Remembering Japan: 1945 – 1946: Chapter Three

From October 1945 to June 1946 my father, a Navy signalman, was stationed in Japan  at Toriga-saki by the town of Kamoi, at the entrance to Tokyo Bay. He was then nineteen years old, a young Danish-American man from rural Oregon. The experience made a profound impression on him and he spoke of it often.


In Chapter Three, he describes the village of Kamoi next to the Harbor Entrance Control Post.

Chapter Three: Kamoi


Chapter Two: Harbor Entrance Control Post Toriga Saki, Tokyo Bay

Chapter One: The Sea Devil to Japan.

Introduction can be read here.


Remembering Japan 1945 – 1946: Chapter Two

From October 1945 to June 1946 my father, a Navy signalman, was stationed in Japan  at Toriga-saki by the town of Kamoi, at the entrance to Tokyo Bay. He was then nineteen years old, a young Danish-American man from rural Oregon. The experience made a profound impression on him and he spoke of it often.


In Chapter Two: Harbor Entrance Control Post Toriga Saki, Tokyo Bay, he arrives at and describes the signal station where he spent nine months. It includes Dad’s famous story about how he and the signal crew there proved they were the best signalmen in the Navy.




Chapter Two: Harbor Entrance Control Post Toriga Saki, Tokyo Bay

Chapter One: The Sea Devil to Japan.

Introduction can be read here.


Enthusiasm Thursday: SHADOWBOXER by Tricia Sullivan

“But some days when I get this weather inside me it seems no matter how I want to be good, sooner or later I’m going to let off on somebody.”

Shadowboxer is the story of Jade Barrera, a seventeen year old mixed martial artist with anger issues who wants to fight professionally. Her story intersects that of a Burmese girl, Mya, in Thailand who has the ability to walk from our world into a deeper world that lies alongside and intertwined with ours. I’m not going to try to encapsulate the plot (although it includes drug smuggling and child slavery as well as the world of Mixed Martial Arts) but rather discuss some elements that really stood out for me.

This is a novel that excels at voice. Sullivan’s writing shines. She deftly switches from Jade’s first person narrative to Mya’s third person narrative in a way that feels completely natural within the text. What I found most impressive is how each voice is entirely distinct; leaving aside the first/third person differentiation, there is no way a reader can mistake Mya’s sensitive and observant point of view for Jade’s fierce personality because the language and the kinds of things each character notices, describes, and remarks on fit each girl’s psychology.

Jade fights her own demons and her tough, uncompromising voice and her mistakes and imperfections and her constant pushing of herself to figure things out and do better just make me love her as a protagonist. Her interactions with other characters are consistently fitting to her blunt and yet genuine manner. Mya’s situation is stark and frightening but her compassion and courage, and her intelligence and ability, keep her moving and striving. The language flows through the narrative in a way that reveals how each point of view character acts and reacts within the world.


The secondary characters also stand out. It’s not a particularly long novel and yet the other characters remain vividly drawn and easy to tell apart. The dialogue is just so good. It has the the rhythm of real exchanges and there is always just the right amount of it to tell the reader what she needs to know. I can read and re-read certain of the dialogue scenes because they’re so well done, so dexterous, so agile as they unfold impressive amounts of information and emotion.

How much do I love how Sullivan depicts serious training and the drive to compete? How much do I love the intense, sweaty, physical fight scenes? There are no training montages here, no smooth moves or easy grasp of competence. Jade trains hard in a way I found tremendously believable. Furthermore Sullivan really knows how to fight and therefore her fight scenes read like they’re actual Mixed Martial Arts bouts taking place rather than as if they are literary fight scenes written with Hollywood-style choreography. I’ve rarely read a book in which the fighting felt as real.

In four fascinating essays Sullivan writes about how martial arts are depicted on screen and in novels, and how she wrote the fight scenes in Shadowboxer. You can find all four linked here, and I highly recommend them.

Meeting Authors at Cons, and other links

I did a Reddit AMA yesterday (you can find the entire text here & there were great questions).


I enjoyed all the questions but I wanted to highlight this exchange.

A reader asked if I was going to be at Worldcon/Sasquan this year and, when I said I was, wrote:

i’m so unbelievably stoked for sasquan. my first con, and a ton of authors who i really respect are going to be there. i’m not sure i’m going to be able to keep my cool.


