April A-Z Theme Reveal

atoz-theme-reveal-2015

All right, I’m doing this again. In fact, I’m doing this twice–blogging god have mercy on my fingers. I don’t know why. Apparently I didn’t learn my lesson last year. Or else I forgot all the stress, the wrist cramps and the memories of all the fantastic people I met.

Wait a second, that’s why I’m doing this again this year–all those people who came around and commented on my blog, and who had fantastic blogs themselves to read, that’s why I’m doing this again, ’cause one can never have too many friends to help dig a corpse pit.

Or something.

Anyway, the reveal, yes. You may not know it from the title of my blog, but I’m a writer. I write for fun, I write for pennies and I write because if I die before I get all these lives out of my head, I’m pretty sure that’ll count as negligent homicide, and I can’t have that on my ghostly conscience. As a writer it’s necessary that I read a great deal. Last year my theme was all the wonderful fiction on my shelves. As I was writing those posts, I kept glancing over at my non-fiction bookcase, and how lonely and forlorn it must feel to not have even a little bit of spotlight in the blog hop. Well dry those tears, non-fiction books, ’cause this year’s all about you!

I generally read more non-fiction in a year than any other genre. It’s a necessary part of the writer game, as much as reading fiction, or sitting over a computer squinting at a single sentence for hours is. If I’m supposed to write what I know, then I better cram my head so full of knowable stuff that numbers come tumbling out of my ears in an endless Fibonacci sequence. What I read is all over the place from the obligatory craft books to history, to sociology, politics, religion and curious specialty books–even encyclopedias. I hope over the month of April to introduce you to some of the subjects that I find fascinating, both in the context of helping me become a better writer and to feed my insatiable curiosity. From antiques to zlatoroy, stop by next month for a peak at what’s on my non-fiction shelf. I hope you come away from it just a little bit stranger.

Tangent Reviews: Terraform

Two of my reviews of Terraform short stories have been posted in the last two weeks at Tangent Online. The first is the March 9th story, “Springing Backwards” by Rick Paulas, and the second is the March 16th story, “The Dragon and the Martian” by Becky Ferreira. If you like apocalyptic fiction or science fantasy, go take a look at the reviews and the stories themselves.

Things I’ll Miss: Flea Markets

As nice as it has been to live in Japan for five years, it’s time to say good bye. This year will be my last year here (at least living here, I’ll probably return to visit because this is such an amazing country). The reality is that my passions are taking me back west and as much as I love my present life, it is difficult, if not impossible to plan for a future here. That and I’ve run to the end of my visa game, so even if I wanted to stay, I can’t.

But farewell doesn’t have to be entirely tears. I’ve had some great, memorable experiences in Japan and I’d like to share them with you all in a new feature: things I’ll miss when I leave Japan. Starting with:

Flea Markets

Alex and I went to the Chionji monthly flea market today. Every big temple in Kyoto has a monthly flea market set out on a specific day, rain or shine. These are great community events where local craftsmen, artists, venders and anyone with some junk to move out of their attic can set up a stall for a modest fee and try to sell their goods to the hundreds of people who turn up. What you’ll find can range from traditional handcrafts and toys to glass jewelry to hand stitched clothing and so much more.

The crowds can get pretty intense, and in the tightly packed temple grounds as the day progresses it can become a challenge to even stop to see what the venders are selling, let alone buy anything. It’s best to go early. Most temples open their doors at 9am, so if you arrive at 8:30, you should have a good hour or two to check everything out before the crowds get too thick.

While the organizers try to set everything up in neat, orderly rows, the layout of the grounds can make this difficult, thus leaving it easy to miss out on whole sections of the bazaar. This makes going early even more important, so you can formulate a plan to traverse the broken grid as effectively as possible.

If the bazaar has food stalls, definitely get in there and grab some. Yakisoba, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and candied fruit are flea market and festival favorites. I was a bit disappointed to see that Chionji really only had a couple bakeries and a coffee stand. I love getting some takoyaki and tayaki when I go to these big community events.

If you can, go with a friend. You’re going to need someone to help you hold your bags of purchases, and also someone to be the voice of reason when your wallet starts to feel a bit light. There are so many delightful things to purchase at the bazaar that it can be hard to say no. If you get there early enough, you can drift around and price compare before you make your final purchase. It’s very rare that the goods you’re looking at are unique in the market (but if they are, scoop them up!)

