Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Peter Tieryas Liu A Fascinating Interview with the author of Watering Heaven

I recently read a new collection of short stories Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Liu that simply amazed
me.  Peter has also authorized me to let my readers know of a special price of  $1.99 on Amazon.

There are in all 20 stories in Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Liu, each one stranger than the one before it.  They are sort of interrelated in that several of them deal with an IT worker and his life.  Most of the main characters are Chinese- Americans, mostly with American roots but still with ties to a very different world.   Some of the characters speak Mandrian and three, though we think they are not related, have the same last name, "Chao". 

I really liked the stories in Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Liu.  They contain strong elements of surrealism, I think Alfred Jarry would like them, and magic realism.  The stories are very mega-city urban and very tuned in to how social media and its permeation of the world connects us no more than it isolates us.  There is a preoccupation with death and suicide.  Someone kills themselves in a number of the stories.  There are a lot of hookers and no happy old fashioned relationships or marriages except maybe of a character's grandparents and even that may have been a sham.  The use of language is marvelous, the details are perfect.   At the start of the e-book there is a quote about the book that says "his surreal brilliance and vulnerability reminds one of the best of Borges, Calvino and Pynchon".   When I first read this I thought "oh, sure" but I now fully agree with this (with the clarification I have not read much Calvino, not enough Borges but I have read all of Pynchon's work more than once). 

I am very honored that Peter has agreed to do an interview for The Reading Life.

Hi Mel! Thank for having me on The Reading Life

1.    Who are some short story writers you admire?    

I loved your earlier article about Hemingway’s short stories and I loved his stories when I was growing up. There’s a punchy terseness in his writing that is very powerful and deceptively simple though it is very difficult to recreate. While we’re on classics, I enjoyed Fitzgerald, Kafka, and a lot of the older Greek/Roman/Chinese myths. Current authors I enjoy include Tim Horvath, whose imagination has no bounds; Kristine Ong Muslim, whose stories are disturbingly beautiful and is from the Philippines; Berit Ellingsen, a Norwegian writer who writes words as though she were writing music;  and Leza Lowitz who is a writer I greatly admire; there’s an intangible lyricality to her writing that draws me into her world. She actually was the one who suggested I make a collection of all my published stories, for which I’m very grateful. There’s so many others, I could go on and on.

2.   Many of your stories have suicides and are preoccupied with death-what is the genesis of this preoccupation?   

Writers like Camus and Maugham would say suicide and death are the only relevant questions in story-telling. Why do we live?  I think that’s at the core of all the questions of identity and part of what I love so much about the American dream. Anyone can live for whatever reason they want. I also think the power and shock of suicide is it seems to go against everything in nature. So when a suicide rocks the character, say as in the “Political Misconception” or “The Wolf’s Choice,” the memories of those who’ve passed on haunt the character and unconsciously shape the paths they choose. In context of their pain, their reaction, often bizarre and extreme, reveal layers of their humanity as they rethink what is really important in their lives. 

3.  You have worked in the video game industry.   Recently after the wave of school shootings in the USA, some commentators said violent video games are very much a part of the cause of this.   Do you agree at all and why or why not?  

This is a really difficult question and I want to tread carefully, especially in light of the tragic circumstances in the recent months. I’d say the question is extremely complex and I don’t have enough research and data to feel like I can make a fair conclusion without generalizing. I will say this; earlier last year, I played a game called Journey that was quite possibly the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. There are no weapons, no deaths, just a journey one wanderer makes to reach a mountain. It nearly brought both my wife and myself to tears. After we turned the game off, we did not go and try to climb a mountain.

4.  The future world-more like Mad Max or Blade Runner?

I loved both movies but I’ll have to go with Blade Runner. I loved the Noir feel, the people speaking languages that are a hybrid of multiple nations. My personal hope for future worlds though? Star Trek with its Federation and its exploratory ideals. Having said that, according to Star Trek history, some pretty terrible things happened before humanity achieved that peace. I’m hoping we can skip that part.

5.  I noticed a lot of hookers in your stories.  Is that in part a commentary on people like game programmers selling their talents to any one who will pay?  

I think one of the things that’s important for me as a writer is to explore the outcasts and rejects in society. While I wasn't per se commenting on programmers, or for that matter, anyone selling their talents for pay, I felt there was more I could explore using characters out of the norm as in the stories, “Rodenticide” and “Resistance.” I find it interesting that prostitutes play such a big role in many of the Biblical stories and force readers to shift their assumptions about right and wrong. While I was traveling through Asia, through friends, I actually met a handful of ‘paid escorts’ who had amazing (and tragic) stories to tell. That in part shows itself in the stories contained in the collection.

