Category Archives: Books

Videos Galore! (update)

October was a very busy month, and thankfully I was able to do some more major promotion for A Fickle and Restless Weapon, five months after publication!

1. On Saturday, 24 October at 8.30pm SGT, over 50 people attended the novel’s official virtual book launch, featuring me in conversation with my very dear friend Dean Francis Alfar, hosted by Epigram Books on Zoom and livestreamed to Facebook Live. And as much as I missed having an in-person event, I was also happy that so many people who would not have been able to attend otherwise had the chance to be there (like, for example, my family in the US, and Terri Windling in the UK). It was a fun and casual and joyful hour that mostly felt like two old friends chatting, and I’m very happy with how it went. The launch recording is now available on the publisher’s Youtube channel:

2. I’ve known Sharon Bakar out of Kuala Lumpur for a while now, and in 2012 she invited me to read in KL as part of the long-running Readings@Seksan series. Because of the pandemic, the series has now gone digital as Readings@Home, and I was flattered when she and host Sumitra Selvaraj so generously allowed me to participate in the series for October. It was a pleasure to share the same online space as Golda Mowe, William Tham Wai Liang, Melizarani T. Selva and Zen Cho. Since the video was being released on Hallowe’en, the passage I decided to read is concerned with my puppeteer character Vahid, and the ghost of his best friend who makes a startling appearance (it starts at 32:16):

3. This was the ninth consecutive year that I was invited as a featured author at the Singapore Writers Festival, which is something I’m deeply grateful for and hope to never take for granted. I was on one panel this year, “Worldbuilding: The Devil’s in the Details,” moderated by Wayne Rée (who did a great job), and joined by Amie Kaufman and Meihan Boey as wonderful co-panelists. The event was streamed live to Festival Pass holders on SWF SISTIC’s microsite, and is now available on-demand until 18 Nov; after that, it goes away forever, so check it out while you can. It was a really fun discussion, and I’m glad we all had the chance to get together (albeit virtually) to explore the topic (click images to watch):

4. I was invited on fairly short notice to appear on Wayne Cheong’s Creatives Asia Podcast after meeting in person to discuss publishing and Nine Inch Nails, and eat claypot chicken rice. We talked a bit about A Fickle and Restless Weapon and its creation, but most of the conversation consisted of fanboying out over NIN and Trent Reznor, and it was super fun! It was livestreamed to Facebook and YouTube, and will also appear on Spotify, iTunes and Twitch later on.

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Virtual Book Launch for A Fickle and Restless Weapon! (updated)

A Fickle and Restless Weapon Virtual Book Launch

At long last, A Fickle and Restless Weapon is getting an official book launch! Epigram Books will be hosting the event virtually on Saturday, 24 October, 8.30–9.30pm SGT, and all are invited to attend! (Singapore time is GMT+8, so hopefully we can get people from all over the world!) I’ll be talking about the novel with my dear friend and literary comrade Dean Francis Alfar*, doing a short reading, and answering questions from the audience. The launch will take place on Zoom, and be livestreamed simultaneously on Epigram Books’ Facebook page and YouTube page.

(Update: the event will not be livestreamed on YouTube, but it will be recorded and uploaded there afterward. So do attend via either Zoom or Facebook Live.)

1. The event is totally free, but you’ll need to register at Peatix in order to get the Zoom link emailed to you. And this is important because only the folks in the audience on Zoom will have a chance to win a special prize, a giveaway set of my three most recent books: A Fickle and Restless Weapon, the related novella Diary of One Who Disappeared, and my best-of collection Most Excellent and Lamentable. I’m very happy for people to watch the stream on Facebook Live and YouTube Live, but you’ll only be eligible for the prize if you register for the Zoom link at Peatix.

2. But wait, that’s not all! 😀 To celebrate the launch, Epigram Books is offering a 25% discount on A Fickle and Restless Weapon, Diary of One Who Disappeared and Most Excellent and Lamentable from today until midnight SGT on the 24th, if you buy the book(s) directly from the publisher. You’ll need to key in the discount code JEL25 at checkout, and indicate in the appropriate field whether you would like me to autograph the book(s).

3. Lastly, I am offering something special for the folks who have already bought the novel, and would like my signature: the first 15 people to post a selfie of themselves with a copy of A Fickle and Restless Weapon on Instagram and tag @wombatfishbone (which is my IG handle) will receive a signed bookplate in the mail that you can stick in your copy! I have a very limited number of bookplates, so this offer only lasts until those 15 people have posted, so get your selfie up ASAP!

I’ll see you all on Saturday, 24 October, 8.30–9.30pm SGT to officially launch my first novel! W00t!

* Dean goes way back with this novel; he was one of my very first beta readers back in 2012, and gave me some truly encouraging feedback, as well as thoughtful critiques about character agency and resolution, which caused me to write a new coda for the ending. He has been a huge inspiration for how to live a literary life, as well as a kind and compassionate big brother, and I can’t wait to see what questions he’ll ask during the event.

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All the Fickle and Restless News Fit to Post

I just realised that I have been delinquent in updating this blog on the happenings concerning A Fickle and Restless Weapon since my previous post in June. I’ve been more regular about posting on Facebook, but some of y’all don’t follow me there. So, for posterity’s sake, here’s everything that’s happened since (with photos!):

1. On 24 June, I made a special trip to Books Kinokuniya’s Main Store to sign their entire stock of Fickle, which had just been delivered that morning. My thanks to Kenneth, Douglas and Pearline for their assistance in coordinating the signing and taking photos during the busy time of the store’s Phase 2 re-opening, as well as to Kenny Chan for putting me in touch with the right people and for his continued enthusiasm. What you see stacked here is the second half of the copies, as I realised halfway through signing that I should probably get photographic evidence. (Click to embiggen.)

          

2. On 26 June, I was interviewed by Doretta Tan, Epigram Books’ Marketing Executive, for the long-running Doing the Write Thing series on the Epigram Books Blog. The questions were great, and were helpful in getting me to articulate much of my reasoning behind writing the novel in the first place.

Later on, I took the same questions and recorded video answers for them, which differed slightly from the written responses. The video was uploaded to the Epigram Books YouTube channel on 12 August:

3. From 29 June – 5 July 2020, Fickle was the Epigram Books Book of the Week, and was on sale for a 20% discount (though you’ll have to pay full price now, sorry).

4. On 13 July, I was gobsmacked to discover that Fickle was a featured title on the front page of the Books Kinokuniya website, displayed right next to the 2020 International Booker Prize Longlist.

5. On 16 July, I was informed that in Epigram Books’ internal bestseller list for June 2020, Fickle debuted at #1 in Fiction and #4 in all genres released that month. For a speculative fiction novel released with very little fanfare during a global pandemic (aside from all the flailing about and jumping up and down I was doing myself), without any prizes or critical adulation attached, this was extremely heartening.

6. Also on 16 July, my essay “What’s It All About Then?” was published at Mackerel, detailing the thought processes that went into writing the novel, as well as the frustration that arose when trying to boil down what exactly it was about. Many thanks to Marc Nair and Carolyn Oei for letting me burble on in their webzine.

7. On 3 August, Fickle was featured on the Singapore Shelf at The Straits Times as one of 10 local reads to look out for in August.

8. On 6 August, I was interviewed by the English department of my alma mater, North Carolina State University, for their Wolfpack Writers series (which was then reposted at NCSU English Dept News). It was an honour to be given attention by the university department that has been such a big part of my academic and professional life, and to share a space with other such distinguished NCSU faculty and alumni as Dorianne Laux, Christopher Ruocchio and Elaine Neil Orr.


I’ve been very pleased to hear from a number of people how much they’ve enjoyed A Fickle and Restless Weapon, as well as to note how well it’s disseminating at the National Library of Singapore (it’s listed as On Loan at most branches right now). If you’ve been generous enough with your time and attention (and possibly finances) to pick up the novel and see something in it to like, I’d like to request one more kindness: please rate and review it on Goodreads and wherever you ordered it from online (if you in fact did so). Thanks in advance!

