Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year

I've been home seven months. I really can't believe it. It feels more like two years have gone by. I haven't really written in this space in a personal way more than once or twice since I left Japan. I've looked back on those entries in this journal several times since returning home and read them sometimes as if they had happened to somebody else, some other me that I met for a brief moment somehow, as if the walls of imperception between this world and the multiple dimensions of time and space that could exist had been torn away for a moment in my own piece of life here on earth. It all still feels incredibly real to me, and yet it also feels dreamlike more as time passes. I get caught up in the America around me, but then suddenly I can turn a corner and see the rice fields of Edosaki on either side of the road and the sweaty faces of the farmers wearing their straw hats and cloths hooding their heads away from the sun. Or I can get off the subway in New York and come up out onto a neon street in Tokyo, like I did this summer.

I suppose I haven't written much about my daily life since I've come home because, in a way, though I've gotten used to being back, I feel slightly disconnected from everything around me. I felt this way in Japan, but because I was a foreigner. I feel this way now, here at home, and I think it, too, is because I'm a bit of a foreigner. It feels that way sometimes at least. But I think I've always felt that way since I can remember. After all, we're all born into this incredibly amazingly weird world and into a life that we know fairly early on is going to end without any certainty of what's going to happen after that, and we have consciousness and live with animals in our houses and wow--let's not even get started on this language capability thing we developed. Frankly, I don't understand why more people aren't more agape and in awe of existence than there seem to be. But in any case, I think culture shock is something that develops more over time after returning home after living abroad rather than right at first. At least that's how it seems to be for me.

When I was first home I think I must have unconsciously felt as if coming home was just another trip, and it's after that feeling of being a traveler that you develop as an expatriot slowly fades as you stay in one place again for a while when the real culture shock has a chance to begin. When you've stabilized enough to look around and take in the place you've returned to, knowing finally that you're not going to leave it again anytime soon. I feel sometimes like I have the memories for two different lives co-existing inside me. My life in America and my life in Japan. Sometimes I don't know how me, some kid from a small farm in the middle of nowhere grew up to be educated and have published stories and have a novel being published and have lived in Japan and, well, lots of things. I don't know how I got to be me sometimes, is all. All those choices we make in life when we're young and aren't necessarily able to have a real concept of how choices make our future because we're just too young and inexperienced to understand that concept yet. I'm glad about the choices I've made in life. But it's still an odd feeling knowing at so many junctures it could have become something other than it is. I'm at a point in my life where I feel like I can look back on my younger self and see him, too, like that other me in Japan, almost as if I was watching someone else.

I've gone through a lot of adjustments and changes since coming back. I didn't realize how much I'd have to do that, how much energy it would actually take to figure out how to live here again. I think I just tried to ignore it for a while and pretend as if I could just slip back into a life here without thinking about it. Like I might be able to just pretend to be smooth at living, a polished person, like it seems so many people are able to do. I can put on a good poker face. It's one of my talents. But it's not really a good talent in the end, because it always leaves things I really do have to engage with--including things that have to be engaged with in the company of others, not just alone--unattended for long periods. And then at some point I get focused and dive headfirst into all that I've been trying to contain. I suppose that's what I'm doing now, lately.

One thing I thought about the other day was how, when I first came back, there were certain ways of being that I'd forgotten the codes and manners of after a long absence from their environments. The time that stands out in my mind about this sort of thing was going to Wiscon, where I was insanely happy to see many of my old friends, but where I was also just a bit disoriented and at a loss when it came to "being an author". Writers go to conventions and read from their books, talk on panels to audiences about their books and other people's books, chat with fans in hallways about their books and other people's books, and sign their books for others, and talk shop with one another, and there's a certain lingo to it all, and a range of stances that people seem to take, approaches to doing this, I mean. And I don't think it's a conscious thing for most of them, but probably a conscious thing for a few of them, and I realize this now because at some point when I was much younger, in my early twenties, just starting to enter the writing world and convention circuit, I can look back now and see I was learning a kind of language and dance at these functions, that it wasn't always instinctive, and that I had gotten "the hang of it" at some point too and not thought anything about it much afterwards.

