Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Latika Vasil

Latika is a Wellington writer whose stories have been well received in anthologies, literary journals and on national radio.  She is currently working towards her first collection. I was intrigued reading Latika's slightly peculiar love story by a protagonist both bold and ingenuous.


Latika writes:
The girl walking down the street wore a short but voluminous pink gingham and lace skirt, a fluffy white hat in the shape of teddy bear ears, white stockings and enormous platform shoes. Tokyo street fashion is a style I have always admired for its originality and playfulness – but no, she was not Japanese.  I pointed her out to my teenage son. I thought she looked cool. He shrugged: ‘Ah, another Wapanese girl.’  I had never heard the term. I googled and found it describes a person of non-Japanese descent (usually white, hence the contraction) who is obsessed with Japanese things.

While I am definitely not ‘Wapanese’, I do have a fascination with Japan and admit I indulge in their love of the cute and kitsch – even possessing some Hello Kitty merchandise and little Kimmi dolls.  The story I’ve written that’s appearing in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories has many Japanese references.  Part of the appeal of writing fiction for me is the joy of transporting oneself into different characters and worlds, all while sitting at one’s desk.  In writing this story I briefly immersed myself in a fantasy visit.  Several years ago I did visit Japan and it was fabulous but the trip was with my family, not with a shadowy mysterious stranger.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Bryan Walpert, touching on love

Another week, another clutch of writers to meet. Up bright and early is Bryan Walpert whose short story collection, named as a Best Book of 2010, has the enticing title, Ephraim's Eyes.

When I was an undergraduate, a roommate and I split the cost of a couple of comic book subscriptions. The idea was to reduce anxiety during exams. I’ve always loved comics, and to see them just pop periodically through the mail slot (I’d always picked them up at a store) was miraculous. So I loved writing about a comic book reader who thinks himself  a superhero.
 But my story is not really about comics. It’s about love, or at least about what a broken heart drives us to. (And I’ve realized that’s what underlies most of the stories in  Ephraim’s Eyes, the collection that this  story is taken from—and, in fact, a number of the pieces in my first poetry collection Etymology and many in the forthcoming A History of Glass are love poems). I don’t remember what exactly sparked the idea for my slightly peculiar love story, and I certainly didn’t know it would be about love when it started. I do know that it took awhile to take  shape.  It stalled out, felt all wrong, until I realized it had to do with the story’s voice. I’d written in originally in the first person. When I started from scratch in the third person, it seemed to come together.
The problem, really, was distance, and that has a lot to do with the challenge of writing love stories—or love poems. The challenge is to find the right distance, one that does not keep a reader too far from the heart, but does not allow the story to stray into sentimentality. And it seems to me that kind of distance is increasingly important in this (seemingly jaded) age where any love story, to be powerful, might need to be 'slightly peculiar'. We often need to be surprised by feelings because, if we see them coming, there is a tendency, at least for some readers, to put up the kind of defences reserved for telemarketers. Distance helps to forestall the emotional duck and cover, and as a reader I’m always grateful for that sort of peculiar surprise.
Bryan’s links: 

Friday, 27 May 2011

Christos Chrissopoulos corresponds

Chris has decided to go half Greek on us, which he is perfectly entitled to do since he's Greek himself. Very attractive, I find –– the hieroglyphs. Used to running miles every day, in 2007 Chris took up biking in the flat city of Iowa, and allowed me to trail along while he mastered the niceties of stopping, starting, and swerving. I gather he's now so proficient he bikes around Athens. Chris's offering in Slightly Peculiar Short Stories will show-case the versatility of the digital page, as well as his artful fiction.

Χρήστος Χρυσόπουλος
Writers’ Dos and Don’ts
Tι γνώριζε ο Blake για τη ζωή των συγγραφέων

Christos Chrissopoulos
Writers’ Dos and Don’ts
What Blake knew about the lives of writers

“The Proverbs of Hell for Those Who Write” is a project based on William Blakes’s “Proverbs from Hell” and it is composed of mini-essays attempting to shed some light on the many – and at times contradictory – facets of the writer’s consciousness. It is not a systematic theory, but rather a playfull exercise on aspect-seeing.

