PSF 9 Release

Philippine Speculative Fiction 9 is out! Includes my story “Anthropomorpha,” which I still can’t pronounce correctly unless I’m looking at the word.

psf9xBook blurb: A young tikbalang auditions at the country’s largest TV station; a priest travels the universe to officiate sacraments in outer space; a murdered girl returns unscathed to the home of her perpetrators. The Philippine Speculative Fiction series showcases the rich variety of Philippine literature. Between these covers you will find magic realism next to science fiction, traditional fantasy beside slipstream, and imaginary worlds rubbing shoulders with alternate Philippine history—demonstrating that the literature of the fantastic is alive and well in the Philippines.”

It’s available in the following stores, with the editors saying there’s more in the pipeline coming:

Here’s an excerpt from my story:

Luz found out what she really was when she was young and she quickly developed a habit for when her parents left her in the house alone. When the house was emptied of them, of their sapienness, their rationality and their even keel, it felt just about right. Everything dropped its act. The mirror stopped pretending it wasn’t looking at Luz, the TV stopped pretending it wasn’t judging her. In moments like these, Luz’s heart unmoored from its usual place of screwdrivered tightness.

Luz would take the back door close to the kitchen that led to the basement. No one in her family cleaned these parts. She found her mouth full of cobwebs and a beetle on her face. The door closed behind her in the dark, rust singing, shutting off the only source of light. In the dark, she began to strip. Slippers, shirt, underwear. The dust and filth on the concrete stairs crept into the webs of her toes. She folded her clothes and left them on the top step as she went down.

Not yet, not yet. Too narrow. Too close to the surface, the neighbors will hear. The anticipation consumed her, like the energy and desire that accompanies a smoker returning to her cigarette after an attempt to quit.

At first Luz thinks it’s her stomach reacting to the fish smell and going haywire, but it’s not, it’s something more alarming. It’s familiar. It makes her think of milkfish and mangoes, someone nearby burning wood. Seaweed on the shore, like a mermaid’s hair, the saltiness of beach country. Hayop nga tag-as, walay tiil o kamot, magkamang sa yuta gamit ang himbis sa tiyan, pagkiway-kiway o pagtuyhakaw sa lawas, a laugh, someone pulling a drink from a beer bottle, halas, halas. A tokay gecko squashed by a rock, its speckled green-and-orange body almost perfectly fossilized, knobs on its skin.


“Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself”: What I (re)learned about storytelling from Good Bones

I went to a launch before for a book I was part of and each author had to say something. A woman before me went up and told us that the reason she got into writing was that she wouldn’t have to speak.

Everyone burst out laughing. I’d eventually get to know many of the authors there a little better and I think I can safely say that for most of us, if we had something meaningful to say, we’d rather do it in the corner of a room. With you not in the room. And after weeks of writing, editing, and self-flagellating, we’d give it to you and you’d read it, hopefully with us already having left the room.

In terms of writing, that’s what I’m used to: my not having to be there when I speak to you. That I don’t have to be part of the performance.

I went to a storytelling workshop last Wednesday in Sheung Wan called Good Bones: Advanced Structure and Form, led by Scott Whitehair as part of HK’s StoryWorthy Week. It was on oral storytelling – which means I don’t get the corner of the room or the weeks of self-flagellation. I only get a minute to think and then five minutes to tell the audience a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The workshop was focused on plot structures. They weren’t new to me, given that I teach creative writing for the dayjob, but what was new was my having to be part of my own performance. And it’s still different from playing the guitar – as much as I like improvising onstage when I play, there’s still a degree of distance between myself and the guitar that makes the music. You don’t get a shield like that in oral storytelling.

It’s pretty wonderful to look at something you’ve been doing for years and years from a different angle that makes you feel like a beginner all over again. That’s one of the things Scott reminded us in the workshop: 1. no one’s a natural. At least the way most people understand “natural” – as if someone was born with the innate sense of knowing how to do a particular thing. I think at most we might get an innate sense of extrapolating from what we have learned, but every single one of us still had to put in the years of practice before we reached the level of knowing how to do it in our sleep. When you see someone you think is a natural at doing something? She’s put in the hours to make it look like she’s one.

That’s the other thing: 2. part of the craft is hiding the craft, but the craft is still there. This was brought up in the workshop when we were talking about openings, when you’re in front of an audience and you say your first word. A lot of people choke and start with, “So, yeah, so last week I was walking down the road when…” That So there in the beginning – you’re trying to pass it off as something off-the-cuff and unprepared so you can’t be criticized for it. You’re trying to bypass the vulnerability of showing that you care enough to have crafted an opening. I think Scott said something really true when he said that storytelling is a series of conscious decisions. This is easy enough to see when you’re writing on paper, but when you’re in front of an audience with no paper to shield you from them, it’s good to be reminded that it’s OK to be fully conscious of what you’re doing. If you act cool and defensive, no one’s going to care about your story. Why should they when you already don’t?

3. You can’t force the connection between the audience and the story. You can only try to make that happen by influencing what you can control: the separate audience and the separate story.

triangleI think I tend to forget this when I’m writing – I end up overplaying the theme, forcing my characters to twist themselves into unnatural poses so they can fit into the machine I made for them. That’s why nowadays I deliberately make myself not think about the ending; it has to come organically, as consequences of my characters’ actions. If the consequences don’t fit the theme? Then obviously I’ve been writing a different story all along and I have to make myself open to that idea with a whole lot of rewriting.