But then I went to Japan. And though I was a writer in Japan, I did not have the sense of being an author. I realize now that, for me, I have two very different definitions for these words, and one is about the act itself and the other is about a sort of social identity that comes with certain already in place cultural assumptions attached to it. And that its is authors, not writers, who are mostly in attendence at writing conventions. And I felt at loss because I had forgotten how to do it, to be that. I gave a reading that possibly went fine but throughout it all I felt nervous and uncomfortable, not sure of myself at all. I then participated in a panel that I had signed up for, foolishly, on a whim while I was still in Japan because it was a funny idea, The Death of the Panel, which I didn't think anyone would actually take seriously. And I thought that would be a good panel for me to be on because it wasn't really going to be a real one in my mind, I think. And I was right for the first five minutes of that panel, it was just a joke. And then a woman in the audience, a bit angry it seemed, raised her hand and demanded if all we were going to do was have a bit of fun or were we really going to talk about the Death of the Panel on this panel, and then Hal Duncan came in with beers because apparently that's how panels are done in England, and then the next moment suddenly the panelists were trying to actually throw together an actual serious panel about The Death of the Panel, and Scott Westerfeld was nudging me to say something, you know, serious about the Death of the Panel, and I thought to myself, this is ridiculous, you can't have a panel about the Death of the Panel unless it's a joke, and I'm not going to let some audience member bully me into taking it seriously. I have absolutely nothing serious to add to a discussion about something that just isn't going to happen, I thought. Later I mentioned my uncomfortability about being on panels now, which wasn't the case in the past as much, to John Scalzi, and I remember saying how I didn't feel like I had any ideas of interest for panels, and he said he'd read my blog and knew I had interesting ideas and opinions, and I corrected myself and said okay, well maybe I just don't think in the way you have to think to be a good panelist at a convention. I don't like to think in front of other people, I guess you can say. I didn't grow up in a family that bounced ideas around and were thoughtful philosophers, where arguing was done civilly and sometimes just as an intellectual exercise. I learned how to do all that later in college with friends I made there who had grown up in such families.

But something that occurred to me the other night, seven months later, was that I actually do have an idea for the Death of the Panel that could be quite serious, and which I didn't hear mentioned really that day, so I offer it now. There cannot be a death of the panel without replacing them with some other form of social engagement between sf readers and writers, or without the death of conventions themselves. SF has something that no other form of writing, from what I can see, has as part of its cultural makeup: a real sense of community. And one of the things that makes that community possible are conventions, where readers and writers and editors all converge and chat intelligibly about this form of writing that they love, where they sometimes make lifelong friends, fall in love, or receive inspiration for their next story or novel and sit down to begin writing it in the hallway by the elevator as my dear friend Amber Van Dyk did at Wiscon on the last day this past year. One of the things that makes this possible are the panels. Without them, where do the readers and writers go to interact, what other event can give shape and form to this exchange for three or four days steadily, allowing hundreds of people all in the same building to engage with one another, but in plenty of different rooms listening and talking about a variety of topics? If panels die, conventions die, at least how they're conceived of at this moment in sf history. So really, I was right in thinking The Death of the Panel panel was just a joke in a way, because how can it not be? But I was wrong in thinking I didn't have any real ideas about it.

Seven months home and I'm still not so sure if I'll ever be able to be an author when I go to conventions, if I'll ever really get used to it again like I had in my mid-twenties, nor am I sure if I'll ever get back to living in America again without being keenly aware that I'm doing just that. But I'm not sure either if I don't prefer how I feel about my relationship to these things now than previously.

I think for a long time my life is going to feel like Before Japan, and After. Other than that, I'm pretty certain the the next few months and probably the next year or two are going to feel as eventful--emotionally, experientially, intellectually, and spiritually--as life was while I was living in Japan. And because of that, despite some of the disorientation of returning home, I'm looking forward to 2007.

Despite the smallness of my life here on earth and the smallness of my voice amongst all the others, I wish good things for all of us in the new year.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


My fever has broken and I'm feeling a little bit better. I think it must be one of those 24 hour flus going around right now. I finally got some sleep but didn't get my day started until very late because of it. Now I'm eating Chinese takeout because I didn't feel energetic enough to cook for myself. Thank you, Chinese delivery man.

Also, I wanted to point out a myspace page I made for Adam McCormick, the fifteen year old narrator of my novel One for Sorrow, coming out this Fall. If you use myspace, add him to your list of friends. As it draws nearer to publication time, I'll be posting news bulletins about the book, readings, signings, reviews, and also I'll be posting small bits of the book in the blog section of Adam's page. The prologue of the book has been posted in Adam's blog already, so if you'd like a sneak peek at the opening, take a look.

Too Sick and Tired to Title

Earlier this month, I helped my friend Ron move his grandparents to a new place. It was just the two of us really, and a cold wet day of moving heavy furniture. By the time the day ended, I was coming down with a cold. It was a terrible one, too, and I could just barely make it to school to teach. I was very glad when it ended.