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On the Radio, and a Clarification

Yesterday morning, I was delighted to once again appear on Read with Michelle Martin—a short periodic segment in Michelle’s daily radio show on Money FM 89.3 in Singapore—to discuss A Fickle and Restless Weapon. (I previously came on as part of the promotion for Most Excellent and Lamentable, Diary of One Who Disappeared and LONTAR #10.)

Over the course of the interview, we talk about world-building, Tinhau, alternate universes, swees, Singlish, surveillance, exposition and telling details, the influence of Singaporean food and culture, and the Vertigo Tarot. And as you can see in the video, I’m wearing my Nine Inch Nails hoodie and cap, which I only bust out on special occasions.

I also realise now that I never exactly answered Michelle’s question on when I felt it was appropriate to use Singlish in the book (I talked more about the mechanics of using it instead). And the best answer I can think of is: it depends. The characters who largely use colloquial English* in the book tend to be of an older generation, though not all (one character who speaks this way is only in her twenties).

The way I thought about it while writing is that these are people who were educated locally; the ones who use what’s typically called “Standard English” (problematic as this term is) have spent significant time in the US or UK, and their speech patterns reflect this. But then again, one of my protagonists who has lived in the UK for over a decade slips back into colloquial English when talking with the aforementioned woman in her twenties. It is not a differentiation of class or race or economic status because, as has been my observational experience over 13 years in Singapore, people across the spectrum in those categories speak colloquial English at different times, and code-switch at others.

As I say in the interview, I wanted to make sure I got it as correct as possible, since this is not my natural way of expressing myself, and I depended on the kindness of my Singaporean friends and readers for helping me when I didn’t get the details right; of course, any mistakes in the book are my own.

* It’s obviously not called Singlish within my fictional country of Tinhau, since “Singlish” is a portmanteau of “Singaporean English”; nor is it called “Tinglish”, which would seem to have other connotations.

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A Quick PSA on Buying My Books

I’ve had several people contact me privately about buying a copy of A Fickle and Restless Weapon directly from me because they’d like to help me out, presumably so that I would get a larger cut of the sale. And while this is a sweet thought and I appreciate the sentiment, it’s actually better for everyone concerned (including me) if you can purchase the book through your preferred bookstore or ebook provider.

The sales show up on my royalty statement, and are a visible representation of public interest in the novel, which goes a long way towards encouraging Epigram Books to reprint after the first print run sells out, as well as to seriously consider more books from me in the future. (I’m now working on the third book in the Tinhau Sequence, called One Nine Eight Six, and it would be great to continue with the same publisher.)

Plus, you’d be supporting not only me, but the publisher and bookstores too, which have all taken a huge financial hit during the pandemic. I should add that this goes for all my books as well, whether they’re published by Epigram Books or other publishers; I like the relationship that I have with them as one of their authors, and want to make sure we all benefit from it.

So thank your dear hearts for wanting to do me a solid, but I’d much prefer you purchase the book via the buy links below. And if you do want a signed/personalised paperback copy, I recommend ordering directly from Epigram Books and including a note in the comment field; they’ll hold off delivering until I can come back in to the office and sign your book. 😊

Buy the Paperback

Epigram BooksLocal BooksHuggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop

Buy the Ebook

Amazon [ USA | UK | Germany | India | Spain | Italy ] • Barnes & NobleApple iTunesGoogle PlayKoboScribdAngus & RobertsonE-Sentral

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Tinhau: A Cartographic Appreciation

One of the cool things about all the worldbuilding that goes into creating a fictional country is coming up with a map to go along with it. I love maps in books, regardless of whether the subject matter is fantastical, because there’s something about seeing the geography of a place that makes it all the more real in the mind.

Way back when I first started working on A Fickle and Restless Weapon in 2004, I hand-drew a map of Tinhau in my Moleskine notebook with everything I’d need to keep me grounded in the geography. Epigram Books designer Jael Ng did a phenomenal job adapting this map into its finished form, which can be found at the beginning of the published book (she also did a wonderful job on the typesetting and layout). We worked together to update the map (since the book went through eight drafts, and names changed along the way) and add significant landmarks. Both maps are displayed below.

Tinhau Map - Drawn

Tinhau Map - FINAL

A Fickle and Restless Weapon is now available to purchase as a paperback and ebook; buy links can be found here (scroll to the bottom). Buy early and buy often!

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A Fickle and Restless Weapon: Now Available

A Fickle and Restless WeaponMy brand new novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon, is now available for sale: in paperback in Singapore, and in ebook internationally (links can be found by clicking the cover image to the right). This book has been a labour of love for more than 15 years, and I’m incredibly excited that it’s now out and ready for readers to pick it up. It is, without hyperbole, the best thing I have ever written, and I’m very proud of what I accomplished with it. I collected my author copies earlier this week, and you can see the unboxing video above (with videography by Anya).

It’s exceedingly strange to announce a book release while the world is still reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic, and protests against systemic racism and police brutality are ongoing in every state of my home country and in nations around the globe. So if you have money to spare, please donate to those causes since a lot of people are hurting right now. However, if you have a bit left over and would like to escape your current daily existence for a while, do consider ordering my novel and giving it a little love on Goodreads. It does have something to say about resistance to authoritarianism and the ubiquity of surveillance, but it’s also a helluva fun story, and just might take your mind off your troubles for a spell.

Epigram Books has some marketing and publicity lined up soon, so keep posted here, and follow me at Facebook and Instagram.

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Now Available for Preorder: My New Novel!

A Fickle and Restless Weapon

My brand new (and first) novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon (being released in June 2020), is now available for preorder from publisher Epigram Books! (Cover art by Priscilla Wong, edited by Eldes Tran.)

As mentioned in a previous post, the release of this book has been a very long time in coming, and I am so damn excited that it’ll be available in just two months! It takes place 25 years before the events of Diary of One Who Disappeared, though it is not a prequel; the novel was written first and is intended as a stand-alone work, although eagle-eyed readers will spot some easter eggs to connect both texts. If you are a book reviewer for a legitimate venue, email me ASAP so we can get a PDF review copy to you straight away.

We’ve already gotten some lovely praise quotes (and are expecting even more):

“Thrilling, textured, fantastical.”
Ken Liu, multi-award-winning author of The Veiled Throne and The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

“Reminiscent of the uncanny visions of Jeff VanderMeer and Don DeLillo and buoyed by Buddhist philosophy, this narrative deepens the speculative world of Tinhau through a complex web of major to side characters. Epic, imaginative, full of twists and psychological surprises, the novel raises an intriguing mirror to contemporary, global-capitalist realities, coming alive with mind-bending magic, unexpected transgenderism, and political machinations.”
Cyril Wong, Singapore Literature Prize-winning author of This Side of Heaven

It will be a bit strange to publish the book while we’re still in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic (even if the pub date was set exactly a year ago), so we’re having to adapt our marketing and publicity strategies to this new social-distancing world we’re now living through, but I’m hoping that the book will be both a form of escape for those isolating themselves at home, as well as an insight into how authorities consolidate their power during such cataclysmic events. It’s a book I’m extremely proud of, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

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Transcript of Radio Interview with Melanie Oliveiro

Most Excellent and LamentableOn 16 October 2019, I went on the air with radio host Melanie Oliveiro to discuss my “greatest hits” collection, Most Excellent and Lamentable. For whatever reason, Channel NewsAsia doesn’t archive their audio content online like other radio stations, but I was provided with the interview for personal use. Below is my transcription (only slightly cleaned up to remove the “um”s and “uh”s and repetitions in speech), for those who were not able to catch the conversation when it aired.

