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24 posts from April 2006

April 30, 2006


You know that thing you discovered in your youff in the seventies when there were lots of mirrors everywhere and if you had two mirrors facing each other your reflection would simply go on into infinity, or very close to infinity -- actually, you suspected that the end of the infinite reflections lurked right around the corner from too-far-away-to-see-now, sniggering -- and the whole thing just made your head hurt or, if you were me, your phobias flare up?

Well, that's sort of about to happen, bloggishly, here, now. You see, Wendy Bradley, fine writer, fine editor of new classy fine Brit SF/F market FarThing, and just all around fine, it turns out, has posted my Strunk and Light posts as a sort of style guide (who's sniggering now, eh?)

So here I am, posting a long overdue shout out to FarThing and Wendy, because I'm all excited about her Issue 2 cover (v. nice, aunty wend) and because it is, sadly, only now occurring to me to do so. Do check out FarThing and subscribe (it got good reviews in Interzone!) and give Wendy all your money.

Now, look for infinity.

April 27, 2006

What He Said

Regarding cross-race identification in the Duke Lacrosse rape case, Malcolm Gladwell writes in his all too intermittent blog that:

The problem seems to be that when we encounter someone from a different group we process them at the group level. We code the face in our memory under the category black or white, and not under the category of someone with, say, an oval face and brown eyes and a prominent chin. Race, in other words, trumps other visual features that would be more helpful in distinguishing one person from another. Why do we do this? One idea is simply that it’s a result of lack of familiarity: that the more we “know” a racial type, the more sophisticated our encoding becomes. Another idea is that it’s a manifestation of in-group/out-group bias. The thing about coding by group and not by facial feature is that it’s a lot faster. And from an evolutionary standpoint, you’d want to use quicker processing methodologies in dealing with those who come from unfamiliar—and potentially unfriendly—groups. The bottom line is that the adage that “all blacks look the same” to whites (and all whites look the same blacks) has some real foundation.?

Hey, didn't I say something similar? Oh yeah, in this long-winded debate with Jose in the comments to an earlier post.

Anyway, what he said.

April 26, 2006

More Bullshit About Hapas

They just won't leave off, will they? Via Mixed Media Watch I got to this article from Psychology Today, annoyingly titled "Mixed Race, Pretty Face?" The article rehashes the experiment from last fall that "found" that hapas were (scientifically) more attractive than whites or Asians. However, this article gives a detail about the study that the articles I read last fall did not:

The experiment by Gillian Rhodes, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia, found that when Caucasian and Japanese volunteers looked at photos of Caucasian, Japanese and Eurasian faces, both groups rated the Eurasian faces as most attractive. These visages were created by first digitally blending a series of faces from each race into "composites" to create average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race. Past studies show that "average" features are consistently rated as more attractive than exaggerated features—such as an unusually wide forehead or a small chin.

Okay, I'm just gonna give you guys a quick chance to consider the proposition above and see if you can find the 800-pound gorilla in the room. (Don't feel bad if you don't. Not even the perennially annoyed Mixed Media Watch gals caught this one.)

Yep, that's right, they based the study not on real photographs of real people, but on digitally "morphed" photos created to present "average, middle-of-the-road features typical of each race."

Why is this problematic? Let me count the ways:

1. There are no "typical" "Caucasian" features. Duh! "Caucasian" refers to everything from Icelandic, to Serbian, to Greek. In fact, if you showed photos of "typical" Greeks, southern Italians, or Portuguese, nowadays your respondant might be just as likely to peg them as "Arabs". Many Spaniards and Frenchpersons would be pegged as "Latino". And many Icelanders, Lapplanders and the like would be pegged as ... "hapa". What is considered "average" or "typical" "Caucasian" is basically Anglo and/or Nordic/Germanic, and/or Slavic. That is to say, what is "Caucasian" in America is entirely socially determined -- and not at all biologically determined -- by which Caucasians dominate the public image. Presumably, what is "Caucasian" in Australia is even more limited by Australia's immigration history. So the big question is, when choosing faces to morph, which "Caucasian" ethnicities did they choose? Hmmmm?

2. Given the above fact, by digitally creating faces, the experimenters were not merely smoothing out those annoying flaws reality provides, but actually creating a new, completely nonexistent race, called "Caucasian". Groundwork had already been done for them by magazines, which do not morph features, but do remove "blemishes" and control features. So the test subjects were prepared to "read" these faces as something approaching reality. They are not. They are nothing approaching reality.

3. This is just as problematic when you consider the morphed "typical" Japanese faces. Who decided what "typical" Japanese features are? Who chose which faces to morph? What race, upbringing, class, immigration status were they?

4. The "Eurasian" faces were morphed, too, from composite Japanese and Caucasian faces. Okay, first of all, my parents, both attractive, do not look like morphed photos. Guess what, neither do your parents. I, of course, just like you, am a certain combination of my parents' features (and attitudes). However, I, just like you, am not a perfect morph, a perfect 50/50 compromise, between the two. And I, just like you, do not look like a morphed photo. I'm assymetrical, I'm idiosyncratic.

Rhodes, the "scientist" who conducted the study, has found in previous studies that people find "average" faces more attractive than idiosyncratic faces (she attributes the preference for symmetry and average to the desire for health in a partner, and the aversion to idiosyncracies an aversion to potential disease.) This may all be true, however real "Eurasians" are not any more "average" or "symmetrical" than real "Caucasians" or real "Japanese". Saying a morph of a morph is considered more attractive than just the morph may well be true and provable ... but it says nothing about how attractive real Eurasians are.

In addition to these hard problems, the way the article was reported raises additional questions: Who were the test subjects? The article just says that they were "Caucasian and Japanese volunteers". What the fuck does that mean? Were they Australian Caucasians or Europeans or Americans? Were they Japanese Australians, Japanese immigrants to Australia, Japanese in Japan? Maybe even Japanese Americans? Was there any controlling for socialization in this study at all? Well? Was there? How old were they? What was their exposure to media? To Japanese media (which currently fetishizes hapas)? To Australian media? To American media? Who have they been dating? Who are they married to? Do they have mixed kids?

