“Tiger of the New Moon” available to read

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My short story “Tiger of the New Moon” has been released into the wild through the August 2020 issue of Anathema. It’s based on Vietnamese folklore that’s overlooked enough that if you google it, you can find results only in Vietnamese. I heard about it thanks to my parents. With this story, I’ve brought it over to English and put a spin on it. I had this story workshopped at Taos Toolbox, so I owe a huge thanks to my Taos cohort for the feedback that helped me make the story stronger.

You can read it for free (here).

Short Story Acceptance #15

“Tiger of the New Moon” is coming to Anathema Magazine: Spec Fic From the Margins! The story is a feminist fairy-tale spin on obscure Vietnamese folklore: Ông Ba Mươi, or the tiger known as Mister Thirty. I heard about this piece of folklore from my parents. It’s not something you can easily find online, because none of it is translated into English. This story was critiqued during week 2 at Taos Toolbox, so I owe the instructors and classmates a huge thanks for helping me shape this story into something worthy of publication. I’m really excited to share the direction I took with Ông Ba Mươi.

Taos Toolbox Day 14 (7/20/2019)

Last day of the workshop. Well, yesterday was really our last day, because today is just parting ways and heading home. I left Angel Fire at 8 AM and carpooled with Brian L, Emily W, and Kent back to the airport in Albuquerque. We followed along the Rio Grande during most of our trip.

At a gift shop in the airport, I made impulse buys: an ocarina with a wolf painted on it, and a little book on Native American animal stories with gorgeous artwork. Emily’s flight was later, so we went through security together and she hung out with me up until I had to board my plane. As soon as I arrived in Houston, I satisfied my craving for Vietnamese food with a hot bowl of pho tai.

It’s been an amazing two weeks. The workshop includes Toolbox in its name for good reason. I came away with a much more solid grasp on craft, a bunch of signed books, and a bunch of new friends whose careers I’ll watch with great interest. Everyone’s prospects seem promising, and I look forward to seeing more of their work in the wild someday. Post-workshop depression will hit me hard. Keeping in touch with my classmates on Slack will alleviate that, hopefully.

Welp, I didn’t see any bears, but that’s probably best because I’d rather come back home in one piece.

I want to write more sci-fi short stories, so this is what I’ll do to reach that goal and get better acquainted with the genre: read more science articles through resubscription to Science News magazine, read “How To Build A Planet” per Nancy’s recommendation, subscribe to Asimov and Analog, look to my more sci-fi savvy classmates for support and advice.

Below are mementos from Walter and Nancy, who are treasure troves of great feedback, advice, and funny true stories.

Taos Toolbox Day 13 (7/19/2019)

Last set of critiques today: Carina Bissett (surreal fantasy with portal bees), Emily Fockler (fantasy with “hags in the crags,” as Walter put it), and me. Nancy’s advice on tension during Carina’s critique: Make sure the readers know what’s happening now, so they can worry about what’s going to happen next. I had submitted an old short story based on obscure Vietnamese folklore, partly because I couldn’t get the beginning of my new novel in on time, and I wanted to know what I could do to improve that short story so it can sell. Nancy telling me that I could cut 1k-1.5k words was music to my ears. I’ve been wanting to cut the darn thing because the shorter the better, but I couldn’t figure out how. People gave me good suggestions on rewriting the ending and tightening the middle.

After our last “class” ended, Suzanne, Emily W, and I took the scenic chairlift. The mountainous views were spectacular. The slope at the top was particularly steep, probably a black slope. The chairlifts were going pretty fast, like a mini roller coaster, so getting on and getting off sent the adrenaline pumping. Emily might have uttered a bunch of panicked expletives during those moments.