 
Singapore Today with Melanie Oliveiro
CNA938, 16 Oct 2019, 800-830pm

Melanie Oliveiro: Keeping me company for the next fifteen minutes or so is an American, who was born in New York, grew up in North Carolina, and is now an author, editor and doting dad in Singapore. I’m with Jason Erik Lundberg, who’s been calling Singapore home since 2007. Jason’s a fiction editor at local publisher Epigram Books, and Epigram Books has published his latest volume, Most Excellent and Lamentable. It’s a collection of short stories selected from Lundberg’s first three collections, and this new book also includes a brand new novelette titled “Slowly Slowly Slowly”. Let’s quickly bring on Jason Erik Lundberg so he can tell us more.

Jason, is the title of your book a reference to the title of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?

Jason Erik Lundberg: It is actually, indeed. It’s the title of one of the stories in the book as well. It comes from the full title of Romeo and Juliet, which is: The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. I always liked that interesting juxtaposition between “excellent” and “lamentable”. So when I wrote that story, it introduces elements from Romeo and Juliet, but in a very different way. It’s not exactly a retelling, but it’s instead taking characters who are in that play and using them almost like archetypes to tell the very strange story that I’m telling.

MO: I’m sure that many students of Shakespeare would immediately have this resonance with the book when they come across the title.

So how did you go about choosing the stories from your previous collections? What was the criteria, and was it really like choosing your favourite child?

JEL: [laughs] A bit, yeah. So as you mentioned, I have three previous short story collections; the first one was published here in Singapore, but the other two were published by my UK publisher, Infinity Plus. The first one, Red Dot Irreal, went out of print recently, and so all three of them were hard to find here anyway. After some back and forth with Epigram Books, it was decided that we’d take a more comprehensive look at my short fiction, at this sixteen-year career in writing that I’ve had so far. So it was very much about picking the most emotionally resonant and interesting stories from those three collections, and then we included a new one as well. As you said, I’ve written a novelette specifically just for this book.

MO: So something new for your fans too.

Did you rewrite any of them? Some of the stories are labelled “author’s preferred text”.

JEL: Yeah, the two stories that bookend the collection. For the very first one, called “The Stargirl and the Potter”, the online venue that originally published it asked me to trim it down. So it was about five hundred words shorter than the version that appears in the book. [Actually, it was a thousand words shorter. —JEL] I was fine with the version that was published, but I also wanted the full one to be out there as well.

And then with the very last story in the book, called “Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)”, my friend Gemma Pereira, who is a wonderful writer herself, made me aware that there were some details that were problematic and some that I’d frankly gotten wrong. With her help, I was able to go through and realise that maybe the way that I was naming the characters and presenting some of the circumstances needed to change. So those two stories I revised more heavily than the other ones in the collection, which were only slightly tweaked to make them consistent throughout the book.

MO: I found your stories otherworldly; sometimes I got sucked into their surreal themes. Were you always escaping into strange worlds as a boy, which is something you still indulge in today?

JEL: [laughs] Pretty much. It all started with my love of fantastical fiction—science fiction, fantasy, things like that—when I was a boy, and it shows no signs of stopping. I think that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to change the way I approach it and the way that it influences how I look at the world. Because this is a very strange world that we live in; writing strictly realist fiction sometimes doesn’t incorporate the world that we’re really living in, especially right now. So it’s always been the mode that I gravitate towards the most and I’m very happy to keep going with it.

MO: You grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and that’s not near the coast, so did you look to escaping into different worlds because you maybe secretly wanted to get out of Raleigh?

JEL: I don’t think it was that. By the time I got to Raleigh, I was about twelve years old, so it wasn’t that I was really escaping that. And by the way, the coast was not too terribly far away, about an hour and a half drive—

MO: That’s a long way for Singaporeans! [laughs]

JEL: [laughs] Maybe, but for Americans, that’s nothing.

MO: Right.

JEL: That’s a day trip to the beach. [laughs] And it wasn’t always about escaping either. This is one role that fantastical writing does have, but it has always helped me to understand the world as well. When you can look at things at a slanted point of view, you can ask questions and you can think, “Okay, the narrative that I’m being given on whatever topic might be: is that actually the real thing, or is somebody trying to spin it their way?” And by literalising metaphors and doing other things with fantastical fiction that are a bit out of the ordinary, it jolts you out of just blindly assuming whatever someone says is true. You can look at things where you might not have seen them before in that way and think, “Maybe I’m not seeing the full truth of them, but I’m still seeing it from a different point of view.”

MO: Okay, that makes sense.

I enjoyed reading the first story in the book, “The Stargirl and the Potter”; it’ll appeal to the romantics in all of us. But I couldn’t get my head around “Wombat Fishbone”. Do you get people writing to you, not just asking you to explain concepts in your storylines, but also to tell you how much a story resonated with them?

JEL: I have, actually, and it’s always really, really lovely to hear, in email or in person or whatever. It’s always fantastic to be able to hear that something I’ve written actually connected with someone else. That’s one of the reasons I do this. Not so much of people asking me to explain things in my stories, although there are a few of those as well; that particular story you mentioned, “Wombat Fishbone”, is one of the stranger ones in the book. [laughs] And in it I go full-on into a surreal farce; it was a reaction to this short film that I saw during that time which was also funny and surreal. [“A Heap of Trouble” by Steve Sullivan (NSFW); probably worth a Google. —JEL]

I think the thing I really like about this type of writing is that I don’t explain things, and the strange events that happen just happen; it’s not like we can justify them or show that they’re intruding into our real world. They’re just part of the world of the story. I really like writing that makes you feel very strange. The standard label for this type of writing is “slipstream”. I like being able to affect somebody who’s reading my work and make them feel a bit off about what’s going on in the world.

MO: Once you put a book out there, it’s not yours anymore. It’s open to interpretation by anyone who picks it up.

JEL: That’s absolutely true. Though I do feel like it’s still partly mine. [laughs] But you’re right, I’m sharing it with the reader now. I don’t subscribe to the idea that once you put a piece of writing out there, it’s not yours at all anymore. It’s a conversation now with the reader who’s picked up my book, whether that conversation is a clear one, or whether it results in confusion, or whether it results in epiphany and connection. I like that this is a way that I can communicate with other people, through these squiggles on paper.

MO: You’re the first author who has told me his book is a conversation with the reader! That’s quite a concept for me to think about. And it is true.

Which short story was the hardest to complete, and do you have a reason for that?

JEL: I’m not sure, actually. They were…

MO: So they just flowed out of you.

JEL: Some of them did. Some were a little easier than others. For the title story, “Most Excellent and Lamentable”, I basically wrote the entire thing in one afternoon in a café. It was one of those gifts that, as a writer, you get very few of, where the process is so easy that it feels like you’re channelling some other kind of force. And the version that is published is nearly exactly the one that I wrote as is.

MO: Almost like stream of consciousness.

JEL: Almost, yeah. So there was very little editing to do for that story. But then there were others that required more work and thought. The story that is original to this collection, “Slowly Slowly Slowly”, is a bit longer than most of the ones in the book; it’s at novelette length, a bit longer than a standard short story. I originally thought it was going to be a novella, but some of the logical issues in the story made me realise that this was going to be shorter than that. But because I’m dealing with concepts like elder care and how we deal with degenerative diseases, things that are a bit more weighty than some of the other pieces in the book that are lighter in tone, I did feel like I needed to think through a lot of it. So it wasn’t so much that it was “difficult” to get through, but it did take more thought and I had to be very careful about how I approached the story.

MO: So no writer’s block in any of them then.

At the end of a few of the stories, you credit literary greats like Pablo Neruda and Jack Kerouac; why openly acknowledge them? Isn’t it a “talent borrows and genius steals” kind of situation?

JEL: I’ve always believed that we’re standing on the shoulders of the people who came before us. There were a number of stories in this collection that are very deliberate responses to other writers and artists. There’s a short piece in the book called “Great Responsibility”, which is a response to a couple of photographs by the photographer Nguan. [As well as the notable phrase by Stan Lee to encapsulate Spider-Man’s ethos. —JEL] I’ve been influenced by creators since I started reading. If anybody who says they’re a writer claims they have no influences, they’re lying. So I wanted to make it very explicit and open, to acknowledge these influences in the first place and to give thanks as well; if these previous writers and artists had not committed their art, I would have no story responding to it.

