Liquid Ink

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


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Take my workshop, help Volumes Books

There’s now an added reason to sign up for my Prose Writing Workshop that starts in April. I’ll be donating 10% of collected tuition to Volumes Bookcafe. The Wicker Park bookstore, one of my favorites, reached out to the community help it stay afloat in an atmosphere that provided challenge after challenge to the small business.

Volumes’ struggle is not one that comes because of any error or poor intention. You can read about it here also also here. When Volumes opened not two years ago, it became an instant cultural institution—an intimate community of writers and readers formed there, as if overnight. The support this store continues to offer local writers, independent and small presses, under-represented voices and young people who gravitate to books, ideas and art is simply unparalleled.

So, if you love Volumes and you have been thinking of getting some feedback on a text  that’s in-progress, or even if you just need someone to provoke you into writing through the difficult start of something, ten percent of your tuition fee will go to Volumes Books.

For the record, yes, I have donated independently to their campaign. Folks interested in simply making a donation to Volumes of any amount can do so here.

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Another generous review: Alternating Current/The Coil

I met the start of the work week with the news that another review for The Fugue has appeared, this time in Alternating Current/The Coil. This review is generous and humbling, with the reviewer, Al Kratz, paying some of the most careful attention any reviewer has paid to the narrative.

[The] qualities that made the read challenging are also why it was ambitious, realistic, and ultimately, a success. There are no easy answers. There is no easy way to tell the story.

Read the rest here. Buy The Fugue here. Or order it from your favorite bookstore.

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Wicker Park Fest, Day 2

So…today Chicago faces isolated thunderstorms and another +90 degree day. Yesterday a crowd of a few hundred stood before the main stage at Wicker Park Fest and sang Que Sera Sera along with a band, this while battleship-gray thunderheads approached. The sky opened. Lightning struck. Adults and children danced. It was beautiful.

Also, some came around Volumes Book Cafe to cool down, grab a drink, then purchase and have their copies of The Fugue signed. I spoke to readers from as far away as Germany and Puerto Rico (and Madison, Wisconsin…and Laredo, Texas…and Aurora, Illinois…and a town in Maine whose name I will never remember).

I’ll be at Volumes again today (er…at an indoor table). Come check out Chicago’s newest bookstore between points of festival frolic. 1474 N Milwaukee Avenue. There’s a chance I might sell out before 4:00, as we have a limited amount of copies left.

 

Come grab one of these copies before they’re gone

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What are people saying about The Fugue?

“Magisterial…like Dostoevsky…” (Chicago Tribune)

“A welcome addition to the bookshelf of Chicago authors…” (WGN Radio)

“A masterpiece of literary fiction…” (Centered on Books)


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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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My publisher’s 2015 catalog

I’m happy to announce the release of The Chicago Center for Literature and Photography’s (CCLaP’s) catalog.

This year, the indie press will publish a very ambitious book-a-month, ending the year with my novel, a book I’ve been working on (and off, and back on again) for over twelve years. I’m still shocked—thunderstruck, rather—to know it’ll be in readers’ hands by the end of the year. And the publisher has some very flattering things to say about it, which I hope you’ll find by checking the catalog.

In the meantime, check out the rest of CCLaP’s titles. It’s humbling to be on a list with these people, all of whom I admire, some of whom I’ve read with before: Ben Tanzer, Karl Wolff, Matt Fuchs, Steven Garbas, Matt Rowan, Joseph G. Peterson, Daniel Falatko, Leland Cheuk, Douglas Light, Mike Sauve, Kendra Hadnott and Michael Strelow. Also in the mix is the anthology of “City All-Stars,” young writers working in Chicago these days.

Also, have a look at the extraordinary cover art. Take this example:

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Now, what’s my book actually about? The novel’s titled THE FUGUE. It’s a family epic that spans several generations and takes readers from Western Ukraine and Lithuania to a poetically treated Cicero, Illinois of the 2nd half of the 20th century. The main character is a metals sculptor—most would probably call him an outside artist—convicted of murdering his parents. The book begins with his release from prison, and the novel’s narrative then travels through various strands of memory, some reaching way back into the years of WWII.

Anyone who liked Finding the Moon in Sugar will be very interested in the novel. I will be working very hard to promote it, and I hope I can have your support.