Absolutely talk to the venders if you can. Even if you think your Japanese isn’t so good, chances are that your rudimentary skills will be a big surprise to people who aren’t used to foreigners speaking any Japanese. You’ll find that people who appear to be cold or stand-offish to foreigners are usually just shy, because they don’t think they’ll be able to communicate [in English]. Put on your bravery cap and try your best with Japanese and you’ll be surprised how quickly people warm up to you. Older Japanese folks especially are keen to share their stories, their experiences and their humor with foreigners who take the time to engage them in their native language.

Finally, take the time to just soak up the atmosphere. Community events are a big deal in Japan where relationships with neighbors are so important that it’s an unwritten (sometimes it actually is written) rule that you must give your new neighbors a gift when you move into a new house. Knowing the people who live and work near you and cultivating those relationships is one of the little spoken of pleasures of living in Japan. When you go to a flea market, despite the crowds or the weather or losing out on an item you really had your eye on, take a moment to take it all in and feel the community vibrate through the stones and in the air. We had many people ask where we were from. Many were surprised to learn that we lived in Kyoto. They asked if this was our first time at Chionji, and invited us to live in Japan for as long as we liked. This is one of the things I’ll miss when I leave Japan.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

New Tangent Reviews

I’ve got some new reviews up at Tangent Online Magazine.

I’ll be reviewing Terraform for the whole month of March. The first story is Julian Mortimer Smith’s “Headshot.”

I’ve also reviewed the #13 issue of Galaxy’s Edge, featuring stories by Liz Colter, Brad R. Torgersen, Eric Leif Davin, Fabio F. Centamore, and Kathleen Conahan. There’s a nice mixture of fantasy and science fiction in this one, and you should go give it a look.

I’ll be posting a new book review soon, separate from my Tangent reviews. I honestly haven’t finished a single book so far this year. Perdido Street Station is taking me forever to get through. I’m nearing the end, though, so I’m hoping I’ll have a review for it up soon. My blog has been feeling really empty lately.

An Open Letter to the Canada Revenue Agency

Dear Canada Revenue Agency:
Pour l’Agence du revenu du Canada:

In 2013 you sent me a letter kindly asking for my 2011 and 2012 tax returns. In response, I called your agency and informed you that I have been living in Japan since 2010 and that my subsequent income in Canada has been negligible. You verified that this was true and requested I send you a written notice to this effect. I did.

This year you have now sent me two letters to my Japanese address, requesting my 2013 tax return. I’m somewhat baffled by this. Obviously you are still aware that I am living in Japan. You must somehow think that I have acquired a secret source of income in Canada. If this is the case (you seem to be able to verify these things on your own) I would love to hear about it. I’m a little strapped for cash at the moment.

It seems that I have no alternative now but to send you yet another letter detailing the exact same information I have already given you, as you appear to have saved nothing from the previous letter other than my current mailing address.

For the record, I am not currently living in Canada. I have no income in Canada. The total sum of money I have in Canada would not be enough to cover Prime Minister Harper’s teeth whitening, let alone register as taxable income. When I do return to Canada, I will be sure to inform you, as I will be returning penniless, as a student, and I will most assuredly need you to be keeping very diligent account of all the money you will owe me at that time.

Sincerely,
You Won’t Let Me Vote, But You Still Hassle Me For Taxes

Grilled Chicken

Originally posted on The Perfect Salad Bowl:

Grilled Chicken SaladIMG_2151

Prep Time: 30 minutes (requires cooking to avoid salmonella)
Calories: Um… yes.
Healthy (+): Dark leafy greens are supposed to be good for you. Nice balance of protein, fiber and vitamins.
Healthy (-): Careful how much oil you use to cook the chicken. Crunchy noodles also add calories (but they’re so tasty!)
Cost: > $10
Delicious scale: four and a half stars

The wonderful thing about salads is that if you have a carnivore craving or you need a quick protein infusion, you can pile a bunch of meat onto the top of your green things and it’s still technically a salad! Now, I’m trying to go easy on the red meat after two weeks of gorging on bacon and steak in Canada over Christmas left me and my heart in a bit of a catatonic state. Scary stuff, yo. Fortunately, chicken is a nice little healthy substitute, if you’re into that…

View original 456 more words

New Tangent Reviews

I’ve got a couple new reviews up on Tangent for February. If short fantasy and science fiction is your thing, go take a look.

Fantastic Stories of the Imagination

Review of Weight of the World by José Pablo Iriarte, and She Opened Her Arms by Amanda C. Davis within their February 2015 issue.

On Spec

Review of Chance Encounters by Janet K. Nicolson, A Primer on the Ins and Outs of Building Bliss by Brent Knowles, Walk the Dinosaurs by Jayme Allen, Sunchild Blues by Al Onia, Downtime by Melanie Marttila, and A Little Leavening by Allan Weiss within their fall 2014 issue.

