The Pishtaco: New article on #FolkloreThursday Blog

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I have an article up on the #FolkloreThursday blog! I write about the Pishtaco, a fat-stealing ghoul whose legend circulates among indigenous communities in the Andean highlands. I first heard about this legend on a visit to Peru — and it hit the news internationally as recently as 2009 (as you’ll read in the article)!

Known by many names, this legendary fat-stealer stalks indigenous communities in the rural Andean highlands.

In the Peruvian Andes, they say he wanders the roads at night. He may look like a gringo (someone not Hispanic or Latino): hairy and bearded, wearing boots, a hat, and leather jacket. He may be on horseback, or in more modern times, in a car. He may look like a priest, walking along the side of the road. With his long knife, he attacks solitary travelers and dismembers them for food and for their fat.

In the Bolivian Andes, he might be the stranger next to you on the bus; don’t fall asleep! And don’t walk alone on the roads, either. If you meet him on the path, he will put you into a deep sleep with his prayers, or with powdered human bones. As you sleep he extracts the brown, hard fat around your organs (cebo: tallow or suet) with his knife, or with a special machine. You awaken, feeling weak. You fall sick. In a few days, you die.

Read the rest of the article here.

Hope you enjoy it.


Image: The Andes, Ayacucho Region, Peru. Source: Wikimedia

Buildings and Dreams

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I was flipping through my notebooks not too long ago, in search of material for a blog post, when I stumbled upon a couple of old fiction pieces that I had been wrestling with, then put aside. They were partially influenced by a motif one finds frequently in ghost stories written when “scientific” explanations of apparitions were de rigueur: ghosts as the “psychic recordings” of violent events or emotions. The idea, I believe, still circulates in ghost-hunting circles. Listen to the discussion/definition at about 2:55 or so of this YouTube video about the “10 Types of Ghosts”:

To me a ghost is an apparition… sort of a replay of an event that happened a long time ago because of an imprint or place memory…

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Two More Literary Excavations

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I found and posted a couple more of my old short stories to Ephemera. I think this is it. Now I have to write more new ones….

I wrote Sally: A Fantasy a few years back to tell out loud at this kind of variety show thing a few friends of mine and I put on. We had a little social writing group together. One of my friends is an actress/dancer who wanted a venue for her one-woman monologues; another is an experimental documentary filmmaker who wanted a venue to try out her foray into live multimedia storytelling. Me? I was just there, and needed something to perform. And you know I like ghost stories.

Today is Marta’s birthday. It’s a big one: she’s turning seventy. All Marta really wants for her birthday is to see her grandkids. She hardly ever sees them, because her daughter, Ruth, is always “too busy” to come visit. She’s also “too busy” to talk on the phone, and she never invites Marta over, either. Marta can count on the fingers of one hand how often she’s seen Ruth’s family in the last few years.

She lives alone, with a cat named Valentino, and a hallucination named Sally.

The piece was well received, as I recall; several folks in the audience said that it had them on edge of their seat. Reading it back now, I still like it well enough, but I find it somehow unsatisfying from a craft point of view. In particular, the present-tense that I used doesn’t sit too well with me, though it felt natural in the oral storytelling. But it seemed worth putting up, and so I did.

Horsefly is something I worked on and then abandoned. The first draft of it is substantially what I posted to Ephemera; but I tried to fill it out, make it longer, extend it into the past and future of that single day. It didn’t go anywhere, and reading it back now, I like the short piece that I started with. I think it’s all it needs to be. The hypercritical part of my mind thinks that the characters are a bit one-dimensional; but maybe that’s inevitable in a piece this short? As with fairy tales, maybe brevity forces you to deal in archetypes rather than fully-realized, contradictory beings. Or maybe that’s all baloney and I’m just being hypercritical. Anyway, I like the ending, and so up on Ephemera it goes.

The mattress springs creaked overhead as he awoke and rolled over in bed. The coffee had just finished brewing, but the eggs weren’t done. I turned up the flame and stirred the eggs around in the frying pan even faster, keeping one ear attuned to the rasp of the springs and the creaking of the floorboards.

Clang clang.

