Guest Author sessions
Next session: Kelley Armstrong
June 1-3, 2005

Guest Author sessions are hosted by novelist Marianne de Pierres.
Every month, settle in for a freewheeling Q & A session with some of your favorite authors.

Get valuable advice and encouragement from some of the best writers around; participating authors have generously agreed to take time away from their writing to answer questions, and share what worked for them. For free.

Need reliable writing advice? This is the place to find it. We'll save you a seat...

Welcome to the online Guest Author sessions -- just add coffee.
Class is now in session with: Kelley Armstrong: June 1-3, 2005
Go there: Torley's

Bio: Kelley Armstrong is the author of the Otherworld series, including "Bitten," "Haunted," "Stolen," and "Dime Store Magic."

Nota bene: Apart from the Guest Author sessions, Armstrong will be offline/unavailable, as she is on writing sabbatical from May 20-July 1, 2005, while she finishes book six in the series.

About the host: Marianne de Pierres is the author of the Parrish Plessis series. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies alongside works by Harlan Ellison, Gene Wolfe, Jack Williamson and Terry Dowling.

Find additional books/writers content in the next issue of "Arte Six."


Writers Bloc series
“The Long March”
by Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Author’s Note: The past third of my life has been consumed by a single project: the researching, writing, and selling of my first book, “Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.” This little essay tells the story behind the story.

Wanderlust prowls in my genes. My great-great uncle was a hobo who rode the rails; my father drummed his way around the globe with a US Navy Band.

But while I was desperate to escape my hometown in South Texas, I feared I never could -- largely because I couldn’t fathom how.

I mean, I could conceptualize buying a ticket and boarding a plane, but what would I do after it landed?

Then, my senior year in high school, a friend’s neighbor triumphantly returned home after a semester abroad and introduced me to the magical, mystical world of youth hostels, backpacks and "Lonely Planet" guides. She was only a few years older than me and -- unlike my role models -- female: if she could roam in foreign lands, surely I could, too. But which ones?

A few months later, I attended a journalism conference that featured a keynote by a rockstar CNN correspondent who’d covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

His stories of riots and revolution surprised me. When he finished, I ran up to the microphone and asked how I could be a foreign correspondent, just like him. He looked straight at me and said: “Learn Russian.”

So I did. Although I barely knew enough Spanish to talk to my abuelita, or grandmother, I enrolled in Russian at the University of Texas at Austin that fall and four years later jetted off to Moscow to establish my career as an overseas reporter.

Russia had other plans in store for me, however, and I ended up volunteering at a children’s shelter and falling in love with an ex-soldier.

I set out for China next, hoping to be censored and oppressed and slip political dissidents dumplings filled with subversive messages through the iron bars of their prison cells. Instead, I fought to run the Spice Girls on the entertainment page of the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.

Those experiences gave me a deep fascination for nations that had experimented with communism in the 20th century.

Between 1996 and 2000, I visited a dozen, unrolling my sleeping bag in the Pamir Alay mountains of Kyrgyzstan and riding a pony across the Inner and Outer Mongolian steppes.

I drank café sua with Vietnamese businessmen in Ho Chi Minh City and cerveza with Cuban hip hop artists who rapped about revolution. I dated a Chinese college student who carted me around on his bicycle.

Mother Road changes each of us in profound ways. I found that as I traveled, the identities I had spent my entire college career cultivating began to peel off one by one: My vegetarianism drowned in a bowl of yak penis soup. I never felt less Chicana than I did in my mother’s homeland Mexico, where my Tex-Mex Spanish was barely intelligible to the people with whom I so badly wanted to connect.

Mother Road has also taught me a thing or two.

Hunger, for instance, was a vague concept until I saw it in a child’s eyes staring me down as I nibbled on a pork dumpling in Burma. I didn’t know desperation until I tripped over it in a crowded bakery, where comrades stole groceries out of one another’s shopping bags.

I found valor among the coffee farmers of Colombia who refused to cave in to guerillas’ demands to turn their crops into cocaine fields. And I experienced true forgiveness from the Vietnamese who so readily welcomed me, a traveler from former enemy turf.

Traveling built within me a foundation that allows me to stroll the world's passageways with confidence. It taught me the difference between being alone and being lonely, and made me ever selective of my company. In fact, Mother Road turned me into such a self-sustained, self-contained unit, I’m expecting to self-pollinate any day now.

I also came to understand the momentousness of the Mexican culture I left behind. All of those former Soviets who risked the gulag to distribute underground samizdat printed in their native language and Tibetans who braved sanctions by continuing to prostrate themselves before their gods had risked so much to maintain their culture.

I, meanwhile, had abandoned mine. They made me question why -- and, moreover, resolve to change it. My future travels will be to Spanish-speaking nations so that I can try to regain all that has been lost in my family’s migration to the United States.

Shown above: “Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.”

However arduous my journey around the bloc, though, it paled in comparison to my navigation of the rocky road of publishing.

I officially began writing my book about my travels on January 8, 1999, in Austin, Texas -- three days after getting dumped by the love of my life (whom I'd moved back to America to be with!).

I was 24 years old, had zero contacts in the publishing industry, and hadn't a clue as to what I was getting myself into.

I did, however, have a lot of discipline, and soon adopted a writing schedule of 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on weekdays, an hour or two of editing weekday evenings, and a four or five-hour block of writing on weekends.

By the time my contract with the Associated Press and apartment lease were up that August, I had completed several dozen travel vignettes and queried my first two rounds of agents.

All ten rejected me, but one gave me invaluable advice: narrow the terrain of the book so that it focused only on communist/post-communist nations, rather than everywhere I'd ever been. My first draft -- tentatively titled “Ramble On” -- had included some 20 countries.

So, I decided to give myself one calendar year to complete the book while living rent and utilities-free with my parents in Corpus Christi.

It was a tough year: having neither a car nor a "day job," I essentially locked myself into a very small bedroom and wrote, researched, and edited between 8 and 12 hours a day.

