Tuesday, January 31, 2012

[January 31st] Dear Aspiring Writer Dude

Dear Aspiring Writer Dude,

I haven’t written to you, maybe because I never thought I’d take my split personality fetish to my blog, but I consider writing to you, because you are beginning to look like a stoner caught in an endless phase of the munchies and there is only so much sugar before your body decides to flip you the bird and slap you the bad kind of diabetes, which coincidentally has deep roots in your family tree.

I appreciate how valiantly you fought during your exams, even though the amount of studying you did barely covered the minimum. I also admire your ability to handle the late nighters at work so that you could study in the morning and I also think that some time off of everything is a good award. You did a brilliant job at not buying an axe and going The Shinning on some of the people, who annoyed you during your low-on-sleep periods. Certainly, you managed to learn the days of the week and not to make a mess of the launch of the podcast, whose fiction and non-fiction pieces you are responsible for. Overall, good job.   

Selling your soul to 9gag, though, was a low blow. You know how you are when it comes to a brand new shiny. You know you can’t resist it and that you keep coming back to it. Addiction is not beautiful or elegant in any of its manifestations and yours to 9gag is not any different at. This is why you should get your butt in your chair and get cracking. You didn’t write all the goals with the idea that they will complete themselves through their own volition.

Don’t allow fear to keep you off your chair and your work.

Your Conscience(?)*

*Do writers have one?

PS: I realize I have missed a lot features, but I will catch up. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

[January 20th, Culture of Bulgaria] How to Remove Hexes and the Evil Eye the Bulgarian Way

In the recent months, I’ve taken to Bulgarian folklore and old wives’ tales. One of the topics I adore deals with charms and ways to battle the ‘whammy’ otherwise known as the ‘evil eye’. If you don’t know, Bulgarians are extremely superstitious and living in a household, where all your dreams had to be looked into the dream dictionary, I’m a great deal superstitious myself and have never doubted the techniques my grandmother used, when my sister and I were still small and received a lot of attention.

The whammy or ‘evil eye’ is a hex, which is cast on newborns or small children, when family or friends cuddle, croon or devote too much attention. This whammy manifests as headaches, sudden crankiness or drowsiness. The child will grow uncomfortable and may even develop a mild fever. Sometimes adults are susceptible to whammies as well, especially, if they have been away from their loved ones. Naturally, I think that the whammy is the result of a child having to deal with too many people at a time, which can be exhausting even to an adult. Yet, I can’t deny that washing my face will get rid of the whammy. Perhaps it’s placebo, but even with placebo, it’s quite potent.

Water in one capacity or another always is incorporated in the rituals for removing whammies and their effects. My granny’s personal favorite is to fill a glass with cold tap water and bring to the front door’s handle. She would scoop a bit of water and pour it over the handle, making sure that the dribbles fall into the cup. This ‘washing’ of the handle would be done three times total so that the energy of the outsiders would be washed out of the handle and therefore our home. Then she would bring the glass to my forehead and wash my face three times.
The Turkish Eye or the Evil Eye Beads, whatever you prefer.
 Of course there are other ways to do this. Some people prefer to simple wash their child’s face at the sink, while others bring holy water from the church. Third, whisper words of power out of earshot to imbue the water with cleansing properties. There are literally hundred ways to do a proper hex removal, though we also have excellent preemptive techniques, which ensure no whammies will hit you in the first place. I remember vividly that my sister used to have a blue bead ties to her hand. Then, when she grew up a bit, she carried a bracelet with a Turkish eye for protection. Though I have not seen in it practice, I also know that a red string tied around your wrist will protect you from the evil eye.

And this has been a very short guide on how to remove and protect yourself from whammies?          

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

[January 18th, Weird Wednesday] "The Other Side" by Alfred Kubin

The opening story in “The Weird” is an excerpt from “The Other Side” by Alfred Kubin, first published in 1908. I have no knowledge of the traditions in European literature at the time of its publication and this is the first time I’ve encountered Alfred Kubin as a writer. I opted for an open interpretation of this text without any prior research, which might have helped me say something accurate as to the meaning of his work. The only text discussing “The Other Side” that I have read is Maureen Kincaid Speller’sexcellent take on the excerpt.

Weird Wednesday’s purpose as a feature is to allow the stories to speak to me and “The Other Side” has proven to be vocal. After the initial reading, I willingly accepted the reality that had befallen the city of Pearl, where an epidemic of sleep knocked out the city’s whole population for several days. However, the mysterious and highly contagious disease functions as a means to set the stage for an inevitable rebellion, instigated and flawlessly executed by all members of the animal kingdom.

In a grandiose and all-devouring display of dominance, the city of Pearl wakes to swarms and herds and prides and packs and flocks of beastly conquerors, who have overthrown humans. At his stage “The Other Side” reads as an environmentalist's wish fulfillment fantasy come to life, yet, reading this excerpt as nothing more than the literal would be insulting to the potency of the prose and its latter direction.  

The 'weird' in this tale has rooted itself within the nameless protagonist's delivery, who serves as a vessel for the reader’s senses. This man collects 'slices of life' encounters between the old and the new citizens of Pearl, neatly chaining one with the other complete with observations. What causes surprise here is not so much the abrupt uprising of the natural world, but the still, calm 'matter-of-fact' reception of these apocalyptic events by the population. It is this peculiar juxtaposition between the dangerous outside world, where one might become prey no matter the hiding place, and the pacified calmness displayed by the citizens, who insist on keeping up with appearances no matter what, that tilts the reader’s perception of how reality functions in the Dream Realm.

