The original first page of The Lord of the Rings

This is what we’ve come to know as the first page of LOTR.

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This was the original draft in 1937 (via @BubbleCow RT @HistoryInPix).

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1. Tolkien had marvelous handwriting.

2. The two MSs are barely alike. That’s always heartening.

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Brit Mandelo reviews my story (and other reviews!)

So a day after getting back home to Manila from KL, I find out that Brit Mandelo – THE Brit Mandelo! –  has reviewed my story “Waiting with Mortals.”

Something definitely got into my eye and made things a little blurry after this discovery. 🙂 Very honored. The review is part of her Short Fiction Spotlight series with Niall Alexander up at Tor.com, focusing on The Apex Book of World SF 3, where my story is reprinted.

Brit Mandelo’s full article can be found here and her review of my story below:

The first, “Waiting with Mortals” by Crystal Koo, struck me as an unfamiliar rendition of a familiar set of tropes—something I tend to appreciate. The grit and grimness of much contemporary urban fantasy is here, and the story itself takes place in a world where ghosts are a part of life—in particular the city life of Hong Kong. The protagonist himself is a ghost; his relationship with his also-ghostly father is still as much of a mess as it was in life, and so is his relationship with the girl he loves but who seems to have mostly been using him throughout his life/death.

It’s a dark little piece, unforgiving in the way that many stories like it are: the characters have trouble interacting with each other, there’s jealousy and greed and broken people interacting with other broken people. In the end, however, what won me over most was the shift in relationships that allows the protagonist to move on: his father’s willingness to sacrifice for him and try to make him happy, the girl’s unwillingness to see him or care about him enough to change her patterns of behavior. The realizations that he cannot change her into someone different and also that maybe he hasn’t been seeing his father through true eyes for a long time compound to make for a solid ending, one that’s satisfying in the confines of the world-building.

As for that world-building, while the story is a little hard to find one’s feet in at first—it took me a bit to sort out the mechanics of the host/ghost conversions, and that the father was also a ghost—once it gets the ball rolling, it’s solid. Koo’s city feels alive, drenched in neon and fog and fluttering with humans alive and otherwise; her use of detail is sparse enough to not overwhelm while also rich enough to give a good sense of place, time, and person. I generally found it to be a compelling piece about love and loss and connection—one that stuck with me for a bit after finishing.

There have been other reviews as well, largely positive. 🙂 (Most of them are available in the Amazon page but I’m linking to the reviewer’s original sites as much as possible). One from The Little Red Reviewer:

“Waiting With Mortals” by Crystal Koo will lure you in in the few first paragraphs, and then oh so gently it’ll break your heart. It’s easy for ghosts to inhabit a mortal’s body, but it’s polite to get the mortal’s consent first.  Ghosts don’t eat, can’t taste anything, can’t feel another person, can’t get their earthly  business conducted, but once they inhabit a mortal, they can do all those things and more.  Ben met J.G. before he died, and he’s still trying to get up the nerve to tell her how he feels about her. It’s a little more difficult now, he’s got to climb into someone else’s body, and talk with their voice to even get her attention. But she always knows it’s him, even as her newest occupation is slowly killing her.  I loved the tender interactions between Ben and his dad and Ben and J.G. How do relationships change once you’re dead? Of course this is a sad story, as populated by ghosts as it is, but it’s a heartwarming love story too.  Everyone here is searching for acceptance, for love, for release.

From Ricky E. Betts:

Waiting with Mortals – Ghosts come to be when a mortal dies unfulfilled. It’s an old legend: to remove a ghost, you have to bring its soul to rest. You have to right the wrong done to it or help it finish a task that it never got to complete while alive. Only then will the ghost “cross over” into the next world, life, whatever. Another tale, lest often told, is that ghosts can possess mortals. These two legends blend together to make the premise of “Waiting with Mortals,” the story of a boy who died at 16 and has been around ever since. It’s a story about accepting your flaws and about realizing that you can’t let others control your life (or afterlife). I’m giving it 4/5 for presenting a rather unique look into the world of ghosts and for the lesson that it tells, if you care to listen.

From Rob Weber:

Two stories in this collection deal with ghosts. Waiting with Mortals by Philippine author Crystal Koo is the one that had the most impact on me. Like many ghost stories it revolves around unfinished business and the deceased not being able to fully experience mortal life. In this story the dead have the means to influence the living however. It is invasive and profoundly unethical but obsession drives some ghosts to do it anyway. The psychological pressure on the  main character builds to the point where he has to face his situation and his own motivations head on. The tension in the story is very well built up although some readers may find the resolution a bit predictable.

From Michelle R. Wood:

“Waiting with Mortals” (The World SF Blog) was hauntingly beautiful in its description of how ghosts might long for real life. Both the mundane and the sublime needs of living were explored, anchored by the narrator’s opposing personal connections. The story neatly turned the concept of “crossing over” on its head, subverting the opening act with a great conclusion.