Yet it proved immensely productive: I completed a 450-page travelogue of 12 Communist nations called “Seeing Red,” wrote five versions of a book proposal, flew out to New York to meet with agents (and signed with a wonderful one), and read every book and Web site on publishing that I could find.

In June 2000, my agent sent the book proposal to 18 publishers. My parents and I took a roadtrip to Mexico and lit velas at every church we passed along the way.

By August, however, every last publisher had rejected it. The day I received my rejection letters in a thick manila envelope, I drank an entire bottle of wine and cried. Had I just wasted a whole year of my life?

Crushed, I did the best thing an aspiring travel writer could in such a situation: hit the road again.

Between August 2000 - May 2001, I drove some 45,000 miles across the nation in a beat-up Honda, documenting U.S. history for a Web site for K-12 students as a national correspondent for “The Odyssey.”

I took “Seeing Red” along for the ride and had the strange but wonderful experience of listening to my colleagues read it as we drove down the highways and byways of America. I also thought a great deal about why the proposal didn't sell, and how I could write one that would.

After that adventure ended, I spent three months performing major reconstructive surgery on my 103-page book proposal so that it read more like a memoir than a travelogue.

Then I moved to New York City with the vow that I would give myself one year to sell it -- or else, I'd go to Kinko's, crank out a bunch of copies to sell to family and friends, and move on.

Amazingly, Villard/Random House bought it in April 2002. My advance, however, was the equivalent of four months’ room and board -- and I still had a full year’s worth of work ahead of me.

And so, at age 27, after having successfully avoided it since high school, I buckled down and got a “day job” as the spokeswoman for a think tank on artistic and intellectual freedom and the founder/director of an anti-censorship youth activist organization.

I generally wrote between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and logged in at least 15 hours on the weekend.

I also did a two-week residency at the beautiful Ragdale Foundation in Lake Forest, Illinois, where I wrote and edited 12 hours a day.

The book was christened “Around the Bloc” soon after I handed it in on May 1, 2003. It was published on March 9, 2004.

The first time I held my book in my hands, I literally dropped to my knees and cried.

Later that night, after consuming copious amounts of Soviet champagne on Brighton Beach with a friend, I experienced the most blissful inner peace of my life.

All in all, my publishing saga included nine versions of the book proposal, four complete manuscript rewrites, 33 agents and 31 publishers queried, and countless edits, revisions, split ends and nervous breakdowns over a four-year period.

I lost two good friends, most of my savings, and any concept of "free time" in the process. Through the madness, I learned a few lessons about book writing that I’d like to impart:

Deeply reflect upon your reasons for wanting to do this to yourself. Fame and fortune simply cannot be part of the equation -- and frankly, neither can publication. Those rewards are just not worth the struggle.

Rather, you must believe in the story you have to tell, and be fully convinced that it will change the perceptions and perspectives of others. Those are the only goals that can justify the immense amount of work involved in this grueling process.

If you decide to go for it, build a community. If you don’t know any writers, go to conferences or join a group and befriend some. Seek out mentors.

Whenever you read a wonderful book or article, send its author a note and, if they live close by, an invitation for coffee. Sell yourself and your ideas to editors, agents and publishers.

Follow up on every lead and jump on every opportunity. Always write heartfelt thank you letters to those who help you along the way.

Learn from your mistakes, revel in your successes, and above all -- enjoy the journey. You are a thinker, a storyteller, an artist, a writer: OWN IT!

And watch out for the Bloc Party nearest you. I performed excerpts of “Around the Bloc” in 25 cities in 2004 and many more are in store for this year. Please visit my online home at Around The Bloc, and I’ll see you on the road!

© Stephanie Elizondo Griest. Used with permission.
Shown/header image: Stephanie Elizondo Griest; Photo: Viktoriya Drukker

Bio: Stephanie Elizondo Griest has belly danced with Cuban rumba queens, polished Chinese propaganda, and mingled with the Russian mafiya. These and other adventures are the subject of her critically-acclaimed memoir “Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana.” (Villard/Random House, 2004).

Official site: Stephanie Elizondo Griest

About: The Writers Bloc series is an ongoing column featuring practical advice for writers. Nope, not a support group. Not until someone busts out the tequila, anyway...

Find additional books/writers content, in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."


Guest Author sessions
Next session: Richard Harland
May 4-9, 2005

Guest Author sessions are hosted by novelist Marianne de Pierres.
Every month, settle in for a freewheeling Q & A session with some of your favorite authors.

Get valuable advice and encouragement from some of the best writers around; participating authors have generously agreed to take time away from their writing to answer questions, and share what worked for them. For free.

Need reliable writing advice? This is the place to find it. We'll save you a seat...

Welcome to the online Guest Author sessions -- just add coffee.
Class is now in session with: Richard Harland: May 4-9, 2005
Go there: Torley's

Bio: Richard Harland is the author of the Ferren Trilogy ( "Ferren and the Angel," "Ferren and the White Doctor," "Ferren and the Invasion of Heaven"), the Eddon and Vail Series ("The Dark Edge," "Hidden From View"), and short fiction, including "The Bath" and "The Little Yellow Pill."

He recently won Australia's highest speculative fiction award, a Golden Aurealis, for his novel, "The Black Crusade."

About the host: Marianne de Pierres is the author of the Parrish Plessis series. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies alongside works by Harlan Ellison, Gene Wolfe, Jack Williamson and Terry Dowling.

Find additional books/writers content in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."

Related Info: Guest Author sessions
DEC. 2004 Guest Author Margo Lanagan won an Aurealis for her otherworldly book of short stories, "Black Juice.")


“Antigone: Worshipping the Dead”
Through April 19th

"So for me to meet this doom is trifling grief; but if I had
suffered my mother's son to lie in death an unburied corpse,
that would have grieved me; for this, I am not grieved."

Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, king of Thebes in Greek legend, is the heroine of one of Sophocles' most powerful dramas.

According to legend, when Oedipus blinded himself, Antigone shared her father's exile near Athens.

