“The Churail and the Crow” in Asian Birds and Beasts anthology from Insignia

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There’s a new anthology in the Insignia series of Asian-flavored speculative fiction: Asian Birds and Beasts. Here’s the cover, with the same styling as the previous five anthologies. It’ll be coming out August 20th, 2018 as an ebook.

I’m thrilled that one of my stories will be in this one. Here’s the table of contents:

CONTENTS

‘Reborn’ by Nidhi Singh

‘The Star Ball’ by Amy Fontaine

‘Raising Words’ by Stewart C. Baker

‘Apsaras’ Dance’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Ravens’ by Russell Hemmell

‘The Azure Dragon’ Lorraine Schein

‘The Churail and the Crow’ by Keyan Bowes

‘Vermillion Nights’ by Joyce Chng

My story is a sort-of-reprint – it’s a greatly expanded version of a flash piece first published as Lena. I’ve always wanted to flesh out that story, and I’m happy it found a new home.

 

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More of Shakespeare’s Thumbnails

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Some years ago, I started an experiment – making little graphics representing each of Shakespeare’s plays in a 400-pixel square. The idea was to make an image that would represent the play to people who knew it, in a minimal way. Some are more minimal than others…

The first three, which I published on my then-Livejournal and have copied over to this blog, were Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet. Those are here: Shakespeare’s Thumbnails.

Now I’m uploading a few others.

 

Richard III – African American Shakespeare Company

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I’ve been watching the African American Shakespeare Company’s productions when I can for some years now. They used to operate out of a building on Filmore, a small intimate theater which gave a sense of being in an art theater. They no longer have that space, and this year they did Richard III, starring L. Peter Callender, in the War Memorial Opera House’s Taube Atrium theater. It’s a more traditional space, at least as it’s set up now. Tickets are $30. It attracted a pretty big audience, I think every seat was taken.

I thought I knew the play, but apparently not well enough. I found the first half a bit confusing and had trouble keeping track of who was who and what was going on exactly (though of course the broader action and themes were quite clear). It wasn’t helped by the acoustics.  After the intermission, though, it came together very well indeed, and I found it gripping.

The set included a sort of catwalk parallel to the stage edge, which, with the front of the stage, was the area of action. The setting was projected onto a back screen and a movable screen mounted on this catwalk, so scene changes were effortless… a picture of a stone wall representing the tower, a palace interior, and outdoors sunset scene for the battlefield. The ghosts that appear to Richard and to Richmond the night before the battle were in video projected on these screens.

I tried to take a photograph of the first scene to include in this blog, but the ill-mannered woman sitting next to me slapped down my hand. I’m not clear why. The announcement had prohibited flash photography and video, but I was doing neither. Anyway, I didn’t pursue it. It wasn’t that important. (The picture I’ve included is the latest in my “Shakespeare’s thumbnails” series.)

For me, the standout performance was that of Queen Margaret (played by Beli Sullivan), the widow of the late king Henry VI. Her fury and curses  formed the backbone of the play, even though she actually appears in few scenes. In fact, something about the production tilted the emphasis toward the royal women: Queen Margaret; the Duchess of York, the mother of the Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence, and Richard III who caused the death of both his brothers; Queen Elizabeth, the widow of Edward IV and mother of the murdered princes; and Anne, daughter-in-law of Henry VI and later Richard III’s reluctant wife. Their stories carried the real emotion of the play.

All in all, a worthwhile evening.

Wiscon 42 is Over – 2018

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As usual, Wiscon became a whirlwind of panels, friends, conversations, activities. I took notes at some of the panels I attended (and may add them to this post later).

On Saturday, I joined a group for a reading at Michelangelo’s. I read my currently unpublished story, The Liverwood Conspiracy. Cath Schaff Stump made this poster to let people know about our reading.