 

 

Clayton, Emily W, and I drove down to Taos together. Farewell dinner is at Lambert’s in Taos. I tried elk tenderloin (which I’ll most likely not try again, not because it tastes bad, but because it’s so pricey). I asked Nancy for her opinion on how she would characterize our class. She deemed us the Improvement Class, because we’ve made the most improvement on our work from Week 1 to Week 2. I’m glad we weren’t the Party Class, or the Class With the Most Drama. I had Walter sign my copy of the first book of his Dread Empire’s Fall series before we said goodbye to our instructors. Wen had brought gifts from China for all the ladies in our cohort, so her gift to me was a lovely patch of the rabbit in the moon. The villain in Guardian Lion, the YA Asian fantasy novel I wrote back in 2016, is based on the moon rabbit, so I’m amazed that Wen had picked out the perfect thing to give me.

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After dinner, I had ice cream with Suzanne, Emily F, and Wen. There was some kind of festival going on, so we walked around while eating ice cream and Emily got a hand-made bracelet of her mom’s name, which is apparently hard to find on personalized items. Once we got back to Angel Fire, I hung out at Emily F’s suite to carry out the plotting session for SEAL Splintered, and Emily really helped me flesh out the storyline of my 2nd POV character, Isaac.

 

Taos Toolbox Day 12 (7/18/2019)

Critiques today: Zhou Wen (sci-fi/horror with melting people and an alien language decrypted by physics), Kate Thomas (sci-fi with bunny-ear aliens and missing house), Kent Bridgeman (“AI gone wrong” story with destroyer goddess motif), and Mark Bailen (old west supernatural fantasy). A scene in Kent’s story featured a Peruvian restaurant and a belly dancer. I was amazed that none of us brought it up as a funny remark during critique, though I wrote on the margins of his manuscript “this place sounds very familiar!” Nancy and Walter gave a sobering talk on the ups and downs (especially downs) of their writing careers. They didn’t sugarcoat anything. If you want a stable career, full-time writing is the wrong choice. Writing really is a labor of love.

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Spoiler alerts that are illegible and subjective to change.

When we split up after class, I stayed behind in the critique/lecture room to plot out SEAL Splintered: a new sci-fi novel about Splinters: superbeings born from death by dismemberment. I’m eager to write this out after revising August And Counting for the querying stage. When I conceived SEAL Splintered, I thought about only writing from the close 3rd person POV of Aubrey: a female Navy SEAL who must adjust to a new world and life after being blown up by a grenade turns her into a Splinter. Using the flash card method really helped me map out the 2nd POV character: Aubrey’s husband Isaac, which I hadn’t considered and introduced until that plotting session. Making an anti-hero the 2nd POV gives me more flexibility and freedom. I can now show how the villain, Yunru, is manipulating and exploiting Isaac when he isn’t interacting with Aubrey. Now I got two POV Asperger syndrome characters to handle. It’ll be a challenge, but I’m up for it. I had to stop after I ran out of cards. Toward the end of my plotting session, the Baranowskis dropped by to help me run through what I’ve laid out in cards. I really appreciate them coming into help, since Laura hadn’t been feeling well.

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Left to right: Laura, Mark B, Brian H, Scott
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Left to right: Scott, Kent, Mark P, Kate, Rob

After dinner plus lots of chips & and salsa to go around at El Jefe with the peeps above, it’s beer and hot tub time with Walter, Emily F and W, Suzanne, Scott, Brian H, and Mark P until 10 PM. Scuba diving and fanfiction were just a few of many topics in our conversation. Lesson learned that night: don’t jump into the hot tub right after a big meal. Then up until midnight, Emily F and I had plotting sessions for our new novels. Mark P, Suzanne, and Scott helped us out.

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Emily F mapping out the setting of her city-in-the-sky novel to me, Suzanne, Mark P, and Scott (not pictured)

Taos Toolbox Day 11 (7/17/2019)

Nancy covered a bunch of miscellaneous material that she hadn’t had the chance to cover on prior days: three kinds of plots according to Heinlein and Asimov, characteristics of a blockbuster novel according to Al Zuckerman, among other things. Walter had us do a writing exercise: write 15 minutes of fiction in a familiar setting (so we don’t have to spend so much time with worldbuilding). I wrote 148 words in 15 minutes, which was below average. I’m a slow writer who edits as I write. I want to be more spontaneous and willing to let the words flow. Four critiques today: Emily Wagner (dystopian sci-fi), Brian Hinson (sci-fi inspired by Apollo moon landing), Brian Lesh (urban fantasy with living cities), and Clayton Kroh (weird fantasy with feral woman). Nancy and Walter made a joint career talk on how to approach the outline, synopsis, and query letter.

