Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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Live, moderated Q and A this Thursday

This Thursday’s reading at The Looking Glass Bookstore in Oak Park will feature an interesting twist, something I’ve not done before. Amy Danzer of Newcity, one of Chicago’s alternative weeklies, will interview me live before opening the evening to questions. Amy was the longtime editor of Newcity Lit, and has a ton of experience in the publishing world.

I first met her at Tuesday Funk back in December. If you have not read her review of The Fugue, which she calls “A must read,” you can find that review here. She’s an obvious fan of my work and thought of this herself. I’m really excited to do this, and I hope you’ll come.

An Evening with Gint Aras

The Looking Glass, 823 S Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, IL. 7:00.

(708) 434-5515

You can RSVP by clicking here to access The Looking Glass Facebook page.

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Photo of me standing against a wall in Vilnius, 2007. I took it with a timer, leaving the camera on a dumpster.


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Reading in Oak Park, IL next week 

Next Thursday, Feb. 18, I’ll be reading at The Looking Glass Bookstore in lovely Oak Park, IL.  The Looking Glass is a gorgeous bookstore, only two years old, located less than a block from the Oak Park Avenue Blue Line station.

The details:

The Looking Glass, 823 S Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, IL. 7:00. 

There are two quality pubs down the street, and I hope to join some friends and strangers for a beer afterwards. Hope to see you! 

  


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Decency amounted to naïveté: An interview with Leland Cheuk

Leland

Leland Cheuk has titled his novel The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong perhaps in jest. The novel is a faux prison memoir composed by Sulliver, or Sully, documenting four generations of mis-adventuring Pong men: Chinese-American migrants and their offspring. They work mines and railroads, invent video games, run brothels, casinos and—in the case of Saul Pong, Sulliver’s narcissist father—an entire town.

Most of the action takes place in the fictitious (hilariously named) Bordirtoun, population 157,000. Bordirtoun is surrounded by mountains, crossed by two rivers, and sits right on the Mexican border.

Sulliver is at once tragic and comic. His self-awareness allows him self-deprecation, but he can’t avoid his ancestors’ misadventures. A gargantuan loser, he’s unable to communicate, have sex without injury, find stable employment or play a good card. Tragically, Sully seeks, not to be present anywhere, but to be absent from Bordirtoun, something he can’t achieve even by marrying a Danish woman and living in Copenhagen.

The novel is multi-layered, at once satirical and historical, concerned with male identity and the Chinese-American experience. Among Cheuk’s many achievements is the portrait of a narcissist father, an asshole so insufferable that it hurt my stomach to read about him.

I had a chance to talk to Cheuk about the book.

Your novel is a critique of American capitalism, a system where a local politician can also be tycoon and pimp, and few people see any contradiction. To me, Bordirtoun resembled the world of a dictator, Saul’s portraits and statues everyplace, including the airport. Why did you choose to make Saul so malignant in his self-absorption?

I was inspired by Coen Brothers’s films like Fargo and No Country For Old Men, in which larger-than-life villains threaten to overwhelm the innocent, virtuous, and/or inept (in the case of Sulliver). Sully’s dad, Saul, is an absurdist amalgam of my father, the President of Turkmenistan (Saparmurat Niyazov, and his golden statue that rotates with the sun), and P.T. Barnum. A more recent analog, of course, is Donald Trump. Saul grew out of the novel’s aesthetic: part-absurdism, part-realism.

My father is very much like Saul. He risked his life to come to America with nothing when he was 29. By his mid-40s, he was a self-taught engineer working at a big Silicon Valley telecom company, and he owned a real estate firm. As a toddler, I remember mom working at Taco Bell and in sweatshops. By the time I was a teen, we lived in a 3,000 square-foot house in the suburbs, and it seemed like dad bought a new Mercedes every year. He liked to show off his wealth in gauche ways, like a lot of immigrants who come from nothing.

Like Saul, dad was chronically unfaithful to my mother. Like Saul, he won all the fights with her with his fists. I have no recollections of him teaching me to be decent. Like Saul, he often claimed that decency amounted to naïveté, and to survive and thrive, you had to cheat. He would threaten to send me back to China, said I’d have to use my wits to survive there.

I’m the son of displaced persons, and grew up in an enclave, so your narrative’s really familiar. But I can’t say I’ve encountered it very often in Asian-American novels.

I think the dark side of the Asian-American immigrant experience is underwritten or underpublished. It seems like “diaspora” writers feel compelled to write about the complicated but well-intentioned person of color. With Saul and Sulliver, I wanted to go a different direction and stay true to my lived experience.