At a panel I didn’t get to (I’d planned to, but in the end couldn’t make it), there was a kerfuffle when one of the panelists expressed compassion for Nazis. (The Third Reich ones, not the current day wannabes.) I was impressed by how quickly Wiscon reacted to manage the situation.

The Tiptree auction was a hoot. I always attended when Ellen Klages was the auctioneer in a spirit of stand-up comedy, and after she retired, the role was taken over by Sumana Harihareswara. Sumana’s made it her own, and it was a lot of fun. Best item: An inflatable pink vinyl fish skeleton, where the bidding started at $2 and made it to… I don’t recall: $200?

The Guest of Honor speeches were wonderful. Saladin Ahmed spoke about his grandmother, who was an activist, matriarch, and the heart of the family. (His speech is posted to his Patreon page, here.)  Tananarive Due spoke of Afrofuturism, activism, and literature as a way of fighting for a better world – together with regular activism. (That speech is on Youtube.)

Look forward to next year!

First Day at Wiscon 2018

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Here I am, at Wiscon 42! Yesterday, I met with a friend who’s moved from the Bay Area to Madison, where the lower cost of living allows for a transition from biotech to full-time writing. We had a pleasant dinner and ended up in a smoke shop run by a delightfully nerdy guy who stocked some splendid glass and fabric art. (There were dragons. And a Rick and Morty version of a thangka.)

Today was the Wiscon kick-off with the guest of honor readings at the wonderful bookstore, Room of One’s Own. Unfortunately, Tananarive Due couldn’t be there because between her teaching schedule at UCLA and the flights from the West Coast, she’d need a time-turner. Saladin Ahmed was there, though, and gave a warm and self-deprecating introduction. Then he read a short story that was a comical yet moving play on the Indiana Jones trope.

After the reading and the Q&A, I wandered around the bookstore for a while. It’s the kind of place I’d love to be accidentally locked into for the night – room after room, filled with carefully selected books. As I was leaving, I saw a copy of Rati Mehrotra’s book, Markswoman, in the wild. (I already have a copy, so didn’t buy it. It’s an Asian-flavored fantasy with some marvelous world-building and good characters, and I enjoyed it a lot.)

 

Power, Beauty, Qing Dynasty at Minneapolis Institute of Art

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A friend recently took me to an amazing exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). It was called Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty, and the concept and design were by Robert Wilson.

What was special was that the display was presented as a series of 10 rooms, each one themed to a particular experience with the wall coverings, especially composed music, and customized lighting. It started in a darkened room painted all black, displaying one perfect – black – vase. It was meant as a space for meditation, and the music was punctuated by what sounded like a falling pencil, but I was later told was Wilson himself dropping a chopstick.

The next room was wallpapered with a customized design of evenly-spaced precious objects such as vases and pins and other beautifully-made luxury products. In a chicken-wire enclosed space, the pictured objects were displayed in the center of the room.  Room 3 was a display of court robes, including the emperor’s own robe. They were exquisitely woven and embroidered. I am into textiles and textile art, so I spent some time just trying to understand the artistry and techniques here.

Room 4, painted a dull blue, had a glass case with a 2000-year-old bronze statue representing the common man. He faced the Emperor’s throne in Room 5, painted red with a dramatic and fearsome dragon. This might have been my favorite room.

The rooms on either side had religious art – Buddhist on one side, with five statues; and Daoist on the other with three hanging scrolls in a darkened room that represented a cave.

Room 8 was a contrast, representing the decorative role of women. In a room lined with silvered mylar, the central display was of more gorgeous robes, head-dresses, and furniture.

It also had a pair of “lotus” shoes that went on a woman’s bound feet. A little child’s coat, delicately embroidered, was a reminder that the children also lived in this environment of beauty and constraint.

 

The next room, Mountains of the Mind, contrasted mountains carved of jade with a custom wallpaper that at first glance looked like the spectacular limestone mountains of Guilin (which I’ve actually seen, many years ago). But on a second look, the mountains are made up of apartment blocks, office towers, and factories, some functional, others dilapidated.

