Archive for January, 2011

Artsy Stuff Going On

January 23, 2011

I can’t say it’s my radio debut, because to the best of my memory, I’ve been on the radio four times in life. The first was when I was in elementary school. I got to be a reader once on Professor Jackie Jackson’s radio show Reading, Writing, and Radio, broadcast out of Sangamon State University in Springfield, Illinois. It was an educational program used in a great many classrooms. Kids on the air would read writing sent in by other elementary-school students, inspired by writing prompts given on the radio show. Years later, as a teenager, I would take an evening class conducted by Professor Jackson — an experience both tremendously enjoyable and formative to me as a writer. But that’s a subject for another post. What I’m remembering now is that first experience of wearing a headset and reading into a huge mike covered in black foam, cued by a technician behind the soundproof glass. I read a little composition by some other gradeschooler whose cat had died, and s/he wrote about being sad.

The second time I can remember being on the air was in a 30-minute interview in Taylorville, conducted in 1999 in the summer Dragonfly came out. Our little town, obviously hard-pressed to find news, played the interview over and over throughout a weekend, until I’m quite sure everyone within listening range got sick of hearing my voice. Lots of former radio enthusiasts took up croquet that weekend, and TV sales spiked.

The third time I was on the radio was when I was supposed to be interviewed about Dragonfly. (This was NOT the Taylorville station. The station and interviewer shall remain anonymous to protect the . . . whatever.) I might have known things wouldn’t go well when, as I was waiting to go into the sound booth, the interviewer’s mother talked to me at great length about how her son, the interviewer, had written a book that wasn’t published yet. She was telling me all about the intricacies of this book. Also, MY mom had come along for the ride.

Well, after about two questions to me, during which I got the strong sense that he was irked that my book had gotten published, the interviewer became all excited about the fact that my mom was the founder of the annual Persimmon Party in Taylorville, and the talk turned to persimmons, persimmon recipes, persimmon folklore, and the particulars of the Persimmon Party. Mom had a great day and came away from the interview all glowing and elated. For that reason, I don’t regret it — not one bit. But it sure wasn’t much of a Dragonfly interview.

The week before last, I laid down my fourth radio track, here at FM Port 79.0, a radio station in a sleek, ultra-modern building with a ground-floor vestibule right out of a science-fiction film, and a glass elevator that offers a view down onto Bandai Bridge, that grand landmark of Niigata.

The occasion was that I was recording my part of a commercial for my friend K.’s onigiri kitchen. Onigiri, also known as omusubi, is usually translated as “rice ball.” It’s the traditional Japanese equivalent of the sandwich. It’s what people take along on picnics and in lunchboxes to eat in remote locations or on the job. It doesn’t have to be heated . . . it can be kept and carried around for a while without suffering too much depreciation. My friend makes and sells these things at her shop. Here’s a picture:

The Onigiri-dou, under the shinkansen.

It’s in a little leased structure on ground owned by Japan’s railroad company, JR. You can see that the building rests directly beneath the tracks of the bullet train (shinkansen), which periodically roars by overhead. It’s the very train I take whenever I head down to Tokyo or return from there up to Niigata.

Anyway, this little shop sells onigiri and a soup of the day, and a nearby second building sells vegetables and fruits. I’ve served as “outdoor technician” this past year, rigging up a net to protect plants at night, building some wooden benches from scratch, and (most recently) stringing Christmas lights along the eaves.

You may know that Japanese advertising often makes use of English. I’m not sure why, other than it attracts attention. So in our ad campaign, the lines I recorded for the radio commercial were:

“Let’s have a ball!

Let’s have a ball!

Let’s have a rice ball!”

And, at the commercial’s end, after a female announcer’s voice has identified the place and the hours:

“Have you tried it yet?”

To prepare for the recording session, I came up with about ten different character voices. We narrowed those down to three for the recording session. I recorded the lines in the following styles:

1. English accent, exuberant.

2. English accent, half-whispering, as if telling a fairy tale.

3. Robot voice.

(Personally, I thought my best innovation was having The Terminator, in Schwarzenegger’s voice, say, “I’ll be back . . . for another rice ball.” But that idea got nixed.)

