Five Questions for Ann Tashi Slater

 Ann Tashi Slater is an Associate Professor of American Literature at Japan Women’s University in Tokyo. She did her BA in Comparative Literature at Princeton and her MFA in Fiction at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her publications include a story in American Dragons, an anthology of work by Asian American writers (HarperCollins). Her stories have also appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly and Private: A Journal of Arts and Literature. Her translation of a novella by Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas was published in Old Rosa: A Novel in Two Stories (Grove Press). Slater does radio and TV programs for NHK, and has also worked in Tokyo publishing and journalism. She’s Tibetan-American, was born in Spain, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and has lived, traveled, and worked around the world in places including France, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Bali, India, and Tibet.  Her story “Things You Dreamed of and Things You Didn’t” appears in Yomimono #15.

1. What was the inspiration for your story?

 A trip I took years ago with my kids to see the Big Buddha in Kamakura. When we got there, my son—who was about three—stood at the foot of the Buddha, saying, “Where’s the Big Buddha? Where’s the Big Buddha?” It seemed like a very philosophical question at the time and still does!

2. Describe your writing space.

My writing space is a tatami room with a view of trees, sky, crows perched on rooftops and stone walls. It’s filled with things from my travels: a statue of Ganesh from India; a Mexican Day of the Dead tableau of a skeletal orchestra; a bird cage from Hong Kong. There are old family things—a Tibetan prayer wheel, my grandmother’s sandalwood rosary, photos from turn-of-the-century India and Tibet. And other photos: Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn on the Spanish Steps in Roman Holiday, a shot of elephants crossing the African plain. Lots and lots of books. A small sofa for napping . . . I mean, deep thinking. And always—under my desk or at the window watching the rain fall or sprawled on the tatami—my little Westie.

3. What are you working on now?

I recently finished a multi-generational novel based on the Tibetan side of my family and set around a funeral in Darjeeling; it’s about letting go of the past, how death gives us a chance to move forward. I’m now writing a travel memoir set in India, ranging from the byways of Old Delhi to the monasteries of Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s home-in-exile. I’m really enjoying writing this book. A travel memoir is shaped a lot like a novel, but non-fiction has its own challenges: how to bring a true story to life, transform it into art; how to find the story that lies beneath “what happened.”

4. What’s the last book you read?

Learning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival by Alison Wright. A memoir about the author’s road to recovery after she barely survived a horrific bus accident in Laos. This book made me think about how through faith—and what we do because of faith—we can change what seems to be our fate. Also, Olive Kitteridge, which I really enjoyed for its nuanced, precise illumination of the characters’ mental and emotional states. And I recently re-read the tour de force trilogy at the end of Unaccustomed Earth. Lahiri’s portrayal of Bengali immigrants in America, of how they navigate family and romantic relationships, loss and its aftermath, is deeply believable and very moving.

5. What’s your favorite place in Japan?

I love Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto. The wide veranda, the huge pillars, the cherry and maple trees, the view of the city. The two “love stones” at one of the shrines: pilgrims who walk the 18 meters from one stone to the other with their eyes closed will, it’s said, find true love.

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X-patriate

Read the short short story “X-patriate” by Yomimono publisher/editor Suzanne Kamata in Monkeybicycle!

JAPLISH WHIPLASH by Taylor Mignon

JAPLISH WHIPLASH, the long-awaited collection of poet Taylor Mignon, is reviewed in this past weekend’s Japan Times. You can read the review here.

Several poems in this collection were previously published in Yomimono. Mignon also contributes a new series of short poems, “The Saitama Suite,” to the current issue, which can be ordered here.

Where The Dog Star Never Glows: Stories by Tara L. Masih

 

In Tara L. Masih’s story “Suspended,” a woman accidentally drives her car off the road and is saved by a tree: “The old tree somehow knows to hold her just so, and when she focuses again, she finds her car is suspended, engine taking her nowhere.” Stuck in its branches, unable to move her body, she licks condensation from the window in order to survive. By the time she is rescued, she has formed a bond with the tree. The unnamed driver experiences a gamut of emotions – anger, fear, relief, love, joy and grief – all in the space of a couple of pages.

Masih, editor of the award-winning Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction is clearly in command of the short short form, but in this, her first full-length collection, she shows that she has the stamina and skills to sustain a longer narrative as well. “Delight,” which stretches out over 15 pages, is a fully realized- and delightful – love story featuring a young woman with a disability selling sweets at a seaside confectionary in Puerto Rico and a surfer from the States.