For my parents’s generation, domestic violence and philandering are accepted. Casual racism, sexism and homophobia are accepted. To me, that’s not okay. I didn’t want to gloss over any of those truths with an “Oh, they’re hard-scrabble immigrants…” or “Oh, it’s just the Asian culture…” subtext. An asshole is an asshole in any culture, methinks.

Are my dad and Saul assholes because of…or in spite of…becoming American? Did they misinterpret or distill and absorb America’s capitalistic values? Those questions interest me as a writer. I’m pretty sure I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to answer them.

Sully also has narcissistic traits, not least of which is his inability to communicate his feelings to those he cares about. Do you feel there’s an antidote to narcissism for the sons of narcissists, or are they doomed in a way?

I would say the book’s plot leans toward the latter, but in reality every moment is an opportunity to change, and every generation evolves. I would bet on Sully changing, even as he continually claims to be doomed to repeat his family’s mistakes.

Personally, I’ve considered it a great life achievement to have avoided my father’s bad deeds. I’ve tried to live free of empire-building, its emotional toll on relationships. I have tried what Saul suggests: learn only from my father’s good traits. But his behaviors have probably seeped into mine in ways I’m not conscious of.

For much of the novel, Sully is running against this father in a race for mayor. He’s not really motivated to win the race for himself but simply to topple his father’s empire, expose him as a fraud. In your view, is that a flaw in his character or a strength? 

It’s most certainly a flaw. They call it government service for a reason. Any politician should be serving the people and be willing to sacrifice for his/her constituents.

Sulliver is in way over his head. At the risk of being topical, I liken Sulliver’s motivations during the mayoral race to him being seduced by The Dark Side of The Force. If we wanted to be a Jedi, Sully would have had to run for mayor with the intent of being a better mayor than his father. Instead—excuse another contemporary reference—Sully broke bad.

I get that, but there’s a greater mission in the mayoral race: If Sully wins, he can foil his father’s plan to displace Bordirtoun’s poor. Sully needs to overcome himself just to run, because he seems overwhelmed by most any situation. An old lady steals his bike. Sex injures him. In a way, he gets past some portion of his complacency, even if the race leads to his own demise. I guess I’m wondering if you think Sully has a redeeming quality that isn’t ironic. Doesn’t he?

I definitely identify closely with Sully, and I would say that his most redeeming quality is his awareness of right and wrong. At the highest level, for the most part, he intends to do to the right thing. But as the cliché goes, God is in the details. Sully’s not so good with those.

 

Photo provided  by Leland Cheuk.


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The Fugue is now available! 

Dear friends, my novel, The Fugue, is now available for worldwide purchase. I know that fans of Finding The Moon in Sugar will find The Fugue an engaging, challenging but also deeply rewarding read. If you’ve never read my work before, The Fugue is a great place to start. 

So…where can you get the book? 
If you’re in Chicago, I hope you’ll come to my book launch reading and gathering. It’s Dec 17th at 6:30 at City Lit Books. Click on the hyperlink for more details.

Of course, you can order it anywhere books are sold. I encourage readers to support their local indie bookstore. Also, know that The Book Table in Oak Park will be selling signed copies of The Fugue at a discounted price of under $15, AND they ship in the USA. 

The Book Table
1045 Lake Street
Oak Park, IL 60301
(001) 708.386.9800

Obviously, Amazon’s got it. If you do t live near an indie bookstore, or you’re outside the USA and don’t like reading books on Kindle or an iPad, these links will take you to the book.

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

Amazon Germany (Ships to Lithuania!) 

Amazon France

Amazon Japan

Thanks so much for your interest and support. 

  


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Excerpt: The Fugue (Two priests confess)

This is an episode from a section titled Advent, 1975. The Catholic priests in his scene serve a parish in Cicero, Illinois. While Monsignor Kilba has been at the parish since the 40’s, Father Cruz is brand new. Lars is the church organist, a composer.

____________________________________

-8-

Listening to confessions always made Monsignor Kilba hungry. He changed out of his vestments and sat at the kitchen table to nibble on the smoked fish still left there. The large bits were too oily, the small ones too dry, so he wrapped the fish and tucked it all the way in the back of the fridge. Looking through the food, he chose some of the leftover cabbage soup a neighborhood woman had made for the priests. Kilba also took some bread, butter and Lithuanian cheese.

Cruz came in while Kilba was heating the soup at the stove. “Will you make some for me?” He wasn’t changed yet.

“There’s plenty,” said Kilba.

“I’m hungry. I’d fry my chicken livers, but I’m too tired.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“I’ll go and change.”

By the time Cruz came back, Kilba had finished heating the soup and had set the table. He didn’t wait for Cruz before dipping a chunk of black bread into the broth to soften it for his dentures.

