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Immersion and Brave New Girls

Immersion, an Asian speculative fiction anthology of fifteen stories which I edited with Allan Cho and William Tham is out! Two years in the making, we’ve used a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this project. The stories range from glimpses into loving relationships (with mermaids, grandparents, etc) to science fiction (using fish slime for fashion) to horror (supernatural beasts and an artist painting in blood). When we started the project we didn’t know what would come in the door. All we knew was we wanted to offer a chance to authors to send in the fantastic and surprise us! Towards the end we also did a cover re-haul and it looks completely different from before!

My latest published short story, The Curse, made it into Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gales and Gizmos. This anthology is the latest release from editors Mary Fan and Paige Daniels, featuring young adult science fiction tales about teen girls with a knack for science, tech, engineering and math… hackers, mechanics, inventors, and more! Proceeds from sales will be donated quarterly to the Society of Women Engineers scholarship fund.

 

 

 

 

Interview with Director Graham Kolbeins

Director Graham Kolbeins’ Queer Japan (2019) is an intimate documentary which examines the struggles and rich lives of drag queen Vivienne Sato, manga artist Gengoroh Tagame, councilwoman Aya Kamikawa, non-binary performance artist Saeborg and others. Featuring over one hundred interviews conducted over three years in locations across Japan, Queer Japan examines a country with a unique history of queer expression. Previously he was the co-director, with Dorian Wood, of the short film Paisa, and the director of the short documentary The House of Gay Art.

JF Garrard caught up with Graham at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) to ask him about what inspired this documentary, queer issues in Japan and his next project.

JF Garrard (JFG): Hello, thanks for taking the time to connect with me! The Japan-U.S. Friendship Council named you a recipient of their Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship in 2016, can you explain a little bit about this fellowship and what inspired you to create Queer Japan?

Graham Kolbeins shot by Paul Sepuya
Graham Kolbeins shot by Paul Sepuya

GK: Thanks so much for taking the time to cover Queer Japan! The seeds of this documentary project were planted in 2012, when I first began working with gay manga artists including Queer Japan cast member Gengoroh Tagame. Alongside Anne Ishii and Chip Kidd, I embarked on a project of editing the first English-language publications translating Tagame’s brilliant comics, and producing a compendium of gay manga called Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It. This anthology included translated comics, behind the scenes portraits, and interviews with the nine of the top gay manga artists in Japan. I traveled to Tokyo with Anne to conduct these interviews in person. It was on this trip that my interest in Japanese queer culture expanded beyond the narrow window of gay manga, when I saw just how many brilliant and diverse queer expressions were flourishing in places like Tokyo’s gay neighborhood, Shinjuku Ni-chome.

Over the next few years, Anne Ishii and I continued working with Gengoroh Tagame, Jiraiya, and other gay manga artists through our publishing and fashion brand Massive Goods. Our mission was to help spread gay manga around the world, and we managed to organize international tours for the artists, produce more translations, and collaborate with high profile fashion brands to help introduce their work to new audiences and contexts. Every time I returned to Japan, my appreciation for LGBTQ+ culture in the country grew, and I knew I wanted to help put a spotlight on the broader the community. In 2016, I was granted a Creative Artists Exchange Fellowship from the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, an organization funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in the U.S. and Bunkacho, Japan’s agency for cultural affairs. The JUSFC supports artists working in dialogue between the two countries, and encourages cross-cultural exchange. With that spirit in mind, I embarked on the journey of creating a film that would engage with Japan’s queer community and help spread appreciation and understanding for Japanese queer artists and activists around the world.

JFG: I was impressed by the sheer amount of material covered, from the importance of gender in mainstream society to the work of a deaf LGBT centre to discrimination against Zainichi Koreans (ethnically Korean Japanese citizens), etc. How did you chose what to cover and was it difficult finding a representative to interview?

GK: We tried to approach making Queer Japan as organically as possible, allowing the issues and topics in the film to emerge naturally through interviews with our cast. As an outsider to the community I was portraying, I didn’t want to impose preconceived notions onto the project or force the story into an oversimplified structure– I was more interested in finding out what was most important to our subjects. We started with a handful of people we had established relationships with, including Gengoroh Tagame, dancer Atsushi Matsuda (who I had met on a dance floor in Shinjuku Ni-chome) and legendary drag queen Margaratte, who had starred in a short documentary directed by our Tokyo-based producer, Hiromi Iida. We’d often get recommendations from our cast about who else to interview, and the film evolved in this way, through a combination of introductions from people we knew and reaching out to well-known figures in the community. I found most people we approached to be incredibly open and generous with us, and we ended up covering so many issues that weren’t even on my radar at the beginning of production. I think this approach made our documentary so much better, just listening to our subjects and learning about what they felt was important.