Although slim at 143 pages, this volume encompasses a breath-taking range of styles and settings. The title story takes place in a mining town in the late 1800s, while Champagne Water, one of the longer stories in the book, follows an American couple trying to save their marriage while on vacation in Dominica. “Memsahib” is told from the point of view a young girl living in a village at the foot of the Himalayas on the verge of Indian independence. In “Bird Man,” a woman visits Belgium and Holland, trying to figure out what became of her father during the war.

In every story, Masih evokes the natural world in creating a sense of place and also in creating character. In “Catalpa,” a man is defined in terms of his relationship to a tree, while “The Dark Sun” opens with an expat wife observing the migration of butterflies. In the latter, the narrator’s response to the flora of Mexico, as opposed to that of Canada, creates a sense of foreboding: “Such strange things grow here, so different from the delicate, almost puritan-like flowers in the east. I’m used to paper-petaled poppies; flax petals that fall in the lightest breeze; baby’s breath, an enormous lacy cloud made up of tiny clouds. Here, the brightness and heavy perfumes assail my senses. Bougainvillea chokes the house, portulaca’s fleshy branches spread like a weed along the driveway, and the pepper bushes, harmless now, will be a hazard to the baby.”

Where the Dog Star Never Glows provides a fine introduction to Masih’s poetic language, while taking the reader on a dazzling journey to distant landscapes and forgotten times. This is a stunning debut.

Five Questions for Marcus Bird

Marcus Bird, author of the short story “Gaijin Girl” which appears in Yomimono #15, is a writer, creative-entrepreneur and designer. Raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and now living in Tokyo, he specializes in T-shirt designs, web work, cartoons, and social media. In 2009 he launched his design company, which is a fusion of Jamaican and Japanese culture. He has done television commercials, modeling, and video-editing. Here, Marcus answers five questions about writing and other stuff. 

1. What was the inspiration for your story?

Two things in particular. First was an image that was stuck in my mind when I first moved to Japan. In the afternoon a day or two after I arrived, I saw a woman wearing a black one piece skirt, with Banana yellow high heel shoes. The second connecting thought came much later. I was living in a small town in Japan at the time, and I noticed that there were several well-educated, well-traveled Japanese women that only dated foreign men. I used this observation to create the mythos behind my main character. The name of the story itself is a play on words. “Gaijin Girl” is loosely written to mean “Gaijin’s Girl”. So I started the story chatting about the yellow shoes… and just filled in the blanks from there.

 
2. Describe your writing space.

I’m not sure how to answer that. *laughs*. I wrote Gaijin Girl in between teaching classes on a busy day at a Japanese Junior high school. However, to give a more comprehensive answer, I have to admit I never have an ideal space in my mind. I read Stephen King’s On Writing and he mentioned a quiet room with no distractions. My mind is usually too busy for absolute silence. I can write for hours listening to a Gorillaz album on repeat in a quiet room, or in a noisy Starbucks listening to reggae music. Over time my “writing space” seems to be a place where I can sit comfortably, while listening to some sort of house, or semi-relaxed music. But I wrote a lot of short stories in between teaching classes, or jotting down notes on pieces of paper and patching them up at home while Entourage is playing in the background. I guess I need a little white noise to focus when writing a lot… but once i’m amped about the project, I tend to squeeze in bits at work, at home, on the train etc.
 
3. What are you working on now?

A project called “Guest House”. Take a guy chasing a creative dream. Put him into a lavish guest house in central Tokyo with a crazy landlord and an amped up rotation of frisky foreigners and see what ensues. 

 
4. What’s the last book you’ve read?

I just finished The Valkyries by Paulo Coelho.  He is definitely a very deep writer.
 
5.What is your favorite place in Japan?

Hmm. I lived in a quiet town before, with temples and chill people that say “Ohayo Gozaimasu!” when you walk past… but the pulse and energy of a buzzing metropolis makes me more comfortable than lots of trees and easy access to the beach. I’d have to say Tokyo, especially since I live there.

You can read Marcus Bird’s story in the latest issue of Yomimono. Purchase a copy here.

Yomimono – Now Available from Amazon!

Although I feel a little bit bad about forsaking the sweet grandfather at the neighborhood printer, I’ve decided to jump into the stream and take advantage of new printing technologies. So here, it is, the new and improved Yomimono. Thanks to Amazon we’ve now got a glossy, color cover (featuring artwork by the amazing Joanne G. Yoshida), and international distribution. And some great writing, too! Tell your friends, tell the neighors, and get yourself a copy while you’re at it.