Obviously, the journalists reporting on this study have no interest in its scientific legitimacy (of which there can be little.) It's just another juicy episode of Halfbreeds-will-save-the-world. Frankly, I'm perfectly happy to be of average attractiveness. I don't need to be told that I'm more beautiful than everyone because I'm mixed. Being told on the one hand that I'm supposed to be more beautiful, and then being treated as an other, a foreigner, by everyone, every day on the other hand, really doesn't create the happy rainbow future. I prefer mixed race, not mixed messages.

(Cross-posted on Other Magazine's blog.)

April 24, 2006

Complex of Isshooz

It's almost 2 am and I've had a whole bottle of red whine tonight (yay tolerance! yay PMS! yay too much information!) but I've been thinking about all these things a lot and I'm going to stick my neck out here.

To wit:

I'm not satisfied with the catch as catch can nature of this blog so far. I really liked posting "Strunk and Light" as a series because it brought a sort of continuity to the blog that I don't see all that often. (Not gonna get into the necessity of continuity in blogs here because, well, there is no necessity.) So I'm thinking that I'm going to commit to a thinking project here over the next few weeks. I'll still post randomly, but when I don't know what to post, I'm agonna hit a complex of issues that I've been thinking a lot about.

To another wit:

Hybridity, Urbanizm (yes, we needed the "z"), and Fabulism. ("Fabulism" including science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and, where applicable, horror.)

Possible topics include:
1. Why does hybridity necessarily dovetail with adolescent identity searches?
2. How would an adult or mature hybridity tale look? Are there any?
3. Why does contemporary urbanism necessitate hybridity (besides the obvious, and yes, we will detail the obvious)? What would a homogeneous city look like? (ooo! Zamyatin, here we come!)
4. Why are magic and technology always "other", and therefore a product of hybridity? Why are magic and technology never indigenous or immanent?
5. Why is technology of the city, and magic of nature?


Feel free to suggest topics or discourse or write your own essays ... or be hybrid, or live in a city, or be fabulous.

Nothing to Report

I'm still reading and taking notes on the first draft of my nobble. When that's done I can start going back in and rearranging. I thought this effort would be about reduction, but it turns out I need to add still more stuff before I can start taking stuff out.

Which is all by way of saying that I have nothing to report. My mind is a blanky-blankity-blank. Of course, stuff is going on in the mapping world, so check out my other blog.

Good night and good luck.

April 23, 2006

Mystery Art Clip

My friend Jaime is looking for more of these:


Jaime sez about the "beautiful photo hanging clip":

It has a pin in the back that you stick into the wall, and a clip in the front to hang the photo or drawing. It is acrylic and metal. I have a couple of them, but I need more. I am asking all of you if you have any leads for me. What I'd like to find out is: Have you ever seen these? Do you know what they are called? Do you know where I might find some of these? I've tried flax, dick blick art supply, university art supply, utrech, several art galleries, calumet photo and adolph gasser photo, light impressions.com, about ten galleries. I've tried googling "art clip" "acrylic clip" "art clamp" "acrylic clamp" "photo hanging clamp" "Photo hanging clip" and a few others I can't even remember. I am now officially desperate to find them to use to hang large drawings for my mfa exhibition coming up very soon. If you have any leads, I will praise you, and god will reward you in the afterlife.

April 22, 2006


Those of you who haven't yet need to check out Daddy Dialectic, Jeremy Smith's blog about being a stay-at-home dad ... well, a thoughtful stay-at-home dad who writes really really well.

This is from yesterday, in which he compares the public sight of himself caring for his son, Liko, with the sight of a man with a degenerative disorder and his caretaker:

Watching them oppressed and saddened me; my hands feel heavy as I write. I’m trying to understand why. Perhaps I was seeing myself as I might appear with Liko to other people: burdened by responsibility, trapped in caring for another, covered in spit and milk. That’s the external image. Internally, how do the two young men feel? There must be anger, both at thwarted lives. But what freedom and power is there, where we can’t see it?

April 21, 2006

China Miévilling

China Miéville sez:

There's an embedded, mostly untheorised notion that prose should be a window, through which you see, as clearly as possible, that it should be as nearly invisible as possible, to let us get to the content. Not only do I think that's sadly philistine, but it's also, in some sense, a betrayal of what makes fantasy fantasy. That alienation from the everyday can be achieved through form as well as content.

This is all by way of explaining/justifying his "high style", something I've had trouble with (even while enjoying) and something I've gone to great lengths to avoid developing myself. I don't think, for example, that transparent prose necessarily = minimalist prose. Minimal prose often intentionally obfuscates stories, to challenge the reader through a character's perspective. Or something. In any case, I'm a very verbose writer (as you might know) and aiming for conciseness, not to mention the minimal, can only improve my writing. Concise or minimal prose in fantasy or fabulism could also only improve it, in many cases. Imagine, in a fantasy book, rather than a passage extolling the damsel's beauty, this:

She drew his eyes to her.

No, it's not very good, but it is minimal. And it's no worse than the average passage of "transparent" prose extolling a damsel's beauty.

Anyhoo, I went to finally read this Miéville interview because I was putting the finishing touches on a story, and I realized that I had jacked Miéville's style for a brief portion of the story. I don't mean that I had been verbose--I had, but that's normal for me. I mean that I downright stole specific moments of his style in its high, descriptive mode: multisyllabic active verbs with lots of hard, aspirated consonants; tumbling, high energy, non-parallel lists of objects, sites and sights; lotsa onomatopoeic single syllable nouns of violently or powerfully connotative landmarks; less reliance on metaphor than on direct description--and therefore a tendency to throw more words at a thing.