This tilted reality can be likened to the absurd logic, on which dreams run. In this direct sense, I'm reminded of Paul Jessup's stories in his collection “Glass Coffin Girls”, where our reality rots and transforms into a reflection from a carnival mirror. Certainly, the sickness that affects manmade objects supports the idea of how reality erodes. Perhaps the denizens of Pearl and the Dream Realm haven't woken from their slumber, but have only achieved consciousness in a never-ending shared dream.

The possibilities for interpretation are countless, because Kubin didn't intend to rationalize the bizarre fate to befall Pearl. However, the strongest association I make with everything that has transpired within the excerpt concerns themes in Bulgarian literature and models in behavior during the centuries of enslavement by the Turks and then decades under the communism. I’m rather surprised how well “The Other Side” is in dialogue with the peculiarities in works by a great number of revolutionary writers and poets as well as the psychological survival tactics the Bulgarian society had to adopt in order for its identity to withstand the occupation during those two periods.

For instance, the concept of sleep on a mass scale, such as Kubin’s sleep epidemic, has a rich history in Bulgarian literary traditions as willful surrender of the conscious mind. During the centuries under Ottoman rule, Bulgarian writers and poets used the 'sleep' to criticize society for their complacency and slave mentality, even though Kubin’s sleep epidemic doesn’t serve as such within the context in the excerpt. Further touching points between Bulgaria and Kubin can be found within the need to maintain normalcy under any and all conditions, even if that is impossible. This persistence to keep a semblance of what Pearl used to be while under the constant animal attacks and demolition can be compared to the same efforts Bulgarians had to make during the Ottoman occupation. The animals represent not only the fear of the citizens, but serves as masks that show the true nature of the human oppressors. For me this association is easy to make, because anthropomorphism has its place in our literary traditions and is still practiced today [even though we use it to bring diversity to our swear language]. Last on the list here is the narrator's psychological breakdown near the excerpt's end. It neatly embodies the inner discord of a person, who hopes and thinks and tries to resist a status quo, even if that desire is expressed through his heart's true intentions.

I will conclude by saying that “The Other Side” by Alfred Kubin is an extremely potent story, mainly because it's represented not in its entirety. There is no clear way to define the proper dimensions of this story, which I don’t mind, because it allows for the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks. As an excerpt “The Other Side” remains limitless, irreal and opulent as a dream. In short, a fine way to open a compendium dedicated to the all-encompassing weird.       

Monday, January 16, 2012

[January 16th] To-Do List Apocalypse

As you can tell by the lack of posts, I'm extremely busy though I missed at least five great opportunities to share my opinion on relevant topics such as the bitch fight over a negative review written by Liz Bourke at Strange Horizons [oh boy that was a delicious fight] and a matter of female objectification as led by Jim C. Hines. All rather brilliant, but at the moment, I'm amidst preparing a final paper for this semester, dealing with domestic warfares in my household and preparing all the future shows over at "Tales to Terrify" [more on that later] and writing for "Weird Wednesday" [thankfully I prepared earlier this time and am having help on polishing the rough edges].

This is why I'll leave you in the company of naughty pen and his nerd dirty, dirty talk.

I think the follow-up to that was "You will fit me like a glove".

Saturday, January 14, 2012

[January 14th] The Kitschies: Creative Tenticles of Doom

Being a part of the genre community means that you will face one award after another. It’s an inevitable event in any book nerd with ties to SFF. I’m not much of an award person, because I’m constantly dwelling in the past. The books I read have all been talked about to death and I don’t have the reading capacity to catch up with all the new ones to hit the shelves and pop up on a shortlist. My ability to hold a proper conversation on any award’s shortlist and comment on the likely winner is therefore impaired. I’m indifferent towards awards, because I rely on a number of recommendations from people, whose opinions I trust.

For this latter reason, paradoxically, I can’t not comment on Anne Perry’s and Jared Shurin’s award The Kitschies, which I’ve been following for two years, counting 2012. I have been a reader of Pornokitsch long enough to know that our tastes in literature overlap and I can trust their decisions. When someone, whose opinion I hold of importance, speaks, I pay attention, which is why I will follow how this year’s Kitschies develop and even comment on the Inky Tentacle category for Best Cover Art.   

Did I mention that the awards are handmade tentacles? I pronounce Professor Steampunk Octopus as the award's unofficial mascot! Art by Meg Lyman
 The Kitschies’ mission is to “honour the year's most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works of genre literature”, which means that the judges will search for envelope pushers and innovators of our time. It’s an interesting angle and perhaps even makes the selection easier as you have specific criteria to work with other than the ‘best’, which is the case with quite a few other awards.   

The award’s a fresh, young, promising one; qualities that only add to the appeal of it. It’s a lot easier to come to follow a tradition as it makes its first steps and has room to grow and branch out. As a new award, The Kitschies have the potential to pleasantly surprise the genre community [although the possibility of the exact opposite is also true]. The first sign that The Kitschies will be one of the awards to keep a close eye on is the announcement before the revealing theshortlist on Friday, which shed light on the withdrawal of two books from therace due to close relations between the judging panel and the authors.

Even though I’ve made minimal observations about the industry, there is no denying that it’s a bit incestuous. Though nothing wrong in on itself, this crosspollination of activities makes it hard to organize awards without some sort of controversy attached in one way or another. It’s of great importance to eliminate any close relations in connection to awards, whose winners are decided through a judging panel.  