JFG: Department H, a place where once a month, people can attend for free and be whatever they want (dressed as canines, engage in BDSM, perform in rubber, etc) looked wild and spectacular.  How did you find out about this place and did you dress up as anything?

GK: Great question! I did dress up for our shoot at Department H, wearing an outfit I had picked up at a surprisingly fashionable construction worker clothing store called Mannenya. I was wearing a bright pink jumpsuit with work boots and felt like I had reached a new level of self-actualiztion. Department H is so amazingly inclusive– it’s a space that allows you to present as outlandishly as you can imagine without facing judgement or feeling out of place. I went to the party for the first time the week I beagn shooting Queer Japan, with producer Hiromi Iida. Hiromi was very familiar with the party, having previously directed a documentary there with the party’s long time host, drag queen Margarette. I instantly felt at home on that first visit, and it quickly became one of the central locations of our film.

JFG:  Manga and anime have exploded from Japan to the rest of the world. However, when one visits Japan, they may be surprised that not all Japanese people are fans of manga or anime. Similarly, although Queer Japan illustrates different members of the LGBTQ community in safe spaces, it is still taboo to come out as gender plays into social systems as stated by politician Aya Kamikawa. Aya mentions that since she is transgender but her family registry had recorded her as male, she couldn’t sign a rental agreement, use her health insurance card for doctors or use her pension book to become a salaried employee. Can you expand a bit more about the consequences of coming out for some of your subjects and how they dealt with these challenges? Are these struggles unique to Japan?

GK: In many parts of Japan, there are no legal protections offered to LGBTQ+ citizens to prevent discrimination in the workplace, in the housing market, and in schools. As a result, a lot of queer people in Japan have been forced to remain closeted in certain environments for their own protection. Things are slowly improving, as individual corporations begin to institute non-discrimination policies for their LGBTQ+ employees, and more cities and municipalities offer same-sex partnership certificates. These certificates aren’t on the same solid legal standing as marriage, but they do put pressure on companies and medical services to respect same-sex partnerships at a regional level. These struggles are not unique to Japan, as there are unfortunately many countries in the world that do little to offer legal protections to LGBTQ+ citizens. Even in the United States, where gay marriage is legal, we lack a national non-discrimination law. In many American states, you can get married and fired for being gay on the same day.

One of the unique challenges that Japanese LGBTQ+ people face is the existence of the koseki (family registry), a sort of public genealogy document with legal standing. The family registry is not designed to accommodate same-sex marriages, and even among heterosexual married couples it causes unique problems: a married couple must have the same last name, so married women can’t legally keep their maiden names. For transgender people, the family registry is cited as one of the reasons for the harsh restrictions on legal recognition of transgender identity. If you have children under 20 years old listed on your family registry, or if you’re currently married, you are barred from having your gender marker legally recognized. And beyond that, if you haven’t medically transitioned– meaning you haven’t had your reproductive organs removed– your gender cannot be recognized under the current law. (Also unfortunately, this is not a situation unique to Japan– some U.S. states require medical transition as well). As Aya Kamikawa states in the film, this medical requirement for legal transition has been cited as a human rights violation. Earlier in 2019, a court case challenged the constitutionality of this so-called “sterilization” rule, but Japan’s highest court refused to strike down the requirement. The fight for equal rights continues.

JFG: Coming from an American culture in which queer culture is becoming more mainstream every day (recognizing there are still struggles), did you find any striking differences or similarities with queer culture in Japan?

GK: It’s hard to make sweeping comparisons, because both America and Japan are heterogeneous environments. Queer culture may differ as much or more between Los Angeles and Little Rock, Arkansas than it differs between L.A. and Tokyo. But in general, it seemed like queer identity was a bit more compartmentalized in Japan– even a revered gay artist or a outspoken trans rights activist might feel a need to hide or downplay their queerness around family, out of a sense of respect and familial obligation. It was interesting to see how people could live these full, rich queer lives at pride parades or parties and then fly under the radar in other parts of their lives. As activist Tomato Hatakeno told me, there’s a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude common in Japan when it comes to gender and sexuality.

