Tagged! Virtual Blog Tour

Self has a lot of catching up to do with regards to honoring the lovely Rashaan Alexis-Meneses’ tagging of Kanlaon for the Virtual Blog Tour.

She was tagged two weeks ago, but summer is always a blur.  In the summer, self’s brain seems to work at half-time.  Not. Kidding.

Nevertheless, she is now at full attention and ready to participate!

First things first:


“. . .  in your blog you acknowledge the people who invited you, answer four given questions about your work and your process, then invite three other people to participate.”

For this post only, self will drop the 3rd person arch-ness and go for first person SINCERE.

My responses are only slightly tongue-in-cheek.

What are you currently working on?

A series of speculative fiction stories, most of them flash, all of them intriguing. LOL LOL LOL

One of them, “The Elephant,” will appear in the next issue of Your Impossible Voice.

“The Secret Room” is already up, on Café Irreal.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t “do” narratives of identity.

I write narratives of deformity.

We’re all monsters.  In one way or another.  Inside.

I dig deep to find that which makes us wretched.

Why do you write/ create what you do?

Because I can’t help myself.  And because writing, frankly, is the only thing I’m REALLY good at.

Honestly, if someone had told me, way back when, “Your life will be spent mostly in an empty room (empty of people, that is), writing stories of deep despondency, for which you will be paid nada,” I would promptly have said, “You’re crazy!” or, “You’re dreaming!” or, “Do you think I’m some kind of martyr?” Turns out I am all of those things:  crazy/demented dreamer/ martyr.  Maybe ALL writers are all of these things. Ugh. Welcome to my Pity Party.

How does your writing/ creating process work?

The angrier I am, the better I write.  So I try to stay angry.

I like to think of my process as SLASH AND BURN.

P. S.  It’s really fun to “do” anger in flash fiction.

*     *     *     *     *

Spreading the love to:  Stella Kalaw; Luisa Igloria; Kathleen Burkhalter

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The List in Self’s “The Secret Room” (CAFE IRREAL, Issue # 50)

Self has long pondered the difference between science fiction, speculative fiction, fairy tales, myths, horror stories and the “irreal.”  The other day, she decided to go through the Café Irreal essay, “What is irrealism?”

She’d first read it several years ago, when she began writing lots of speculative fiction.  It was nice to re-discover it.

The essay reminds us that, in “pre-modern” times, the people telling and listening to folk tales and legends assumed them to be “true.” These people, if they had heard Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” read aloud to them, “would most likely assume that the transformation” of the protagonist into a bug was likely the result of “a spell” (And why not? In “pre-modern” times, spells were considered practical ways to deal with malevolence; in other words, spells were not “magic.” They were solutions to a problem) For them, “the irreality of the story — which flows from an irresolvable clash between the real and the unreal — would be lost.”

There’s more, much more to ponder in the essay.  Self recommends that readers go over to Café Irreal to read it in its entirety.

Self’s story, “The Secret Room,” is in the current issue.

At yesterday’s writers group meeting, self’s esteemed friend (and soon-to-be-famous published novelist) Lillian Howan mentioned that her son liked the list in the story.

Which, self confided to Lillian, was the trickiest part of the piece.  Self had to keep working at it and working at it, constantly changing the items in the list because she was never completely satisfied with the “mix.”

Here’s the list in its final, published version:

  • A map of an island with no name.  There was no way to tell whether this island was near or far, whether it lay within the bounds of the Narrow Sea or beyond, in some yet undiscovered realm.
  • A piece of yellowing parchment, on which had been written, in her husband’s careful hand, the letters KMCVQH
  • An iron knitting needle
  • A stone the size of her fist, on whose rough surface glittered a sparkly metal that might have been silver
  • A drawing of a unicorn
  • A broken silver chain
  • A dozen gold coins stamped with the profile of Aurelia, the Queen of the Undersea
  • A small painting, about the width of a hand, of a man with no eyes

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Aimee Bender on Fairy Tales

These days, self’s reading is all over the map.  She’s tried so many times to finish reading Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scriptures, but despite him being such a beautiful writer, she can manage only a page a day.