After his death, she returned to Thebes and attempted, with her sister Ismene, to reconcile their quarrelling brothers Eteocles and Polynices.

Both brothers were killed in battle, but their uncle Creon, now king, forbade the burial of Polynices because he had betrayed Thebes.

When Antigone defied the edict of her uncle and secretly buried her brother, she was executed.

Shown above: Burial scene, "Antigone: Worshipping the Dead"

Sophocles used the plot and characters of this legend in his tragedy, “Antigone” (440 BC).

The plot revolves around Antigone's loyalty to her brother and her defiance of Creon's edict in order to obey a higher law of devotion.

As the play opens, her two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, have both died as the result of Polynices' rebellion against Eteocles, the successor king of Thebes.

Creon, the new king, forbids Polynices' corpse to be buried. Out of respect to the dead, Antigone performs funeral rites despite the ban and is sentenced by Creon to be buried alive.

The play has often been interpreted as a justification for civil disobedience, and as a vindication of acts driven by the unwritten laws of conscience.

Related links:
Historical context: Antigone
Read the play: "Antigone"

Find it: Chytirio Theatre
44 Iera Odos (Keramikos)
Athens, Greece
Get info: +30-210-3412313, 3412822

Find out about dance/theatre events in other cities, in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."


MUSIC/Disc Series
Magdalen Hsu-Li, “Smashing the Ceiling”

My upcoming album is called “Smashing the Ceiling.” When I was writing the songs on this album, I felt I was experiencing a kind of quantum leap or personal gestalt.

There were so many breakthroughs that happened to me personally, emotionally, musically and spiritually.

"Smashing the Ceiling" was an incredible album to make. The songs felt completely inspired as I was writing them, as if I were a just a channel and they were coming from some higher source.

When I wrote the songs, I was trying to break through many personal ceilings in myself, things that most people would not know about unless they were exceptionally close to me. Later, as the album progressed, I began to feel pretty smashed up, myself.

This album has been the hardest thing I have ever made. It has been a rough time for me. I admit I'm glad to be moving into the performing end of things again.

What helps me create: Dreaming, sleeping. A lot of my best ideas come when I am awakened at 5am. I like to think it’s a time I can truly tap into the collective unconscious.

Sometimes it takes half an hour to complete a new song, sometimes months or years; in general, I like to try to wrap things up on a song within about a day or two.


Well, my first song ever was a nine-stanza adaptation of my own lyrics, and a schoolmate’s lyrics to the tune "Old Susannah". It was about a turkey that got botulism.

"Oh dear turkey
Oh why'd you have to die
Oh why'd this sickness come to you
I think I'm gonna cry"

We got a standing ovation from the class. I think I was like nine years old.

So, maybe songwriters are born. But what you do with your artistic inclination is up to you.


Fiction is the work of artists. Real life is something a lot of artists are really bad at! So, they create lives of fiction. But I try to keep all my songs based in personal experience or personal feeling. Songs are better if they’re connected to something real.

Personal favorites: Probably “Redefinition” or “Mary Magdalene,” because I have changed myself so many times in my life, and certainly I have lived out the stigma of the virgin/whore, the bad girl -- what woman hasn't? Mary Magdalene is getting a makeover nowadays, thanks to the book "The Da Vinci Code".


It's hard to say [what’s different about this new album, compared to "Fire" and "Evolution." It might be better if other people listen to it and decide that for themselves. I can say that the drummer is different for this album, and also that I think this is a much more inspired album than the last.

"I think [Mary Magdalene] is one of the most iconic, provocative, loved, hated, and mysterious women in history...I felt it was time to help redefine her story in a more positive light."
Photo: Karen Moskowitz

The songwriting is better; more universal and concise. The songs are shorter. I do think the politics are more deeply embedded; more hidden -- but still they are there to see, if you look deeper.

[Also], the personal takes precedence over the political in this album. I was writing where I was in my life, so it's an accurate portrayal, with hopes that the personal becomes universal.


Depth and connection, giving to an audience of listeners, sometimes catharsis for myself. Writing songs is my way of giving to others.

Many performers are kind of broken people already; they would not have gotten into performing unless something was already lacking in themselves.

Maybe they are incapable of normal expressions of intimacy. Their art becomes their primary way of expressing intimacy of giving and receiving love, of being accepted by others.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than hearing someone say: "Your song meant so much to me because of _________," or "Your lyrics echoed my feelings, it really sounded like you were speaking for me and what I've been going through."


I think they are equally important. We need more compassion in this world -- which, to me, equals understanding or putting yourself in someone else's shoes. We would have less wars if we had this.

On the other hand -- we need to be courageous, which, to me, equals righteous conviction. You must have an enormous amount of righteous conviction to be an artist, to be a human being, or how else can your ego take it?

It's pretty hard just being a human being, on an emotional level. We get all banged up and are expected to be perfect on top of that.


Music just kicks ass over other art forms! The only other one that comes close is film, in regard to creating a large emotional connection to people.

I think that seeking a deeper connection to others is a theme that predominates in my music, also striving for spiritual or social consciousness. I also strive to create magic through my music.

I would like to think I write from all the different places I’ve lived: the Southeast, the Northeast, and the West Coast, that my music is a true amalgamation of country, folk, pop rock, jazz, even punk.


Things that piss me off: People who are spiritually lazy; people who are hypocrites; people who think they are better than other people and go out of their way to make others feel bad just so they can feel better about themselves; egomaniacs, dishonest people who bend the rules and the truth so that they can serve themselves.

There is an incredible lack of integrity in most people, I find. Most of all, I really dislike people who project their own character flaws onto other people so that they don't have to look at themselves.

"I like the idea that music is a multi-dimensional medium. You can create soundscapes, much like a landscape in a painting..."
Photo: Karen Moskowitz

What I’d like to see change in the world: That all people would really try to self-examine and look at their own behavior to discover what it is that makes them think and act the way they do. And practice self-restraint and diplomacy.

