(Friday Night History) An Announcement

Yeah, yeah, it’s been a hot minute.

For those who are new around here: FNH was an off the cuff series of Friday night Twitter threads, which I began in a bar while watching furries sing karaoke. I felt like opining about something in my historical wheelhouse, and so I did a thread, which grew into a series, which became something of a phenomenon.

But burnout is a hell of a thing.

 Also, my work with Unseen Japan has increased, and a lot of what I was doing for Friday Night History, has been going to Unseen Japan. However, while the focus overlaps, there are some things that work better here than there, where the focus is more on news first and then on culture and history. So I think I have a clearer sense of where to draw the line.

And I’ve got my first few episodes on the way.

Here’s what I have planned: doing them in sets of 3, queueing them up for release on the Anchor side, and doing threads on Mastodon, and blogpost on WordPress, in an evolution of what I used to do on Twitter.

Unlike Cleyera, which is an unscripted podcast, this is a scripted podcast, and will remain so— thus, you can expect to find transcripts, for this, as a regular feature. However, because of Cleyera, my editing skills have improved since you last saw me on this feed.

The subject matter will be one-off Japanese history and culture content, at least for the moment— I began an epic Boshin War series, I know, but I think that’s something best saved for later, when I’m a little less scrambling to fundraise and keep the lights on.

Of course, all of this is only possible at all, thanks to listeners like you, especially regular patrons at patreon.com/riversidewings

Our first 3 episodes back will be about the mail between Sendai and Edo, about the Tohoku version of okonomiyaki, and about how you might recognize the procession of Lord Date from a distance if you saw him coming in or going out of Edo in the Edo period (the smoke, it’s the smoke!).

Thank you for your listenership all these many years.

Sit tight. We’ll be back soon.

Anthrocon 2023: Come say hi!

Hey, it’s been awhile!

This is just a post to let you all know that I will be present Urban Fox Tales from Old Japan: A Sendai Kitsune Romp at Anthrocon 2023, here in Pittsburgh. Scheduling is still TBD, but for updates, check out https://www.anthrocon.org/

Anthrocon is a good time whether or not one is furry– and the display of artistic, literary, and technical achievement there always benefits my own work. If you’re there, I look forward to seeing you.

My work on Miyagi folklore in general and Sendai’s folklore in particular has greatly benefited from Mihara Ryokichi, who helped save kokeshi dolls as an art form, and gathered a great deal of his region’s folklore that was at risk of being lost altogether. To learn more about him, read on in my article for Unseen Japan:

Bearing the Most and Bowing the Lowest

It has, in the fullness of time, come to me to be the new face of Balance of Seven Press, as its managing director, so I’d like to say a few words by way of introduction.


Once, in what increasingly feels like a lifetime ago, my first grownup job was as a font coder and messenger at a press in Beirut, Lebanon. My career has taken me through academe and libraries, but has brought me back, in a real sense, to where I began.

Transitions of any sort are a challenge, and involve some measure of uncertainty. But they are also an opportunity for new beginnings and still greater heights, if only we embrace that measure of uncertainty. We can rise to that challenge today.

I am Dr. Nyri A. Bakkalian, and I’m the new Managing Director of Balance of Seven. Some of you already know me as one of the press’s authors– I’ve participated in 3 of its anthologies; the press has also published two of my novels. To say I have a stake here is an understatement: I am living proof of how this press changes lives and trains up professionals.

When I began with Balance of Seven as an author, I was a new PhD graduate who suddenly had to reinvent herself in the face of a callous world and being overqualified or too risky for every job she applied for. All I had from which to build a new career was my writing, and I was worried about being the archetypal Starving Artist. Founder and outgoing CEO Ynes Freeman taught me how to think like a businesswoman even as I grew as a creative. In the years since then, I’ve become a successful freelance author, scholar, streamer, and podcaster, able to make this work my full time focus. I have also learned to constantly hone my understanding of project management, social media marketing, and bridge-building with individuals and organizations in and around the publishing and book selling industry. I am eager to bring that to bear in this new role.

It is gratifying that I am not alone. Tod Tinker will continue in being a central figure in the press’s operations. Several others from among our authors will be stepping up as well in a staff role. We come from a variety of backgrounds and bring a variety of skillsets, all of which will be instrumental in where we hope to take the press next. I will be better positioned to be my best as director with their help, and am humbled to work alongside them, for their presence will keep me honest in turn. There is a Japanese expression: minoru hodo atama o sagaru inaho kana 実るほど頭が下がる稲穂哉. The rice-stalk that bears the most, bows the lowest.

We have some fantastic new titles and projects coming your way this year, which you’ll be hearing about soon. We will also be improving how we get our books farther and into more hands, and further sharpening the ways in which we help our authors hone their skill at advocating for their own and each other’s works.

