Category Archives: Editing

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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Now Open for Freelance Editing Projects in 2020

It’s a new year (and a new decade!), and so I am happy to announce that I am now free to take on new freelance editing projects. Indeed, I’m currently in the middle of the editing process for my own novel, A Fickle and Restless Weapon, and also trying to figure out how to write One Nine Eight Six (the standalone sequel to Diary of One Who Disappeared, and the third volume of my Tinhau trifecta), but I also want to be much more active with literary freelancing this year.

(And yes, I’ve always done this concurrently with my day job at Epigram Books. As long as there’s no conflict of interest, there’s no problem.)

My rate is S$100/hour for structural editing (50% down, payable via PayNow, bank transfer or PayPal), with every 10,000 words requiring approximately 5 billable hours of labor; an editorial letter of recommendations and suggested changes is provided at the end of the project. My bibliography speaks for itself, but you can also check out my LinkedIn profile for extensive work experience and glowing testimonials.

To brag for just a moment, a number of books I edited professionally have been afforded the following accolades:

1. Singapore Literature Prize winners (Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe, State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang)

2. Singapore Literature Prize finalists (In Time, Out of Place by You Jin, The Widower by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, It Never Rains on National Day by Jeremy Tiang, Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal, The Gatekeeper by Nuraliah Norasid, Regrettable Things That Happened Yesterday by Jennani Durai)

3. Singapore Book Award winners (Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe, Now That It’s Over by O Thiam Chin, The Gatekeeper by Nuraliah Norasid, Lion City by Ng Yi-Sheng)

4. Singapore Book Award finalists (Big Mole by Ming Cher, Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal, Inheritance by Balli Kaur Jaswal, Kappa Quartet by Daryl Qilin Yam, State of Emergency by Jeremy Tiang, Once We Were There by Bernice Chauly, Lieutenant Kurosawa’s Errand Boy by Warran Kalasegaran, Gull Between Heaven and Earth by Boey Kim Cheng, The Riot Act by Sebastian Sim, Nimita’s Place by Akshita Nanda)

5. The Straits Times year’s best list (Clear Brightness by Boey Kim Cheng, A Certain Exposure by Jolene Tan, Now That It’s Over by O Thiam Chin, Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal)

6. The Business Times year’s best list (Confrontation by Mohd Latiff Mohd, Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe, A Certain Exposure by Jolene Tan, Trivialities About Me and Myself by Yeng Pway Ngon, Now That It’s Over by O Thiam Chin, Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal, Kappa Quartet by Daryl Qilin Yam)

So if you’re in the market for insightful and constructive feedback on your novel, short story collection, or creative nonfiction work, grab a slot now!

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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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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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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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EB Authors at Kino for World Book Day!

If I could put on my editor’s hat for a moment, four of my authors at Epigram Books, as well as your humble narrator, will be appearing this Saturday afternoon at Kinokuniya’s Singapore main store as part of their World Book Day celebrations!

At 2pm, I will be moderating a panel on “Worlds Beyond Words” with our #EBFP2015-longlisted authors: Daryl Qilin Yam, Imran Hashim and Kevin Martens Wong. All three of their first novels (Kappa Quartet, Annabelle Thong and Altered Straits) go beyond Singapore’s shores to other places (and in Kevin’s case, to parallel worlds), so the discussion should be a fascinating one.

And at 4pm, Balli Kaur Jaswal will be appearing for a meet-the-author session to promote her new novel Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, recently published by HarperCollins UK! (And although the session will focus on the new novel, copies of Inheritance and Sugarbread will be available for sale.)

So come celebrate World Book Day with us Saturday, and get some fantastic books signed!

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Fiction Accolades for Epigram Books in 2014

To toot my own editing horn for a moment, 2014 was quite a year for fiction at Epigram Books. In addition to publishing works by debut authors (A Certain Exposure by Jolene Tan and The Space Between the Raindrops by Justin Ker), translations by award-winning authors (The Goddess in the Living Room by Latha and Trivialities About Me and Myself by Yeng Pway Ngon), a new short story collection by one of my favorite poets (Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me and Other Stories by Cyril Wong), and the third issue of LONTAR, we also received the following accolades:

1. The 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction (Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe);

2. 2014 Year’s Best list, The Business Times and The Straits Times (A Certain ExposureTrivialities About Me and Myself and Last Train from Tanjong Pagar by Koh Hong Teng (graphic novel)*)

3. Top 10 English Singapore Books from 1965-2014, The Business Times (Ministry of Moral Panic);

4. Longlist for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award (Ministry of Moral Panic);

5. Six of our titles picked as “Book of the Year” on the Singapore Poetry website** (The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One, Ministry of Moral Panic***, The Wayang at Eight Milestone by Gregory Nalpon, A Certain Exposure, Trivialities About Me and Myself, and Last Train from Tanjong Pagar).

We must be doing something right over here. 😀

2015 is already shaping up to be an interesting year, with Big Mole by Ming Cher (the long-awaited sequel to his smash hit Spider Boys), translations by Cultural Medallion winners You Jin and Mohamed Latiff Mohamed, LONTAR #4 and #5, and The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Two. I’m hoping to fill a few more slots in the second half of the year, so do keep those manuscripts coming!

 

* Tangentially related, as it is a hybrid of memoir and fiction; the editor on this book was Aditi Shivaramakrishnan.

** My chapbook Embracing the Strange also made this list, to my delight.

*** Ministry of Moral Panic was chosen four separate times for this list.

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