The other artsy thing going on is this:

See my face among all that? A colleague of mine at the university is constantly engineering artistic things: concerts, vocal solos, musical compositions, unconventional photo books, etc. Somehow, she established a connection with a young guy who majored in dance who has decided to visually express one of my poems through the medium of dance. This calls for an exclamation mark: [!] If you can’t imagine what that will look like, neither can I! The dancer is working from an audio recording I made. Since he lives in another prefecture, we’ll meet for the first time on the day of the concert/recital. Talk about “chance art”! I’m supposed to read my poem from a podium while he interprets it kinetically through dance. This is to take place on February 19th. If you’re in Niigata at 6:00 p.m. on that Saturday, stop on by the Ongaku Bunka Kaikan! Literally anything could happen! Personally, I predict a Fortean rain of tiny frogs from a clear sky.

Finally, here’s a snowman that my friend and I built to promote the onigiri market:

Snowman with Snow Riceball

Snowman, January 2011

And then here I am in this wintry season:

Winter in Niigata

I look kind of Russian, don’t I? This was taken on the street in front of my apartment.

Okay, finally, writing news:

1. Black Gate #15 is scheduled to ship in February. My story “World’s End” is in it!

2. The anthology Discovery is supposed to be out any day now from Rogue Blades Entertainment. My stories “A Fire in Shandria” and “Someplace Cool and Dark” are both in it. I’m really looking forward to reading the other tales in this book, which were all written using the theme “Discovery” and an assigned painting of a female warrior and a black panther standing among some ruins in a jungle.

3. My article “Riddles: An Ancient Game” is slated for the April 2011 issue of Cricket Magazine.

4. My article “The Great God Pan: Myth, Horror, and the Divine” is in FATE Magazine — either it’s just out or is about to be — my subscription copies are always way late and haphazard, and I never know quite how to contact FATE, so I’m sorry I can’t tell you more specifically. As an illustration of the article, FATE is also using my painting of the Faun dancing in the forest at night, a detail of Self Portrait, which you’ve seen on this blog (“Pictures at an Exhibition”).

5. I’ve also got a poem, “The Last Morning of the Mammoth,” being printed in The Best of Every Day Poets I, a poetry anthology that has just been released in the past day or two, and is available through Amazon.

Okay! That’s about enough artsy stuff for one posting, isn’t it?! 🙂 Have fun, enjoy stories, and enjoy the people around you. Take good care of them all!

Paintings in the New Year

January 6, 2011

The new year began with two more paintings. These were done in four days: the first on January 1-2, and the second on January 3-4.

So here we go. The first is called The Hungry Hills.

Fairly bizarre, huh? As with stories, I often don’t know how a painting is going to end when I start it. I would even say usually there’s something I discover along the way that gives the picture its real focus. With this one, I set out to paint a fantasy landscape. I knew I wanted it to have caves, stairs, and a central chasm (because I liked those parts of the Balrog painting — see previous post).

The Hungry Hills


The Hungry Hills -- gray daylight shot

As I worked, I wasn’t happy with the painting at all. It had no theme, no central focus, nothing that interested me, and it didn’t even seem to be underground as I’d intended. Then I thought, “Hey! Those caves with their white stalactites look like mouths with teeth!”

The Hungry Hills -- a sunlight shot like the first

In this one, although you still can’t see quite to the bottom of the canvas, you can glimpse the stairway inside the mouth of the very lowest figure.

So then I realized that the cave areas should be faces, and they should have eyes and, in some cases, noses. At that point, I started liking the painting.


The face in the top right corner looks fish-like to me. I’m reminded of Dagon, who appears in the Old Testament as a god of the Philistines, and who may have been a god of the sea. He is also featured in the horror tales of H.P. Lovecraft.

The cavern beneath him, with the red eyes, looks just plain evil. If the top figure is Dagon, I would name this red-eyed fellow “Malev.”

