The Time Out New York Fiction Issue

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I have a new short story, “Life Model”, my science fiction debut, out in the Time Out New York Fiction Issue, “Best New Fiction In NYC”, on stands now. I don’t want to say anything else about it except that it was fun to write, and was written out of a prompt for Hyphen Magazine’s Litcrawl NYC event–I was sent a poem by Sally Wen Mao, and asked to write something based on that. She sent her incredible poem the Dreaming Machine, and pretty quickly I understood science fiction was the only direction I could go in. This is what came of it. Thank you to Karissa Chen at Hyphen for organizing that, and to Sally, who is a genius.

 

The Years of Reading Women

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This weekend, I was honored to have an Author’s Note column in the New York Times Sunday Book Review’s special double issue devoted to women writers. The column, “Gender Genre”, is about some of what I learned during a period of almost three years when I stopped reading men, starting when I was 20, and came from thinking about the current crisis we are in, which is the old crisis we have been in for so very long, which is that women are not treated as human.

The idea back then came from a class I briefly describe in the column, Modernity: Gender and War, taught by the late Hope Weissman, one of my very favorite professors. Professor Weissman was a Wife of Bath expert, and also taught Chaucer, which I also took with her–even doing my paper on the Wife of Bath, which is how I discovered her expertise. There was a very grim moment during the writing of my final paper when I understood I would be citing her own work in the presentation of my ideas. The paper went well, but I would say I learned to be careful there.

I know at least a few will imagine that I was being taught the ideas of some kind of radical feminist in the lead-up to the period my column describes, and it may be a way to describe Professor Weissman, but I would say only that we were reading Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. In it, he describes the way the mechanization of war in World War I dismantled the conventions of Western culture, in which men were taught to fight for honor: their honor, the honor of their family, the honor of their country. To do so, they were allowed a kind of license we give to heroes even before they were heroes, as a way to get them to go and be heroes. When war was mechanized, the honor left–both surviving or dying no longer meant what it had, and so this kind of role for men was meaningless. The entire system is still in place, though it has nowhere to go. And so all of the violence it permits also has nowhere to go. Instead, we live with it, or, we try to–a machine that no longer has a purpose, or at least, no longer the purpose it once did, still making boys think they are superhuman–and women, less than human. A conveyor belt full of bright shiny toys that ends in a cement wall. I think we can say, 100 years after that war, the world still has not adapted to what happened then.

I’ll be blogging more later this week about that column and the reading I did then.

 

The Insincere House

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I have a new story, “The Insincere House”, in the new fall issue of Tin House.

I couldn’t be more excited. The issue features fiction and essays by some favorite writers: Jess Walter, Roxane Gay, Tayari Jones, Alice Sola Kim, Matthew Specktor–it’s amazing. And it has this beautiful cover, too.

Copies are in stores now. For a glimpse of the first page of my story, click the more button.

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The Magician’s Land

Everything I Never Told You

My review of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You for the New York Times Book Review appeared in print last weekend, and is online.

This is an interesting historical moment for me personally: as an Amerasian writer, being able to review a debut novel about a biracial Chinese and white family, set in 1970s Ohio. The main character is a little older than I was then. I remember being treated quite often as a spectacle, as a child–a spectacle, an experiment, an oddity. Also: a freak, a family crisis. Both grandfathers did not attend my parents’ wedding. I have more to say about the novel and will either blog it here or write an essay on it, somewhere else, but for now, do consider reading this novel, it is a genuine literary thriller that tries to examine the politics of the time through the very personal lens of these characters lives. 

 

Snowpiercer

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Last Friday, my partner Dustin and I decided to get out of our apartment and go to a film in an actual theater. I chose Snowpiercer because we both love Bong Joon Ho’s other films, and so I guessed we might love this one. We went to the theater at Lincoln Center, and before the film began Dustin said to me, “I’m really glad I didn’t know anything about this film before seeing it.”

As a result, I tried to think of what I knew going in as the credits started.

I knew a few things. As I texted to a friend before I went in, “It’s the new Bong Joon Ho, but with him directing white people”. I also knew it was about a train that circles the world, after an apocalypse, and that it houses the last remnant of humanity. Also, that it stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and the amazing Kang-ho Song. But that was really it.

The film begins with the story of the apocalypse: an attempt to stave off global warming with a chemical shield seeded into the atmosphere accidentally supercools the Earth, and creates an apocalyptic ice age. We are brought into the aforementioned train, circling the frozen landscape of the planet forever, through the story of a heroically built young white man, Curtis, played by Chris Evans, obviously, who is stoically leading a revolution of some kind from within the ranks of the lowest classes of the train. Tilda Swinton is Mason, the villain, a wild-eyed martinet with false teeth and thick glasses, deputy to the train’s inventor, Wilfred. Kang-ho Song, a truly remarkable actor, and a favorite of mine from such films as Thirst and The Host, plays Namgoong Minsoo, a Korean engineer who designed the doors to the train, and the security, and thus is, quite literally, the key to Curtis’s plot to get the front of the train to deal with the rear. The revolutionaries just have to find him.

When they do, Minsoo turns out to have a price for his participation in the revolt: they must also free Yona, a young girl in the drawer next his,played by Ah-sung Ko, and he wants, for each gate he opens, a chunk of a toxic drug that is a byproduct of the engine powering the train, which seems to function like a cross between meth and opium. A chunk for him and a chunk for her. The revolutionaries are bewildered that this is what it takes–isn’t freedom enough?–but he insists, and they oblige.

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I Don’t Even

I pick this blog up again after a 4 month absence, and will begin with the usual blog apology: I’m sorry to have left this off. Especially as, time after time this year, when I have been most ambivalent about blogging, I have had people tell me how much the blog meant to them.

Where have I been? Well, a lot of places. In literal terms, I spent the spring semester teaching at the University of Texas – Austin, in their MFA program, and living on Austin’s East side as I did so. I returned to New York City with a new appreciation for brisket and kombucha on tap.

After that, I went to Boston to teach at Grub Street, then to Korea, on family business, and then gave a reading with Paul LaFarge at the Wesleyan Writers’ Conference. I am back in New York City, and will be teaching a fiction workshop at Columbia University’s MFA in writing this fall.

In a plot twist, two poems of mine have been published, after many years of not writing or at least not publishing poems. I have a new poem up over at the Awl, “I Don’t Even”. Another poem, SAINT, is in the current issue of Azalea.

I have also been doing some reviewing. specifically, I reviewed Clifford Chase’s memoir, The Tooth Fairy, for Slate, and Chris Abani’s novel, The Secret History of Las Vegas, for The Barnes and Noble Review. I interviewed Helen Oyeyemi for Buzzfeed Books.

I also published two big personal essays this spring, a long time in the making. The first, “My Parade”, about how I began as an MFA doubter, and then went to Iowa, appears in n+1’s MFA vs NYC anthology and is excerpted online in full at Buzzfeed. The second, Mr. and Mrs. B, about my time as a cater waiter for William F. Buckley, is currently print only, in Apology, vol. 3.

Looking to the future, this fall, a new short story of mine, “The Insincere House”, will appear in the next Tin House. And as for news on The Queen of the Night, I’m currently making my way through an audit of 9 changes I made to the manuscript this year, and will have scheduling news soon.