In short, we will all rise and be raised together.

So. Are you ready?

On Death, Rebirth, and the “Shiny Bits in Between”

Georgina Key’s debut novel Shiny Bits in Between was published by Balance of Seven Press two months before my own debut novel Grey Dawn. While I have crossed paths with Georgina in online spaces run by the press, only recently did I remedy my oversight of not having read her work sooner. What I found was a haunting, profound meditation on death, rebirth, grief, and the things that are points of light in the darkness.

We queer folk often reinvent ourselves by necessity in a world that is not always accepting. We constantly seek community and moments of joy and respite and whatever closure we can find– the things that bring light in the dark. In that regard, I resonated strongly with Dorie and Clementine’s respective journeys. Through a journey that weaves like footsteps in beach sand, they stumble and grasp and seek, sometimes imperfectly, for new beginnings after the unthinkable loss of both their children. My favorite author, 19th-century educator and soldier Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, wrote “What has gone takes something with it, and when this is of the dear, nothing can fill the place. All the changes touched the border of sorrows.” There is, ultimately, nothing that can quite fill the void of two children lost to sickness and the waves.

And yet, as Chamberlain also said, “indeed, in the hour of sorrow and disaster, do we not all belong to each other?” Dorie and Clementine find that belonging, and manage to find a new sort of reconciliation, healing, and community on the Bolivar Peninsula.

In light of recent anti-trans legislation coming out of that state, it was heartening to read a story this hauntingly beautiful, set in a part of Texas that I’d never heard of before. It was heartening also to note the plot thread that featured a young lesbian, Izzie, finding understanding where she least expected it, in Dorie and Rennie and other straight adults who might not have understood perfectly, but were profoundly decent where she rightfully expected ostracism. This, like the rest of the story, was artfully woven and speaks to what could be, if people in positions like the adults in her life stop and try to be decent and kind rather than jump to denunciation and harm.

I eagerly await more from Georgina Key, and I urge you to read Shiny Bits in Between and ask your local library to acquire it for others to enjoy in turn.

“Confluence” on the SFWA Reading List

I am thrilled to note, Confluence has been nominated for the Nebula in the first round, and is on the SFWA reading list! if 10 SFWA members in total vote for it, it will even (gasp) go on the final Nebula ballot!

Here’s the link: https://www.sfwa.org/forum/reading/work/6670-confluence-a-person-shaped-story/

If you’re in a position to nominate books for awards this year, consider nominating Confluence for an award! You can find out more about the book on the publisher’s homepage here: https://balance-of-seven.square.site/product/confluence-a-person-shaped-story-paperback-preorder-/

I wanted to be a Japanese history professor.

I spent 14 years from the start of my BA to my PhD graduation, pursuing a triad of degrees and associated training that was supposed to prepare me for that.

But then I learned about the academic job market, and grad school traumatized me badly, and so I couldn’t, in good conscience, go that way. The jobs weren’t there, and I was traumatized and exhausted and needed to recover. So it was just…over.

I feel like it wasn’t until I started getting somewhere in my current career– where I still get to teach others about Japanese history, but in a much more informal fashion and not for university credit– that I felt like I’d moved on.

I’m happier now, all things considered, but I won’t deny that I grieved for a long time.

And it’s okay to grieve things like this.

On Swords and Treasures and Due Diligence

(pictured for reference: the signature on the tang of a katana)

Once, an eon ago, I worked at the University of Pittsburgh East Asian Library’s Japan Information Service. I had to mind the desk and field calls and emails from the public about Japan and East Asia in general.

So one day, this older gentleman calls. He says that he wants a Japanese to English dictionary so he can translate the “pictograms” (kanji) he found on the tang of a sword.

“What sword is this, sir?” I ask him.

“So my mother in law was a Women’s Army Corps soldier on General MacArthur’s staff and brought a sword back from the Occupation of Japan. We stripped the handle and there are these pictograms.”

I, a grad student in Edo period history, and well acquainted with the stories of lost National Treasure swords from the Occupation, had to stifle a gasp.

I explained to him that if it was kanji, it was probably a maker’s or appraiser’s signature, and thus a proper noun, and that he couldn’t translate a proper noun any more than it would make sense for a Japanese person to translate his signature or mine. I explained my credentials, pleaded with him to send me a photo, knowing that you don’t strip a Japanese sword to the tang without knowing how to put it back together, and that it takes the proper tools to do so. I told him that there are many National Treasure status swords that vanished during the Occupation, and that we really ought to ascertain who made this blade, because it could be a credit to him and a boon to all humanity.

To translate the Japanese expression, I wanted to see that sword so badly that “it was like a hand came out of my throat.”

The man was not interested, and said goodbye.

I think about that sword sometimes, and my heart breaks.