To which I replied:

Once a newer writer sitting next to me at an autographing said she thought I was being really gracious and patient with the people coming up with books for autographs.

I said, “Are you kidding? I feel like grabbing each one and shrieking, ‘omg thank you for reading my books!!!’ But I keep my cool and don’t.”


There’s a giveaway at Reddit until Wednesday (tonight) evening for THE VERY BEST OF KATE ELLIOTT.

In other news, the CEs (copy edited manuscript) for BLACK WOLVES dropped into my inbox yesterday a month before I expected it. Well. That’s my next week sorted when i was already working gangbusters on the first draft of the second YA novel. Now I feel guilty for complaining although at the time I did get a massive 6 hour stress headache (I’m feeling better now as I went paddling).

Here’s a cool post over at A Dribble of Ink that shows the evolution of Julie Dillon’s art from black and white sketch to color illustration to the cover of THE VERY BEST OF KATE ELLIOTT. I find this kind of process amazingly cool.

I believe an interview with me by Paul Weimer should be up at SF Signal (probably it will post while I’m asleep), so I’ll just link to SFSignal for now.


Writing Is Never A Waste of Time

Recently I got email from someone I know who asked me for advice. The email was longer than the excerpt below but I’ll snip to encapsulate:

“how do you write when you’re faced with the very likely possibility that it’s likely all for nothing unless you trip into some luck somewhere? I have no clue how other writers get past this to create stuff, when I’ve pretty much lived a creative life that said if you don’t have something worthwhile that makes an impact on someone besides you at the end of whatever you do, it’s wasted time.”


First of all, if writing gives you pleasure it is NEVER wasted time. NEVER.

I can pretty much recite the utilitarian argument because we see it so much: if you don’t get paid for it, if no one else thinks it is worth money, if you don’t sell X amount or receive Y number of positive reviews, then “you” don’t count. This view does pervade much of our money and success driven culture, and in the 24/7 social media culture where people can interact all the time and where interaction and sharing becomes part of the process, it can seem that writing is inextricably linked to the idea that it only matters if others want it or pay for it or talk about it in the right way.

I’ll say it again:

If writing gives you pleasure it is NEVER wasted time.

I started writing as a teen. Publishing was so distant from me that I only vaguely dreamed of publishing. I was writing for myself and no one else. I’m old fashioned enough that I tend to think teachers having their students “publish” their books in the classroom is a mistake because it makes people think that only publication makes the writing legitimate. This isn’t helped by the current crop of “hot new young writing star” publicity, as if you aren’t published by 25 then you are therefore already a failure. It isn’t helped by people trying to score points in internet debates by saying Writer X has more Amazon or goodreads reviews and thus must be taken more seriously than Writer Y who only has fewer. It isn’t helped by people trying to create hierarchy by claiming that only award and review notice matters, not “mere” popularity. Taken in terms of the act of writing as writing, those are secondary issues in terms of “legitimacy.”

What makes the writing legitimate is the way it makes you feel inside, the spark of excitement as a scene becomes clear, as vivid words and images emerge that you didn’t expect, as characters surprise you.

It’s weird because before I was published I knew nothing about the science fiction and fantasy scene. I had no interaction with anyone about my writing except my high school English teacher and a couple of university writing teachers. The former was great and hugely influential because he encouraged me both in my love of writing and by recommending classics to read that would bring breadth into my imaginative vista. The latter were basically a waste of time because they universally scorned genre, given this was long before genre became cool and “serious,” and kept telling me I ought to write “real fiction” instead of sff.

After college I tried to sell my first finished novel. It never did sell; it was really very bad, and it is PERFECTLY OKAY that it wasn’t very good because I loved writing it at the time I wrote it. I was totally into it.

Everything we write should make us happy as writers in that the writing of it can fulfill something inside us. Everything we write also makes us better writers (if we pay attention).

After failing to sell that book I wrote three more novels. I got an agent by sending out letters and getting rejections until I found one willing to take me on. I got published. Only then did I learn about sff conventions. I knew nothing about fandom or fanfiction.

Now I see that this ignorance has helped me in specific ways.

I always at root write for myself. When I struggle with my writing it is always because I’m worrying not about the book itself but about reception, about outside things. Again, it was easier in the ancient days to just write in the privacy of my own head, and it’s much harder now that I can anticipate that people will be reading and reacting to the words I’m setting down.

