In the latest podcast episode of the Artsy Raven, I interviewed fifteen year old Rutendo Alyssa-Joy Mushonga. She wrote a book about the bullying she experienced throughout her life, in Zimbabwe and in Alberta, where she currently resides. It was a difficult conversation to have and we did speak longer than planned, because I was so astonished by the trauma and situations she had to go through. Technology is great, but it also leads to cyber bullying which she experienced first hand. With the help of her awesome mother, she published A Farewell to the War Within: A battle with reality this year to share with others what she had experienced and what she has learned.
We are giving away a copy of her ebook and a $10USD Amazon giftcard via a King Sumo raffle Aug 1-14, 2021. Click here to enter.
June is Pride Month and on the Artsy Raven podcast we are releasing episodes featuring a LGBTQ author every Sunday. More details available in our June newsletter (click here), including which episode to listen to which has a submission call for short stories. It was great to talk to these authors who all generously shared their challenges and struggles, but despite all this, they all remain optimistic and achieved their goals!
At the end of May we had a book launch for Belief, an anthology featuring Asian authors. I was happy that my 3-tiered cake didn’t fall down and it was a lot of fun baking, even though I’ve lost my sense of smell and taste after the COVID vaccine. Since I take care of my 105-year-old grandma, I get tested for COVID every week and it’s been negative. Anyhow, we recorded the Belief event which can be watched on Youtube here. More details about the book here.
Comedian Josh Williams and I talked a little bit about Belief and other things in life on his One Man Podcast, click here. His podcast is a casual conversation and somehow I impressed him with my talk about the radioactive sandwiches I fed people when I worked in Nuclear Medicine!
I’ve been trying to do more writing by doing writing sprints with an indie author group every Sunday night, but it’s been slow. My brain is still split on weekdays because of virtual school and I can’t write one sentence without the kraken (my child) demanding something. I’m not sure at what age human children become more useful!
For more detailed Artsy Raven podcast episode summaries, they are posted on Patreon and Ko-fi every Sunday.
This morning we woke up early to listen to “The Raw Mike Richards Show” on Sauga 960am which caters mainly to the Toronto area. Once a month, The Idea Shop goes onto the show to promote the latest book releases in the Canadian market.
To be honest I was a bit nervous about what people would think about the book because although I think it’s fantastic, I’m also the gardener who helped plant the flowers, so my perspective is biased!
It was wonderful to listen to the opinion that the stories were like a “box of chocolates” which cheered up the readers during COVID and also brought up memories of the host (Mike Richards) being close to an Asian family in the town they grew up in. Canada’s strength lies in diversity and the ability for people to work together to transform society for the better.
I recently represented Ricepaper Magazine to interview the Cantonese and Mandarin talents of Kruger Products’ (manufacturer Cashmere toilet paper and Sponge Towels) Unapologetically Human ad campaign, featuring real people dealing with real messes – spills, tears, blood, runny noses, messy crafts, and more. The campaign featured songs in English, French, Hindi/Urdu, Mandarin and Cantonese. Really cool that a company created a diverse ad campaign! The situations captured in the videos are touching as well, it’s worth checking out the beautiful imagery.
The Cantonese soundtrack is sung by Mr. Will Wong and the Mandarin song by Moulann.
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?
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!
On Twitter one of the guests modified their graphics to include their schedule which I thought was a brilliant idea! So I did the same for myself so people can keep track of me and other authors can see which panels they are on with me (I help co-ordinate the writer panels for AN). The majority of panels I’m doing this year are on writing and publishing. Last year I did a midnight panel on Japanese horror and while it was fun, I was really tired the next day!
What you don’t see are all the interviews I have lined up to do on behalf of Ricepaper Magazine with other guests of honor. I’ll be speaking with Jrock sensation BACK ON, fashion icon MINORI, Lolita fashion designers Angelic Pretty and one of my favorite seiyuus (voice actor), Junko Iwao! There is a fashion show on Saturday which I’ll attend featuring the latest Japanese fashion trends and I’ll try to be on the lookout for Elmo and Big Bird wrestling…The Toronto LEGO group is also making its debut and will hold seminars on how to create wonderful LEGO structures. They will be in the kids area with their giant LEGO sculptures.