MO: You work in publishing at Epigram Books, and you’re an author. Are there any conflicts of interest of the creative kind? Sometimes you’ve got to put on your editor hat and edit someone else’s piece of work, but does the writer role in you say, “No, I shouldn’t touch that because it is raw and real”?

JEL: My whole position on being an editor is that I am trying to take whatever text it might be, whether a short fiction collection or a novel, and help it become the best version of itself. I’m much more of a midwife than somebody involved in the creative process itself. It’s changing word choices, it’s making the writing flow smoother; it’s questioning different parts of the text, including character consistency and whether they would behave in a certain way.

It’s also a matter of looking at the writer’s style, and really trying not to mess with that too much. There are a number of writers I’ve worked with who have a very distinctive style, and I was tempted at times to try and smoothen that out a bit, but that roughness of their style is part of what makes them who they are. It’s always a balancing act between wanting to impose my own vision on the text and staying faithful to what the writer was originally trying to create.

MO: So who edited your stories, and did you have a good relationship with that person?

JEL: Absolutely. My editor is my Epigram Books colleague and our managing editor, Eldes Tran.

MO: So she’s the boss!

JEL: Well, she’s the boss of me! [laughs] Not the head boss, which is Edmund Wee, but she’s my boss and she’s a fantastic editor. I really trusted her and enjoyed working with her on my previous book, Diary of One Who Disappeared, and appreciated seeing how she thinks and approaches a text. So it was a very smooth process working on Most Excellent and Lamentable as well. She’s someone I really enjoy hashing things out with and getting into the nitty-gritty of what makes a story good, what makes it work and what is the best thing for it.

MO: So it sounds like a good creative relationship.

I know you love your daughter very, very much. If she wants to be a full-time writer in Singapore when she gets older, what would you say to her?

JEL: Well, first of all, she just turned ten years old yesterday, so Happy Birthday, Anya! It’s very difficult to be a full-time writer in Singapore, even if you’re writing non-fiction. It can be done, but it’s hard to do, especially if you’re writing fiction. Unfortunately, the publishing ecosystem here doesn’t quite support that yet, and that’s kind of where the rest of the world is now too, even in the US and the UK, which have long traditions of supporting their writers. Unless you’re one of the top-tier consistently bestselling authors, it’s really hard to make a living it at it. So you have to do other things, like teach or edit, to support your income.

I would very much encourage her if she expressed the desire to be a full-time writer, but I would also be very realistic with her, and just let her know that these are the things to think about and be aware of when you try to have a career in writing.

MO: Jason, thank you so much for your time. That was American author and fiction editor based in Singapore, Jason Erik Lundberg. Grab his latest volume of short stories, Most Excellent and Lamentable, published by Epigram Books. It’s now out on bookstore shelves at places like Kinokuniya, Times and other great bookstores in Singapore. This is CNA938, and I am Melanie Oliveiro.

 

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Decade in Review

So tomorrow is the last day of the decade, and I’ve been thinking about how much has changed for me in the last ten years. As you can see in the photo above, I published a hell of a lot of books: seven picture books, five anthologies, ten issues of a literary journal, one chapbook, four fiction collections, and a novella. I must once again thank Kenny Leck at Math Paper Press, Keith Brooke at Infinity Plus Books, and Edmund Wee at Epigram Books for believing in these titles enough to bring them out into the world to play nice with readers. The first of these was Red Dot Irreal in 2011, the little collection that could, and a book that I’m still very proud of.

I left my teaching job at the end of 2011, and started as Epigram Books’ first and only fiction editor in September 2012. Since then I have edited more than 50 books, many of which went on to appear on year’s best lists and win accolades of the Singapore Literature Prize and Singapore Book Awards. I’ve now been at the company for a little over seven years, and it has been the most fulfilling job of my adult working life.

I started getting invited to festivals this decade, which was a nice validation of my writing and editing capabilities. I appeared at the Singapore Writers Festival (2012-2019), George Town Literary Festival (2016, 2017, 2019), Singapore International Festival of Arts (2018), Asian Festival of Children’s Content (2016), AWP Conference & Bookfair (2015), Singapore Literature Festival in NYC (2014), Singapore International Translation Symposium (2014), and All In! Young Writers Media Festival (2013). The fact that I continue to get asked about my opinion on a variety of issues is a good indication that I’m doing something right.

After my marriage broke down, I went through a painful and protracted divorce, which was both emotionally traumatic and financially depleting, and also resulted in having to sell my previous flat co-owned with my ex-wife and buy a new flat on my own. All of this contributed to the most stress I have ever felt in my life, and there are days still that it weighs on my mind; I recently watched the Noah Baumbach film Marriage Story, and it dredged up a lot of the pain and sadness I felt during this period. But not only did I get through it, I now have a civil and respectful relationship with my ex, and have lived in a home that feels all my own for the past three years. Things are not exactly hunky dory, but they get better every day.

Most importantly, I grew as a parent and as a person while raising my daughter, Anya. She was born in October of 2009, so she did nearly all of her growing up this past decade, and I got to see her transform from an utterly dependent yet utterly adorable tiny human into an intelligent, funny, kind, creative, remarkable girl. I have been reminded again and again through my interactions with her what is truly important in life, and how to let the little things go. I’m a far more generous and thoughtful person because of simply being around her and enjoying the world through her eyes, and it’s my forever privilege to be her daddy.

The next decade is already off to a good start: my first novel (and 25th book), A Fickle and Restless Weapon, will be released in June 2020, and I’ll likely be starting up a Patreon sometime early in the year (I previously ran one for LONTAR, but this will be focused on my new novel-in-progress, One Nine Eight Six). I also have two books coming out through the Epigram Books UK imprint next year: Diary of One Who Disappeared and Best Singaporean Short Stories 1. I’ll also endeavour to be even kinder toward others and especially myself, to establish some habits to improve my health and well-being, to make more time for dating and other social situations, to remain open to new experiences, and to guide Anya through her pre-teen and teenage years with compassion and patience. I hope y’all will be along for the ride.

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2019 Shopping Reminder + A Note on Productivity

We’re barrelling face-first towards the holidays, and I just wanted to provide a reminder of which books of mine are available to buy for yourself and your loved ones (and even your enemies). If you can, please purchase these books directly from Epigram Books (we’re even having a Xmas Market this weekend with huge discounts!), but feel free to pick them up at your preferred bookseller.

Most Excellent and Lamentable: Selected Stories (Oct 2019)

Let Lundberg’s imagination introduce you to an unearthly stargirl, a foul-mouthed wombat, slithering immortals, a fish with premonitions, and much more.

Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Four (guest editor Pooja Nansi) (Oct 2019)

“Our stories are everywhere we look, and those stories matter; they are as varied and as manifold as we are.” –Pooja Nansi, from the preface

Diary of One Who Disappeared (Apr 2019)

In 2040, Lucas Lehrer finds himself a fugitive in the Southeast Asian nation of Tinhau, and he discovers that his deep-seated desires are coming true.

Bo Bo and Cha Cha series (illustrated by Patrick Yee) (2012–2015)

This series of children’s picture books follows the adventures of two pandas and their new experiences after relocating from the bamboo forests of China to sweltering tropical Singapore. Ages 3-7.

LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction (2012–2018)

A ten-issue literary journal focusing on speculative fiction from and about Southeast Asia. Contributors include Dean Francis Alfar, Paolo Bacigalupi, John Burdett, Zen Cho, Aliette de Bodard, Sabrina Huang, Eka Kurniawan, Amanda Lee Koe, Ken Liu, E.C. Myers, Ng Yi-Sheng, Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, Geoff Ryman, Christina Sng, Cyril Wong, and Bryan Thao Worra.


