The Mythogenetic Grove

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Publication Day: “Reversion” in Issue #131, Clarkesworld Magazine

by on Aug.04, 2017, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

Phew! It’s been quite a week for me and quite a journey for this story! Amidst a pretty frightening health scare this week, I had the excitement of knowing this was coming out. Suffice it to say, I have A LOT to say about this story but I’m also worried that if I say too much I’ll detract from the actual experience of reading it. So I strongly recommend you read the story first before you read this! ;o)

First thing I need to say: No, sorry. This story is not autobiographical. Not at all. I am not on some fuel planet, and I have never worn a tuxedo. There are no lovelorn cephalopods waiting for me on distant shores! Having said that, it’s informed by real life experiences and emotions in ways that are not always obvious.

First, for those of you in the cephalopod-loving school, here’s a digital painting I made in 2010, which was a norty riff off Hokusai’s nortier paintings:

 

(Link to DeviantArt page for it with more explanation)

I have always been mildly amused by tentacle pr0n and cephalopod-lovers. But you can’t deny they are rather majestic creatures who are frighteningly intelligent. So it’s no surprise that it’s a HUGE Lovecraftian motif but no Cthulhus were maligned in the making of this story. I do have some Lovecraftian riff story ideas somewhere in my head — you can’t research and write about Lovecraftian motifs as a Gothic academic and not want to write your own — but this story comes from something else.

(even though in RETROSPECT I went “Ahah, shades of Innsmouth! Didn’t expect THAT to happen!”)

There were several OTHER influences for this story, presented in a haphazard fashion!

(1) The first impulse for this story occurred during a brief beach vacation in Port Dickson in 2000, around the time when I was an editor at a Johor publishing house. It was a vacation with family and one of my very good friends who was also a colleague (one of the rare HS friends I’m still in contact with). A beach holiday in Port Dickson felt like being on a fuel planet. There were ships, offshore rigs, and the sands were red. Completely red! This made the South China Sea look green, and I immediately started having SFnal daydreams. I was at the beach but my mind was imagining a fuel planet with an engineer stationed there. She was unhappy. And that was because she would rather  be somewhere else. In this story, I imagined that she would be learning new things about her heritage and her spirituality. Wasn’t sure what it was — but I really enjoy far future SF universes that dig deep into Earth cultures, even though the old school of it can be quite problematic. That night, I sat on the balcony with my SFnal imaginings and something peculiar was happening. There were people down on the beach with flashlights and they seemed to be looking for something. That intrigued me so much that it went into the rough story idea in my head — a mish-mash of different scenes and ideas without a cohesive plot at this stage).

Then I had another vacation in 2001, this time in Ipoh, across from the limestone cliffs where the Sam Poh Tong Temple was. And that gave me more ideas about there being a cousin who was this mouthy holy kind of person.

(2) I set this story aside as an idea because work, grad school (my MA studies) and various other things came in-between. And then I discovered, around 2005-2006, an entire universe of online SFF zines and blogs that I never knew existed (despite being a lurker on the SurLaLune fairytale forums). Well, my world kind of changed. I’ve been reading Clarkesworld Magazine off and on since the first issue in 2006. I yearned to be published in it but never thought I’d ever be good enough. And the moment — the MOMENT I started reading it, I suddenly knew I wanted this story of mine to be a story for this magazine. So there you go. This was always a story I wanted to be a Clarkesworld story even though I tried to play it cool by submitting it to two other places beforehand — mostly because I had Prosthetic Daughter in CW slush, also when you want a thing too much you’re kinda scared to go and try to get it. So no, I didn’t scare the good editors with this anecdote during my submission, I was still trying to play it as cool as I could, given that I submitted it directly — and bashfully– after the publication of Prosthetic Daughter.