Aside from that book, she’s also perusing her personal bookshelf.  The books she consults most often are lined up on the shelves in son’s room. Here’s an excerpt from one of those, Conversations With American Women Writers (University Press of New England, 2004).

It’s from an interview with Aimee Bender, author of the (magical realist?) short story collection The Girl In the Flammable Skirt.  The interviewer (Sarah Anne Johnson, one of the best) asks her about fairy tales. Self thinks about fairy tales a lot because she’s thinking of sending yet another piece to Café Irreal. And she’s also reading a book of Oscar Wilde fairy tales she picked up in Dublin.

I’ve heard you say that fairy tales present plot as metaphor.  What do you mean by that?

Mainly that a fairy tale character has no internal world, so the entire plot is a reflection of their internal life.  Or at least it can be interpreted that way, to good effect.  So suddenly the plot becomes wildly meaningful.  Instead of the truth of regular life, where I don’t believe in signs and symbols in the same way, in fairy tales everything is a sign for something, and the world is this strange, blinking ordered universe of actions.

How else do fairy tales inform your writing?

I feel like somewhere along the line I ate fairy tales. I ingested and digested them, and now they’re part of my whole person.  The way they move plot, the settings, the imagery.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Catching Up: Books of The Economist, 15 March 2014

No more apologies!  Self is going to get to the every single back issue of The Economist (Her subscription is good until next year), by hook or by crook!

Here are the books she wants to read, after perusing the Books and Arts section of 15 March 2014:

The Hard Thing About Hard Things:  Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz:  Self chooses this book to read because part of it is a blow-by-blow of how a business failed.  The author’s advice for prospective entrepreneurs?  “If you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble.”  Mr. Horowitz took his company public, but alas his timing was poor, for the terrorist attacks on 9/11 hit just a short time later.  Mr. Horowitz goes into “wartime” mode.  Read how he does it.

The six-volume, 3,500-page autobiography by Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle (The first three have been translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett):  The Economist calls it “the most exhaustive account of a modern life ever written.” Mr. Kanusgaard turned out this magnum opus by writing 20 pages a day, “baring bits of his soul to a timetable, coping, on the one hand, with the growing fury of his family and, on the other, with the ever-present fear of failure.”  Not until almost at the end of the review is Proust even mentioned, but Proust was in the back of self’s mind from the moment she began reading it.  Like Proust, Knausgaard is obsessed “with the mechanics of memory: he claims that he does not have a good memory until he starts writing.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


Because July 4, 2014 Is Just Around the Corner

The Fourth of July is one of self’s faaaaavorite holidays, for many reasons:  the red, white and blue!  The parades!  The picnics!  The fireworks!  The summer heat (if a parade takes place in less than scorching weather, it’s not really a parade, in self’s humble opinion)! The crowds! The mood!  The retro rock music!

In honor of this year’s holiday (which falls on a Friday, thus making the weekend a three-day, which means everyone — those getting away as well those doing staycations — is in a mellow mood), the Wall Street Journal asked six Americans — a potter; a world-champion swimmer; a novelist; a fashion designer; a CEO; and a performance artist for their own particular takes on the concept of “Independence.”

Here’s what the novelist, Richard Ford, has to say:

Independence contains the seeds of drama — the very thing a novelist is looking for — because it always implies independence away from something.  It also confers consequence on a person and a complex sense of interiority, which are also things that novelists are interested in.  But does it confer strength or powerlessness?  That question is part of the American narrative.  A month before my novel Independence Day was published, I threw out the ending and wrote a new one, which we used, in which my protagonist, Frank, is standing beside a Fourth of July parade as it marches down the street and feeling the urge to join in.  Whether or not I knew it before I started the book, I knew then for certain that the real virtue of independence was the degree to which it allows you to join the human race, rather than stand apart.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Room 3: Button Factory, Temple Bar, Dublin

Lest dear blog readers think self is losing her wits, she blurred these photos deliberately, to give an effect of — mood?  Energy?  Transience?

The setting was the Button Factory, in Temple Bar Music Centre, 4 Temple Bar, Dublin.

