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dance-movie-full-cover-1-1170x1747This is a dance movie! Teenagers are dancing. They are popping, locking, tutting. The teenagers must stay loose, stay low to catch each step. To roll from beat to beat. The teenagers must be careful not to overemphasize the downbeat.

One teenager, a boy named Robert, is dancing down the street. Robert is practicing. He is snaking his arm. He makes it fluid: shoulder, elbow, wrist. Or tries. Several times. The audience feels his pain. The audience knows Robert must master this move. Robert and the other teenagers must win a competition. Robert, in particular, must win this competition in order to get a scholarship the girl laid. Robert must get laid. This is a dance movie!

Robert must get laid by a deadline. To win a bet? Possibly. In this way, this dance movie is also a teen sex comedy. Except this comedy isn’t so funny. Or maybe it’s funny. It’s sort of funny. Its funniness depends upon the audience’s appreciation for schadenfreude. The problem is Robert is likeable, making it harder to laugh at his expense. Or rather, likeable to certain viewers. Robert is likeable because he’s pretty, making him likeable to girls and gay boys, this movie’s target demographic. Most teen sex comedies are about ugly straight boys. Critics rave about these movies because, being ugly straight boys themselves, they identify with their protagonists.

Raeff_JungleAroundUs.inddThe Doctors’ Daughter

“Don’t forget to feed the chickens,” Pepa’s parents told her when they left for the jungle to take care of the yellow fever victims. As if she could forget such a thing. Wasn’t she the one who took care of them, who collected the eggs, swept up the droppings, slit their throats with the scalpel her father had given her for this very purpose? If she had forgotten to feed the chickens, they would have come pecking at the back door, would have jumped onto the kitchen windowsill and poked their beaks between the louvers. How could she possibly forget to feed the chickens?

The chickens had been Pepa’s idea, after all. Her parents had not approved at first. “What do we know about keeping chickens?” they said. But they seemed to forget that in the beginning they had not known any of it. They had not known how to cook beans, had not known the taste of fried bananas or the Spanish word for rice, had not known how to hang mosquito netting or the sound of monkeys screaming in the night or that you had to bribe the health inspectors as well as hide the water cistern when they came around every so often looking for what they called “standing water.”

yancy-4-2Can we talk about something other than fetal surgery?

Oh. Okay. Facial reconstruction?

 

On second thought, forget it. Fetal surgery it is.

I don’t mean to be obsessed, but if I were a character, it would be one those formative backstories.

 

See, look at that. Even during an interview you’re starting with backstory.

You can begin at the beginning, or you can work your way back there.

2016-02-02-vanessa-hua-deceit-and-other-possibilities-book-cover-design-04aPerhaps you’ve heard of me?

Maybe you’ve listened to a song by the Jump Boys, a group I fronted, which had three gold records that launched countless jingles for a remarkable array of consumer products. Or on television, as the host of a reality show where contestants dared to eat horse cock sandwiches and cling to helicopters zooming over a tropical bay. On billboards, hawking heavy gold watches, cask-aged cognac, or alligator leather shoes, my shirt unbuttoned to reveal six-pack abs.

I didn’t think so.

In America, most likely the only reference you’ve seen of me would be a blurb, news of the weird, along the lines of “those funny Asians, at it again.” Video-game pets, robot butlers, used schoolgirl panties sold in vending machines, and the sex scandal involving Kingsway Lee, the Hong Kong star whose compromising photos were stolen off his laptop, played out in the tabloids, and posted on the web.

Thousands of shots from my cell phone, scoring with scores of women: the actress wife of my former bandmate; the Canto-pop star and lover of a reputed mobster; and the daughter of a shipping magnate with ties to Beijing and the Red Army.

I’ve been forced to flee to the safest place I could think of, where no one would recognize me: my hometown.

mermaids_cover

“The Dead Dream of Being Undead”

Part I

 

Once, there were two brothers born nine months apart in the same room of the same hospital in the same manner—the protracted period of ill-timed contractions, the doctor in blue scrubs and white mask, the late-night crowning, the father’s kiss, the death of the mother. And with each child’s arrival and each mother’s passing, the father celebrated and mourned in the only way he’d ever learned to do either: asleep in the arms of a new woman. Christenings were funerals. Cradles were made altars.

