Please come join us for an evening of music, performance, words!
Killjoy Speaker Series #2
KILLJOY is a collective that organizes events for the QTBIPOC community on unceded Coast Salish territories. The april speaker series is coinciding with an online campaign to fundraise for a QTBIPOC-centred arts festival in august. Campaign here: generosity.com/
Too distracted prepping for said presentations I haven’t inputted the details into my Events page! But I thought I need to place it Somewhere!
Oh MY GOD! I’ve been sitting on this news forever! And now we can finally talk about it!
Our first ever graphic novel will be published with First Second Books in 2018. Still a ways to go, Celine will be starting her brilliant but long labour (respect!) of making visual art out of words soon. I’ll blog a bit more about the process later, but for now a big colourful (if it’s online colour ink is free! free! FREE!) splashy announcement and interview in the LA Times 0____0 !!!
TWELVE MILLION KERMIT ARMS FLAILING IN THE AIR YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYY!!!!
Thank you to my Agent, Sally Harding & the Cooke Agency for finding the perfect home for this project! Thank you to Calista Brill at First Second for seeing the spirit of what I imagined…. ~___~
Is blogging still a thing? I’ve fallen off of regular postings. My partner reassures me that I’m micro-blogging on Twitter and I suppose it’s true. A dear writer friend of mine, who is very savvy, has pointed out writing a lot on a blog is basically writing for free, when it’s important that we try to find gigs that will pay us for our labour. Yes, I thought. That’s true. It takes time to write a post and when I had kept a more regular stream of entries I would find creative energy rather spent after a particularly long piece. But then a blog is also a nice way to share some thoughts with readers & the broader writing community so there’s that.
Hullo! Today’s topic is Radio Interviews! XD XD XD
It’s been a while since I’ve been on air. Thank you, Julia & Art, for having me come in for the Writing Life program! Happily it wasn’t live, but pre-recorded. Far less pressure for those (like me) who get all sweaty at the idea of not being able to take something back….
Tips on how to prepare for Interview both live & pre-corded:
- Listen to previous interviews that the program has conducted.
- Ask for a list of questions, even rough copy, of what they intend to ask to be sent to you several days prior to interview.
- If there’s a question that you think is inappropriate, etc. let the interviewer know you cannot respond to that question. (But also don’t think you can veto almost all of them, unless there’s some huge problem with the line of questioning– then it’s better to just politely let them know that this doesn’t seem like the right venue for your work, thank you for the invitation, however. Be professional.)
- Review the questions and jot down notes for yourself, so if you have brain freeze your notes will bring you back.
- Practice aloud at home, by yourself or with someone else asking you the questions.
Julia and Art were all graciousness and the questions very professional & engaging. We’d gone through most of the questions and I was feeling rather relieved that I’d held it together, we were almost done. They asked me if I ever experienced writer’s block and if I did, what I did to deal with it.
Yes, I experience it, I relayed. Going off the interview notes script I’d prepared for myself I decided I wanted to reference Octavia E. Butler (for the listeners, because not everyone knows about her amazing Speculative Fiction) and create an analogy between how I deal with writer’s block and the behaviour of the aliens in her Xenogenesis trilogy….
In the trilogy, I explained, there’s an alien race called the Oankali, who have three sexes. The third sex was able to manipulate genetic material, and shape things in this special organ inside them, called a…. My mind groped around in the dark for the word. “Ya….” As Julia and Art gazed at me and the interview silence began stretching my mouth completed the word before my mind was finished… “ni”. “Yani.”
A little thought bubble wafted around in my back brain, “Really? Was that the word?” but my forebrain was charging ahead to complete the interview. The alien, I explained, with the “yani” would sometimes find itself in need of new genetic materials. They’d say, “My yani hungers.” And so they would go out to collect new things. When I have writer’s block, I explained, I think of it as feeding my “yani”. I read books, watch films, go to art galleries, etc. to feed what’s been depleted…. A petit uneasiness lingered in the deepest reaches of my thought bubble mind, but I forged on, the need to be present and respond efficiently and clearly so necessary on radio. Finally I was done. Phew!
I thanked my kind hosts and walked home, set back to working on a very difficult presentation on gender, feminism and identity constructs for an upcoming university visit.