I grabbed a plate from the cupboard and scooped the eggs on. A gobbet of egg missed the plate and fell to the breakfast tray. Oh, I would hear about that — but no time to deal with it now. Plate on the tray, napkin, fork, knife, coffee cup, coffee. The carafe dribbled as I poured the fresh brew; I mopped the drops off the saucer, and the drips from his cup, then carefully carried the tray up the stairs.

Clang clang.

Tom was sitting up in bed, his left hand just about to hit the little silver bell on the bedside table, the kind of bell you sometimes see at the desks of hotels. Tom had been a month in a convalescent home for intensive physical therapy after he’d broken his hip. When he was ready to be discharged, a young aide there had shown me how to buy the bell online. Like many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Hope you enjoy.


Image: The Reader, Frederico Zandomeneghi. Sourced from WikiArt.

A Darkish Little Fairy Tale, or An Anecdote on Writing

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A cool fact about aspens (from Wikipedia):

All of the aspens typically grow in large clonal colonies, derived from a single seedling, and spread by means of root suckers; new stems in the colony may appear at up to 30–40 m (98–131 ft) from the parent tree. Each individual tree can live for 40–150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony is long-lived. In some cases, this is for thousands of years, sending up new trunks as the older trunks die off above ground. For this reason, it is considered to be an indicator of ancient woodlands. One such colony in Utah, given the nickname of “Pando”, is estimated to be 80,000 years old, making it possibly the oldest living colony of aspens. Some aspen colonies become very large with time, spreading about 1 m (3.3 ft) per year, eventually covering many hectares.

In other words, a stand of aspens is really one organism. It’s like planting a piece of ginger root: eventually, these narrow, green, bamboo-like stalks will sprout from the rhizome. If you’ve buried the ginger, then each stalk looks like an individual plant, but they’re really all sprouts from the same root. Aspens are kind of the same way.

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Before there was Multo…

… there was Ephemera, a blog I originally had to share little pieces I wrote with my friends. I stopped using it after I started Multo, but I never deleted it.

I’ve been unearthing a few other pieces I wrote back in those days, pieces I wrote for writing classes and whatnot. Most of them are cringeworthy, but a few I can read and think, “Huh. Not too bad.”

Of all the old pieces I found, the one I like best is “Temptation,” which has a bit of a fantastic theme, and so fits with this blog. I’ve put it up on Ephemera, along with a couple of others, just because.

“Eating alone again, I see.” His tongue tickles my left ear as he whispers this, sliding past my shoulder to slip into the place across from me in the diner booth. “This is getting to be a habit.”

“She was tired. And I don’t like conversation over breakfast, anyway,” I reply, hoping that for once he’ll get the hint. He just tilts his diamond-shaped head to one side and smirks, his tongue continuing to flick in and out. The waitress comes by to take his order: rabbit, live, and a bowl of water. I look down at my plate and concentrate on my bacon and eggs over hard, hoping he’ll just find a newspaper and not torture me. But no.

When I wrote it, the group I read it to didn’t get it, but I’m hoping that people more attuned to the sort of things I like to read might be in a better position to see what I was trying to do.

Read the rest here.

Hope you enjoy.

RSS: Sometimes Old School is Best

I went back to using RSS to follow blogs and other websites recently; I don’t know why I ever stopped. My email doesn’t get clogged by notifications anymore, and I don’t lose blog updates in the ever-flowing stream of Twitter or Facebook or the WordPress reader. I can follow any blog on any platform as long as they have an RSS feed, and I don’t need to have accounts on every possible platform, either, just Feedly (and not even that, if I didn’t want to sync between devices).

It also occurred to me that RSS is really the best medium for following small-scale amateur bloggers like me, especially ones who are social-network introverts. I don’t blog on an absolutely regular schedule, and my tweets and facebook updates tend to get lost amongst others who status-update or tweet (or in the case of WordPress reader, simply post) more frequently than I do.

So I’ve added a “Follow me on Feedly” button to the side of my blog; if you use another RSS reader, like Bloglovin or NetNewsWire, there is a generic RSS widget, as well. Even if you follow me other places – Twitter, WordPress, or Google+(*) — please do consider also following me (and other bloggers you love) via RSS, so you will be sure to never miss my blog updates. Thanks!


(*) I’m on Facebook, too, but it’s my personal account, not a Multo page. Strictly speaking, the Google+ account is also a personal account, but I only use it to announce blog posts.