(3) I started drafting this after my PhD studies began in earnest in Brisbane. Sometime between 2009-2010, but some elements were still unclear to me. Why was this engineer of mine unhappy? I left it aside and started making outlines about the ecosystem of Psychereon. One day, I wrote a passage about her changing identities, and driving tourists to the edge of dead volcanoes — and that imagery really struck me. Well of course she had been happy somewhere else, but why did she have to leave?

(4) I mused about the “why” of it until 2015 when I wrote a further rough draft about what she’d left behind — and then it became a story of “after first contact” and I really just dove deep into language, and longing. I was already immersed in cephalopodic images and I’ve been writing underwater passages and stories since forever so it was a natural progression for me.

(5) Last year, my grandmother died. Around the time when I was going for various ceremonies as an eldest grand-daughter “not of the faith”, I was struggling with grief, anger, and feeling out of place. I wanted to write a story that was a warm hug  to sooth my sadness and frustration because nothing made sense. And there’s this sense of sometimes as a hybrid you’re alienated from your own cultures, even if people are kind to you. But my grief is not Aakriti’s grief and she remains distinctly herself.  Ever had a character who argues back to you as you try to write her? That’s Aakriti for you.

IMPORTANT NOTE: none of my Tamil aunties was maligned in this story, although I’ll admit freely that the frank, mischievous and no-nonsense attitude of Cousin Sharanya may owe a thing or two to my Youngest Aunt. I even gave her one of Youngest Aunt’s favourite things to say (don’t worry, I’m buying her dinner!).

Mostly, I didn’t want this to be a tragic story. I have seen too much sadness. I wanted a story that says, “Hey, it’s okay to relate to your culture(s) in an awkward way, to have all of this love, conflicted emotions, and frustration — there’s a place for you and you can decide how/where you want to be.”

(6) Cephalopods! You can’t read and consume tons of things about Cephalopods in popular culture without eventually writing about them! First contact stories always fascinate me but also, I always wonder why the romantic ones are almost always humanoid. But a couple of Clarkesworld stories broke the mould where that’s concerned so of course I wanted to continue that grand Clarkesworld tradition.

(Incidentally, I’m somewhat amused by the fact that an ex-flame/crush is crazy about all things cephalopods, but no crushes were maligned in the making of this story. But I would be lying if I said not even a smidgen of that leftover emotion slipped into this story. Sorry bro, I’m not buying you dinner. Hope you’re not having sleepless nights! I could have left this out but I am a norty person.)

And there you have it. I could write about the other things that went into the weaving of this tale — thoughts about state borders, thoughts about repression, gender identities, language, immigration, family, the ethics of being an ally etc — but, I’d rather you read and unpack the layers yourselves. It’s one of my most straightforward stories, but for all that, it’s also one of my most layered.

And if you like it, you might (if I may be so vain as to say) be happy to know I’m writing a sequel about another figure I have come to love from this story. I love this Tamilian family I created almost as much as my own family and I want to tell more of their stories.

In closing, thank you Neil, Sean and the rest of the Clarkesworld team for making one of my dearest SF dreams come true! I can’t believe this is out in Clarkesworld! OMG! YOU HAVE NO IDEA!!!!1111

(I have no chill you guys, seriously no chill when this is concerned!)

Reversion in Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue #131, 1 August 2017

 

 

 

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Interview: Angela Slatter, Author of Locus-Nominated VIGIL

by on May.13, 2017, under Interviews, Myth, Folklore & Fairytales

What’s the best way for an author to start her day, according to Angela Slatter?
Coffee! Or the beverage of choice. And of course, this is all just how I start my day; everyone is different, but I try to start in a way that sets me up to go on in a productive manner. So: wake up, have breakfast, do 20 mins of yoga or a walk around the block. Come back, shower, put on real clothes so it feels like you’re going to do a job (not just sit at home in your PJs), then check your email and the internet for a mandated amount of time. Deal with the work emails, save the personal ones for later, don’t spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter for that way lies madness. Check your to-do list and start on the next project in order of deadlines proximity.