Although it will be a crazy busy weekend, I will post lots of pictures of the cosplayers and events happening at Anime North on my social media accounts. Hope you can make it there too!
Recently, I had the pleasure of working with Samita Sarkar, on the topic of crowdfunding to self-publish a book. Since she was the one writing the article, I didn’t know what quotes she would use from me versus other people who also had experience in crowdfunding, so it was interesting to see the end result.
In the three tips listed, lessons learned includes preparing a lot of videos and illustrations prior to the campaign start, then using social media a lot for the duration of the campaign. I talk about how I’ve mastered more software skills – quite frankly, this is because some people that I’ve hired in the past weren’t that great. Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves and do things yourself!
With Kickstarter campaigns there is always a risk that it will fail. But obviously I believe this is a risk worth taking as I’m slowly becoming a serial Kickstarter campaign runner! At dinner tonight I warned my friends that I will be emailing them once again to ask for support for the Trump anthology. There was a lot of moaning about how they were tired of Trump, but they were intrigued anyways! (or so I think)
This coming Friday I’ve been invited onto the “Beyond the Mundane” radio show to talk about my Undead Sorceress book and other stuff. We’ll be giving out copies of my book to some lucky callers as well!
A bit nervous as I’m not sure what will happen since it’s live and I know there will be a few callers phoning in. I’m not very good at improve, so random questions do scare me! But I guess I have to practice or I’ll never get over my fear over answering things on the fly!
On Goodreads I recently met Cynthia Vespia, the acclaimed author of the fantasy saga Demon Hunter. Her first novel, a medieval fiction entitled The Crescent was published in August 2005. The novel was unanimously praised as “an engaging, descriptive read” which prompted a sell-out at Borders Bookstore in less than one hour during the first official signing.
I’m currently working on the sequel to my acclaimed Demon Hunter series, titled DEMON HUNTRESS. It follows the daughter of my lead character as she follows in her father’s footsteps and takes up the role of hunter.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Every author has a different voice. I have been told I’m a multi-genre writer. I’ve included romance in horror novels, and comedy in thrillers. I write what comes naturally to me to make the best story possible.
Why do I write what I do?
I write what I like to read. I’ve been a fan of fantasy since I was a kid reading Piers Anthony or C.S Lewis. As I grew my tastes grew into more mainstream thrillers. So I still dabble in both genres. I can’t help where I get my story ideas.
How does my writing process work?
I get a spark of an idea and develop it from their with a rough outline. My character profiles will go in depth but I tend not to flush out too much of the actual story because it ruins the spontaneity.
Lately I’ve been on Linked-In and Good Reads a lot, learning from other writers about what they have been going through in their publishing journeys. Usually there are discussions about how to find readers, build blogs and how useless it is to go after people who pirate your book unless you have hard evidence.
Anyhow, I saw a post from fellow author CR Hodges, inviting authors on a “My Writing Process” blog hop to share what is going on in their writing life. Below are questions and answers for this blog hop on what is going on at this stage of my author career.
I should also mention that CR Hodges is a fairly versatile writer with books on the US civil war, sci-fi stuff and lots of short stories. Stop by his site if you get a chance!
At the moment I am finalizing proofreading for my first novel, The Undead Sorceress before sending it to my formatter in Australia.
This is the first book in a series called International House of Vampires which has vampires, magic users, robots and people all rolled up in the cast of characters. I wrote this book because I love fantasy, sci-fi and horror books, but didn’t see much diversity in them. There is a female lead and characters of different ethnicities as well as LGBT. This book has a theme about filial obligations and how far one is willing to go for family.
The second book, Dark Evolution is 50% done, but I am a bit stuck as I keep rewriting it and then getting distracted by other things. All I can say is that there are mermaids in this and it has an environmental theme to it.
My non-fiction works are in various stages as well. The Literary Elephant is a book I started as a guide for beginning Indie publishers. I’ve learned a lot on my self-publishing journey and there is no need for people to reinvent the wheel every time! I hate books that wave a stick in a general direction, so this book will have links and lots of advice on how to implement action steps!