Back then I wrote solely to please myself. I wrote stories I wanted to read.

I would ask writers two questions:

1) Why are you writing? What is your goal?

2) Does the story you are writing right now make you happy in the sense that it gives you pleasure and satisfaction as you see it come into being? Leaving aside ALL OTHER FACTORS, just on your own behalf — does it make you smile creatively? Do you think “Whoo! I did that! Ooo! I could do this other thing here!”

I’m not saying it is easy to block out all the other competing goals and voices and complications, but that

“Oooo! Whoo!”

is for me the central worthwhile thing about writing.

I care about the other stuff too, of course, and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. A lot of my self identity is tied up now with being a publishing writer, and I can’t pretend that publishing, paying my mortgage, reader reaction, reviews, interaction with other writers, reading, and all the elements tied into having a writing career aren’t central to my sense of who I am. It isn’t really possible to Franzen-like block out all the influences that pour down over us, and I don’t want to pretend it is.

But that’s not at root why I started writing and why I continue to write.

I write because, however hard it may be at any given moment, deep in my heart it delights me to writing fiction.

If you can find that place, keep pulling yourself back to that place when you stray, then write the story that you want to tell, and write it for yourself.

The Week Ahead 15 February 2015

Monday: Blog post “Writing is Never a Waste of Time” in answer to a question I received.

Also I announce a Giveaway for THE VERY BEST OF KATE ELLIOTT at Reddit/r/Fantasy

Tuesday: Where Should I Start With Your Novels? (an answer to a oft-asked question)

Also an AMA (Ask Me Anything) at Reddit/r/Fantasy (come ask a question!)

Wednesday: Links to an SF Signal interview (with me) and a post about THE VERY BEST cover art at A Dribble of Ink. Probably also an excerpt from the AMA with a link back to the main thread.

Thursday: Enthusiasm Thursday! SHADOWBOXER, by Tricia Sullivan

Friday: Remembering Japan 1945 – 1946 (my father’s memoirs), Chapter Two.

Remembering Japan 1945-1946: Chapter One: The Sea Devil to Japan

From October 1945 to June 1946 my father, a Navy signalman, was stationed in Japan  at Toriga-saki by the town of Kamoi, at the entrance to Tokyo Bay. He was then nineteen years old, a young Danish-American man from rural Oregon. The experience made a profound impression on him and he spoke of it often.

In Chapter One, The Sea Devil to Japan, he describes the voyage from the USA to Japan.


Our entire crew with a few support positions was sent to man the Harbor Entrance Control Post at the entrance to Tokyo Bay. We were commanded by a mid-western high school principal by the name of Harris. He must have felt right at home since we were all recent high school graduates. Our small group was assigned a hold in a troop ship named the Sea Devil. The troops assigned were all Navy but bits and pieces of various units and replacements. I seem to recall that there were two to three thousand men on the ship.


You can read Chapter One in its entirety here.

The Introduction can be read here.

Eggs, Bees, and Toilets: Jupiter Ascending as WomanSpace


Image result for jupiter ascending



Last year I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy because of its bold visuals, energetic cast, and good pacing. It was not, I thought, an excellent film but I wasn’t bored while watching it, and these days the big ticket spectacle movies that should be my greatest love often bore me (I’m looking at you, Avengers and co) so a film that doesn’t bore me gets a thumbs up.

GotG features the appealing Chris Pratt in the lead role of lovable rogue, together with the well-worn but always popular story of reluctant comrades who turn into friends/family by the end (I’m not being sarcastic; I love this trope). It also features several memorable women characters, although unfortunately with a jolt of random and unnecessary slut-shaming. As is typical in many of these sorts of stories, the women’s roles revolve around or tie directly back into their relationships with men. Star-Lord left behind a newly-dead mother who never told him who his (mysterious) father really is and who left him a legacy of old pop tunes on cassette tapes. Gamora and her sister Nebula are tied together by their complicated relationship with their adoptive father, Thanos; during the course of the film they each ally with a man on opposite sides of a conflict, and it is their relationship to those men that defines them most (within the film universe; I haven’t read the comic).

This is the kind of setting for women I expect in spectacle film-making, alas. I’m usually just happy if there are more than two female characters walking through the ocean of men.

