Taren and Keui
Published in Persistent Visions 7 April 2017
I found it funny when I posted about this on Twitter that it asked me if I wanted to translate the Haitian Creole. The title is actually mangled Mandarin and Cantonese respectively. In both languages the word for he and she (and it) are the same (spoken, there is a difference when written down). In Mandarin this is tā, which felt too short so I added ren which means “person”. Keui or keoi or köü depending on the romanization is the same in Cantonese.
I had this story in my head for more than a year but couldn’t figure out a way to approach it that didn’t feel way preachy. Once I came up with using the pronouns as their names everything clicked and the entire story came out of me in one long afternoon. It was one of my more satisfying writing experiences and I’m glad it found such a wonderful publication home (after oh so many rejections).
The Onmyoji’s Wife
Published in Abyss and Apex Issue 55: 3rd Quarter 2015
I must have been 8 years old when I first watched the miniseries “Shogun”, and it made a deep impression on me. It’s perhaps second only to Star Wars in its influence on my single-digit years. It was one of the first things I recorded in the VCR days, and I’ve watched it more times than I can count, the last just a few years ago when I showed it to my boys.
And yet when I was older and started reading about Japan, the time period that really grabbed me was before the samurai, before kitanas and kiminos, before even sushi: it was the Heian era. The complex life at court, the many-layered clothing, and especially the onmyoji. And one of the claimants for first novel ever written was from this time period:The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. I’ve written in this time period twice before, with“Tale of a Fox” at A Fly in Amber and with “Blood Ink”, which I posted on my blog here. I’ll probably write more, it’s a rich era.
On the Importance of Naming: Alas, I’ve lost the notebook where I first broke down this story, so I’m relying on memory for how I picked the names (never a good idea, relying on my memory). Chiaki I picked because one of the kanji characters in her name means “autumn” and it fit her (she’s in the autumn of her life, but not yet the winter). Kenji means “strong second son” but in this case I went with something I liked the sound of rather than the meaning fitting his character (he’s strong, but an only child). Utsusemi is a name from The Tale of Genji, also something I liked the sound of (it means “cicada’s shell” which is rather haunting, actually).
Din Ba Din
Published in Strange Horizons 12 August 2013
I have a confession to make: I take an instant, often vocal, disliking to stories written in the present tense. I suppose it’s intended to make everything feel more immediate, but to me it just obscures the sense of when things happen in relation to other things. I am an admitted addict to perfectives and progressives; my feeling for sticking just to the simple past is not much more fond than the present tense in fiction.
So my husband, after a particularly long rant from me on the use of present tense in a book which I otherwise liked, challenged me: would present tense never be the right choice? I thought about it a bit and decided that the only reason would be if the fact that everything seemed to be happening at once, with no sense of whether actions are ongoing or completed, or when they happened in relation to each other. Hence, this story was born.
On the Importance of Naming: Karan and Arjun were the first named, taken from the movie Karan Arjun which I love. Sita is also from a movie, Sita Sing the Blues. Devi I just liked. For Sohaila I picked a name from a different background to subtly underline her differentness from those around her, even or perhaps especially from her own children.
Tale of a Fox
Published in A Fly in Amber e-zine September 2010
This is yet another story written for a contest at Backspace. The parameters were to write a story based, however loosely, on a song. The song I chose was “Shiki No Uta”, the song that plays over the closing credits of the anime Samurai Champloo. The title means “Song of Four Seasons”, although my story really only hits on three. I had wanted to write a story for some time that was set in Japan, and specifically that included a kitsune and an onmyoji. I hope to write more onmyoji stories in the future; I love the intricacies of Heian era Japan.
On the Importance of Naming: Asuka means “fragrance of the bright day” which I thought was just lovely. Masuyo means “to increase the world” which sums up his ambition well. Katashi means firmness, which I found very appropriate for him.
Published in Aoife’s Kiss #31
This is one of my earlier stories, one written for a contest at Backspace. It’s also my first scifi sale. Some of the ideas I was toying with here show up again in my novel-in-progress, MITWA, although whether I consider the two to be of a shared universe or not I haven’t quite decided. I do have an idea or two for more stories that center on April, the main character here.
On the Importance of Naming: April I picked pretty much at random. I wanted a name that didn’t point to any particular ethnic group. I think “Boo” for the dog speaks for itself.
