Monday, February 23, 2015

Writing "Unfilial Child"

It recently came to my attention that there were a couple reviews written for the anthology Streets of Shadows which published my story "Unfilial Child" back in September. The reviews had not been published until months later so I missed them at first. I'm very happy to have had my story called out in both of them, considering the number of authors who appear in the anthology!

The first one is from Urban Fantasy Magazine here and The Big Click covers it in a capsule review calling it a "diamond in the rough."

"Unfilial Child" was written in April last year and I had a month to write from start to finish since that is the time between when I discovered the anthology call and when the deadline was. I figured it was tight, but doable (and obviously it was). It was only later that I ended up panicking.

I immediately knew that I wanted to write about Los Angeles's Chinatown, since it's really the only heavily urban area I'm passingly familiar with as something other than a tourist, even though I hadn't been there in years. After my grandmother passed away the reasons to go just became more and more infrequent.

To get my supernatural element I decided to use the myth of the gu huo niao (Mandarin pronunciation, and written 姑獲鳥), a Chinese mythical bird known for stealing children and raising them as her own.

But to get the feel of Chinatown right, I thought I had to do more than just visit it for myself. I also visited my dad, who was able to tell me stories about things he saw in Chinatown as a kid, and stories about my grandmother who had lived there. As we talked, I realized that I couldn't write this story using the Mandarin or Cantonese I've used in previous fiction because that is not the dialect of the early Chinese immigrants. Until the 1980s, most Chinese in America spoke what we called Hoisan, or Four County dialect. Wikipedia uses the term Taishanese, after the Mandarin pronunciation of Hoisan (Taishan).

The problem with using Hoisan in a story though is that it's a non-standard dialect and there are no formal romanizations into the western alphabet. Among the early immigrants, names were frequently spelled differently in English even if they were written the same in Chinese. The surnames Hom, Hum, and Tom are generally all the same character. (The Mandarin have it easy. It's Tan.)

I approximated spellings for this story based on what the word sounds like to me and how I've seen Hoisan and the related Cantonese spelled in English.

I finished the bulk of my research halfway through April, but I found myself stalling on the story itself. I had been brainstorming and outlining since the beginning of the month. I had six solid single-spaced pages of material for a story that couldn't be any longer than 4000 words. But it wasn't coming together. I knew after writing the first page I wasn't coming at the story the right way, but I didn't know what the right way was.

Against my better judgment, I binged watched Guilty Crown, a 26 episode sci-fi anime series, despite knowing I had two weeks to go and jack for a story.

One of the characters stayed with me after the show ended. Daryl Yan wasn't necessarily my favorite character, and I probably would never want to meet him if he was a real person (he was one of the bad guys), but one of the things that made him sympathetic was that he really wanted to be loved by his father.

And then I realized what I had gotten wrong about the protagonist in my story. She had been a good daughter with a wonderful relationship with her grandmother. The ending of the story would hurt even with a good relationship, but it would be even worse with someone who didn't have, but had wanted that relationship and later realized that what they had wanted had all been a lie.

A week ahead of the deadline, I went nuclear. The previous draft was thrown out (though I later rescued two or three paragraphs) and essentially wrote a new first draft in two days. I set it aside again for a little breathing space, did a revision based on my gut feeling and the reaction of a few friends, and then sent it off.

It worked, and I hope with the details from the current Chinatown and my family's history, it feels real, or at least as real as it could be with a mythical bird in LA.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Winter 2015 Anime Viewing

I review anime over at Diabolical Plots and this season I've been banging my head over the overabundance of simulcasted anime I want to see. (I guess I'm just a big kid inside.)

In my winter first impressions I went over the new winter shows I was checking out and the older ones from summer and fall that were returning/continuing into the winter and it was turning into a wreck.

Usually I try not to watch more than three shows at a time, but due to Aldnoah.Zero and Tokyo Ghoul returning from summer, Yona of the Dawn and Parasyte continuing from fall, and very promising newcomers in Death Parade and Fafner: Dead Aggressor: Exodus, I was going to have to choose between my top two choices of each season from the current to the past two. And to top it off, Magic Kaito: 1412 came out of nowhere and got licensed mid-run.

After the initial few weeks, my viewing schedule has largely shaken out based on what I've actually wanted to watch the most as soon as it comes available, and in no particular order, they are:

Aldnoah.Zero - The second half is quite a bit different from the first, and while I was initially disappointed, it's ramped up again and I still have much love for Slaine, who is one of my favorite characters, not just in the show, but possibly for all anime.

Parasyte - I keep swinging from completely digging Parasyte to being lukewarm/annoyed with it, but I'm a huge fan of the manga so I keep watching. The series is pretty faithful considering they had to update the time period from the 1980s, though a couple scenes don't work as well with the newer tech. There are some pacing issues to it that feel very weird to me that I completely never noticed in the manga and I wonder if it's because of the different medium.

