Category Archives: Books

suburban surprises

This time last year, I was in Wyoming terrorizing cattle, watching grasshoppers pop out of the tall grass by the dozens, running in light snow to watch for golden eagles on the hills. What a world away it seems; how things have changed. This year I have not left New York state. I have barely written (but I plan to start again), with the emotional/physical/mental turmoil this pandemic and other family issues have caused. It’s been a hard year for everyone I know and strange for me to be back in my childhood home although I’m thankful to be able to spend more time with my family.

But I’ve discovered interesting nooks closer to the place I grew up—a cemetery with the graves of Revolutionary War veterans, local ponds and woods full of deer and chipmunks, another lone gravestone with the name of one of the founding members of the town carved into it hidden behind a suburban strip mall. This is how I really like to get to know a place—that stumble across an unexpected discovery, those little trails that lead off into who knows where. Places and creatures that may have always been there but went unnoted. There are wild turkeys roaming around the suburban developments and woodpeckers everywhere I turn. There are greenways to bike and local historical areas that can’t be found online. There are so many things I don’t know about this place and it’s a lovely surprise.

Here, black crickets invade the house every night. The mosquitoes are finally dying out now that it’s gotten chillier. The end of the growing season is still giving us carrots, figs, raspberries, and sunchokes, and the blue jays and cardinals have discovered the birdseed I put out for them so they wake me up every morning (but the squirrels have discovered it too). The jays and squirrels make a ruckus with all the nuts and acorns they’re eating from the trees. I, like everyone else, have been baking like crazy (sourdough, focaccia, biscuits, cookies, cakes, danishes…) so I’m already on banana bread #14 this year (this year’s banana bread production has been more than the last 30 years combined!) but I just want to say that my recipe has been perfected—moist and light and perfect toasted with butter for days after.

I’ve finally started reading again; there are so many books that have come out that I’m excited about. I’ve just finished C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills Is Gold—beautifully written and melodic in its language, a fascinating reinvention of the American West during the gold rush era told through the eyes of an Asian American girl. I also read More Miracle Than Bird by Alice Miller, which introduced me to the life of Georgia Hyde-Lees, the woman who eventually married W.B. Yeats and began automatic writing to hold their marriage together. There was quite a bit of drama in those days! This was a pretty surprising and interesting read, considering I didn’t know anything about her or about W.B. Yeats’s personal life previously (and interest in the occult). Reading Aimee Bender’s newest book next and Sanmao’s Stories of the Sahara, which has finally been translated from the Chinese! I’ve been recommended Sanmao’s writing several times now, including from the fisherman I met on that island a couple years ago (has it really been two years since Taiwan and my China research trip?!) plus I LOVE the desert and desert stories so I’m really excited to start it. Hoping that all this reading will inspire me to work on my novel!

In the time of the coronavirus

All the news nowadays on the virus–the toll it takes on lives, on minds, on the economy and society. Sometimes I can’t tear my eyes away from the constantly updating news, the numbers going up and up, all the things we should’ve done. I know it isn’t healthy.

Strangely enough, there are parallels in my work to this strange present. Here, “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration” about another disease that swept through part of China. And from years ago, “What Is Lost” which references the racism and fear that can arise from traumatic events tied to certain countries. How surreal it is to see events and emotions extrapolated from possible events ripple through actual current events.

It’s been an upheaval, that’s for sure. The rhythm of my days is different, my social circle limited to the family members I’m currently living with. Spring has come more slowly to the suburbs than the city; some of the daffodils here have yet to bloom. But the birds are everywhere and spring peepers sing at night. A volunteer cherry tree blooms in the corner of the yard. Thankful for the beauty of spring, for the healthcare workers in the hospitals,  for those sharing facts and not rumors, for everyone taking this virus seriously and staying home as much as possible. The world is different now.

Also thankful to have poems out in two journals! In all the craziness of the last few weeks/months, my work hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind but I’m happy to have some more writing out in the world. The Capilano Review has three of my poems (Fire&Gold, If/then, Milky Way) and EVENT published “Lake.” I’m honored to have my work in the pages of these journals and I’m looking forward to reading everything!