Upcoming Workshop in Kent, Washington

It’s no secret that workshops are a valuable part of any writer’s creative and professional advancement. The right workshop can not only impart valuable craft and writing techniques, but can also put authors in contact with editors and agents, and readers in contact with authors. I feel the lack of English workshops keenly here in Japan, but if you live in Washington there’s no need for you to feel the same emptiness.

Cascade Writers hosts a variety of genre specific writer workshops throughout the year in Kent, Washington. Their past speakers and instructors have included many industry professionals from top editors and agents to best selling authors. They are now looking to fill seats for their July 23-26 workshop, held at the Ramada Inn in Kent. The workshop will feature the following leaders and speakers:

  • Claire Eddy (Senior Editor, Tor/Forge Books)
  • John (J.A.) Pitts (Author)
  • Shannon Page (Author)
  • Mark J. Ferrari (Author)
  • Alex C. Renwick (Author)
  • Everett Maroon (Author)
  • Lee Moyer (Illustrator)
  • Laura Anne Gilman (Editor/Author)
  • Randy Henderson (Author)

Seating is limited, so if you’re looking to rub elbows with some fantastic, experienced people in science fiction and fantasy, at $250 per person, this is a great deal. Information can be found here.

Cascade Writers is a non-profit organization run by a group of dedicated individuals with the goal of bringing quality workshops and speakers to writers at an affordable cost. Admissions go toward venue rentals and transportation, lodging and meals for speakers. Who they can bring and for how long depends largely on workshop attendance. If you are unable to attend this event yourself, I encourage you to spread the word to other authors and fans who may be interested.

Coming in from out of town? Cascade Writers is inclusive and welcomes participants from all over America and the world. If you’re one of the 15-30% of out of town or overseas attendees, the Ramada Inn has a free shuttle service that can pick you up from SeaTac Airport.

Can’t make the July Workshop? No problem! Cascade Writers is hosting another event in September featuring such guests as Todd McCaffrey, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Bill Johnson, John Lovett, and more.

Still not convinced? Your support will help add teachers and speakers such as Django Wexler and John Scalzi to the already impressive list of talents and professionals who have appeared at Cascade Writers events in the past.

Have a question? The organizers at Cascade Writers are available to take your questions by phone or by email. Don’t be shy, ask away!

The Critters of Kyoto

An addendum to The White Prince.

Kyoto is a bit unique, as far as cities go. It’s a place where the old and the new exist in harmony; you’re as likely to see a shrine on a street corner as you are a 7-11. There are enough urban conveniences to make living here comfortable, but being snuggled in a bowl of mountains with two major rivers slicing it up, Kyoto City retains a lot of the rural feeling that nearby Osaka and Kobe have already given up. Nature, and all her little creatures can be found in abundance, without even leaving the city limits. Here are a few of the personalities which inspired me to write The White Prince.

EgretsLittle_Egret

There are two kinds of egret in The White Prince: the little egret (Egretta garzetta) which is common in and around Kyoto’s rivers, streams and canals, and the Chinese egret (Egretta eulophotes). The little egret isn’t technically migratory–they stay in Japan year round. However, I’ve noticed that they congregate in large groups at certain times of the year. In the breeding season, naturally, but also, curiously, in the winter for a brief period of time. For about a week in December, a flock of roughly thirty birds can be found at a very specific spot on the Takano River, and then they disappear again, leaving only one or two birds which appear here and there, until spring.

The Chinese egret on the other hand is migratory. Much bigger than the little egret, it winters in Japan from China, Russia and Korea.  I have seen them in the Kamo at other times of the year though, so I don’t know, maybe a bunch of them decided ‘to hell with flying across the sea’, and settled down.

Both egrets are lovely to look at, though they don’t tolerate human presence very well, and tend to leave the area quickly if spotted. Little egrets grow extra plumage on their napes and chests during the breeding season, making them look especially princely for a few months in late spring. The garzetta subspecies is distinguishable by its bright yellow feet that make it look like it’s wearing a pair of shoes.

Cormorantscormorant

Cormorants are an interesting sort of bird. Squat and black, they look like someone combined a duck and a pelican together. They’re diving birds, capable of holding their breath for long periods of time while they hunt for fish in the river. After diving, cormorants hold their wings out to the sunlight to dry them.

They’re pretty wide spread in the world, and as birds go, they’re rather smart. In Japan, cormorants have an important seat in history and tradition. Ukai (鵜飼) is a method of fishing in which a snare is tied around the neck of a trained cormorant. The snare makes it possible for the bird to swallow smaller fish, but not larger ones. When a cormorant has a fish caught in its throat, it’s brought back into the fishing boat where it spits the fish out. You can watch ukai on the Oi River, in Arashiyama, Kyoto.

