Michel Clasquin-Johnson is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Africa and was, until recently, the entire Buddhological establishment on the continent of Africa. He lives in Pretoria, South Africa with his wife, son and two motorcycles.
Michel likes to think that he practices Buddhism (in his own way) as well as writing about it. The entire Buddhist world disagrees, but is too polite to say so.
In his spare time, he writes what can loosely be called science fiction. Not a lot of science involved, and a fine disregard for the rules of fiction.
When did you first start writing?
I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing. Even if the process was only happening in my head, lines of text would dance before my eyes day and night, begging to be committed to paper (and later, to pixels). As a child, I would create long, elaborate "handbooks" on subjects I knew nothing about, really - the copyright holders of several children's encyclopaedias will probably want to have a word ...
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book is in the series "366 Squared". This book series comes from a challenge I set myself in September 2012: write a story a day for a year (and include a bonus story for February 29). I wanted to reinvent myself as a writer, and things were going … slowly. I needed a shock to the system, something to get myself to open that same file day after day and pound away on the keyboard. Even if I didn't work on anything else that day, at least I would have done this one little thing. By the end of one year, I would have created the equivalent of a 130 000 word novel.
And so, day after day, I opened up the usual This Day in History websites and saw what had happened that was interesting, that I might be able to weave a tale around. Naturally, the best-laid plans of mice and men ... Soon enough I found myself behind schedule. People get sick. People's kids get sick. People get fired up writing on other projects. It also became clear that the Table of Contents for such a book would become ridiculously unwieldy.
I just decided to be kind to myself: as soon as I had a month's worth of stories ready to go I would put them out there in a collection. If it took me more than a year to fill out the entire calendar, so mote it be!
Almost every story in this volume is based on a real event, a celebration, a birth or a death associated with a specific day. But it is just a reference to that day. The actual action in the story may take place slightly earlier or later in time. It may even be a reference transposed centuries into the past or future, or into an alternative universe influenced by what did (not) happen that day, in true science fiction style. And historians will sometimes disagree about the exact day on which something happened. Your source may date the Battle of Salamis a day or two later than mine.
I did say almost every story. For some days of the year, I just could not find something tied to that day in history to write anything interesting about. But fear not! You will receive your daily quota of words. For such days, there will be a little essay, a poem, well, something. And some days just lent themselves to a mini-essay rather than a story, which is why 1 January starts us off that way.
These are short-short stories, or flash fiction, if you prefer. I enjoy the discipline of writing to a precise limit, creating an entire world in a single page; it's a little like writing haiku poetry. I therefore considered limiting myself to an exact number of words, but on what basis? 100 words, 500 words, or what? The answer suggested itself: "366 366-word stories" has a nice ring to it, and that ended up giving me the title "366 Squared". I suppose if I ever go into the horror genre I'll just have to do "666 666-word stories". Or maybe not. Feel free to steal that idea. 366 Words per story it is, then. And yes, I use the term "story" loosely here: technically speaking some of them are vignettes rather than formal stories.
I still consider myself a science fiction writer, but in these stories I gave myself some leeway to experiment with other genres. A stream-of-consciousness story here, a ghost story there … if it isn't fun, why bother?
This booklet aims to sensitize and equip healthcare practitioners with knowledge about the religious and spiritual needs of their clients from the major religions. It focuses on the South African situation, but healthcare practitioners from all countries and cultures will no doubt find something new and valuable in it.
If this is your first taste of the wacky world of 366 Squared, welcome. For the old hands, welcome back, and I trust you will enjoy the new collection of bite-sized stories, vignettes and essays based on the day of the year.
For the merry, merry month of May, a collection of 31 short stories to wipe that spring-is-here smirk right off your face. As usual, a blend of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction and the occasional mini-essay. As always, each story told in exactly 366 words.
"Hey dude, what happened to March?" I know, I know. The last volume to come out was February. We moved. It was a big, traumatic move that involved a computer standing idle at the other house. There will be a volume 3 for March, I promise. Someday. Meanwhile, this is Vol 4: a little less fantasy,a little more historical fiction, and the usual dollop of science fiction. 366 words per day, as always.
This volume contains twenty-nine entries covering the month of February. It turned out to be a difficult month, and there are more mini-essays than I originally planned. There is also a lot more fantasy and less science fiction than I thought there would be. Oh well, I can only take this project where the source material allows me to. We'll see what happens in the next volume.
One day, one story, at exactly 366 words each, that is the promise of 366 SQUARED, the short-short story/flash fiction collection that raises the question "In the age of multi-novel book series, is this guy for real?" Yes he is, and 366 SQUARED is the launch of a new era in literature for busy people. Volume 1 contains 31 stories, vignettes or mini-essays, each at precisely 366 words.
To start with, this volume will contain 12 short stories (exactly 366 words each) to present the kind of story that this series will contain. As the twelve volumes in the series are published, this book will be updated, each time with an additional story from the latest volume. Each story in this volume is based on a true historical event. But that is merely a starting point ...
By Michel Clasquin-Johnson
Published: October 8, 2012.
A collection of five somewhat funny, somewhat dark, occasionally raucous and, I hope, always thought-provoking science fiction stories. There's always a "what if" lurking behind the story itself. What if you were marooned in the distant past? What if your life was a lie invented by a writer in another universe? What if your civilisation depended on the horrible death of a teenage girl?
By Michel Clasquin-Johnson
Published: June 28, 2012.
A seeker after knowledge in the Himalayas. An old man whose kind secretly runs the world. A historian with an unusual source of knowledge about things past. A very ... special child. These are the characters that come to life in the four short stories in this collection. With four 100-word flash fiction stories as a bonus.
A number of shorter works that I have written over the years for which I never signed off the electronic rights - mostly because they didn't exist then!
Some started out as academic articles and have been rewritten to appeal to a broader audience. Others were written in a popular style, but were tucked away in newsletters that were not archived or on defunct web sites.