Monday, September 3, 2018

Prix Aurora Interview #6: Calvin D. Jim

 My guest today is Calvin D. Jim, nominated in the Best Short Fiction category for the 2018 Prix Aurora Award.

Calvin is a Calgary lawyer-turned-author whose Asian-inspired stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and publications.
A self-proclaimed geek, he managed to wrangle his wife and two sons into board games and Karate (not necessarily in that order, and not without injury). His latest stories can be found in the anthologies Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy and Enigma Front: Onward.

How long have you been writing SFF, and what forms have you explored besides the one you’re nominated for?

Thirteen years. That’s how old my eldest son is, and also how long I’ve been writing seriously. Before that, I took a long and winding route to get there. I started where a lot of geeky kids started in the 1970s: role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. I game-mastered a lot, which meant I made up stories, scenarios, and characters and hoped my players would enjoy them. Many long years and a half-dozen career changes later, I decided writing was what I wanted to do. By then, I had a family and responsibilities and couldn’t just toss them aside in favour of “this writing thing.” So its been a slow climb since then, but a satisfying one, one that I am glad to have my family beside me for the journey. They keep me grounded.

Is this your first nomination? If not, what other title/category have you been nominated for (past or present)?

 I was previously nominated in 2012 for Best Related Work as co-editor for Shanghai Steam, the steampunk-wuxia (martial arts) anthology.

Tell me about your process of creating this work: how long did it take to write? Speed bumps along the way?

This story had a long journey of a thousand li.* It began unexpectedly with the passing of my Aunt Mae in Vancouver. I spent a lot of time with her and my extended family when I was young. So when she passed, I knew immediately that I wanted to attend her funeral. A week after her passing, I had heard nothing about funeral plans. A week or two later, I heard that there would be no funeral. My uncle took her death very hard. I heard he kept her ashes on a dresser in his (their) bedroom. That image stuck in my head.  

Several months later, I was in the middle of revisions on my first novel and having a tough time with it when another story idea occurred to me. I read about Japantown in Vancouver – an area my mother grew up in. I was fascinated with the area and wondered what kind of story I could set in it. A couple of ideas popped in my head and I threw the novel revisions aside and banged out a first draft. Rose as a character came to me almost fully formed. Her father took time and morphed from an uncaring father to one still dealing with the death of his wife. Sound familiar? I unconsciously dealt with my aunt’s passing and this story was the result.

Of course, the plot didn’t come fully formed. The basic concept was there, but the scenes took time and a few re-writes – especially the later scenes. I think I even sent it out once and they returned it with comments that said what I already knew – the first half was great, the second half, not so much. I am so happy I took the time to sharpen it into the tale that got accepted by Laksa Media. Best place it could have ended up.
But even if the story took time to form, its emotional heart remained throughout. It was me saying goodbye. I am sure my aunt would be have been happy with the result.

 * a li is a Chinese length measurement now standardized at a half-kilometer (500 meters or 1,640 feet)

What’s your favourite thing about this nominated work: a character, a scene, a setting/world?

As you might guess, my favourite thing about Rose’s Arm is Japantown. My mother was born in 1929 in Vancouver and lived in Japantown until the internment in 1942. She received a few books about Japantown and the internment which I borrowed to read. That spurred on some internet research and some conversations with my mother about her early life. Inevitably, I would write something set there and am doing so again. Incidentally, my mother lived behind the family grocery store, Hori-zen (named after her father, Zenya Hori). I included it as an Easter Egg.

Name a couple of authors you find inspiring, and tell me what calls to you about their works.

As a fantasy writer, J.R.R. Tolkien inspires me because of the expansive world building he did for Middle Earth. I can only be so lucky to build a world as detailed and awe-inspiring as his. Haruki Murakami inspires me because of his ability to say so much with so little. His stories remind me a bit of Hemingway - sparse in prose, deep in meaning and imagery. But for me, Lian Hearn’s two book series, The Tales of the Otori and the Tale of Shikonoko, is what I aspire to as a writer. Her stories about mythical Japan are written in English and the only Japanese words she uses are names. She evokes Japan through exacting prose. It‘s like reading poetry.

The differences and similarities between Asian and North American SFF are too vast a topic for this interview but perhaps mention the main ones you try to address in your work?

As a cross-cultural writer (China and Japan are in my blood, but I am thoroughly Canadian), I look at identity and the commonalities between ethnicities. We all love, we all get angry, we all grieve. The cultural specifics might be different, and the thought processes and philosophies between east and west are very different, but the human experience is the same. How we deal with life and death is the most human question of all, no matter what culture you come from.

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