So, if you are an award buff, take your time to check The Kitschies. Here is their shortlist for you to see:

Red Tentacle:
The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington (Orbit)
Embassytown by China Miéville (Tor)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd (Walker Books)
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (Sandstone)
Osama: A Novel by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

Golden Tentacle:
Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick (Tor)
God's War by Kameron Hurley (Night Shade Books)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Harvill Secker)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Quirk)
The Samaritan by Fred Venturini (Blank Slate Press)

Inky Tentacle:
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch; illustration by Stephen Walter, design by Patrick Knowles (TAG Fine Arts) (Gollancz)
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan; design by Peter Mendelsund (Canongate)
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco; design by Suzanne Dean, illustration by John Spencer (Harvill Secker)
Equations of Life by Simon Morden; design by Lauren Panepinto (Orbit)
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd; illustration by Jim Kay (Walker Books)

Friday, January 13, 2012

[January 13th, Culture of Bulgaria] The Head Shake vs. The Head Nod

I’ve been thinking about a good topic for my cultural post, but I decided against tackling yet another religious holiday, even though January is one of the busiest months for name days. I’m picking body language, because it’s an interesting topic on its own and Bulgaria seems to be one of the few countries [I’m including Greece as well], where the head nod is inverted in meaning with the head shake. 

Who ordered the scizophrenic head shakes?
 Or so the rumor goes, but I’d like to talk about the myth’s basics.  

As you know, internationally, the ‘head nod’ signifies agreement, whereas the ‘head shake’ stands for the opposite. You see it in movies, you see it on the TV and if you’re a traveler, you have confirmed this for yourself. Now, in Bulgaria, it’s said that shaking your head actually means that you are saying yes, while nodding your head means that you are disagreeing with a statement or answering in the negative. I’m not sure where this rumor started, because where I live in Varna, I have yet to spot a person shake their head for a ‘yes’ and nod for a ‘no.’

I had to google to confirm that this rumor is alive and well. Tourists that have visited Bulgaria have experienced this conundrum, which further perplexes me. In my community and social environment [including Bulgarian television] there are no examples to confirm this, although there are accounts of this being a thing. The only gesture to come close to this idea is what I call the ‘reverse nod’.

The ‘reverse nod’ is a means to communicate disagreement. Basically, you tilt your head back so the chin lifts, rather than dips as is the situation with a normal nod. In my family, we like to add a very clear ‘tsk’ noise to emphasize just how much we’re not on board with an idea or as is the case with my mother, how much something is SO not happening. Naturally, when you repeat this movement in a quick succession, it seems as though you’re nodding, but you’re not. I myself have been perplexed by the movement, especially when the person in front of me does not provide the much needed ‘tsk’ noise.

I haven’t seen the head-shake-yes in action and considering that I’m born, raised and located in Bulgaria, it’s saying something about the validity of this myth. However, I can’t dismiss the veracity of this myth based solely on my own personal experience as I believe two factors to be heavily present. Americanization and body language dialect.

Bulgaria’s on the fast track, when it comes to adopting Western values and mannerisms that have no root in our own culture. In the process, each new generation sheds something inherent from Bulgarian culture, which is no longer functional. This is the reason why Bulgarian kids are more adept at expressing themselves better in English than in Bulgarian. The same can be said about body language as I personally have grown up with American TV and have picked up all my visual cues from sitcoms. Bad stares, grumpy stances and the rolling of the eyes, all have come from US shows and to some degree Latin American soap operas [our channels had a lot of those]. It’s not unlikely for the new generations to pick up and implement something as fundamental as the head shake and nod. Perhaps ten to twenty years ago, more people said yes with a head shake and no with a head nod, but now with the internationalization of culture this practice is slowly being forgotten.

The second factor I mentioned deals with the dialect of body language. Bulgaria might be of a diminutive size, but each province has its own dialect. It might be slight changes to how one letter is pronounced. It might be connected with how a certain word is used and it might be a very jarring sentence construction, but each province has its differences as is normal. That is why I don’t think it out of the question to assume that some provinces would have kept on the inverted head shake/nod, while others like mine have discarded it. My only fault here is that I have not travelled extensively within my own country to be able to confirm this.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is to take all the information you read in travel guides with a bit of salt. If you do come to Bulgaria and feel that you’re unsure how to proceed in regards to the head shake vs. the head nod, it’s best to rely on the verbal ‘da’ for yes and ‘ne’ for no.     

Thursday, January 12, 2012

[January 12th] The World Fantasy Award: Y U NO World Enough?

I'm not much of an award person. I seem to miss all the major awards. I grow confused about eligibility and all of the dates. With my limited, often retrospective reading I don't think I can stay tuned to how fast new books pop up on award radars. Perhaps that is a fault of mine, but nevertheless, I 'm interested in The World Fantasy Award and Lavie Tidhar's call to internationalize the recommendations list.
Here a small excerpt from his post at The World SF blog: 

The judges for the WFA have to wade through an enormous amount of material. That that material is exclusively in the English language comes as no surprise, but still. I would like to see 2012 being truly representative of the best that international fantasy has to offer.

I would also like to see the Special Award (Professional and Non-Professional categories) being representative of the international scene.

We can help make this happen.

So here’s your mission – should you choose to accept it!

Tell us, in the comments, who you would like to see shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Best Novel? Best Short Story? Special Award?

We’ll put together your recommendations into a list and post it. And let’s all hope for a year where the World Fantasy Award reflects that first word in its title.