Many days later I received an email from Art that the interview would air the next day. The day of, a few hours before the program was to begin the little thought bubble in the back of my brain slowly bobbed its way to the front and swelled into comprehension. “It’s not ‘yani’…the organ in the third sex in the Oankali is the ‘yashi’. It’s ‘yashi’! You said ‘yani’ because you conflated ‘yoni’ with ‘yashi’, you actually said on radio, “My yani hungers.” YOU MIGHT AS WELL SAID, MY PUSSY HUNGERS!!!!! OH MY GODDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!
Dear friends, sometimes, no matter how well you prepare, you will make a mistake.
Make it a glorious one.
The video of my talk, “Protest”, is up!
I had the honour of speaking at EMMA Talks: Engaging Monologues, Mutual Aid, this autumn, with artist and activist Julie Flett. Her talk should be up on the site soon! EMMA Talks states: “The core purpose of EMMA Talks is to bring important stories by women identified* writers, activists, thinkers, storytellers, makers and doers, from the periphery to the public.”
I felt so lucky to be in a room filled with so many different women, men, non-binary folks in a mood of openness and acceptance. Thank to the EMMA Talks crew, Simon Fraser University, and, in particular, Carla Bergman and Corin Brown for making this happen.
(It feels weird to talk about myself in the third person, but this seemed the most pragmatic way to make this title searchable (findable)!)
*including two spirited, trans* and gender non-conforming folks.
Had a great experience with Canadian Women in the Literary Arts– Tina Northrup asked interesting questions and these are the best kinds of interviews– when the interviewer has us thinking longer and more deeply. It’s also freaking great to be interviewed in a feminist venue. Please go take a look!
I’ve decided to detail my upcoming trip to Japan here, rather than in the Upcoming Events section because, for the most part, I don’t have the exact information on the locations (such as building name, room number, etc.) and some of the events won’t be open to the public. The ones I’m certain that are open to the public I will make note of– if in doubt, if you’re in the area and would like to attend please contact the Literature Department for more details.
June 24: Symposium at Sugiyama Jogakuen University “History, Myth, Folklore”. Open to public. 4:30pm.
June 26: University of Yamanashi. Presentation for students.
June 27: University of Yamanashi. Canadian Lit. Conference. Delivering keynotes with Larissa Lai.
June 30: E.H. Norman Speaker Series: “Literary Dialogue between Canadian & Japanese Women Writers” Larissa Lai & I will be delivering a short talk followed by a group discussion with Mari Kotani and Yukiko Chino. 7-8:30pm. Open to public, registration required. For further details.
July 3: University of Hiroshima. Presentation for students.
July 4: University of Hiroshima. SES Japan. I’ll be delivering the keynote.
July 8: Yonago College of Technology.
A whirlwind tour! Excited about the many conversations I’ll have with new friends, and especially hearing stories from the young people. I’m also thrilled to be in Japan during Tanabata Festival. Thank you, Hidemi Kishino sensei, for making all of this possible.
Humidity is Japan is going to be about 90%!!! I will just do a sidestroke through the air….
I would like to acknowledge the Ho-Chunk and Dakota Sioux Nations and their traditional lands. I am a guest, here, and I am grateful. Thank you, to the WisCon community and committee members, who have invited me as a guest of honour. I am deeply touched and so very chuffed the glow will travel to the far reaches of the outer universe when I leave this earthly plane with my Tiptree noion. Thank you, to my partner, Dana Putnam, whose love and support sees me through thick and thin, who reads all of my first drafts and provides thoughtful feedback and is willing to embark upon all manner of conversations including what would happen to our relationship if I turned into a cow. Gratitude to Kafryn Lieder who has been my WisCon liaison and has carefully made all the arrangements so that Dana and I arrived here comfortably. And deep gratitude to the many, many volunteers who have worked so hard, so generously, to make this Con happen every year. Greetings, to fellow guest of honour, Nora K. Jemisin, to everyone here; writers, readers, scholars, feminists, allies, badasses. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu.
Story is what has brought me here, today. Story is what has brought you here. We are alike and very unalike in many, many ways. Our bodies, our genders, our sexuality, cultural and historical backgrounds, class, faith, atheism, migration, immigration, colonization, have had us experiencing our lives and our sense of place (if not home) in distinct and particular ways. These differences, at times can divide us. These differences can be used against us to keep us divided. But here we find ourselves. Look around you. The faces of friends and the faces of strangers. We came here because of story. There is much power in story.