The story takes place in four cities, the last of which, Sarajevo, I've never been to. It's really, really hard to keep prose even, that wanders across two cities I know very well, one city I know reasonably well, and one city I know not at all. So naturally, subconsciously, to maintain that authority about and intimacy with a city I didn't know, I Miévilled. (Interesting that his style becomes utilitarian; a technique to address fantasies of cities. Discuss.)

Here's the passage. See if you can pick out the outright Miéville thefts, the Lightisms, and the melds:

In the city, eras accreted as buildings, streets, geologic formations. You started each morning in the center, where the hybrid curlicues of Empire and duchy smiled—until interrupted by an impact crater. Ridiculously, the sun shone a lot. On this face and that wall, bullet holes decorated the next layer, of dumpiness and squarishness, prettied up on the front with plaster and with bright, childish advertising on the side. Spread out farther in any direction and the walls were bare, formed in H-blocks and T-blocks, smoke-bearing walls. Sometimes a dead dog, even. Beyond that, brutal concrete, balcony slabs bisecting facades, offering people places to stand far above ground, but no one stood there. There were still occasional intact store windows, obscene with commercial entropy. And then, the sunlight beckoning, you would look up and see green, protective hills, rolling all around the city, unbroken, enveloping the stabs of taller buildings. A foam of milk-colored sky rimmed the top of these hills, introducing whatever the sky was to be that day—as often as not, searing blue. And out of the blue, the wind swept down; not a breeze, not merely air, but a powerful movement, the grandfather of air, real wind.

Yeah, it's ... er ... bombastic. I'm aware that a lot of this is hand-waving to distract the reader from the fact that I've never been to Sarajevo and am getting this from photos and my imagination. But I let it stand anyway. Please tell me I haven't lost my soul.

April 20, 2006

Writers Beware!

Making Light (the personal blog of editors Patrick and Theresa Nielsen Hayden) continues its vendetta against fraudulent "literary agents" who charge their clients (agents take a percentage, not an up front fee) and do no work. After helping to publicize Writer Beware's Top 20 Worst Agents list, they (along with a bunch of others) received a cease and desist letter from one of the fraudulent agents. She also informed the Nielsen Haydens' employer (Tor publisher) that they had committed libel on a Tor website (Making Light is not a Tor website.)

So the Nielsen Haydens are encouraging everyone to help this agent hoist herself on her own googlejuice by linking to the Top 20 Worst Agents List.

Yay internet justice!

April 19, 2006

What is the Purpose of Criticism?

Charlie Anders (author of Choir Boy) addresses this question--responding to the flap about Michiko Kakutani in Slate--in her blog (unfortunately, she's doing the barebones blog thing so there's no permalink. Just go here and find "[2006/04/12 8:08 pm]")

I definitely lean towards the friendly/balanced school of criticism. Having read one or two reviews of Choir Boy that made me feel pretty demoralized, I don't really want to inflict that on any other writers. At the same time, I'm pretty clear that my mission as a book reviewer is just to let people know whether a book is worth buying and reading.

(A side note: I've always thought that there's no point in writing a negative review of an obscure or independent book. Most people won't even have heard of it, so screaming "don't buy this book you've never heard of!" seems kind of pointless and mean.)

Actually, the first question any book review should answer isn't, "will I like this book?" but rather, "why should I even care about this book? What's interesting about it?" ... And then you do have to address the "does it suck?" question. I have to admit, I go about this somewhat obliquely. Partly because I try to see the good in everything, and partly because I'm still a peon and don't want to overstep my authority. ... It's true that different people have different tastes, and you might love a book that I kind of hated.

I'm not going to state here that Charlie's wrong. I think different reviewers need to have different missions, and that, to keep the book-buying business alive and well, we need reviewers who quite simply tell a book-buying audience whether or not to buy a book. I also agree wholeheartedly that most reviewers need to be boosters for books -- giving people a reason to buy books, rather than a reason to spend that money on a movie instead.

However, I do think that all reviewers need to at least be aware of the "higher" purpose of serving and furthering an art form. (Let's pause here for you to cringe.)

It's easier now than it ever was to get a novel or a memoir published, and easier now than ever to get it read. Yes, despite the moaning and groaning, if you look at the numbers the right way, you'll see that more books are actually being bought than ever before. (Unfortunately, I'm too lazy right now to look up the stats and do the math. Will do some other time maybe.) What this means is not that we have more people working together to study, enhance and further the art form/s, but rather that we have more pressure on barely competent writers to produce, produce, produce. The stick is short deadlines for drafts. The carrot is three-book deals on the one hand, and warm reception on the other.

Literature is indeed walking forward; memoir and fiction have and continue to meld and affect one another. However, given the sheer amount of memoirish fiction and fictional memoir that has been produced in the past decade, it's shocking, appalling and lots of other prudish, literary -ings, that the last even minor literary "breakthrough" on this front was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius six or seven years ago. Since then, there have been a lot of imitators, and even more people who neither imitated nor innovated, but simply took Heartbreaking Work's success as an excuse to walk backward to a satiate, safe, and unchallenging prose style telling stories that they know will be well received because they have been told so often before.

Readers--perfectly intelligent, literate and well-educated readers--will naturally, in an initial phase of learning to read books, be hostile to the things they read that are unexpected, unusual (to them) and challenging. Anyone who has taught literature or taught writing by having students read literature will be aware that hostility to the new and challenging is not just typical, but almost necessary. The key is to not let your students get away with it. They can hate a book, but they also have to read it through and analyze it intelligently. And I guarantee you that the book they hated, the book they so competently and passionately analyzed to pieces on their final exam, is the one that will stay with them, that will affect they way they think about life, and will inform their ideas about sophistication and competence in literature in the years to come.