At the same time, Japanese queer culture and nightlife feels a little more advanced than in the U.S. in some respects. The sheer number of bars and event spaces in Japan’s queer neighborhoods allows for more specialization and can deepen the sense of identity one feels in these spaces. For instance, we cover a monthly FTM (trans masculine) party called Grammy Tokyo in the film, and the existence of this party and other bars and spaces catering specifically to trans masculine individuals felt pretty groundbreaking to me. Even in a city as big as Los Angeles, while there are some inclusive queer spaces, there are few that cater directly to the trans masculine community. That’s just one example, but I think there’s something unique about how specific you can get when you have 300+ bars in a neighborhood like Shinjuku Ni-chome, many of which are so small they can only fit 10 customers, instead of a standard American gayborhood that might have 10 bars that can fit 300 customers each.

JFG: In making a documentary in a foreign country, what was the most difficult process of film making? How did you overcome this?

GK: There were both language barriers and cultural barriers to making a film like this as a foreigner in Japan. I began production as a beginner Japanese speaker, and now I’m more intermediate, but most of the time I didn’t feel confident conducting interviews myself. So I was very lucky to have the support of producer Hiromi Iida, and co-producer Anne Ishii during the shooting of Queer Japan. I prepared interview questions, and they would conduct interviews in Japanese while I filmed. Working with a Japanese producer like Hiromi was also essential to navigating some of the formalities and cultural expectations of working in Japan that I was not familiar with. It was important that we approached these individuals and communities with as much respect as possible, and Hiromi managed to navigate that beautifully in all of our interactions.

JFG: What advice do you have to novice documentary film-makers?

GK: Collaborate! Film-making is a collaborative medium, and your work will benefit the more you involve other artists with a diversity of viewpoints in your process. Bring your subjects in to the process too! These days, we’re all filmmakers and photographers, telling our life story daily on social media with the cameras we carry around in our pockets. So the relationship between storyteller and subject has rapidly shifted, and your work can benefit from embracing that new egalitarianism.

JFG: What will your next project be about?

GK: I’m developing a variety of new projects, but after spending 4 years working on this documentary, I’m eager to try my hand at narrative filmmaking. I’m working on my first feature screenplay, a queer love story set against the backdrop of the renewable energy industry and the American southwest.

JFG: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and knowledge with us!

GK: Thank you JF, and Ricepaper, for taking the time to feature this film and help us put a spotlight on the LGBTQ+ community in Japan!

***

Details for VQFF’s showing of Queer Japan can be found here: https://queerfilmfestival.ca/film/queer-japan/. For summary of VQFF film-maker interviews, see this Ricepaper Magazine post.

 

 

Futuristic Canada Out!

Futuristic Canada is finally out! I’ve been working on this book for the past two years with Sarah WaterRaven. The project went through a lot of changes, with authors coming and going, lots of hospital visits (family members and ourselves), changes in directions for things…anyhow, the project is over and our book baby is finally here!

Admittedly creating a book about the future of Canada is not the best business decision given our small population and seemingly boring country. However, the stories in here will surprise people with their twists and unforeseeable endings! A superhero librarian, woo hoo! Puritans taking over the future, oh boy! Government sending old people dates for their executions, oh dear.

Sometimes a writer makes a terrible editor too because we spend so much time thinking about how the story will flow and we tend to get bored easily if a story is too predictable. I have to say that the writers in this book managed to make me jealous of their storytelling abilities and lyrical words.

We’ll be giving away Futuristic Canada as an e-book during Canada Day week of July 1-5, 2019. Grab a free copy from Amazon and please leave a review on Goodreads/Amazon if you can. Many thanks and enjoy!

Running is Good for Hoarders

A lot of people have been stopping me lately and asking me where my obsession for running 5Ks suddenly came from. I have never been an athlete and I can only do Jillian Micheal workout dvds when distracted by Netflix because I find exercising incredibly boring.

Regardless, the moment for running happened like this – I was about to make a car purchase (the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought in my life) and decided to ask the dealer about this “athlete rebate program” from Subaru.  “Oh, that’s for athletes!” he said dismissively, “sign your name here and the car will be yours!” “But I know friends that run!” I sputtered. The salesperson rolled his eyes, “Well, contact the website, we’re a dealer, I don’t know anyone who’s done it.”