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Η γραφή μοιάζει να επιβάλλει τις δικές της περιοδικότητες: από μέρα σε μέρα, σε μήνα, σε χρόνο. Ετούτη η επιτακτικότητα, που δεν λογαριάζει υποχρεώσεις ή φιλοδοξίες, υποδεικνύει (ή μάλλον δημιουργεί την κοινή εντύπωση) ότι ο συγγραφέας ζει πολλές ζωές παράλληλες, ή ότι βρίσκεται «αλλού», ότι το μυαλό του «ταξιδεύει» ακόμα κι όταν εκείνος δεν γράφει. Πράγματι, η φασματική εμπειρία της γραφής είναι για τον συγγραφέα μια διαρκής συνθήκη. Για όλους τους άλλους, το ζήτημα είναι απλώς μια μεταφορά. Τον καιρό της σποράς μάθαινε, τον καιρό του θερισμού δίδασκε, τον χειμώνα απολάμβανε.

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Writing seems to impose its own cycles: from day to day, month to month, year to year. This rule, which seems to ignore the writer’s obligations or aspirations, underlies (or rather creates) the common perception that he leads many parallel lives, or that he resides “elsewhere”, that his mind “travels”, even when he is not writing. True, the experience of writing very often haunts the writer – but this only in regard to his own “untranslatable” consciousness. For all others, it remains merely a linguistic metaphor: in seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

A dead body revenges not injuries.
Ας μιλήσω για ένα ποίημα. Ένα ποίημα που οι στροφές του είναι ακατάληπτες, που οι στίχοι του σπάζουν στη μέση, που τα νοήματά του μοιάζουν με παρανοήσεις, που οι ήχοι του τρίζουν. Αυτό το ποίημα ίσως να επιζεί στη μνήμη των αναγνωστών του, αλλά δεν μπορεί να εντυπωσιάσει κανέναν με τη ρώμη του. Δεν φταίει όμως ο ποιητής που έχει κάνει μια τόσο ελάχιστη συνεισφορά στην τέχνη (έστω κι αν κάποιες φορές απολαμβάνει γι’ αυτήν μεγάλη φήμη). Σε κάθε περίπτωση, το φθαρμένο ποιητικό του κεφάλαιο, είναι ένα κεφάλαιο που πριν από εκείνον δεν υπήρχε καθόλου. Ένα θνησιγενές ποίημα λέει πολλά ψέματα την ίδια στιγμή το πνίγει μια αφανέρωτη αλήθεια. Το νεκρό σώμα δεν παίρνει εκδίκηση για τις πληγές του.

A dead body revenges not injuries.
Let me speak for a poem: a poem whose strophes are incomprehensible, whose stanzas break up unfinished, whose meanings look like misunderstandings, whose sounds are groans. This poem might live in the memory of its readers, but it cannot impress anyone with its elegance. Nevertheless, it is not the poet’s fault that he made such a small contribution to art. Despite his lack of achievement, his small poetic capital is still something that, before him, did not exist at all. A dying poem tells many lies while it is suffocated by an untold truth. A dead body revenges not injuries.

Christos Chrissopoulos (Athens, 1968) is a novelist, essayist and translator. He has authored five novels, most recently The London Day Of Laura Jackson (Academy of Athens Prize 2008), two volumes of essays and one collection of short stories. Since 1999, he has collaborated with the visual artist Diane Neumaier on several art projects. Christos has been featured in many anthologies of contemporary Greek fiction and writes regularly on literary theory. His work appears in five languages. He has won a number of grants and has been invited to writers’ centres in Europe and the USA. He is the founder and director of the DaseinFest International Literary Festival in Athens. His website is www.chrissopoulos.blogspot.com 

(With apologies for the double spacing Blogger's reluctant to change down — any tips, anyone?)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tina talks

Tina Makereti

- You can’t write that.
- I just did.
- Yeah, but you can’t show anybody.
- Everybody does it but nobody talks about it.
- Still, your father won’t approve.
- That’s true.  It might be embarrassing as well.
- Or not.
- My favourite writers write about contentious subjects.
- Racism?
- Slavery.
- Left wing politics?
- Making it through each day.
- Sex?
- Straight, gay, self service...
- Hmmph.
- You can’t write that.
- Why not?
- It’s not a word.
- Yes it is.  Besides, I can make them up.  Everyone does it…
- But no one talks about it?
- So, why’d you write the story?
- It wanted to be written.
- That’s a pompous bullshit answer.
- Well, it jumped into my head and stayed there emitting an insistent thrum of urgency until I wrote the words.
- Did you know what it was going to be?
- A little.  Not much.  It was going to be a modern take on an old story.
- There’s some mythology in there, but you’ve taken it in a slightly peculiar direction.
- In some of the older versions of the story he doesn’t know how to make love so he mates with her nose and her ears thus producing mucus and earwax.
- Oookay…
- Yeah, but I liked that naivety from a god.  I liked that he had no clue what to do.
- It’s a human quality.
- Exactly.  That was what I was after – the humanity.
- And then there’s her.
- In the old stories written down by crusty white guys who wanted to preserve a dying culture, she is never a real person.
- A bit of a golem.
- I wondered what she would say if she was given space to speak.
- She’s there from the beginning, in the lonely landscape.
- In the end, it’s all about her.