“How is it?” Cruz asked and sat down.

The Monsignor ate in small mouthfuls but appeared greedy with the food. “Very good.”

Cruz tasted it. “That woman makes pretty good soup.”

“Not as good as Lars’ wife used to make. She used to make the best borscht.”

“Yes.” Cruz wanted to eat but sat quiet for a moment. “Monsignor, would you listen to my confession before I eat, before I ask a question? Do you mind?”

“I’d like to confess as well.”

“Alright. You want to go first?” Cruz broke off a piece of the bread and sliced some cheese.

“You go first.”

“You sure?”

“All right,” said Kilba. “I’ll go first.” He wiped his mouth. “Bless me, Father. I’m a quality sinner, well ripened and seasoned. It’s been a week since I last reported my filthy deeds. Isn’t that true?”

Cruz nodded. He dipped the bread.

“Very well. This week’s filthy deeds include paging through pictures of naked women, quite young, I don’t know if they were married or not. I confess to having fantasies about Lars’ daughter…doesn’t happen so often, but, you know…the mind is a very soft instrument. I also, believe it or not, told a calling salesman exactly what he could do with his such-and-such merchandise. A blatant use of the Lord’s name in vain, also with a good surge of pride. What else? Yes…I broke a promise to my niece in Racine and did not visit her on Wednesday.” Monsignor Kilba rubbed his fingers together. “You know what, Father Cruz, I also took the batteries out of your tape recorder and put them into mine.”

“Yes, I was wondering about that.”

“Are you angry?”

“No.” Cruz spread butter over his bread.

“Well, then scratch that. Of course, we know about last night’s nonsense with Lars. I drank and ate like a glutton and enjoyed it but for penance felt sick all day today.”

“Is that all?”

Kilba paused. “No…” He tapped his forefingers together and sat up straight in his chair. “It isn’t, actually. There’s something else. I’m afraid it’s quite serious.”

Cruz stopped eating and set his utensils down. “What do you mean?” He was beginning to get a feel for Kilba’s manners—the Monsignor’s tone and posture convinced Cruz he was being sincere.

“During confession today, I heard something that alarmed me, to be honest. And I’m not certain I’m doing God’s work by not telling anyone about it. I wanted to ask you. Have you ever broken the silence of the confessional?”

“Never. No! Not ever in my life.”

“I never have either. But…I’m very concerned about someone. I believe something terrible is happening to someone very close to me.” Kilba paused. “I’m 75 and I have heard many sins in my life. But I never had someone ask me for help in the confessional.”

“You cannot, Monsignor! You’re already telling me too much.”

“I am not.”

“You didn’t do anything today, did you?” Cruz became very agitated.

“What’s the matter with you? Calm down, for Pete’s…” Kilba drank some water.

“Well…it’s strange…I wanted to confess as well. About something similar. Not exactly similar, you understand. But something happened in confession…”

“I bless you. You have sinned. Tell me.”

Cruz spoke hurriedly: “Apart from this week’s lying and getting very angry at people…apart from that. I was furious with Lars for playing the organ today and I told him he had no self-respect. I let him leave the church with no coat.”

“Lars is fine. Tell me what happened in confession.”

“I don’t know which part I should tell.” He rubbed a butter knife on a napkin. “A woman came to confess. I know her. I have seen her many times since I began here at St. Anthony’s. She comes to the parish breakfasts. I…I’m not sure what to say. I didn’t…I recognized her voice and the confession was unorthodox.”

“What?”

“It wasn’t about anything she did. It was about what happened to her. I…imagined it happening. I imagined what she was saying.” Cruz put the butter knife down and stared Kilba in the eyes. “I became rather fixated on the thoughts. I had a fantasy.”

“Cruz,” said Monsignor Kilba. “Cruz, how old are you again?”

“I’m thirty-one.”

“Cruz, a fantasy is normal.”

“It isn’t normal.”

“Yes, you’ll repeat yourself…you’re supposed to be a priest. This idealism of yours…”

“I’m not an idealist. That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about the kinds of thoughts. They weren’t thoughts about what’s common.”

“What? What uncommon sins can one hear?” asked Kilba.

“Look. I just want to confess that I envisioned myself hurting—forcing a woman.”

Kilba understood what Cruz was saying and stared at him intently. The Monsignor remained quiet for a while before whispering, “I see.”

“It never…”

“Don’t…say anymore,” said Kilba, gently placing an open hand on the table. “You’ve confessed it. Don’t go any further.” The men sat quietly and Kilba finally said, “We should absolve the sins.”

Cruz nodded and the men made signs of the cross over each other while mumbling the Rite of Absolution. “What penance shall we give?” asked Kilba.

