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Knowing the Words

on Tue, 03/24/2015 - 08:18

As a coda to my recent pilgrimage to Vietnam I now have a pen-pal of sorts, a friend-of-a-friend named Yen who lives in Saigon. We send emails back and forth a couple of times a week, discussing the differences between west Michigan and south Vietnam. Often there are photos, too.

Finding the right words for the conversation can be challenging. She knows some English, but is not fluent. I don't know any Chinese or Vietnamese at all. We began corresponding back in early November, just before the first major snowstorm of the year. When she saw the photos Yen had a lot of questions. She had never seen snow before, or even been outside of the tropics. Of course she knew what snow was, and winter, and all of those concepts, but there are a hundred small details which go along with winter which I found myself explaining. Like, for instance, why all of the photos were so dark. And where all the people were.

The quick answer was "Because it's winter." But that doesn't explain things to someone who has never seen winter. So then I explained how little daylight we have in the winter, and that the photo with the sun low on the horizon was actually taken in the middle of the day, not 8:00 in the morning. And the trees aren't all dead; they're dormant. And that everyone is inside because today the air temperature is -20C. And that the wind chill made things feel even colder. And then I need to explain wind chill.

Yen isn't unschooled about these things. She has family here in the US, out west and down south. Sometimes it seemed that every other person we encountered in District 5 had been to the United States or Canada at one point. And of course there is the internet. The concepts were not unfamiliar, but the explanations - finding the right words in the right context - are not easy.

Another example. There are more people in Ho Chi Minh City than in all of Michigan. Even the most crowded downtown event will not have as many people as a similarly-sized neighborhood in HCMC on any random day. So no matter where or when I take photos an appropriate response would be "where are all the people"?

Yen thinks the photos of snow are beautiful and hopes to travel here one day to experience winter.  I would like to tell her that some days Michigan is colder than anything in southern Vietnam outside of a cryogenics facility.

And right now the challenge is to find the right words to explain the emotional impact, after five months of gray and brown and white, of seeing the green spears of newly-sprouted crocuses peeking up through the grass.

Late March Update - Corporate Training and Hula Hoops

on Sun, 03/22/2015 - 09:21

I feel a little off-balance this weekend. Most of this previous week was taken up with corporate training in Chicago. The training itself was, to my surprise, interesting, though I will likely have little opportunity to make use of any of it. I'm programmer. They don't let me talk to clients, which is probably for the best.

I only had a couple of hours free to explore the neighborhood. Monday afternoon I walked around Millennium Park for an hour, and at the end sat and watched a group of beautiful young women dancing with hula hoops. A group of break dancers set up nearby and began popping and locking and experimenting with other styles for which I have no vocabulary. Then the two groups started to interact, which was hypnotic and in the smoother moments looked a lot like tai chi.

Thursday, between the end of the training and my cab ride back to the airport I hit the Chicago Art Institute and wandered around the Impressionists - Monet and Cezanne and Gaugin and Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir and so many others. Again, I don't have the vocabulary to describe most of what I saw, other than a sustained sense of wonder. Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte, made the strongest impression (heh). The way he created reflections of a cloudy sky in the puddles between cobblestones. The slight haze in the air suggesting warm weather. The glow in the sky that felt like spring.

I missed several classes and with the intense schedule had little time to practice on my own, though I did try to wake up early enough to get in some breathing exercises, and watch the rising sun hit the top of the downtown skyscrapers.

My driver for the cab ride back to the airport was a 70-ish Polish immigrant conspiracy theorist. He had many thoughts about Freemasons and the use of mass media, particularly TV, to manipulate the ignorant masses. I think he was surprised when he found out I knew the lingo and could hold a respectful conversation with him. I didn't tell him it was because Foucault's Pendulum was one of my favorite books.

I think he was not used to having actual conversations with his fares because he opened up about his life - what it was like to live in and leave Poland, post- WWII, and that his father was an Auschwitz survivor. He had a big axe to grind about Germany and Russia, and the destruction caused by the struggle over the ownership of Poland. Moving borders can act like bulldozers, and when several parties claim the same piece of land there may be nothing left when the dust settles.

So here I am, working on Editing, Operations, and Marketing for Caffeinated Press. Our big Schuler Books and Music event takes place on April 6. Already word is getting out, and we have a steady but increasing flow of queries to manage. Talent and genre run the gamut, and I am happy to report that everything we have seen is better than average. There is a lot of talent out there.

Now off to enjoy this beautiful Spring morning.

Mid-March Update

on Sun, 03/15/2015 - 09:35

It's been a rough winter for fans (and family) of genre fiction. We lost Leonard Nimoy and Terry Pratchett within fourteen days of each other. I find it entirely logical to say "bugrit".

Tomorrow I leave for several days of corporate training in Chicago. Can't say I'm looking forward to it, though I am feeling some cabin fever. Near as I can tell my hotel is on the river the Chicagoans dye green for St Patrick's Day, so that should be interesting. And this happens during the first week of a new project so I will probably work some late nights after the full days of learning the grammar of the formal language that is corporate-speak.