Don’t forget to stand up and walk around every half an hour or so to keep blood flowing, muscles moving and your back from seizing up. Make sure you have a lunch break, take it away from your desk and, again, have a mandated period of something not writing-related (like bad tv). Set an alarm so you get up and go back to work. Be wary of time as it’s a slippery thing!

What projects are you working on right now?
Right now: I’ve just this very minute finished typing up final corrections to the novel Corpselight after a two day proofreading binge, so that’s winging off to the publisher; I’m about to start a severe edit on a story called “Our Lady of Wicker Bridge” that’s due at the end of the month; I’m writing a story called “Sherlock Holmes and the Mayfair Vampire”; I’m editing the text for a picture book called Genevieve and the Dragon, illustrated by Kathleen Jennings; I’m working on the first draft of the third Verity Fassbinder novel, Restoration; I’m writing a lecture on writing horror to deliver at the Boonah Regional Writers Festival at the end of the month; I’m packing for a trip to Tasmania over Easter to do some film and tv work with Vicki Madden who wrote The Kettering Incident; and I’m working on little bits and pieces in prep for the launch of Corpselight in July. Obviously not quite working on them all at once, but they are at the top of the priority list at the moment.

Everyone has a different personal working definition of myth. There’s the macro, Campbellian “hero’s journey” kind of definition, the postmodern, and the layperson’s idea of myth as being a cognate of fairytales. What’s your working definition, as someone whose works are suffused with mythic resonance?
I’ll just go with something very simple: A traditional tale from long ago to explain things early humans didn’t understand, often using supernatural beings as the culprit. That’s very simplistic. In terms of using myth, I like the resonance, I like to creating a feeling of having a myth brush up against my stories and leave a trace but not necessarily their own shape there.

Which of your collections that you’ve authored are dearest to you, and why?
Oh! That’s a hard choice, but since I always force people to choose between their babies it’s only fair it happen to me! Probably (and this is as at April 2017) The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. Why? Because it felt like a huge “click” moment for me in terms of writing craft and skill, like I’d levelled up what I was able to create as a writer. I love all my babies, but Bitterwood feels like the one that become self-aware fastest … which makes it sound like Skynet … also, it has illustrations by Kathleen Jennings!

Name your five favourite fairytales?
The Little Match Girl; Donkeyskin/Catskin/All-Fur; Tatterhood; The Robber Bridegroom; Fitcher’s Bird.

One of the things I love best about your work is the manner in which you seamlessly weave in aspects of the Gothic with fantasy motifs, and those of fairytales. I suspect, like me, you’ve read Angela Carter’s treatise on how the fairytale is inherently Gothic, but I also feel you’d have new insight because your stories have the richness of someone who lives and breathes these Gothic markers. Would you like to talk a bit about that?
I have read a lot of Carter for academic purposes, but I suspect none of that is foremost in my mind when I write. I think that my years and years of reading before I ever thought of writing as a proper career have just laid down a layer of gothic and fairy tale-y sensibility that you couldn’t separate from me now. Reading original fairy tales, reading Carter and Tanith Lee and the Brontë Sisters and the like have all just left an indelible mark on how I think when I’m telling a story.

Yes, the fairy tale is inherently Gothic … but the fairy tales came first, so maybe the Gothic is actually inherently fairy tale-y? All the things that are frightening in the Gothic mystery: darkness, the unknown, family members that are dangerous to us, mysteries to be uncovered, the fate of overly curious kids (generally girls), are all markers of the fairy tale … just a thought.

 What will you be working on after you’re done with the Verity Fassbinder books?
I will be turning a novella (unpublished) The Briar Book of the Dead, into a novel – it’s set in the Sourdough world, so I’m really looking forward to doing a novel-length work there. And I’ll be finalising the third Sourdough world collection The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales. I also have a couple of novels I’d like to go back to (Well of Souls and Gate of the Dead) now that I know more about novel writing, and I want to finish Morwood and Blackwater, which are standalone gothic novels. And I would like to start working on a Sourdough graphic novel series.