6.   Are your stories in part a reflection of the issues of  being a "hyphenated American?"

I grew up in a very diverse set of communities where race rarely came up as an issue. So I never really thought of myself as a hyphenated American, more an American who loves Asia. I thought it was fascinating while I was in China, most people didn’t view me as Asian, but as American. My outer appearance didn’t matter to them. And culturally, we were so different, it made sense. Having said that, I love it when people refer to me as Asian-American as I love both cultures. I don’t see any conflict between them as part of America’s greatness is it absorbs all. Though I am of course grateful to all those who came before me and fought so hard to achieve that equality through blood, sweat, and tears. In regards to my stories, you’ll find that racial issues rarely pop up and I think that’s a reflection of the way I was raised where race was less important than what you believed and what you fought for.  

7.   When did you first begin to write stories?   Are you interested in other literary forms?

When I was a kid. I wrote about everything. I’ve tried my hand at all sorts of other literary forms including non-fiction essays, game articles, book reviews, reporting of events, and experimental fiction that didn’t make much sense. Some of it has been disastrously embarrassing, others somehow got published. All of them were valuable to me growing as a writer. 

8.  Why do you think most of the classic literature of the world was written in the Temperate Zone?

That’s a good question. Could it have more to do with actual exposure? I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t have equally amazing literature? I’m not sure though, but in relation to writing under different weather conditions, I will say my own best writing came in the summer months while I was traveling in China and Thailand. My weakest came while I was in China during winter when I was nearly freezing. It was so cold, I had a hard time writing. I was mainly focused on keeping warm and staying alive. 

9.  E-Readers?   The end of a great era  or the harbingers of a great new era in literature?  

Both. Publishing is changing. I love print books. But I also have to admit that lugging around forty heavy books while I’m traveling halfway across the world is hard, whereas a download to a portable device is much easier to carry. I also love how the digital format is opening up the world to voices that otherwise would never have been heard, including Watering Heaven, which entered the top 100 among short story collections in the digital format. It’s fantastic.

10.   Are gadgets enslaving us with a need to make more money to have better gadgets?  
I really laughed hard after I read this question. Now please excuse me while I go download a music track to my Ipod and make a call on my Galaxy phone and play some games on my Xbox and watch a movie on my Blu-Ray player.

End of Interview

There is an interesting book trailer here

Author Data

Peter Tieryas Liu has almost 200 publications in magazines and journals including Adirondack Review, anderbo, Bitter Oleander, Bookslut, Camera Obscura Journal, decomP, Evergreen Review, Gargoyle, Indiana Review, Kartika Review, Prism Review, Toad Suck Review, Word Riot, and ZYZZYVA, and was the recipient of the 2012 Fiction Award from Mojo, the magazine run by Wichita State University. He has also worked as a technical writer for LucasArts, the gaming division of LucasFilm. 

You can read some of his work online

Word Riot published the Death Artist:

decomP published Colony

Johnny America published Cold Fusion:

Kartika Review published Searching for Normalcy:

You can learn more about his work on his webpage

The publisher, based in Hong Kong, Signal 8 Press has a very interesting webpage.

There is a  very perceptive post on Suko's Notebook on the book.

I am very glad to have read this debut collection and I look forward to following the literary development of the author.   

If you want to see why I am so excited over this collection, please read my post on Watering Heaven.

The Silver Sphere by Michael Dadich

The Silver Sphere by Michael Dadich (2012, 274 pages, 1260 KB)

The Silver Sphere by Michael Dadich is the first in a series of science fiction/fantasy novels.    As the novels opens six teenagers are transported to another planet and they soon learn this planet is their real home.  The planet is under assault from very evil forces and it is teens have been brought their in the hope they could save the planet.   Each teen has special skills and powers that are very valuable in the fight.

The planet is full of strange creatures, some friendly some pretty nasty and you have to be fast on your feet to deal with them.  There are some great battle scenes and lots of wonderful descriptions.

Some of the characters are fully developed and some are just outline.  There are a lot of people in the book and the author has provided us with a glossary at the end of the book.  

There are lots of fabulous creatures in this book.  At times it feels as much like a medieval fantasy book as science fiction.

The Silver Sphere by Michael Dadich  is a fast moving escapist book I really enjoyed reading.

You can learn more about the author and the world of The Silver Sphere on his very well done webpage

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mentioning the War: Essays & Reviews 1999-2011 by Kevin Higgins

Mentioning the War:  Essays & Reviews 1999-2011 by Kevin Higgins (2012, 219 pages)

Mentioning the War:  Essays & Reviews 1999-2011 by Kevin Higgins is a nice collections of book reviews, focusing largely on contemporary Irish poetry, general cultural commentaries on the state of the arts in Ireland in post Celtic Tiger bad times and some brilliant political analysis.   Higgins' political thoughts range from very Irish centered issues to global concerns.    (There will be a more detailed author bio at the end of the post.)   He talks a good bit about the work in Iraq, which I do see as a terrible thing, both morally and as a use of American resources.  It will be remembered as one of the dumbest wars initiated by the United States.