I really think that we would have no wars if people just could look at themselves objectively and say: “I need to work on myself and make myself a better person every single day and be relentless with myself in terms of my own growth.”


I think performing is more difficult for me, because I am actually a really very shy person. Most of my friends would scoff at this, but it’s true.


“Mary Magdalene”

She always looked a little
Deeper into things
She could find a heaven
In the hell that life can bring

Took a long walk down that
Lonely road to find herself again
Went a little crazy
From the places that she’d been

Well, I don’t know where she’s goin’
But I do know where she’s been...she’s
Comin’ on the scene
Just like Mary Magdalene

She had compassion
She was fearless and bold
A fallen angel
With a heart of gold

She had a faith
That no religion can give
A wisdom far beyond
The years that she’d lived

And I don’t know where she’s goin’
But I do know where she’s been...she’s
Comin’ on the scene
Just like Mary Magdalene

Several people have asked why I chose to write a song about one of the most controversial figures in biblical history.

“Mary Magdalene” is both an autobiographical song about my life, as well as a blend of various biblical mythologies about Mary Magdalene.

I think she is one of the most iconic, provocative, loved, hated, and mysterious women in history. Yet her story has been misinterpreted through the centuries, so I felt it was time to help redefine her story in a more positive light.

“Northern Light”

I come from inside a mountain
A mountain made of stone
From a river full of blood
With the truth the world has known…

What would you say
If this world was at an end
What would you do
If these hurts we could not mend

Where would you go
At the end of it all?

I’d wanna be with you
In the northern light...

An early morning song. I woke up hearing the chords progression in my head and stumbled naked to the piano (freezing) and got the basic song form down on tape.

It came out very quickly, and I was inspired by the fact that the song has a dimensional space in it that is very large and vast, like looking out a huge expanse of mountain and sky.

I like the idea that music is a multi-dimensional medium. You can create soundscapes, much like a landscape in a painting, and people can feel or visualize what you are seeing in your own mind.

This song comes from many strange places, some personal and others ethereal. I could feel a vaguely Canadian type of energy around its creation, also the Iraqi desert and the center of the war activity played a role in this song, too.

Maybe the northern lights are actually a dimensional doorway and when we see the lights maybe we are actually seeing a glimpse of what is on the other side of that doorway. I’d like to console myself that if we continue down our warmongering path, maybe I will move to Canada. Or another dimension.

“Take Me There”

There’s a place in greyspace
Where my soul was made
And when my time comes
May I be safely laid there

I was just playing around on my guitar not attempting to write anything, when the verse popped out and I really liked it...then the lyrics came out and after staring bewilderedly at them for a minute, I began to understand and remember what they were about.

I once had this amazing acupuncture treatment where when the needles were left in for a while, whereupon I went to a very strange grey space that I could see in my mind’s eye.

There was nothing there and there was everything there. I knew nothing and yet I knew everything; all the secrets and knowledge of understanding music were revealed to me and I knew that I carried them inside of me, that I had always carried them inside me.

I cried when I came out of the treatment and asked: “How did I forget?” My acupuncturist said: “You didn’t forget. You still have all that knowledge inside you. You just need to re-learn it again.”

Really, that's part of what this song is about. But it’s also about the awakening of passion in oneself, and going back to the place of your original nature; where you are just you, and where wholeness exists.

“Sweet Hereafter”

I get through each day
But these scars will never fade
It’s been years since you left
This crazy world, my love
And all of my heavens have
Crumbled to dust

I saw the words “sweet hereafter,” rolled the words around on my tongue a few times and liked the way they sounded. I thought “there’s a song in those words.”

Then, a month or so later, I awoke at 5am to music in my head. I stumbled naked to the piano and, in the dark, recorded what I heard in my head.

As I wrote the song, I began imagining a morbid fantasy about what my life would be like if I lost someone I loved who was very dear to me.

I cried a great deal while writing the song; while tracking it in the studio, I cried a lot, too. Imagination can make you crazy. Or maybe you’re just feeling what others around you are feeling, and it just comes through you and you are just this vessel for it.

“Change The World”

There’s no one else
Has all the magic that you have inside
Or knows the way
To share the gift that only you provide
If you wanna change the world
Then you gotta change yourself

And though you may feel
That everything you do is small
You can’t deny the ripple
That you send through it all

I first heard the melody and lyrics for the chorus of this song while I was driving in my car. Often, song ideas come to me when I am traveling or in a moving vehicle -- sometimes traveling helps your mind hitch a ride on to the universal highway.

I think that the song has a few meanings for me. One is that I have changed myself so many times in my life that I know it’s possible to do things like that. I’m not talking about little changes, but about big 360-degree turnarounds.

Also, I know what it is to feel very small and insignificant (which is most of the time), and then to run into someone I met like eight years ago who tells me they chose to walk down a particular path in their life because of a conversation we had, instead of taking another path.


Reads: Re-reading “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

Downtime: Painting, hanging out with my friends, political and social activist work, running, walking, swimming, hangin’ with my honey.

The biggest myth about being a creative: That we live these incredibly romantic lives on the road, that the road is romantic. In truth, traveling in the U.S. can be an endless chain of hotels, stripmalls and Walmarts. The performances are fun, varied and exciting, but the traveling hardly varies from city to city in regards to what you see, visually.

If I wasn’t a singer/composer, I would definitely be: A trapeze artist!

Shown/header image: Magdalen Hsu-Li; Photo: Karen Moskowitz

Bio: Growing up in rural backwater Virginia, singer-songwriter and painter Magdalen Hsu-Li began playing classical piano at age eight, and started writing music at an early age.

Says Hsu-Li, "You just couldn't stop the songs from coming. I was also painting, and at the time it seemed (to everyone) that was my stronger gift. But music was always the way for me to get in touch with the deepest parts of my emotional myself and confront my inner fears."

Early on, Hsu-Li focused intensely on painting, graduating with a degree in fine art from Rhode Island School of Design, and set her sights toward an art career in New York City.