Subaru is a brand known for encouraging drivers to become rugged wilderness adventurers and there are rebates available for athletes, ski instructors, golfers, new grads and people needing to modify cars for disabled passengers. The only category applicable to me is the athlete rebate, aka, someone willing to do either a triathlon or run two 5K races.  Incidentally, I was conversing with author Vincent Ternida about this and I was the third Asian person he knew who was running for this rebate…sigh…

Regardless, I hate it when people say I can’t so something, so I ended up running two Subaru sponsored races to qualify for this rebate of $750 (though I still have to mail in forms before end of the year). My husband refused to participate, but while I do my runs, he hikes 15-20 km instead. He has been encouraging me to run every month so that he can go hiking. It’s a win-win for us I guess, to spend some time in the car before we separate to do our activities!

I thought I would hate running. Instead, I was surprised when my hoarding instincts came out after I started collecting the medals at the finishing lines. So nice and shiny! And heavy! I can’t remember the last time I got a prize for something. Probably it was a science fair ribbon in high school.

My mom is pissed at me now after I told her I registered for “The Chocolate Race” in the 5K category because at the end there is a chocolate buffet. “OK, so the first two races was for money, which I support. But why the heck are you paying to run now? Just run around the block!”

Everyone wants to exercise and get fit and live longer. But often excuses outweigh the motivation! I think the combination of getting a medal and feeling pretty good after a 5K run is doing the trick for me right now. I don’t know how long this will last, but I have committed to walking 5K with a work colleague for the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon because they seem to have really nice medals. There’s a run at the Toronto Zoo too which sounds fun too because it’s at the zoo! A co-worker came by my desk this morning to tell me that I’ve motivated her to run again. She used to be a runner but stopped due to an injury and then it was too hard to go start again. It was very nice of her to tell me this, I never expected to inspire anyone, except for other potential Subaru owners! Another co-worker advised me that I had joined a cult and welcomed me since she was a runner as well!

I’ll never be a competitive athlete (top times are 15min for 5K runs), but for now I will run for medals and will be looking forward to the chocolate buffet at the next run! The healthcare benefits are a bonus!

 

 

 

Ingram Spark Vs Amazon KDP Createspace

For publishing purposes, mainly I’ve been using Amazon Createspace (print division) and Amazon KDP (e-books) for distribution. These two were merged recently and not much has changed other than the fact you don’t have to fill in tax info and log in twice. Some past receipts have gone missing, but other than that, the transition has been quite flawless. Creating a title for publishing has been great on Amazon. There is no charge for uploading, you keep what you earn minus fees.  If the print book comes damaged, they will offer to re-print another copy.

Some of my indie publishing friends have gone with both Amazon and Ingram Spark because they want the most out of distribution. Amazon distributes to limited venues and although Amazon captures 60% of the market, the other 40% is still land worth venturing into.

The site Ingram Spark has gone through many changes lately since I visited a few years ago out of curiosity. They provide very detailed manuals on how to publish and upload files. They have a live chat and telephone customer support system during office hours.  However, it costs $25-49 to upload a title and for every revision it will cost $25. There used to be an annual fee of $12 per title, but I believe that has been dropped now. Regardless, I had high hopes for Ingram given they are a giant distributor and supposedly more “professional” for publishing than Amazon.

Last night I tried to set up a title for both print and e-book distribution on Ingram Spark to try out their service. The first snag was the software on the website not allowing me to save the book title. The title “Trump Utopia of Dystopia” has no funny characters, so I was surprised at this happening. After the 10th try of pressing enter, something happened and I was allowed to go to the next page. This hope was false because I would hit other errors on the worldwide rights page and ISBN page. No matter what I did, the page would’t move on. I renamed the title to draft and tried again, only to be stuck on the title error once more. After numerous attempts and running into the same errors over and over, I gave up and went to bed because their customer service hotline was closed.

Waking up, I called them first thing and told them what happened. They asked what browser I was using. I said I tried chrome, explorer and safari. The person on the line advised me to download firefox. So I did and behold, firefox didn’t work either! After calling them back, they sent an email saying tech support will get back to me (unknown about timeline). They mentioned that the issue was trying to use the print/e-book uploading option. Apparently if you upload just print or e-book it’s fine. There is a bug in the code to do both print and e-book at the same time and they it’s been happening after their last software update.

In comparison, Amazon’s software has been fairly flawless for me. Their print and e-books are separate processes with the option to link both onto the product page later. The only time I’ve had a mental breakdown with publishing on Amazon is due to formatting but it’s nothing to do with their software not working.

I am on the fence about using Ingram Spark. If their tech people ever contacts me perhaps I will try again. However, my time is worth something and with tons of things to do, the price of putting up with flawed software might not be worth it in the end for me.