Self is riffing off this weeks’s WordPress Photo Challenge:

SHARE YOUR TAKE ON THE IDEA OF ROOM — it could be an actual room in your house, a favorite gallery in your local museum, a cubicle at work.

Last Set of the Night:  Jaime Nanci Barron & the Blue Boys Getting Ready to Set Up

Last Set of the Night: Jaime Nanci Barron & the Blue Boys Getting Ready to Set Up

The audience at the Button Factory listens with rapt attention.

The audience at the Button Factory listens with rapt attention.

The Magic of Music and Midnight in Temple Bar

The Magic of Music and Midnight in Temple Bar

Why, self muses, is this bar called the Button Factory?  Having been in Dublin for a wee bit, she knows it is because, in all likelihood, the place did indeed use to be a button factory.

Her B & B is near Ballsbridge.

The local supermarket is called Spar.

The street itself is called Lower Mount Street.

The saloon on the corner of her previous B & B, in Inchicore, was called the Black Horse Saloon and in fact that was the name of the actual stop on the Luas (tram) line.

Some of that nuance and pungency must have worked itself into her writing.  The stories she’s written here in Ireland are:  Spores, Toad, Residents of the Deep, Breeder.  She likes!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Twist 3: The Stone Lintel’s Close-Up

The stone lintel self passes almost every day, in the garden between the farmyard cottages and the Main House of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, is now ready for its close-up:

What is this mysterious thing?  And what is it doing on the grounds of the Tyrone Guthrie Center?  Who made it?  And why?

What is this mysterious thing? And what is it doing on the grounds of the Tyrone Guthrie Center? Who made it? And why?  Her musings about it remind her of her musings on the mysteries of Stonehenge.

Self thinks it is a very good thing to do an artists residency in a rainy place — such as a boggy island like Ireland — because one is given so much incentive to stay indoors.  And since everything else is so far away (like movie theatres, like newspapers, like television), one perforce has to exercise the utmost resourcefulness to keep oneself entertained.  And, in self’s particular case, that means concocting convoluted (yet entertaining) narratives involving ships and voyages and science and spores and changeables and hedgehogs and Commons and bongs and elephants and imaginary cities.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Gratuitous Annaghmakerrig Selfie (Because What Else Is There To Do When One’s Written for Four Hours Straight)

Hello, dear blog readers!

This is for all the people in California who might be missing self right now!  While she cools her heels in this most amazing, green, rainy, fascinating corner of Ireland — Newbliss in County Monaghan!  Where there are absolutely NO ghosts or banshees, but where there are a most intriguing flock of wild swans.

Regarding said swans: five are a unit; one is a definite black sheep, because it is always off by its lonesome. And this one “lone wolf” swan is definitely a creature after self’s own heart, because it is always bottoms-up in the lake, or has been, the last four times self has seen it.  There must be very delicious food in the lake — or at least, an ample supply of pondweed and tadpoles.

Her short story “Spores” is shaping up quite nicely.  She’ll be getting it ready to send out, soon.

Two days ago, she began writing another one called “Residents of the Deep.”

It is raining again, boo boo boo.  Ireland’s such a bog.  But self loves it and its boggy, temperamental ways. And why not? In what other place could self receive lessons in how to “artistically” curse?  Curses sound 10x better in an Irish accent than in an American accent, self swears.

Self on the 2nd floor of her farmyard cottage

Self on the 2nd floor of her farmyard cottage

And here the chef’s name is Lavina, which reminds self of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and also of that Avox in the Hunger Games trilogy.  Oh, this is such a bloody, cursed land, beset by dreams.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.




Where Oh Where, Self Wonders, Are These Voices Coming From

There are at least six books lying open on the desk self has baptized as her exclusive writing area.  It’s a glass-topped table above which hang two square paintings.

Everywhere she travels, self designates one particular spot as the spot in which she does all her writing.

The system works pretty well:  it’s like being in an office.  The desk is her equivalent of a work cubicle.  She has conditioned herself not to do anything but write when she is seated at this desk.  It’s a trick she acquired after reading about Pavlov’s dog.