When first presented with the opportunity to post on his collection I of course said I would be interested in reading it and would then decide if it could post on the work.   Initially  I was confused as to how I might approach the book.   Much, at least half, of the work is taken up with reviews of the work of contemporary Irish poets and Irish political infighting, both things very remote to me.   Then I read his two very insightful articles on George Orwell, a writer whose works I admire tremendously, and I knew I could find a way to talk about his collection.   I have loved the work of Orwell ever since I read Animal Farm in the 8th grade.  In high school I had a teacher, who claimed to be a socialist, who said the book was just a crude attack on communism and of no greater value than as a historical curiosity.

I thought to myself, OK you know nothing about contemporary Irish poetry and next to nothing about Irish politics but the man admires Orwell and a lot of the essays on literary works also contain very thought provoking remarks about the role of the arts in modern society so I decided perhaps I could post on this book.   Some of the essays are polemical pieces and just as Samuel Johnson spoke for victory you can feel that Higgins once and a while writes for victory and knows how to persuade others to his point of view.   He also talks a lot about the role of the poet in society, a topic of interest to me.   By and large I have not  read much poetry by living writers.  The only poets I have read intensely are Yeats and Whitman.

This will be a kind of rambling post in which I talk about a number of his essays.   I do not agree with some of the things he says and I will try to explain this but my real purpose of writing on Mentioning the War:  Essays & Reviews 1999-2011 by Kevin Higgins is let others know of the existence of a very honestly written work that has a lot to teach the world about poetry, politics and Ireland.   He seeks justice and he tries to tell the truth, just like Orwell did.

As to my own political orientation (I only mention it because I think it colors ones thinking in posting on a work like Mentioning the War:  Essays & Reviews 1999-2011 by Kevin Higgins) is vaguely left wing with some libertarian ideas but I distrust all grand ideologies.    My blog is very multi-cultural and I see the harm in the domination of world politics by America, especially in the Bush eras, but  I am not knee-jerk Anti-American.

The book starts with a forward by Darrell Kavanagh in which he tells us, and I could for sure see this, that one of the very interesting things this book provides us a look at the author's at one time very far left politics where  ideology comes first evolving to a more pragmatic approach.  I loved these  lines from Kavanagh and I totally agree with it.   "Mentioning the War is an antidote to the know-nothing, don-t want to know anything attitude which perverts human society.   You know the sort of thing:   super confident twenty-somethings, working in marketing or some other non-job, without an ounce of culture or humanity, blathering about how they are their own 'brand'".  In the introduction John Goody helps us understand some of the things that have influenced Higgins and talks about his development as a poet and political thinker and teacher.

I will talk about a number of the essays and reviews one at a time, in a fashion similar to my manner of posting on short story collections.  (I do not consider myself a "book reviewer", I just read things and post my reaction to them.)

"Back Home to Ireland"

The lead off piece in the book, "Back Home to Ireland" in a way kind of sets the tone for the book.  It starts out when Kevin was seven and his family is moving back to Ireland from Coventry in the west midlands of England.   He moves back to Ireland in a period of upheaval.   There are power cuts due to coal miner strikes, the IRA has begun a bombing campaign in London.   Somehow when he left England Kevin knew he was going into a less comfortable world.   I admit I liked it when he tells us he got the day off from school for the funeral of De Valera and his mother said "it was nice to see him going to his own funeral for a change".

"And no one knew its name"

The second essay helped me feel a very common sense of humanity with Kevin.   It is very personal story in which you can feel his love for his mother and his immense pain at her illness.  I think putting it very near the start of the collection was very brilliant editorially as it makes us see Kevin is not just a very intellectual, cultured immensely knowledgeable person but someone any one can relate to.  The story starts in 1977 (Kevin was born in 1967) when Kevin's mother cannot go into town to watch the St. Patrick's Day  parade because of a pain in her back.  Of course children of ten think their parents are indestructible and Kevin does not worry on it much.   We learn about Kevin's family.   We go on an expedition with them.   His mother's back pain gets worse and worse and the doctors can find nothing wrong with her.  The vague suggestion is the problems are in her mind and one doctor hints at a faith healer.  Kevin gets into football and becomes a Liverpool fan!   Kevin talks about the politics of the time, through the prism of his memories.   His mother is still sick and no doctor can explain why.  They call her illness "psychosomatic".   My own mother went through an extended period of illness at the end of her life and I trembled at the thought of any doctor try to tell her that her problems were "psychosomatic" and I sense the same feeling in Kevin essay.  "An no one knew its name" reads like the best of short stories so I will leave the ending untold.  It did help me locate Kevin in "human space" and it is perfectly executed.