You can read the rest of the post [HERE]. I'm behind the idea, though I'm not sure how successful it will be from the get go, because the domination of the English language hasn't happened without a reason. Excluding the USA, there exist an amount of countries with English as an official language and English is appointed as an international business language as well. Turning the tide towards including works in other languages [some less than popular such as Bulgarian] will bring in its own set of difficulties, unless they have been translated. 

As it is, I don't think the award can achieve the true potential of its name, unless it promotes world literature and that means somehow having the financial means and the time to translate fiction and then promote it. But then the award will turn into a publishing house, which as an idea is ridiculous.    

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

[January 11th, Weird Wednesday] "Foreweird" by Michael Moorcock and "Introduction" by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

I would like to start the first analysis [or something close to an analysis] of “The Weird” with a side note. Today I've spotted that Through A Forest of Ideas received traffic from Tor.com. After some googling kung fu, I discovered that Tor.com have linked “Weird Wednesday” under their Of Interest section on the site. Needless to say, I'm ecstatic about the development for numerous reasons. It's all rather personal, but mainly, I'm happy to have come up with an idea that is met with interest. Thank you Tor.com. 

Now, with this out of the way, I'll proceed with my thoughts on “Foreweird” by Michael Moorcock and the “Introduction” by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer. For the purposes of the analysis, I have switched the texts as the VanderMeers deliver a clearer and conciser definition of the weird tale without an actual textbook definition of the genre being presented. That is where the weird tale's charm lies. No man, no reader or scholar can name something that has no name to begin with. 

After I completed both introductory texts, I felt rather than understood that the 'weird' is much like a literary version of the primordial goo of life. It's full of potency. No measurement can weigh, count or calculate the dimensions of the weird. It constantly evolves. It searches for new ways to adapt to its cultural habitat, which in itself is a complex, growing system. The weird is more than the sum of its parts though it's not as simple as to be compared to ordinary synergy. Sometimes it can be best understood as the tropes it's not as the VanderMeers explain before assuming roles of evolutionists and tracking its historical roots in stories from beyond generations. 

I'm still fascinated after having reread the historical breakdown of the development and countless 'weird sightings' in world literature over the decades. Here is where I reach the conclusion that you can't understand the weird as you might [think you] understand a scientific phenomenon. The best you can do is observe it in the context of a specific era and the literary traditions that dominate it. It is here where “Foreweird” by Michael Moorcock makes much more sense to me. Moorcock adopts a different approach to the presentation of the weird to the readers. 

His writing flows from paragraph to paragraph, acquires the quality of a river's delta. Every sentence swerves and takes you into a new direction. Moorcock switches from his understanding of the weird tale to cardinal misconceptions, the stigmata behind the lack of rationalism, the weird tale's multifaceted nature and how shapeless it can be. 

The weird tale's main 'fault', according to Moorcock, is its inability to fit in a package, stay still and allow itself to be marketed to the masses. And yes, I have not heard about the 'weird' before, because it hasn't popped on the mainstream's radar. Thinking about both texts, I think that the answer as to why the 'weird' can't be defined [though I'm of the opinion that connoisseurs of the weird tale do not see it as an outstanding issue] is because the weird leaves more questions asked than answered. Moorcock states such is 'a superior kind of fiction' and I agree with him, because presenting readers with all the answers acts as a prerequisite for lazy reading. Now, engaging the reader to solve mysteries in an environment, where the rational is excluded from the equation, begets creativity; encourages to take the dark, unexplored route; keep the primordial goo healthy and expanding; allow for later works and writers to take charge and evolve as well. 

Here I'd like to detour and share my experience with the 'absence of rationalism' in animation, both in the West and in the East. The examples are children's TV shows, which I think are inherent carriers of the idea that you don't need rationalization. I think the weird tale has found a host that succeeded in entering the mainstream as children are much more adept at accepting the weird, the strange and the fantastic without prejudice and demands for explanations, at least as far as my experience and memory of being a child are concerned. Ample examples are “Totally Spice”, a French cartoon series, and “Sailor Moon”, a Japanese anime and the most famous representative of the magic girl genre. 

“Sailor Moon” featured a trio of the Sailor Starlights [bear with me on this one], who perplexed me. If you're aware of magic girls, then you know that from a normal, human state, a female character undergoes a magical transformation, which is signified by a change of outfit. The Sailor Starlights, in their depowered states were male pop stars before transforming into powerful female warriors. The curious thing about this magical gender switch is that it's not explained. 

There's no evidence to support any theory as to whether the character truly change their gender or are just dressing as male. I'm mentioning “Totally Spice” because the premise is about a teen version of Charlie's Angels look-alikes with outrageous James Bond gadgets and a penchant for fighting super villains. I am also referring to this series, because of the sudden body transmogrifications. 

One episode paid a strange homage to Franz Kafka's “The Metamorphosis”, while another sees humans mutate into human-vegetable hybrids [perhaps a subconscious tribute to “The Vegetable Man”]. There is no science to explain why these mutations have occurred other than the drop of the words 'chemicals' and 'machine'. What do I intend with all of this? Nothing in particular, other than to illustrate that the 'weird' is alive and well in different mediums, perhaps even connected to its literary sibling. 