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In the evening I read stories to be critiqued tomorrow and bounced ideas off of my classmates to help with building my interstellar ER short story. Sci-fi isn’t my wheelhouse, so it really helps to get pointers from people who know about the technical details to make sci-fi plausible.

Taos Toolbox Day 10 (7/16/2019)

Nancy started the day with a valuable lecture on revisions (which we all needed!). Three critiques today: Mark Pantoja (“heavy metal detective” fantasy), Scott Hurff (climate change sci-fi), Laura and Rob Baranowski (continuation of their YA space opera). Walter ended “class” by discussing professional issues, contracts, and different kind of rights. This is practical stuff to know, so your rights and distribution of your work aren’t mishandled. I’ve signed a few short story contracts before, but have never dealt with contracts for novels and adaptations into movies, video games, and graphic novels. Not yet, anyway.

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Rob, Brian H, Walter, Scott, Kent, Carina, and Gio in the back. Suzanne and Emily F at the table.

Pasta party at Windswept #3 (the ultimate party suite) tonight. My classmate from Europe, Gio, hosted the party. Of course, during that time, I thought of the idea to write a short story about an interstellar ER. At the party I had to jot down notes before the idea escaped me, and I was chastised for “working” at the party. Around 8 PM, I headed back to the suite to finish critiques for tomorrow.

Taos Toolbox Day 9 (7/15/2019)

Now that it’s week two, we’re critiquing new submissions that are 6k words instead of 10k words. We started off with analyzing Suzanne Palmer’s story “The Secret Life of Bots,” particularly how to raise stakes and tension: for lack of better words, keep dumping sh-t on characters. Three critiques today: Suzanne Walker (prequel/backstory to her secondary world fantasy from Week 1), Seth Chambers (trope-aware tavern fantasy), and Gio Clairval (continuation of her trippy sushi novel from Week 1). During Suzanne’s critique, Nancy brought up something interesting: it can be an advantage to start out with what the reader needs to know (ex: GRRM starting out with just the direwolf scene in mind, despite the complexity of the plot and scope of his world), and on the other hand, it can be a disadvantage to write with knowing too much of the world. Nancy also said that writing requires being three people at once: the person putting words on the page, get into the mind of the character, and the reader (the hardest part). The task of a writer is to translate a multimedia event into a linear one on the page. She also offered a math formula (if that’s even possible in writing): Pacing equals number of events divided by number of words. Increase pace: put more events.

After class, I had my one-on-one meeting with Nancy at 4 PM. She helped me work through a few problems on my Week 1 submission, and gave me advice on having a consistent writing schedule and being a more proactive reader of current SFF. She also gave me feedback on my application story, “Our Pact.” I thought I made it obvious that the setting and culture of my story was heavily derived from Mongolia. I used actual Mongolian words and folklore, like “khan,” the names Tarvaa, Uudam, and Chuluun, and based my main character on the Mongolian seer of the same name. I don’t know how I can make it any more obvious. So I was very surprised to hear from Nancy that the setting wasn’t clear to her.

At 7 PM we had movie night featuring Casablanca and commentary on plot devices from Walter. Post-movie hot tub with Brian Hinson lasted from 9:10 to 10:15 PM. After attempting to decompress in the hot tub, I read critiques for tomorrow and did last-minute writing my Week 2 submission that’s due tonight! I ended up sending an old, complete fantasy short story that hasn’t sold yet, because I just couldn’t bring myself to finish two scenes for the beginning of SEAL Splintered (superhero sci-fi novel) and didn’t feel confident about the synopsis. I went to bed feeling pretty bleh. Considering how everyone was flying/writing on the seat of their pants this week, I probably wasn’t alone in that.