But in the process of taking book production from a manufacturing industry to a service industry (like Wal-mart or McDonald's) the book industry has turned from offering art and forcing those who want art to take what they're offered, to mass-producing entertainment, and enticing people to buy it by packaging it as art. Both publishers and critics are now letting readers get away with their hostility towards the new and the challenging. They are encouraging readers to ensconce the idea of literary art in a fixed set of plots (self-discovery, familial healing), fixed settings (urban or suburban, middle or upper middle class, white, professional circles), and fixed prose style ("poetic", with an emphasis on descriptions based on lists and visual metaphors) and techniques (indistinguishable first or close-third person, with voice indistinguishable from author's voice; obsessively shaped sentence structure and rhythm, emphasis on the turned phrase; beauty of authorial voice takes precedence over the needs of the story, etc.)

With these points being the hallmarks of "good writing", anything that doesn't follow suit is necessarily considered "bad writing", and anything that touches on these points is necessarily considered "good writing", whether it actually is or not. (And I would contend that anything that touches on these now cliched points is almost guaranteed to not be good, because you have to be a genius to write well through cliches.) Readers don't have to question, just passively receive. Anything that challenges this order is thrown across the room (if you're me) or quietly dismissed with a "I just don't like to read that kind of thing."

You never have to leave the zone of books that tell you the same comforting things over and over again.

The only thing that can possibly counteract the walmartization of book production is competent, purposeful criticism. If that. Because if the reading public, the self-selected, self-described literary top-percentiles are accepting the description of good literature I've outlined above (and they are), then it is because the critics who truly shape opinion are either permitting this, or actively promoting it. I rather think it's the former: that critics permit this because they're stuck in a book-by-book critical mode, seeking to place the book in its own context, but not in the context of literature in the early 21st century, not in the context of literature against the background of its own traditions, or of the future annihilation it faces as new entertainment media become increasingly culturally sophisticated--become, in short, art forms.

As literature becomes increasingly personal, it becomes increasingly self-absorbed and cut off from the implication of interaction with society in general. New digital media can stand this transformation and continue to turn it on its head--I don't think printed literature can. As it grows more personal, literature ceases to challenge and produce new ideas. As it ceases to challenge and renew, so it dies. And for those of us who love words on a page, this is simply unacceptable.

I want to see critics who write every review in full knowledge of these trends, in full consciousness of the tradition both they and their subjects are writing in, in full awareness of their role in supporting an ancient art form. I want critics to use every book as a positive or negative example of how the art is being developed (or not) and where it is (or isn't) going. I want critics to give every book its due respect, by respectfully reaming those books with no ambition, no art, no challenge. I want even a book that passes that basic test (does it challenge, or seek to present something new, or seek to develop an aspect of the art form in an interesting way?) to be thoroughly analyzed for how it does it. I want reviews to teach me more about the art of writing than I already know myself (because how sad is it when a review is less knowledgeable about writing than I am?) I want to be able to read reviews of books to get an overview of the state of the art--no, in fact more than that: I want to read reviews for their own sake, because reading books, and thinking about books, and having my own perspective on books won't be enough for me. I want someone brilliant and supremely knowledgeable to enhance my enjoyment of books with a view that I could never have. I want reviews that are reading material in themselves, and not just conduits to reading material.

Is that too much to ask?

April 18, 2006

Happy Devastation!

This photograph, taken from a tethered balloon five weeks after the great earthquake of April 18, 1906, shows the devastation brought on the city of San Francisco by the quake and subsequent fire. The view is looking over Nob Hill toward business district, South of the Slot, and the distant Mission. The Fairmont Hotel, far left. dwarfs the Call Building. (photo courtesy of Harry Myers).

Today is a major anniversary, the 100th birthday of one of the most significant earthquakes of all time -- not in size, but in cultural, social, political, and overall historical impact. I'm talking, of course, about the topography and cartography-changing, history-making, illegal immigrant document-altering, scientific-breakthroughin', 1906 earthquake and fire. 100 years! Happy devastation!

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area this week/weekend, you really have no excuse to not participate in the goings on around this landmark (or timemark?) If you're looking for things to do, I'll be posting a couple of things here over the next few days, or weeks, as things come up. And here's a listing of official and related events.

The one I like the most is the projection of a film of the earthquake and fire onto Coit Tower, which happened last night and will happen again tonight starting at 7 pm.

(cross-posted at atlas(t).)

I'm Back!

I have touched down in Michigan, celebrated the gramma's birthday, settled in, and am now ready to begin blogging again. ... as soon as I think of something to write.

April 12, 2006

Queen of the Road

I'm on the road right now (currently in a motel somewhere in Nebraska) so too tired to blog seriously. Will show you the pictures I took while driving (yes! dangerous! many angry truck drivers!) as soon as I figure out how to download them into my computer without the requisite cabel. (yes! stupid!)

... I ain't got no ... cigarettes ...

April 11, 2006

Immigration Irritation

(Hey all. I posted this over on Other Magazine's staff blog in Mid-February. It's becoming more and more relevant so I wanted to repost it over here. With an addendum.)


Bookslut's Blog pointed me toward a WBUR (NPR Boston affiliate) segment from yesterday where, in response to Bush's State of the Union call for stronger immigration enforcement, they talked with lit critic Steve Almond about "Literary Border Crossings". Almond, it seems, produced a list of books that "illuminate the immigrant experience". So far so good; that's an immediate mouse click for me.

But when I listened to the nine minute segment, I found that the books Almond discussed were:

1. an admittedly romanticized novel about Italian American immigrants in the 1950s;
2. a novel about early twentieth century Italian immigration by an Italian novelist (not Italian American);
3. Henry Roth's Call It Sleep; and
4. a fifteen-year-old book of essays by journalist Debbie Nathan about living on the US/Mexico border.

Added to this list by the host, but not mentioned or discussed by Almond in the main segment was the classic novel Chicano by Richard Vasquez.

Okay now, I'm really, really not looking for any sort of affirmative action on this list ... really I'm not. But if you're responding to Bush's new policies controlling immigration by trying to illuminate the immigrant experience, shouldn't you be seeking out narratives that illuminate the immigrant experience today? Our contemporary understanding of The Immigrant Experience was largely formed by the late nineteenth, early twentieth century models of central and southern European immigrant groups (especially Ashkenazi Jews and Italians.) But the political, economic and social circumstances that formed that immigrant experience no longer obtain.