When I had my first nervous breakdown (I’ve only had the one, but having one when I thought I never would has opened up the possibility that I may have more, although let-the- spirits-see-me-through-the-rest-of-my-life-without-a-second-one!), I finally got into low-budget subsidized counseling after a year on the wait list. I have no true objective sense of what I’m like as a client. (Am I a client? Not a customer…. I wouldn’t call myself a patient. Impatient, maybe.) Probably I was stiff and rather reserved. I spoke like Spock for several months. Why do you talk like that? My counselor once asked me. Like what? I said.
During one of our sessions I mentioned how I was very upset with someone who had called me controlling. I don’t have control issues, I claimed. No more than anyone else, I amended.
I see a lot of artists, my counselor said. Artists and writers have to control their medium, don’t they? she said.
Spock changed the subject.
Numerous years have passed since that exchange and I can now concede that in writing stories I control what goes into them. At the same time, I’m informed by the world around me, and my first readers and editors have significant influence during the editing stage of the publishing process. Once the book is published I have no control over how my stories are read. I can only hope that the content and the techniques I used (a form of control) has rendered a story that is near to what I had intended.
The best of stories I have read has led me to places I would not have journeyed on my own. Trapped within my own subjective reality, I’m often confounded by the limits of my own thinking. I would like to be able to surprise myself, but I rarely do. I’m always utterly aware of what I think, if not why, and the banality of my own patterns can fill me with dismay. Of course I experience wonder in my engagements with other people, or in my interactions with nature or art, or music. But my own consciousness can begin to sound like Marvin the Paranoid Android. Not so much because I have the brain the size of a planet, but because I’m trapped within my own conscious self-consciousness.
What can a body do?
We can read….
Stories are powerful devices. And like all powerful devices they are capable of doing great harm as well as great good. Traditionally published fiction in North America has been predominantly representational fiction. The stories are recreations of known or recognizable elements in our world such as people, animals, plant-life, etc. in an environment be it urban, rural, or “wild”, in some form of interaction that is relational. Science fiction, fantasy and horror may bring in elements that are imagined, or yet to be invented or discovered, etc. However, the narratives are still informed by a world experienced through a human filter, and, often, the introduction of the fantastic can be a way of better understanding the existing workings and relationships with the experiential world of that moment. The best of science fiction and fantasy can cast a kind of bending light. We see the familiar in unfamiliar ways. We see the unfamiliar in familiar ways.
Writing story is the act of inscribing a specific vision. But in inscribing the specific story she’d like to share the writer exerts her control. In doing so she eliminates the possibilities of other inclusions. So writing stories can be, simultaneously, an act of creating as well as an act of exclusion.
How important, then, that published stories come from diverse sources; from the voices, experiences, subjectivities and realities of many rather than from the imagination of dominant white culture. For even as we’ve been enriched and enlightened by tales from Western tradition, stories are also carriers and vectors for ideologies. And the white literary tradition has a long legacy of silencing, erasing, distorting and misinforming.
Social media has had an effect upon how writers think about representation. Blogs, listservs, Livejournal, Facebook, Twitter, tumblr… sometimes the messages are simple and/or simplistic (Really, how much critical deconstructionist discourse can be accomplished in 140 characters?), but what some of these forms lack in complexity they make up for it in outcomes because of the speed with which the message travels and how many it can reach. There is power in numbers. When enough people are hashtagging WeNeedDiverseBooks there is an effect. Publishers think about ways they can expand their sales. Writers who haven’t much thought about diversity begin wondering what it’s all about. They begin to research and reconsider. Writers who have been writing stories with diverse subject matter and subjectivities raise their fist high in the air and shout, YES!
Readers and fans now have the capacity, in ways they’ve never had before, to effect change upon what kinds of stories will reach the public sphere. The one-way control that traditional publishing has held is being eroded by the needs and the desires of a reading public that will not be defined by an older colonial ideological imperative. Diverse readers are demanding stories that represent far more than white middle-class North America. We want and need narratives of diversity not just set in our present, but in our past and far, far into the future. And not only because these narratives are in short supply, but, more importantly, these inclusive tellings are a part of every day reality for everyone. This is realistic representation.