I also want to mention something that’s been a topic of interest recently, that of my seemingly frenetic productivity. I’ve had people coming up to me at both the Singapore Writers Festival and George Town Literary Festival, as well as friends over coffee or a meal, asking about this, mostly wondering when I have time to write so much in addition to being: the fiction editor of Epigram Books, a single dad, a frequent panelist at various events, a freelance editor, a workshop instructor, a Netflix addict, and a relentless promoter of my new work. The fact that two of my books were released this year (three, if you count BNSSSv4), and another one being released next year (two, if you count Best Singaporean Short Stories 1 in the UK only), has given the impression that I am either a master of multitasking or have borrowed Hermione Granger’s time-turner in order to get this all done.

And not to take away from all the hard work that has been done and is still ongoing, but it’s also a bit of smoke and mirrors on my part. Some background: my former agent sat on both Diary of One Who Disappeared and A Fickle and Restless Weapon for years, which is the primary reason he is no longer my agent. Both the novella and the novel were finished and publishable back in 2014, just awaiting publication.

I let my agent go at the beginning of 2018, and a week or two later pitched to my boss* at Epigram Books both a new edition of Red Dot Irreal (since it had gone out of print) and Diary. He wasn’t keen on bringing back my first collection and asked for something new instead, so I quickly selected what I felt were the best stories from my first three collections, and these (plus an uncollected story and a brand new one exclusive to the book) became Most Excellent and Lamentable. He liked the idea, and signed me for a two-book contract. So for these books, most of the work had already been done, apart from finishing “Slowly Slowly Slowly” for MEAL.

Then in mid-2019, after Diary had been out for a few months, I pitched A Fickle and Restless Weapon, since they both share a common narrative universe and timeline. It’s also my first proper novel, which is a big deal when marketing any given author. After some back and forth, I signed that contract in September. As mentioned before, the creative part of the book was done; I’m currently revising it based on comments from my editor (Eldes Tran, who also edited Diary and MEAL), but that’s a regular part of the editorial process.

It’s almost as if I had these books in a queue, ready to go at the right moment. After Fickle is released in June 2020, I have no more books in the hopper, so I’m trying (with varying levels of success) to get my next novel going now. It’s technically a sequel to Diary, though it (like all of my Tinhau books) stands alone, meaning that you can read them in any order. I’m not, in point of fact, a fast writer, so I have no idea when it’ll be done, but I would like to finish the novel in 2020 or 2021 to capitalise on the momentum of the other books.

So there we are. It’s true that I have had at least one book released each year since 2011, but after 2020 there are no more guarantees, and that’s okay. I’m more grateful than I can say that I have been able to make a life for myself that includes a day job I really love, as well as an audience for the books I write and edit. It’s something that I never take for granted. So if you’ve read a book that has my name on it anytime in the last eight years: thank you so much for helping me to live my best life, and Happy Holidays!


* I’ve also been asked if it feels weird or incestuous to have released books with the publisher I work for. But I have two points to make there:

1) I stand by all of the fiction titles I have edited for Epigram Books, and feel that they can compete with books from anywhere else in the world, so I needed to put my money where my mouth is. It would be hypocritical of me to praise our fiction and then insist that my own fiction must be published elsewhere. I am very happy that each of the books listed above proudly bears the Epigram Books logo.

2) Edmund Wee, the big boss man, believes in my writing and feels that he should be publishing it himself, rather than another publisher in Singapore (or elsewhere). He also feels that it is commercial enough to make money for both me and the company; if he didn’t, he would have passed on any of the books I’ve pitched to him (and indeed, he did so, with Red Dot Irreal). This is the same situation Toni Morrison ran into when she was an editor at Random House, so if it was good enough for her, it’s certainly good enough for me.

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2019 George Town Literary Festival Schedule

The 2019 George Town Literary Festival starts this coming Thursday, and is set once again to be an engaging and important venue for the discussion of where we are and where we hope to be. I’m excited to be returning to Penang after a gap year, this time as a featured author (I was a moderator there in 2016 and 2017).

I’m also extremely flattered (and slightly befuddled) to be included in much of the press in the run-up to the festival. I was singled out as one of “10 Brilliant Minds to Selfie With at the George Town Literary Festival 2019” in Eksentrika (eep), as well as mentioned in Penang Free Sheet, The Star (Malaysia) and Nikkei Asian Review*. I’m not used to thinking of myself as a festival headliner, or as someone who is an audience draw for these types of events, so I’m filled with delighted bemusement at all the attention.

The festival bookstore this year is Books Kinokuniya Malaysia, and they should have my books for sale there (at the very least, Most Excellent and Lamentable and Diary of One Who Disappeared), but I also want to encourage people to patronise George Town’s hometown indie bookshop Gerakbudaya, both at their original location on Pitt Street (Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling), and at Hikayat on Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai).

So, if you’re in George Town from 21–24 November, I hope to see you at the following events:

1) Workshop: Worldbuilding 101: Strange New Worlds
Gerakbudaya Bookshop @ Hikayat (Beach Street), 22 Nov, 330-500pm

Speculative fiction often takes place in otherworldly settings, such as George R.R. Martin’s Westeros, the planet Ilus in the Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey, or a slightly different version of the world we know. The details that go into the imagining of a fantastical setting allow the writer to both ground a narrative in reality and challenge the notions of that reality. This workshop will give participants the skills to be able to create their own strange new worlds as the backdrops for their fiction.

The festival itself is free, but the fee for this workshop is RM75 per participant. To reserve a spot for this session, make sure to pre-register here and then make your payment at the festival.

2) Panel: Is the Screen Our Enemy?
with Tiwin Aji (mod), Dhinesha Karthigesu, Lur Alghurabi and Karoline Kan
Level 1, UAB Building, China Street Ghaut, 23 Nov, 930-1100am

Younger people are probably reading and writing as never before, but they are doing so on mobile devices and on platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok. Traditional formats and media have been challenged by the all-powerful screen, and those behind them are redefining story-telling for their corporate interests. Can we go beyond the critiques and lamentations and find a way to bring the transformative power of the word back to the next generation?

3) Panel: It’s the End of the World as We Know It
with Ann Lee (mod), Lokman Hakim and Tiffany Tsao
Ground Floor, UAB Building, China Street Ghaut, 24 Nov, 400-530pm

Sci-fi, fantasy, surrealism and speculative fiction open up endless possibilities of how we imagine our past, present and future. How do writers harness their wild imaginations to create a believable work that defies our known reality?

 
* In this article, I am referred to as an expatriate, but I do not view myself as such. I have very little in common with the expat community in Singapore, and prefer to call myself a migrant or immigrant instead.
 
 

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MEAL Publicity/Events for the rest of October

MEAL-BOTW

October is release month for Most Excellent and Lamentable, and so the marketing and publicity has kicked into high gear in order to promote it. In addition to the featured listing in the Epigram Books October Newsletter, and being singled out by The Straits Times as the only fiction title in “6 reads for October“, we’ve got the following lined up:

1. Book of the Week. This week only, if you order MEAL through the Epigram Books site or buy it at Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop, you’ll get a 10% discount! You can of course buy it elsewhere (and by now, it should be in bookshops all over Singapore; ask your favourite store to order it if they don’t have it in stock), but this is the only way to get it a wee bit cheaper. Offer ends at midnight on 20 October.

2. Author-in-Attendance, Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop. Tomorrow and Wednesday (15-16 Oct), I will be stationed once again at Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop, in case you would like to chat and/or get an autograph (and drink some delicious coffee). What better deal can you get: if you buy the book while I’m there, you’ll not only get the discount, but I’ll sign it for you too!

3. Radio Interview, CNA938. On Wednesday evening (16 Oct) after my Author-in-Attendance stint is over, I’ll be heading over to the Mediacorp offices for a radio interview with Melanie Oliveiro on CNA938 at 8:00-8:30pm! I’m acquaintances with Melanie on Facebook, but this will be the first time meeting in person and appearing on her show. Be sure to tune in to 93.8FM to listen to the interview live, or stream it via CNA938 or the MeRadio app.