Then, most European immigration was legal. Today, the largest immigrant groups are heavily undocumented. Then, immigration was primarily from Europe. Today, "immigrant" means Chicano/Latino first, then Asian and Eastern European and Middle Eastern -- and then everyone else. That is to say, today's immigrant comes from different cultural spheres and traditions than yesterday's immigrant. The traditional "immigrant" was ethnic European, a lower-class -- or alternate ethnicity -- form of Indo-European language-speaking descendents of the Graeco-Roman ideosphere. Today's immigrant is ... not.

So what do we choose to illuminate a United States so choked by labor "equity" that it has to rely on undocumented labor to provide the profit margins that keep American companies from outsourcing? How do we represent the rabid control of middle-class non-white immigrants through restricted visas and Patriot Act provisions? And how do we portray racism in the technological age? Do we choose books by immigrants who have experienced this? Nope. Instead we have two books about a romantic Italian American past, one from and about a romantic Jewish American past, and one rapidly aging nonfiction about the US/Mexican border by a white woman -- an American insider, not an immigrant across that border. Mm hmm. And what have we illuminated? Well, simply, that America still isn't ready to let go of its romantic, three generation, hard-work-plus-assimilation-equals-a-rich-and-hearty-America vision and look hard at the enclosed containment loop that is undocumented, controlled, non-European immigration today. And when we are willing to let go and look, we want to be led by one of us, an insider, not hear the point of view of one of these ... aliens.

So, to remedy, I'm starting a new list: books (and I've added performance groups as well) by actual immigrants and second generation children of immigrants that illuminate the contemporary immigrant experience in a way that might actually illuminate, rather than reify, something. I'll start things off with a few suggestions. Please add to the list in the comments section. In no particular order:

• Junot Diaz Drown
• Bharati Mukherjee Darkness
• Guillermo Gomez-Peña The New World Border : Prophecies, Poems, and Loqueras for the End of the Century

• Carlos Bulosan America Is In The Heart
• Ruth Ozeki My Year of Meats
• Paul Flores Along the Border Lies

• Lalo Alcaraz Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration
• Jaime Hernandez Locas
• Gilbert Hernandez Palomar
• Jaime Cortez Sexile

• Elmaz Abinader In the Country of My Dreams
• Truong Tran Dust and Conscience
• Myung-Mi Kim Under Flag

• Shailja Patel "Migritude"
• Pretty much anything by La Pocha Nostra

April 10, 2006

Asian American Short Story Contest!

Hey folks, check out this competition I'm pasting below. Please forward to your Asian American friends! And Azns: please send them GENRE STUFF. Dunno how they'll feel about it, but we need to represent! (oh, and please don't ask me anything about this competition. All I know is below.)

Hyphen & The Asian American Writers’ Workshop announce

2007 Short Story Competition

$1,000 prize and publication in Hyphen

Brian Leung and Monique Truong

Writers of short fiction are encouraged to enter the 2006-07 Short Story Competition jointly sponsored by Hyphen and The Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW). The winner will receive a $1,000 cash prize, publication in Hyphen magazine, a one-year subscription to Hyphen and a one-year membership to AAWW.

The competition is open to all writers of Asian descent living in the United States and Canada. To be eligible, manuscripts must be previously unpublished and in English. No email submissions allowed. Previously unpublished authors are eligible. The competition is limited to short works of fiction, including short stories, novellas and excerpts from novels; the latter must stand alone as a separate work. There is no required theme or page limit.

Submissions must be postmarked by Monday, July 10, 2006 and accompanied by a $10 entry fee per story. Please send 4 copies of your story using paper clips. Manuscripts will not be returned and will be acknowledged only if an SASE is provided. Include a cover letter with name, address, email, daytime telephone number and a 3-sentence bio. The story title and page number should be clearly labeled on each page of the submission. Your name must not appear anywhere on the manuscript, except on the cover letter. Manuscripts should be typewritten and double-spaced on 8 ½ X 11 plain white paper.

Manuscripts may be under consideration elsewhere, but please notify us immediately if your story is accepted for publication. Hyphen retains first publication rights and the right to publish a portion of the story on its website. All rights revert to the author upon publication.

To enter the short story competition, please send submission to:

The Asian American Writers’ Workshop
2007 Short Story Competition
16 West 32nd Street, Suite 10A
New York, NY 10001-3808

Make checks payable to “Asian American Writers’ Workshop.”

Hyphen is offering a discounted one-year subscription (4 issues) to all entrants. To receive a discounted subscription, please write a separate check payable to "Hyphen" for $15, and include it with your manuscripts and fees. Please include the memo "2007 Short Story Competition."

Entrants will be notified by or on Monday, October 2, 2006.

For more details visit: www.hyphenmagazine.com or www.aaww.org.

April 09, 2006

Mike Arcega on tv!

An update to my recent SPAM/MAPS post on atlas(t), my mapping blog:

Manila folder and SPAM artist Mike Arcega will be on local (Bay Area) television on April 12. His manila folder work will be featured on the KQED arts show "Spark". Check it out!

Memoirs of a Swiss Guard

The fabulous Shailja Patel proposes a novel:

The time has come to reveal to the world the novel I've been writing in secret. I don't want to boast, but I suspect it will be a runaway bestseller, a literary sensation. It presents with seamless authenticity and exquisite lyricism the true confessions of one of the Vatican's most celebrated Swiss Guards.

Teaser - Synopsis:

Chapter 1: Wherein we meet our hero, in the 1930s, child of a poor Alpine goatherd. Possessed of ethereal blond beauty, his most striking feature is (pay attention, this is important) a pair of flashing coal-black eyes.

Umm - reality check? you say. I've never seen someone blond and Swiss with coal-black....look, it's a novel. Fiction. Geddit? Who's the one getting calls from Oprah here?

