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Fiction Nuggets, Oct 2014 edition

Posted on by June in Fiction Nuggets, Media Critique | Leave a comment

 AND HERE IT IS!

On time, I kick off the inaugural edition of Fiction Nuggets, a monthly roundup of the 5-10 stories I liked best in a month. WHOOO I’VE DONE IT GO ME SELF PAT ON BACK. Shush, this is an achievement, okay.

When I made the decision that this was to be A Thing, my initial thought was “Oh no, I’m such a picky reader, I’ll never find ten stories I’ll like enough.” In the end? I had to regrettably trim down the list I originally had because I was several stories over. SO MUCH GOOD FICTION, SO LITTLE TIME.

The overall theme of this month’s selection might be: People suck and family hurts. Or, it might be: Men are awful, avoid at all costs. No, sorry, that’s just the soundtrack to my life.

Some general guiding principles: I’m only looking at original short stories that first appeared in October. I don’t have the fine grasp of poetry to review that, so I won’t. EVERYTHING SOUNDS GOOD TO ME. I CAN’T DECIDE. So, short fiction it is.

Here we go!


 

Seeking boarder for rm w/ attached bathroom, must be willing to live with ghosts ($500 / Berkeley) by Rahul Kanakia (Clarkesworld): This month’s Clarkesworld was incredibly strong. I had to resist listing every story in the issue here. They were just that good. This tale, one of my particular favourites, starts off goofy, a spooky send-up of Craigslist ads, but by the end has twisted its barbed-wire fingers around your heart and pulled tight. I also have a soft spot for stories that play with format, although I was bothered when the epistolary telling subtly shifted into narrative style in the third or so segment. Still, it was worth sticking through to the end.

Lovecraft by Helena Bell (Clarkesworld): In the opening paragraph of the story, a tiny cthulhu crawls out of a mouth that opens up in the side of an old woman’s neck. You expect the rest of the story to drip with eldritch horror and slowly-creeping madness. What you find instead is a tale of sparse, aching domesticity, where human vulnerability is the scariest monster of all. Strange and beautiful.

Hunting Monsters by S L Huang (The Booksmugglers): A girl is raised by two women in a world where it is expressly forbidden to hunt men who have been turned into beasts. Her world is shattered when her mother is arrested for murder, her murky past catching up with her. Deft prose keeps this story swift-moving while still rich with emotion and drama. The ending left me with an ache in my stomach. (I like that sort of thing because I’m a masochist.)

At First Glance by Shannon Peavey (Daily Science Fiction): Sam is on the road, on the run with her sister Brynn, who bears a deadly gift under the dark glass of her shades. A smoke-and-grit vision of Americana, like that neverending CW show Supernatural, but with actual good writing. Hark:

Brynn hasn’t seen her sister in years–not since the start of this whole thing. But she can put together something of a picture from all the bits and pieces, the occasional glances. Sam has big feet, and her boots are worn. Underrun at the heels. She has long, thin fingers and she bites her nails. But her face–that’s three years out of date.

DSF’s flash offerings are a hit-and-miss with me, but I almost always enjoy their long Friday piece. I’m sorry that’s going away now that they’re only looking to buy flash fiction.

Drowning In Sky by Julia August (Women Destroy Fantasy): As a rule, I’ll strive to stick to short stories that are available online to read for free. But I enjoyed this piece in the special Women Destroy Fantasy! issue of the Fantasy magazine so much I had to give it mention here. Set in ancient Greece and thick with myth, Drowning In Sky traces the tale of Ann, a witch who flees her dead city to Khelikë, across the sea, where she finds gold and honey and betrayal. The prose is gorgeous, sensuous, I wanted to drink it. Well worth the read. You can purchase the special Women Destroy Fantasy! issue here.

Santos de Sampaguitas (Part 1, Part 2) by Alyssa Wong (Strange Horizons): I kept seeing rave reviews about this story online before I got a chance to read it. When I did, the first paragraph grabbed me by the throat and showed me why. A searing tale of family and the supernatural set in Manila, of dead gods and bloodlines and tragedy, told in prose that fills your mouth and burns as it goes down. Feast on words like these:

The pressure on my chest, the terrible prescience that something very bad is about to happen, and the sound of distant screaming, like a boiling saucepan of human voices, are too familiar to me.