Tonight I started to feel another cold coming on. I'm doing that sleepless, achey tossing and turning in bed, shivering a bit then getting too hot. Oh wait, now that I think of it, maybe it's the flu if I'm getting chills. Ugh. I hate feeling worn down and exhausted.

So now I am teleporting about on the internet at 6:30 in the morning, still sleepless but oh so wanting to sleep, and doing silly online entertainment activities such as this one:

I always say a kiss on the hand might feel very good, but a Christopher lasts forever.

Which movie was this quote from?" method="get">Get your own quotes:

Now, having perhaps exhausted myself by being out of bed, I might be able to go back and actually sleep.

Let's hope.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Reading

I'm going to be giving a reading from my work a few days after the New Year. If you'll be in the Cleveland area and can make it, by all means come out and join me and the other readers. It should be a good time.

Where: Cleveland Heights, OH
When: Thursday, January 04, 2007 at 07:00 PM
Who with: Alan Deniro and Sean Thomas Dougherty
Where at: Mac’s Backs

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


My mom gave me the Scissor Sisters' new cd "Ta-Dah" for Christmas. It's really good. It's more sedate than their first album, but still really energetic and inventive, because, well, you know, it's the Scissor Sisters, and "sedate" for them is still pretty manic for us regular people.

Yes, I referred to myself as a regular person.

This is not up for debate.

I still feel pretty happy from the holidays. I can't wait for the New Year. It feels good to feel that way again.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Niall Harrison has written a review of my story, "The Guardian of the Egg", from Salon Fantastique. He's been reviewing a story a day from the book, and, to be honest, I was expecting a less receptive view of mine as Niall, as he says in the review, was one of the two or three people online last year who didn't care for my 2005 story, "The Language of Moths". He sees superficial similarites in the two stories, but differences that show more restraint in the new one. It's true that I went through a period of time where I wrote about families and particularly brothers and sisters (I think I was curious about what it must feel like to have a sister, as I only have older brothers) and its true that "The Language of Moths" has a lot more "sentiment" in it than "The Guardian of the Egg", though none I can still remember not finding out of place or "earned" through the writing. But I'm glad that "The Guardian of the Egg" could still win over someone who hadn't much cared for one of my stories that came before it, whose reviews I also really enjoy.

Also, one last time, Happy Holidays! I'm off to my folks' place in wilds of Ohio now. I hope everyone has a good one.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

This is just to say...

I'm sorry. I am behind on so many things right now. The play is finally over though (and it went really really well--lots of laughs, and lots of calls for next year to have it performed two or three nights instead of one, and it also sold out twice-over), and I'm slowly but surely finishing my Christmas shopping. Things are hectic, too, because I'm house-sitting and so I'm doing a lot of running back and forth between my apartment and the house, and I'm trying to get some writing done as well, and and and...hopefully after Christmas everything will start to settle down. If I owe you an email, please forgive me. I'll try to get back to you as soon as I can.

If I don't get a chance to say it before they're over, happy holidays. I hope you have a good one.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Listening to Kurt Vonnegut

While searching through the archives at Bookworm, my favorite radio show, I found this wonderful interview with Kurt Vonnegut from April 2006. Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. "Slaughterhouse Five" and "Cat's Cradle" are two of my favorite books of all time. He's one of the first authors I came across that could make me laugh and make me cry in the same book, sometimes in the same line. In his eighties now, he's still writing and thinking and engaging with the world in such a deeply felt way that just listening to him makes me feel the way I do when reading his novels--I laugh at what he says one moment then cry the very next. He's the sort of person who makes me believe in those characters so well-known in science fiction and fantasy novels who function as an old wise man or woman, seer, visionary. Listening to him makes me feel hopeful.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

An Interview

A really good interview done by Matt Cheney with my editor for One for Sorrow, Juliet Ulman, can be read here, courtesy of Fantasy Magazine's blog. She's really intelligent not only about books, but about what it takes to be a good editor. I'm glad she's mine!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

More blogging

My new side job is writing blog entries for as their Youngstown correspondent. My first entry is up now. All of the bloggers from different Ohio cities has a different style and are interested in different sorts of things about their regions in Ohio. I think for my own part, I'll mainly be focusing on civic and economic subject matter in the Youngstown/Warren area of the state, as well as community events and history. It should be a fun gig.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Where I've Been, What I'm Doing

