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Showing posts from August, 2018

Book Review: Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

I read this book a while ago, yet was reminded again of it recently. There are a handful of books which I know have truly changed the way I write. This is one of them.
Jenny Zhang’s first collection brings together seven short stories, each narrated by a young girl or woman, the daughters of Chinese immigrants to America in the 1990s. The stories are linked by recurring characters; most of the families described once shared a single room in a flophouse in New York City. The parents attempt to eke out a living by doing such things as selling umbrellas on the street, delivering restaurant food, or teaching English in an underfunded inner-city school. The children are left on their own for long periods of time while the parents work, yet parental love is never in doubt. Family love is felt fiercely, often uncomfortably so. These are often uncomfortable stories: there are scenes of devastating poverty, flashbacks to the Cultural Revolution, and sexual abuse (perpetuated by troubled childr…

Story notes for "The House of Illusionists" and the question of art

Nearly two years ago, in the wake of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, I sat down to write my usual bimonthly blog post of short story recommendations. And I wrote this:
I don’t know what good a story does. I don’t know what a single poem or song can do. I don’t know, I don’t know.”
It’s twenty-two months later, and I still do not know. But—quite apart from the chaos and darkness of this present moment—I have never known. Since my teens, I have asked myself this question: “What good is fiction? What good are books and stories? What do they do?”
I know what stories have done for me. I know the light and comfort that books and art bring into my life. And I also fear that it’s all frivolous. I think of Keats’ letter to a friend, where he compared poetry to “a mere Jack o’lantern to amuse whoever may chance to be struck with its brilliance." (Letter to Benjamin Bailey, March 13, 1818). I wonder if he's right in that sentence. I wonder if a protest song has ever stopped a war. I …

Story updates! "The House of Illusionists" and "The Berry Girl"

I have a new story out in the world! "The House of Illusionists"  appears in the latest issue of Liminal Stories, a magazine I dearly love. It’s a story about art, war, illusions, and truth. This story is dear to me; it’s one of those where I really felt that I was “leveling up” as I wrote it. And it couldn’t have found a better home: thank you to the editors at Liminal Stories who loved it, too, and brought it into conversation with other stories for a beautiful, strange, surreal issue. Special thanks to Kelly Sandoval who helped me polish the final draft (and who has always been so kind and encouraging toward my work!) and to AJ Gabriel for the beautiful illustration.

I hope to write up some more thoughtful notes about the meaning and process of this story soon.
And in other news. . . I’ve posted some more stories over at Curious Fictions, a website which lets readers directly pay authors for their stories. Among the new stories I’ve added is one which isn't available a…

Montreal and Quebec City: A Palimpsest

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We spent ten days in Quebec, Canada, eating poutine and duck confit and crepes. We walked through the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, then drove to Quebec City and walked the cobblestone streets there. My girls posed with cannons on the old battlements and were subjected to military history; we ate gelato and watched street performers in the old squares. We drove out of the city and explored a dramatic landscape of waterfalls and gorges and mountains. We saw sights like this.


A view from atop the waterfall at Canyon Sainte-Anne, outside Quebec City.

Another view of the falls. 
We also saw this. 

                           A view of the Jacques-Cartier River at Jacques-Cartier National Park.


On our first night in Quebec City, my husband made a reservation at Aux Anciens Canadiens. Nearly twenty years ago, we had dined at this restaurant sans children. Quebec was one of the first trips that my husband and I ever took together. It was late autumn, and cold, and we were so young.

We came…