Not until their tenth year on a day four and one-half months after the oldest’s birthday and four and one-half months before the youngest’s birthday did the father reveal to the boys they weren’t borne of the same woman and that the woman they’d known as their mother was in fact mother to neither. And it wasn’t until this day in their tenth year that either brother had considered the differences between them, had even recognized there were differences between them other than their nine months’ difference in age.

Metaphysical Ukulele Cover“UKULELE FALLOUT”

1. Healthy and Optimistic

Richard Brautigan’s ukulele fell suddenly from the sky on a sunny October day. It landed in Washington Square Park on the North Shore of San Francisco, not far from the Benjamin Franklin statue.

The first to approach Richard Brautigan’s ukulele was a homeless wino. He watched the ukulele fall from the sky while eating a sandwich he had been given across the street at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral. The sandwich fell out of the wino’s hand, occupied what sky remained between the hand and the grass of Washington Square Park, and, like Richard Brautigan’s ukulele, took its place among the poplars and cypresses, the sandboxes and sprinklers and tennis balls saturated with dog spit in the park. The wino picked up his sandwich and continued to eat.

A jogger also saw Richard Brautigan’s ukulele fall from the sky. She jogged over to the fallen ukulele.

lobster“My father was killed in Lubech!”

“Lubech—Lubech, that’s all you’ve been saying—Lubech,” Mother said.

True, Father did say “Lubech, Lubech” a lot on this trip. It sounded like “love” and “burning” at the same time. Kuzya and Lubasha loved playing “words.”

“In 1943, he was killed! It’s 1986! I just don’t see why I need to spend my May holidays this year bumping along these terrible roads, breaking the engine, being carsick, driving through snow and then dust and heat and running chickens and bugs—”

That was true, too. All kinds of bugs—mosquitoes, flies, some rare bugs Kuzya had never seen in Moscow.

Deaver Book Cover_photo credit Ashley Inguanta“Vasco and the Virgin”

Vasco Whirly had been an English professor out at the college, but he didn’t get tenure. So he got on the safety crew out at the Murdock Mine, and it wasn’t so bad—his self-esteem was shot, and he didn’t fit in, but he did make a lot of new friends. Actually he didn’t. But he kept a lot of the old friends, Lowell Wagner in Psychology, Ann Rook in English, Gloria Steinem the local librarian, some others. All this took place in the dying prairie college town of Tuscola. This is more than you wanted to know.

Vasco never saw his friends much, and they never saw him, so it was hard to figure how they were friends. And his daughters, Michelle and Melanie Junior, were always off somewhere, and this left Vasco hanging around his old homestead doing things like staring down in the cistern or climbing around in the rafters of the garage. Sometimes he’d go all around the house opening drawers, and sometimes he’d take a shovel and dig in the narrow passage between his garage and the Rittenauers’ garage next door. The house was old, built in 1882— he’d poked around for hours in the dim of the musty basement, finally even using a metal detector he’d rented. In fact, he did the whole yard with the metal detector, working day after day, half the community driving by on Niles Avenue and seeing him do it. He metal-detected Melanie Senior’s tulip bed out by the garage, under the grape arbor, along both edges of the drive, in the parkway, under the bushes that surrounded the front porch. He came to the conclusion he was looking for something, the way he was always rummaging around.

AminaGautierLostThingsCoverFalling into step with the boy, Thisman draws close and whispers in a voice only for him. Says, “I wish I had a little boy just like you. I wish you were my own,” and the boy believes it, every single word.

He is lost, but not in the way he has been taught to be. Not in a supermarket; not in a shopping mall. There are no police officers or security guards to whom he can give his name and address. There is no one to page his parents over a loudspeaker to come and get him. None of the clocks where they go give the correct time and there are no calendars to mark the days. He never knows where or when he is.