The brochure for the exhibition suggests that mountains represent the divine and spiritual in China, and the idea of retreating to the simplicity of the mountains was a dream of courtiers and Emperors. The wallpaper seemed to contrast that idea with the impacts of economic progress and perhaps the opposing dream of material prosperity.

At the center of the room was a glass case with a simply exquisite very long scroll, apparently woven of silk and enhanced with paint and maybe embroidery. I pored over that for a long time.

The final room I found anti-climactic. Set up in contrast to the darkness of the first room, the idea was “Lightness” and it was painted white with bright even lighting. A single exquisite white jade vase was on “display.” I put display in quotes, because it was behind what seemed to be lightly frosted glass, and was high above my head. I could barely see it; it was like a ghost of a vase. Which was a shame, because by the picture in the brochure, its detailed carving is part of its beauty.

Birds, Fighting

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Recently, I was reminded that birds are descended from dinosaurs. It’s easy to imagine pterosaurs mixing it up after watching birds attacking other birds…

CROW V. GULL

I’ve often watched crows harassing owls and hawks, using their maneuverability to stay out of reach. Usually the larger bird’s trying to get away while the crow chases it.

But the other day, I saw a crow harassing a gull. The gull was about as nimble as the crow, so instead of a pursuit,  it became an aerial dogfight, with the gull after the crow as often as the other way around.

It went on for quite a while before the gull dropped down to a rooftop.

OSPREY V. GREAT BLUE HERON

I was visiting friends in Minneapolis in their lovely lakeside home. We were sitting on the dock at sunset, when we heard series of loud harsh squawks. It was a great blue heron perched in a tree, being attacked by an osprey.

We watched the osprey diving at the heron, the heron trying to spear the osprey (with sound effects). At first we thought the osprey was after a nest, but no, when the squawking heron gave up defending itself and took off across the lake, the fighter plane osprey followed it. They landed in the trees across the lake, and we lost sight of them. (And I didn’t even think to take pictures…)

When I googled it, it turns out the ospreys do attack herons, though I’m not clear if as prey or as rivals.

A Strange Moth in Seattle

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I was hanging out in someone’s backyard on a recent afternoon when I noticed some tiny moths flying around. One settled on a small tree, and I got a photograph.

And because the internet is wonderful, sitting right there I could search for a match on my phone. It’s Oecophora bractella, a European moth that seems to have established a population locally. It was first seen in the US in Seattle in 1998. It lives on decaying wood and fungus. That seems right; a tree was cut down in this yard a few years ago, and the logs are still there, gradually decaying.

Listen to ‘Chicken Monster Motel’ Podcast

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My story, Chicken Monster Motel, was recently published in Third Flatiron’s anthology, Monstrosities. Now they’ve published a podcast, which you can listen to over here:  http://www.thirdflatiron.com/chickenmonstermotel.mp3

There’s also an interview with me: http://www.thirdflatiron.com/liveSite/files/Bowes_interview.html

Thanks, Third Flatiron!

The Mystery Nest Demystified

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The other day, in Seattle, I saw a woven nest hanging in a bare tree. It wasn’t very high off the ground, but probably when the tree was in leaf, the nest would be well hidden.

It was quite large, and I wondered what kind of bird made it. Had it been in India, I’d have suspected some kind of weaver bird. But in Seattle? My usually reliable Google-fu failed me. So I posted the picture on Facebook.

One of my FB friends came back with a prompt reply: Bushtit. (Thanks, Rebecca!)

That’s these cute little birds, about 3.5 inches long.

Bushtit in Glen Canyon, San Francisco. (c) Janet Kessler

Bushtit – Copyright Janet Kessler

(Click on the photo to go to more bushtit photos by urban wildlife photographer Janet Kessler – and the context for this photograph.)