 

 

 

 

Editing speculative fiction and diversity panel – part 2

To reiterate, next week I’m giving a talk to Editors Toronto, the largest branch of Editors Canada (also known as the Editors’ Association of Canada) on a panel entitled “Editing Worlds: Speculative Fiction and the Editorial Process”. Tickets are available here on their website (free for members). Part 1 of post is here.

The Trump: Utopia or Dystopia book slush pile wasn’t that big, about 100 submissions. However, we still had to sort through all stories to pick ones we thought had potential of being great stories after some polishing. Our pay rates were token rates, which meant the editors would have to spend more time with writers as experienced writers would more likely submit to higher paying publishers.

While thinking about how to present the slushpile, I came across Neil Clark’s slushpile bingo blog post. He presents why Clarkesworld, his sci-fi magazine would reject a story.

Given we are speculative fiction publisher and not solely sci-fi, our version of why we would reject a story is slightly different. However, it gives writers an idea of why a story didn’t make it through the slushpile at Dark Helix Press.

Out of 100 stories here are the stats:

  • 100 submissions received (17 females, 83 males, 6 visible minority)
  • published 32 stories (8 females, 24 males, 4 visible minority)
  • percentage published/submission (47% women, 29% men, 67% visible minorities)

As a female and visible minority, with a mandate to publish as many diverse writers as possible, special attention was paid to stories from females or visible minorities.

However, at the end of the day, publishing good quality stories is the basic principle. If the story is horribly written, it doesn’t matter if you are from a diverse group or not, we just don’t have the time to rewrite entire manuscripts.

To make the odds of publishing diverse writers higher, they also have to send in more submissions. Looking at just our Trump book, by far, the highest number of submissions were from male, white writers.  I’m not sure what the stats are with other book projects, but I’m willing to bet they are similar, unless there were exclusion guidelines in place (eg. female only or LGBT only, etc).

Overall my co-editor Jen Frankel and I have been very happy with the authors selected and feel proud of this book even when people look at us in disgust that the main subject is Trump!

Now I have to go rehearse my talking points! Practice makes perfect!

Editing speculative fiction and diversity panel – part 1

Next week I’m giving a talk at the “Editing Worlds: Speculative Fiction and the Editorial Process” panel to Editors Toronto, the largest branch of Editors Canada (also known as the Editors’ Association of Canada). Tickets are available here on their website (free for members). Here is a link to short quirky interviews with all panelists: Jen Frankel, JF Garrard, Dominik Parisien and Drew Hayden Taylor.

Jen Frankel, my co-editor for Trump: Utopia or Dystopia will be joining me in talking about the process we went through on editing this anthology along with the issue of diversity in speculative fiction. We’ll be touching on:

  • the realities of indie publishing, crowdfunding, editing, and world building (Jen Frankel and JF Garrard);
  • the lessons learned from panels on writing and pop culture about the need for diverse stories in literature, film, and media (Jen Frankel and JF Garrard); and
  • strategies for supporting authors of different backgrounds and identities while keeping their voices intact throughout the editing process (Jen Frankel).

For my portion I’ll be using PowerPoint and thought I would share some of my more interesting talking points.

To kick off the diversity issue, I’m going to present the findings from Lee and Low book’s 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey. This independent publisher conducted a survey with 40 publishers and review journals. They sent out over 13K surveys with a response rate of 26%, a bit over 3K responses.

The categories they surveyed included executives, sales, marketing, pr and book reviewers. The results found that nearly 80% of those surveyed identified as white.

Source: https://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the majority of the gatekeepers in traditional publishing are white. Going forward, if change is to happen, it’s going to take all of us, white and not-white to make the effort to change if diversity is truly an issue we all care about as a society.  However, it has to be done in a way to prevent “diversity branding” which is backlash with the illusion that things are fair and leads to bias against certain groups. Sometimes diversity programs lead to more negativity and it’s something that we all have to be aware of.

Similarly, I’ve been having a debate with another indie publisher about Dark Helix broadening it’s subject matters from only multicultural subjects. At the end of the day I want to be known as a publisher who provides great stories to readers and be inclusive, regardless of race or gender. To brand my company as solely for diverse authors is excluding other populations. This touches on the diversity branding mentioned earlier.

As a business, by being too niche, it’s very difficult to sell to the general population. In being more inclusive about writers and broadening subject matters, I hope to attract new readers to my publishing house who will then take a chance on the multicultural titles I have to offer as well.

But to publish more diverse writers, they also have to send in more submissions. In Part 2 I’ll talk about the slush pile for the Trump book and stats gathered from the making of this book.