World SF

Lavie Tidhar (one of the contributors to Interfictions 2) has started the World SF News Blog, which is dedicated to news and links about international science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics. If you’re at all interesting in these genres and their subgenres throughout the world, rather than in your own particular corner, you should visit here early and often.  It’s a great enterprise.

Touch

Hey-ho.  I’m back from ICFA, the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, which is held every year around this time down in Orlando, Florida.  It’s one of my new regular conferences to attend now.  It’s a hybrid conference for both academics and creative writers, so you get both academic panels about the literature of the fantastic side by side with readings from some of the best authors in contemporary speculative fiction.  Last year I attended to accept the Crawford Award, which is presented there each year.  This year I returned because I had such a great time last year.  And since I am both a writer and a creative writing instructor in academia, it’s a good fit.

Also, Florida in March is an awesome break from wintery Ohio.  Which, truth be told, was not all that wintery this March, but still gray and brown from winter.  I’ve been excited to return home and see thick buds on the trees, starting to fill the air with a bit more color.

I’m also excited to return home and discover this awesome review of The Love We Share Without Knowing at Becky’s Book Reviews today.  Here’s a sample of what Becky, one of the winners from my book give-away a couple of weeks back, had to say:

This isn’t your traditional novel. If you know that going in, I think you will appreciate it more. Think of it more as a collection of loosely woven short stories. Some stories are more ‘connected’ than others. The stories share a common thread or two–mainly that of theme. To sum it up in one word: Humanity. What it means to be human, to experience the ups and downs, highs and lows of being human. Love. Loss. Pain. Anger. Bitterness. Frustration. Disappointment. Heartache. Homesickness. Loneliness. Some stories are darker than others. Some seem to be without hope or redemption. Others are more uplifting. What they all have in common, however, is the Barzak touch. He, quite simply, has a way with words. Even if you don’t like where the story is going, he keeps you so in love with the words on the page, that you just have to keep reading.

The Barzak touch.  It is nice to know I have a touch.  That is very happy-making for me, mainly because I think that it’s difficult for some authors, maybe most or even all authors, to see their touch (what I’m somewhat thinking of as style, I think), the same way it’s difficult for a person to see themselves objectively, the way other people see them.  I was just thinking about that movie Perfume (also a novel of the same title) and how the main character in it is a perfumer who is trying to capture the essence of other people by recreating their scents.  Okay, so he’s also a total whack job who ends up serially killing people trying to capture their scents and transform it into perfume, but it’s an allegory, in its own way, for the creative artist’s endeavor to capture the essences of people.  One of the things about this character in Perfume is that he cannot sense his own scent.  That, to me, is one of the truths that narrative states about artists in regards to the things they are making.  

So thank you, Becky, for showing some of the passages from my book that you feel are representative of my “touch”.  

We’re in the second half of the semester here.  Six weeks left to go.  I’ve got a lot of work to do both for the classes I teach and the classes I’m taking in Chatham University’s MFA program, so I’ll be off and on here, as usual these days, but will hopefully be around a bit more in May and June, when I have a bit more time to myself.

Contesting

I received this email from Bookspot Central this evening.  If you’re interested in voting for my book, take a trip through the links and do so.  Thanks!

“This is just a quick note to inform you that you have a book in our March Madness style book tournament over at Bookspot Central.  The Tournament takes place on our forum at this thread until the semi finals where it will be on the front page. The rules are listed inside each of the threads. The major emphasis of our book tournament has always been about “fun” and we invite you to check it out. The winner of each of the two tournaments (2008 and Dealers choice) will be receiving a trophy engraved with your name and the year of the tournament. Your book The Love we Share without Knowing is part of this 2008 tournament!”

Cheap date

I had two glasses of wine tonight and somehow ended up joining Twitter.  Back in the day, it was a lot more to drink and a lot more absurd and shocking outcomes.  This is how you know you’re now beginning to become a fossil.  

But if you want to “follow” me, my Twitter name is, shockingly, Cbarzak.

Honestly, no clue if I’ll use it a lot.  But maybe.

Dreaming backwards

In another month and a half it will be three years since I returned home from Japan. Some days it feels as if I just got back.  I’m not sure of what that’s an indication, other than my life became the busiest it has ever been for the past couple of years, and perhaps that’s why it sometimes feels as if I just got back.  The passage of time feels as if it slows down when we move through it quickly.  I remember soon after coming home in 2006, perhaps just a month after I came home, I was at Wiscon in Madison, Wisconsin, and my friend Karen Fowler asked if it (my life in Japan) was starting to feel as if it were a dream.  I think I nodded and said yes.  But it was the wrong answer.  It was how I was feeling at the very moment, about being home again.  So her statement made sense to me because of that, but I was out of sorts. I can see now how out of sorts I was when I returned home for the first six months to a year, really, in retrospect.  It wasn’t Japan that felt like a dream, it was America. I felt as if I were stumbling through a very foreign landscape that was still somehow familiar.  My center of “home” had shifted, the foliage of my life and the meaning attached to seasons, flowers, trees, rivers, mountains, had all changed.  I had temples in my mind, not churches.  I visited shrines, not memorials.  There were a plethora of icons from folklore talked about on a more regular basis in Japan, and many gods surrounding you in so many ways.  Coming back to America felt as if I were stepping into a much smaller world, despite it being a much bigger country.  So it was a feeling of being in a dream I was having, not a feeling of my life in Japan as a dream.  I can see now what the difference was.