By the way, throughout the entire thing I imagined the story’s dead god to be a giant skeleton, which is not unsettling after all considering I only have a cRIPPLING FEAR OF BONES AND SKELETAL REMAINS.

Jupiter Wrestlemania by Marie Vibbert (Lightspeed): Karen’s partner, Two-Ton Tony, is found dead on a Jupiter mining station. His death is ruled accidental, but is it really? A well-told SF romp. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this story. It’s a simply-told whodunnit offering little in way of plot twist, with heavy doses of subjects I don’t particularly care about, working out and wrestling. Yet the meticulous detail in the worldbuilding and the suppleness of the prose kept me captivated. At the end of it I thought, “What a great little story set in a well thought-out world!”

Because I Prayed This Word by Alex Dally MacFarlane (Strange Horizons): One of the reward levels for SH’s annual fund drive**, and what a delicious treat it was. Gorgeous treacly prose about a magical city crafted by desire. Poetry and myth and history woven into beautiful narrative. Also, come on, as if I would leave a story about a literal city oF LESBIANS out of this list! ****

The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado (Granta): Literary magazines are somewhat outside my usual reading oeuvre (so many venues, so little time!) I saw this linked on social media and decided to give it a try. I started reading. And then kept reading. And kept reading. The beauty of this story is the way it takes urban myth, freshly scraped off the walls of the Internet, and kneads it into something electric. Anyone familiar with the reams of creepypasta crouched in the dark bowels of the online world will be familiar with many of the figures that appear in the story, from the wife with a ribbon around her neck to the hook-handed man. It’s a story about the place of women in the world, but it’s also a story about stories and how they get to be told. (It’s Halloween. Perfect time to google “creepypasta” if you’ve never heard of it.)

Toadwords by Nathaniel Lee (Daily Science Fiction): And this one, just out today, squeaks past the line and squeezes into the carriage before the October train leaves the station. The fairy tale of the girl who speaks in toads is one that’s been retold and refashioned any number of times, but I was particularly fond of this one. Something in the imaginative variety of amphibians that pour forth from the protagonist’s mouth just appealed to me. There’s also a fairly useless prince, which amused me. See, sometimes I like stories that are funny!


AND THERE WE HAVE IT. Tell me what you think?

By the way, I’m always open to suggestions of good literary markets to follow. That’s a part of the map I don’t often go to, in fear that I may get tangled in the bramble hedges of typewriter tape and folded-over scarves. Or trapped in forests of brutally precise typography. Or maybe, with my luck, I’ll just be run over by a fixed-gear bike.

 

**Donate to SH’s fund drive to unlock more goodness. Go on then, do it.

****HOW DO I APPLY TO BE A RESIDENT OF THIS PLACE SERIOUSLY SOMEONE TELL ME

Update update update update

Posted on by June in News | 1 Comment

I am a terrible person who shouldn’t keep a blog since she never updates it, ever, so here is my apology in the form of a roundup of what’s been happening in my writerlife since Conventions August.

Updates!

Ett. After having made a few more qualifying sales I am now an Active member of the Science Fiction And Fantasy Writers Of America. Despite not being American, living in America, or identifying particularly with America for that matter. ~*~*~GLOBALISATION!!!~*~*~ Or something like that.

Två. I’ve joined the team at Crossed Genres as a slush reader! Send your juicy yummy monthly-themed short stories please, I like recommending pretty stories to editors Bart Kay and Kelly!

Tre. I’ve been attached to the Athena’s Daughters vol 2 anthology as a stretch goal author! What this means is that my Clarion West submission story, Red Is The Colour Of Mother Dirt, will be added to the anthology Kickstarter campaign as a stretch goal. The Kickstarter campaign will run in December, so you’ll hear more about it when that time comes. A few months to start saving pennies!! It goes without saying that I would love to have my story included in the anthology. I am deeply fond of it.

Here, a teaser of the gorgeous cover art, created by Kelli Neier. <3

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Calls to action!