April 08, 2006

My First Meme

Via Pam Noles comes the first meme I've been moved to participate in. In this one, you wikipedia your birthdate (day and month) and then pick: 5 events, 3 births and 3 deaths from that date. Here is mine:


1) 1455 - Traditional date for the publication of the Gutenberg Bible, the first Western book printed from movable type. Significance should be obvious ...
2) 1893 - Rudolf Diesel receives a patent for the diesel engine. Anyone with the last name "Diesel" is fine (and I do mean "fine") with me.
3) 1903 - Cuba leases Guantanamo Bay to the United States "in perpetuity". Ugh. Historical significance.
4) 1904 - For $10 million the United States gains control of the Panama Canal Zone. Familial significance. Don't feel like getting into it right now.
5) 1956 - In a cosmic event known as the great flare, the Earth was bombarded with a burst of protons and other nuclei from a solar flare.Yay, solar flares! You'll have to wait until my book comes out to know why I care about these.


1633 - Samuel Pepys, English diarist (d. 1703)
1868 - W.E.B. DuBois, American civil rights leader (d. 1963)
1932 - Majel Barrett, American actress Acted in "Star Trek". 'Nuff said.


1821 - John Keats, English poet (b. 1795)
1930 - Horst Wessel, Nazi ideologue and composer (b. 1907)Wrote the "Horst Wessel Lied", which was sort of the Nazi anthem, and something I heard a lot about when I lived in Germany, but never heard, because I think the playing of the Horst Wessel Lied is prohibited by law in Germany, or something, like goosestepping, or the display of swastikas and the SS logo.
2000 - Ofra Haza, Israeli singer (b. 1957) When I worked (in Germany) for this hippie in her clothing store, she made me play the music she kept in the store. Most of it was jazz fusion crrrrrrrraaap. There were, like, five cds I could stand: Zap Mama's "Adventures in Afropea", Best of Aretha Franklin, Best of James Brown, some dude whose name I've forgotten who did blues/hip hop fusion, and Ofra Haza. Saved my life, she did. Sad to find out this way that she's gone.

April 07, 2006

No MoRe MoViNg

Come, Hell! Come, high water! Come, wild tearing horses! I shall not ... I shall not ... continue moving after tomorrow. Tomorrow, my move ends, be my old apartment never so unclean, be my new apartment ever so unprepared! Tomorrow, I shall return of the keys and receive of the deposit! On this I swear, as gods are my witness(es)!

April 05, 2006

Strunk and Light VI: Incorrect (biatch)!

... *sigh* continuing continuation of continuity ...

VI. Incorrect!
erstwhile: does not mean “false”. You’re thinking of ersatz. Ersatz (from the German, meaning “replacement”) means “false” or “fake” or “imitation” or “substitute”, as in No Postum for me, thanks. I don’t drink ersatz coffee. Erstwhile (from the German “erst”, meaning “first” or “once”) means “former”, as in When my erstwhile husband remarried, I sent him a dozen dead roses, the bastard.
prophesized: the past tense of “to prophesy” is prophesied, pronounced “PROFF-eh-SIGHED” No “z”.
travesty: does not mean “outrage”. “Travesty” means a mocking imitation of. So something can’t just be a travesty. It has to be a travesty of something. People use “travesty” to mean “outrage” because of the overused expression “travesty of justice”, which means “mocking imitation of justice” and is used to express moral outrage. Best not to use the word at all.
enormity: does not mean “enormousness”. It means “extreme wickedness”. The enormity of the crime therefore means the extreme wickedness of the crime and not the enormous size of the crime.
to hone in on: the expression is “homing in on”, as in using a homing signal to find your way home. To hone means to sharpen, as in honing a knife or honing a skill. The fact that so many people get this wrong means that the metaphor is gone. Don’t use it.
to jive with: the expression is “jibe with”, meaning “agree with” as in His notions don’t jibe with mine. Jive is a type of music and dancing, or an archaic slang term for bullshit, as in Don’t hand me that jive, honky.
to step foot: the actual expression is “to set foot”, as in The moment he sets foot in this house, all hell will break loose. Think about it. To “set a foot” down = to “step”. The verb “to step” is intransitive, which means that you can’t give it an object. You can’t step a foot, you can only step. You either step into the house, or you set foot in the house, not both.
to wax: used for “to speak” as in I waxed eloquently, or the unintentionally hilarious I could wax on about the late nights…, both of which I’ve read recently. “To wax” means to increase, to grow or to become. Think of the moon waxing and waning. You know what “wane” means, right? To decrease? So “wax” means the opposite: to increase. The incorrect use of “to wax” for “to speak” comes from the expression “to wax eloquent” (not “eloquently”!) which means “to become eloquent” or “to grow eloquent”. Think of a waxing moon: someone beginning to speak and then becoming full with their own eloquence as they speak. Since so many people are getting this wrong, the original meaning is dead. Don’t use it.
startled: don’t use “startled” to mean “surprised” or “astonished.” These are not the same! The surprise meant in “startled” is very specific: it is a sudden shock. Someone jumps out at you and yells “boo!” or you hear a gunshot outside. You “start” or jerk in surprise. You are not “startled” by how good that novel you are reviewing was. You are surprised. You are not “startled” by how enormous and expensive the Boeing Company’s executive toilet is. You are astonished. This started as a startling way of saying surprise. It was so startling that everybody started using it and now no one starts at it. Stop.
one in the same: if you think about it, this expression doesn’t make any sense. That’s because the expression is “one and the same”. Clark Kent and Superman are one. Clark Kent and Superman are the same. Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same.
the reason is because: “the reason is” is the same thing as “because”. Why do people have such bad grammar? Well, the reason is that American schools suck. Why do people have such bad grammar? Because American schools suck, dude! “The reason is because” is redundant. Use either “the reason is that”, or “because”, not both.
whilst: just means “while”, only it’s a British English version. If you’re American, you shouldn’t be using it at all, because American English uses “while” and the only reason an American would use it would be to sound more British and that’s just pretentious, unless of course you’re writing in “dialect”. If you’re a Brit, you shouldn’t be using this guide, because some of the spelling and grammar don’t apply to you.
“it’s” and “its”:
---it’s: is a CONTRACTION of “it is”. It’s a shame that I have to spell this out.
---its: is the possessive of “it”. Every apostrophe should be in its proper place
And while you’re at it, the possessive of “her” is “hers”, no apostrophe. Likewise, the possessive of “our” is “ours”; of “your” is “yours”; of “their” is “theirs” No apostrophe. Why? Dunno. Don’t care.
“kind of” and “should’ve”:
---“should have” is contracted to “should’ve”. It sounds like “should of” but it’s not spelled that way. Same with could’ve, would’ve, etc.
---“kind’ve” on the other hand, is wrong. It’s “kind of”. This is a colloquialism that arises from the construction: A pretzel is a kind of bread or Goulash is a sort of soup. You say “kind of” or “sort of” to mean “in a way”.
“discrete” and “discreet”: don’t mix ‘em up. They’re two discrete words. Be discreet rather than use them incorrectly.
---“discrete” means “separate” or “individually distinct” as in He funneled the funds into two discrete off-shore accounts: one under his name and one under his wife’s name.
---“discreet” means “tactful” or “circumspect” as in I want my off-shore banker to be discreet about the way I handle my funds.
“averse” and “adverse”: I most commonly hear/see people using “adverse” when they mean “averse” as in: “I am not adverse to going shopping with you using your credit card.” The correct word here is “averse” as in: “I am not averse to going shopping with you …”
---averse means “opposed” or “disinclined” and is related to “aversion” as in: I am averse to the practice of misusing language.
---adverse means “contrary” or “hurtful” and is related to “adversity” as in: I find that misuse of language in published texts has an adverse effect on readers’ writing skills.
phenomenon/phenomena: “phenomenon” is singular, “phenomena” is plural. Misusing words of Latin origin is a common phenomenon. Such phenomena occur everywhere that English is spoken.
criterion/criteria: see above. Same deal.