Today, she began writing a story that begins (the voice is not her typical writing voice, must be the influence of Annaghmakerrig):

As for the crew, I can profess with the utmost sincerity and conviction that no captain could have wished for a more trustworthy and stout-hearted companion than the late Lieutenant O’Neill.  He fought a long and hard battle with dysentery but eventually succumbed, six days into our crossing of the Indian Ocean.  He leaves behind a devoted young wife and a son not yet two, both of whom were at the dock to wish him Godspeed on the day of our departure from Southampton.  In my long years of voyaging, never had I experienced a day as black as the one when we consigned Lieutenant O’Neill’s body to the embrace of the sea.

See what self means about “different from her usual”?  She wonders if she can strong-arm one of the residents into reading it, in that inimitable Irish brogue.  Because when she reads aloud what she has written, in the solitude of her farmyard cottage, she isn’t sure she quite pulled off that hat trick:  it is very hard indeed for a Filipina to try channeling Three Years Before the Mast.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.



Status Report: 2nd Saturday in Annaghmakerrig

Csilla Toldy, a poet from Hungary who has lived in Ireland, in a small village north of here, for the past 10 years, went home this morning.  We exchanged books.  Self hopes to visit Csilla at her home, after she’s done with her residency.  (Csilla means star in Hungarian. Isn’t that a beautiful name?)

A bunch of new people came, and one moved into the cottage right next door to self’s.

Self is still on the Jhumpa Lahiri short story collection Unaccustomed Earth, which is the book she brought with her from California, three weeks ago.  At this rate, she’ll still be reading it when she leaves the Tyrone Guthrie Centre.

She’s read four stories so far (They’re really, really long.  About 50 pages each.  More like novellas than short stories, really.  They unfold — at a stately pace.  By the time self gets to the end of a story, she’s forgotten what the main characters’ names are. Self never had this problem with any of Jhumpa’s books before).

But she’s reading so many other things besides.  And writing at an absolutely crushing pace. And sleeping and eating well.  Hallelujah!

Today she worked on The Forest, a story that she’s received encouraging rejections for.  Editors say they liked the voice.  She got an idea for a new ending, after reading Marcus Cumberlege’s poetry (from his book, Running Toward a New Life, which so far doesn’t seem to be in stock anywhere — not, at any rate, in any Dublin bookstore.  She’ll try London book shops next)

In the evening, she decided to do laundry — a somewhat redundant activity when no one cares who you are or what you look like.  This is an artists’ retreat, after all!  But she really felt she ought to start applying some standards, or she’d be spending all week in her pajamas.

So, off she went to the laundry room.  To read while waiting for her clothes to dry, she brought along Roxane Gay’s novel, Ayiti.

Roxane is the editor of PANK magazine, which just published self’s story Seeing.  Self met her for the first time at the AWP Book Fair in Seattle, a few months ago.

Her novel opens in very telegraphic scenes.  Self read at a breezy pace until the section called “Things I Know About Fairy Tales.”  And there, in the laundry room of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig, she found herself so wrapped up, so absorbed, so — anguished, really.  In a way she hasn’t been, for a long time.


A woman returns to her native Haiti with her husband and son, gets kidnapped and held for ransom for 13 days.  Afterwards:

When my kidnappers were satisfied that I had been properly bought and paid for I was cleaned up, shoved into the back of the Land Cruiser, and dropped off in the center of an open market in Petionville.  I stood there in what remained of my shirt and my filthy jeans, my feet bare, my hair a mess.  My hands were in my pockets, my fingers clenched into tight fists.  I stood there and waited.  I tried to breathe.  I was not broken.  I remember these details more than any others.  Around me, men and women haggled over chicken and vegetables and water and cornflakes and radios.  I was invisible, until I wasn’t — until I heard my husband shout my name and run towards me with a group of men I didn’t recognize.  As Michael moved to embrace me, I stepped back.  His expression, in that moment, I also remember.  “You’re safe now,” he told me as if he understood the meaning of the word.

Self’s heart shattered into little pieces after reading that, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


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