“I think we should fast.”

“How long?”

“Two days,” suggested Cruz. “Starting midnight.”

“Done.”

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Reading tonight: RUI (Reading Under the Influence)

It’s always fun to read at RUI, where I’ll be appearing for the third time. This reading features trivia, a small book sale, and allusions, all in the confines of Sheffield’s, a proper watering hole. Watch Chicago-area writers read while drinking booze on stage.

Tonight’s theme is “non-denominational”. I’ve composed trivia questions that deal with Christmas in a variety of ways, and I’ll be reading a short bit from The Fugue about two priests who tell each other their dirty confessions. You don’t want to miss it.

3258 N. Sheffield Ave.

Grab a seat and at bite to eat at 7 p.m.; readings start at 7:30 p.m.

There’s a $3 cover. 21+.

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Here are my partners in crime:

CARLY OISHI is a blogger, bowler, and baby watcher. She is the co-creator and former co-producer of Solo in the 2nd City. She’ll be publishing her first short story collection with the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography in 2017. When she’s not reading her own words out loud to unsuspecting audiences, she sings in a duo called Jon & Carly. Follow her @carlyo.

JAMES WRONA works and resides in the suburbs of Chicago. He loves creating stories and characters in his head throughout the day. James is currently working on putting together a collection of these tales and people.

DANIEL STORY writes for money and love. His work has appeared in Ninth Letter, Boxcar Poetry Review, Diagram, and elsewhere. He was once, for poetic reasons, granted temporary military clearance.

 


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How I landed my book deal (in only 15 years)

I’m happy to announce that the pre-launch for my upcoming novel, The Fugue, is underway. You can find pre-order information here at the CCLaP website. I also encourage people to check out what kind words Jason Pettus, CCLaP’s owner, left on the novel’s Goodreads page. “This is the literary novel for those who love literary novels…”

The Fugue started out back in 2000 when I was a student in New York. One night I wrote a vignette titled “Juri’s Window”. Juri was a painter and sculptor living in Amsterdam, perhaps in the mid 90’s, where he collected unemployment benefits and sculpted from trash. The vignette was simple: a description of a window Juri put together out of glass bottles and the remains of a discarded fence. I looked at it as a writing exercise.

But this character pestered me, kept appearing in my work. Soon the name had changed to Yuri, and he had a family, a girlfriend. Later, I moved him from Amsterdam to my hometown of Cicero, and his family gained a complex history of flight and displacement. Eventually he’d been accused of arson and murder. I realized I had a novel.

I messed around with various drafts for years. But in the summer of 2006, at that time working in Bloomington, Indiana, I felt the book, clocking in at about 135,000 words, was finished, and I started trying to sell it, going about it in the traditional way, sending cold queries to strangers.

Mind you, obsessed with The Fugue, I had not published a single piece of short fiction at that point. I don’t know how many rejection letters I collected—for a while I had been assembling them in a scrapbook, but in time I had no place to put them, and far from motivating me, they were just trash mail, most of them the usual form rejections. What kept me writing queries were the nibbles. This Midtown agent asked for the first 50 pages; that Chelsea editor asked for the manuscript. Now another agent wanted the whole thing. After reading, she told me her colleague might be a better fit and forwarded the text along.

The people who read it in whole or part all said about the same thing: “You don’t have a platform, and this book’s too difficult to market.” I took to heart that they didn’t say, “Your writing is shit.” It left me enough to maintain the feeling that I could be a writer. But I hung up The Fugue as a failure and set it under the bed, so to speak.

In the summer of 2007, I started writing Finding the Moon in Sugar, a project that occupied the years leading up to my first child’s birth in 2009. And then I took on smaller writing assignments, including a stint with The Good Men Project.

Part of the reason I self-published Finding the Moon in Sugar was to get my name out there. I wanted to have something gripping but fun to read from during events, and I thought the best way to learn how to market a book—a work of literary fiction, to the point—was to get out there and try to do it.

Last autumn, 2014, I was reading from Finding the Moon at RUI, a reading series here in Chicago. I hoped, at best, to sell a couple of copies, maybe learn about some new writers. At the bar, Sheffield’s, I ended up sitting next to a man, Jason, who had a lot to say about selling books. Turned out he had a publishing house. After my reading—I read the scene when Andy hears opera music for the first time—Jason asked me if I had any short stories. Sure, I said. I have plenty. But when I checked out his website, I figured, what the hell. Maybe I’ll tell him about The Fugue.

This holiday season, the book that started out as a vignette will hit the shelves and e-readers. In anticipation, have a look at the cover. It’s gorgeous:

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