Well, that's all (for now) folks. I hope you have enjoyed this public service announcement. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

April 04, 2006

Moving Hiatus


I should already be moved right now. I'm just moving four blocks away. But the stupid stupid stupid movers didn't show up on Saturday like they said they would. They didn't call. They didn't write. April Fool!

Anyhoo, so my new movers just called and said they were moving my "window" (which was from 8 to 12) to 11 to 3, because it's raining so damn hard. Of course it's raining, because being able to move in the dryness would be too easy.

So I am now sitting in a cafe, having, already, my second and a halfth cup of coffee, and trying to avoid thinking about it. I'm going to go blog about maps. Maybe that will make me feel better.

p.s. I might not blog for a few days ... or a week. Sigh. Poor me.

April 03, 2006

Strunk and Light V: Ugh!

... cont. from ... yeah ... well ...

V. Ugh!
to pad: ugh! Just …ugh! Why would you want to use this? Just say “walked barefoot” or “walked softly wearing only her socks,” or if that’s too much detail for you, then just “walked” or “went”.
to sport: people don’t “sport” things, they wear them. What does “sporting” something mean, anyway? Why “sport”? Do you know? Why do you use it? You sound clichéd. Yuck!
to munch: note, this is not “to munch on”, which is bad enough. But people are now using “to munch” to replace “to eat”, as in He munched his sandwich in the car. Did you guys notice that it’s onomatopoeic? It sounds like what it’s saying. Eeeeeeww. Normally, you’re supposed to make things vivid in your writing, but I don’t wanna hear people chewing! No!
the swell of her breast: argh! Ptui! If you can’t do sex or desire better than this, then you’d better not do it at all. And if you think that you can “cup her breast” or “enter her”, then while yer at it, why don’t you just “stroke his length”, too. Eew. (side note: I wouldn’t mind bringing back “throbbing member” if anyone has the stones.)
to perch: birds “perch,” humans don’t. If you want to indicate that someone is balanced in a high position then use “perch” if you must. Otherwise, use “stand” or “sit” or “crouch” or “lie” or whatever. Anything but the overused “perch.” And especially not “perched atop”!!!!! Ugh! No hats perched atop people’s heads! No! And especially no people sporting hats perched atop their heads! Just kill me now if you’re going to do that!
to poke gentle fun: if yer gonna poke something … well don’t poke fun anyway. Make fun of, if you want to, or mock. Yeah! Go ahead and mock, please. But don’t poke fun, and whatever you do, don’t make it, by God, gentle. Eew.
belly: I have no outright objection to this word for its own sake, only it’s so outrageously overused, and overused in the apparent belief that it is more “poetic” than “stomach” or “abdomen” or “tummy” or “midriff” or “gut” or “paunch” or “midsection”… or my favorite slang stand-in, “pooch”. The word is especially popular among women. Think on this: they even named a girl indie-rock band from the early nineties “belly”. It’s not more poetic, it’s more clichéd. And it’s gross now.
to craft: Okay, dude, I know yer, like, sooper precious about the fact that writing is a craft and not, like, just plain “work”, but “craft” really isn’t a verb. I mean, it is now, what with all these people writing that He has crafted a tale of astounding beauty ‘n’ all, but really, you don’t need to point this out ad extreme nauseam. Use “make” or “create” or “write” or “sew” or “paint” or “direct” or whatever verb specifically refers to the action that created the thing and isn’t grossly smarmy.
to pen: it’s supposed to mean “to enclose with a fence” but it’s now being used to mean “to write”, as in He penned a poem of exquisite delicacy. This is especially icky and smarmy given the fact that more and more writers nowadays don’t actually compose with a pen. Just be kind to me and write “to write”. Please.

Next time: stuff that's just wrong ...

April 02, 2006

Strunk and Light IV: Using it just to use it

... continued from before, dude ...

