Book Review – Friend: A Novel From North Korea by Paek Nam-nyong and translated from Korean by Immanuel Kim. Friend: A Novel from North Korea (Weatherhead Books on Asia)  (9780231195614): Paek, Nam-nyong, Kim, Immanuel: Books

My review of Friend: A Novel from North Korea is up on Full Stop.

This novel was written in 1988 by Paek Nam-nyong, a writer living in North Korea and a member of April 15 Literary Production Unit, a regime-sanctioned group of writers tasked with chronicling the saga of the Kim dynasty. The novel has attracted attention outside of the DPRK for years, even spawning a play in South Korea. The novel was made into a television series in North Korea. It is, perhaps, the most well-known modern work of fiction from that country.

My review of the novel for Full Stop explores how something can be at once a work of art and a piece of propaganda. I also ask what contrasting Friend with western media depictions of North Korea can tell us about propaganda, both in DPRK and the USA.

Read the review here on Full Stop.

Get the book here from Colombia University Press.

New Story – A Heliograph to Kin Kletso – Weber: The Contemporary West


I’m very excited that my story, “A Heliograph to Kin Kletso,” is in the newest issue of Weber: The Contemporary West.

My birthday falls mid-December and so several years ago, Erin arranged for us to visit Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northwestern New Mexico to observe the winter solstice. Chaco Canyon features several large, brick structures built by pre-Colombian, ancestral Puebloan people. If you’ve never been to Chaco or Mesa Verde in southern Colorado, you may persist in believing that pre-Colombian people in the continental United States never developed complex, multi-story, permanent architecture. One visit to either place will disabuse you of that misconception. Chaco’s kiva’s and houses were every bit as brick as a New England mill.

Native people from the area, like Pueblo and Diné people, recognize Chaco as an ancestral site. Academics consider the residents of Chaco a mysterious lost culture. The National Parks Service hosts a solstice event that allows early-risers to observe the sunrise from the ruins and see firsthand how the structures align with the sun. Of course, it was cancelled in 2020 because of Covid-19, but hopefully we can watch it again in the near future.

pueblo bonito chaco

I wrote “A Heliograph to Kin Kletso” after visiting the solstice sunrise. The way time and light converge at Chaco fascinates me. I know Weber eventually posts their issues online, so I will share the link to the story when it’s available. For now, you can get a physical copy here. There are some great poems in this issue and the other short story was terrific, too.

I hate to end this post this way, but, of course, Chaco Canyon and the area surrounding it are threatened by mining and fracking. High Country News has been following the story. Unfortunately, efforts to protect Chaco have been terribly complicated by the pandemic. Actually, the federal government is using the pandemic as an opportunity to push through drilling plans in Chaco while Diné and other native people are fighting Covid. The Navajo Nation has, at times, had the highest Covid rate in the country. The pandemic has totally devastated native people. While community leaders are trying to save lives, federal authorities are scheduling hearings on drilling and mining. It reminds me of how early Europeans used small pox to take land from Algonquin and other peoples.

I wrote a story set at Chaco Canyon, but the story of Chaco Canyon and culture is not mine. It’s ongoing, and it’s not going well. You can give to the official Navajo Covid-19 Relief Fund here.

New Story – Inherit My Life – Expat Press

My new story, “Inherit My Life,” is up at Expat Press. It’s the first in my “metal” series to be published and tells the tale of a young Hessian who encounters freedom in the poverty of others.

I’m really digging Expat Press! Check out my story here.

Book Review – The People’s Porn by Lisa Z. Sigel

“The People’s Porn: A History of Handmade Pornography in America” by Lisa Z. Sigel offers several chapters, each with a focus on a different aspect of folk art, outsider art, and handmade crafts as they reflect sexuality. It’s my first review of a work of history, but I’ve always been extremely fascinated by material culture. My brother is an antique collector and dealer, so I’ve spent some time thinking about provenance and how history is embedded in artifacts. Honestly, I expected this book to be a bit funnier and more lighthearted than what I encountered, but it was more interesting for being deeper than what I envisioned.

Read my review here at Full Stop.

Get “The People’s Porn” from Reaktion Books.

Interview – Frankie Rollins and The Grief Manuscript

I recently interviewed my good friend, Frankie Rollins, about her book, The Grief Manuscript, which is available from Finishing Line Press. The Superstition Review featured our interview as part of their Authors Talk series. You can hear our interview here.

Interview – Pima Community College – Community of Writers

A few months back, my close friend, Sandra Shattuck, interviewed me for Pima Community College’s Community of Writing series. We talk about writing, ecology, educational economics, teaching, science fiction, and more. I discuss some of my stories, too. It was fun to think about Sandra’s prompts and I’m so grateful to her Southwest Literature students for their questions about my story, “A Heliograph of Kin Kletso,” which will be in Weber: The Contemporary West Fall 2020. Thanks to Sandra and Dan at PCC for making this happen!

