer, I get my ideas from. I get ideas from everywhere; everything I read, things I see, sounds I hear, everything has a story behind it, or has implications for something that might be stewing in my mind. Take a recent editorial from the New York Times, He Who Cast the First Stone, Probably Didn't, which talks about how aggressive actions, like throwing a punch at someone, are generally thought to be ok, if you're attacking some one who hit you without provocation.

After all, it is wrong to punch anyone except a puncher, and our language even has special words — like “retaliation” and “retribution” and “revenge” — whose common prefix is meant to remind us that a punch thrown second is legally and morally different than a punch thrown first.

That’s why participants in every one of the globe’s intractable conflicts — from Ireland to the Middle East — offer the even-numberedness of their punches as grounds for exculpation.

The problem with the principle of even-numberedness is that people count differently. Every action has a cause and a consequence: something that led to it and something that followed from it. But research shows that while people think of their own actions as the consequences of what came before, they think of other people’s actions as the causes of what came later.

In a study conducted by William Swann and colleagues at the University of Texas, pairs of volunteers played the roles of world leaders who were trying to decide whether to initiate a nuclear strike. The first volunteer was asked to make an opening statement, the second volunteer was asked to respond, the first volunteer was asked to respond to the second, and so on. At the end of the conversation, the volunteers were shown several of the statements that had been made and were asked to recall what had been said just before and just after each of them.

The results revealed an intriguing asymmetry: When volunteers were shown one of their own statements, they naturally remembered what had led them to say it. But when they were shown one of their conversation partner’s statements, they naturally remembered how they had responded to it. In other words, volunteers remembered the causes of their own statements and the consequences of their partner’s statements.

What seems like a grossly self-serving pattern of remembering is actually the product of two innocent facts. First, because our senses point outward, we can observe other people’s actions but not our own. Second, because mental life is a private affair, we can observe our own thoughts but not the thoughts of others. Together, these facts suggest that our reasons for punching will always be more salient to us than the punches themselves — but that the opposite will be true of other people’s reasons and other people’s punches.

Now, this is very true, from 9/11 to the Middle East. Are the Israelis attacking with or without justification? Do suicide bombers have justification for what they're doing? Answers to that are probably better debated elsewhere, but from this article, I began thinking about the nature of immortals. Long-lived human beings / immortals have been a staple of fairy tales and fantasies for a long time. With such comparatively larger life-experiences, they're bound to have different reactions and perceptions to things and events then the average person (i.e. the woman born in 1776 will not have the same attitude towards marriage as the woman born in the 1980s; if your grandmother doesn't have the same attitude as you, the woman born 200 years ago certainly won't).

So, will a long-lived immortal be less violent and less likely be angsting for revenge like a 19 year old boy? Theoretically someone who had been around that long would have actually seen the long-range price of violence and revenge. For example, someone born in Europe around 1776 would have seen the excesses of the French Revolution, the maneuvers of Napoleon, the trenches of WWI and the horrors of WWII. Think of some of the veterans you might know or attitudes they might have toward war. Would someone who had seen all that still react in the same way toward a perceived slight that the rest of us had?

Many immortal beings that I read about don't have any of the logical cultural implications that living so long would entail. I think the few authors who have even gotten close are Catherine Asaro and Charles DeLint. In one of her books, the Euban Queen actually draws upon her vast hundreds of years of experience and thinks very differently from other Traders. In DeLint's books, some of his immortals have been around for so long (since before Earth was made) that they can't function in this reality. Their experiences have been too much and too long.

Right now, I'm working on a heroine who was born in 1776. Reading her attitude towards marriage (she's vehemently against marriage) she sounds like a modern day femi-nazi, but she remembers a time when women were property and lost all their rights when they did get married.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Year of Reading 2006: 6 month update

Wow, for someone who purports to be a fantasy / science fiction writer, only lately have I actually been reading much in the genre. What's surprising to me is the number of nonfiction books that I do read. Some have been for school obviously, others, out of interest or researching story ideas.