"Socialist Classics:  George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia"

This was the first essay I read in the collection.  My thinking was OK I know nothing of the poets he speaks of but I have been reading Orwell on and off for several decades so I will make this essay the determining factor in deciding if I will post or even read his whole collection.   The essay starts out with an account of a conversation Kevin had with an "elderly Englishman" he met in Athens at a poetry conference.   The man tells him he does not "get the whole Orwell thing".   He says Orwell did a bit of the bohemian (Down and Out in Paris and London comes to mind-a book which may incidentally kill any interest you have in fancy restaurants) thing, then dabbled in politics and then "reverted to type".  He "does not see what all the fuss is about".  The problem turned out to be Orwell attitude toward the communist party.  I do not want to spend the time to talk a lot about the history of the development of Orwell's political thought but he was at one time a member of the communist party but he turned against and it was in Homage to Catalonia, his account of the war in Spain, that signals his break with the party.  Orwell was to big for any party, too honest, too concerned with suffering over ideology and repudiated the cult of personality as seen around Stalin.

Let us look for a moment at this key remark by Kevin.  "In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell whose Animal Farm was later co-opted by the CIA, writes from a position that is decisively to the left not only of the Labor Party but also of the Communist Party"   Kevin tells us that Orwell was for the revolution to a far greater extent than "all Stalinism's literary fellow travellers ever were".  The CIA did pay for a cartoon version of the book to be used as a propaganda tool (The Manchester Guardian has a very interesting article on how this happened) but this really is a kind of cosmic joke because it if lead anyone to actually read the book they would never accept any form of totalitarianism again.   It is no more necessary to understand Russian politics of the 1930s and 40s to understand Animal Farm a knowledge of English politics of the early 18th century is required to appreciate Gulliver's Travels.  To my mind such an approach to both of the books trivializes them.

"Culture and the recession"

"Whoever you are the age of less is upon you".

How can you not respect the truth of this, the global truth.  The time is past due for first world countries to take a hugely disproportionate share of the world's wealth, the time has come for a CEO to know longer make 1000 or more times as much as a worker.  Less does not mean misery,  unless you impose this on yourself or let advertisers do it to you.

Here is one of the most important sentences for an outsider to Ireland to understand:

"Since the implosion of the international banking system in September 2008 ushered in this era of great economic unhappiness, the atmosphere of everyday life in Ireland has changed for everybody to an extent that would be unimaginable just three years ago".

To a large extent, the ordinary people of Ireland (and Europe and the USA and many other places) are being asked to pay for the mistakes of the rich.  Politicians say hardships must be shared, the hardships for those who caused the banking crisis in Ireland include smaller yachts and a cut back in the staff at your Greek Island villa, for others it means taking your meds only every other day.  Kevin talks about things related to this throughout his collection, especially in this essay.   Ireland has been, compared to say the Philippines where there is close to no public support for literary arts, blessed with good government support of the arts.  I am totally in awe, as is the world, of the literary output of the Irish.  Galway, a city of about 75,000 has produced more great writers than many a city of five million.  Kevin talks about how the economic crisis in Ireland has effected the verbal arts and I found his essay very edifying.

"From Tyburn to a Tin Box-Cromwell's Head by Jonathan Fitzgibbons"

I liked the starting lines of this essay in which the popularity of the American president George W. Bush was found to better than that of Oliver Cromwell.  I have learned of late that the Irish hatred for Cromwell derives from his terrible genocide war in which about 41 percent of the population was died and in which over 50,000 people, mostly from the west of Ireland, were sent as slaves to the Caribbean.   This article is a review of a book about the post death head of Oliver Cromwell from its detachement from his body in Tyburn to its eventual reburial in a tin box.  The descriptions quoted of the executions make it sound like a very surreal event in that Cromwell had been dead for two years when they cut off his head.   There is a very interesting historical irony pointed out at the end of the essay.   Cromwell was not in his a left-wing anti-authority figure despised by right wing monarchists and Torries.  Given this, "the worst atrocities of Irish history were committed by a man who was, as the Marxist would say, a progressive rather than a reactionary."

"Taking Arms Against A Sea of Troubles-Neoconservatism:Why We Need It by Douglas Murray

This is a brilliant essay in which Higgins shows us his thinking has developed and how he lets facts dictates what he believes, not the other way around.  By this I means he lets events speak for themselves.   The essay centers around America's intervention in Serbia.   There is much concern in Ireland, as most of my readers will not know ( I do not think I did) because the Irish government has allowed USA military planes to refuel at Shannon Airport on the west coast of Ireland, thus aiding the American war efforts in Iraq and Serbia.  There is the wisdom of centuries in these lines  "I had known about the deadly Stalinist combination of lies and mass murder since I was a fifteen year old recruit to Trostkysim...I thought Left wing apologia for mass murder was something from terrible times past.  I now began to ask myself whether there is something inherent in Left Wing thinking which, where it holds sway, makes lies and mass murder likely if not inevitable."   If you think Higgins is just another left wing ideologist you are dead wrong.