Skagit Valley at Tulip Time

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A few years ago, someone took me to Skagit Valley, Washington State, at tulip time. (It’s usually the whole month of April – though this year they think it will continue into the first week of May, 2018).  Last Saturday, I took someone else to Roozengaarde, one of the two major flower farms in the valley. It was spectacular.

We chose Roozengaarde over Tulip Town (next time!) for two reasons – it’s open later, upto 7 pm compared to 5pm for Tulip Town; and it has a brilliant display garden. They mix different types of tulips in every color.
Tulip bed in Roozengaarde display garden 2018

Then we walked around the fields – each one planted in a different color. That’s where they get the bulbs you can order from their catalog for Fall delivery. They appear in bands of color.

It was overcast, even drizzly on Saturday, which made for dramatic skies.

The paths were *so* muddy, it was one step at a time – especially the paths that were not graveled. They’re like clay slip (emphasis on “slip”).

The kids were having a great time, though. One dad was trying to be careful not to get his toddler’s feet wet. Kid stared thoughtfully at a puddle, and stomped in it. Then she did it again. He scooped her up, but unless he was going to carry her the whole way, that kid had many puddles in her future. Overheard from another little girl: “I’m mudskating!”

There were visitors from all over, especially from Asia. (I guess Europeans can find tulip fields closer home!)

The most unusual flower I saw was a  giant orange variety of tulips.

I didn’t think they were very pretty, but they were certainly dramatic. That boot is in the picture for a size comparison!

Revived my Archived Blog

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Like many other writers, I killed my LiveJournal when it went into Russian hands and had terms and conditions in Russian. Unlike many other writers, I didn’t move my archive to Dreamwidth – and of course regretted it. Today, LiveJournal sent me a message allowing me to revive my acount. So I did, and set up an account on Dreamwidth, and brought my archive over. I had posts starting from 2007, including all my posts about Clarion.

So here’s the link for the Dreamwidth archive. I still need to fix the internal links, many of which link to LiveJournal. But at least all those entries still exist.

Ten Things That Changed in Ten Years – The Speculative Fiction World

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Ten things that I’ve noticed have changed in the last ten years:

1. Nearly every major market now accepts electronic submissions. (The Big Three were paper-only until just a few years ago, prompting this essay by John Scalzi in 2009.)

2. It’s so easy now to write and submit (in a physical sense) that there are thousands of writers out there. For short-story magazines, an acceptance rate of under 1%  is not unusual. (It used to be much higher.) Most magazines now have “reading periods” or “submission windows” during which they accept story submissions, so that they’re not deluged continually and have a chance to clear the backlog.

3. The converse of that is, even if you’re a good writer, rejections are usually a lot more common than acceptances, even with semi-pro magazines. (The Science Fiction Writers of America uses 6 cents/ word as a cut-off for “professional” rates. Below that is “semi-pro”, token payments, or “for the love” meaning no payment at all.

4. With a low cost-barrier to entry for an on-line magazine, there are a lot of small markets. Many of which are single-person efforts. Some of them evaporate quickly, others survive for years and get quite well-known.

5. For novels, Amazon has been a complete game-changer. The stigma against self-publishing has evaporated, with Amazon and e-publishing being a possible route to success. (Self-publishing short story singles except tied into a novel series is mostly pointless.)

6. With the advent of successful e-publishing of novels, the series cycle is much tighter. The conventional wisdom used to be that you should aim for one novel a year in a series, because that’s what publishers want. Now, according to successful self-published novelist Annie Bellet, you ideally want one a month. Or hold off until you have six books ready to go, so you benefit from reader momentum.

7. People are always trying to game sales algorithms, and the owners of those algorithms are always fighting the games. This means the rules continually shift, and non-gamers can get caught in the cross-fire.

8. In traditional publishing, just selling a book doesn’t mean you’ve made it. Publishers are more and more impatient with books that don’t take off. They may cancel a series that’s selling, just not as well as they’d hoped.