Take care; stay safe and healthy!

A new year

Happy new year! Hoping this year is better than the last. A friend had told me how the first pigeon you see in the new year is auspicious (per a Japanese term) but I haven’t seen one yet, so auspicious gulls it is! They all flew well, which I’m taking for a good sign.

In 2019, I did manage to get a few things published. First was “Privy” in The Journal of Compressed Creative ArtsThen in December, “Cacti Prickle” came out in Bennington Review 7And a Chinese translation of “Thirteen Steps in the Underworld” was published in the January 2020 issue of 科幻世界 (Science Fiction World)! It’s the first time I’ve had work translated and it’s in China’s only science fiction magazine (!)

I started a novel this year, wrote for a forthcoming Lonely Planet book, and finished a couple of short stories, one that took me almost all year to write, but I’m super excited to share it at some later point, after a bit more editing. Forthcoming in 2020, I’ll have a few poems out in EVENT and The Capilano Review.

Also, I did two readings, one in NYC and one in my new favorite state, Wyoming. Attended a few writing/research-related workshops and residencies (a one-day residency! a bird language workshop! a residency in the Rockaways!), and saw just how amazing the West can be <3<3<3

I was trying to sneak a book or two under the wire for 2019, but looks like I’m at 40 (better than last year but way less than when I first started counting…) I read more nonfiction than usual this year with 13 books; here’s my list.

Books read in 2019:
1. The Voyage of the Beagle– Charles Darwin (NF)
2. Fire and Fury– Michael Wolff (NF)
3. Dark Skies (NF)
4. Hidden Wonders (NF)
5. Gingerbread– Helen Oyeyemi
6. The Weil Conjectures– Karen Olsson
7. Running in the Family– Michael Ondaatje (reread)
8. The Seas– Samantha Hunt
9. Myths and Legends of the World (NF)
10. French Exit– Patrick deWitt
11. Dealing With Dragons– Patricia C. Wrede (reread)
12. The Unique States of America (NF)
13. The House of the Spirits– Isabel Allende
14. What the Robin Knows– Jon Young (NF)
15. The Incendiaries– R.O. Kwon
16. All You Can Ever Know– Nicole Chung (NF)
17. Wake, Siren– Nina MacLaughlin
18. The Foley Artist– Rico Villanueva Siasoco
19. Saltwater– Jessica Andrews
20. When We Were Orphans– Kazuo Ishiguro
21. Hazards of Time Travel– Joyce Carol Oates
22. Ravens in Winter– Bernd Heinrich (NF)
23. Pushcart Prize Anthology 2019
24. Family of Origin– C.J. Hauser
25. N.P.– Banana Yoshimoto
26. Signal Fire Reader
27. Trick Mirror– Jia Tolentino (NF) ***highly recommend to everyone!***
28. Close Range– Annie Proulx
29. When You Reach Me– Rebecca Stead
30. The Ecliptic– Benjamin Wood
31. Battleborn– Claire Vaye Watkins
32. Alone on the Wall– Alex Honnold (NF)
33. Inland– Téa Obreht
34. The Overstory– Richard Powers
35. The Taiga Syndrome– Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
36. The New Me– Halle Butler
37. Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube– Blair Braverman (NF)
38. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running– Haruki Murakami (NF)
39. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead– Olga Tokarczuk
40. Imperfect Women– Araminta Hall

Looking forward to more reading and writing this year!

2018

It’s been an eventful year, with half of it spent in Asia before coming back to New York in the summer. Just last year for New Year’s Eve, I went up to my roof in Wenshan district to watch the fireworks shoot off from Taipei 101 (the only skyscraper in the city!). This year I’ll be watching from uptown and thinking about these two different realities, the strangeness of various New Year’s memories conflating together. In between, there’ve been island-hopping adventures in Taiwan and China, hanging out with cute kittens in Vietnam, new jobs, new apartments, new publications, a Pushcart Prize, seeing old friends and making new ones and meeting everyone’s babies, Chicago and Boston, readings at KGB bar and Asian American Writers Workshop and the Center for Fiction, broken cell phones, artist salon evenings, cookie-baking and cheese danish-making (very recent but turned out great!), art receptions, tons of bicycle riding in the summer and running in the fall (maybe I’m starting to dislike running less…), starting a novel that is involved with all things ocean, and so many other things that encompass everyday life, but apparently not quite enough reading. Only 31 books finished this year and here’s the list:

1. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder- Caroline Fraser (NF)
2. Sour Heart- Jenny Zhang (short stories)
3. Why We Sleep- Matthew Walker (NF)
4. Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart- Kimberly Lojewski (short stories)
5. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls- T Kira Madden (NF)
6. White is for Witching- Helen Oyeyemi
7. Florida- Lauren Groff (short stories)
8. Starlings- Jo Walton (short stories)
9. Freshwater- Akwaeke Emezi
10. Mr. Fox- Helen Oyeyemi
11. Come West and See- Maxim Loskutoff (short stories)
12. Awayland- Ramona Ausubel (short stories)
13. Her Body And Other Parties- Carmen Maria Machado (short stories)
14. Hunger- Lan Samantha Chang (short stories)
15. Strange Weather in Tokyo- Hiromi Kawakami
16. Little Fires Everywhere- Celeste Ng
17. Better Times- Sara Batkie (short stories)
18. Severance- Ling Ma
19. In West Mills- De’Shawn C. Winslow
20. Confessions of the Fox- Jordy Rosenberg
21. Convenience Store Woman- Sayaka Murata
22. Less- Andrew Sean Greer
23. If You Leave Me- Crystal Hana Kim
24. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore- Robin Sloan
25. Curiosities and Splendour- edited by Mark MacKenzie (NF)
26. The City of Folding Faces- Jayinee Basu
27. Sorry to Disrupt the Peace- Patty Yumi Cottrell
28. Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return- Martin Riker
29. Tin House Vol. 70, No. 1: Poison
30. The Friend- Sigrid Nunez
31. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter- Theodora Goss

Happy new year! Here’s hoping next year is even better than the last.

Ocean

Popping in to say I’ve got a new flash fiction piece called Ocean up at Bracken Magazine!

It’s been a busy half year back from Asia: I’ve started working on a novel that is obsessed with all things fish and ocean life related, catching up on all the reading I hadn’t been able to do in Asia (my gosh, so many great debut books!), visiting family and friends, and just getting back into NYC life with all its readings and art openings and cool events.

Speaking of cool events, I’ll be reading at a speculative literature literary salon in January! More info on that soon.

I also received my copy of the Pushcart Prize anthology and it is huge! So excited to delve into it and read all the great work that’s come out the previous year.

A Pushcart Prize!

First off, I wanted to let everyone know that my story, A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration won a Pushcart Prize! I’m really honored to have been nominated by Bennington Review and excited that the Pushcart Prize committee chose it to receive a prize! You can read it online here or buy a print copy of either the Bennington Review issue or the Pushcart Prize anthology coming out this autumn.

A lot of changes these past few months—writing up presentations on pigeon racing and finishing up classes in Taipei, snorkeling and rock climbing (Taipei rock gyms are HARD but the people are crazy nice), traveling and researching in China on a series of islands, visiting relatives, and catching up with L—but now I’m back in New York and finally settling back in. It has been less than a month but my life in Asia already feels somewhat dreamlike, especially since I never have to speak Mandarin here. But I miss my sweet potato guy and my pigeon-keeping neighbors and the mountains and plants and birds there.

I’ve just started writing again, though, and it brings the places I’ve been back to life for me. I’m really excited about what I’m currently working on even though I’m not quite sure where it will go. It’ll have crabs and windmills and the green sea in it for sure though.

Hiking season

In Taipei, I measure time by particular seasons. It was strawberry season not too long ago, tiny strawberries in cartons that were halfway filled with padding to protect the delicate fruit. Right now, it’s the season for golden-hued pineapples straight out of ads and giant watermelons the length of one’s arm, sometimes sold out of the same open fruit truck (you know the kind I mean, all open sides to display the fruit.) The first pineapple I bought was from one of those trucks, the young guy selling them surrounded by women. One even took photos of him as he removed the outer layers of her pineapple expertly. His pineapple cost me 120 ntd but the taste was incredibly sweet and floral, no sourness at all.