Much of my writing has been informed by a keen understanding of missing stories. One of my rather simple strategies has been to people my stories with main characters of, primarily, East Asian descent, from a North American context. Mainstream publishing does not in any way reflect the actual demographics of our society. And for such a very long time.
My first novel was a heartfelt roar against a lifetime of experiencing the effects of distorted renderings of Asian women in North American popular culture. I was taking control of my own representation, on my own terms, in my own language.
It matters who and what is being focused upon in fiction. It matters who is creating a fictional account of these tellings. I don’t think the “burden of representation” rests upon the shoulders of those who are positioned as under-represented. If this were the case we would fall into an essentialist trap that will serve no one well. However, I’m okay with saying that it is my hope that white writers who are interested in writing about cultures and subjectivities outside of their own consider very carefully: 1) how many writers from the culture you wish to represent have been published in your country writing in the same language you will use (i.e. English) to write the story, 2) why do you think you’re the best person to write this story? 3) who will benefit if you write this story? 4) why are you writing this story? 5) who is your intended audience? 6) if the people/culture you are selecting to write about has not had enough time, historically and structurally, to tell their story first, on their own terms, should you be occupying this space?
Stories are wondrous devices. They can serve as time travel modules as well as being the most perfect empathy generating operations with holographic capabilities. Stories can create imaginary simulations of experience so rich and dense they can feel like they are your own. We can live and die, mourn and rejoice; we can feel affinity for a fictional character in a more intimate way than we can feel for our dearest friends and lovers, because we are allowed access to a character’s mind. Fiction can sometimes feel more real than our lived lives. If only in that moment of intense connection, when our physical world slides away, and the words casts another before your mind’s eye.
This magic is not a bubble world that exists in a neutral space. The magic was wrought by the author who has a connection to the world she was born into, and she consciously and subconsciously carries those relationships into the story.
The second stage of relationship can be found inside the story—the relationships between characters and their settings as written by the author. The relationships between the fictional elements are modified representations of what the author knows and/or imagines. Writers are creating semblances of relations in order to create a simulation for a particular effect.
The third relational moment is when the reader connects with the narrative— when she willingly suspends disbelief and accepts the story experience into her consciousness. At that moment the reader is engaged in a relationship with the writer, mediated by story. The writer has guided the parameters of the relationship, but she never has absolute control. The reader always has the power to terminate the relationship at any time by closing the book. The reader is not a blank slate of appreciation. The reader brings with her her own experiences of the world she lives in and this mediates her understanding and appreciation of the text.
Finally, when the story has been read and integrated into the reader’s understanding, she carries that experience and learning back into her own experiential world, a little changed, perhaps, and it may affect her own interactions with people in her life.
Imagine this happening one hundred times. A thousand times. Ten thousand times. A hundred thousand times….
Stories are powerful engagements.
If you are writing stories with the intention of dispersing them to a wider public how great the responsibility that is placed upon your shoulders. No one has enlisted you to take up this responsibility. In the moment when the writer decides she will share her story with others she has willingly engaged in an action that sets off vectors of expanding relations that move both forward and backward into time. For just as the writer has ties to lives, communities, history, the future, so, too, do the story and the readers who will interact with the representation.
This level of responsibility can be paralyzing. How can we ever know enough, be mindful enough, to be able, at the very least, to do no harm to others? How do we dare place words in the mouths not our own? Who am I to embark upon this engagement when what I know, what I have experienced, is such a tiny mark upon this planet?
Silence. In the space where your voice would have rang out with its distinct articulation. The moment you silence yourself a gap opens up, and someone else who may have no qualms in occupying that space, will leap in to speak out on their own terms. If you’re a writer (a dreamer) from a people, a community, a history that has been long-marginalized, silenced or misrepresented, we so desperately need to hear your story in your voice, in your own grammar of perception and articulation….
When the seed of desire to write stories first began germinating inside my chest I did not think about control, representation, ideologies, power systems, colonialism. I was a lonely child who was much confused by the workings of a hypocritical adult world, where adults said one thing, then did the opposite. When the people who said they loved me were also the people who hurt me the most. Where school was a blur of confusion and uncertainty sat with me at the kitchen table every single day. I was in Grade Three or Four when the confusing array of consonants and vowels transformed from syllabic syncopation into the English language. I could read. And, suddenly, I could fly….