Published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #23
“Oil Fire” is a nice example of how ideas mutate over time. After reading Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories I was inspired to write something old school sword and sorcery, something similarly buddy-flick (dare I say bromance?) but with two women roaming the world and getting in and out of trouble. It would be nice to write something light and fun, I thought, pulpy but smart. But first I needed back stories…
This was intended to be the origin story for one of my two women, but things began to change in the writing. First of all, she refused to be the POV character, shifting that job to her close friend instead. More than that, the story itself kept taking turns I wasn’t expecting but were so much the right ones I had to go with it. I think it’s easier to buy two itinerant men wandering the world, but I feel a woman in this time period wandering the world would need a really compelling reason. The one I found for Enanatuma turned out to be quite dark. I’ve since written her companion Prithvi’s origin story, and her reason for being out on her own is if anything darker still.
So my goal of being light and fun got lost along the way (I’m hoping it still reads as pulpy but smart). But I have since had a third character begin whispering her own tale to me, something that plays well off the other two. There’s hope yet.
On the Importance of Naming: I actually don’t know the meanings of the names in this story. They are all Sumerian, mostly names of kings and queens. I try to avoid using deity names since they come with a lot of baggage (when Prithvi’s story gets published you’ll hear me gripe about how that wasn’t possible in her case – stay tuned).
On Desperate Seas
Published in A Fly in Amber e-zine July 2009
This was a story I had originally intended to submit to Fantasist Enterprises for their Sails and Sorcery anthology. Sadly I missed the deadline (by a couple of months, no less), but that is the reason for the nautical setting. I’ve always been interested in Arctic and Antarctic explorations, I had just finished Tao of Troth and wasn’t done writing about the Inuit, and I had a hankering to try something that invoked a little Poe. Hence the title, although I was specifically thinking of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket; the careful reader will spot what I borrowed in most respectful homage (or, if you will, outright stole). I had a kernel of an idea that involved a sailor’s wife with half a heart, but the story didn’t really pull together until a random clicking through Wikipedia turned up this little phrase: “Eventually, more ships and men were lost looking for Franklin than in the expedition itself.” and it all pulled together. In an almost unsellable way; this was liked by a lot of places where it just didn’t quite fit.
This story is also famous for giving me nightmares while writing it. Some months after I had finished it I saw the NOVA special about the Franklin Expedition; it didn’t come close to matching the horror that was going on when I “lived” through it.
On the Importance of Naming: Edgar should be obvious, Penelope is a simple mythological reference, and Jane’s name is meant to be the most unassuming name possible, and yet a strong-sounding one. Teddy’s Inuit name Tetqataq means “flying before the wind”, a lovely name for an Inuit sailor, but also the name of one of the men who came across some of the last of the Franklin men pulling a boat across the ice, trying to walk south to the Back River.
And the title, of course, is a line from Poe’s “To Helen”. Which in my head will always be read by Tom Hanks.
This is a story I wrote because I wanted to explore a laconic character. I’ve also always wanted to write something with airships in it. This story is one of my few oners; at this point it doesn’t share a world with any of my other stories, but I might revisit it someday. Because airships are cool.
On The Importance of Naming: Akeli is the Hindi word for alone, Jason and Karishma were just names I’ve always liked. The names of the airships I took from Hindu scriptures: Parjanya is a god of rain in the Rig-Veda, and Matarisvan is associated with Agni, the god of fire.
Published in Beyond Centauri issue #20
This is a story originally written for a contest at Backspace. The beginning and ending sentences were specified by the contest parameters, the challenge was to fill in all that came between.
On The Importance of Naming: The main character’s name, Enid, comes from one of my favorite Barenaked Ladies songs, and her son’s name Alden is meant to have a similarity to my son Aidan’s name.
Seagull and Raven
Published In Allegory e-zine 2/29
This is a story I wrote before I started my novel Tao of Troth. I was playing with the idea of using Inuit as well as Norse Greenlanders as characters. I liked this piece well enough to incorporate it as part of my back story to ToT. The character of Tulugaq even makes an appearance.
On the Importance of Naming: In Tao of Troth I largely chose Inuit names that referenced astronomical things, like falling stars. For this story I went for more earthly sources. The brother and sister’s names, Tulugaq and Nauja, respectively mean Raven and Seagull (which is clear from the story), and Nauja’s husband’s name, Taliriktug, means “strong arm”, which suits him (and is also fun to say, Taliriktug).