What’s your advice for authors like us who are working on our craft during troubling times?
Be true to yourself. Be generous to others. If you get a chance make space for diverse writers who maybe are not getting a look in with publishers – if you’ve got some degree of power or influence, use it in a good and positive way. Don’t do favours in expectation of thanks, but just because it’s good for your karma. And if someone does favours for you, then be grateful, express your thanks, and don’t keep asking for more.

And in times like these it’s sometimes hard to keep going because you wonder about the importance of what you do – rest assured it IS important. What we do keeps independent thought alive, gives hope, points a finger at naked emperors and reminds everyone that following the crowd isn’t a good idea, and that not speaking out because you’re worried about what others think is the worst idea ever, because silence is what gives bullies room and encouragement to grow.

What’s the best way for an author to end her day?
For this author in particular it’s dinner with housemates, then watching a program together, then playing some Elder Scrolls Online, and finally going to sleep with a book or graphic novel (I’m partial to re-reading Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos, and at the moment am re-reading Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda and yearning for the next trade issue of it).



BIOGRAPHY: Angela’s debut novel, Vigil, was released by Jo Fletcher Books in 2016, with Corpselight and Restoration to follow in 2017 and 2018. She is the author of eight short story collections. Angela has won a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, one Ditmar Award, and five Aurealis Awards. Angela has been a Queensland Writers Fellow, the Established Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, and received career development grants from Arts Queensland and the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. She has an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing. Angela has just been nominated for a Locus Award for her Vigil.

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[poetry]: The Mermaid

by on Apr.05, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris, 2006 —

Do not let me build dreams
if you will not walk into them.
Do not let me fall into the dark
if you will not be my hurricane lamp.
Do not cast nets if you
would not pull a mermaid out
Let her swim back into the deep.

But if you catch and befriend,
If you watch as she dances; know this.

When she flexes needle-pricked soles that bleed,
When her hips mimic her sister’s undulation
and her hands clap like a sea-mammal in captivity,
It is not because a sea-witch has pulled out her tongue.

It is because she cannot bring herself
to say the words or to move her body
in ways her aquatic self knows best.

So if you catch her, be kind.

Do not still the music, do not stop the dance.
Let her worry the words that squirm,
Like eels at the base of her fear.

Let her pull them out.

(3-10 March 2006)

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[poetry]: Plato’s Dream

by on Apr.05, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris, 1998 —

(inspired by Aristophanes’ Dialogue in Plato’s Symposium)

let me grow here, alone, unfelt, unseen,
let me step into these shadows
out of your demanding light
let me grow, hidden and wild
in shadowy groves,
in dew-soaked nooks
where the soil is lush and damp.
a wildflower knows only
the kiss of sunlight
mates only with the morning dew
let me soak here unnoticed

in aeons of vegetative
ecstasy

never the kitten
nor a house-bred tabby
preening amongst the potted plants
i will jump off rocks
for no phaon
leucus wait not for me
desire for the pounding surf
is all i need

let me ascend, arise
as one with tiptoed feet
eyes the fresh-washed moon
rising over
aeolian waters

a solitary lioness stalks the long grass

a shadowy diver poised above the precipice

let me be the fire
as it burns on the coals of dreams
and i will strum on lyre
beat at drums,whirl with hennaed feet
around a circle of desire
while my hidden voices roar

alone,
complete
infinite
within this cycle of oneness
i will renounce
plato’s dream —

and lay to rest my phantoms

(15 June 1998- last line amended 29th November 2002)

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[poetry]: lateral revolutions

by on Apr.05, 2017, under Poetry, Runaway Words

(c) Nin Harris, 2005 —

I

I awake from textual simulacra
of green-laced birdsong
and binary flora and woods.
Fresh-washed of hexadecimal
visions; I strive
to contain a
carbon – ridden form
within actuality of
the Moment.