Flight is a crucial survival technique. For all that we imagine otherwise, without our weapons we are not an apex predator. Our nails are soft. Our teeth blunt. Our skin easily pierced. Children and women feel their vulnerability most keenly. I was child growing up with Christian parents who loved me, but were also dysfunctional. The rod was not spared and we were not spoiled. Any stability to be found was provided by my grandmother. But she was also an older woman, living in the home of my father. She was also a person of her generation and she a part of the administration of punishments for bad behavior.
“We got in trouble so much,” I once said to my sister. “Why were we always in trouble or afraid that we were going to be in trouble. How bad were we? I don’t remember. It’s all a blur.”
“We were being children,” my sister said.
Reading provided an escape from the confusion of the adult-ruled world around me. Stories transported me to places far from home, where I could feel with my entire being, infused with passion, suspense, adventure, love, longing, magic, without there being a risk to my core self. I could feel without fear. Stories allowed for an engagement that opened my young sensibilities to experience a wider world, a wider imagination, a nuanced and subtle emotional range that could not be safely explored from inside my family dynamics. These childish explorations I embarked upon in fiction can be said to be controlled environments. I did not know this then. When I was a child I thought as a child and my emotions were simple but keenly intense in that way children are capable of feeling. Reading allowed me to explore an emotional landscape that ranged far and wide, and this was possible through the growing powers of imagination. The more I read, the more my powers of imagination developed.
When I became an adult and a writer I thought as an adult with a wider range of historical and cultural contexts to understand the complicated world in which I lived. I could identify the oppressive systems that are used to govern and control, and I could think of ways I could destabilize these forces, in small ways, through actions. In my writing I could shape different kinds of story structures, cast focus upon different kinds of heroes, and illustrate dynamics that imagined alternate ways of understanding power and conflict. I thought as an adult, and wrote as an adult, but I did not put away all the childish things.
For all that vast swathes of my childhood memories have been lost or buried, I have not forgotten the sweet pain intensity of emotional engagement that can be felt through story. This is a feeling I still experience today. I have kept these feelings intact. Just as I have carried my imagination, or my imagination has carried me, from my childhood to where I am today. Here. In this very space in time. A brief and miniscule moment in the great vast stream of the universe. An engagement between friends and strangers, bridged by words, carried by story.
There is a Japanese term: kotodama. Word spirit. When you invoke a word you animate it. It becomes. We see echoes of this in other religions/philosophies. I.e. the word is god. When writers try to imagine different ways of engaging, humans to other humans, humans with aliens, humans with animals, all these different relationships, we can make possible new kinds of engagements. To bring stories alive in this way is to try to make change in the workings and fabric of our world. If something is not of this world already, it first needs to be imagined. After it is imagined, it needs to be shaped by the parameters of language. And in writing, in the utterance, the story can begin its life. It can become.
And so we begin. With each telling. With every retelling. A slight skewing of the familiar toward a different plane. The perspective shifts and the way the light falls upon the world casts it anew, ripe with possibility.
What an honour and also bemusing to think that twenty years have already passed….
Larissa Lai so generously wrote a thoughtful and historically contextualized afterword and Smaro Kamboureli conducts an interview with me. I think this reissue will be particularly good for students and instructors. Although I like to think it will be good for everyone….
Excerpt from the interview:
SK: All this draws attention to the enduring power of storytelling. Do you think that being able to tell our own stories is crucial to figuring out who we are, how we have come to be where we are?
HG: The telling of stories is a way for people to articulate their histories, their realities and dreams on their own terms. It’s an act of empowerment and imaginative vitality—a creative resistance against forces that may otherwise distort or misrepresent. Stories can speak back. They can be a springboard for a new kind of discourse, or a momentary resting place for the weary. They can be a kind of food for our spirit and soul. It is so important for us to be able to speak our own stories, and to understand our realities through a language and culture that is specific and contextualized within our histories and to the land where we reside.
© 2014 Smaro Kamboureli and Hiromi Goto
Thank you, NeWest Press, for this lovely book!
It should be out by the end of April! Arcs and preview copies available. Please contact NeWest. email@example.com