Anyway, let's conclude. Although a grand statement, I do believe the 'weird' [based on the historical background provided by the VanderMeers and Moorcock] to be one of the strongest forces to keep the wheel in speculative fiction turning.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

[January 10th] Horror Podcast "Tales to Terrify" and I As An Editor

I've been talking about this Secret Project for ages and now it's time to reveal it. I've been picked up by Tony Smith, you know, the Hugo award winner for the science fiction podcast StarShipSofa, to work on a new podcast as an assistant editor, but this time the genre is horror. As you might have guessed, the name of the podcast is "Tales to Terrify" and we're launching this Friday, January the 13th, because we all need a certain sense for fatality.

Here is the official promo for the "Tales to Terrify"
Something creeps in between the cracks of your opened browser tabs. It hisses and whispers behind the static of your headphones. It’s there, when you touch the keys on your keyboard. You can only catch a silhouette in the corners of your screen. 

Yes, your computer has been possessed and the ghost that will haunt your browsing history from Friday, January 13th onward is “Tales To Terrify”. 

Tony Smith, Hugo award winner for his internationally renowned science fiction podcast Star Ship Sofa, dares to allows the scariest, spookiest and creepiest horror stories that have been published to speak as the producer and editor of your new favourite horror podcast. 

The voice of “Tales to Terrify” is award winning author and narrator, Lawrence Santoro, who has known dark tales since early childhood. Functioning as assistant editors are new comer writer and reviewer, Harry Markov and multi-tasking writer and slush reader, Sarah Hendrix. The task to bring disturbing visual content falls on our art director Church H. Tucker. 

“Tales to Terrify” will gather together fiction from both established and break-through voices in horror from around the world to interpret horror in all of its nuances and manifestations. In the shows to come you will hear already published stories by names such as Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Lebbon, Gary McMahon, Gemma Files, Caitlin R. Kiernan and Nick Mamatas among many others. 

“Tales to Terrify” will function as horror-centric hub for fans of fiction, art, movies and other horror-dominated genres. 

Hush now and let us haunt your feed. 

Our first show presents "Chair" by Martin Mundt. Since this is a rather huge deal for me, I would like to ask you to help spread the word and make the debut of our first show a success. Speak, link, tweet and gossip. Thank you in advance.    

Here is the URL: http://talestoterrify.com/

Monday, January 9, 2012

[January 9th, Notable Book Mention] "Inside Out and Back Again" by Thanhha Lai

I'm in the midst of preparations for an exam, which has sucked every free minute that I may have outside work, so I can't necessarily discuss the topics that I want, but be sure that I will return on Wednesday and Friday with the regular features and some news as well.

In the mean time, here is one of the books that I desperately want to read. Notable Book Mention "1" is the autobiographical YA "Inside Out and Back Again" by Thanhha Lai. 

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. 

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family. 

This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Friday, January 6, 2012

[January 6th, Culture of Bulgaria] St. Jordan’s Day, Epiphany, Men’s Water Day

All the names in the title of this post signify the same day, January 6th, which for us Christians is a big holiday. But before I head into the details as to why that is, let me welcome you back to Culture of Bulgaria feature, where I will do my best to introduce you to some of the holiday traditions and beliefs we have accumulated. I intended to begin with New Year’s Eve oddities during celebration of the biggest, international holiday, but right now I’ve the perfect chance to talk about another holiday rooted in Christianity.

I've been thinking about the purpose of all religious holidays in the context of Bulgaria's state and I've made some interesting conclusions, which could be false, but I like to believe that not a single element of one's culture remains fixed and timeless. Every ritual changes and there is nothing more evident than the changes to long lasting religious holidays, which still have their appeal to our society. 
The actual baptism of Christ
As you might have guessed, religious holidays are all about religion. Today is St. Jordan’s Day, though I've to say that this translation is wrong as the name of the holiday is taken from the name of the river Jordan, where Christ has been baptised by John the Baptist. Factually, we're not honoring a saint as we're remembering Christ’s baptism, thus making it the third most important Christian holiday in our calendar. Nevetheless, people with the names Yordan [Bulgarian spelling and pronunciation of Jordan], Yordana, Dana, Dancho, Boyan, Bogdan and Bogdana celebrate. The last three are tied to the aspect of the Epiphany.

The Epiphany aspect deals with the part of the script, where the heavens open during Christ's baptism and the spirit of God appears as a white dove. There is a voice that recognizes Christ as God's true son. This is the true religious importance of the holiday, the power of the act and recognition of the ritual as one sanctioned and approved by God. This moment is the serves as the basis for the belief that on the night before the 6th of January the sky opens directly to the heavens above, where God can hear you. Make a wish and God will grant it to you.

With the fall of strong religious belief, this aspect has fallen into the background. You won't talk with your family about watching the sky at night and the wishes that you made to God. In a certain sense, Bulgarian society has moved on towards unspecified belief and reliance on the multitude of superstitions rather than strict explanations from the Bible. The best example is the ritual to mark the holiday.
The cross has been caught and then passed on the youngest participant, which this year is a nine year old boy.
As with all holy days, Bulgarians have numerous ways to mark the occasion, the most popular still being the “Throwing of the Cross”, which is an all male activity. On this day, after church service, the priest and village [village sounding more authentic] men gather at a large, natural body of water. Then the priest proceeds to throw the cross in the cold water. This is the signal for all the men to jump in and retrieve the cross. The man to retrieve the cross is said to have a happy and healthy year, because he has been blessed. As St. Jordan’s is still widely practiced, the “Throwing of the Cross” is a news-worthy event every year and today was no exception. It’s here that St. Jordan’s day adopts the [horrendous] Men’s Water Day title, which official Bulgarian sites dedicated to our culture has translated it as. Of course every region has its own versions of how the ritual should go.