Taos Toolbox Day 8 (7/14/2019)

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Without the snow, the ski slopes have to be biking trails for the summer.

Suzanne and I had planned to go hiking up a short trail at Angel Fire, but the clock kept getting reset due to stormy weather, so we were bummed that we couldn’t take the chairlifts up the mountain.

 

Later I went with Suzanne and Emily W to Taos Pueblo. We munched on fried bread while we waited outside the chapel for the tour. The guided tour was conducted by a member of the tribe, and we had a cute white dog who insisted on following us around. It was really interesting to hear how the Pueblo tribe came to combine their native religion with Catholicism, and they practice that fusion to this day. I couldn’t take pictures of the interior of the chapel, or inside of an open pueblo, but my parents would’ve liked how beautiful they looked.

 

We were pretty disappointed that we ended up not attending the Taos Pueblo Pow-Wow (today was the last day, too), because we had a hard time finding where it was held, admission ticket is separate from the village, and even if we made it, we’d only be watching the last 2 hours. At least we missed the storm and rain that apparently assaulted Angel Fire.

 

Taos Toolbox Day 7 (7/13/2019)

Met George RR Martin today! First he met us in the room at 4 PM where we have lectures and critiques, and he discussed four important aspects of building a successful writing career: talent, craft, professionalism/business sense, and luck. He was honest about the ups and downs of a writing career. By the time my roommate, an intellectual property attorney, asked GRRM about fan-related content, I already knew what GRRM would say. I had known that he takes a strong stance against the idea and practice of writing fanfiction. So it was no surprise to hear him go on a crotchety schpiel on the subject. As someone who had been writing fanfiction since I was 11, I thought it best to keep quiet. After the talk, my class took photos with GRRM to reenact the Red Wedding. Or should I say, the Red Workshop?

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Photo courtesy of Kent Bridgeman. I must’ve been laughing at what GRRM said about the funny Italian translation of GoT.

At 7 PM we had dinner with him at a Peruvian restaurant called Mikuna Grill. We all weren’t sure why there was live belly dancing at a Peruvian restaurant, but the dancer killed it on the dance floor and we tipped generously. For the first hour I sat next to GRRM, across from Zhou Wen, and we had a great conversation about all sorts of stuff. He mentioned to me that a Vietnamese woman had used her UN translating experience to translate his work to French, and he had visited Saigon (props to him for not saying Ho Chi Minh City!) during a cruise around southeast Asia. He told a funny story of how an Italian translator had wanted to “up the fantasy,” and wrote the direwolf scene so that the direwolf had been gored by a unicorn horn instead of a stag’s antlers. GRRM said that he does plan on legitimately including unicorns in a future work. I asked if they’ll be scary and will kill lots of people. He said yes, of course (to which I pumped my fist in anticipation).

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Me and Wen: the token Asians of this year’s class

I got to ask him if he partly based the Dothraki on the Mongols. He confirmed my guess, and cited inspiration from a hodgepodge of other peoples like the Huns and Native American tribes whose names I can’t remember. I had brought the Game of Thrones series plus the History of Ice and Fire along for the Taos trip, and GRRM had signed all of them! According to his assistant Sid, apparently he doesn’t give out signatures often, so this was a treat, for sure. 22 of us sat at a long table, so Nancy tried to divide our table into thirds and have our “sections” rotate so we all had a fair chance of chatting with GRRM. The waiters handing out food and managing checks must have been a nightmare for them, but things worked out.

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Me with my awesome roomies, the Baranowskis. Photo courtesy of Wen.

After dinner, Sid came over to my classmates’ suite to hang out and talk about her very busy yet intriguing day-to-day life of helping out GRRM. What a day. GRRM’s by far the most famous writer I’ve met, and even when I have photos and my signed books to prove it, I can’t believe it really happened.

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Sid, Kent, Scott, and Suzanne. (aw crud I can’t remember and can’t tell who’s on the left)