A few awesome calls for submission. ✐ Temporally Out Of Order seeks stories about temporally-displaced objects. Submissions close November 30th. ✐ Buku Fixi are seeking Malaysian cyberpunk stories for an anthology edited by Zen Cho. Submissions close Dec 31st. ✐ The Booksmugglers are looking for First Contact stories for their fiction series. Submissions close December 31st.

Strange Horizons are running their annual fundraising drive! SH do excellent work and some of the favourite stories I’ve read this year were from them. (This one by Usman Malik for example, or this one by Sunny Moraine. Let’s not forget Alyssa Wong’s recent amazing two-parter.) They were also the venue for my first pro sale this year, and for that I’m forever grateful. I would love to see them continue for a long time, but for that they need support from the community! So do contribute, if you can. Plus, the funding rewards we can unlock sound amazing.

As added incentive, SH are doing a lucky draw for everyone who donates! And because I am the sotong of all bokeh, I’ve only just realised that one of the prizes is a South-East Asian specfic bundle, donated kindly by Victor Ocampo. It comprises print copies of the second issue of LONTAR and Fish Eats Lion, both edited by Jason Erik Lundberg. I have a story in the second one! Exciting.

Story sales!

I have a few to announce. I store these up for a few months before dumping them all on your heads like a plate of overripe tomatoes.

In local publishing news: I will have a story, Pocket Cities, in the airport-and-air-travel themed anthology In Transit. I will also have a tiny flash piece each in the MILO and ICE KACANG issues of the 24 Flavours zine series. All of the above are published by Math Paper Press.

Will have a flash piece, Cold Hands And The Smell Of Salt, appearing on Daily Science Fiction…. whenever it shows up. I made the sale in September, so I expect the piece will be out early next year. This was one of my entries to the summer flash fiction contest on the Codex forum.

Delighted to announce a sale to Lackington’s for their Winter 2015 issue. Tiger Baby was originally printed in Math Paper Press’ In The Belly Of The Cat anthology and it will now be available to read online! With an illustration! Sometime in Jan 2015– can’t wait.

And last but not least, one of my Clarion West stories, A Sister’s Weight In Stone, will appear in Apex sometime around summer next year. Sigrid Ellis acquired the story in July this year and I’ve gotten permission from EIC Jason Sizemore to talk about it! The story is set in a fantastical, alt-history not-quite-steampunky Singapore and tells the story of a young Samsui woman’s struggle to save her sister. My Clarion West classmates were quite fond of this one and I’m glad it’s found such a marvellous home!

One More Thing…

AND HERE’S WHERE I UNVEIL A SHINY, MARKET-DISRUPTING TECHNOLOGICAL DEVICE.

No. Not really.

Two things are happening at once: I’m trying to work short fiction reading into my life as a regular thing, and I’m also looking around for venues that review short fiction. I’m also trying to blog more. Okay so that’s three things. Three things are happening at once.

My take is that short fiction could use more regular review venues. More of these have been popping up lately, but there’s so much fiction out there and the community could really use a dozen more short fiction review sites, IMHO. So I’m going to try to do this myself.

Instead of trying to review everything, though, I’m going to do a monthly round up of the 5 to 10 stories I liked best. I think that’s a reasonable start. I’ll start with October, so look for the first instalment at the end of this month!

Saying this in public on a website so that I can be held accountable for it and not flake out AS IT IS VERY LIKELY TO HAPPEN IF I ONLY SAY IT TO MYSELF AND THEN GET TOO LAZY TO DO IT

Clarkesworld issue 96

Posted on by June in News | Leave a comment

clarkesworld 96

 

It’s not every day one has a story up at Clarkesworld, so I thought I’d commemorate the publication of my story “Patterns Of A Murmuration, In A Billion Data Points” with an actual blogpost. I wrote this story as part of a flash fiction challenge, with added prompts from my lovely Clarion West classmate Kelly, and folded in a Tuckerisation request from my friend Wayne Rée (who incidentally has out a book of short stories). It’s about mothers, and death, and revenge. Also Big Data. Possibly. Definitely.