During breakfast and lunch I followed the news channel’s special segments dedicated to how each city celebrated the holiday, who caught the cross [in Varna, it’s a peer of mine from my university] where and also announcing curious trivia about the holiday. From what I've seen and read, the news are centering on the act of catching the cross as the reason for receiving an astounding health through the whole year. Less emphasis is placed on God's role for making all the bodies of water holy, even though the notion is still present.

Even so the importance of water is great and therefore features in all of the celebrations and rituals. On this day, all natural bodies of water become sacred and their waters obtain healing properties. Sick people bathe in the cold waters to wash away illness, churches change their holy water with fresh one from the closest river or lake for the coming year and families bottle this holy water and keep it in their homes to use, when someone falls ill on bed. And while the churches still follow these rules, individuals are less inclined to bring healing water to their ill family member. My grandmother, who is a practicing Christian, has abandoned this notion as she knows that medicine has covered our bases, when it comes to illness.
The Dancing Chain
This leaves me with the third aspect of the holiday, getting drunk. Before I can proceed with a bit of credibility, I have to bring you to the city of Kalofer. The men dress in old, traditional, period clothes to perform their own version of honoring the day. They form a chain and dance in the freezing water for well over half an hour. The river Tunja explodes in manly laughter and shouts, loud music and merriment, which more or less is an antiquated equivalent of pool parties, if I have ever seen one. This brings me to my point. In order for the men to last in the ice cold waters they have to drink the night before and some of the participants haven't slept a wink in order to pass.

Given how dissatisfied we are as a nation and society with our lot [check European studies, we rank quite high] it's no surprise that we find ways to involve alcoholism in our rituals and holidays as a means to look forward to some fun. What do you think happens, when Yordan comes home from work? Wine happens. That's what.

Anyway, I hope that this was not the 'too long, didn't read' variety of a post. Tell me what you think? Do you have any interesting traditions, where you come from, too?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

[January 5th] Quiet Mouths, Loud Thoughts

I have a scheduled a post, but because of my exam, I haven't had the time to write it down. The good news is that I passed. Instead, I have a wonderful quote that a colleague of mine has sent me.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

[January 4th] Announcing "Weird Wednesday"

 It’s the first Wednesday in the year and the first Wednesday of my “Weird Wednesday” feature dedicated to the analysis of “The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories” edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Initially, I decided to launch this feature with the rather longish discourse I have for “The Other Side” by Alfred Kubin, but then held back on the idea as I think that this compendium deserves a fair and true beginning.

Inspired by this notion to do a proper analysis and ensure that there is a certain amount of the grandeur and drama I enjoy [so much] to this feature, I will start at the very beginning. First, I want to announce the rules of the game [it’s a game, because nothing planned to run for the span of a year is allowed to be too serious] and the goals I am after.


1. “The Weird Wednesday” will run every Wednesday from January 4th until December 27th with each post being dedicated to a single work. I have done the math and know that I have around 52 weeks to work with and over 100 short stories to work with. One of the solutions to this predicament is multiple posts per Wednesday. I will have to see whether another strategy won’t be more interesting for the readers.

2. Each analysis will be based on some research on the author, the work itself and the links it shares with previous works. I’m saying some, because I’m far from assuming that I will have the necessary time and investigation skills to reach to a groundbreaking conclusions about any given work. Context matters, true, but so does sleeping at some point.

3. There will be a proper schedule for each month as well as update posts and a page on this blog, where all links from previous reviews will be gathered. I plan on linking an icon of the book to the feed for the category in my blog for the sake of easy navigation.  


1. I’ve abandoned all delusions that I command the English language. Don’t misunderstand, I do think I’m doing an admirable attempt to do it justice, but it’s still mostly an attempt. I wish to level up as they say, improve how I express myself and how I carry myself with my words.  

2. I avoid reviewing anthologies without internally connecting each work with a different one. With “The Weird” and it’s thousand pages, hundred stories and decades of genre history, it’s neither physically possible nor appropriate to do. I intend to experience the evolution of this genre chronologically, through the stories and through my reflections.


1. I hope that I finish this within the year of 2012. On paper, this feature might look easy to do and stick to, but life is unpredictable. There will be setbacks. I will get in my way. Others will get in my way. The hope is to make it through the year with a successful conclusion and what I hope to be a better grasp over the English language.

2. I hope I create a dialogue the way I have always failed to do on Temple Library Reviews. I hope to lead discussions about the different points in the stories that I present in this space and learn more than I have on my own.

The Schedule:

Here is the initial schedule for the rest of January. Since this is exam month at the moment, I will have to limit myself with one work per week.  

[January 11th] Thoughts on “Foreweird” by Michael Moorcock and “Introduction” by Anne and Jeff VanderMeer
[January 18th] “The Other Side” by Alfred Kubin
[January 25th] “The Screaming Skull” by F. Marion Crawford

Last [far from least] I wish to thank Maureen Kincaid Speller, who inspired me by reviewing the compendium story by story. Check her analyses on The Paper Knife.   


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

[January 3rd] Scribblle Me This, The Writing Intentions

I have been thinking about the writing experience from 2011 and can say that I failed, when it came down to documenting my progress. Of course I don’t suffer from the illusion that I did all that much writing in the first place, but at the same time I can confirm that I’ve completed several flash fiction pieces, several short stories and one novel revision, which is not what a busy bee writer should have achieved. 