(15 February 2005)

II

Forgetting reason and
needful places within the soul
— I seek self-directed
retribution nestled
within interstices of sound.
They are different from sensation
but still the same – unbidden yet
mathematical in crystalline symmetry.
I seek solace in,
semi-tonal modalities
nestled between
time and space.

Raise one, lower another –
till I know not
what comes before and after.
(3 March 2005)

III

Distinct; the trill of sparrows
in a post-diluvian dawn
conveys semiotic imprints
to perplex my soul
from embedded slumber
I find myself again
where the thread unravels

Lost; a monosyllabic
resolution to a quest
of findings.

Found; a backstory
containing no meaning beyond
glittering sharp edges of
glistening words.
(9 March 2005)

IV

Woodsmoke furling around
aural angles and curvature.
I remember this.

I have sung paeans to this
collocation of sensate modalities
like joyce within a textual stream,
I seek the undoing of cohesion.
I have danced barefoot
between these waiting trees
of sharp-angled alphabets before.

I have revisited these morphemes, phonemes –
sundry units of sound; arranging
then rearranging like some
obsessed housewife keeping
semitones in order –
wordchild dancing within
syntax and context;
presupposing there is no
universe outside of sounds;
chaotic and uniform.

Where will you find me?
– Somewhere between anvil, stirrup and hammer.

Where will I find me?
– Somewhere beyond lateral revolutions
against the palate.
(14 March 2005)

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[poetry]: The Clockwork Tide

by on Apr.01, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris 1999 —

Nessun maggior dolore. Che ricordarsi del tempo felice Nella miseria

– Dante Aliegheri, from The Inferno

the sea strikes –>
patterns left on the shore
are like the marks of experience
upon self.

touched by the sea,
carved, changed, wrapped, sucked in,
thrown back onto the sand
are sandcastles crafted from
expectorated verbiage.

(legitimise this breakdown of cohesion –>
the trails my fingerpads make on
the pane separating us
my hungry breath that
frosts the glass
)

waters swirling –> cresting
in her afternoon tempests
the coastline is loveliest in the morning
despite the ravages of the night
all the debris has been wiped away by the night-tide
yet to be washed –> in noon-tide
what will the currents bring today?

{remove these remnants of
‘humanity’
verbiage debris trivialities
salt water will pierce and pickle us clean
all the ground
bones of aquatic ancestors, in the air that you breathe
redolent luxuriate exfoliate these
grimy senses
}

*

can one write about absence as
accurately as one writes about presence?
can it accurately delineate
every fibre? acuity – is sometimes only felt
when that which has been possessed
is taken away from us.
what is added –> subtracts
what subtracts –>donates
the immediate sensation
of loss – brings home to me
what has been swept in –>
felt, recorded, filed away always in there –>
and what has swept out –>
nudging –> piercing
a soul poised within a soul.

*

harm not a fly
if you are who you say you are
does the hidden foot smell?
humanity’s best foot forward
brings forth –> debris
purity is a dream
fettered –> but unconquered
optimism in the wake of this machinery
and the lemmings rush into the sea –>
trivialities –> shackled divinity
the light is dimmed –>
stamped out –> but it burns
expectorated verbiage
flotsam – ad nauseum
ad nauseum
AD NAUSEUM

*

true voices –> do not speak in tongues
click against the roof of your mouth
curl around the sounds of vowels and
the clip of consonants –>
pleasure not quite added up yet
to the unseen whole

will racial memory herald the death
of Art?

If perfect memory
sprawls into ribbon-like halls of
records with meticulous notations
within our souls, would Art exist?

human beings are ultimate litter:
but litter too can be beautiful
when it combines, when it is absorbed.