And it also occurs to me that this list doesn't include the number of ebooks I read. Yes I read ebooks, in fact I review them for a website that shall remain unnamed, and under a pseudonym because I don't want anything I say about a book to come back and bite me from people in the publishing profession that may hold a grudge, which might not be so good for an unpublished writer like me.

Year of Reading: Books of 2006

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Censorship in the world's most populous democracy

Quick - what do India, Pakistan, China and Ethiopia have in common?

It’s not a love of cricket. Or clandestine nuclear arms programs. Or even a fondness for flatbread.

They’re all - apparently - blocking

Read the rest here via Amitava Kumar

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Second Blog Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans

The Second Blog Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans is up over at Kalinara's blog!

Monday, July 17, 2006


Pology is free excellent online magazine featuring photos and essays about traveling, the kind of traveling that forces you to step outside your boundaries and confront life. There are some amazing photos here as well as well-written essays about discovery.

From the editor:

In a time where representations of the world are fed to us through polarized lenses, traveling has become of supreme importance. Traveling can remind us that in any situation there are multiple and often conflicting truths. Traveling can humble us, and remind us of how little we know. Immersion in a new culture can force us to see a beauty in the world that all too easily gets lost in the routine of the mundane. On our pages you will find impassioned vignettes of cultural exploration. Too much of today's travel writing focuses on where to stay, eat and shop, but I'm convinced that there is a breed of traveler out there that knows getting lost and having the details unfold spontaneously is what leads to the stories that can be fondly retold for the rest of your life.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Thirteen Places I've been

(in no particular order)

1. Seattle,WA
2. Beijing, China
3. Moscow, Russia
4. Tokyo, Japan
5. Paris, France
6. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
7. Quebec, Canada
8. Rome, Italy
9. Shanghai, China
10.Washington D.C.
11.Florence, Italy
12.Magnitogorsk, Russia
13.Kaifeng, China

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. (leave your link in comments, I’ll add you here!)

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The whore that saved the world

I just finished reading Kushiel's Scion, the fourth in a series by fantasy author Jacqueline Carey. She's one of my favorite authors in the fantasy genre; her books are lush, evocative, with themes that resonate throughout history, and an excellent literary style that brings you into the story with all five senses.

But what I really love is that the first three books of the series is features a non-stereotypical strong heroine. Essentially, Phedre, is a whore (and I'm using the word in a positive way to reclaim it from all it's negative connotations). She performs physical services in exchange for compensation. But aside fromo that, Phedre breaks the stereotype because she's a whore who saves the world, not by picking up a sword and fighting and getting all alpha-girl in Wonder Woman way (not that I don't love those characters, but sometimes it's easy to think that female heroes have to save the world in the same manner that a man might chose to) but she saves the world essentially by being a whore.

For Phedre, sex is power and she uses that quite skillfully in a world governed by a religion where the foremost precept is Love as thou wilt. In the world of Terre D'Ange, sex is not dirty; it's a celebration of love and life. As a result, whores are sacred and respected for their services in the way that doctors are. I really enjoyed this series not just for the gorgeous prose, but for the completely different depiction of a what a female heroine is.

Kushiel's Scion the 4th book set in the world of Terre D'Ange is the story of Imriel, Phedre's foster son and the real son of her deadliest enemy, Melisande Shaihrizai. Melisande and Phedre are enemies in the classic, opposite sides of the coin in that Magneto/Xavier kind of way with respect, love, and hate entwined in all their interactions. Although I didn't think Kushiel's Scion is as strong as Kushiel's Dart, it was wonderful to return to the world of Terre D'Ange. Moreover, this novel is different in that it features a hero who has been emotionally damaged by forced sex with implications of rape at an early age (though I was disappointed to see the author do some shying away of actual rape of the hero, though the question is still up in the air). In general, premises like this usually feature women. It will be interesting to see how Carey deals with sex, rape and its implications for a hero's masculinity. Can a male hero have been raped, come to terms with it, find sex as a source of power and fulfillment and still be considered a hero? If female heroines can, why not male heroes?