11873373_879110155493027_2034678384430381309_nBlack Mamba

Blinky ran the pet shop out on Route 64. There was nothing wrong with his eyes—20/20, he said—but he only had one and a half legs and he said he believed the nickname stopped people from staring at his stump. A die-version, he said. I didn’t stare at his stump mostly because I’d know Blinky since I was a kid and had gotten used to the fact that he refused a prosthetic. Said it wasn’t American. He’d lost the leg in the war, and he wanted everyone to know even though he didn’t want people to stare. He was weird like that.

You went to Blinky’s pet shop—named Randy’s House of Reptiles, for no reason whatsoever, Blinky’d always run the place—to buy shine. There was the bar in town, but they stopped selling at a certain time and they didn’t sell the good stuff. Blinky would never really say where he got his supply from, but damn it was good. Real good. You had to buy something pet-related when you went—I usually bought a cat toy, or dog bones for the mutt that hung around the back of my property—but if you did, Blinky took care of you. He was good like that.

51IKDORqGrL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Curiosity #84: Aztec volcanic rock sculpture, circa fifteenth century A.D., probably made for the temple of Tenochtitlan. An example of a traditional demon princess, or Cihuateteo, who escorts the sun from the underworld each morning, she wears a simple skirt, breasts bared, hair long and over her shoulders.

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The truth about Set is the truth about all ghosts: there is a weightlessness that keeps them fluttering, light as leaves—and in turn they are drawn down to instability, to the volatile, to cracks that open and can split whole mountains. To the volcanoes. Specifically, in Set’s case, to Lana Volcana.

That wasn’t her real name, of course, or even her screen name. But it was what they all called her after her breakout picture, Vera and the Volcano—a two-reeler about an island girl that sent her star up and up. LANA VOLCANA! the picture magazines screeched, with accompanying photographs of a dark-haired vamp in a grass skirt and clamshell top. The IT GIRL, the papers called her, a new kind of girl for these daring times. Filmstar Rag said she was the girl you don’t bring home to mama.

biosaraAfter school, Rachel comes over and we climb through the craggy hole in the fence and into the park. Everything is wet because it always is but we don’t care. We climb across the hillside to a patch of trees where Rachel likes to smoke cigarettes. We lie back on the grass and I listen to the leaves tap against one another.

“We should have a party at your house,” Rachel says for the hundredth time. Rachel loves parties and lugs me along on weekends. Parties are too chaotic for me but I am a teenager and that’s what we are supposed to do. Says who, I don’t know. Says Rachel. Rachel has streaks of blue in her hair because of course she does. She glitters everywhere she goes.

31gFl7NEfALThe Char Paper Blues Band

They were the type of band, over time, that could play just about any kind of gig you could imagine: wedding, supper club, football stadium, birthday party, Christmas morning brunch, open-air pavilion, museum, right down to the back seat of a car. Not that there wasn’t some controversy in coming up with a name that stuck.

“For the last time, we’re going with Char Paper Blues Band. I appreciate the sentiment of the Dissolution Unit, and the Demolition Unit has a similar feel, but again: they’re both misleading. We’re not doing the dissolving or the demolitioning, are we?”

Silence. Initially. Stafford was used to it. The harmonica player would probably grumble for a few days over having failed, yet again, to rename them.

MothersTellYourDaughtersUsed to be a doctor would wrap a woman up tight to hold body and soul together, but when I fell last week trying to get to the kitchen to pour myself a drink, they just untangled my tubes, picked me up like I was a child, and put me back in this awful bed. Told me I’d had a stroke. Now I’m lying here with a broken rib that aches.

gillesemily

When they first put Beth in the water, she sprouted metallic gold fins from her shoulders. Then her ankles and wrists erupted with the same, slippery matter, the fins’ edges serrating sharp but wave-like. They were very much what most wanted to compare them to, but few came out and said: Mercurial wings, lifted from the deity himself, built for speed, fluidity, transcendence, immortality and —this time around—displaced into the deep blue water. Beth, the two-year-old girl whose first dip into the cool, gentle pool had at that moment become a scientific phenomenon and impending national treasure, gazed at the new appendages in surprise and wonder. Her parents froze in shock, staring agape at their fish-daughter, until Beth’s large eyes crinkled into a smile, her tiny mouth giggled out a seal-like yelp, and she dove under the surface.