If you must toss me out
make me bio-degradable, dear.

primeval ultimate purity
music is the language that
seats at the base of your
soul.

cerebral larynx
making music without sound
deeper falls the harpoon
in search of narwhals beneath the ice.

*

what is poetry? a chain of words.
a coil.

speak not to fools –> but listen to
them for they divulge more truth
than they think they do.
than you think they do.
volcanoes spewing out the
building blocks of the coastline
rocks are hewn down, chipped away
slowly –> coarse sand or smooth powder
which one came first?
we walk upon the crushed
bones of ancestors.

there is no greater magic
than this inter-connectivity –>
dining off the tears
of some matriarch
buried in the depths

a womb encircling
the clockwork tide
the rubberband that coils around us all-
the serpent gorging on its tail –>
longevity is the
sunlight reflected off the sea
inter-connectivity.
i nurture the loki
coiling at the
base of my being
too aware of
soul tendrils
dredging for ore at the
core of my thoughts.
my careless fingers
must sift unseen
and scavenge.

(5 December 1999)

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[poetry]: The Emissary

by on Apr.01, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris

trickster-like
an emissary nudged into
free-associative
pictures of the mind
ante.sleep
raven-wings bound
at nape; discoursing art and myth
pigments and colors suffuse
soft-eyed animus with
gesticulating hands
that would later smooth sheets
on a dreaming street sloping
downwards to the sea.

she gapes at paintings and sculptures
feet tapping on shiny wooden floors,
cold winds blowing into elaborate
art show of the mind.
an elegant scrawl labels
every piece with latin, oglala
yoruba, gaelic and keraton whilst
bisons, standing stones, maenads
whirl in expressionistic squiggles
and splashes of pigments:
orange, red and demure peach for
what is first seen at birth,
blue and silver of refracted light on
undersides of scholarly fish, then
black, indigo and adamantine
threatening to encase.
tasting salt on the tongue
the observer hovers
at the entrance of a fictive tableau
she could choose not to weave;
words she could choose to savour without
expressing them into waking sounds.
pre-existing only when the dreamer
is sightless and drifting,
pushing a little into the veil between
grandmother Whale breaches before
tunneling back into the blue.
( 8 March 2006)

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[poetry]: Language of the Green

by on Apr.01, 2017, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris

{mother i cannot breathe}

these thoughts blanket me
stifle like walls as we speak
we inhale exhausted green
exhale and out again are words
that entomb like wrappings
and trappings of tombs

my fingerpads like the “O” of
air exhaled; oscillated-osculated
they make patterns on the glass

separating outside from within

air comes in-between us
great matrix of connectivity
intersecting thoughts from bloodstream
to bloodstream.

my heart translates
messages the green encodes
wispy veins on parchment
{leaves in life-giving mode}

a melody of green resonating,
air initiates the rhythm of
.existence.

*

II

the language of green
can it be found in filaments of colour?
or in exhalations made as diaphragms contract.
instruments of survival-fingerpads will
run then splay across ribs
which protract as they
protect blood-pumping heart
and these lungs heaving
to keep me standing
and fuel the passion
of this art.

these organs receive
the language of green and
transcribe it like an army
of UN interpreters —
organic pipelines move
results found upwards then downwards
where it sings to
chambers of heart and head with
far more efficacy than
any security council
could ever envision
in political pipedreams.

what? you say politics
have no place in
epiphany

it exists
as all else must, you know.

the green has a secret plan
to overthrow the government
of flesh and blood

{listen}

they control a valuable resource
use it well, heed it well
you will never be majority
without their
sanction

we are nothing
without
air.

There’s your hegemony.