Pirates of the Caribbean (I'm going to spoil your fun)

Pirates are fun right?

Oyceter had a recent post on race and racism in the recent movie Pirates of the Caribbean 2.

Race and Pirates

And I watched, and I grew more and more uncomfortable. Jack Sparrow and crew run amok of cannibals. The cannibals, are, of course, Black. They have face paint and random piercings; they have made Jack Sparrow their king. He speaks to them in terms like, "Licka licka, savvy?" There are a few people of color in his pirate crew, but their speaking parts are small, and they all have very strong accents. Or they don't speak at all and lend their faces to the motley look of the crew. The main character of color is a Black woman, a voodoo witch or something, with eyeballs in jars, blackened teeth, and an accent so strong that I couldn't understand her half the time.

While I was noticing this and noticing the fact that there were no non-stereotyped portrayals of people of color, I was growing more and more uncomfortable with this awareness. I'm actually very ashamed to say this, but I kept thinking of things like, "Oh, is it really that bad?" and "It's just a movie" and "Really, it's about pirates, what can you expect?" and "It's all in good fun."

Except... it isn't.

And I can't get over the fact that even though I had been reading about race right before the movie, noticing the stereotypes and being critical of race in the movie made me incredibly uncomfortable and squirmy, so much so that I tried to rationalize it away. I spent the first half of the movie squirming and becoming more and more aware of the fact that my mind kept trying to slip away from the topic of race, kept trying to not confront it and come up with more and more reasons why it really wasn't that bad.

Except... it is that bad.

It is bad that I cannot think about race without this extreme uncomfortableness, that I cannot do it without attempting to rationalize and excuse, that I cannot do it even after reading about it and being fully committed to speaking out. And it is even worse, because I know if I had seen the movie without having read the Tatum beforehand, I would have noticed, but I would have let myself brush it off, let myself not post about it.

I didn't even post about this last night because it made me so uncomfortable.

Read the rest here

It's easy to turn a discussion like this into white vs. black or some other stupid thing like white=racism=bad. But I think that it's ok to know this movie is racist, and yet enjoy it. Alot of the arguments made for POTC can also be made for Lord of the Rings (and don't even get me started on how much I dislike Tolkien's use of female characters), a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed.

There are some works (see my Fahrenheit 451 post) that I cannot enjoy, simply because for my personal tastes, it reflects a view of society that I find offensive. At the same time, I think of myself as a staunch free speech advocate. I think artists should never be forced to censor themselves. The only solution is to make more informed decisions about your choice of entertainment.

As for POTC, it's a choice that everyone has to make for themselves. Personally, I don't think I will see the movie until it comes out on DVD and I can get for free at the library, but I'm not going to call those who enjoy the movie racists.

Every dollar you spend in fact, is a political act. You buy sweatshop labor at Wal-Mart, sandwiches at the local deli made by illegal immigrants, gasoline to fill your car that is being subsidized by American soldiers, etc. You can try and live in denial about the effects of the American lifestyle, or you can accept it and live with the fact that in the daily course of living you do harm and let that drive you to make better choices and do better things.

As a writer, I write about strong female characters and strong supporting male heroes whose masculinity isn't threatened by women like Buffy or Wonder Woman. I also write characters who are diverse in terms of race and class, and use my knowledge of history to try and make insular Americans better informed about the outside world around them. Writing fiction may not produce as drastic results as feeding the poor in Rwanda (which I have seriously considered doing), and may seem more frivolous, but I think that people learn more from pop culture and fiction then they're even aware of, which is why POTC, a frivolous movie deserves serious consideration as to what it conveys about our commercial culture.