It’s also the season for giant snails with pointed shells on the mountain trails of Xianjiyan, and barn swallows in little nests above storefronts. I saw a nest with six swallows inside recently, their heads all poking out and watching me. The weather is changeable but mostly it’s hot, hovering around 30 degrees Celsius lately. My teacher says the rainy season is starting and when I asked about typhoon season, she said that it was separate from the rainy season and started in summer.

On nicer days, I try to make it to some of the mountains nearby. Once to Pingxi crags where three mountain peaks sit close together but rise alone so you have to climb up then down then all the way up again. The ones ijl and I climbed had bare rock on top, and one rose so steeply it required a ladder attached to the rock. I like the hiking here—there are the typical stone steps but also occasionally more natural dirt paths (sometimes not well-maintained though) and then you get the adventure hiking which involve rope to help steady you (and you definitely need them!) and sometimes actual climbing. Sometimes you see older men hiking in bare feet, as though it were typical. One of the mountains there, we managed to climb twice, not realizing the path we took down looped around and up the mountain again but it was a more adventurous one so it was fun anyway. There are signs there that tell you to beware, accidents have happened and you proceed at your own risk. And along the way, there were birds whose calls sounded like the whistle of a rocket, and a glimpse of a ferret-badger through the brush, as well as the remains of sky lanterns that we picked up. 

Another hike was from Daxi on the east coast. We took the slow train there, paying with our easycards. The day started out hot so it was brutal going up. Spiders hung on webs above us so if you looked up, you’d see spider after spider seemingly floating in the air. Occasionally, you’d catch a glimpse of ocean. The path led to Taoyuan Valley which was completely different. We climbed the ridge there; on one side, a steep dropoff with shrubs that grew close to the ground due to wind unlike the forests we had been hiking in and on the other side, gently sloping meadowland with water buffalo leisurely eating the grass. On the path were “obstacles” that were the opposite of an animal crossing, to prevent the water buffalo from wandering too far into the mountains. But continuing on the path led us to heavy mist on the ridge and because I was getting tired, we took an unofficial path down with just a cardboard sign that read Dali train station written in marker. This path was very steep, just a dirt and rock path in between wild grass almost as tall as I was, and with the wind blowing something fierce. The shortcut may have been shorter but probably tougher.

Recently, I decided to go alone to Jiandaoshi (Scissor Rock) one day after class but this path turned out to be different from many others. There, retired old men hike it every day and chat with you or hike along with you if you’re new. I was put with two Taiwanese girls and we were shepherded up, an older man with his dog giving us advice all the while about the rough sandstone rock that we were scrambling over. On the way down, another old man identified a passionfruit flower, the trail we should take down, and played us an old song on a type of flute he had (he practices on the mountain, just a hobby he picked up). And on the way to the street, past a flower garden, we were given fresh-cut lilies that were going to be discarded anyway, after we admired them. The friendliest hike I’ve been on.

It’s not all hiking, though. I write essays on Taiwanese superstitious behavior, read essays on the sharing economy, and wonder why there are always worms on the broccoli and cauliflower. I randomly hopped aboard a shuttle for a free trip out to a little town called Xinpu known for its Hakka ancestral homes/shrines and sweet potato dye. I marvel at fresh baby corn and the glimmer of their leaves; they are sweeter than canned. I wait for repairmen to fix the cracks in my ceiling, just in case it’s a danger for the next earthquake, and then ask them random questions that help me with my powerpoint presentations. Sometimes your Japanese classmate tries to teach your class Japanese in Chinese. I live on roasted sweet potatoes because the old man who sells them is adorable even if he never seems to be around when I’ve got a craving—they’re so sweet it’s like eating a healthy dessert and only 50 ntd a bag. Sometimes black-crested serpent eagles circle your neighborhood, crying out all afternoon. I’ll post about southern Taiwan later. I’m missing a good friend’s wedding. With this new teacher, I can’t seem to keep anything in my head, words just slip away as soon as I see them. What skill it takes to be a good language teacher; I hadn’t realized quite how important it was until a mediocre teacher came along.