I’m also really thrilled and really looking forward to Clarkesworld’s new project to publish a translation of a Chinese SFF story with every issue! Yesssss. One of my greatest self-regrets is that I’m not proficient enough with my mother tongue to be able to read literature in the language– I want to read more Chinese SFF but I know my Mandarin CMI (I have very poor character recognition–I can understand a great deal of the spoken language but I can barely read it beyond an elementary level). I am deeply ashamed that I have to wait for English translations (the older generation will mock you, 华人不会读华语), but at the same time, I’m just really happy that they’re available.

The first of the series is a brilliant, magical CNY story by Xia Jia, “Spring Festival: Happiness, Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy“, translated by Ken Liu. All the little touches–the superstitions, the precarious family ties– just made me really, really happy to read. I’m sorry. I keep saying I’m really happy. I should probably stop that.

Conventionally speaking

Posted on by June in People//Places | 3 Comments
Zen, Fabio and I at NineWorlds

Zen, Fabio and I at NineWorlds

The dust has settled and I’m peering over the precipice of a new job which begins September 1st, so I thought it would be a good time as any to get this pesky con-report-blog thing out of my way.

See, I’ve never done this before. I attended NineWorlds and WorldCon, and they were the first proper SFF cons I ever attended. It involved several long-haul flights, layovers in airports steeped in 38C weather, and living out of a green suitcase for two weeks.

In between rolling chains of hotel lobbies and rooms in other people’s houses, I met folks. Folks I was meeting for the first time in person. Folks I was meeting for the first time, period. And folks I was meeting after too long a time apart.  At the end of my travels, back in Singapore, I made a list of people whom I met, and whom I wanted to thank on Twitter. The list had over fifty names on it. I ended up just tweeting a picture of the list instead. It was that kind of experience.

I mostly made this post to address this Daily Dot article that went around earlier this week (How The Growing Generation Gap Is Changing The Face Of Fandom) The basic premise was that NineWorlds = good and inclusive because it’s a young con run by young people! And WorldCon = awful on the diversity front because old white men.

Well. I attended both cons as a young queer Asian woman and I think that’s a pretty unfair assessment of what the cons were actually like.

With my CW2013 classmates Vince and Allison

With my CW2013 classmates Vince and Allison at WorldCon

I think the article was trying to make a point about the difference between the classic SFF establishment and the diversity-oriented, for-inclusivity trend that the fandom and business has been swinging towards in recent years. Unfortunately, it chose to do so by making a ham-fisted division between Older People and Younger People, which is not just reductive, but also kinda shitty. There have been queer and minority folks in SFF fandom for decades, agitating for change, and reducing classic fandom to “full of old white men” pretty much erases them.

I’ll say this: Most of the folk I met at the two conventions were older than I. We had such insightful conversations. It isn’t about age, it’s about mindset.

That’s not to say there weren’t differences in the way the two conventions felt to me. The panels I attended on representation and non-western SFF in NineWorlds were, on the whole, much less 101 and a lot more to my taste, while the ones I attended (or rather, were on) at WorldCon had a much higher percentage of folks in the audience who were clueless or said things which had been discussed and debunked online over and over. But I think that’s to be expected with larger cons. Larger cons equal larger groups equal a larger number of casual fans, who are not as well-versed on SJ topics. For most part these audience members were usually shut down fairly quickly by moderators and panelists, so it was all good. (If a bit annoying).

The thing that stood out to me most about the two cons, if I had to say anything, was that they were both felt very white to me. And this is coming from someone who probably hung out with more POC than the average con-goer. SFF fandom, in general, is still very white. Most of the SFF spaces I’ve been in–even those which make it a point to be inclusive– are majority white by sheer numerology.

In fact, WorldCon felt like it was much more diverse to me, possibly because NineWorlds was more of a local con and it looks like the British SFF scene is very white (which doesn’t surprise me). LonCon was a big-ticket event which people would travel further for. It was noticeable to me, but, as I said, I didn’t feel unwelcome, or alienated by, the con atmosphere.

At the Strange Horizons party at WorldCon

At the Strange Horizons party at WorldCon

I have hope. At the Hugos we watched Sofia Samatar take home the Campbell. John Chu win Best Short Story and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice be awarded the Best Novel prize. We also witnessed the SFF community collectively thumb their noses at old-school bigotry by ranking Vox Day’s nomination lower than No Award. I’m very glad to have been part of both conventions. These are my people, and no, we aren’t perfect. But I believe we’re taking steps in the right direction.