"Poetry, Politics and Dorothy Gone Terribly Astray"

"Almost every poet I know is prone to exaggerate the influence poetry can have on world events".

Poets are caught between their passions about their work and their feeling they may be of no consequence in the real world, what ever that is.  As Higgins says, some react to this feeling by screaming their barbaric yep on the roof tops of the world (sorry I cannot always help myself) others by withdrawing into their studies or the world of academia and poetry societies.   As Higgins says, politicians do not lose a lot of sleep worrying about the opinions of poets they have never heard of anyway.   But this does not mean poetry has no consequence we just cannot say in advance what they will be.   Poets and short story writers helped create all of the great religions of the world but when they were doing this 1000s of years ago they had no vision of this.  Ok I love these lines -  "The world, from New York to Madrid to Bali, is wracked by a conflict between a Texan buffoon..and a batty Saudi aristocrat out to restore the seventh-century Islamic Caliphate.."

There are a total of forty-seven essays and reviews in Mentioning the War:  Essays & Reviews 1999-2011 by Kevin Higgins.  I read them all, even the ones about poets I never heard of and have no way of reading.
Higgins is a very close reader and quotes enough to give you a good feeling for the writers of which he speaks.   I enjoyed seeing that he was willing to learn from facts and did not just see anyone who opposed American policy has automatically a hero on that basis.  His work is informed deeply by reading Orwell when young and as his life progressed reading him again and again.  Orwell was not a saint, as Higgins points out in an essay, but he tries hard to tell the truth and he puts people before policy and sees the petty vanity in many political causes, from any spectrum of opinion.

Author Data  (from the webpage of his publisher Salmon Poetry)

Author Biography

Kevin Higgins facilitates poetry workshops at Galway Arts Centre; teaches creative writing at Galway Technical Institute and on the Brothers of Charity Away With Words programme. He is also Writer-in-Residence at Merlin Park Hospital and the poetry critic of the Galway Advertiser. He was a founding co-editor of The Burning Bush literary magazine. His first collection of poems The Boy With No Face was published by Salmon in February 2005 and was short-listed for the 2006 Strong Award. His second collection, Time Gentlemen, Please, was published in March 2008 by Salmon. One of the poems from Time Gentlemen, Please, ‘My Militant Tendency’, featured in the Forward Book of Poetry 2009.  His work also features in the anthology Identity Parade – New British and Irish Poets(Ed Roddy Lumsden, Bloodaxe, 2010). Frightening New Furniture is his third collection of poems and was published in 2010 by Salmon Poetry. Kevin has read his work at most of the major literary festivals in Ireland and at Arts Council and Culture Ireland supported poetry events in Kansas City, USA (2006), Los Angeles, USA (2007), London, UK (2007), New York, USA (2008), Athens, Greece (2008); St. Louis, USA (2008), Chicago, USA (2009), Denver, USA (2010), Washington D.C (2011), Huntington, West Virginia, USA (2011), Geelong, Australia (2011) & Canberra, Australia (2011). As part of his Culture Ireland supported trip to Chicago in February 2009 he participated in and took first place in a specially arranged poetry slam at the Chicago’s Green Mill Bar and Lounge, the birthplace of slam poetry. Kevin’s fourth collection of poetry, The Ghost In The Lobby, will be published by Salmon Poetry in 2013. Kevin is co-organiser of Over The Edge literary events. 

You can read selections form this book here

You can learn more about Kevin's work on his very well done blog.

I strongly endorse this book for anyone who wants a serious introduction to the world of Modern Irish Poetry, and its interaction with politics, locally and globally.    This a very well written, at times quite funny and consistently interesting book.  

Irish Short Story Week Year Three March 1 to March 31, 2013

Free Irish Breakfast for all Participants!

 Irish Short Story Week Year III will begin on March 1 and end on March 31.  In 2011 I planned for a week and kept it open for ten days.  In 2012 I planned on ten days and ending up keeping the event going for four months.  This year it will run for a month.  I know a month is a long week but we are in Ireland so magic is always near.

Last year I had lots of great participants in the event and some guests posts by well known Irish writers.  I also had a number of mini-events in 2012, including what was to be ten days devoted to emerging Irish women short story writers.  This turned into a permanent event that opened up my blog, and my own reading life, to all sorts of exciting possibilities.  I developed a better understanding of the creative process through my contacts with the writers and I have now begun to post on emerging writers form all over the world in order to help promote new writers of the short story.