I was struck by the power and earthy beauty of the story Tina offered for Slightly Peculiar Love Stories. To pinch a line from her website, her writing 'disturbs default settings of time and place'.  Her book of stories, Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa, has drawn such adjectives as 'bold', 'sexy', and 'crafty'. She's 'one to watch' says David Hill. Says I.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tim's turn (Tim Jones, that is)

Although I haven't met Tim face to face,  I first noticed him online as a dauntless advocate for NZ writing, that of others as well as his own poetry and fiction. In fact, he quickly introduced me to several of our slightly peculiar writers when I told him I was planning this collection. Besides that, he sent me a story that was sly, funny, and irresistible. Thanks, Tim.

Rugby, Racing, and Romance

So, I'm a straight Kiwi male who's written a lesbian love story that is appearing in an anthology called Slightly Peculiar Love Stories. And, a week or so ago, I was the only man (as far as I know) taking part in an online book chat about romance.
            It was made evident during my Southland childhood that it was all supposed to be about rugby, racing, and beer. What's going on?
            Let's start with the love story. I started out (bitter, twisted author that I am) planning to write a little satire about literary funding in New Zealand, and about the factors that influence who gets it and who doesn't. My story would require two protagonists, one favoured by fortune and funding, the other not.
Two dimensions of the literary funding debate here are ‘men get proportionately more funding than women’ and ‘North Island authors get proportionately more funding than South Island authors’. I suspect that both of these are true, but I didn't want my story to focus on either, so it required two protagonists of the same gender living in the same city. The first character I came up with was she of the grants and residencies, and so it made sense that her antagonist should be she of the poorly-attended poetry reading in Lower Hutt.
But then, of course, they fell in love — and it was well for me that they did, because the story thereby qualified for inclusion in the present anthology.
This isn't the only love story I've written. There are several others in my 2008 short story collection, Transported, and if you were to suggest that the embarrassing moments they contain were in any way based on my own experience, I'd be forced to issue a strong denial.
So, I'm a straight Kiwi male who writes love stories: nothing peculiar about that. But can those stories be categorised as romance?
Every Thursday night at 10 p.m., I conquer my profound distaste for Twitter (as evidenced by the 9,627 tweets I have sent since joining it) and join the online South Pacific and Asia Book Chat under the hashtag #spbkchat. The chat, which has moderators in Australia, Japan, and New Zealand, covers a different topic each week, and last week's was romance. The funny thing was that, at least to judge by people's avatars and descriptions, I was the only male taking part.
But I greatly enjoyed this venture into alien territory. I learned that romance as a genre isn't purely a marketing description, but refers to love stories which have a happy ending — thus, Anna Karenina, which I'd always thought of as a romance avant la lettre, isn't one because (spoiler alert!) it doesn't end happily. I learned that there are male authors who do write romance, even if it isn't always labelled as such. I learned – or rather, had my knowledge reinforced – that there are many very successful New Zealand romance authors, both of 'core' romance fiction and in the wildly successful newer genres of paranormal romance and its close cousin, urban fantasy.
And I learned there was nothing to be scared of. It may be the case that, on average, men are more likely to read Tom Clancy-esque thrillers about the size and explosive capacity of warheads, while women are more likely to read romance; but why not spread one's wings and soar over such genre boundaries?
So, I'm proud to have a story included in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, and I am looking forward to all Rosa Mira Books' cunningly-timed teasers coalescing into the book itself.
I have been slightly peculiar lately. I plan to be slightly peculiar again.

Tim Jones links:

Monday, 23 May 2011

Introducing Alex

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

AE: The thing that is told, but more importantly, that is not told, and just waits to be discovered in the white margins surrounding the words.