Well, I am finally over the bronchitis I've had for the past week and a half. Also, today I turned in my grades for my students, so I am done done done with the Fall semester. This week is full of rehearsals for Saturday's play that I'm in, but other than that, I can sit back and enjoy a couple of weeks of December before going back to work in January, both at the university and also as a blogger for an Ohio website, which I'll say more about when I begin that work. Working as a part time instructor and a freelance writer can sometimes be nerve-wracking, particularly when it comes to paying rent and bills and trying to maintain a certain amount of enjoyable activities in one's life. There's no secure paycheck coming every two weeks, and sometimes not even every month. But I can arrange my work week based mostly on my own scheduling preferences, and there's a freedom in that which my personality type apparently requires from living. Hopefully a day will come when I don't have to plan my budget as strictly. For now, though, I'm doing decent enough, and definitely doing better than I was a few years ago, so I can't complain too much. :-)

Youngstown is all Christmased up, and looking rather shiny. I came across this article in the New York Times from several days ago, which I missed when it first appeared (thanks for the lead, Brookey) and was pleased to see my little rust belt city making news outside of its own newspapers once again. And this time not a negative image of the city so much, but a hopeful one, so what I've seen happening since coming home from Japan has been confirmed. I hope more and more light will shine down on this forgotten valley of America in the days to come.

Now, in yet another attempt to ignore the waning amount of shopping days left before Christmas, I have a date with several dvds and a large chocolate bar, so I'm off.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Reminder

Don't forget to submit to Rabid Transit if you haven't already. The deadline is coming up soon.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Trendy or Political? Maybe Both

This was a cool article in the New York Times about heterosexual couples who refuse to marry until gay people can too. My only criticism of it would be that it's been placed in the Fashion and Style section of the magazine, as if it's just a trendy piece of apparel to put on, rather than in the Politics section. After all, what is politics if it isn't people giving voice to injustices and demanding change in the policies we live by?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

What a drag

"How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas" will be performed at the Oakland Center for the Arts, in downtown Youngstown on December 16th at 8:00 pm. I believe tickets are 15$, as this is a benefit. There will be a Chinese auction after the show. This is the very cool show advertisement my friend Rob made, though this image of it is without the cast names and day and time and price information. I'm off to rehearsal right now actually, so more on this as the day draws nearer. Come if you can! It should be a lot of fun!

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Question For Writers

I've noticed, now that I'm working on a third novel, that something that happens each time I'm writing a novel is I find myself reading or watching or listening to very particular kinds of books or movies or music. When I was writing One for Sorrow, I gravitated to watching a lot of alienated smart kid rebel coming of age films, and read a lot of voice-oriented novels. When I was writing The Love We Share Without Knowing, I was reading a lot of novels by Japanese authors, and Japanese poetry and manga as well, and listening to both contemporary and traditional Japanese music, and watching a lot of contemporary Japanese film including tons of anime, along with books written by expatriate authors. I also was reading a lot of Japanese mythology and Buddhist thought. Now that I'm writing this third novel, which I'm tentatively calling, Yesterday's Child, I find myself reading a lot of philosophy and watching a lot of political documentaries. The fiction I'm reading also tends, like the books I read while writing One for Sorrow, to be voice-oriented and wide-reaching, all-encompassing narrative voices, the sort that widen and expand then narrow to ribbons like the course of a river. The philosopher whose work I'm most caught up with at the moment is Hannah Arendt. I've read "Between Past and Future", and "The Human Condition" and am now beginning, "The Life of the Mind". I can't get enough of her ideas as well as the way she expresses them in language almost like a poet most of the time. There's a sort of mathematical or musical precision to the way she guides a reader's mind through her narrative thought experiments that almost convinces you in and of itself that whatever she says is the truth. Her mind is seething, bubbling like a cauldron with life. It's so invigorating to read work of this nature that tells a story of the life of what it means to be human in a language that is neither fiction nor poetry, math nor scientific formula. At this juncture of my life, philosophical texts seem to go straight to my gut, which they haven't always done in the past to be honest. I wonder sometimes what it means when suddenly a particular form of writing becomes a direction to walk in for learning and growing in some way. What does it signify when particular kinds of engagements with language and thought shift to a different code, like from fiction to poetry, or poetry to algebra, or chaos theory to essay, or from journalism to philosophy, etc.? Isn't what we're most receptive to as a mode of communication and narrative engagement at any given time indicative or something about us at that moment? Maybe I'm overthinking things, but I'd rather overthink than underthink, so I'm not going to feel bad if that's the case.

Anyway, my main question for those of you who write: Do you find yourself reading/watching/listening to any particular kinds of media while writing a book? What sorts of things? Any ideas why? Answers both public in this blog or private in an email to me are welcome. I'm interested to know more about this question from those of you who are out there reading the words I'm putting down in this space.