Death Parade - New show, but full of mystery and suspense. I like trying to puzzle out the secrets of purgatory bar Quimdecim's guests before they're entirely spilled out for the audience. The mostly anthology format works well for the show and I like that it's so self-contained. And that this show doesn't revolve around teenagers!

Fafner: Dead Aggressor: Exodus - I'm enjoying the sequel to the original Fafner: Dead Aggressor and I'm surprised by how much I missed Soshi! He was barely in the movie and the show is really better for having him back. At first I was worried where the story would go now that the original protagonists are all adults, but this is still a war story where war is not glamorous but a duty that must be done. Kazuki has yet to step back in a Fafner, but I'm sure that's where we're going. I'm actually really happy the show isn't shoving him in as soon as possible.

When I have a hankering for something else and I'm caught up on those four I watch Magic Kaito: 1412 because of its stand-alone nature. Each episode is its own story with very little reference to anything that's come before and it's good cheesy fun that I don't need to think about in order to enjoy.

While I still like Yona, it's a little too slow and derivative to make it a must watch the day it goes live (it's time to go collect all the magical followers to help on this journey!). Tokyo Ghoul is a much different show after the mid-season finale and I'm afraid I haven't entirely acclimated to it, so I'm holding off for later, when I'll likely binge watch it. Right now, I'm just not sure it'll get its groove back.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2015 Awards Recommendations

I made it a bit more of a point to read this year than I normally do in an attempt to be better educated for award nominating. Unfortunately, I did not read any new novels last year barring a single YA book (my backlog is healthy enough, thanks!), but I did around to several short stories and a few novelettes.

These are my award picks:

Short Stories

Jackalope Wives by Ursula Vernon - Apex, January 2014
The Fisher Queen - Alyssa Wong - F&SF May/June 2014
Not Her Garden - Yukimi Ogawa - Lackington's #3, Summer 2014

Novelettes

Life Flight - Brad Torgersen - Analog, March 2014
The Pushbike Legion - Timothy Jordan - Writers of the Future 30
The Magician and Laplace's Demon - Tom Crosshill, Clarkesworld, December 2014

Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Alyssa Wong
Yukimi Ogawa*

* I don't know if Yukimi Ogawa is currently eligible, but I can't find any pro publications of her work prior to 2013 (in Strange Horizons), which would put her in her second year of eligibility. She's published quite a few things in 2014 and I love her stuff ("Town's End," "Rib," "In Her Head, In Her Eyes").

UPDATE: Yukimi Ogawa confirmed on Twitter that she is in her second year of eligibility! Please consider her for the Campbell Award.

As for my own work, I had three original works published in 2014.

Short Stories

The Wings The Lungs, The Engine The Heart - Galaxy's Edge #9, July/August 2014
The Ancestors - Crossed Genres July/August 2014
Unfilial Child - Streets of Shadows (anthology)

"The Wings The Lungs, The Engine The Heart" and "Unfilial Child" are not available online, but can be requested by interested Hugo/Nebula voters. If you are a SFWA member, both of them are available in the members-only forums for reading.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Living Rooms" Reprinted in Galaxy's Edge #10

"Living Rooms" is a special story for me.  Part of it is because it was my first professional sale in the hugest way possible.  It won first place for its quarter in the Writers of the Future contest and went on to win the grand prize, which really does things to inspire confidence in a writer.

But I didn't write "Living Rooms" to win a contest.  I actually didn't have many expectations for it at all.

I wrote it while in a local writing workshop simply because I knew I would be too embarrassed to show up empty-handed for class, which required me to come up with somewhere between 500-2000 new words a week.  (Pocket change now, but it wasn't then.)  I didn't have much to start with other than a dream I'd had, where I had come home to find a strange wizard in the dream's version of my living room.

It wasn't my living room, but I knew it was mine and this wizard shouldn't be there.

Anyone who's read "Living Rooms" will recognize this was the opening of the story.  The villain, Morrin (then unnamed), was in the dream, as was James, the embodiment of the living room, though I changed the name of the room from "living room" to "parlor" to better fit with the time period.  I left a callback to it in the to the title though.

From the basic dream fragment, I drew out the rest of the story; why the magician was there, what was this magic house where the parlor came to life?

I had a lot of fun with it, and to my surprise, so did my fellow workshoppers.  It was a mixed group, not all of us were science fiction and fantasy fans, so when I realized that most of them really, really, liked the story, I realized I was on to something.  I had never had such a pleasant reaction from a crowd of strangers before.

Based off the comments from the workshop, I rewrote the story and ended up pretty happy with it.  I thought it was the best thing I'd ever written.  Which meant that I should submit it somewhere.

I noticed that Writers of the Future was going to end its Q4 submission period soon, so I stuffed it in a manila envelope (two quarters later they would allow e-subs) and then dropped it in the mail.

As they say, the rest is history.