I can see now what the difference was because enough time has passed, enough time that my life in Japan has passed into feeling as if it were a dream.  Enough time has passed so that when I think of my memories of being there, I see myself almost as if I were watching someone else in my memories, as if I’m reading a story in the third person.  Enough time has passed that I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot of things. Which was the thing I unconsciously knew when I returned to America that I would someday do, the thing I unconsciously, obsessively fought against.  I brought with me absolutely everything that consisted of my daily self. I refused to buy new clothes on a regular basis.  I still wear articles of clothing that I’ve worn out.  I have shelves devoted to housing souvenirs I picked up in various places while living there. I reread novels I read for the first time then.  I continue to make Japanese meals that I once made on a daily basis.  I learn how to make new recipes for things I never learned how to make while living there, so that I can properly taste and smell something that I haven’t tasted or smelled in years.  It is all a kind of attendance to someone who is passing away, a kind of nourishing, a desire to keep memory alive for as long a possible.  Here, have this soup.  When you drink it, you will remember the first time you had it at Masako’s apartment.  Here, wear this sweater. It will remind you of the store in which you purchased it, and the word of welcome used by the women who worked there.  Listen to this CD.  You heard that music at a festival once.  The sound of drumming, the shine of lantern light on the sweaty faces of men and boys dressed in traditional garb, spinning a wagon full of musicians and dancers through the streets.  

I have a hard time remembering Japan sometimes.  It’s difficult to access memory as you grow more and more distant from the place and the people with whom you made those memories.  But I can will myself back there despite that difficulty, with a concentrated effort.  It’s easier to do at night, when I’m becoming sleepy, and I sit back in bed, close my eyes, and think myself back into my last apartment there, remember the tiny heater that kept me warm in winter, remember ordinary things, like the canister of fuel I kept on the balcony, the smell of kerosene when it was time for refueling, the tiny burner I cooked on in a narrow hallway of a kitchen, or the deep and wide closet that held almost everything I owned at that time.  The smell of cedar in the woods around my first apartment, the feel of tatami mat beneath my bare feet.  And then suddenly there is the old man who bicycled past my place every afternoon as I returned from work, encouraging me with my learning of Japanese, inviting me to play tennis with him.  And the little girl who fell off her bike as she rode past one evening, who I picked up as she was crying, still startled by the fall for minutes despite not having hurt herself, asking in Japanese if she’s okay, hoping that a foreign man who must surely look frighteningly strange to her wouldn’t make her cry harder, and her completely unafraid response, “I’m okay now, thank you.”   The boys I ran with after school each weekday, in the sandy lot behind the school.  The teachers in the teachers office, chatting away throughout the day with one another, holding conversation over the desktops.  The cup of hot green tea that I’d find on my desk each morning on my arrival.  The first conversation I held in Japanese:  with a second grade boy who had asked me how I liked Japan, and if I missed America.  Him nodding knowingly as I told him I liked Japan but sometimes I did miss America.  The realization that he couldn’t speak English, so how had we held our conversation?  Why had I heard him in my head in English, despite him obviously speaking Japanese?  And then when I tell him, again in Japanese, that I think I’m starting to understand his language, he and his friends all raise their tiny fists in the air and cheer for me.  

Now, though, in these moments of dreaming backwards, they’re no longer cheering because I’ve begun to understand them.   They’re cheering because I’ve managed to make my way back to them again, if only for a visit.

On failing to keep up with Racefail

As I’ve not been reading blogs regularly over the past year of my new full time employment plus second-graduate-degree-taking schedule (I sometimes have very little time left in the day for eating and sleeping, it seems), I have remained ignorant of a great blogosphere debate that had been going on for what seems like it may be a month or two?  Only in the past day or two, as friends have e-mailed and people whose blogs I do try to keep up with from time to time have been talking about this thing that has been named Racefail, have I slowly (and admittedly, reluctantly–but only due, again, to my aforementioned time constraints) turned in the direction of the blogs where all of this apparently went down.  I haven’t read through all of it, to be honest.  There are weeks of posts and comments within posts.  It would be nice if there were a Cliff’s Notes edition to get the gist of the thing. (This is the closest I’ve come to finding that. Not notes so much as links to the occurrence in semi-chronological order?) But what it does seem to boil down to is that the problem of a very homogenous SF world of fandom and writers and editors and the like became a battleground issue.  It’s always been an issue.  If you look at the SF shelves in bookstores, there are few people of color represented on those shelves.  It’s a very white world.  It’s also very male.  It’s also increasingly very middle class and up (but that’s literature in general).  It’s also very heteronormative.  In other words, SF, despite calling itself the literature of ideas, is kind of clueless in terms of diversity, but more importantly in terms of its non-response as a community to the requests of those who feel outside the circle of normal to be let in.  