Holy crow, all of that is happening this week alone! But I’ve got two more items this month:

4. Radio Interview, Money FM 89.3. On 29 Oct, I’ll be talking once again with Michelle Martin on Money FM 89.3. This will be an early-morning interview, at 9:00-9:30am, so I’ll need to slam some coffee beforehand, but Michelle is always an engaging interlocutor, which will easily keep me alert. As above, you can listen live or stream the interview online, and it’ll be archived in the station’s podcast afterward for those who missed it the first time.

5. Interview with Robert Wood, Singapore Hot Takes, Centre for Stories. I was asked a number of readerly and writerly questions for the Australian org Centre for Stories, and my answers should be posted by the end of the month. To get an idea of the questions asked, check out the first eight authors interviewed for Singapore Hot Takes (all of whom I know; I’ve also edited six of them).

So that’s it for October! Whew! In November, I’m launching the book at the Singapore Writers Festival (8 Nov) along with Barrie Sherwood, and the two of us will be doing additional book events at Kinokuniya (16 Nov) and BooksActually (TBD). You can keep updated on all of these things here on the website via my Events page, and at my Facebook page, and please do buy the book! 😀

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2019 Singapore Writers Festival Schedule

The 2019 Singapore Writers Festival is now less than seven weeks away, and my appearance schedule has been confirmed. I look forward to SWF every year, because it’s like a family reunion with all my writer friends in Singapore, and I’m especially excited this year because it’s been curated by my good friend Pooja Nansi, who is keen to give a platform to newer and more unexpected authors. (Though I myself am not terribly new or unexpected.)

So if you’re in Singapore from 1–10 November, I hope to see you at the following events and/or around the civic district during this time!

1) Panel: The Absurd, the Mundane and Everything in Between
The Arts House, Living Room, 02 Nov, 630-730pm

How do we make art from arbitrary, absurd, and mundane moments in life? Can boredom be interesting? Three writers interrogate the humdrum weave of the every day and discuss how they have incorporated such moments to craft narratives that reveal poignant truths about the human experience.

2) Launch: Keeping It Fresh: A Defence of Originality
Book Launch of The Angel Tiger and Most Excellent and Lamentable
The Arts House, Gallery II, 08 Nov, 700-800pm

Authors Jason Erik Lundberg and Barrie Sherwood will look at the idea of short story collections and how they are put together, and how authors/editors keep it fresh. With so many stories being told year after year, can stories truly be original? There will also be a Q&A and a book-signing at this event.

3) Panel: Ruling the Galaxy (moderator)
The Arts House, Living Room, 09 Nov, 500-600pm

When writing about intergalactic empires and space adventures, to what extent do writers need to be mindful of scientific plausibility? Should they abide by space travel rules at all? Three writers discuss why they’ve chosen to set their stories in space and how they’ve imagined an entire interstellar universe.

4) Launch: Uniquely Singapore(an)
Book Launch of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Four
The Arts House, Living Room, 09 Nov, 830-930pm

Editors Jason and Pooja will discuss what makes a great Singaporean short story. Is it simply making characters Singaporean? Do the situations have be uniquely Singaporean? Jason and Pooja will also shine the spotlight on new authors whose offerings are included in this latest volume of short stories. There will also be a Q&A and a book-signing at this event.

5) Panel: Not Here, Not There
Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium, 10 Nov, 1230-130pm

In the wake of growing nativism in the world today, how do these writers consider the notions of belonging and not belonging in their works? Who or what determines the right to belong, and how should we discuss the nuances involved in acts of staying, moving, and settling?
 
 

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A Fickle and Restless Weapon: First Novel Accepted for Publication!

Publication Agreement for A Fickle and Restless Weapon

Some very excellent news to announce: yesterday the contract was signed for my novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon! It’s my 25th book but my very first novel, and it’ll be released in June 2020 from Epigram Books. I could not be more excited! I started work on this book in my final semester of graduate school, way back in 2005; there was a lot of worldbuilding and character development and experiments in tone, but once I had the first line, I knew that there was something special here:

It was late morning when Zed arrived, incognito.

(I ended up adding a prologue later, so this is no longer the first line, but I still love it and its nod to Kafka.)

I worked on it off and on for the next few years, but then got stuck at about 30,000 words and didn’t know where to go from there. Something was holding the novel back; something fundamental wasn’t working. This was around the time that I started teaching secondary school in Singapore, which was more than a full-time job and required all of my mental capacity, so I put the book aside for a couple of years. And as frustrated as I was that I wasn’t able to write the book during that period (though I did create flash fiction regularly to keep my hand in), I needed that time for my brain to subconsciously identify the problem and come up with a solution.

One of my protagonists, Zed, was supposed to experience a fall from grace that would push him out of his relatively comfortable life and propel him into the obstacles I set up for him. And to dramatise this fall, I portrayed him as an arrogant asshole who actually had his life transformation coming to him. But since the first part of the story is from his POV, I realised that this was alienating to the reader. Zed needed to be more accessible from the start, so that when his fall comes at the end of that section, we’re compelled to turn the page to find out what happens to him next.

So I reconceptualised his character from scratch and rewrote those first 30,000 words, and that momentum allowed me to continue on and on until I eventually reached the end. As a sort of bookend, I crafted the final 30,000 words during the 2012 Write-a-Thon for the Clarion Writers Workshop. A few months later, I started my job as Fiction Editor at Epigram Books, and came back to the manuscript for editing. I engaged a number of trusted first readers, who gave me excellent feedback, which I used for the next draft.

At that point, I sent the novel off to a literary agent who had apparently been following my short fiction career up to that point, and he agreed to represent me. I was thrilled to work with him, but after an initial flurry of submissions to publishers, he unfortunately sat on the book for the next five years and became less and less communicative. In early 2018, I broke off our association; earlier this year, I pitched the book to my boss at Epigram Books, since it shares a fictional universe and timeline with Diary of One Who Disappeared, and it was accepted, at last, 14 years after I first imagined the story (and 7 years to the day after I first started work at Epigram Books).

I’m incredibly excited to be able to share this novel with readers next year, and I feel that it’s some of my best work. So yay! I’m officially a novelist! 😀

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Now Available for Preorder: Two New Books!

     

In October, I will have two new books out: Most Excellent and Lamentable: Selected Stories, a “greatest hits” fiction collection that draws from my 18-year career thus far; and Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Four guest edited by Pooja Nansi, the latest instalment of the definitive anthology series of current Singaporean fiction writing.

Very likely, Epigram Books will be launching both titles this November at the 2019 Singapore Writers Festival, but you can also preorder both titles now directly from the publisher (and get them mailed to you as soon as they arrive from the printers)! Short stories galore!

I’m so excited for the release of both these books, and I can’t wait for y’all to read them. If you are a book reviewer for a legitimate venue, email me so we can get a review copy to you ASAP.