YouTube – Nature Videos and Synthesizers

A few years back, I caught some footage of a tarantula hawk wasp harassing a large desert tarantula. The wasps use paralyzed spiders as hosts for their larval young, which feed on the still-living spiders, carefully devouring around essential organs what would kill their arachnid hosts. Creepy stuff.

In this video, the spider gets away. I know the wasp’s horror-show life cycle is natural. It’s a unique and, in its wickedness, incredible example of evolution’s finesse. But I like tarantulas and I’m glad I didn’t see it get killed.

Most of the tarantula hawk wasps in Arizona have copper colored wings. While there are several species, Pepsis thisbe is the most common. Because the female in the video has black wings, she is most likely Pepsis Mexicana. Tarantula hawks allegedly deliver the second most painful sting in the world.

With the pandemic and the heat keeping me indoors more these days, I’ve been learning my way around video editing programs and DAWs, which are music production and editing programs. As I’m new to these applications, I’ve gone the free route and opted for DaVinci Resolve and Cakewalk, both of which can do some amazing things. Perhaps once I get the hang of things, or find a professional application for video/audio editing, I’ll upgrade to more sophisticated programs. In any case, I composed the music for both videos here and recorded a song for a friend’s upcoming project. It feels good to work on music again and exciting to do some multimedia projects.

I have some more quirky, lo-fi videos on my YouTube channel. Lots of nature and synthesizers.

Mechanisms of Education Funding in the US are Racist

First, let me express my grief on behalf of people of color, and, at this moment, I mean African Americans in particular, who, even in 2020, even in the midst of a pandemic, must try to live meaningfully with the specter of racism threatening their lives. People who deny racism’s profound, continued negative impact on our culture are the same as people who deny the virility of Covid-19, people so simple in their thoughts (if not in words and actions) that they can’t engage with things they don’t experience firsthand.

I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for people of color to hear their reality debated in the media as some kind of hypothetical, over and over, even as videos of police and vigilante murders proliferate. The anger and destruction we see with the riots is the inevitable outcome of this frustration. Maybe we should have had an open and honest discussion about racism when football players were kneeling, which was a poetic and peaceful form of protest. If we had listened and worked toward meaningful change when we had the chance, perhaps there would be no riots. Perhaps George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and others would still be alive. 

Please read and listen to people color right now. Listen and empathize. I can’t tell you anything they can’t share more effectively. 

As an educator, I feel it is necessary to point out ways in which my industry perpetuates racism and inequality. The structure of education funding and access in our country is extremely racist, classist, anti-worker, and anti-American. What do I mean? 

The cost of higher education and the ways those costs are structured deny access and mobility disproportionately to people of color, but negatively impact all working class people in the US, including white people. Because of automation and outsourcing, the investor class no longer needs nor cares about American workers and so we have seen the cost of college rise exponentially while wages have stagnated. Wages have stagnated, but investment income as grown.

Corporate tax break after corporate tax break pushes the cost of funding an educated populace away from the industries who rely on educated workers and onto the workers themselves. The investor class is divesting from their fellow citizens. Working class Americans are a bad investment compared to robots or people working for starvation wages in the developing world. Keep in mind that many of the people in the investor class benefited from cheap higher education access in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, but deny others the same opportunities they themselves used to get ahead.

For white Americans, this divestment hits working-class Americans the hardest, yet, ideologically these people support the investor class and make the divestment in education possible. One of the main points of leverage the investor class uses to manipulate working-class white people into voting against their own self-interest is racism. Homophobia and religious fundamentalism are also exploited. If you’re not rich, but you are racist, you are a sucker falling for the oldest trick in the book – divide and conquer.

It’s a vicious cycle. Policies deny people education so they will be less informed and less intelligent, making them easier to manipulate and exploit. People are exploited into accepting less remuneration for our labor, less from our public institutions, and more inequality. We are exploited into accepting these ridiculous education funding models.

I have seen so many times when finances have prevented someone from continuing their education, even at the relatively inexpensive community college where I teach. Because I teach in Tucson, the majority of the students I’ve met who have had to abandon their education for financial reasons are LatinX. I also know many people struggling with massive college debt.

Denying access to education is intentionally racist policy aimed at perpetuating segregation. 

For example, Governor Doug Ducey completely de-funded community colleges in Arizona. This prevents working people and people of color from transcending their current economic statuses in our state. This is intentionally creating a barrier to accessing education and upward mobility. It is racist economic policy by racist legislators. Doug Ducey is a racist pandering to the investor class. In AZ, that means international mining corporations that care about our resources but don’t want to invest in the state’s residents, especially our Mexican and Mexican-American residents.