I’m not sure where people can go to with all of this after it’s come to such a frenzied and very personal place, and a lot of people have been hurt by it in various ways.  It seems now that the major players have gone back to their corners, more talk is going to come out of it.  But what are some things that people can actually do other than talk?  Talk is good.  It’s really good.  But as a local community activist here in my own hometown community, which has a plethora of these same issues at stake in its social structure, I know that the purpose of talk should lead to action of some sort.  A variety of actions.  Whether you’re a fan or a writer or an editor or a publisher, I think one of the things that can be done is to figure out what you, in your particular position, have the ability to do to help enact change.

For example, while editing the new volume of Interfictions, Delia and I were very purposeful in our desires for a balanced table of contents.  When you start trying to balance all of the various identity categories that exist, it does become a bit of a challenge, but luckily we were presented with great writing from people coming from a variety of backgrounds.  Men, women, people of color, LGBT writers, people of varying classes, ages, etc, and people of varying nationalities.  If we didn’t consciously seek to bring all of these variations together, the title of the anthology, which does refer to a kind of writing that is, at heart, seeking to refuse homogeneity in a variety of forms, wouldn’t reflect the anthology’s purpose.  This was one thing I felt I was able to do as an editor, and was grateful for the chance to do it when Delia asked me to be her partner in that endeavor.

There are other ways.  Some people can respond to it as an editor, or a writer in their writing, some people can continue an ongoing discussion in a blog or a blog community, some will be able to actually, hopefully, bring more work by people of color (in this case) into the public sphere.  Everyone has something they can do, if they want to, and that’s the thing needed if change is what any sort of community wishes to make happen.  And the community should also support the idea that not everyone can all do the same thing, and that it’s best for people to do what they can.  That’s a strength, to have people working at the desired change from a variety of angles.  Assess what you can do from your position in a community, and then do it.  And then perhaps these very obvious deficiencies in the SF community (or any kind of community) can begin to really change.

Otherwise, this same argument will only be set up to recycle for years to come.

Oh, wow, just found this, which seems exactly like the sort of thing that is a great response to all of this.

I’m looking forward (though also a little frightened) to searching through this tangled web of blog posts, and finding out more.

And another

Another review I missed, this one from Karen Burnham over at SF Signal:

Excerpt:

The Love We Share Without Knowing is a beautiful and only lightly fantastic book. It follows the lives of different people in modern day Japan as they intersect with each other, often tangentially, sometimes meaningfully. It looks at friendship, love, and alienation. In its depictions of both Japanese and American citizens living in Japan, it illuminates culture and cultural difference.

A review and an unintended twist

Two things:

A very cool review that I somehow missed, which appeared in The Pacifican, the newspaper for The University of the Pacific, out in Stockton, CA. Yo, Stockton!

An excerpt:

With lovely descriptions of Japan’s countryside and cities, this novel is rife with astute observations about people and the relationships they have with nature and each other. Not all the characters find closure in their decisions, but they become more enlightened about life, as readers of this magnificent and emotional book will.

You can read the whole thing by following the link below.

book review the love we share without knowing 

And secondly, I should never have put “no girls g-ne w-ld” as part of the title of a post a couple of entries back.  Legions of people looking for…umm…photos of a particular sort have been, by accident, stumbling upon this blog in their internet searches, and discovering that it’s the complete antithesis of what they really want.

Oh, Iris…

Love is the difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.
  - Iris Murdoch

Honestly, the only novel by Murdoch that I’ve read has been The Unicorn, which I remember liking, because it was all Gothic and philosophical, set in a big English manor somewhere in an English countryside, with strange characters who were a little touched, but I have never plunged into the Murdoch oeuvre.  Whenever I look at her books, I get the sense that they’re very dry and dusty, though very intelligent.  I’d like to keep the intelligent but get rid of at least the dryness.  I think that’s what I did like about The Unicorn, but I haven’t managed to move on to any others.  But then I come across quotes like this from Murdoch, and they make me want to look into her books again.  If there are any real Murdoch fans out there reading this, send me honest to goodness suggestions as to which of her books I really should read.  I still can’t imagine myself ripping through all of her work, but I would read another Murdoch novel if I had it on good authority that one or two of them are absolute must-reads.

It’s spring, or so it seems for the moment, and my inner English novelist is calling for a good cup of tea and a desire to read about vicars and rummage sales.  Early spring seems to always do this to me.  And I’m fresh out of A.S. Byatt.  I did read through all of her books a long time ago.