  One question everyone eventually asks is  why has a country with six million produced such a large volume of very high quality literature.  Taking just the city of Galway, 70,000 people, we find a city that has produced more quality literary works than many cities with a population of 7,000,000.

The main purpose of this event is to read a lot of Irish short stories, to learn about new to us writers, and to increase our understanding of the short story.

"Please consider joining us"

I think I will do a few special projects.  Here are some of my ideas.

  1. The WWII Stories of Elizabeth Bowen-a world heritage -about 12 stories 
  2. Or-The Elizabeth Bowen stories set in Ireland-about 6 stories
  3. Irish Portraits-Short Stories of Liam O'Flaherty-A major figure in the Irish Literary Renaissance
  4. Ethel Rohan-Cut Through the Bone-one of my favorite writers-a collection 
  5. Frank O'Connor-the war stories
  6. The Love Object by Edna O'Brien  -early stories
  7. William Trevor-selected stories-neglected on my blog for way too long
  8. Mary Costello-more stories from The China Factory
  9. The to World of Men, Welcome by Nuala Ni Chonchuir a wonderful collection of short stories
  10. Stories by Desmond Hogan
  11. Tales from the Fey world
  12. More horror and ghost stories 
  13. I hope some more emerging Irish writers-some of the writers I posted on 2012 are already taking their place on the world literary stage.  Others will in time.  If you want to be featured, do not hesitate to contact me.
  14. Read more in the four ebook anthologies of Irish Short Stories I have.  
I am very open to suggestions and joint projects and guest posts

The Reading Life staff from 2012 will be returning for this event.  Hopefully Rory and Carmella will conduct themselves with a bit more dignity this year but they are beyond my control.  Ruprecht will also join us.

"The God Stealer" by Francisco Sionil Jose

 "The God Stealer"  by Francisco Sionil Jose  (1959, 12 pages)

A Reading Life Project
in partnership with 

Of the 1400 posts on my  blog, the most read are those on short stories by authors  from the Philippines.    Nancy from A Simple Clockwork and I have been posting on these stories, mostly focusing on older stories, for some time now.   We have provided lots of links where these stories can be read online.  Taken together, they make up a great inadequately explored resource for students of post-colonial Asian literature.   Most importantly, they are wonderful stories by real people writing about their heritage in honest heartfelt works.

Francisco  Sional Jose (1924, AKA F. Sionil Jose) is one of the most highly regarded of all authors from the Philippines.   His  novels and his short stories deal directly with the consequences of political and economic colonialism, especially as it impacts the poor of the country.  Jose was born in Pangasinan Provence on the island of Luzon, as was my wife.  He attended, though he did not graduate, St. Thomas University as does my middle daughter.  He is of  Ifugao descent.  He is a national artist of the Philippines.  (There is a good article him in the online edition of The Manila Bulletin )

I think "The God Stealer" is the most read of his works.   (I will include a link where it can be read online at the end of my post).   It deals directly with issues vital to the heritage of the country.  There are two main characters in the story, an American, Sam Cristie and a man of Ifugao heritage who have become close friends though working at the same agency for a number of years.  For those not familiar with their culture, the Ifugao culture is one of the oldest intact cultures in Asia.   They are internationally famous for constructing over 2000 years ago the famous rice terraces which many consider one of the wonders of the world.    The terraces are now in real danger of being lost to the world.  To maintain them is very labor intensive and the young people of the culture can make more money working in Manila than they can in their birth communities   Of course a giant mega-city also seems more exciting to the young than a ten house village with no electricity.  Ifugao   practice a religion older than Christianity   Part of the story is the conflicts these forces engender in Philip who has taken on big city ways and converted to Christianity.

Sam Christie (his name seems to meant to bring two things to mind, "Sam" for Uncle Sam and "Christie" meaning a Christian) wants to see the famous rice terraces and he wants to purchase a small statue of an Ifugao God as a souvenir to take back to New England with him.   Philip gets word his grandfather is very sick and he and Sam make the long bus trip to his home village.  Jose does a great job of making us feel like we are along for the ride.  I wonder what the roads from there to Manila were like fifty years ago!

Sam is fascinated by the rice terraces, overwhelmed by their beauty and awestruck at what went into  building them over 2000 years ago.  At first Philip seems a bit embarrassed for his friend to see where he came from.  Philip is received coldly by his family, they regard him as a deserter to his heritage.  We attend a festival held in their honor, we meet the aging and ill grandfather, we learn about how the live, see the foods they eat and get  very good feel for the lives of the Ifugao people  in this powerful story.

I do not want to tell the ending of this story as it so meaningful in multifarious ways.

