This past Saturday night, Red Dot Irreal, my debut short story collection, was launched at the Singapore Writers Festival as part of their “Brand New Books” programming track. About 30 people showed up, only half of whom I actually knew, and I spent an hour reading selections from the book, talking about the publishing journey, and answering questions from the audience. On stage with me were Karen Wai and Kenny Leck, my awesome publishers at Math Paper Press, as well as Jasmine Tan of You & Me Creative, who designed the cover and formatted the interiors. Afterward, to my surprise, a signing queue actually formed, and I happily chatted with those who’d attended the launch and decided to buy the book. (And after that, I got the chance to reconnect with Mario Sismondo (@mingolbacon) and Juria Toromae (@JuriaTRM ), two good friends that I really need to do a better job keeping in touch with.)
It’s been about a year from submission to publication, and at this point, it seems very strange to think that the book is now out there in the world, having to survive on its own, not completely “mine” anymore. I’m simultaneously excited that people are now able to read and (hopefully) enjoy the stories, and also terrified that those readers might instead demand their money back, decry me as a fraud and charlatan, and tell all their friends to boycott my writing from now on.
And it’s an entirely different feeling from publishing a singular story in an anthology or magazine. The fact that it’s a book, that it’s a collective artistic statement about the strange experience of living in Singapore, that it represents years of hard work and an incredible amount of faith from Karen and Kenny — it’s as if somehow things have gotten much more serious, that my writing (and therefore I myself) is being intensely scrutinized for what I have to say.
Scott McCloud, in one of his amazing books of sequential art analysis starting with Understanding Comics (I forget exactly which one), details the different stages of an artist’s development, starting with the imitation of other artists, all the way up to a profound self-examination of one’s motives in creating art. I’d like to think that I’ve passed into that upper stage in the last decade, and that the choices I make as a writer have become much more considered and deliberate, to use fiction as the most apt vehicle for what I have to say, not only as a form of entertainment (although the entertainment cannot be divorced from the text either; if the reader isn’t entertained on some level, she’s not going to keep turning the pages).
In my story “Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)” (the second piece in Red Dot Irreal), there’s a passage where I briefly lay out my philosophical justification for both writing and reading fiction. The protagonist, Mrs Singh, has complained to her son Vishal that fiction just isn’t practical, like reading a medical or law text. This is his response:
He’d tried to explain how experiencing life through someone else’s eyes would make him a more empathetic and understanding person, less likely to be closed-minded or judgmental, more willing to think for himself rather than blindly follow a given ideology. But she wasn’t sure she accepted his argument.
Karen re-read this passage during the book launch in order to talk about why she and Kenny decided to publish the book in the first place, in that they feel much the same way about the power of fiction. BooksActually is a physical manifestation of this same mindset, in the carefully curated literary stock that they sell to the willing Singaporean public. She also talked about the effect of my writing style, that my decision to work within the tropes of slipstream consequentially result in the feeling of passing through or within a dreamscape, with all the wisdom and weirdness that come from dreams.
I hope that this level of profundity exists within my fiction, but on the surface, I also just hope that people enjoy the writing, and come out of the experience of reading my fiction with a slightly expanded sense of how strange and wonderful our own world can be.
I’m very proud of this book. I’m glad that it’s only 160-odd pages long, so as to be a pleasant and brief introduction to my work. I’m ecstatic about the design and production of it as a physical object; it’s just damn beautiful to look at, and the layering effect of the translucent dustcover adds to the multi-layered motif of the writing inside. Here I am unwrapping a hot-off-the-press copy about a week and a half ago, after the copies were finished printing and delivered to BooksActually:
As of right now, the original paperback version of the book is only available in Singapore, at BooksActually and (starting tomorrow) Kinokuniya. I’ll put up a link soon for anyone to buy a signed copy via PayPal, and will be officially releasing the e-book in the next week or two. I’m also looking into possibly having a POD version available for folks outside of Singapore to be able to order. More on this later. If anyone has any suggestions for distribution (especially in the US), please let me know.
These are exciting times.