Soon after graduating, she had a vivid dream that abruptly changed the direction of her life. "I dreamt I was a musician living in Seattle, and I felt utterly compelled to follow its message." She followed her instincts and moved to Seattle to study voice and classical and jazz piano at Cornish College of the Arts.

Hsu-Li writes songs that visually portray what she sees with her painter's eye, addressing universal themes about love, loss, and relationships; identity, spirituality, and the search for consciousness. "I write completely from the heart," she says. "But I also write from the places I'm from (the Southeast, Northeast, and West Coast), and from my heritage."

Hsu-Li has sold over 8,000 records through her own independent label and formed a dedicated grassroots following through constant touring.

Her previous release, "Fire," was named one of the Best Top 12 DIY albums of 2002 by "Performing Songwriter." Hsu-Li holds a BFA in Painting from Rhode Island School of Design and has been awarded the Oxbow Fellowship, Talbot Rantoul Scholarship and Florence Leif Scholarship for Excellence In Painting.

Read additional music content, in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."


Shinichi Momo Koga, artistic director, inkBoat

What most inspires me to create new works: Dissatisfaction. If I'm just happy about something, I'll usually just dance in that moment.

But what gets me into a studio to spend time and life laboring over? Something is broken and I want to spend the time understanding broken. How to turn broken into beautiful. Like a junk collector, finding the beauty in what people have thrown away, making something new of it.

If I go into nature, that is inspiring to me, it elevates me and gives me the strength to continue with the life struggle, but I do not put the woods on the stage. The woods make better woods than I can. No competition there.


The meaning of "Ame to Ame" is "Candy and Rain." The title came first, like brainstorming on the seed that will create the work. The seed came first.

It's a play on words, in that the same sound (in the Japanese language), depending on the Kanji, will have a different meaning. So, the title is connected with desire and pain, two of our great engines for moving in this life.

But what is candy and what is rain?

Shown above: "Ame to Ame"
Photo: Beth Martin

If you take the rain as tears and the candy as the thing of desire, then a small circle is created. We want, can't have, then we cry.

While we cry, we cement our desire for the thing and then the spiral goes on and on down to some lower depth we don't even want to talk about.

But there's always singing in the rain.

I read things in my own way, but I expect that the audience, coming with filters different from mine, will see it differently.


Butoh is hard to explain. But the Japanese cultural references, the line between the grotesque and the beautiful -- these are certainly part of my vocabulary.

I take what is necessary for the moment. Well, sometimes I fall on habit. But I try to keep the form alive by constantly re-working it.

Shown above: "On the Boards"
Photo: Eric Koziol

Some people or companies are "classics" in the Butoh world. They have found their way and they keep working it.

Me, I keep getting lost and getting interested in cobblestones (or substitute any small detail which might come across the way of walking).

That's just how I am. For good or ill, I keep my hands in many pies.


Most unexpected is how I am going to talk about a work when you put me on the spot. Maybe I'll talk about how the breakfast I ate changed the dance that day, or maybe about a passage from a book I read that keeps resurfacing in my mind. Or process. In the work itself, the surprise is going to really depend on each person.

Completing a work can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 10 years, depending on numerous conditions.

On average, a work that will show in the theatre will take between two to three months to be realized. I've created entire shows within a few days, but these are usually some kind of experiment.

If I stare at the ceiling long enough, something is bound to creep into my brain.


I typically take from childhood events when I'm conceptualizing. But when the moments are coming, it could be anything, from how I drink my orange juice to waiting at the bus stop.

Real life usually has a stronger punch. But there are always exceptions.

The most [powerful] thing anyone ever has said to me was: "I love you."

Many small flashes went across my brain, small revelations others have shared with me, but none of them can hit me like that most overused phrase, spoken by the right person at the right time.


Some of the themes that occur over and over in my work: Going back to childhood dreams, life emerging from death, looking for love, and strange crawling insects.


This is my constant. I've been working with different disciplines since the first day of thinking "I am an artist." They all feed me incredibly well and I'm growing fatter and fatter from the experience.


Like love, death and taxes, [dance is necessary]. Can't actually eliminate it.

So, we’re talking about what gets put up on stage? I've never been to Spain, but of course I hear the stories about how the dance is a major part of existence... more, anyway, than in the USA.

But people go dancing in clubs for what? Are they trying to express something?

Usually, they just want to remember that they are alive and have a good time. Or they're on the make. Then we come back to that whole desire and tears spiral.

Shown above: "Black Map"
Photo: Beth Martin

The most important thing a creative person needs, apart from funding or daily necessities: A life. If a "creative" only has some techniques, then it's totally boring.

What life experience has come to someone, and how is that digested and coming out again?


The hardest was the solo, "Tasting an Ocean." Just being by myself, making a solo, was more difficult than assembling a dozen people for a show. I had no mirror. It was totally disturbing. The only things that ever come easy are improvisations.


On what’s more most important: technical proficiency or emotional resonance: Emotional resonance. The rest is just architecture.

Shown above: "Ame to Ame"
Photo: Beth Martin

On whether dance/body movement is a language:
Ever been punched? Ever been kissed? More direct than words, I'd say.


Both. A more finely-tuned dancer or choreographer is created through discipline.


Something that genuinely puzzles me: Good question. Yes, plenty, but I can't come to one single thing at the moment. I mean, life puzzles me.

Nothing frustrates me like myself. The world could be hell outside, but in the end, how do I deal with it? When I come short of my own self-expectation, then bingo: frustration.

On whether writer’s block exists: Absolutely. Go back to "frustration."


In music, I’m most influenced these days by traditional musicians -- really old style shamisen or shakuhachi or tabla or and or and or...

And then there are people I work with, like "Sleepytime Gorilla Museum" or "Faun Fables" or Sheila or Carla or Nils doing independent stuff. And I've never disliked a Tom Waits record.

Shown above:"Onion"

Recently I've been reading things like Anne Carson or Murakami or Gurjieff. But there's so much good stuff out there, it's hard to say who’s my favorite.