IV. Using it just to use it.
to persist: yes, I know, there’s no other verb that does the exact same job. There are circumstances in which the only word available is “to persist”. However, that doesn’t explain why the word is popping up so persistently these days. I don’t think humanity, or humanity’s ills, have somehow gotten more persistent in the past decade or so. This is a perfect example of the word that justifies its own use. You see other people using it. It strikes you as a cool word. The next time you have the opportunity to use it—i.e., the next time persistence looms on the horizon—you create a sentence especially to contain the verb “persist”. Of course, once the sentence, or paragraph, is down on paper, it’s difficult to revise out, because there’s no other word that perfectly fits in that space. You’d have to rewrite the sentence, or the paragraph, to express the thought a different way. Sound hard? Do it anyway.
spatter vs. splatter: I’m checking in here in favor of “splatter”, which now connotes a rather low-art feel (as in “splatter films”), and is currently being underused or outright ignored. “Spatter” on the other hand, is enjoying a sort of high-art poetic vogue, like “belly” or “tiny” or “deft”. In fact “spatter” is becoming so popular, that I’m actually seeing people spattering things in their stories just so they get to use the word “spatter” (i.e. not to advance the story). Do we really need that much spilling and throwing and stabbing and painting? Plus, “splatter” is a cool word, probably originating in the combination of “splash” and “spatter”. Get with it.
to trace: Another word that is affecting the actions of characters. Before the vogue for tracing, characters would just look longingly at photographs. Now, in both books and movies, they put their dirty, smudgy fingers directly on the photos and trace the outlines of the figures therein depicted. This is somehow produces more pathos than looking, which is, by the way, what photographs are for. Photographs don’t actually reward tracing, a fact never mentioned in the cliché-artist’s prose. Plus, artist characters don’t “draw”, “outline” or even “limn” naked bodies anymore. They “trace” them, which in my day was considered cheating. And following someone’s path, either literally or metaphorically? Tracing. Must we trace paths? Can’t we “tail”, “trail”, “chase”, “pursue” or “follow” things anymore?
pithy: no, no, I believe you that this word actually has a meaning. Only … well, the problem is, although I’ve looked it up over and over again, the meaning of this word won’t stick in my head. Why? Because it’s one of those words that doesn’t have a context. No one ever writes that something is pithy and then follows it up with a description of the pithiness. People just say “it’s pithy” and leave it at that. If the single word is the only thing in the piece of writing that says what it says, well then you’re not doing your job as a writer. Another word for “resonance” (in language, anyway) is “redundancy”, strange as it may sound.
eschatological: no, people really aren’t using this word too much at all. It’s just that writing about “pithy” above made me think of the other word whose meaning I simply cannot make stick in my head. What am I trying to say? I think I’m trying to say that either you put these words into sentences that make their meaning clear in context, or you don’t use them. Kapeesh?

Next time: stuff that's just gross...

April 01, 2006

Strunk and Light III: What's the point of saying it?

... continued from the last two days ...

III. What’s the point of saying it?
wordlessly: as in But they’re waiting out there for me!” he cried. Wordlessly, she handed him a gun. Generally, the wordlessness of an action is indicated by the lack of words, and does not need to be pointed out. Compare the above sentence with the following: “But they’re waiting out there for me!” he cried. She handed him a gun. Q: What is the difference? A: One has a silly cliché in it, and one does not.
impossibly: as in The man’s nails were impossibly long or The woman’s hair was impossibly curly, both of which I’ve read recently in stories. If the man’s nails are actually that long, then it’s not impossible, is it? If the woman’s hair is really that curly, then it’s not impossible, is it? This adverb had an impact the first time it was used. Now, 5,342,523 reiterations into its life, retire it in favor of something that expresses its actual meaning. And no, switching to “improbably”, as so many are starting to do, won’t fix the problem.
infinitely: see above. This is very often used with “complex” as in Our biosphere is infinitely complex. Uh … no it isn’t. It is very, very complex, but its complexity is finite. And that novel you just read? Its complexity is finite, too. Infinite complexity—or infinite anything—simply does not end. Ever. Okay?
to utilize: is there any reason in the world not to utilize “use” instead? Other than trying to sound schmancy, I mean? I thought not.
to pick one's way: think about it, the only time you don’t pick your way is when you’re blindfolded (or blind) and someone leads you. You always pick your way. If by this you mean “moved slowly, stopping frequently to find a path through the rocky terrain” or “stepped laboriously through the few breaks in the thick underbrush” then say so. If this is more detail than you wanted, then just say “walked carefully” or “went.”
to wend one's way: what does “wend” mean? Without looking it up? Why don’t you just “walk” already? Or “go”? Same with the newest version: “winding one’s path,” which is just a fancy way of getting around “wend”, frankly. Use “go”, “walk” and other such simple, single words instead.
literally: is now being used merely as an amplifier, as in I literally floated up off the ground (which I actually heard someone say regarding her feelings about a new boyfriend.) “Literally” literally means “by the strictest meaning of the words”. The English language literally has no other word or term that expresses “literally”, so losing the literal meaning of “literally” is literally a huge loss. Stop misusing it!
deeply: okay can’t you love someone “a lot” anymore? Can’t you be “very flawed” anymore? Can’t someone just be “moved”? “Deeply” is probably the most overused adverb in the biz. Just saying something’s deep don’t make it so. Find another adverb, or make one up, or skip the adverb altogether.
profoundly: is being used as a stand-in for “deeply” (see above). Think before using either one of these. The problem with using these adjectives is that they ratchet up the meaning of something. There’s disturbed and then there’s deeply disturbed or profoundly disturbed. Why isn’t it enough to just be disturbed? Why does everything have to be more? It’s like a drug tolerance. You’re pushing people’s tolerance of the words up so high they don’t feel the simple words anymore, so you have to give them a cocktail.

In tomorrow's episode: Using things just 'cause they're "in" ...

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