Sunday, June 12, 2011

World Communities

Returning to consciousness always felt like death to Miki.  Bewilderment as the dream-people ebbed away (never faces, only hands that hurt her), light crept in, and she became aware. Always a stack of cardboard, enough to crush into vague comfort, the asphalt beneath unyielding.

Those are the opening sentences of "Miki's 19th Birthday," from SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN.  They were written by Stefan Hammond, who co-authored the first-ever book in English about the astonishing world of Hong Kong movies.  Stefan wrote his story in Hong Kong, where he lives.

I first encountered [Basho's] The Narrow Road to the Deep North in a box of books I bought for a fiver at a "bomb damage" sale in Smithfield Market, Belfast.  The black Penguin cover was singed and the final pages of the book were missing.

Adrian McKinty wrote those words in Australia, where he now lives with his family.  I've never laid eyes on Adrian and I haven't seen Stefan in years, but both of those stories -- Stefan's and Adrian's "Matsushima Bay" -- found their way into SHAKEN.

In every way, SHAKEN -- a Kindle e-book designed to raise money for Japan disaster relief. available for $3.99 here -- is the product of world communities.

First of all, the basic mechanism: global media brings me (in real time) horrifying images of the destruction.  The e-book, that newest and most widely reviled (by some) of publishing developments, makes it possible to unite a worldwide group of writers in collaboration and get the book to a global audience less than three months after the earthquake and tsunami.  (The book came out yesterday, June 10, and today is the three-month anniversary of the quake.)

These writers form an instantaneous and highly productive partnership, communicating by 20-way e-mail sometimes as many as three or four times a day.  There were NO solo decisions on this book.

This kind of instantaneous multi-point collaboration was never possible before.

The next miracle happened when Adrian's piece suggested to me the idea of using Basho's haiku to link the stories.  So I Googled "haiku" and came up with a bunch of sites, the best of which for my purposes was thegreenleafcompanyuk, which has a great, great selection of the master's works.  I needed to get permission to use some English translations, and Ashley Wood at the Greenleaf Company gave me the open sesame that opened doors into the global haiku community.

Four days later, I had permission to use translations of Basho from Jane Reichhold, whose 2008 Book, Basho: The Complete Haiku, has set a new standard, and David G. Lanoue, who provided exquisite translations of poems by Issa.

hung on a nail
a cricket

That's Basho.  Here's Issa:

lightning flash --
only the dog's face
is innocent

And, finally, another community, the Japan America Society of Southern California, adopted the project for its 2011 Japan Relief Fund, which has already sent $750,000 to organizations involved in the rebuilding effort.  And they'll talk about the book and put it on their web sites, and bring it into the consciousness of their extended world community.

So now -- all together, so to speak -- we bring the book to this community, at Murder Is Everywhere, and to the worldwide community of readers who rub their hands in front of the pixilated bonfire of Amazon.  And they're buying it.  At the time of this writing, SHAKEN is the sixth most popular story collection for Kindle.  Yeeeks.

All I can say, it that this has been both a privilege and a lesson to me.  It'll probably take a while for me to work out the complete meaning of the lesson, but to a confirmed old soloist like me, it's a deeply felt sense of the power of community.


  1. Let's all help by emailing, tweeting, sharing on Facebook, the inspiring news!

  2. Yes, it takes a village...

    But most of all, it takes a Tim!


  3. I love this e-Book. The stories are wonderful and the haiku by Basho, one of my favorite poets, inspiring. Thanks for putting this all together!

  4. Tim, nothing gets done unless there is that one person who has the idea, spreads it, and takes the responsibility of weaving the twenty disparate strands into whole cloth.

    There isn't a "best" story in the book. As mentioned on a previous day, I don't generally like short stories, but each story in the book is a gem, perfect in itself.

    Congratulations to all who gave so generously of their talent, including Gar Anthony Haywood who created the cover that is so evocative of the twin catastrophes that struck northern Japan.

  5. Has it occurred to you that you have given your readers what, to me, is a work of art? For this addicted reader, access to all these authors, the haikus, and the feeling that I am reading something unique makes this very special. Good work, Tim, and all your other elves. Beautiful and moving.

  6. I've ordered the collection and can't wait to read it. It's a stirring and noble effort and you should all be congratulated. I'll echo Leighton - it's a privilege to share this blog with you all.

  7. Wow, this is enormously cool.

    Annamaria, glad you're helping to get the word out, which is the most important thing we can do. There are SO MANY Kindle books.

    Thanks, Jeffrey, but it took all 20-some of us -- probably 25 in all -- to make the book good. And if it weren't good the whole thing would be a bust. Your contribution is a case in point.

    Book Dilettante, I love the enthusiasm and the big fat link on your widely read blog. The haiku are a BIG element, so big it's hard to believe they only even sailed over the horizon about five days before we published. The online haiku community was just phenomenally responsive and sympathetic.

    Beth, THANK YOU for the wonderful Amazon review, which is getting quoted online -- "Shaken out of complacency" indeed. And thanks for all the support you've given this project, not least the piece on your own site.

    Lil, if this is a work of art, the credit has to be split 25 ways. With bad pieces, it would have been an ugly quilt. Thanks for the praise, though, and I'll pass it along.

    Hi, Dan -- Thanks for buying it and I hope you enjoy it. I think we're all privileged to share this space. See? another global community.