Research indicates that education affects people’s beliefs about race. Specifically, the more education you have, the more likely you are to believe in society-wide, structural barriers to upward mobility for people of color. Less educated people tend to believe there is something inherent in people or cultures that prevent them from being successful and see the playing field as more or less neutral. Research as to whether education changes people’s attitudes toward practical policy making is less clear-cut; there is some evidence that even though more educated people believe in structural causes for racism, they still don’t support targeted interventions aimed a promoting racial equality. I’ve linked a couple sources at the conclusion. Attitudes aside, we can discuss policies that affect access to education.

State colleges and universities must be free! All people deserve the chance to learn and improve their lives and communities,  not just those lucky enough to have parents who can afford it or those willing to take on massive debt. Many people work to fund their education, but, unlike previous generations, they cannot fully cover the cost. Often, working lower-wage jobs can’t even meaningful diminish the overall cost of a degree.

The way we fund public k-12 education is also racist. School districts are mostly funded by property taxes. Funding that relies on property taxes from neighborhoods surrounding the schools means that nice neighborhoods get great schools while struggling neighborhoods get struggling schools. Children face unequal opportunities based on the economics of their communities. What is a child’s liability in their own access to education?

Using local property taxes as the public school funding mechanism is racist. Because of historic segregation, people of color are much more likely to attend underfunded and struggling schools. Funding schools this way perpetuates segregation and racist law enforcement further denies opportunities. Drug laws provide the arbitrary infractions needed to keep up racist segregation through incarceration.  

Poorly funding predominantly low-income white school districts produce uneducated people who are more easily manipulated with media propaganda, which is what the investor class relies on to perpetuate the benefits they derive from systemic racism. For-profit prisons are a perfect example. You have to be pretty uneducated and/or lack basic critical thinking to believe that allowing investors to profit off prisons is a humane idea.

School funding must occur at the state level. Funds must be strategically distributed with a more holistic view of the statewide economy and benefiting all communities, not just those with already-high property values. Neighborhood-level school funding is antiquated, obsolete, and racist.

After 17 + years in education, I fully believe our funding mechanisms for k-12 and higher education in the United States have been developed to intentionally block pathways out of poverty. I believe that education funding is the new mechanism to maintain segregation. Poor people are prevented from accessing education on purpose to keep them uninformed, easy to control, and unable to compete economically. This primarily disenfranchises people of color. 

The best way to overcome racism is to improve access to education and improve the quality of education our institutions provide.

Free college? Some people object to the idea because they had to pay. To them I say, do not be so selfish! You are being exploited through your selfishness! If you had to struggle to get your education, if you went into debt or worked three jobs, you were intentionally disenfranchised. Do not demand that others, future generations, share your unfair suffering. If someone had fought for your education access, you would have avoided unnecessary suffering and sacrifice. Be someone who fights so that other have it better, not someone who vindictively perpetuates the inequality you suffered.

There are literally riots going on during a pandemic. We are waiting for a treatment for Covid-19.

We have the treatment to fight racism – equal access to high-quality education. We need everyone to take their anti-racism vaccine. We need equitable education access, including free state colleges and universities, now!

The Impact of Education on Inter-Group Attitudes: A Multiracial Analysis

The Effects of Education on Beliefs About Racial Inequality

New Story – Don’t Fear the Reaper – The Arcanist

My flash fiction piece, “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” is featured on The Arcanist. It’s also on Tales from The Arcanist, the corresponding podcast available right on the page with the story or via Spotify.

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” is a short, uncomfortable moment from the future, a piece of science fiction imagining how the mundane will prevail forever. Nothing to do with cowbell. It’s only 650 words, so check it out.

Thanks so much to The Arcanist for sharing my story. They send one story a week right to your inbox if you subscribe.

Book Review – Artificial Gut Feeling – Anna Zett

Artificial Gut Feeling : Anna Zett (author) : 9781916425033 ...

My review of Anna Zett’s Artificial Gut Feeling is up now on Full Stop Magazine. From the review:

Would an artificial instinct, an artificial gut feeling, be determined by the material form of the gut? For example, the wiring within a computer. Would the conditions of its physical existence define the ways its “body” would influence how its intellect made meaning? In the titular story of their new fiction collection, Artificial Gut Feeling, Anna Zett imagines what meaning would derive from the artificial gut feeling. Turns out it’s a suicidal desire for self-immolation; wired systems dream of self-destructing from the heat/excrement produced when they run.

Though Zett’s collection is presented as “personal science fiction,” the work is not easily identified with genre. For example, the heat/excrement metaphor is reminiscent of Georges Bataille’s 1927 essay, The Solar Anus, where heat and light are the excrement of the sun and existence is a cycle of things living within the excrement of others. Invoking a proto-postmodernist like Bataille reflects that Artificial Gut Feeling will appeal more to readers of Judith Butler and Elaine Scarry than fans of Octavia Butler or Liu Cixin. In this science fiction, science provides metaphors for postmodern feminist theory. Zett has clearly researched the science at the foundation of these metaphors, especially electricity and neurotransmitters, and the result is engaging, unique, and insightful.

Read the review on Full Stop.

Get the book from Divided Publishing or Amazon.