Praise for Most Excellent and Lamentable

“This is a superb collection of beautifully crafted stories. They range from exquisite miniatures that render entire worlds within a few words to longer stories rich with the complexities of human interactions with the Other—where the Other might be a foreign tourist, a shaman, a fish that speaks or a wombat. Infused with a Southeast Asian sensibility, these tales transcend boundaries in the best tradition of speculative fiction.”
Vandana Singh, author of Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories

“Phlogiston (I am assured by usually reliable sources) does not exist…and yet something rare is powering these shimmering, surprising, infinitely combustible stories. Strange energies crackle throughout this most excellent collection.”
Andy Duncan, author of An Agent of Utopia and three-time World Fantasy Award winner

“In Lundberg’s narratives, endings are transformations, a change from one state to another: from ignorance to knowledge, from pain to understanding, from confusion to bliss. Death is a primary instigator, but it is not alone. Epiphanies and sad wisdom inhabit endings as well, and reveal the seeds of continuance. ‘What comes after’ and ‘what happens next’ are concerns of the author’s work, and he shares his take on karmic cycles and serpentine circles as he reveals the tantalising ever-afters. It is love that happens afterwards. Love continues. Identity continues. Remembrance continues. The story continues for it never truly ends, with each ending offering a new beginning, or a continuation, after profound changes. It is this insight, this narrative truth, that creates impact—that hope is never truly lost, and what is now is only for now.”
Dean Francis Alfar, Palanca Grand Prize-winning author of Salamanca and The Field Guide to the Roads of Manila (from the introduction)

From the preface of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Four

“Our stories are everywhere we look, and those stories matter; they are as varied and as manifold as we are. The pieces here are by student writers, full-time writers, hobbyists—some of the writers are based in Singapore, some are away from the city, and others call this city home, however momentarily. But all these stories speak to the very human truths of loss and desire in one way or another.”
Pooja Nansi, author of Love Is an Empty Barstool
 

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Diary of One Who Disappeared E-book Available for Preorder

The book launch for Diary of One Who Disappeared is fast approaching, so mark your calendars! All of Singapore is invited!

  1. What: Launch of Diary of One Who Disappeared
  2. Where: Books Kinokuniya main store (Orchard Road), Takashimaya SC
  3. When: 6 April 2019, 2-3pm
  4. Why: To listen to a discussion of adaptation, superpowers, politics and parallel universes
  5. How: Moderated by Cyril Wong

It’s important to have a big showing at the launch, in order to boost sales for the first week, and to encourage Kino to stock the book well. And I’d love for y’all to be there to help me celebrate a work that took five and a half years from conception to publication.

ALSØ, the e-book edition of the novella is now available for preorder (yay!) at the following places:

ALSØ ALSØ, the print edition is available for purchase RIGHT NOW at these places:

Exciting times! WØØT!

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Event Schedule: Diary of One Who Disappeared

Diary at Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop, photo by Christopher TohDiary of One Who Disappeared is now back from the printers, and I’ve gotten my author copies (check out my Facebook page for the unboxing), yay! The paperback will be available in fine Singaporean bookshops by start of April (and, as you can see from the photo, it’s actually already for sale at the new Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop), and the ebook will be available on all major platforms as well (more on this later).

So, now that the novella exists (plusyay!), it’s time to post my upcoming event schedule in support of the book’s release. If you’ll be in Singapore for the month of April, or in Penang during Star Wars Day, please come on down to the below events to help me celebrate!

2 April, 640-700pm
Radio Interview
Money FM 89.3: The Curve with Michelle Martin & Bernard Lim

Michelle had me on her show last year to talk about LONTAR issue 10, and then graciously agreed to moderate a LONTAR retrospective panel at the 2018 Singapore Writers Festival, so I’m very excited to talk with her again, this time about my own fiction.

6 April, 200-300pm
Official Book Launch
with Cyril Wong (mod)
Books Kinokuniya Neo SIMS (Orchard Road)

This will be the official launch for the book, so if you can come to any event, come to this one. Sales for this weekend are very important, and can determine whether the novella makes Kino’s bestseller list, not to mention national bestseller lists (for which I can only hope). A big jump-start at the beginning can also result in healthy regular sales months and years afterward. Kino has been a wonderful partner with Epigram Books, and I’m very grateful that they’re allowing us the space to launch the book there.

22–23 April, 1030am–530pm
Artist-in-Attendence
Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop (URA Centre)

If you’ve read Singaporean news lately, you know that the Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop (a collaboration between Epigram and Huggs Coffee) has just opened its doors, the only bookstore in the country right now selling books that exclusively focus on Singapore and Singaporean writers. As a continued part of that grand opening, the Artist-in-Attendence programme has been established to give Singaporean writers and artists an exclusive table to work on their art. “If you’ve always wanted to know how authors work or gain inspiration, or simply wanted to thank your favourite author—here’s your chance. Don’t be shy, come and say hi.” Also, the coffee is pretty damn tasty.

4 May, 400-600pm
Bookstore Event
Gerakbudaya Bookshop @ Hikayat (Beach Street)
George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Since my first invitation to the George Town Literary Festival in 2016, I have been welcomed by Gerakbudaya’s director Gareth Richards and his wonderful staff, and made to feel seen. So I was especially excited when they agreed to bring me in to their sister store, Hikayat, to launch the book in Penang. As I mentioned above, the event will take place the day before Ramadan starts, i.e. Star Wars Day (May the 4th…), so expect me in my Empire Strikes Back shirt.

Thanks in advance for showing up and allowing my fiction some space in your life (doubleplusyay!).

If you’re unable to attend either the Kinokuniya or Gerakbudaya launches, you can still order the book from either store, or direct from Epigram Books or Local Books; be sure to indicate whether you would like a signed copy.

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Now Available for Preorder: My New Novella!

Diary of One Who DisappearedLast month on social media, I shared the cover art for my brand new novella, Diary of One Who Disappeared (being released in April 2019), and now the book is available for preorder from Epigram Books!

I’m so excited that this slim book will finally be seeing the light of day, and I can’t wait for y’all to read it. I’m a bit burned out on doorstoppers at the moment, so in case you’re the same, this is perfect for you, a compelling story that can be (conceivably) finished in one sitting.

If you are a book reviewer for a legitimate venue, email me so we can get a review copy to you straight away (most likely PDF, but we might be printing some ARCs for local reviewers).

We’ve gotten some lovely praise quotes in already (and are expecting even more):

“A fantastic tale of the possibility of revolution—both personal and political—inherent in every moment.”
—Ken Liu, multi-award-winning author of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

“Through communiqués, missives and the common email, relationships unfold and splinter within a futuristic world ruled by religiosity and prejudice, mirroring our present-day political climate in terrifying but revelatory ways. Diary of One Who Disappeared also convincingly offers a morality tale about how the ramifications of our actions and thoughts, even our unconscious desires, extend beyond the realm of our known universe.”
—Cyril Wong, Singapore Literature Prize-winning author of Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me

“A story of interpersonal and international politics, a haunting exploration of how one defines and redefines oneself, a thriller and a human tale of personal growth. If you are looking for intelligent, thought-provoking speculative fiction, board the airship from the repressive North American Union to cosmopolitan Tinhau. Readers of thoughtful, humane fiction are in for a treat.”
—John Kessel, Nebula Award-winning author of The Moon and the Other

I’ll be presenting the novella this coming Friday at the Epigram Books biannual sales conference (which this year we’re calling First Look Showcase: Stories About Stories) for industry professionals. If they like what I have to say, there’s a good chance that they’ll order bunches of copies for their bookshops, or devote some page space in newspapers and magazines. Wish me luck!

And also go preorder the book! 😀

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My SWF 2018 Author Schedule

SWF logo

In just a few weeks, the festivities for the 2018 Singapore Writers Festival will kick off, and I’m happy to have been invited as a featured author once again (this will make the seventh year in a row). I’ll be around for much of the festival, but here are the events that I’m directly involved with.

1. Panel: Achieving Utopia
with Patrick Williams (mod), Thea Lim and Rachel Heng
The Arts House, Gallery II, 02 Nov, 800-900pm

2. Launch: Short Stories About Home (moderator)
Lion City by Ng Yi-Sheng & Marriage and Mutton Curry by Dato’ M. Shanmughalingam
The Arts House, Gallery II, 03 Nov, 130-230pm

3. Reading: Alluvium: The Journal of Literary Shanghai
with Tina Kanagaratnam (mod), Chua Chee Lay, Daryl Lim, Xiangyun Lim, Lynette Tan, Tse Hao Guang and Cyril Wong
The Arts House, Gallery II, 05 Nov, 730-900pm

4. Panel: LONTAR Retrospective
with Michelle Martin (mod), Victor Fernando R. Ocampo and Christina Sng
The Arts House, Festival Bookstore, 08 Nov, 730-830pm

5. Panel: The Uncanny (moderator)
with Han Yujoo, Intan Paramaditha and Jon Gresham
The Arts House, Blue Room, 10 Nov, 200-300pm

My author page is incomplete, and the LONTAR event will not be on the programme (since it’s being organised by BooksActually for the festival bookstore), so please refer to this page for the most complete information.