"The God Stealer"  by Francisco Sionil Jose should be read by anyone into post colonial Asian literature.  It was originally written, as are all the author's works, in English.  It shows a deep understanding of very real problems felt in ancient cultures all over the world.  How do you keep the young people rooted in the culture when they can make a lot more money, and have seemingly a more exciting life, in a mega-city?   This drama is being played out all over Asia.  It does not take a genius to one day see the cultures of people like the Ifugao  preserved only in vacation spots designed to give tourists photo ops.  ((100 pesos for a picture, please with statues of their Gods, made in China, for sale.)

You can read "The God Stealer" here.    If you have never read a short story by an author from the Philippines this is a good place to start.  If you have been reading them for decades, then lend is your expertise, please.

Nancy at A Simple Clockwork has some very illuminating posts on the literary culture of the Philippines and is perhaps the only place to learn about the literature of Cebu.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Artful by Ali Smith

Artful by Ali Smith  (2013, 256 pages)

"Books need time to dawn on us, it takes time to understand what makes them, structurally, in thematic resonance, in afterthought, and always in correspondence with the books which came before them, because books are produced more by books than by writers; they're a result of the books that went before them.  Great books are adaptable;  they alter with us as we alter in life, they renew themselves as we change and re-read them at different times in our lives"

Artful is based on four lectures Ali Smith gave at Oxford University.    The lectures were done in a unique format as if someone had discovered essays on art and fiction written by former lover who haunts you.   I really loved Ali Smith's short stories, especially "True Short Story" where there is a lot of material on the nature of the short story.  When I saw these essays as forthcoming on Amazon I knew I really wanted to read them.   There is much that is marvelous in these wonderful essays.   Smith loves the short story and there is a lot to learn about the form in this book, along with much more.

Last year as I read articles on the short story by William Trevor and Elizabeth Bowen who both said the short story was the newest literary form.  I thought who am I to contradict them but every fiber I had
screamed "totally wrong, they are the oldest form".   I was so happy to see Smith agree with this and talking about ancient works such as The Epic of Gilgamesh as pieced together short stories and even talking about cave paintings as being inspired by short stories.   I felt a shiver when she talked of countless literatures of the past lost to us.    I talked about his in my post The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in the Indian Short Story.

Smith talks about why we need art and the limitations and reach of short stories.  She organizes her lectures around four themes,  "On Time", "On Form", "On Edge", and "On Offer and Reflection".   I do not think there is an "Ali Smith doctrine" in these lectures, she is artist  and a lover of the short story, not really a formal theoretician or academic (thankfully!)    The greatness of these lectures, and they are marvels, is in the many wonderful things she says that make you ponder if you agree or not.   There are lots of really interesting reading ideas here also.  She talks about a lot of things here you I really enjoyed reading such as Charlie Chaplain films, Nate King Cole, and she spends a lot of time talking about Oliver Twist.  My mind was opened up to a new way of looking at the book by what she says about the Artful Dodger and Fagin.

She talks about the greats of literature:  Ovid, Rilke, Flaubert and Shakespeare.  I was so happy to see she loved Katherine Mansfield.  She made me think of Mansfield as a writer on the margins and I reflected that Smith is probably right when she said Mansfield is still on the margins of the literary canon of modernism.

The entire essay contains simply wonderful utterances any one who loves reading or books (not the same thing) will relish reading and at times feel Smith is articulating what they feel but cannot express.

There is enough in this line for a dozen huge books:  "Walter Benjamin says that's where the storyteller's authority comes from, death."   I have begun to do word counts on some of the works you read and so far if you scan a 400 page collection of short stories and a 400 page novel for terms like "death" and "love" they come up more more often in the short stories.

Artful by Ali Smith is a challenging book, both in understanding what she is saying and it trying to incorporate her knowledge within your own.    This not an academic presentation of facts to help you pass your orals.  It is a wonderful work of art, almost a new art form.  There just is so much to like and learn from in these essays.  I think one could read them many times with pleasure and profit.

An Interview with Rachel Thompson-Author of Broken Pieces, A Walk in the Snark and Mancode: Exposed

