Ken Liu’s Paper Menagerie

I haven’t updated this blog in a while, and I apologize for that to anyone who likes to read my nonsense regularly. I’ve just been so busy between work and moving into a new house (complete with larger office space so I can hopefully get more/better work done). I’ll probably write about the house soon, and I have a poem in the wings to share,  but I’m currently on my way out to Seward for a friend’s birthday weekend  (maybe another blog post there, too), so I don’t have time right now.

Instead, let me share Ken Liu’s short story, “The Paper Menagerie”. It raked in a ton of awards and is the title story on his upcoming short story collection. I haven’t read his work before, but both his short story collection and his novel, “The Grace of Kings” are on my to-read list. In any case, the story is tightly written, an intriguing concept, and full of sentimentality. I’m a sucker for those things, and good fiction, and I try to share it where and when I can. So read! Enjoy! And I’ll be back soon with a proper update.

http://io9.com/5958919/read-ken-lius-amazing-story-that-swept-the-hugo-nebula-and-world-fantasy-awards

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When Everything Changed

Periodically throughout your life, you will meet someone who becomes a catalyst in deciding which direction your life takes. The experience itself can sometimes be negative – there’s no helping that, I’m afraid; it’s easy to be hurt – but many times it can just as well be a positive experience. An epiphany of sorts, or a kick in the ass, or a swelling of the heart (not… not literally, I hope).

However it happens, good or bad, emotionally thrilling or heartwrenching, these are people you never forget. Ever. They become one of the many pivotal building blocks in establishing your life and how you identify yourself as a person.

So let me tell you who saved me once and who put me on the path of being a writer.

The first time I saw her, I was a sophomore in high school. Jesus… eleven years ago, already. I was sitting in class, U.S. history, taught by the riflery coach, a large man who spent his summers big-game hunting in Africa. His classroom was situated such that it had windows and those windows opened up to the front lawn aka the direction from whence students would come and/or leave.

So it was that towards the end of the school year and seniors were being let out early, freed from the claustrophobic halls of public school, we got front seat views to their traipsing and gallivanting all across the lawn. I didn’t really watch them. I had two years left and classwork to do. Until.

She stuck her head through the window from outside to say goodbye to my teacher who had led a class of hers in the past. Blonde hair. The kind of blue eyes you see in the heart of glaciers. An Audrey Hepburn smile. She remains one of the most naturally beautiful women I have ever seen, and all I could think of was that somehow I needed her in my life.

I didn’t see her again that year. She was out, on the road to graduation, and I knew, deep in the cockles of my heart, that I wouldn’t have had the guts to speak to her anyway. This was confirmed, mind you, in the years that followed when I would see her out and about at the mall or at the club, and I simply walked past, eyes averted.

About a year and a half after she graduated, I happened to be perusing MySpace, probably a little drunk, when she popped up in my “People You May Know” or whatever the equivalent was. I probably muttered “fuck it” under my breath before sending a friend request. To my astonishment, she accepted a few days later. I finally said…

Nothing.

Still.

What was I going to say? That she stunned me? That I thought she was magnificent? That I had wanted to befriend her for ages but never had the balls?

Eventually, that’s exactly what I did. Several years back, I was going through some suicidal depression, so around Christmas time, I wrote a series of holiday messages to the people who had the biggest impact on my life that year. The first half was the same for everyone: an accounting of what I had done, what I had gone through, how I was feeling, and my hopes for the future. The second half was personalized for each recipient. Writing them out helped get me through my personal slump as I realized how much I had to live for and how grateful I was for the people in my life. It became an annual thing for a decade.

So Christmas time rolled around, I wrote one for this girl. I laid it all out: the first time I saw her, my shyness, how I felt about her, that I wanted to be friends, that I was shocked and ecstatic she would befriend me even via MySpace, and I sent it off.

Her response was sweet, kind, enthusiastic and caring. She was flattered by my words and glad to be friends. We resolved to keep in touch… and then never did, really. Real life happens. She went to college, and I got swept up in whatever my life is, and I forgot about it.

Cut to a few years later. I was up in Alaska to see my best friend’s newborn baby and killing time until I drove with another friend, helping him move to Florida. I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I was still heartbroken over my girlfriend leaving me, I was fired from my job due to poor decisions on my part, I was thrust into debt, I had to leave Los Angeles and move to a couch in Seattle where I was struggling to find a job. I had lost virtually everything, and I was living out of suitcases. I didn’t even have a family home to fall back to anymore.

I found myself out on the town that weekend, hopping from bar to bar, seeing who I could find after a couple years being away. I could feel tipsiness in my body, but my mind was clear. I stopped into a pub called the Anchor – now closed – and scanned the crowd from about fifteen feet in from the front door.

I saw her there, in the crowd, even more lovely than she had been six years previous. She had a grin on her face while she talked to friends. She turned towards me and locked those same stunning eyes on mine. To my tremendous surprise, she walked right up to me and embraced me tightly.

“You remember me?” I managed. We had only had one conversation, ever, consisting of one message sent and one received, online, years ago.

“Jered,” she said. “I love your writing. You have such a talent. I believe in you, and I can’t wait to see you be successful.”

We swapped numbers. We agreed to keep in touch. I left, completely… I don’t even know what the proper word would be. Transformed, maybe.