Oddly enough, this the title of this is "Writer's Block"

This year I start with better plans, because I believe that improvement lies within better time management, better understanding of how your life can take a turn for the worse [in terms of actual opportunity to write] or enter dead waters. Right now, I know the course of my year in a sequence of ‘green’ and ‘red’ zones right until July, when I’ll most likely graduate. If things go my way [and I get enrolled in a long distance Masters program], I’m pretty sure the rest of my year will be clear to me as well. Given all these factors, I planned for the following:

1. Complete revisions on “Crimson Anatomy” based on beta readers feedback in time for the Angry Robot open month as well as initiate an agent hunt, because it’s not all smart at all to place all your eggs in one basket. Project Timeline: January 1st – February 29th.

2. Complete revisions on “V is for Virus”, my futuristic super villain novel, which I’m happy to say is completed as a draft and pretty well sketched in my head, so I’ll have a very pleasant go at the revisions. Contrary to “Crimson Anatomy”, the concept for “V is for Virus” as well as the feel, the voice and the overall arc in the series have remained constant for more than a year, which is usually a good sign with me. Project Timeline: November 1st – December 31st. The reason for this particular timeline is because I will split the current draft into two and then have a go at writing my first 100,000 word manuscript, which oughta be hectic.

3. Start a new novel project. I’m indecisive as to which project to select. I’m tempted by the possibilities. It’ll be either my YA novel “Airboy”, whose first draft is not completed and not up to scratch at that [though I will probably have to speak to an architect to help me with the main mystery object], my high concept secondary world fantasy “White” or a retro-futuristic super hero tale of emancipation “Super Powered House Wives”. Project Timeline: August 1st – October 31st. This will have to happen after my European tour in late July.  

4. In general, I have written down to complete and sent to publication twelve short stories in 2012, one for each month, which I think is believable aspiration. I’m keeping tabs on three to four anthology projects at the moment, so that guarantees a third of this goal to be fulfilled. I think the main focus will fall on finishing “Lungs”, which is around 60% completed. I’m not happy with how “Rabbit Heart” turned out as a short story, so I see a novella potential in the premise. Project timeline: focus on March 1st – Middle of May [final exam sessions begins at that point and I will be writing a thesis, so I don’t think I will have much time to consider writing anything longer].

These are the goals, which I know I can finish in ideal conditions. This means work, school and personal life remain a constant. Since they are ideals, I realize that I will manage around 60% of what I have planned, this meaning that I probably won’t reach “V is for Virus”, but it never hurts to aspire to great success, right.

This may make me appear slightly crazy [for more than one reason], but at the same time I’m curious. Do you have plans for your writing?           

Monday, January 2, 2012

[January 2nd] Onward, Fair Steed of a Journal

With the 2011 recap out of my way, I can truly focus on what is to come. As with every year, I have set expectations for myself high as ever. I believe that this body and mind of mine can do more than I’m doing with them, so every year I challenge myself, more mentally than I’d like, but I consider taking bringing my body into the mix as well. I’m aware that I will fail, I always do, but as a friend of mine says ‘shoot for the stars and you just might end up on the moon’. I’ve taken to this advice and even though I know that I probably won’t transform into my wish fulfillment character, I will end up achieving more than I would have chasing after this ideal of me.

I'm not sure why I'm including this photo; I guess I'm trying to say: Be afraid, be veeery afraid.

Some people know discipline firsthand, others bribe themselves with treats. I know that I will cheat either way, so overworking it is. This post will focus on the goals I have set myself for my blog.

1. I’m more than ever determined to blog on a regular basis. Last year has been scandalously quiet, which I can’t afford, considering that this year I’m getting serious about my career here, now, even though I’m without adequate material for submission, agentless [kinda obvious why] and rather a minor fraction of the sphere. The rest of my goals have pretty much to do with fulfilling this one as well as help me establish my identity.

2. Cover more books. I’ve been awfully out of touch with what’s been published and what is hitting shelves, so I’m more than ever ready to comment on books that I have bought, read, am reading or want to read. Knowing me, this will more often than not manifest in critique of the cover art, which is how a book engages me in the first place, more often than not.

3. Weird Wednesday. I think I’ve discussed this, but come this Wednesday I’ll do an official launch of my Weird Wednesday feature, which will be a yearlong review of The Weird, the monstrous tome edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer.

4. I’ve decided to revive the Culture of Bulgaria feature, where I’ll tackle the national beliefs, holidays and cultural traits, which I’m more or less a product of. This decision stems from my intention to better understand myself as a Bulgarian and reflects my interests in non-fiction, fiction reading and fiction writing.

These are my immediate goals, which I see as doable, until I graduate, which should happen by July this year. I’m counting the days, until I can part ways with my university, which has pretty much been a negative element in my life for the past four years. Once I have the whole bachelor thing behind me, I will see whether I can bring some more plans together, though I assume they will be nothing grand.

And what about you? Any ideas for reinvention?  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

[January 1st] And in the Spring I Shed my Skin

NB: I know it's far from spring, but these lyrics from "Rabbit Heart" by Florence + the Machine sum up how I feel about New Year. 

I’ve waited for January 1st to write my End of 2011 post, because I needed to have this year behind me, if I am to discuss it. Of course, I missed on yesterday, because I prepared my short story “The Woman Who Wanted to Play Miss Havisham” for submission to Pandemonium: Stories of Smoke. I’m excited, because this will be the first proper SFF story with Bulgaria as setting I am sending out to do the submission rounds. It gives me a great thrill to have written it and include some social commentary on my own.