I saw the film "The Cost of Living" by DV8 recently. I was totally jealous. It was great.


The most interesting stranger I’ve ever met: Mase Shooichi. I met then spent some days with him in Kyoto, forming what seemed like a strong friendship.

Then one day he cut all ties and disappeared. Now a stranger again. Hopefully to meet again. He inspired me to make “Black Map” (to be performed in SF in May; a 30-minute version, anyway).


Reads: Just finished "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Murakami and just opened "A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters" by Julian Barnes.

Discs: Right this second, I'm listening to the song "Viel Glück Im Privatleben!" by Zak May and Shiva. Russians living in Berlin.

Downtime: Photography. Playing shakuhachi (badly).

On the biggest myth about being a creative: The biggest myth is "How wonderful it is that you get to express yourself!"

If I wasn’t a dancer/choreographer, I would definitely be: "Farmer" is next on my list. Been a photographer, cook, multimedia producer (or slave may be a better term) and coffee maker.

What I wish someone had told me when I first started out: Get real.

Favorite quote: "Am I shoveling sand to live, or living to shovel sand?" by Kobo Abe. So, what's the point of our struggles, anyway?

Interesting fact that nobody knows about me yet: Interesting? What would someone be interested in, exactly? The more hidden, the more interesting. Best is whatever I've kept hidden from myself. Hmmm, have to get back to you on that...

Life is:
Life is life is life is life is life.

Artist bio: Shinichi Momo Koga (Artistic Director/Performer, inkBoat). Originally a photographer, filmmaker and theater actor and director, Koga became primarily known as a Butoh dancer after 1991 when he began dancing under Hiroko and Koichi Tamano (primary dancers in Tatsumi Hijikata’s company). In 1994, he created the group Uro Teatr Koku with Alenka Mullin Koga. This group became inkBoat in 1998.

Koga's productions, both solo and ensemble, have been experienced since 1988 throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan.

Restructuring dance, theater and cinema forms, he extracts the vital essence of each to create a sharper reality. As a teacher, performer, and director, Koga inhabits the shadow self and swims the collision between modern life and primal being. He challenges himself and others to attain balances between chaos and serenity, to be a raging storm in blue skies and a breath of calm in the midst of turbulence.

Koga collaborates consistently with diverse performance artists such as Yumiko Yoshioka and TEN PEN CHii (Germany: 1996-2001), Do Theatre (Russia: 1997-present), Shadowlight Theatre (USA: 1993-1997) and the group adapt in Berlin (co-founded by Koga in 2001) with Minako Seki, Sten Rudstøm, Yuko Kaseki and Yael Karavan).

Upcoming tour dates: "Ame to Ame" at Dock 11, Berlin (Kastanienallee 79, Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg, Tel: 030-448-12-22) on March 10 - 13, 15 – 19, and "Black Map" at Dance Mission on May 26, 28, 29 as part of the SF International Arts Festival.

Visit official site: inkBoat

Read interviews with other creative artists, in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."

The Agent series
Featured columnist: Jenny Bent
“First Year Out: On the Shelves”

Getting published for the first times is at turns exhilarating, frightening, exciting, nerve-wracking, and sometimes extremely disappointing.

Remember the old saying, "be careful what you wish for?" Having your book published offers much potential for happiness, but also carries the possibility of a fair amount of disappointment.

There can be nothing so exciting for a writer as holding your finished book in your hands for the first time. And while there is no way to comprehend the experience of being published before the actual event, it can helpful to know a little bit about what you're getting into as soon as you get that momentous call from your agent: "We have an offer!"

The following questions and answers are my attempt to prepare you for the joys and the sorrows of being published.

Hopefully, forewarned will become forearmed, and you'll be able to better enjoy the experience if you're prepared for some of the potential pitfalls. Reasonable expectations are the key to being happily published for the first time.

Q: I went to my neighborhood bookstore today and they didn't have my book. Isn't that the publisher's fault?

A: Remember that the publisher ultimately has no control over who does or does not choose to stock your book.

Their sales rep has pitched your book, but if the store chooses not to order it, there isn't really anything they can do.

If you find a store that doesn't carry your book, don't call your editor. Instead, ask to meet the store's manager.

Tell him or her that you are a local author and show him a copy of your book or a flyer that you have made up with reviews, etc.

Ask him or her politely to consider carrying it. Then, if you want to be really cunning, have one or two of your friends go in the next day and ask for it. Chances are, they will reconsider their decision.

Also, keep in mind that the publisher doesn't control how many copies of your book a bookstore will order.

If you see only one or two of your books on the shelf, keep in mind that this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's far better to have the bookstore sell out and re-order more books, than to have too many and have to send them back.

No matter how many books the store is carrying, remember to offer to sign stock. Hopefully, this will get you more prominent placement in the store, if you don't have it already.

Q: Why hasn't the publisher released a paperback edition of my book?

A: It means that either they tried to sell paperback rights to another house and no one wanted to buy them, or that hardcover sales have been too low to justify the publisher printing their own paperback edition.

Another possible reason is that sometimes if a hardcover book is selling phenomenally well, the publisher waits longer than is traditional (usually about a year) to release the paperback.

The idea is if readers are still willing to pay $23.95 for your book, why give them the opportunity to get it at a much lower price?

Bio: Jenny Bent has ten years of experience working in the publishing industry. She is currently a literary agent with the firm of Trident Media Group, LLC in New York City. Prior to becoming an agent, she worked at "Rolling Stone." She was also an editor at Cader Books, where she was responsible for books on pop culture.

NB: Lit agent Jenny Bent is providing this information as a courtesy to readers. She is not accepting new work. Unsolicited materials will not be read or returned.

About this series: The Agent is an ongoing series of columns or Q/A sessions with literary agents, providing practical advice for writers.

Find additional books/writers content, in the FEB/MAR 2005 issue of "Arte Six."