Standard Disclaimer: I like men! Men are great! I even married one!

Compare the opening scenes of Jupiter Ascending.

[If you are totally averse to spoilers do not read on.]

Jupiter’s father is brutally murdered before she is born (all we know of him is that he loves sky-gazing and her mother, and plays Jarvis wonderfully in Agent Carter) and leaves her a legacy of wanting to buy a telescope. She is born in a container on a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean amid a group of women–all women!–seeking to illegally enter the United States, for whom the birth of a girl child is an act of hope during an uncertain journey whose end (we all know) will in most cases involve them working hard to service other people’s needs. We see her first as an adult with the two central figures of her life, her mother and her aunt, and then later with her extended family who are difficult, argumentative, and selfish in the way families can be but who are later (of course) revealed to be supportive and caring in the way families can be.

We see her cleaning the homes of rich people, with her mother and aunt, doing the unsung work that most stories ignore and without which no society can function. Her basic empathy and likability is revealed when one of the rich women she cleans for, who seems oblivious to the gulf between their lives, asks her advice on “which dress to wear” in a conversation which may seem to not pass the Bechdel Test but which (in my opinion) really does. The conversation between Jupiter and Katherine Dunleavy centers on how Katherine must learn to trust and stand up for herself. The man she is to have dinner with that night is inconsequential, merely a vehicle for the discussion.

The veil between Jupiter’s humble life and the world that is coming after her to kill her is revealed when she goes to a fertility clinic to donate eggs (in order to earn money to buy a telescope). Eggs!

In the course of her escape (ably managed by a capable, handsome, and stoically angsty wolf-man) she discovers she is literally a queen bee in one of the coolest (but in retrospect most throwaway and ridiculously inexplicable) bits in the film.

It’s no wonder some people don’t get this film: eggs, bees, living mothers, trust between women, and cleaning toilets (which besides being receptacles for human waste are, of course, bowl-shaped). Even the spaceships are a complex conglomerations of parts rather than sleek pointy rockets. Where the heck have my phallic symbols gone?

Having said that, I take a brief detour to mention that Jupiter Ascending is kind of a hot mess. The visuals are stunning and the plot (despite criticism I’ve heard) is coherent, but the rescue-in-the-nick-of-time sequences feel like repetitive hiccups, several character threads are highlighted only to be discarded without further notice (WTF Sean Bean’s daughter?), and while the action sequences are well choreographed and dynamically filmed they all went on a few beats too long for my taste.

Here’s the thing, though. I feel OBLIGED to acknowledge the film’s imperfections, as if I will lose all credibility if I don’t list out a ream of reasons why we should all criticize its unworthy elements. Yet let me flip that script. It’s all too easy to find reviews of male-written and especially male-centered work that undercuts a mutedly rote recitation of the work’s flaws with a huge BUT WHAT SHINING BRILLIANCE AND GLORY THIS MAN HATH WROT!

So my point is: While I’m happy to acknowledge JA’s imperfections, I didn’t particularly care about them in the face of SPACE LIZARD-DRAGONS, and Bae Doona and David Ajala as competent bounty hunters who trust each other, and Nikki Amuka-Bird as the most bad-ass ship’s captain maybe ever. Plus an elephant pilot.

I didn’t care about imperfections because of the unusual way JA highlighted a woman at the center of a story in which her existence matters within two different family structures.

Now we move into the more spoilery part of the review.

No really. Spoilers.

When Jupiter leaves the mundane world of Earth behind she discovers she is the “recurrence” of the matriarch of an extremely wealthy ruling dynasty. At her death this matriarch left behind three adult children, fabulously played by Tuppence Middleton (the unambitious one who just wants to keep her perks), Douglas Booth (the charming sociopath), and Eddie Redmayne (who ought to be nominated for an Oscar for his magnificently over-the-top performance as The Sensitive One).

As the cleaning of toilets has alerted us, this is a story about those at the height of power, the few who literally consume the substance of the many in order to live longer and better lives. A constant jockeying for wealth and inheritance goes on between the three siblings, and the unexpected appearance of their “recurred” mother throws their usual interactions into disarray. Each in their own particular way try to rid themselves of the mother whose arrival upsets the equilibrium.