Most of all I have wanted to wait until January 1st to include this cheeky picture, which does a splendid job at summing 2011 and my experience with it.

 I’m also playing Lily Allen’s “Fuck You” to emphasize how thrilled I am to say a very literal ‘Fuck you’ to the past year.

Theoretically, 2011 should have been a good year for me. I’ve landed a long term job position with all the right benefits and most importantly, steady income to help my family move along. I’m extremely grateful for finding a place in my current firm. The money ensured that we not only needn’t have wondered how to provide all the basic commodities and pay bills, but that I could contribute to paying off debts my family had for the better part of the last decade. We are not completely in the clear, yet, but I can’t stress how relieving it is not to fear the days in the calendar.

I’ve seen my wonderful, talented, loud-mouthed, wise-cracking, tough-as-nails sister through her toughest academic year, the high school entry exams, which in Bulgaria creates a shadow economy of private lessons. This is so because the education system fails to prepare pupils for the exams, which is why parents are forced to sent children to private lessons. Sometimes the monthly total exceeds what the minimum wage here is. Fortunately, my sister had teachers, who understood our situation and charged less. Now, I’m seeing my sister through her first year in the high school of her choice and I’m relieved that the next five years will be quiet in general.

Because I have steady income, I allowed myself the pleasure to plan and after years of intense wanton I realized my dream to visit a convention, which turned out to be the best experience in my life as a geek. I felt insane to be amidst all the talented people at Fantasy Con and give a handshake to the numerous people I have made acquaintances with over Twitter. It’s been madness for me and I’m immensely proud that I planned this trip on my own, executed it on my own and did not get fatally lost in the UK, which right there at the end constituted a real possibility.

As you can see, some of the big things in life are improving, yet, all of the above, I did alone. I had to work on a full work day, care for my sister [including all bureaucracy surrounding her exams, taking her to her lessons, jumping hoops, checking her homework and be for her in all her moments], work towards my Bachelor in Economics and in the meantime devote myself to the SFF community by reading, writing, reviewing and joining conversations. I still have to do all these things alone. My mother has been working on the other end of the country, while my father has disappeared completely from our lives upon the divorce. It’s my grandparents, my sister and I with me being the only adult within the age to do most of the bills and be the parent figure in my sister’s life.

Sometimes I feel trapped by all of this. Sometimes I feel remorse for feeling the first, because I have weathered a lot with my family as a unit. There are ties that run deep, strong and more powerful than I would wish them to be, because they make the possibility of a fresh start all the more complicated. Between running between these two absolutes, I have come to loathe the job that I have. I worked in the customer care department as a call centre operator and the stress led to health complications I never thought I’d be subjected to, one of them being quite the weight jump. I’ve bloated. Severely. Thankfully, I switched departments and now I’m in office heaven with so many funny, filthy-mouthed and dirty-minded peers. However, because 2011 had to be awful, a quick succession of small scale disasters happened, which I’m afraid almost broke whatever was in charge of sanity. I’m getting better, but I have never stopped asking whatever the fuck runs the show ‘haven’t you had enough’.

It comes to no surprise to say that my writing, reading and involvement in the SFF society has been minimal. I closed Temple Library Reviews, because I felt burdened by the whole thing. As always, I came to see myself as not one to fit in that mould for I set out to achieve goals, which could not be reached given the nature of my efforts. 2011 turned out to be a year of endings spring saw me part ways with Apex’s The Zombie Feed, where I worked for less than half a year. I’m extremely pleased with the results I had promoting Mark Allan Gunnells’ novella “Asylum” and Paul Jessup’s novella “Dead Stay Dead”. However, I did manage to become an assistant editor to Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s anthology project “Space Battles”, which comes out next April, and have engaged on a new editorial position, though I’m not at liberty to disclose the complete details as of yet.

On the writing front, I set out to edit “Crimson Cacophony” [now “Crimson Anatomy”] and I did to the point that it has been sent to beta readers and have critique to carry me out through a new round of edits. Other than this, I haven’t achieved anything worthwhile in terms of new words written. Projects have been started, projects have been finished [less often that I would like to], rejected or not edited to be sent out to venues, though I’m surprised I even did all of this. I even have two short stories accepted, which ought to be released some time this year. 

My reading has been disorganized and purposeless. I can’t even track the books I have done. Once I closed Temple Library Reviews, I announced it the year of Reading Unwisely and I think that this is perhaps the one goal that I realized to the fullest of its potential. I have, even so, reviewed for Innsmouth Free Press, The Portal, Rise Reviews, Pornokitsch, The World SF Blog and contributed non-fiction for Beyond Victoriana.

This past year gobbled me up, minced me with its teeth and spat me out. Given my crap track record, I have no reason to hope that 2012 will be any better, but I have my hopes, I have my plans and I’m a firm believer in the power of change. Even if it is only a principal change, I revel in the moment, when in less than a fraction of a second 2011 ceases to exist and then it’s a brand new year. I don’t live so much for the promise of the year being better as I do to bury the corpse of the last year.

All that shit above, hey, that was last year. The calendar is burning in the hearth, the evil has been exorcised, the bad is forgotten, the hard drive has been defragmented and the good has been backed up for the shitty days of the Blue Screen of Death. So I’m happy, fresh and the awfully archaic naïve and hopeful person, who has no place in this world, but here I am and at the moment, I feel like 2012 will be like this:      

     Art by Tsvetka aka Ink-Pot