(and at this point I lost half an hour, engrossed in the Wikipedia articles on Formal Language, Formal Semantics, and Cognitive Semantics)

Three weeks until the Caffeinated Press event at Schuler Books and Music here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Brewed Awakenings sales are better than expected; we may even turn a profit! It was a lot of hard work getting where we are, and I suspect that the "success hangover" is surprise at how well everything went. I wouldn't say we were over-prepared for setbacks, but there is a specific and subtle paranoia in waiting for a shoe to drop. Also, I am now officially the Chief Operations Officer of Caffeinated Press, which means I'm the one who takes the Official Notes in the meetings.

I've managed to set aside some time for reading for pleasure. This is not to suggest that reading query submissions isn't pleasurable - we have a lot of words from a lot of talented people - but, well, a good book is a good book. The Hermit's Story, by Rick Bass, for instance. I just finished the second story in the collection, "Swans", which was masterfully told and brought tears to my eyes and placed me briefly in a conflicted state between "what the hell am I doing with my life?" and "I need to practice until I write like this!"

I never really paid much attention to Twitter until this year. Now I use it daily, both as a tool for promoting Caffeinated Press and as a way to keep up with the current states of the various facets and factions of the publishing industry. To that end, I am currently following the Twitter feeds of 92 literary magazines and journals. And every day a few more pop up in the "who to follow" box. That list will likely pass 100 by the end of the day.

So now I have started ordering individual issues from some of these journals. Only a couple a week; a good lit journal can cost as much as a good book; and indeed the dividing line between a lit mag and an anthology per se can be quite thin. Since CafPress is ramping up our own 3288 Review it is useful to see who else is out there, and how they do it. So much good writing. So little time.

Also, I just passed 100 feeds in the Journal list. Now I feel compelled to make a spreadsheet. Maybe something to work on in the hotel in Chicago next week.


Early-Mid March Update 2015

on Sun, 03/08/2015 - 09:47

The first taste of Spring is in the air. The thermometer on my car read "42" briefly yesterday afternoon in the parking lot outside of Pho Soc Trang. Of course the huge bowl of pho contained within my corporeal self could have been throwing off the reading.

Caffeinated Press has hit the ground running! Our first event at the UICA attracted at least 30 people to listen to authors read excerpts and publishers discuss their craft. Our pool of editorial talent continues to grow, and the spring melt is causing our trickle of submissions to grow to a small stream. In addition to book-length manuscripts we are accepting short form submissions for both the Autumn 2015 edition of Brewed Awakenings and the inaugural edition of the 3288 Review literary journal.

Master Lee's school is still going strong. We just elevated one of our senior students to instructor status. It was well deserved. Congratulations, Tracy! Now the real work begins.

One of our students from Back In The Day, Han Lin, is in town this weekend. His contribution to the class, both as a martial artist and as a translator for some of the finer points of Master Lee's instructions, cannot be overstated.

Over the past year we have had a few students return to class after long absences. Hearing them talk about how the class has changed, and how it has stayed the same, reinforces just how long I have been a student. Hearing them ask about other people who have themselves been absent for long periods of time. Seeing how much they remember of old, old lessons. Realizing how much the style has evolved under Master Lee. Being immersed in the system, it is sometimes difficult to get a sense for how influential it is on our lives, and hearing it from people who have left and returned is a valuable lesson.

As for reading, most of mine has been short stories by members of the local writing group. I have managed to get about 75% of the way through The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin. I really like it so far! Engaging, interesting, complex story; and the translation by Ken Liu displays a masterful level of precision - as should be expected from a writer like Liu.

As for my own writing, it has slowed considerably as I devote more time to Caffeinated Press. I am concentrating more on revising than writing. Two of my short stories have been through first reads, and two more are still out in the wild. The reader notes have been both encouraging and eye-opening. This is the first time, I think, that more than one or two people have read anything I have written which I intend to publish. The work never ends, but every step is rewarding.

That's it for the moment. Work will send me to Chicago during the week of St. Patrick's Day. Maybe I'll get to see the river dyed green.

Our First Event

on Mon, 03/02/2015 - 21:45

Today was the anthology release event for the first Caffeinated Press publication, Brewed Awakenings. It was a great success!

Who is Caffeinated Press? I'm glad you asked!

Caffeinated Press is a small independent publishing house based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We publish an annual anthology of short stories titled Brewed Awakenings. We are also in the beginning stages of launching a quarterly literary journal called the 3288 Review (3288 being the miles of lake coastline of Michigan as of December 2014). We accept queries of any genre and length from any author, though we prefer authors from (or somehow associated with) West Michigan.

Our next event will take place on Monday, April 6, 2015 at 7:00pm at Schuler Books and Music. At that event we will focus on the history of Caffeinated Press, our publish process, query acceptance and author feedback.

You can also find/follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@CafPress).