Pentametron: Twitter Poetry

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I was working on another post, and it’s not going anywhere right now, so instead I give you: @pentametron. Pentametron monitors Twitter for tweets in iambic pentameter: ten syllables, in the rhythm

da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM

and then retweets them in rhyming couplets.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow them, but the couplets don’t come together; sometimes the two lines can be several minutes part. You should check the @pentametron stream directly every so often, so you can take in the versification all at once.

Here’s a little ballad I put together by cherry-picking from the stream. Enjoy.

Friend zoning has become a mastered art
we should’ve grown together.. not apart

Live half a life and throw the rest away.
Don’t even matter what the haters say.

I’m looking at the mirror on the wall.
My body’s just a canvas. Scars and all.

I got a very patient boyfriend — #blessed
depressed depressed and very badly dressed

Que sabra esta de amigos no?
I will forever be a loser so.

Come out the dark and step into the light
I’m ready for another snowball fight

A change of pace: Social networks and High School

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This is a post on my other blog, about the mechanics of popularity.

I remember setting up the Multo blog a few years ago: my first blog explicitly meant for public consumption. On the “Follow” widget — the button that allows readers to follow a blog via email notifications — there is an option to show the count of the blog’s followers.

My first reaction: why would I want to do that?

It’s an insecurity reflex, of course, one left over from high school. I was never one of the popular or cool kids, though I was lucky enough not to be one of the pariahs, either. Like most of us, I flitted on the edges of the cool circle — the very outer edges, in my case — once in a while being noticed, mostly not. As my life, so will be my blog, my mind said. Why would I want to advertise my obscurity to the world?

The thought process wasn’t admirable, but perhaps the instinct was correct. …

It’s based on an article I read recently, but it’s also a meditation on chasing your numbers. Sometimes it’s appropriate to do that, of course. And sometimes, it’s not.

Read the whole article here.

Enjoy.

Call for Submissions: Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol.9

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Editors Andrew Drilon and Charles Tan have just announced that submissions for Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 9 are open.

If you are a short story writer of Philippine ethnicity or nationality who writes sci-fi, horror, or any flavor of fantastic literature, then this is the call for you. Details here.

Good Luck!

Blog Posts: Write for Today, or for the Someday?

Do you blog for today, or for someday?

In other words, do you sit down and write about what inspires you in the moment, to an audience of right now? Do you imagine your readers reading the posts today or tomorrow, first thing in the morning? Do you care at all whether a surfer who trips on your site a year from now will connect or care in any way about the post, or do you write for a community of followers and commenters who will have a conversation, with you and each other, in something close to real time?

Or do you write carefully thought out pieces of prose that you just know are exactly the right answer to someone’s need, somewhere, somewhen — not necessarily now? Perhaps you imagine that your readers find you by searching on aswang, chupacabra, or whatever your subject is, and discovering your work; maybe this happens tomorrow, maybe next year. But whenever it happens, your readers think “Aha! This is exactly what I was looking for!” Or so you hope.

P1010345Photo: Nina Zumel

I started thinking about these questions today. My company’s professional blog (Win-Vector) has always been the second kind, and when I started Multo, I had the “second kind” of mindset as well. It’s funny, really — writing for the “someday”, as I mostly do, is an inherently optimistic mindset: I’m casting my posts out like messages in a bottle, and trusting that the ocean will float them to the right people, whether I ever find out about it or not — and I probably won’t. I’m not a terribly optimistic person, by nature. And yes, I know that the proper marketing to generate engagement with my blog would help tons; I don’t do a lot of that, by choice, but that decision is a topic for another post… .

You’ve probably read the Martha Graham quote (from a letter to Agnes DeMille):

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.

I’m no Martha Graham; I won’t even claim to be an artist. But I think I get what she means. Some things one does because one has to.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying blogging for Someday is either better or worse than blogging for Today. And most bloggers probably do a combination of both, anyway. I’m just observing that, for those of us who lean towards “Someday blogging,” the rewards are more abstract, and external rewards can be far less immediate. There’s a difference in the two mindsets that’s worth pointing out; I think so, at least.

And maybe other people do, too. Somewhere. Somewhen.