9. TV possibilities may exist even for short stories, and definitely exists for novels series.

10. Podcasts are no longer a marginal medium, and are increasingly interesting.

Anyone with further thoughts – your comments?

“Chicken Monster Motel” in Monstrosities Anthology

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My story, Chicken Monster Motel, is being published in the Monstrosities Anthology… and it’s got cover art!

I love the table of contents – those titles! I’m so looking forward to reading the other stories. It’s coming out in March 2018, and you can preorder it on Amazon now if you want. (When I looked, it was priced at about $5 for the e-book.)

 

Contents

Chicken Monster Motel by Keyan Bowes
Five Billion Pounds of Soul by Larry Hodges
Sacrifice Needed, Alcohol Provided by Carl R. Jennings
#Notalltigers by Mark Pantoja
The Doomsday Machine Retires by Ray Daley
Alien TV Shows Are Bad for Your Eyes by Brian Trent
Got Them Wash Day Blues by James Dorr
This Tyrant Crown by Liam Hogan
The Great Mall by Salinda Tyson
Skywalker by Jennifer R. Povey
Eaten by Ville Meriläinen
Into Xibalba by Sita C. Romero
The Emerald Mirage by Martin M. Clark
TidBits by Sharon Diane King
The Catacombs of Constitutional History by Julia August

Grins & Gurgles (Flash Humor)
New Shoes by Robert Bagnall
Kismet by Barry Charman
They Saw Me Coming by Russell Hemmell
Bigger and Better Things by Joseph Sidari

Plus a special reprint by Edward Bryant.

Spotted in the Wild!

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One of the joys of getting involved with the Science Fiction and Fantasy writing community is spotting books and stories by people I know. For instance:

Here’s what I saw at our lovely local bookstore. It’s a new book by Rati Mehrotra, and I’m eager to read it.

And in the same bookstore, there was Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017… and I knew about half the authors.

Including my Clarionmate, Nick Wolven.

 

I am feeling very much in the middle of the writing world, and proud to know all these amazing people!

“Picnic, with Xels” in Third Flatiron Best of 2017

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My story, Picnic, with Xels, has been reprinted in Third Flatiron’s Best of 2017 anthology. It’s currently available only as an ebook, right HERE. (If anyone would like to review the antho for Goodreads or Amazon, now would be an excellent time.)

This story was first published in their Kurt Vonnegut Tribute Anthology, Cat’s Breakfast. Then, out of the blue, they asked if they could reprint it for the year-end anthology. I was, of course, delighted!

The Columbia River Gorge, Serendipity and Fire

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The weekend before the eclipse, August 19th and 20th, we stayed in Portland for a short getaway. We didn’t have any fixed plans, but browsing yielded a big draw: The Multnomah Falls, and the Columbia River Gorge. It’s amazing to me that there are these beautiful places I’m hardly aware of… and this sounded wonderful.

We didn’t know then that it was just in time – that only a few days later, fire would roll over the whole area we visited.

What we were concerned about that day was crowds. Multnomah Falls is notoriously busy, especially on weekends, especially the day before the eclipse when many eclipse-tourists would be in town. Like us. We were right; by the time we got there, the exist to the Falls was blocked because there were too many cars in the parking lot.

BONNEVILLE DAM
Instead, we drove on to the Bonneville Dam. It was very impressive. The gush of white water threw up a mist over the river.

Linking my video from Facebook: Rushing waters at Bonneville Dam

The visitor center had a fish ladder with migrating fish

Also lampreys, which I’d read about frequently but have not seen before. But we missed seeing the ancient sturgeon, Herman. (Fortunately, he’s survived the fire, so I hope to see him another time.)

After Bonneville Dam, we kept going, absorbed in the river vistas on our left and steep tree-clad hills on our right.

MITCHELL POINT

At Mitchell Point, we made a stop to look at the view. The information sign had an interesting, rather poignant story about what used to be there – a beautifully designed tunnel, destroyed when the new highway was built, and a roadhouse that eventually closed down and faded away.