How to Make a Munchkin is a book about modern tools of baby making and the pressure on women to have babies. This was written after I had a “natural” miscarriage which took over a month and I was really scared for a long time. None of my medical books on pregnancy really described what happens during miscarriages, so I hope this will help others realize that they are not alone if they have issues and not to be too worried if they have to go through the same miscarriage event.
I need to update some statistics before sending it to my editor. As well, I have a family doctor and a nurse lined up who are very interested in reading this and will contribute to the forward of this book.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m actually entering The Undead Sorceress into a novel competition for the “Visionary Fiction” category. This work is different because mixes up fantasy, horror, sci-fi and contains a global cast. My background is in Nuclear Medicine, so I tend to incorporate some science into my stories. As well, growing up with concept of Taoism, I inadvertently wrote a lot of that into the book since Taoist philosophies explain the concepts of magic and vampires so nicely.
For my non-fiction work, I try to incorporate useful information in a simple manner. Many times I read self-help books that are not very helpful and that pisses me off. So I do my best to offer valuable advice and realistic outlooks on situations.
Why do I write what I do?
I’ve always wanted to write and still remember the day when I had to choose between Science or English. My parents were against English as they thought I would starve to death as a writer and convinced me that Science had more opportunities. I loved Science very much too, so I headed down that road and now work in the Healthcare Sector.
One day, I discovered a fellow hospital administrator self-published a book and this sparked my interest in writing again. Self-publishing? What is that?! I thought that the life of writer was becoming depressed over rejection and then dying early, usually by starving or suicide.
Inspired that someone made a book, I started writing again and it was done fairly quickly as I had a story in the back of my mind for the last ten years. It was the idea of how I would sacrifice my life for my grandmother as she suffered different setbacks over the years (fish bone poisoning, stroke, etc.) The Asian notion of filiality is self-sacrifice for the older generation as they sacrificed themselves for the younger generation while raising them.
Generally, I write because I like sharing different truths in fiction and non-fiction. It is a way of disseminating knowledge and contributing to society via this “artform”.
How does my writing process work?
I think too much. I overthink. I hypothesize a lot because I have spent too many years with the scientific method. I am not a healthy writer because I also procrastinate and tend to overdose on chocolate.
Generally, I like reading anything and everything from newspapers to books to magazines. I also like watching lots of films; doesn’t matter what language as long as there is a good story. Also I like travelling, visiting museums, art galleries and random places. I absorb a lot of different cultures and things just spark as I figure out if I want to write a story featuring a certain element I’ve seen or not.
Ideas are scribbled into notebooks and as I’ve learned in the past, I shouldn’t write ideas onto receipts or napkins as I tend to lose them. Eventually, after I’m inspired by enough ideas, I will have a skeleton of a story – I know the beginning, middle and the end. Then I have to fill in this story with people, events, conflict, incentives and plot.
As I write and eat lots of chocolate, the characters will take on a life of their own and unpredictable things will happen. I’ve discovered I can’t have a super rigid outline, as half the time I won’t follow it! I like books with realistic people so I spend a lot of time thinking about how a character will react to a situation.
While writing I am absorbed and I get very grouchy when interrupted as I’m in “the zone”. I used to paint, so writing to me is seeing scenes in my head and then creating a piece of art with words.
Eventually after a manuscript is finished, I edit and ask my Viking husband, along with any willing friend to edit. Then I edit again. After these rounds of edits, I’ll find my editor and pass on the manuscript to them. More rounds of editing. The final step is then proof reading before sending manuscript to formatter.
To give you an idea of timelines – I wrote The Undead Sorceress in three months (thought about it for 10 years!), then it took over a year to edit. Editing takes a long time and is also when what you write gets torn to pieces as people may not understand what you are trying to say. So you rewrite and rewrite until it is good! Then illustration work, formatting, cover design, etc took many months as well. From start to finish, it’s been a two year process.
My last piece of advice is to not worry about what is right or wrong as everyone is different! Just write and get started!