Mandarin Ducks / Mallardsmandarin duck

Mandarin ducks are almost always found in breed pairs. For a while, this led people to believe that they were monogamous breeders. Like many other birds that were previously thought to mate with one individual exclusively however, this turns out not to be the case. At least, not entirely. They’re a mostly migratory bird in Asia, though they live year round in Japan. Mandarins aren’t as common on the Takano as mallards are, though I’m convinced that there’s no place on earth where mallards aren’t common. I’ll have to investigate Antarctica to be sure.

Deersika

Sika (鹿 – literally ‘deer’ in Japanese) are the deer native to Japan, China, Taiwan, Russia and other parts of Asia. Of the deer in Japan, the Nara ‘bowing’ deer are most famous. For a very small fee, tourists can buy special crackers to feed the deer, which are protected in the city as messengers of the Shinto gods. Sika do not lose their spots in maturity, though in the winter when their coats thicken, the spots are less prominent.

It’s a rare but not unheard of treat to see a doe with her fawn walking in or along the Takano River. I’ve seen them four times during the time I’ve lived here. Like the egrets, they don’t tolerate human presence, but don’t quit the area in an excessive hurry if they’re spotted. I’ve never personally seen a stag outside of Nara, but they’re beautiful to look at, and if you get a chance to come to the Kansai region, a trip to the Nara deer park is a great family experience.

Rat Snakesrat snake

The green generals, ao-daisho are a species of non-venomous snake that live in most regions of Japan. Being a snake lover, I find them adorable. We found a juvenile sleeping under our front door last summer, and an attempt to relocate it to the garden ended with it slithering into our wall. I’m not all that worried. They’re a medium sized snake, with a dark yellow-green coloration. Like most non-venomous snakes, they’re shy, and would prefer not to interact with humans. They are also excellent swimmers and can be seen jetting from one bank of the Kamo to the other to escape predators in the summer months.

Kites black kite

For the longest time I thought these birds were hawks. They’re roughly the same size as a red-tailed hawk, but their color is more similar to a golden eagle. Kites are the dominant aerial predator in Kyoto. You can find them circling the Kamo year round, particularly around the bridge at Demachiyanagi Street where they can scavenge from the many people who congregate there. Kites are opportunistic hunters. They’ll more or less eat anything. If you’re planning on bringing a picnic lunch to the river, be prepared to defend it. Kites aren’t afraid of humans–in fact, Alex had her thumb scratched when a kite dove between us to steal her sandwich. Kites can be a lot of fun to watch, especially young kites practicing their flight agility. Roosting and perching kites have no problem posing for photographs, and like most other raptors, are only bothered by crows and ravens.

HeronsOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In addition to the egrets, grey herons also live on the Kamo. On my stretch of the river, there is one heron in particular which seems to have a favorite rock. Last year between October and March, every day when I passed the rock, it was there. I couldn’t tell you why. It looked rather cold. Technically, great blue herons don’t live in Japan, but for the purpose of the story the rock hoarding grey heron became a great blue. They’re very similar in appearance. As the name suggests, they’re more grey in color and lack the tan tint on their necks that grey blue herons have. They can be territorial, and don’t suffer other large birds on their turf easily. To humans they are ambivalent, making them easily adaptable to city living.

 

There are many more interesting animals in Kyoto, but four years of nature watching brought these few together into a story for me. If you’re interested in learning more, Wild In Japan runs a wonderful blog about all sorts of creatures, great and small. He knows a great deal more about the specifics of Japanese animals than I do. Go check out his page!

And if you haven’t read The White Prince yet, what are you waiting for? ;)

 

 

The White Prince

Originally posted on Out of Print:

Egret Snow - The White PrinceThe White Prince
by N J Magas

December

The wind hissed through the brittle grass, as displeased to carry the chill as those who had to suffer it. The Takano River followed behind. Resistant to freezing, it snickered naked around the many shoals that broke it. Together they gave voice to the otherwise silent winter, ambiance to the egret court preparing to move to its winter palace.
The tall egret kings snapped orders from their rocky thrones and delighted to watch the lesser birds scatter at their command. First left, then right. Stand in pairs and then in threes. Order by age, and then by height and then by order of who could fetch them the most fish from the sluggish river. Cormorant acrobats darted between the white birds, spreading their black wings wide to designate the line boundaries as the kings dictated them. Before long, the entire court was…

View original 6,090 more words