I think this concepts extends also to much of life. There are a lot of things we can’t control, but there are other things that you can. And that’s where you should be focusing your energies on, not on your impossibilities. “At the head of all understanding – is realizing what is and what cannot be, and the consoling of what is not in our power to change.” Solomon ibn Gabriol.

Ending this as the workshop ended – with the words of another great man:


More Reviews for Waiting with Mortals

Many thanks to Tammy Sparks for picking my story “Waiting with Mortals” as one of her top five from The Apex Book of World SF 3, and for thinking that all of the stories “have not only an other-worldliness about them, but at the heart of each one, you’ll recognize the ups and downs of simply being human.”

Waiting with Mortals by Crystal Koo.

The neon in Hong Kong is like the past: an image of blurred points of light, and haste and shallow focus where the only certainty is a vivid experience eventually misremembered.

Koo’s writing is so beautiful, and this strange ghost story tells the tale of a group of ghosts who have not yet “crossed over,” but instead spend their days inhabiting the bodies of the living. Ben is a ghost who still pines for his friend J.G., a girl who is slowly losing herself by letting ghosts take over her body. A powerful and emotional story.

Also to David Marshall, who sees the book as something that can work against literary parochialism and the stories well-written and thoughtfully provocative: “What’s particularly fascinating is the degree to which the stories written in English show significant differences in vocabulary choices, syntax and attitude from North American norms. That’s as it should be.”

“Waiting with Mortals” by Crystal Koo takes us into the world of ghosts who have yet to cross over. Some ride the mortals as passengers, displacing the living whether by force or consent — there are different deals available. In each case, it’s for the ghost to work out what holds him or her on the mortal side of the equation.

Spaces for Speculative Fiction in Hong Kong

eyebarToday I’m guestblogging at SF Signal to talk about Hong Kong and what makes it conducive to science fiction and magic realism. My article is now live: Spaces for Speculative Fiction in Hong Kong. Thanks so much to Lavie Tidhar for suggesting it and helping me to a spot at SF Signal (thank you, John DeNardo!) as part of the launch of The Apex Book of World SF 3.

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s not just because of the neon. Hong Kong transformed itself from a cluster of tiny, unassuming fishing villages on a barren rock into an international financial powerhouse in roughly just a hundred and fifty years. That piece of history is already the heart of science fiction: anything is possible, especially transformation. China Miéville wrote about “possibility mining” in The Scar, where a dimensional fracture in the surface of Bas-Lag called the Scar leaked existential possibilities which could then be harvested and made real by possibility machines. The same dynamism exists in Hong Kong, propped up by infrastructure and automation, a booming economy, and a bottomless well of ambition. Go to the computer centers in Wan Chai or Sham Shui Po: piracy’s been in decline (or has been redefined) for the last few years and shops have gone legit but the same atmosphere remains – if they can’t find whatever it is you want to get, they’ll find someone who can. Entrepreneur spaces and networking events swarm along Victoria Harbor and go deep into the heartland of Kowloon. Seemingly abandoned industrial warehouse rooms in Kwai Chung or Fotan light up at night because someone is rehearsing their play, putting together an art installation, or burning the midnight oil for their startup. Money moves like light and you have to keep in step.

Whether you can keep in step, though, or even if it’s worth it, is an entirely different story. This is the other core (if not the more important) aspect of sci-fi: the ramifications of change and multiplicity.

Read the rest here.



Seven years ago, when I was doing my MA and living with undergrads, I’d fall asleep at 1AM with my readings on my belly and the promise to myself that I’d wake up early the next day to write before the halls got busy. The only result, without fail, was my waking up at 11AM.

Today is not that day.

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, 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.’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.

Yay, I’m in PSF 9! + TOC

psf9My story “Anthropomorpha” has been accepted for Philippine Speculative Fiction 9! I have a soft spot for this story because I changed it so much the final draft looked entirely unrecognizable from what I had started with, in a good way.

Exact release date isn’t out yet but it’s  going to be 2014. The editors sent us the TOC, which I have below. It’s great to see old, familiar names and new, exciting ones. Plus it’s a really nice feeling to be put exactly between Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Marianne Villanueva – then you realize you’re going to look like the short person between two really tall people. 🙂

Blood of Iron by Christian Renz Torres
Panopticon by Victor Ocampo
A Cha-cha with Insanity by Vida Cruz
Only Dogs Piss Here by Michael Aaron Gomez
Last Race by Jenny Ortuoste
Oscar’s Marvelous Transformation by Kat Del Rosario
Stations of the Apostate by Alexander M. Osias
Sikat by William Robert Yasi
Deliver Us by Eliza Victoria
Miracles under a Concrete Sky by Franz Johann Dela Merced
The Unmaking of the Cuadro Amoroso by Kate Osias
The Woodsman by Cedric Tan
And These were the Names of the Vanished by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
Anthropomorpha by Crystal Koo
Sofia by Marianne Villanueva
Transcripts from the Investigation on the Life and Death of Alastor de Roja by Vincent Michael Simbulan
TG2416 from Mars by Nikki Alfar
Mater Dolorosa by Marc Gregory Yu
Scissor Tongue by Elyss Punsalan
Cogito by AJ Elicaño

Pre-orders for The Apex Book of World SF 3

Making this a quick one because I just got back from Japan –

oil noodles





…and have the dayjob’s work in front of me, and Karen’s staying over this weekend. 😉

Anyway, the pre-order (and deals!) page for The Apex Book of World SF 3 in print and ebook format is here, and editor Lavie Tidhar’s own announcement in his website here. Apex will be running special features and promotions in the next month, so that’s something to keep an eye on!

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!


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 Živković, 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 García-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.