We climbed a trail into green woods, but not too far. We wanted to see more of the river gorge.

THE COLUMBIA GORGE HOTEL

At Hood River, we decided to turn back – and then we came, serendipitously,  upon the absolutely charming Columbia Gorge Hotel and stopped for coffee.

It’s a historic and charming hotel sitting between a brilliant garden and a glorious river.

We sat on the patio for coffee and a snack, enjoying the view and the flowers.

Driving back, we had to decide between crossing to the other side of the river, or retracing our steps.

MULTNOMAH FALLS

We decided not to cross, because I hoped that by the time we got there, the Multnomah Falls would be accessible. And they were! Still quite crowded, but no more than Yosemite in summer, for instance.

 

It was altogether delightful, and we thought we’d come back. It’s easy from Seattle.

 

Only two weeks later, I was horrified to learn of the Eagle Creek fire engulfing the very area we’d visited, roaring through all that beauty and threatening the Multnomah Falls. As I write this, it sounds like it’s been saved. Thank you, firefighters!

 

Solar Eclipse in Oregon

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Like maybe a million (or a few million!) people on August 21, 2017, we made our pilgrimage into the path of the totality.  It was a long road, even though we only came from Seattle. We drove down to Portland, and spent the night there on the previous Saturday and Sunday.

Heeding all the traffic advisories, we started early from Portland on Monday. By 5 a.m. we were checked out and on our way. To our surprise, it was a smooth run aside from a couple of minor bottlenecks,. We even had time for breakfast at a diner that announced it opened at 6 a.m. The place was packed with eclipse watchers, probably headed into Salem.

We, instead, decided to go to the small town of Aumsville. By 7 a.m. we had checked the place out, and settled into a small park with a few other eclipsians. The park was perfect. There were picnic tables, a pretty creek running along the bottom, trees to cast the crescent-shaped shadows, and a clear view of the sun. We’d come armed with cardboard eclipse glasses, as well as binoculars with taped-on filters.

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Enough others had come to make it a fun group event, but not so many that it was overwhelming. People had the cardboard glasses, but also light-boxes like this one to throw an image of the eclipsing sun onto a sheet of paper.

The eclipse started, and I got some pictures.

Trellising my fingers yielded crescent shapes as the spaces acted like a pinhole.

And here’s what the sun looked like:

I’ve seen solar eclipses before – several partial ones, and one very brief totality in India in the 1990s. This was different. It lasted long enough to register what I was seeing with my naked eye. It looked like a black sun, floating in a pinkish corona, just hanging there like a completely alien and awe-inspiring object.

And then, too quickly, the moon moved on and the “diamond ring” appeared. I put my eclipse glasses back on, and watched as the moon slid down across the sun.

After the eclipse, we made our way back to Seattle, stopping along the way and hoping to avoid the traffic. It didn’t matter. All roads were clogged. The traffic advisories didn’t cover the departures, and everyone was leaving in the same 2-3 hours.

We got back to Seattle after 2 a.m.

But what an amazing experience!

Giant House Spiders are Real

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A few days ago, I read about the Giant House Spider on Facebook. It sounded mythical,  like jackalopes and the Pacific Tree Octopus. Because Giant, Spider, and House in conjunction don’t work well for a lot of people.  But when I googled it, I found they actually do exist. (Sorry, arachnophobes: Giant House Spiders weren’t invented by RL Stine.)

Yesterday, I saw something black scuttling across the living room floor. My first thought was, cockroach. Because I’ve seen lots of cockroaches, but only in Asia. Closer inspection revealed a Giant House Spider. I was pleased to recognize it.

So I whipped out my trusty spider catcher – an 8-oz clear plastic cup and a piece of card – stalked the spider, captured it, and returned it to the wild. Here’s the pic. (The spider-catcher is labeled so it can sit on the desk and not get thrown out by mistake.)