Ever, Jane: The MMORPG

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I’m so excited, I’m almost a little afraid for it. Ever, Jane is a Kickstarted MMORPG based on England’s Regency period and (you can probably tell by this time) the works of Jane Austen. (I love how the title’s already a reference to both Regency-style sign-offs and EverQuest itself. XD)

“Gossip is our weapon of choice.   Instead of raids, we will have grand balls.   Instead of dungeons, we will have dinner parties. At the moment, we don’t have any of these.” They don’t have them yet because the game’s just gotten out of development recently and still pretty beta-ish, so I’m going to wait until the parlors have been dusted and the stables fully horsed before joining in the fray. If you want to get a feel of it, their Helpful Tips for Authentic Role-play is pretty entertaining (and already quickly discouraging text speak, but YMMV).

Now excuse me while I go learn how to be an unsavory cad. And maybe exchange 5 Wickham heads for mithril armor.

Tor.com’s Diversity Beyond Borders: A Conversation with Charles Tan, by Sarah McCarry

Full disclosure: Charles mentions me in the interview. But when the publisher of books you read ten years ago prints your name, you put it up in your blog. “I mean, that’s just, like, the rules of feminism,” as a wise woman once said.

Diversity Beyond Borders: A Conversation with Charles Tan

And a million times this, from the article:

SM: How do you think issues of representation are different for international writers, as opposed to writers (especially writers of color) in the US/UK?

CT: It’s different in all the ways that matter.

Take for example a writer from the US/UK published by the Big 5. Their books will get distributed around the world (whether it does well or not). A writer from the Philippines published by a local major published will only get their books distributed in the Philippines, and even then, they’re second-class citizens compared to the US/UK books. Just visit any bookstore here and most of the books on the shelves are foreign books. Some bookstores will have books under the Filipiniana section, which is where you’ll find local books. It’s ironic that in the Philippines, it’s easier to acquire US/UK books than it is for local ones.

It’s possible for a local writer to get published in the US/UK, but that’s the exception rather than the norm, and even then, it’s under the terms of the US/UK publisher, and by that, I mean the content, which will usually focus on the Filipino-American experience or maybe eliminate the Filipino character entirely. If we look at the books published under a US publisher—The Gangster of Love by Jessica Hagedorn or Illustrado by Miguel Syjuco—it’s usually from an expatriate perspective. And while I haven’t read the book, Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto (who is based here in the Philippines), based on the book description, is set in Europe.

And let’s not even talk about eBooks and self-publishing. Barnes & Noble doesn’t sell outside of the US and the UK. Apple sells eBooks to a lot of countries, but the Philippines is not one of them (at least at the time of this writing). Amazon has a complex royalty policy, none of which favors the Philippines; if your book is priced between $2.99 ~ $9.99, you can get a 70% royalty share (this was initially established to compete with Apple’s royalties to publishers and authors), but only if the consumer who bought it belongs to one of Amazon’s listed countries. Worse, Amazon also charges $2.00 extra to customers from select countries as a charge for their Whispersync service. So a $2.99 book costs $4.99 if the customer is from the Philippines, and worse, the publisher is only getting 35% royalties instead of 70% it would have gotten if the consumer was from the US. This encourages a consumer base targeted at readers from abroad, rather than one that nurtures a local readership—at least if you want to maximize your profit.

And again, this is not to say publishers should make space for international writers at the cost of writers who are POC in the US/UK. In an ideal world, do both.

Cover + TOC + Excitement for The Apex Book of World SF 3

The Apex Book of World SF 3, which reprints my short story “Waiting with Mortals,” will be out on July 8 in bookstores in North America!

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The cover art is by Sophia Tuska. TOC below, and it feels fantastic to be sharing the lineup with the likes of Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Amal El-Mohtar. (Previous volumes have included heavyweights like Lauren Beukes, Zoran Ĺ˝ivković, and Ekaterina Sedia – EXCITED TO SAY THE LEAST.)

“Courtship in the Country of Machine-Gods” – Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” – Xia Jia
“Act of Faith” – Fadzlishah Johanabas
“The Foreigner” – Uko Bendi Udo
“The City of Silence” – Ma Boyong
“Planetfall” – Athena Andreadis
“Jungle Fever” – Zulaikha Nurain Mudzar
“To Follow the Waves” – Amal El-Mohtar
“Ahuizotl” – Nelly Geraldine GarcĂ­a-Rosas
“The Rare Earth” – Biram Mboob
“Spider’s Nest” – Myra Çakan
“Waiting with Mortals” – Crystal Koo
“Three Little Children” – Ange
“Brita’s Holiday Village” – Karin Tidbeck
“Regressions” – Swapna Kishore
“Dancing on the Red Planet” – Berit Ellingsen

The blurb in Goodreads (203 people are already requesting one of the two giveaway copies, woohoo!):

These stories run the gamut from science fiction, to fantasy, to horror. Some are translations (from German, Chinese, French, Spanish, and Swedish), and some were written in English. The authors herein come from Asia and Europe, Africa and Latin America. Their stories are all wondrous and wonderful, and showcase the vitality and diversity that can be found in the field. They are a conversation, by voices that should be heard. And once again, editor Lavie Tidhar and Apex Publications are tremendously grateful for the opportunity to bring them to our readers.