LonCon 2014 Schedule! Storytelling! And representation!

Posted on by June in People//Places, The Geek Beat | Leave a comment

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Hurrah! The schedules for LonCon are finally out!

This is the first big, people-from-all-over SFF con that I’ll be attending and also the first con of the same kind in which I’ll be sitting on panels. With that in mind, I’m hoping that four panels isn’t more than I can chew…  this is a reasonable schedule, is it not?

Here’s what I’ll be on. Mostly discussions of ways to tell stories, and matters of representation in media.

1) Recentering the World Storm: John Clute’s “Fantastika” and the World

Thursday 14th August 16:30 – 18:00, Capital Suite 6 (ExCeL)

With Geoff Ryman, John Clute, Glenda Larke and Gili Bar-Hillel. Talking about John Clute’s definition of “fantastika” in the context of a world where non-Western, non-Anglophone storytelling traditions exist.

2) Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes

Friday 15th August 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 8 (ExCeL)

With Amal El-Mohtar, Aliette de Bodard, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz and Nick Wood. Talking about non-Western forms of SFF storytelling.

3) Beyond Bechdel

Friday 15th August 20:00 – 21:00, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL)

With Kate Heartfield, Kate Elliot, Jed Hartman, Julia Rios. Discussing other tests of diversity in film and media.

4) The Knowable Other?

Saturday 16th August 19:00 – 20:00, London Suite 2 (ExCeL)

With Viktoriya H, Michael Morelli, Ashley Pollard, Justina Robson. Discussing the trend in media where “Others” are increasingly taking on human form (Cylons in BSG, androids in Almost Human, etc) (I don’t think it’s a trend and I don’t think it’s that new)

As a softener, to warm me up to LonCon, I’ll also be attending NineWorlds from 8-10 August. I won’t be on any panels there, but I might be doing a reading–more on that later!

Really excited at the prospect of meeting folks I’ve gotten to know over the past year or so in person. NOT TO MENTION A NUMBER OF MY CLARION WEST CLASSMATES. IT’S NOT LIKE I’M EXCITED ABOUT THAT PROSPECT OR ANYTHING.

August is going to be fantastic. Hope to see y’all there!

The National Library Board

Posted on by June in Media Critique, What, I Say! | 1 Comment

Tired dog :(

If I were a cleverer and more eloquent writer this blogpost would be coherent, it would have a beginning and a middle and an end, it would have a point and it would stick to that. But I am not that writer, and my feelings over the past few days have oscillated from annoyance to anger to disbelief and back again so many times that that pendulum has broken and rolled a death spiral onto the floor coming to rest somewhere near “tired”.

I’m tired.

I could tell you what it’s like. It’s having someone you thought was a friend – somebody whom you thought loved you and supported you and would welcome you no matter what – having that somebody stand in the harsh light and turn into this stony, unreachable figure, expression unreadable. You root for them and you root for them until the truth hits you in the face and you can’t deny anymore that your trust was misplaced.

It’s scrolling through your Facebook feed and seeing one person after another after another after another get in on the bandwagon, and then ministers are listening and political newsmakers are getting involved, so all of a sudden you’re hoping that something might change and a happy ending might come out of this, but it doesn’t, it doesn’t, and it all comes crumbling down in a media circus and empty rumbles of “””community norms.”””

I want to say intelligent things. I want to argue that fixating on the pulping of the books is a pointless exercise because whether the books would be destroyed or kept in a locked box in the basement is immaterial and we’re turning an issue of bigots exploiting state apparatuses for their own means into a paean to the sacred physicality of books. I want to shout at every person insisting this is not just about gay rights but really about the all-encompassing and universal right to read because no the whole thing is SPECIFICALLY about gay rights and it was SPECIFICALLY gay-themed titles that were targeted by a specifically anti-GLBTQ group out of the thousands and thousands of books that the library carries so to pretend otherwise is massively erasing of context and telling gay folk that their struggles aren’t important enough to warrant their attention unless it affects you also.