So yeah, I’m going to be pretty busy with my own events, and I’m super excited to attend David Sedaris’ SWF lecture, “Love, Death and Family Life: Postcards from David Sedaris,” and I’ll be taking Anya to some of the SWF3 (SWF For Families) events, but do please say hello if you see me (likely looking a bit dazed).

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Introducing BNSSSv4 Guest Editor Pooja Nansi!

Pooja Nansi and Jason Erik Lundberg, guest editor and series editor of
Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Four.
Photo copyright © 2015 by Jason Erik Lundberg.

The contract has been signed, and so I am elated to announce that Pooja Nansi will be the guest editor of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Four! Yay, w00t and huzzah!

I’ve long wanted to work with Pooja on a project, and I’m so delighted that she’s agreed to curate our fourth volume of BNSSS (to be released by Epigram Books in October 2019). I’m a great admirer of her poetry and performance (Love is an Empty Barstool is one of my all-time favourite Singaporean poetry collections), her commitment as an educator (both as a teacher and as Singapore’s first Youth Poet Ambassador), and her eagerness to pay it forward by spearheading the incredible spoken word / reading series Speakeasy. And though she’s known primarily as a Young Artist Award-winning poet, she has a finely discerning eye for prose as well, and I can’t wait to see what stories she selects for the anthology.

As before, we are only considering previously published short stories by Singaporean writers. We will be already looking at notable lit journals as well anthologies and single-author collections by major Singaporean publishers. However, if you would like to recommend a published short story under 10,000 words, you can shoot me an email, and I’ll pass it along.

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Filed under Books, Editing, Publishing, Singapore

Two New Books Coming Out in 2019

The contracts have at last been signed, so I can officially announce that Epigram Books will be publishing two books by me next year, scheduled for March and October, respectively: a novella called The Diary of One Who Disappeared (recipient of the 2013 NAC Creation Grant), and a “greatest hits” short story collection called Most Excellent and Lamentable (with an introduction by Dean Francis Alfar). Yay!

I’ve resisted submitting my own fiction to Epigram Books for a long time, because it felt a bit strange publishing fiction at the company where I’m the fiction editor. But I’m glad that it’ll be happening, and that I’ll be working with my colleague Eldes Tran to shape both of these manuscripts.

This all came about when I proposed reprinting Red Dot Irreal to my publisher, Edmund Wee, since the first edition is now out of print in Singapore (even if you can still find the Infinity Plus edition online). He countered with putting together a new collection, and I came up with the idea of doing a Selected Stories book that draws from my three previous collections, as well as one uncollected story and a brand new one written specifically for this book. Here are the contents:

  • The Stargirl and the Potter
  • Always a Risk
  • Wombat Fishbone
  • King of Hearts
  • Strange Mammals
  • Great Responsibility
  • The Time Traveller’s Son
  • Slowly Slowly Slowly
  • Kopi Luwak
  • Complications of the Flesh
  • Most Excellent and Lamentable
  • Bodhisattva at the Heat Death of the Universe
  • Bogeymen
  • Ikan Berbudi (Wise Fish)

At the same, I pitched my long-languishing novella, which my (now ex-)agent had not done anything with for four years, and thankfully Edmund agreed to take it as well. But after receiving some additional feedback, I realised that it didn’t address the world that we’re living in now, which is very different from the optimism and openness of four years ago. So I’m currently revising the manuscript to make it more relevant (and, frankly, better), and aiming at a mid-August deadline to turn it in.

So yeah, two new works of fiction by me out next year. It’s nice to be out in front of my own writing again. 🙂

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The Delightfully Strange Short Fiction of Dorothy Tse

Snow and Shadow

(Note: much of this was included in my review on Goodreads, but this book is so exceptional that I wanted to give it a bit more attention here.)

One of the best parts of getting invited to moderate a panel discussion at a convention or literary festival is encountering the work of writers you might not have ordinarily come across. Such was the case with Dorothy Tse, who appeared on one of my panels at the 2017 George Town Literary Festival.

Tse writes in Chinese and reads in Cantonese, and is highly regarded for her stories in her native Hong Kong. However, those of us who read in English now have the extraordinary fortune to have Nicky Harman’s lyrical translation of Snow and Shadow, an extraordinary collection of oneiric pieces that feel at home next to the best of Angela Carter and Kelly Link.

Tse draws from a deep well of dreamlike imagery and delightfully strange premises, such as men bartering body parts for sexual favours, a father donating his head to his son when the young man’s goes missing, an apartment block where the units never stay in the same location, and a wife slowly transforming into a fish. As well, the title story is the most remarkable retelling of Snow White since Neil Gaiman’s “Snow Glass Apples.”

I LOVED this collection, and highly recommend it to anyone into surreal and strange short fiction. It was far and away my favourite book read in 2017. Check out these reviews at Words Without Borders and World Literature Today, and read Tse’s interview answers for The PEN Ten.

Dorothy Tse’s is a voice that deserves a wide and appreciative audience. However you can find this book, do so; you’ll thank me.

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My Books Available at Indie Shops

We’re barrelling headlong towards Xmas, and I just wanted to give a holiday reminder of where you can find my books (if you felt inclined to give them as gifts), with a special focus on independent bookshops, which are the heart and soul of bookselling worldwide.

USA: Quail Ridge Books* | Books Are Magic | Elliott Bay

Penang: Gerakbudaya Bookshop

Singapore: Kinokuniya** | BooksActually

 
* My titles from Infinity Plus are available for order at any bookstore in the IndieBound network, but I wanted to emphasise these three in particular, and especially Quail Ridge, which is my favourite bookshop in all of the USA.

** I recognise that Kinokuniya is a chain with stores all over the world, but the main Singaporean store on Orchard Road has been extraordinarily supportive of me and my career, and the folks who work there are so knowledgeable that it feels like an indie.

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GTLF 2017 in Pictures

I had a phenomenal time at the 2017 George Town Literary Festival last month. After the insanity of the Singapore Writers Festival (over 25,000 in attendance, a 25% jump from last year!), it was wonderful to attend a more intimate festival, even if it also boasted its highest-ever attendance at 4,500 people. Both the panels I moderated were very well-attended, and I got to see existing friends and make some wonderful new ones. As well as patronise the very well maintained festival bookstore run by Gerakbudaya Bookshop. George Town is a lovely place to spend a long weekend, and the festival was run expertly well; I can’t thank all the organisers, staff and volunteers enough for making it such an enjoyable experience.

I had such a great time that I often forgot to take photos, but here are just a few.

With Jelena Dinic and Laksmi Pamuntjak after the Opening Ceremony

With Marc de Faoite and Sonny Liew in the festival bookstore

The festival bookstore run by Gerakbudaya was kind enough to stock some of my books

Lunch at a nearby hawker centre, with Sharon Bakar, Marc de Faoite, Anthony Cummins and Marco Ferrarese

With Zen Cho, Intan Paramaditha, Dorothy Tse and Felicia Yap, for “Braver Worlds: Visions of the Future/Past”

With Bernice Chauly and Edmund Wee, after Bernice’s novel Once We Were There won the inaugural Penang Monthly Book Prize

With Gerður Kristný, Zen Cho, Paul McVeigh and Arshia Sattar, for “When Immortals Walked Among Us”

Gerakbudaya Bookshop’s actual Penang store, to which I paid homage (and some money)

My final book haul: The Door by Dorothy Tse (trans. Natascha Bruce), Snow and Shadow by Dorothy Tse (trans. Nicky Harman); Bloodhoof by Gerður Kristný (trans. Rory McTurk); Taboo: Poems by Melizarani T. Selva; El Filibusterismo by José Rizal; and The Face: A Time Code by Ruth Ozeki.

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