My bit, “Waiting with Mortals” was originally published in The World SF Blog in 2012 under the auspices of Sarah Newton as fiction editor; Short Story 365 had written a review, which I will shamelessly post here.

#46: Waiting with Mortals, by Crystal Koo

Synopsis: Ghosts and the people they let haunt them in modern-day Hong Kong.

Beautiful ghost noir, set in a pale and intimate Hong Kong, where, while waiting to cross over, ghosts possess mortals. The police call it “forced entry” even when the mortals consent. The police have their own ghost force. Ben’s relationship with the destructive and doomed J.G. is almost as compelling as his relationship with his distant, demanding father. An amazing Father’s Day read.

Online ordering of trade paperbacks and ebooks from Apex Publications can be found in the usual venues:  Amazon, B&N, Indie Bound, The Book Depository, Kindle, Nook, iBookstore, Kobo, and Weightless.

Alright, alright, alright.

Who Has Never Killed an Hour?

Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share.

MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI, House of Leaves

From There Comes Torment

…Implicit in the riddle’s form is a promise that the rest of the world resolves just as easily. And so riddles comfort the child’s mind which spins wildly before the onslaught of so much information and so many subsequent questions.

The adult world, however, produces riddles of a different variety. They do not have answers and are often called enigmas or paradoxes. Still the old hint of the riddles form corrupts these questions by re-echoing the most fundamental lesson: there must be an answer. From there comes torment.

MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI, House of Leaves

Maximum Volume is UP!

MAXIMUM VOLUME: Best New Filipino Fiction 2014 (eds. Dean Alfar & Angelo Lacuesta), by Anvil Publishing, has been printed and is on its way to the shelves, and my story “Little Places” is included in the anthology!

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Table of Contents
  • “The Case of Two Husbands” by Heinz Lawrence Ang
  • “Posing” by Noelle Q. de Jesus
  • “The Other Woman Narrative” by Daryll Delgado
  • “Basta” by Glenn Diaz
  • “Journey Back to the Source” by Gino Dizon
  • “Man of Letters” by Marc Gaba
  • “Little Places” by Crystal Koo
  • “The Red Cup” by Francezca C. Kwe
  • “The Secret Adobo Wars” by Kate Osias
  • “My Life as a Bee” by Michelangelo Samson
  • “The Missing” by Eliza Victoria
  • “Cruising” by Isabel Yap

The official blurb goes: “Maximum Volume is about creating spaces for emerging Filipino writers and new narratives. Here is a baker’s dozen of the best contemporary writing, ranging from small personal tragedies to fantastic voyages of the imagination to our nation’s past and present.”

anvil adxRuel S. De Vera has done a really nice write-up about it in the Inquirer. The launch is on 28 February 2014 at Powerbooks in Greenbelt 4 at 6pm. (I won’t be able to make it but that authors list looks superb!)

Until the book hits the shelves, it’s available from the Anvil site for P295 each and in bookstores in Manila. Anvil has put a pretty long excerpt from my part of the book “Little Places” here. Meanwhile, I’ll leave my own little excerpt from one of my favorite parts of the story:

For the rest of the month, he fluctuates between drinking in bed till dawn and pacing the room in agitation. He thinks of every selfish, indulgent thing Lani has ever done and tunes it into high definition until it’s bright and gaudy and unanimously declaring he’s better off without her. He imagines her getting a new boyfriend and irretrievably getting her heart broken by him. Or sometimes she comes running back to Migs, a desperate ball of contrition, and he halves her open and holds her inside, in places she can’t even see.

No One Has Any Reason to Lie

But all philosophical question are ultimately like this – by necessity, they deal with hypotheticals that are unfeasible. Real-world problems are inevitably too unique and too situational; people will always see any real-world problem through the prism of their own personal experience. The only massive ideas everyone can discuss rationally are big ideas that don’t specifically apply to anyone, which is why a debate over the ethics of time travel is worthwhile: No one has any personal investment whatsoever. It’s only theoretical. Which means no one has any reason to lie.

CHUCK KLOSTERMAN, “Tomorrow Rarely Knows”, Eating the Dinosaur