*

III

i grew up beneath the
shading trees of both
my imagination and the reality
of blistering afternoons in the tropics
leaves filtering light within me
freeing oxygen moving within
my blood, red as the flametree blossoms
red as chinese firecrackers signifying
wealth

red as the red red bloom of courtly love

fluttering air-making green fuels the power within my stride

– it is the slave driver pushing
these sounds out
from my diaphragm to the larynx
moving it into the waiting spaces
between our thoughts
gently coercing its way into
syllables created to undo structures

this air we breathe is a constant
lover
moulding itself
to thoughts- to skin
– to skim the water even as it
slips into our
veins

the gift of trees
and the lightsucking moss you
trample beneath your feet

air encodes the sigh
another tree cut
to print this out.

(12-15 JUNE 2001, revised 4 JULY 2002)

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On Authorship

by on Feb.17, 2017, under (post)colonial Gothic academia, The Escritoire

I’m creating this post as a kind of place-holder to explain why on my bibliography I no longer list the editors of the publications that have my stories in them.

I initially listed all of their names because I’m very proud and honoured* to be working with those editors — and to keep track of which editor pulled which story of mine out of slush.

But this pride has turned to consternation as some mind-boggling sorts take it to mean I am not the sole author of my works. I’ve seen places where authors are attributed alone while I am attributed along with my editors. Now, this is patently ridiculous. Even the one story that got a revision request in my oeuvre was still revised with my having full autonomy over the story. Alas, this also meant a huge typo got through, but that’s fine, mistakes happen. When I work with some editors, it’s mostly hands-off — as in they give me the permission to make whatever changes I may need to make (typos etc, very few). Some editors do have a more active hand in that they would suggest a different phrasing, or suggest I change a transition between scenes (actually, only one editor has done this and this was early on in my career). But mostly, my stories are my own and while there is always dialogue and constant communication with my editors (I think communication is very important in all working relationships), I remain the author of my texts.

Now, I wouldn’t have to spell this out if I weren’t an Asian woman from a developing country in the Global South. It irks me that I have to do so. When I was working on my PhD dissertation on Helen Oyeyemi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, it really had me spitting blood to read an academic article that insinuated that when authors like Oyeyemi and Adichie thanked their editors it’s because those editors were ghostwriters. I never actually thought the same situation would befall me. I really should have made the correlation.

This is naturally in response to an extremely bad faith review that decided to credit my work both to me and the editor in charge of the magazine. I suppose in their mind it was unimaginable that one not from the first world had anything of value to say.

I am generally quite phlegmatic about the various interpretations to my works, even the wrong-minded ones. Mostly, I giggle at them. But I take aspersions cast upon authorship very seriously indeed. I also pity people who are so insular, with worlds so narrow and shriveled up that they cannot imagine that people outside of that world have the capacity and competence to create, and to articulate. But I suppose that was the thrust of my PhD dissertation as well — articulation, and how we are stymied every time we raise our voices, by these forces, these imperialistic forces** that assert themselves in the most appalling of ways.

*okay, okay, more like, star-struck!

** to be clear, I actually even had a Malaysian ask me “how much of that story did you write and how much of it was your editor’s work?”

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Publication Day: “Prosthetic Daughter” in Issue #125, Clarkesworld Magazine

by on Feb.02, 2017, under Publications!, SFF

Hi!

I am still super-excited (and super-nervous) about having a THIRD story out in Clarkesworld. I may get black and blue from all of the pinching of self that’s happening right now.

Today’s publication day post is about the intro story for a series of stories I’ve been plotting out about Admiral Zhen-Juan since 2015, after the publication of “Your Right Arm” in Clarkesworld. But the core idea of taking “prosthetic brains” to their most melodramatic conclusion actually came from a Memory Network conference I attended at the University of Roehampton in 2014. I’d had a crash course of sorts in the directions Memory Studies had taken while I was working on postmemory based on LaCapra and Hirsch’s work for my PhD dissertation. I was intrigued by the idea of prosthetic brains, and excited by the papers presented about “neurolit”. I wasn’t really thinking about writing academic articles about “neurolit” (although I still have a couple of William Gibson articles in drafts). Instead, I badly wanted to write neuropunk type space opera.