In some ways Jupiter (ably acted by an appealing Mila Kunis) can feel passive once she has left Earth behind but while I was sometimes frustrated by the way she let others guide her, I also found realism in the portrayal. She does not kick ass because she is not trained to do so. She has no idea what is going on and does not magically figure it out instantly. She observes, learns, makes the best decisions she can given what knowledge she has (and makes mistakes doing so), and at the last makes the hardest–and in a way the most selfish–decision of all (although in the end the plot gives a victory that negates that choice).

But as much as Jupiter gets rescued one too many times in exactly the same dramatically-constructed way, in her final encounter with Balem (Redmayne) she alone defeats this most dangerous adversary not because she is rescued or because she physically harms him but because she chooses for herself her identity.

When she emphatically tells him, “I am not your mother” she closes the loop and claims a place that is hers alone. She defines who she is in relationship to her own life, not who she is in relationship to someone else’s life.

Think about the radical essence of that for a moment.

I’ve seen at least one snide review that mocks the story’s choice to have her go back to cleaning toilets at the end but that’s exactly the point. She doesn’t go back to cleaning toilets. She goes back to the work that the least among us do, to get her head together, to ground herself in the face of the (ridiculously) astonishing truth about her new status in the world beyond. In no way does she give up on her “spectacular” future, but she is prudently appalled by the economic status quo of that other life because she already knows what it is like to be one of the people whose lives will be used up by others.

She gets romantic love, yes (although note that, within our bee analogy, she and her man have asymmetric status). What she really takes is something far more important: space to understand who she is and who she can become.


THE VERY BEST OF KATE ELLIOTT, my first short fiction collection, officially releases today from Tachyon Publications. This collection includes every piece of short fiction I have ever written (with the exception of two “codas” to the Spiritwalker Trilogy which don’t truly stand alone without knowledge of the trilogy) as well as five essays.

I can therefore safely say that these are the very best of my short fiction because this volume contains ALL my short fiction (so far).



One of the essays and one of the short pieces, “On the Dying Wings of the Old Year, On the Birthing Wings of the New” are original to the collection. The other pieces have been published elsewhere or online. Some (like “The Queen’s Garden”) came out in limited edition anthologies while others are long out of print. Thus many readers will have their first chance to read them here.

While my first novel was published in 1988 (THE LABYRINTH GATE), my first short story wasn’t published until 1994, by which time I had published eight novels. If I include the two Spiritwalker coda stories, I have published fourteen short stories over the course of my career so far, while my twenty second and twenty third novels will appear in 2015 (COURT OF FIVES and BLACK WOLVES).

My “natural length” is the novel. I might go farther and say that my natural length is the trilogy. Regardless, writing short fiction remains a challenge for me because my mind doesn’t really create story in such tight packets. I hope to write more (as I’ve said elsewhere I have six half-written Spiritwalker stories in progress), and perhaps someday there will be a second collection.

For now, I hope you enjoy this one.

I wrote a longer piece, published on Book Smugglers, about publishing this collection called “The Courage To Say Yes.”


NOTE: As of writing this, Amazon does not list the ebook version on its site. However it is available. Until Amazon gets the ebook version up, you can find the ebook for purchase on Tachyon’s website.


Meanwhile, here are a few of the reviews that have so far appeared:


Publishers Weekly (starred review)

This collection serves beautifully both as an introduction to Elliott and as a treat for fans who want more of her marvels.”

Snowflakes and Spider Silk

“I highly recommend this book for people who enjoy fantasy and science fiction, but also people who want to expand their social consciousness. This is an excellent, enjoyable, thought-provoking book.”

A Fantastical Librarian

If it isn’t obvious from this review, I really enjoyed The Very Best of Kate Elliott. It shows off Kate Elliott’s strengths and the themes she’s been writing about for the past twenty years. In my opinion though, this collection should come with a warning, because it is like a gateway drug. I knew I loved Elliott’s writing from the Crown of Stars series, but now I want to read ALL. OF. HER. BOOKS.”

The Book Smugglers

“The framing of The Very Best of Kate Elliott is clear: feminist stories featuring a diverse group of female characters presented in a variety of roles and journeys. The most obvious extrapolation here for me given my personal interests is how topical and important this collection is as it fits into an ongoing conversation about places for women – as writers, readers and characters – in SFF. The fact that I absolutely loved every single story and every single essay is just the cherry on top of Mount Awesome.”