From now until the end of October, "Living Rooms" will be available free online in Galaxy's Edge #10.  If you'd like a more permanent copy, it's also available as a stand alone ebook on Amazon, as part of Writers of the Future Vol 26, and as part of Galaxy's Edge #10, which is available both as an ebook and a very nicely printed paperback.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Grateful

My brother visited today and we talked about a lot of things as we cleaned up the family home. I enjoy having discussions with him, because he sees things a lot differently from the rest of the family and from my friends. And even though he's my younger brother, he's always looking out for me, making sure I'm taking care of myself; things like that.

Today after we were talking about retirement savings (we're not that old, but we're both in our 30s), he said something that I hadn't really thought about. He said, that what I've done with my life is remarkable. My day job is in the video game industry and I'm a published writer. I'm earning enough to pay for my home and I'm building a nest egg for retirement. I have never taken a job that was just "a job."

Well, he actually said, "a real job," but what he meant is that I didn't do something ordinary like become an accountant, something that might draw a paycheck even if one's heart wasn't in it. (I'm sure there are accountants who love their jobs, but we know one in particular who is definitely doing it just for the paycheck.)

I've been fortunate enough to have always been paid doing something that other people find entertaining and exciting.

Since this is the only life I live, I don't normally think about it, because it's what I do. I work with games in the day, and I write stories in the free time around that. I live in my house, and I diligently kick money into my retirement savings because that's the lesson my dad taught me when I got my first job out of college.

So today might not be anywhere near Thanksgiving, but I'm feeling grateful.

Monday, June 30, 2014

“The Wings The Lungs, The Engine The Heart” Now Available in Galaxy’s Edge #9

A hundred years ago, Europe plunged into a war variously called “The War to End All Wars,” the Great War, and more commonly now, World War I. Thinking about the war tends to conjure up images of the Western Front; men dying in trenches, and maybe a Christmas football game between soldiers of different countries.

But World War I also bought submarines to the seas and planes to the skies. There was still a bit of an old world chivalry to them; stories of submarine captains who still adhered to the old prize rules for the capturing of vessels so civilians would not be harmed, stories of pilots like Oswald Boelcke, who risked enemy fire to deliver a letter from two captured pilots so their families would know they were alive.

World War I, being a hundred years old, has been around long enough now that it feels like a story, and one that isn’t told nearly enough.

A hundred years ago, a newly minted cavalry lieutenant received his deployment orders. Though the cavalry would largely disappear as the war moved on, this lieutenant did not. He became a pilot, quite possibly the most famous pilot of all time. When all other names have vanished from memory, including his own, people will likely remember his sobriquet, the Red Baron.

My story “The Wings The Lungs, The Engine The Heart” is now online in Galaxy’s Edge #9. Would you like to meet him?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Writing "The Held Daughter"

This story took a convoluted path into being. It started with a pseudo-Wild West setting I was building for a novelette which would feature characters from their world's equivalent of the Qing Dynasty. The novelette was written and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. So I figured I would write more stories in this setting.

At some point I came up with the idea of a "held daughter" (which does not exist in Chinese culture). I already knew that historically boys have been adopted in order to continue the male line, but as far as I know girls were still married off when they came of age. But I liked the idea of a girl being able to carry on the line if no male heirs were eventually born. She would just have to wait, and wait, until her parents stopped trying.

The original draft was going to feature a girl of humble means, who at some point in the story tries to console herself with the fact the Emperor had been a held daughter as well (the title "Empress" would not work for a female Emperor because in Chinese the word literally means "behind the Emperor").

And the story sat for a while. In the meantime I watched Bu Bu Jing Xin, a drama set during the early part of the Qing Dynasty to get a better feel for the costuming, the decor, the customs, etc. for that time period.

Shortly after finishing the series (which is a marathon tear-jerker by the last 3-4 episodes), I realized that my story wasn't about the girl who compared herself to the Emperor, but the Emperor herself, before she became Emperor.

It is one thing for a common girl to be held back from marriage when her father only has a single wife to producer heirs, but when one's father is the Emperor and can take as many concubines as he feels able, it becomes conceivable that he may never give up his quest for a son.

Because of "The Held Daughter's" origins in another story I decided to keep the Cantonese dialect for names and Chinese words. Taishanese, a close relative of Cantonese, is the dialect that was primarily used by immigrant Chinese during the time of the Wild West. However, Taishanese is not well documented since it was the dialect of the poor and in the words of one of my Chinese acquaintances the Taishanese are "the hick Chinese." Rather than invent spellings, I decided to go with conventional Cantonese.

As an additional bonus, Cantonese tends to be easier on the eyes and tongue for English speakers unfamiliar with Mandarin. (And as a personal bonus for myself, I am non-Mandarin Chinese and I like to represent the version of Chinese my ancestors spoke.)

I also would like to add thanks to my Aunt Sally for vetting all the Chinese names I used. I showed up at Christmas last year with a print-out (not trusting my handwriting) of all the names I wanted and she was able to approve or suggest changes on the spot.

"The Held Daughter" is currently available free online at Galaxy's Edge until the end of the month, after which it can be purchased in back issues of Issue 3.