In writing news, the anthology Endless Apocalypse is out where you can read “Away They Go or Hurricane Season” along with other stories both contemporary and classic. I joined twitter (@suyeelin) but who knows how long that will last? Follow me while you can 😉

Apocalyptic inspiration

I have a story in Flame Tree Press’s new anthology, Endless Apocalypse, coming out this March so they asked us authors to tell them what inspired our stories. My story is a reprint of “Away They Go or Hurricane Season” which was first published in Acappella Zoo. Take a look!

It’ll be a beautifully-made book and I’m excited to read the other stories in it—if you’re interested, you can pre-order it here.

Since I’m currently reading Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires, weather has definitely been on my mind. It’s a fascinating read and interesting to see how much of the Midwest’s weather in the 19th century was thoroughly impacted by farmers (to their detriment!) Here in Taipei, there was incessant gloom and rain for a week (and two earthquakes) but today was so hot that I wore shorts and took a wander through the botanical garden. Rhododendrons are in bloom and suddenly everyone is selling strawberries. And tomorrow is the big lantern festival in Pingxi where waves of sky lanterns will be released—I’m sure it will be beautiful but hope it’s not too environmentally unfriendly!

Some surprises

I’m happy to share that A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration not only got a great review on Newpages.com, but also that Bennington Review nominated it for a Pushcart Prize! There was a wealth of great writing in Bennington Review 3 so I’m really honored that they chose mine to nominate.

Also, I have a reprint of Away They Go or Hurricane Season coming out early next year in an anthology called Endless Apocalypse from Flame Tree Publishing! You can check out the other authors who will be included in the anthology here.

In Taipei, the rain hasn’t let up at all. So different from the first sunny days I was here so I feel a bit tricked, my expectations all out of whack. But I’ve gotten used to bicycling in the drizzle and how, some days, the clouds cover my kitchen view of Taipei 101. Classes at National Taiwan University aren’t quite what I expected either since we actually only have one class, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. It doesn’t seem much at first but because we run through material so quickly with plenty of homework and review each day and I’m trying to remember all the words I used to know and figure out how to write them in traditional characters, it’s actually quite a lot of work. I wasn’t actually prepared for how many everyday characters I use have been simplified! My speaking needs work as well so I’m excited to be meeting a language exchange partner early next week.

The food here skews a bit sweet; I’m currently in love with the fresh pineapple bun with butter from 好好味 where the top is crisp and sweet, the bread is airy, and it comes hot and fresh from the oven so the butter melts as you eat it. So good. Mostly for meals, there’s bian dang 便当 which is like a lunch box where you pick the protein (fried chicken, stewed pork foot or pork belly, pork chop, fish, etc) and they give you some veggie sides and rice. Then there are the late night early morning breakfast shops with their buns and pastries and soy milk.

The school cafeterias are okay, with self-serve buffets which charge by weight, or different types of cuisine that range from dumplings to Korean food to Cantonese food to Japanese food. The night markets are fun but sometimes I mostly end up just eating fried things there. Last night at Raohe Night Market, I had a fried scallion pancake, fried chicken with basil, and sichuan chaoshou (wontons) in chili oil and had tastes of my friends’ food. Granted, I don’t always make the best decisions when I’m hungry.But there are tons of options–okonomiyaki being freshly made, fruit juice, baked seafood, stinky tofu, tiny fried crabs, egg waffles, ice cream wrapped with grated peanuts and cilantro, baby octopus covered with cheese, “coffin bread”, black pepper pork buns, and so much more. So crowded though so I couldn’t just take photos of them all.

A Flock, a Siege, A Murmuration in Bennington Review!

Bennington Review’s 3rd issue: Threats is out now but you can read my story “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration” online on their website! I’m really happy the way this story turned out; it was inspired by the bird flu outbreak in China in 2013.

Also, who knew Governor’s Island was as nice as this?

PANO_20170624_171211

Red-spotted blackbirds, dragonflies hovering over lavender, urban vegetable gardens, chickens, biking for hours, hidden hammocks, hills, awesome playgrounds, perfect breezy weather, and a lovely view—what more could you ask for?

(Okay, the food selection could be better…!)