“Foreign Affair”
Through March 27th

“When I consider...the small space I occupy, which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here, rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there; now, rather than then. Who put me here?”
- Pascal, “Pensées”

What motivates us to leave home is as diverse as what we encounter along the journey, but dreams of far away lands can often begin with a photograph. The relationship between photography and travel goes as far back as their inceptions.

Expeditions to visually record the far corners of the earth were planned as soon as the development of photography was announced.

Photographers such as Francis Frith, William Henry Jackson, and Timothy H. O’Sullivan (who had a darkroom on a boat) showed us the earliest ‘real’ images of the then unseen and undiscovered wonders of the world.

Soon followed two firsts which simultaneously opened the world to us further. In the 1880s, while George Eastman invented roll film and the box camera, the combustion engine was ignited, rendering photography and global travel accessible to middle class and working class families.

Seeing and portraying the world firsthand was no longer reserved for the privileged elite. Tourists were photographing the great pyramids as early as 1890.

Today, photographs continue to fuel the tourism industry, but photography and travel have the ability to lead us far beyond glossy brochures.

Departing from the tourist snapshot used to evidence “being there” or to consume place, the artists assembled in “Foreign Affair” focus the camera on the experience of the foreign, exploring our multifaceted relationships to travel, exploration, and dislocation.

From expectations of the new to the confrontation of realities, from the rapture of release in a new environment to the anxiety of estrangement, the work presents a dialogue about transience, elation, loss, and discovery in a world where boundaries are ever shifting.

Shown above: "Girl in the Bus" (1996)
Traveller series I
Courtesy: White Cube
Tom Hunter

Many travel seeking beauty with the innocence and optimism that there is a better place beyond the one they call home, where a release from the rhythms of our daily routine will allow our problems to melt away.

One glance at that photograph of a swaying palm tree on a beach is all one may need to get packing, but rarely do our actual experiences meet the expectations which a carefully composed, distilled photograph can inspire.

Scott Whittle’s colorful images of sightseers in unfamiliar landscapes mine the gap between our fantasy of exotic travel and its less-than-ideal reality.

We see the sites but also the obligatory omni-present vacationers who have become part of the view.

What is refreshing about Whittle’s images is that in fully encompassing the tourist into their temporal destinies, we move beyond the package tourist mentality and see people interacting with the sublime landscapes that envelop them.

How do we process and understand a new place where the fixed boundaries of the familiar collapse? Language, food, colors, and sounds become unknown fragments overwhelming the senses, while our mind valiantly attempts to create cohesive connections.

Shown above: Untitled, "Travel Diaries" (2001-2002)
Chromogenic, B/W prints
Fred Cray
Courtesy: Janet Borden, Inc.

Fred Cray’s dense travel diary montages evoke a virtual experience of the dizzying layers that can disorient the traveler upon arrival in a new place.

With no memories or previous landmarks, one may find this exhilarating, terrifying, or both.

Shown above: "Red" (2002)
Mixed media (photograph with embedded stitches, top, yellow thread, red silk)
Priya Kambli

In contrast to the dislocating feeling of estrangement in Cray's work, Priya Kambli’s “Suitcase” series inverts displacement by carrying the idea of home abroad.

Inspired by the experience of cramming her belongings into one suitcase when she emigrated to the U.S. from India in 1993, Kambli’s suitcases remind us of the self we carry within no matter the geographic location and the memories we allow to escort us as loyal companions through transformation.

Brent Phelp’s sweeping landscapes paired with original writings from Lewis and Clark’s journal literally carries the viewer on a fascinating historical voyage, to a time when the world was still “new” and yet to be explored.

In this remake, the images inform our understanding of history and move us into the mindset of explorers seeing these sights for the first time.

Walter Martin and Paloma Muñoz’s collaborative images of snowglobes containing figures in transit. In this series of photographs, Martin and Muñoz subvert the cheerful conventions of the snowglobe with dark ruminations.

The typical snowglobe winter wonderlands are supplanted by desolate and sometimes sinister snowscapes. Forests of dead trees are traversed by solitary figures laden with suitcases.

Shown above: "Traveler XXXIII" (2003)
C-print on plexiglass
Paloma Muñoz, Walter Martin
Courtesy P.P.O.W., NYC.

The characters seem dressed for a more civilized sort of commute, their business attire ill suited for wading through deep snow and biting cold. It seems as if they were collectively caught off guard by some series of events and forced from their familiar habitat into a harsh and premature exile.

Ultimately it is left to the viewer to speculate about possible narratives. These scenes encased in glass and water each represent an attempt to in some way encapsulate, isolate, and illuminate a certain form of human dread associated with the unexpected and the obvious but often ignored inevitabilities of mortality.

In a sense, the figures in the globes become stand-ins for us; their nomadic isolation a metaphor for our own sense of unknown origins and unknowable destinations.

Departing from the idea of the destination altogether, the artists have framed the journey itself: solitary commuters, wanderers, and the lost attempt to find their way amidst the anxious territory of the unknown and the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

Shown above: "Detail 3," from "The Navigation Project" (1996-2005)
Archival inkjet print
20x20 inches
Vicki Ragan

In Vicki Ragan's "The Navigation Project," the artist explores travel, the study of space, and the methods man uses to find his way, both physically and spiritually.

Shown above: "Woman Reading a Possession Order" (1997)
Life and Death in Hackney series
Courtesy: White Cube
Tom Hunter

Tom Hunter’s "Traveller" series was created over a two-year jaunt through Europe in a double-decker bus. His detailed portraits of the domestic environments of a contemporary nomadic group express his concern with the political issues surrounding the rights of squatters, ravers, travellers and other people and communities viewed as outsiders.

Not rooted by the geographical and cultural conventions of traditional community, these modern-day gypsies are viewed as ‘others’ based on their lifestyle choices and priorities that keep them on the move.

In comparison, Soon-Mi Yoo’s video, “Isahn,” brings to light the extreme challenges faced by people and cultures forced into exile due to political unrest and conflict.