So. “Your Right Arm” sold. Directly after, I started drafting my first story about Zhen-Juan on Teja-II. She was sneaking away in the night from her spouse to go on a covert mission for the Bunian Empire. She resented this a lot. I knew she’d been exiled, but I didn’t quite know why. It evolved into a kind of military SF-space-opera-neuropunk hybrid, but it was missing several important components. It took me nearly a year to work out what I wanted to flesh out.

When I write any story, I tend to start with a strong sense of the characters in my stories. My narratives are influenced by my perception of those characters. I don’t think I’ve adored a character as much as I adore Zhen-Juan. Writing her felt natural, with her long face, with her self-effacing lack of ability to see her own qualities (and her faults). And I always wanted to write about a lady time-traveler. I’m not going to say too much about her disabilities because that would spoil the story, but at least two are ones I partially share, one as someone who has been partially paralysed due to spinal injury. So, there was Zhen-Juan.

I had a sense something terrible had happened to estrange her from her home planet. I couldn’t really work out what it was. It really bugged me for a few months. I’d sit down with my paper journal and just come up with several ideas but none seemed to fit who she was as a person, not in an organic, natural progression sort of way. Everything clicked into place after I wrote an academic review about Letters to Tiptree, which required me to read not just the book, but Tiptree’s short stories. It was love at first read for some of those short stories (I’d read “The Women Men Don’t See” when I was a teenager). What I loved about her narratives were how generous they were, how expansive in some ways of the sense of character and place, while a searing anger underscored so many of her stories. It set off a fire in my brain. And I asked myself, “What frightens you?”, which had me remembering that masterclass I took with Ian McDonald about “writing down your fear” in 2015. I freely admit I was skeptical during the workshop because it was all so touchy-feely to my INTj brain but yo! Later, it made SO MUCH SENSE.

So I sat down and tried to work out what scared the ever-loving shit out of me (pardon my french).

And I had my answer.

I’ve known many Yun-Lis in my life. Since my days in primary school. When I was an undergraduate. In my working life. Since I’ve had (mild) successes in both the academic and authorly sphere, I’ve had to endure an escalation of various shenanigans by people who exhibit “zero-sum game, winner takes all” mentality. To no avail would I say or try to demonstrate that, “really, there’s no competition, it’s great if everyone succeeds”. They’d agree but they’d still be obsessed and bizarre. Honestly, the more published I get, the more I feel like a scared rabbit. So  there was something to write about, I thought.  Needless to say, in real life, I generally shy away from these sorts. They terrify me, though so what better antagonist?  I thought that would make an interesting kind of adversary, especially in a space opera military setting. But I don’t like writing outright bad antagonists — and I wanted to show that Yun-Li was a flawed but rounded character. I also wanted Zhen-Juan to be unaware of her own actions and motivations. It was a bit of a challenge, one that required me to sit inside Zhen-Juan’s head quite a bit.

So there you have it. Thematically, I thought to write a story about prosthetic and collective memories (me having fun with the idea of personal and public memory, which I’ve written so many thousands of words about as an academic), family, identity theft, survival, and of course, time travel. But really it’s up to anyone to make of the story what they will, reading is a subjective experience, after all. Don’t let my views as an author determine how you read 8)

I have no real knowledge if I’ll ever sell another Admiral Zhen-Juan story (impostor syndrome never goes away!) but I’m going to keep on writing them because I have never written a character that I liked this much, flaws and all. The next one is more fun!

Note on the title: The working title for this was the Tiptree-esque “Elision Elision The Teeth in My Spine” but I changed it during revisions because “Prosthetic Daughter” was perfect in so many ways (also that title felt a bit pretentious) — it is basically a neuropunk military space opera. This has nothing to do with the a certain anthology which started being publicized around the time my story had already been accepted.

Prosthetic Daughter, Issue #125, Clarkesworld Magazine, February 2017.

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