Alex Epstein and I had adjacent rooms in the hostel in Iowa when we attended the International Writers' Programme in 2007. I tolerated my view of gravel, bricks, and air-con units for an unhealthy length of time; Alex broke out and found his own digs in town. Quietly subversive, astute and tender-hearted, a lover of cats, Alex the writer has been billed the new Borges of Israel. It's a privilege to have four of his gems in Slightly Peculiar Short Stories. In his new collection, Lunar Saving Time, 'humor, stubborn memory, and strange beauty meet and part ways in less than a page'; this follows Blue Has No South, 2009, from which the four stories are taken for SPLS.

Clockroot Books publish works in translation and I'm taken with their mission statement: 'As there’s a movement of late to return lawn to meadow and wildflowers and vegetable gardens, so we’d like to see the sameness of much of what’s championed in American contemporary fiction ruffled by the disorder of literature that’s wilder, inevitable as a dandelion spotting the lawn, clarifying as its bitter greens at the end of a long winter.' (Got to love that since a portion of our lawn has gone to the bees.)

But ruffling and clarifying: that's Alex, and you can meet him,  interviewed and reviewed in The Short Review.

The moment that he decided to write prose was a blessed moment for the Hebrew literature of our times. —Gliad Seri Levi

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A week's worth

We have a cover for Slightly Peculiar Love Stories. I'm torn between plastering it everywhere and uncovering it little by little. Wait and see what I decide. It's striking and I like the fact that it doesn't have to follow the rules of regular book-making. Doesn't need a spine or a back page. Doesn't even have to be rectangular, except that it'll fit more neatly on a screen if it is (and it is).

Proof copies of The Glass Harmonica, the print-on-demand version, arrived in Salt Lake City and Dunedin this week, and we were pretty chuffed to hold it in our hands, stroke that winsome front cover, and see Dorothee's fine prose on cream paper of good quality. A couple of tweaks at the Lightning Source end, and a couple of technical details to attend to at this, and we'll be away. I'll keep you posted here.

While we're talking short stories, please consider pre-ordering a copy of Tales for Canterbury (collected and edited by Canterbury writers Cassie Hart and Anna Caro) for which all profits will go to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. I see that at least four of the writers have work appearing in our collection, too. What a feast of stories.

You're going to meet our slightly peculiar writers, one by one, here on this page, starting on Monday or even sooner. Some will blog, and others I'll introduce before pointing you to a fine example of their work. I hope they'll venture to speak about love, about writing, about their own peculiar interests – oh, anything at all; we just want them here, hanging about on Rosa Mira Books and talking to you.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Blown south

Home again, in time to miss the Auckland tornado — except that our applause went north for the brave efforts of our daughter's namesake and sister-in-law who tried valiantly to breathe life into the storm's only mortally wounded victim. Here it's degrees cooler and autumn, without a doubt, today dank, still, and grey — perfect for garden spiders to showcase their cobwebs — clock-faced, hammocked, or tattered — outlined as they are by drizzle.

It's also the perfect day for digging in at the desk. Helen has come up with a lively plan to tease the palate of our readership for Slightly Peculiar Love Stories; Christine Buess is designing the pages of what is now a single document (or will be as soon as I've completed a cheerful, enticing foreword). Sophie, alluded to above, has almost finished manipulating and photographing the funky digital cover.

I saw the film 'Potiche' last night, a French 'screwball comedy' featuring Catherine Deneuve as 'trophy wife' turning MP. Of course it was absurd but Deneuve made convincing portrayal of a woman growing into her own skin, heart, and wider vision. I like to think that Rosa Mira Books is quietly giving some of us opportunities to fill our boots and stride out — whether as writers, publishers, publicists, designers, bloggers, even readers. (I reckon The Glass Harmonica works this way in the reader's imagination, which is why I wanted to publish it; it's a story like fertiliser or taurine, only far more appetising and longer lasting.)

Talking of which, the print on demand version will be available soon (oh 'soon', that slippery little word on which I nonetheless rest one elbow, sometimes two) via Lightning Source (as soon as someone in NZ gets up and running with multiple-outlet POD, let me know, please?) and when the proof version arrives, Dorothee and I will each drink something fizzy and cheer because however nifty and versatile the digital version of a book, to hold the thing itself gives the writer (and publisher) an unparalleled thrill.