For years, this woman was something ethereal to me. Always out of reach, always out of my league, always more of an idea than a reality. She was a dream, a fucking incredible one, but no more than smoke to me. To have her in my arms, to have her remember me, but more than that, most of all, to have this person come to me when I was at my absolute lowest, when I hated myself the most… at THAT moment, out of everybody in the world, it was her that came to me and told me I was talented and that she believed in me.

It’s like meeting your favorite celebrity, on the moon, with million dollars cash. Probably a puppy, too, fuck it. One of the adorable types, not those drowned-rat-looking breeds.

The encounter completely shifted my mindset. It started an electric current through me. I helped my friend move to Florida, I flew back to Seattle, I got a job. I dug out three mediocre chapters I had worked on a year previous, re-tooled them, sat down and wrote my first novel in six months.

I moved back to Alaska about a month after I finished and self-published it, and this time she and I did keep in touch. We got dinner and talked and caught up, and we texted each other every day. She told me about her troubles in the science industry and I bitched about the stressors plaguing me while I sold jewelry. She became one of my best and most trusted friends. I could tell her everything and she never judged me for anything.

Time passed, as it does, and life happened again, as it will. She got engaged, then married. I lost my grandparents, another job, and another girl. We grew distant, but occasionally shot each other an encouraging text, or a hilarious photo. By and large, things had gone back to the way they were, with our friendship essentially being long periods of silence. Even so, I knew things had changed. I knew that I had a strong, beautiful, supportive friend if I ever needed to reach out to someone.

I didn’t dedicate my first book to her. I dedicated it to the proof-readers and the advanced copy readers, and to my friend Chelsea, who was the first person to really tell me they were proud of me. In retrospect, this woman should absolutely have been in there. Like I said, she’s the main reason I started writing!

I saved it, though. Over the course of four years, I wrote a trilogy and released it in five parts. The second half of As the Trembles was put out in the first quarter of this year. Her name was in that one. That one was the most important to me, because it showed me and it proved to her, one of the most important people in my life, that I could finish it.

Waypoint was always supposed to be the first book in a trilogy. I wrote that first one in no time, because she had fired me up and inspired me. The second and third book took much longer. I didn’t have faith in the second and third acts. I had so much stuff going on in my personal life. I wanted to give up. I almost did.

But I couldn’t. I needed to finish what she started so I could show her it was because of her. I had to put her fucking name in a book. So I did, and I did.

The middle of this year, as I’ve written time and again, was really rough for me. I’ve been slowly coming back from that and trying to get into a healthier mindset. Some days are better than others. I’m probably more stressed right now than I have been in a while, but I’m beginning to process it better.

In any case, as I feel myself reaching another crossroad in my life, I found myself out last night, tired and kind of pensive. I wandered out to the deck, turned a corner and – lo and behold – she and I came face to face again. I found myself smiling as her own crossed her face. We hugged, talked briefly, agreed again that we should keep in touch.

As we reminisced some, she told me again that she was proud of me, that I had talent, that I was a great guy. Things that I often have a hard time believing myself, things that people occasionally say off-handed somehow never ring false coming from her.

She’s amazing. As beautiful in personality as she was that first day I saw her, before I even knew her name. I truly owe her so much for the last few years. Not only for inspiring and encouraging me to write, but for the countless, patient support and advice she has given me. She is stalwart and reliable in a day and age where friendship and consistency are so often shaky. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend.

I’m not a believer in fate, and I’m agnostic at best when it comes to a higher power, but she has surfaced in my life at times I’ve needed someone or something to help me find some focus. The last time, I wrote a book. I look forward to whatever comes next this time.

Unless it’s, like, I’m going to become a hooker or something.

Anyway, you can find my novels here, or if the Nook is more your speed, head over there and type my K. Jered Mayer into the search engine.

Rain

I like the feeling of rain on my skin
The smell of the grass it settles in
The way it runs right through me
A short circuit shock to the soul
I like the rain because it dims the fire
Clears the mind, and I find
I’ve left behind the fear that leaves me tired
Eyes turned up to a dark ceiling
Pushing to see the stars behind it
I like the rain, being in it
Under it
For each drop is a star itself
Folding my clothes around me in a cool embrace
Tousling hair and kissing my face
Cleansing and enveloping
Gone for a time but certain to return
Destined to fall so that I may catch it
It is the surest lover I have ever known

You Want Poetry?

I wrote this drunk. Don’t blame me.

You want poetry?
Fine words making fine art
A message more eloquent than
The body feels, for
To be human is to be clumsy is
To fall flat
You want poetry?
Staccato words rat-tat-tatting you
An image
A feeling
A reality, but
There ain’t no solace in art from the heart, baby, and I tell you
I’m a messy man
Loose with my feelings
Open with my words
Honey, I’m an art dealer, and my best selling commodity is
Emotion
You want poetry?
You want hurt
You want love
You want desperation because *you* are
Desperate for something
Grabbing for something
Ambitious and
These are good things but remember
Art is delicate
You want poetry?
Art, and the heart, are fluid
They are searching and angry and honest
They are bald and bare and true
Poetry isn’t roses and platitudes so much as
Viscera and attitude
You want poetry?
Baby, live and feel that pain a while
It’s the xylophone of your ribcage
The drumline at the back of your skull
Poetry is seeing that one lover driving away for the last time
The butterfly drifting across the sunset
The last two drops from the whiskey bottle
If you want poetry
You want life
That’s a bag of valentines and
Nails to step on
It’s that feeling in your gut halfway between horror and a climax
On the wildest ride at the amusement park
Good luck