Exploring issues of loss and alienation, Yoo recreates the experience of displaced North Koreans looking through tourist stereoscopes near the North/South Korean borders as they view images of a country they can no longer return home to.

Crossing borders to make a new beginning, they must negotiate a conflicting state of non-belonging and learn to assimilate the new and simultaneously preserve their uprooted culture while coping with the pain of separation.

Finally, what has often propelled us forward into uncharted terrain is the quest for knowledge and the idea that enlightenment could be within our reach. Vicki Ragan’s iconic imagery of astronomical charts, moonscapes, and explorers awakens longing, wanderlust, and the elation of discovery.

A transient position affords us a unique perspective and can expand our understanding of how we know the world. The artists in “Foreign Affair” reveal that photography and travel share the ability to shift the frontiers of perception, empowering us to see beyond the confines of the world as we know it.

“Should the chosen guide be nothing more
than a wandering cloud, I cannot lose my way.”

– Wordsworth

(Via exhibit curator Kate Menconeri, 2005)

Stories: Artist commentaries on the works in “Foreign Affair”

“Isahn”/Soon-Mi Yoon: In October 5, 2001, I heard TV news that Mr. Chung, an 82-year-old man originally from North Korea, killed himself after failing to get into the lottery to take part in the family reunion and meet with his family in North Korea.

The split screen in “Isahn” is from the stereoscopes at Imjingak, which is located 30 kilometers from Seoul and borders North Korea.

Tourists and displaced North Koreans can go and drop a few coins in the stereoscopes to look at the government sanctioned photographs of North Korea.

The images from the stereoscopes are mixed with contemporary footage (shot in 1999) of Burmese refugee camps around Mae Sot, Thailand, in which inhabitants are forced to relocate to yet another anonymous site.

For those who are not allowed to go back home, the sights of exile are just ersatz landscapes. Sometimes they may offer consolation. Often times they work as hindrance. Many would say, “When I close my eyes, I can still see my hometown so vividly”.

“Travel Diaries”/Fred Cray: This work is about literal and metaphorical travel, simultaneity and the accumulation of meanings. Controlled chance is an element in gathering the images, but in this series I use a much higher percent of what I photographed than in any other work I do.

The work reflects the difficulty of thinking and of accumulating thoughts to form a coherent whole. Most of all, the work is about looking and seeing in a visually loaded world.

“Red”/Priya Kambli: My work has constantly dealt with issues of journey and memory. I integrate traditional photography with digital media as well as elements of mixed media and installation.

In an essay of [my] work, one critic notes that "The particulars of (these pieces) are all simply props on a stage where our own memories must take on the role of actors. We are asked to imagine first the millions who set forth in this world leaving their homes and their families or bearing them with them. But we are moved by stages to consider our own losses, the bridges we have crossed, and the ones we burned behind us as we went."

When I moved to America in 1993, I crammed 18 years of my life into one suitcase. It weighed approximately 45 kg. It wasn't until recently that I started thinking about the objects I chose to bring and their selection process.

The objects were chosen for their magnetic ability of attracting and repelling memories.

The status of these chosen objects increased substantially to the level of sacred relics for having being touched or given by a loved one, etc. These souvenirs contain within them the ability to vividly conjure memories of the past.

Distilling ones life to fit the finite parameters of a suitcase meant editing -- the inevitability of certain memories being discarded while others attain a new significance.

It further implied simplification of ones past, untangling the chaotic web so that a clear succinct pattern emerged.

In the “Suitcases” series, I am interested in juxtaposing snippets of information that interact with each other to convey an open ended narration.

The essence of the “Suitcases” series is the dialogue created by pairing of fragments. The items contained within the suitcases are sticky with associations and often pertain to travel. Each suitcase deals with a separate theme and corresponds to a specific hue.

Color is the origin of each piece, giving each suitcase its individual personality and focus by dictating the objects it contains and their relationships. Even though the suitcases are self-contained and conceived to function independently, they all share many physical and conceptual characteristics.

"Traveller" series/Tom Hunter: The series was taken over a two-year period, in which time I was living and traveling in a double decker bus I had bought with a friend. We traveled in Europe from Portugal to the Czech Republic.

At this time, there was an underground techno sound system movement traveling in Europe putting on free parties and festivals. The underground dance culture, which started in the UK in the late eighties, following on from the US house music scene, became threatening to the British establishment, as nearly all the music events raves were held outside the established club culture.

Finally, the British government decided to outlaw such events, however small, and the lifestyles of groups of squatters and travelers. Once the law came into effect in 1994, large groups of travellers moved to Europe to continue their lifestyle and promote their culture.

The pictures I took during this period are of my friends and fellow travelers, in different parts of Europe as they traveled between festivals and raves.

The spaces are their homes, vehicles recycled into new traveling homes, old lorries, buses, and coaches. They were meant to be an antidote to the very negative images that were being published by the press, which were nearly always in black and white and very grainy, making the subjects into victims of society or criminals and other than the viewer.

My pictures are very colorful and try to show the humanity and the dignity of the subjects. By working with a large format camera and tripod, my subjects become collaborators in the artistic process. They had a say in the way they were viewed by the outside world, hopefully changing the way they are perceived in society.

"The Navigation Project"/Vicki Ragan: These images are photo collages assembled from maps, charts, NASA images, details of historic aircraft, and silhouettes of human figures.

Travel, the study of space, and the methods man uses to find his way, both physically and spiritually, are among the themes explored.

Although the images in this exhibition are printed digitally, they were created the old-fashioned way, with a pair of scissors. The figures were cut out of bits of map, placed on another image, and re-photographed. Each final image is derived from a single black-and-white negative.

Shown/header image: Detail, “Isahn” (2004)
Single channel video DVD
Soon-Mi Yoon

Find it: The Center for Photography at Woodstock
59 Tinker Street
Woodstock, NY 12498
Get info: (845) 679-9957

Find art events in other cities, in the FEB/MAR 2005 of "Arte Six."