10 Things I Wish I Knew About Being an Author I Didn’t Know Before
by Rachel Thompson
When I first started writing my author blog (about four and a half years ago), I had NO idea the extent of marketing I would have to do once I published my first book.
Now that I’m three books in (all bestsellers), I’ve developed a system that works for me. It’s not brain surgery, it’s not impossible, but it is hard work.
And it all starts with having an author platform.
Lots of people have written about author platforms; but back then, I had no comprehension of what that meant (and while I have a fairly extensive sales and marketing background, publishing was all new to me).
So what is an author platform and how can knowing this help you? I’m drawing on my own experiences, what I’ve read and learned, as well as the business clients who do what I recommend.
Let’s deconstruct.
The primary components of any platform include:
  • Social Media
  • Website
  • Blog
  • Ads
  • Digital copy.
I’ll break down each one with an additional tip on how I do things.
  1. Social Media: Everyone knows you have to be on (at the very least), Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. That’s kind of a given. What people don’t tell you is that you need a Facebook page, separate from your personal Facebook account (however you can manage it from there). Why? Facebook personal accounts (where you ‘friend’ people) were not created for selling. Also, they limit you to 5,000 friends, which sounds like a lot, but once you get more well-known? Not so much.
  2. Success: For the best chance at success, be sure to not go into social media thinking, ‘Hey this is awesome! I’m just gonna link to my own books all the time, in every share, message, and tweet!’ Not only will people unfollow/unfriend you, it’s also extremely counterproductive to doing any actual selling. Tip: Use keywords that connect to your subject/genre. Glean articles from the Net and share those. RT/share others. Be generous in supporting people. Add visual formats like YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. And above all else, have a presence on G+. Google owns it. Google is the largest search engine in the world. You do the math.
  3. Website: I had NO idea until I finally convinced myself to switch from blogger to that my SEO/SMO was in the tank. Why does this matter? Paying someone (not a lot) to optimize my site (and then coaching me on how to do it) has made a huge difference in my Google ranking and score. What does that mean? I’m more visible, more exposed (in a good way!), and I’ve made it easier for people to find me.
  4. Optimization: It’s okay if you don’t understand what it means. Hire someone who does. I truly had no clue how important it was to optimize my site or what all was involved. I’m grateful to @SugarBeatBC for her knowledge and patient help.
  5. Blog: A natural extension of any author is your blog. Again, use your keywords to come up with subjects or a theme to your writing, and update your blog at least once per week. Google’s algorithms look at how fresh your content is. If you don’t post often, your ranking goes down. Boo.
  6. Topics: Confused on what to blog about? Find blogs you really like, and see what their focus is. Write about what you know. Share excerpts from your book(s). Have guests (remember, be generous?). Tip: post on the weekend for more comments, during the week for more shares (Source: Dan Zarrella).
  7. Ads: Many authors don’t want to tangle with the beast that is Google AdWords. I didn’t either! I tried to learn many times but looking at cost per keyword makes me think of algebra class and hey, writer here. Math is NOT my forte. So I make my husband do it. Ha! (In fact, he’s become so proficient at doing AdWords, he hung up his shingle at The AdWords Guy, and helps other authors learn, or manages their campaigns for them.)
  8. Keywords: Yes, again. Even if you don’t get how AdWords works, at least you can use their Keyword Tool to run your words through (ie, I use relationships, grief, loss, love, romance, etc.). It’s free and fairly easy to use.
  9. eBook or Digital Copy: Is it really necessary to have an eBook version of your book? In a word: duh. Of course it is! Report vary, but anywhere from 50-70% of all books purchased over the last year were in eBook format; of those, 50% were purchased from Amazon. 
(People are still somewhat confused about this. You CAN purchase eBooks from Amazon without a Kindle. All you need to do is download their free apps for smartphone, computer, tablet, or cloud. It’s SO easy! Even Nook readers can read Amazon books (not on their Nook of course. Barnes and Noble isn’t stupid.), but from the free apps.)
10) Embrace Technology: No matter what your personal opinions are about eBooks, digital content is our future – right now. As baby boomers age, purchases made from home have skyrocketed. Younger people have become used to the instant gratification from gaming and social media, which makes eBooks perfect for your younger demographic.
Okay, that’s it! Almost every single one of these points I learned during the process of publishing or after. I hope they help you to be successful but remember, first and foremost, write a terrific book first!
Check out my books on Amazon: A Walk In The SnarkMancode: Exposed, and my latest, Broken Pieces. Find me on Twitter at@RachelintheOC or my business @BadRedheadMedia. Look up the same names on G+, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. I’m everywhere!
Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – NonFiction
Rating – PG13
More details about the author & the book
Connect with Rachel Thompson on Twitter & Facebook


Broken Pieces by Rachel Thompson

Broken Pieces by Rachel Thompson  (2012, 113 pages, 247 KB)

The two previous books by Rachel Thompson, A Walk in the Snark and The Mancode: Exposed, with their sunny fun natures probably will not prepare you for the much darker, deeper reflections in the essays, poems, and vignettes in Broken Pieces.  Some of the topics include date rape, suicide, child abuse and the death of loved ones.  It is not by any means a maudlin exercise in self-pity but an attempt to look as far as she can into her own soul and grow from tragic experiences.  The power in the book is in its ability to make us reflect and perhaps understand a bit more how the worse things in our own lives, both those we have done and others, can make us stronger in the end.   I think, for me at least, the best way to read this book was to go through it fairly rapidly initially then go back and try to read with more understanding the pieces that spoke directly to my experiences.   

You can learn more about Rachel Thompson and her work on her very well done webpage.

There are links to other very well done posts and features at the Orangeberry Tours Web Page