Did you notice the winding stairway on that tower in the top center?

The top left figure has no eyes. He’s a blind hungry hill. The tree-faced tower next to him is wild-eyed, howling and mad, but probably not as dangerous as most of the other caverns.

The cavern beneath them on the left I call “Bomarzo.” Who or what is the gargoyle-like figure who seems to be gazing down at our heroine? Are his intentions good or ill?

A dark journey through the hills

Would you believe that putting in our heroine was a last-minute inspiration? It seemed to me that the hungry hills were all watching, waiting . . . their attention seemed focused inward on someone journeying among them. Then it hit me — of course! Someone is on that stairway! Someone is alone, and courageous, venturing into these hills on a quest!

I don’t have a name for the deep green one in the abyss, though he’s the one whose gaze told me exactly where our heroine was.

The face with a stairway where his ear should be looks Mayan to me, or maybe like a Kachina doll of the Hopis. He has two stairways in his gullet, climbing in two directions. The figure above him looks very cobra-like. I guess that’s Nagaina (remember Riki-Tiki-Tavi?).

Nag and the Lamia

Over here on the right are Nag and beneath him Lamia. Do you see the face on the wall of the chasm? It’s the only figure with a closed mouth. I think that because of its position, no one can possibly pass into it; no path leads there. So this hungry face has to draw its nourishment from the entire hill country of which it is a part. It’s a bored, resigned, frustrated face.


And our heroine, she who journeys above the hungry gorge . . . this may well be Dragonfly, or someone very much like her. Her coloring is certainly like Dragonfly’s. Maybe this is an illustration for that Dragonfly sequel, the very first manifestation of the yet-unwritten story! Certainly I love the title “The Hungry Hills,” which may be a chapter! The atmosphere of this painting truly captures the spirit of Dragonfly, doesn’t it? She carries the sword in her left hand. Does that mean she’s left-handed, or that she thinks she’ll need the lantern more than the sword? I like the fact that she wears a skirt: the best heroines are courageous, strong, capable, and feminine — just as the best heroes are courageous, strong, capable, and yet sensitive and gentle in their masculinity.

The Hungry Hills

A final thought on this: in the media of the near future, wouldn’t it be interesting to design an on-line storytelling format in which you’d have a picture like this, and you could click on each cave, each section of the image, and you would be ushered to a different story? A collection accessed through a single painting! Something like an Advent calendar, with wonders hidden behind each window waiting to be opened!

Our second painting is simpler: Three Princesses.

It’s a comedic image, a play on “Rapunzel.” Here, the prince is imprisoned by some sorcery in the tower deep in the forest. By the look of the plant life, he’s been in there for years, though he never ages. Three princesses have come to rescue him, but they’re engaged in a heated argument. The prince is unhappy, and the quest is at a standstill.

Three Princesses


Three Princesses

What is the nature of their altercation? Is the prince not quite so charming as they were led to believe? Or is he charming enough, but the three (who pooled their resources and skills to have made it this far) are now realizing that there’s one of him and three of them? Or does the argument concern whose responsibility it was to have brought a rope, or a ladder, or the spell to enter the doorless tower?

the owl

High above the characters’ heads, quite remote from them, perches an owl, who appears at a loss. My theory is that the owl represents wisdom. The meaning is that wisdom is all too often lacking in human endeavor.


I love the color called “country tan,” which I used for the lighter backpack, the blonde girl’s pants, and the middle girl’s moccasins. It goes smoothly onto the canvas and dries with a wonderful soft quality.

Three Princesses

This painting was a lot of fun. I love doing dark forests with no sky visible, but those stones in the tower wall were a pain.

When I was younger, I was embarrassed to draw women that were shaped like women. On these princesses, I pulled out the stops and made them as feminine as my abilities allowed.

If anyone wants to, why not try writing us a very short story to go with either painting? Just a paragraph or two would be enough! What quest brings our heroine into the hungry hills? What are the princesses arguing about, and what will the outcome be?