But I’m tired.

I see more and more reports cropping up on my newsfeed: From BBC and BoingBoing and WashPo and the like. I see boycotts and calls to arms and guerilla read-along sessions. I see the writing community I hang around more worked up than I’ve ever seen them. There is a fine frothing anger being worked up and spilling over the rims of the bucket they’ve tried to put us in.

But through this all I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s no happy ending in this. Even if the library recants after all this pressure, puts the books back on the shelves, it feels like too little, too late. Things have been said. Boxes opened and bridges burned. We’ve seen where priorities lie. And we don’t know if the bigots will strike again–and maybe this time they won’t make the mistake of crowing about their achievements.

It feels like the world is telling me, over and over again this year, that no matter how much progress we make there’s always people committed to rolling that progress back, people who openly compare queer folk to cancers and oppressive state apparatuses too afraid of change that are always willing to give them the time of day. There’s no happy ending in this.

And I’m tired.

 ETA: A convenient news tab that collects a smörgåsbord of news articles pertaining to the NLB’s pulling of the books off the shelf. Background, development, ministerial comments, letters to the editor…

Write a ton

Posted on by June in People//Places | Comments Off

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A year. One year. Oh, how much a year can change. At around this point last year I thousands of miles away, in a gigantic house full of warm and amazing people I was only just getting to know, about to embark on an adventure I still haven’t properly managed to process in my head.

Clarion is one of those epoch-making experiences, I think, whose significance only becomes clear after you’ve passed through it. While you’re there it’s hyper-real, hyper-focused: Read those stories before class. Finish those words by today. Do your laundry before you run out of clothes. Six weeks on I left Seattle not knowing if I’d gotten any better at writing. Mostly I was just sad it was over, and sad at the idea that it might be a very long time before all my newfound friends and I would be together again.

Only now, after a year, have I begin to realise the impact the workshop has had on me. I’m more confident as a writer – did I not finish six stories in six weeks? I aim higher – I know I’m capable of writing better stories. I’m a better reader, critic, beta reader – workshopping 100+ short stories in slightly over a month will do that to you.

Since I’ve graduated from Clarion West I’ve sold two stories to pro markets – one came out in Strange Horizons this week and one will be in Crossed Genres next month (for their flash fiction issue). A year ago this would have been a pipe dream.

As a class, my Clarion West cohort has been responsible for over forty stories, published and forthcoming, since the workshop ended. Resident thing-gatherer and cheesestrawmaker Hel has listed them out on this page. Fantastic, isn’t it?

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So. You see. Clarion West has done many good things. It bears fruit, and the harvest is bountiful. I would love for it to encourage the flowering of emerging writers for many, many years to come.

I had help in getting to Clarion West. So did many of my classmates. Plane tickets are expensive and students from all over and all sorts of background get accepted into the workshop. Grant money has to come from somewhere, food and accommodation aren’t cheap, and there are instructor fees, and a dozen other things — the bottom line is, Clarion West is a non-profit organisation running a big, high-quality workshop every year, and relies on the generosity of donors to continue running the workshop.

So this is my plug for the Clarion West Write-A-Thon, their annual fundraising drive.

For the past ten years a community of writers have spent six weeks writing, editing and submitting stories concurrent with the workshop, and sponsors donate money to Clarion West as they do so. I’ve signed up for the Write-A-Thon myself, and hope to revise the last of my workshop stories and write two new ones.

But more than asking for sponsorship during the Write-A-Thon, I want to encourage people to sign up for it.

The thing is, Clarion West has been offered a funding challenge: If 350 people sign up for the Write-A-Thon, they get US$2,000 in funding, straight up. That can pay for more than half of a student’s fees!

Guys, it’s really that simple. Even if you don’t manage to write a single word, or get a single cent in donations, just by signing up you’re already helping the workshop! It literally takes two minutes to sign up. It is so easy.

So! Sign up. Sign up. Sign up.

And who knows, with the encouragement and comradeship of dozens of folk plugging away with you, you might even write your next masterpiece!

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With Leslie Howe, who was the workshop director for Clarion West last year (we were her last batch!)

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With Neile Graham, who is the current director of the Clarion West workshop. <333